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January 28, 2007

Inaugural Noises

I've been publishing pieces of nonfiction prose, of one sort or another, for just over twenty years now - at first in small political or scholarly journals, eventually in some of the larger American magazines and newspapers, and from time to time between the covers of a book.

There must be hundreds of them by now. And yet I find it difficult to speak of having a "career." It has never seemed a particularly useful concept, at least for defining my own experience, and in any case, its presuppositions seem not to apply. For the notion of a "career" is always cumulative, progressive, relentlessly forward-looking. In that regard, you are now in the company of someone who is seriously out of his depth.

As a writer (hell, as somebody trying to live from day to day) I have for a long time been guided by various models from the past, even the somewhat distant past. That probably explains this recurrent experience of feeling totally out of touch with the contemporary world in general and my colleagues in particular. (To have a much greater interest in the past than in the present is no real advantage to someone writing for magazines and newspapers.)

Anyway, I'm telling you all this in lieu of preparing the manifesto that Doug McLennan, editor of Arts Journal, asked me to write for the launch of Quick Study. The invitation to blog here is extremely welcome. This a really good neighborhood. But explaining what I'm going to try to do isn't so easy.

Probably the best I can manage is to sketch, instead, where Quick Study is coming from: The baffled and anachronistic outlook of someone constantly zigzagging between deadline and archive, writing "pieces" but never quite able to assemble a whole from them.

Continue reading "Inaugural Noises" »

January 29, 2007

Diabolos Ex Machina

Somewhere around page 60 of The Castle in the Forest, the new novel by Norman Mailer, my heart sank. Progress through the next three hundred pages or so demanded a steady effort to hoist it back into place, somehow, through sheer force of will and imagination -- to conceive some sense in which the "revelation" by the narrator about his identity could be justified, hence redeemed.

And so I tried, really I did. No reader could have been more willing to give Mailer the benefit of the doubt. A couple of times it almost seemed possible.

But by the final hours, the battle was lost. Each time we revisted the domain of Mailero-Manichean cosmological meandering, the sinking feeling would return, redoubled. (My review of the book ran this weekend in Newsday.)

Continue reading "Diabolos Ex Machina" »

January 31, 2007

The Lesser Known Heroes of Contemporary Criticism, Volume I

Steven G. Kellman is the winner of the latest award for excellence in reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. As indicated in my column today, we have crossed paths before.

The piece opens with a section on Wilfrid Sheed's novel Max Jamison, which I'm now rereading. Sheed seems to be much on my mind of late. Evidently most of his books are out of print, which is insane.

There is a reference in this week's column to the work of Leslie Fiedler, another NBCC honoree. I first read Fiedler in high school (like any serious part of my education, not as part of the curriculum) so it felt like a prvilege to be able to interview him a couple of times.

This was not long before he died, as it turned out. Here's what I published out of it.

February 1, 2007

Unsightliness and Insight

"Theory," if you take it back far enough, derives from a root referring to vision or eyesight. Maybe it's pushing it to say that there is, then, inevitably an aesthetics of theory. But there's definitely an aesthetic dimension to some of the paperback editions of serious books. In a piece for Lingua Franca almost a dozen years ago, I quoted a (then-)recent discussion of the commodity fetishism some of us went through during the 1980s as various theoretical works came out in nicely designed series:

The New Left Books of the mid to late 1970s, with their "covers with Robert Natkin paintings that looked like pastel burlap," were followed by the wave of volumes from Minnesota University Press and Routledge during the 1980s -- that "great era of . . . translations of every interesting or even uninteresting Continental theorist...."

Man, that really takes me back, albeit in a superduper reflexive way: Now I'm feeling nostalgia for my nostalgia....

Continue reading "Unsightliness and Insight" »

February 2, 2007

Tube Feeding

Last year the Smithsonian and the cable network Showtime announced that they had entered a thirty year contract to create a new, on-demand digital TV enterprise, thereby creating some competition for The Hitler Channel.

Continue reading "Tube Feeding" »

A Good Face for Radio

Yesterday was a milestone of sorts for Intellectual Affairs, my column: the second anniversary of its debut. For the first ten months, I wrote it twice a week. Since then, it's run at the somewhat more leisurely pace of once a week.

So far, it comes to 132 columns. I'm making a selection of them now for a short book. But clearly the smart move would be to shift over to broadcasting....

Continue reading "A Good Face for Radio" »

February 4, 2007

Searchin' for My Mainline

The one shot the Velvet Underground ever had at mainstream success was, of course, the memorable performance of "Sister Ray" on The Lawrence Welk Show in 1968:

Until seeing this video, I had no idea that a banjo was involved. (Not mentioned in this otherwise thorough Wikipedia entry, for example.) It's said that the engineer fled the studio while "Sister Ray" was being recorded. In his haste, he must have failed to mike all the instruments properly.

February 6, 2007

Tuesday Hate

Over the past three years, I've become a habitué of The Weblog, a "virtual neighborhood" created by Adam Kotsko, a graduate student in theology, and de facto in continental philosophy, who lives in Chicago. A number of other people post there, pllus there is a lively, if sometimes oblique, comments section.

At first my hanging around was a largely matter of eavesdropping on the discussions about various thinkers -- some of them (Deleuze, Zizek) more or less familiar to me, others (Nancy,Badiou, various theologians) not so much. I hoped to pick up some insight into the latter by osmosis. That aspect of the site has lately migrated here, more or less. Conversation at The Weblog also led to the occasional musical tip, e.g. The Shins. And then there was the t-shirt. A long story, that one, and I don't even know all of it, probably.

Continue reading "Tuesday Hate" »

The Expression "Photon-Stained Wretches" Doesn't Have Quite the Same Feel

The world's oldest newspaper, the Post-och Inrikes Tidningar of Sweden, has not only gone digital but also shut down what once would have been redundant to call its "print edition."

Continue reading "The Expression "Photon-Stained Wretches" Doesn't Have Quite the Same Feel" »

February 7, 2007

Meet the Zizeks!

thezizeks.jpg

Via Antigram, which also includes a report of Zizek's fondness for video games. His favorite>

Stalin Subway, a Russian one: Moscow 1952, the player is a KGB investigator, called by Stalin Himself to unearth the plot to kill Stalin and other members of the Politburo. One can arrest and kill suspects at one's will. If one wins, one gets a medal from Stalin and Beria! What more can one expect in this miserable life?

But one of Antigram's readers makes clear that this might not be one to track down:

From the couple of levels you can download, I fear Zizek may be exaggerating the brilliance of Stalin Subway; it appears to be a fairly bland shoot-em-up type game, albeit with rather nice graphics of the Moscow State University.

On the Bush Administration Considered as a State of Affect

At his blog, Joseph Duemer files the following comment under the headings "reading," "poetry," and "philosophy." But it also has political applications:

Sentimentality is the substitution of emotion for intelligence; sentimentality requires the reader to assent to heightened feelings not legitimated by the matter at hand; sentimentality seeks to manipulate the reader's emotional response by calls to conventional wisdom or attitudes; sentimentality seeks approval by reference to the vast warm blanket of majority opinion; sentimentality never, ever risks the disapproval of any member of its intended audience.

February 8, 2007

The Other American Exceptionalism

So far, the interview with Danny Postel about his pamphlet Reading "Legitimation Theory" in Tehran in my column yesterday hasn't exactly set the Interweb on fire.

Maybe one of those "skyhook" blogs will pick it up and change all that. Or a Digg listing? If you can help, please consider this a pititful cry for same.

Continue reading "The Other American Exceptionalism" »

February 11, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Commenting on the dismaying experience of reading the official publications of the French Academy, Voltaire writes:

The cause why all these academical discourses have unhappily done so little honour to this body is evident enough. Vitium est temporis potiùs quam hominis (the fault is owing to the age rather than to particular persons). It grew up insensibly into a custom for every academician to repeat these eulogiums at his reception; it was laid down as a kind of law that the public should be indulged from time to time in the sullen satisfaction of yawning over these productions. If the reason should afterwards be sought, why the greatest geniuses who have been incorporated into that body have sometimes made the worst speeches, I answer, that it is wholly owing to a strong propension, the gentlemen in question had to shine, and to display a thread-bare, worn-out subject in a new and uncommon light. The necessity of saying something, the perplexity of having nothing to say, and a desire of being witty, are three circumstances which alone are capable of making even the greatest writer ridiculous. These gentlemen, not being able to strike out any new thoughts, hunted after a new play of words, and delivered themselves without thinking at all: in like manner as people who should seem to chew with great eagerness, and make as though they were eating, at the same time that they were just starved.

Sounds like some sessions at 21st century academic conferences -- or any of several university-press offerings on the shelf now, three feet away.... (Via Rough Theory)

February 12, 2007

Solidarity Forever

At Crooked Timber, I've put up a short postscript to last week's column about Iranian dissidents.

February 14, 2007

Boldly Uphold the Revolutionary Use of Stilted Language from "Peking Review" Circa 1974!

It is February 14, and that can only mean one thing -- the arrival of this year's batch of Valentine's Day slogans from the Freedom Road Socialist Organization:

Proletarians And Oppressed Peoples,

1. Progressive And Revolutionary People Everywhere, Resolutely Uphold The Militant Bolshevik Spirit And Revolutionary Romanticism Embodied In Comrade Valentine!

2. Decisively Smash Retrograde And Joyless Ultra-Left Lines Which Disparage Proletarian Love And Desire!!

3. Warmly Celebrate The 20th Anniversary Of ACT-UP, A Militant Organization Which Attacked The Bourgeois State and Big Capital On Behalf Of LGBTQ People And All AIDS-Affected Oppressed Communities Worldwide In 1987 And Has Remained On The Offensive For Two Decades!!!

Continue reading "Boldly Uphold the Revolutionary Use of Stilted Language from "Peking Review" Circa 1974!" »

With a Name Like Legman, His Destiny Seemed Clear

Gershon Legman and the now mostly forgotten journal Neurotica have long been interests of mine -- so it was probably a matter of time before they ended up, as they did today, in my column. Actually I hope to return to both subjects again in the future.

Continue reading "With a Name Like Legman, His Destiny Seemed Clear" »

February 15, 2007

Is Anybody Out There Eagerly Waiting for Volume Two of "Sexual Personae"? No, I Didn't Think So....

Perhaps you had the same response I did to hearing that Camile Paglia is returning to Salon: "Oh, is Paglia still around?"

Evidently, yes.

Continue reading "Is Anybody Out There Eagerly Waiting for Volume Two of "Sexual Personae"? No, I Didn't Think So...." »

February 16, 2007

And in a Few Short Years, I Will Be Emeritus

When the news came over the weekend that Jewcy, a website run by young Jewish writers, would be offering running commentary about Crooked Timber, where I blog, my initial response was great interest in seeing what would happen.

As friends know, I always wanted to be a young Jewish writer. That is not a joke. That it proved not to be possible has been one of life's great disappointments. All those readings of Norman Podhoretz's memoirs, and for what?

Continue reading "And in a Few Short Years, I Will Be Emeritus" »

February 18, 2007

Under Heavy Manners

Of the various projects and ensembles that Robert Fripp has been involved with over the years, my favorite is his short-lived band The League of Gentlemen, which released just one album, back in 1981. Part of the soundtrack of my first year away from home. Only part of it is available on CD (along with tracks from other projects, including "Under Heavy Manners," one of the "Frippertronics" pieces). But Fripp released a sort of authorized bootleg live album from the League called Thrang Thrang Gozinbulx in the mid-1990s. It took me a while to track the latter down -- and not just because of the spelling -- but it was definitely worth the trouble.

The compositions were all instrumentals, with Fripp playing intricate, fractured, eloquent guitar lines over a really tight rhythm section that included Sara Lee, who later played bass for Gang of Four. Sort of a brainy dance band.

As it turns out, there is some footage of the League performing in 1980. And despite one visitor's protest when I put up a YouTube video earlier, I'm going to do so again now, because hell, it is my blog, after all:

February 21, 2007

Cosmopolitan Shout Out, No. 1

My friend and former editor Richard Byrne, who runs the Research section at the Chronicle of Higher Education, is heading off to Prague, where the one-act version of his play Burn Your Bookes is being performed in the Prague Post's English-language playwriting contest.

Continue reading "Cosmopolitan Shout Out, No. 1" »

February 22, 2007

Legman and McLuhan With Zizek Along the Way

It feels like I started something with last week's reference to Gershon Legman. Comments from friends and readers imply as much, anyway, and I'll try to write more about him, and about Neurotica, as soon as possible.

Continue reading "Legman and McLuhan With Zizek Along the Way" »

February 25, 2007

How True

Supercilious wordsmiths acquisitive of notoreity for capacious lexicons cogitate upon thesauri, deploying locutions whose signification is superannuated at best and preposterous at worst. An injudicious cupidity for exactitude recoils upon the oblivious dilettante, engendering nebulae of Latinate verbiage uncongenial to the conveyance of rumination. In such connections, a canny scribe should optate in favor of availing himself of colloquial Anglo-Saxon nomenclature.

-- Adam Kotsko

Continue reading "How True" »

The Hardboiled Poetry of the Very, Very Square

I've started watching Dragnet 1967 on DVD -- a show my wife dislikes on the grounds that it is terribly dated, which is, of course, exactly why I love it. Jack Webb was so square that he comes out the other side as the coolest hipster ever to appear on network TV.

Continue reading "The Hardboiled Poetry of the Very, Very Square" »

February 26, 2007

Linksforum

As of today, Political Theory Daily Review is sponsored by Bookforum magazine. For a while now, PTDR has provided the widest and deepest pool of links to late-breaking, scholarly, and/or esoteric articles available on the web.

Continue reading "Linksforum" »

February 28, 2007

Motivate This!

My new column takes off from the misguided decision of one university to fire up its faculty and staff with a motivational speaker. It may be that $20,000 for ten speeches was actually a pretty good deal, given the usual rates. But you know who would have been cheaper? Matt Foley, "living in a van down by the river."

Usually I think of Chris Farley as a strangely talentless perfomer, but this bit seemed rather inspired.

See also "Dysfunction Junction, What's Your Function?" (my column from a year ago about the field of Oprah Studies).

Pigs In Top Hats vs. Giant Workers With Small Heads

There is a four DVD set called Animated Soviet Propaganda now available.
soviet.jpg
It might be possible to come up with a title more likely to appeal to my interest than Animated Soviet Propaganda but that would really take some doing. This one goes to the head of the list, at least until somebody brings out Animated Maoist Propaganda.

Continue reading "Pigs In Top Hats vs. Giant Workers With Small Heads" »

March 1, 2007

Problematic Neologism

I am intrigued, even persuaded, by Whimsley's thought that it would be useful to have word meaning "skepticism about blogging" -- but not convinced that "ablosticism" will quite cut the semantic mustard.

Continue reading "Problematic Neologism" »

March 2, 2007

News on "The Wire"

Enthusiasm for The Wire came to this household rather late (last summer, I think) but when it did hit us, it hit plenty hard. All the superlatives are appropriate.

The show does what Lukacs thought only the classic realist novel could -- that is, portray a social totality and unveil its inner coherence. (Again with the Lukacs!)

Continue reading "News on "The Wire"" »

March 3, 2007

Bad Penny

In 1987, I lived in a group house with the other guys in my band. All of them were named Michael. We ought to have exploited that fact by having me change my name and just calling ourselves The Michaels. Oh, the benefits of hindsight.

Continue reading "Bad Penny" »

March 6, 2007

Identity

It's now been three decades since Poly Styrene (who looked younger than her nineteen years) took the microphone to announce:

Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard but I say, Oh bondage! Up Yours!

-- which was definitely a case of a new musical form making it possible to express a thought that hadn't been expressed before. Certainly not in those terms, anyway.

Continue reading "Identity" »

March 7, 2007

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

Might write on Baudrillard again later (esp. if an editor so requests) but for now will indulge in the vice of quoting myself. From a piece that ran six years ago:

Continue reading "Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)" »

March 8, 2007

Free Baudrillard -- Take One

The full text of Mark Poster's edition of Baudrillard's Selected Writings is available in PDF here. (Thanks to Farhang Erfani's excellent site Continental Philosophy for the tip.)

It was originally published by Stanford University. The online version doesn't give the publication date, but I read it in 1989 and it can't have come out more than a year earlier than that.

Could go check the copy on the shelf in the living room, but I have a bad cold now, and typing this is about the limit of what seems possible at the moment.

Live from New York

...it's the National Book Critics Circle awards for 2007.

March 9, 2007

The Hits Keep Coming

Upon starting QS, there was no particular plan for me to become a part-time video jockey.And yet the impulse seems to be there. I stopped keeping up with new music sometime in the early 1990s (long story) so my instinct when looking around (whether for something to listen to while working, or for performance clips) is to find things from earlier decades. One of the few exceptions to this normally arriere garde mode was discovering the Toronto-based musical collective Broken Social Scene a few years ago.

That was well after everybody else had heard of them, so perhaps my record of un-cutting-edginess remains consistent after all.

Continue reading "The Hits Keep Coming" »

Speechless

In the words of a comment at Posthegemony signed "Serena":

occasionally you come across an image that causes the seizure of a feeling that passes before you can describe it, for you have already stared at the image for too long, but is usually in reaction to a previously unimagined cruelty, something that makes an unexpected and affecting connection to someone else's tragedy. this is one such image.

I have nothing to add. The image in question is here.

March 10, 2007

Apologia Pro Vita Sua

John Leonard (once my editor at The Nation, now simply a friend) just won the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle.

Continue reading "Apologia Pro Vita Sua" »

March 12, 2007

Monday Morning Miscellany

I'd like to think everyone visiting Quick Study is also aware of the group history blog Cliopatria (of which I have been a member for a while). But you never know. So now I will do some advertising.

Recently Manan Ahmed organized a symposium there to discuss an article by Sam Tanenhaus about why there are no longer major, influential historians of the calibre of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. My response will probably annoy some people. Such is life.

Anyway, the symposium (with link to the original article) is here, and Tanenhaus's reply is here.

On a completely unrelated note, see my recent item at Crooked Timber regarding donuts, sex, and journalism.

March 14, 2007

More on Baudrillard

My column on Baudrillard has been noticed by a blogger who points to it under a headline reading "Chronicle of Higher Education Article about Baudrillard."

Well, not quite. Let's put it this way: Were it possible for me to write that sort of thing at the Chronicle, I would still be there.

But then we get into counterfactual history -- a complicated subject.

Continue reading "More on Baudrillard" »

March 15, 2007

Many People Would Love to Be Writers, If Not For All the Writing

There are mornings when facing the notepad is even more of a burden than usual, simply because its blankness corresponds only too clearly to the state of my own mind. But it doesn't matter. The one thing I have learned after all this time is that it doesn't matter how I feel, that isn't actually necessary to want to write in order to do it. Actually writing something is point of honor -- and usually, after a while, something creditable starts to take shape.

If I've been reasonably well organized about it, I'll have some drafts with me to rework. Or notes to look over. Something, anything, just to get the process started. I have no trust in inspiration and sometimes think that talent alone is greatly overrated. Neither is sufficient.

Continue reading "Many People Would Love to Be Writers, If Not For All the Writing" »

March 19, 2007

Square, Man. Really Square.

Having just recently watched several episodes of the first season of Adam-12, it feels like I'm halfway to ready to draft an essay about Jack Webb as auteur. One obsessed by the differences between bachelorhood and domesticity, it turns out, at least as much as he is with crime and punishment, or freaks and squares.

Speaking of squares....Let me work out a set of Greimasian semiotic charts on this and the cultural-studies paper would just about write itself.

A Modest Proposal

At Brainiac, there's a discussion underway (here and here) about the early days of the cell phone.

So I will take this occasion to link to one of the handful of columns I've written that really struck a chord with other people -- namely, the one proposing that cell-phone users in libraries be shot. Or listen to a podcast discussion of the piece here.

March 20, 2007

Free Stuff

Last month I mentioned that Political Theory Daily Review had found a sponsor -- the magazine Bookforum. As it happens, the new issue just arrived in my mailbox yesterday, even before it reached the newstand, which doesn't always happen.

Well, now you can read it, too. As of the April/May issue, nearly all of the contents are online for free. It looks like a couple of items are print-only, out of about 45.

Continue reading "Free Stuff" »

On the Occasion of a New Volume by Clive James

The new collection of essays by Clive James seems to be getting a lot of attention. No review copy of it has arrived, and I cannot spare the blood it would be necessary to sell in order to purchase a copy. Genteel poverty sucks. As the expression "sucks" here may suggest, the genteel part does not come naturally, and the rest is a bore as well.

Continue reading "On the Occasion of a New Volume by Clive James" »

March 21, 2007

The Mysterious World of the Unconscious Mind

Shortly before waking up this morning, I dreamt that I was a writer for Dragnet.

jackwebbsays.gif

(One comma too many can ruin everything.)

March 22, 2007

Cosmopolitan Shout Out, No. 1: The Sequel

As mentioned here a month ago, my friend Richard Byrne was a finalist in the First Annual Prague Post Playwriting Festival. In the meantime he's been there overseeing the production of the one-act version of Burn Your Bookes, a work-in-progress.

Well, he won. The award includes a prize of $900, which sounds even more impressive when tallied as 20,000 Czech crowns.

You can read an article about Rich -- and/or listen to a podcast from the English-language service of Czech Radio -- here.

The Greatest Generation

From The New Yorker, the quintessence of the 1960s, as conveyed to children of the Baby Boomers:

Continue reading "The Greatest Generation" »

March 25, 2007

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Blogging

An entry on "Blogging and Identity" at Frank Wilson's Books, Inq has generated an interesting discussion. But it would be richer for a reference to Erving Goffman's work -- especially the essay "On Face Work" in Interaction Rituals, or just about anything in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

I'm too distracted by the looming piles of clutter in my study to do more than point out this item on the latter book. It's an adequate if by no means compelling overview, no substitute for reading the original. (Goffman himself wrote so well that it is amazing he could find employment as a sociologist.)

Continue reading "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Blogging" »

March 26, 2007

Until the Desired Constellation Appears

Over at Wax Banks, Walter Holland writes: "Bjork's mostly a capella album Medúlla isn't consistently enjoyable, to me; I find the most outré vocal styles unbearable, and feel unable to judge its worth as avant garde art because I (frankly) can't make it through the damn thing."

Continue reading "Until the Desired Constellation Appears" »

World of History

It feels like ages -- though it has only been weeks -- since I commented on Sam Tanenhaus's essay about the state of contemporary American history writing. (See this earlier post for the links.)

Continue reading "World of History" »

A Modest Example of the Dwindling Forces of Cognition Under Late Capitalism

plame.jpg

Continue reading "A Modest Example of the Dwindling Forces of Cognition Under Late Capitalism" »

March 27, 2007

Argument! Character Assassination! Breasts!

Every once in a great while, something I've written gets picked up by what might be called -- not entirely oxymoronically -- the "mainstream blogosphere." The latter seems to be very much a star system made up of people who are partisans of one of the two major political parties. That rules me out a priori.

For that matter, I don't even have much of a role in left-wing blogchat, ever since the dissolution of the Vanguard Workers Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Labor Party USA (Bolshevik-Reconstructed). As some of you may recall, I was the Central Committee member responsible for Proletarian Hammer newspaper, as well as being the party's one cadre. The meeting where I expelled myself was bitter and scarring.

Continue reading "Argument! Character Assassination! Breasts!" »

The Rise of Fordism

The redoubtable Phil Ford has a new post that takes off from a parsing of "postpunk" *(as that periodization is narrated in Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds) and then goes on to propose what Ford calls the genre of the "listening biography." The latter he defines, in his own case as "the individual, peculiar, contingent path by which which I, like anyone else, come into my mature (?) musical tastes."

Continue reading "The Rise of Fordism" »

March 28, 2007

Reconfiguring Borders

Last week, the Borders chain -- which in 30 years has grown from a single used bookshop largely serving students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to a global empire, with stores in the U.K. and Australia among other places -- announced that it would be undertaking a major restructuring. Its new strategic plan will (in the words of a press release) "revitalize, refocus, and ultimately reinvent the company to achieve its mission to be a headquarters for knowledge and entertainment."

So much for the usual nourishing corporate baloney....

more

The Art of Cinema Considered as "a Taquito Buffet That You Puke Up After Getting Hit With a Motorcycle"

It takes a talented writer to convey the thought processes of a bad writer. And so, now, some excerpts from the finest piece of prose I have encountered in a while -- Neil Compstun's review of Grindhouse, the pastische of exploitation films directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

It isn't even a movie - it's TWO movies with some trailers and stuff at the beginning, and also between the movies. The directors - more about them in a second (there's TWO!) - wanted to recreate the way movies were back in the 1920's, when you could sell a script that was one page that just said, "TITS THEN A MONSTER THEN MORE TITS THEN AN EXPLOSION THEN BONUS TITS" and everyone knew what you were talking about.

Also, there's zombies getting killed by a helicopter, which is not only cool to look at, but shows how the movie-makers did some research, to make things realistic.

Continue reading "The Art of Cinema Considered as "a Taquito Buffet That You Puke Up After Getting Hit With a Motorcycle"" »

March 29, 2007

Comic-al Parapraxis

capwank.jpg

Should that be "parapraxises"? I mean, there are fifteen of them. Maybe "parapraxi"?

Whatever. Thanks to Fade Theory for the tip.

And Now Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, Would Like To Sing For You a Little Song

March 30, 2007

A Fresh Triumph of the Will

The trailers for 300 made it look so much like a video game (a cultural form with no appeal for me at all) that actually going to it never crossed my mind, even though I'm interested in the history.

Subsequent critical commentary on the film has only reinforced that decision -- while adding a layer of incredulity at the idea of the Spartans being portrayed as some kind of Republican focus group, a bunch of freedom-loving homophobes engaged in a joint campaign of the Culture Wars and the War on Terror.

Continue reading "A Fresh Triumph of the Will" »

Mänÿ, Mänÿ Lïnks

In Austin, long ago, friends and I discussed starting a metal band to be called Mötley Ümläüt. Nothing came of it, alas. Though there's a chance one of the guys still has a tape from our other side-project, the Dead Belushis.

In any case, the topic of music-related gratuitous-umlaut usage is extensively covered at Orgtheory.

Mediated and/or Medicated

An entry here a few days ago gave evidence to my rather belated discovery of political blogger/law professor Ann Althouse.

And now (as if in strange exemplification of cultural tendencies that I've been puzzling over since starting to read Thomas de Zengotita) there comes a video of Ann Althouse watching American Idol.

Continue reading "Mediated and/or Medicated" »

April 1, 2007

We Have a Winner!

Having over the past two months or so carefully excluded from public view sundry offers involving penile enlargement and/or teenage Russian babes-in-thongs, this humble blog has just posted its 100th comment.

Continue reading "We Have a Winner!" »

April 2, 2007

Depth Takes a Holiday

The lighting is somehow worse in the YouTube broadcast than it was in the original recording. It also cut off the last couple of seconds. (After Althouse cackles, I said something like, "See, she agrees.")

Continue reading "Depth Takes a Holiday" »

April 3, 2007

A Sentimental Ditty That Melts My Heart

Can't say much about the video here....But chances are at least a few of you will enjoy hearing "Kill Yr Idols" again -- a reminder of the era when Sonic Youth didn't seem like an ironic name for the band.

The recording is from an EP that came out circa 1985. Or so the geezer seemed to recall....

April 4, 2007

That Dog is Smart

In which my metavlogging is metavlogged....
Gevalt! What an ugly word. Makes "blog" sound euphonious.

Rapture!

Very grateful to Ellen Heltzel (of the Book Babes) for the item at the National Book Critics Circle blog Critical Mass about my column today, which discusses Robert Cawdrey's pioneering but long-forgotten dictionary from 1604.

Not too surprised that she notices some of the sexual lingo that I cited. When you say "Puritan," the notion of repression comes automatically to mind.

Continue reading "Rapture!" »

April 5, 2007

Watch the Parking Meters

Not long ago, Revolution, the newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, announced that it would soon be running a special issue about its leader, Chairman Bob Avakian.

Some of you cynics out there might be thinking, "Isn't that like publishing a special edition of the Bible about God?" That is totally inappropriate. The Bible is a book, while a newspaper is a newspaper, and that distinction will exist even after the end of class society.

Anyway, the special issue is out and it's...well, special.

Continue reading "Watch the Parking Meters" »

Freaks and Geeks

Harry Brighouse may have stirred up a hornet's nest at Crooked Timber by saying that Freaks and Geeks was the single best show on American television in the past twenty years.

But surely he is right about the bizarre misreading of one episode by Jake Kasdan, one of the former directors of the show. In the show in question, one of the early-adolescent "geeks" manages to start dating the girl he has adored from afar, only to discover that she is actually a vacuous Reaganite yuppie larva.

According to Kasdan, the audience is supposed to feel frustrated by this -- as if the kid has suffered some kind of defeat:

Continue reading "Freaks and Geeks" »

True, That

Nick Reville: "If libraries didn't already exist, there'd be no way they could ever come into existence now. Can you imagine telling the publishing industry that the government was going to pay to set up buildings where they gave away their product for free?"

(Via Christopher Hayes)

April 6, 2007

Greetings, AndrewSullivan.com Readers!

Thanks to a cursory nod from Andrew Sullivan last night, there will probably be a spike of traffic here today. "Now that it's gotten to him," says a web-savvy friend, "I predict we'll see someone writing a snarky essay for Slate or Salon on the topic in the next week or two. You may get your 320kbps*900 of fame after all." Gosh, it's all I ever wanted, and more!

My vlogging debut was a one-off affair, recorded in one take, that took all of about two minutes of effort. And yet at this rate it is going to have more effect than twenty years of writing.

Like the man says says in Ecclesiastes: "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

Yeah verily, dude. Yeah verily.

April 7, 2007

Famous Frogs in Rehab

Following the death of Jim Henson, the career of Kermit the Frog took a long detour into "a life of sex, drugs, and alcohol," reports Cosmopoetica. So am I the last person to have heard about this?

On the other hand, it led to his best work in decades. Check out Kermit's cover of the Radiohead song "Creep" in particular.

April 9, 2007

"It's Short for Emo-tional"

As if the good people of Grand Forks, North Dakota don't have enough to worry about, a local news station has alerted them to the menace of a mutant subculture:

This is tone-deaf even by TV news standards. Even someone who will never see 40 again (yours truly for example) can tell that at least some of the material presented here as typical of "emo culture" has obvious satirical intent.

Continue reading ""It's Short for Emo-tional"" »

April 10, 2007

Teenage Wasteland

What synchronicity....One day after that emo item, and totally by chance, I come across the great short film of teenage alienation The Snob (1958).

Continue reading "Teenage Wasteland" »

April 11, 2007

Who's the Mack?

Every once in a while, I will read something that seems uniquely precise in describing aspects of my own condition. A piece from early last fall by Jerome Weeks -- at that point book critic for the Dallas Morning News -- was very much a case of that happening:

Continue reading "Who's the Mack?" »

April 16, 2007

An Entertainment for Patrons of Quality

We spent the past weekend immersed in the world of Titus Andronicus -- also known as "Shakespeare's batshit crazy play," at least around here. Most dramatic performances fade into the background within a short time, but my wife and I have been discussing Titus for several days. Popular in its own time, it is seldom performed now, though there is an excellent version from 1999 available on film, with Anthony Hopkins in the title role. The production currently being staged at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington is spellbinding and horrific -- though I'm not at all sure that I agree with the effort of Gale Edwards, the director, to lend the play some hint of morally redeeming value. Arguably, it has none.

(from last week's column)

Schlock Jockey

I was sick of the whole Don Imus thing about two minutes into it, and did not expect willingly to read a long discussion of the subject. But Phil Nugent's commentary is on target. The rhythms of his rant are always so beautifully well-modulated:

Continue reading "Schlock Jockey" »

April 17, 2007

The Way We Live (and Die) Now

At BookTruck.org (a group blog for librarians), Mimi notes that with the nightmare at Virginia Tech, mass-media coverage has been almost entirely conditioned by the new-media "surround":

Continue reading "The Way We Live (and Die) Now" »

April 18, 2007

Unstuck in Time

While working on my column about Kurt Vonnegut this week, I had a dream in which I filed a draft and was surprised to notice that it ran to just two paragraphs.

Continue reading "Unstuck in Time" »

A Report from the Department of Strange Online Behavior

It seems as if the expression "taping bacon to the cat" might be drawn from the idiolect of some strange subculture you'd rather not know anything about.

To the best of my knowledge, however, it is not. It refers to an actual, literal activity -- something I do not condone, merely report:

cattapebacon2.jpg

Backstory here. I believe this comes under the heading of "activities nobody would think to do if the possibility of putting photographs of it on the web did not exist."

Divided Mind

In August, I wrote a profile of George Scialabba on the occasion of the appearance of the first collection of his essays, a volume called Divided Mind. Unfortunately it was not so easy for many readers actually to find a copy of the book, which came out in a small edition. But a couple of days ago it was listed by Mark Oppenheimer as one of the great titles of 2006 overlooked by the Pulitzer Prize committee.

Now the book is available in PDF at George's website, which is good news. I must issue a warning however. Brace yourself before clicking the link I am about to give -- for while the artwork on the cover is certainly very striking, it is likely to induce nightmares, or at least the heebejeebees. Okay, then, you have been warned: here it is.

April 20, 2007

The Lessons Learned

Among the top-ranking videos at YouTube this morning, nearly half (nine out of twenty) consist of Cho Seung-Hui's monologues as broadcast by NBC.

Good for Siva Vaidhyanathan for criticizing this decision at the MSNBC website. (See also his piece there on the "ill-conceived lessons" being drawn from the massacre.)

Continue reading "The Lessons Learned" »

Petition in Support of AJC Books Editor

"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent decision to eliminate its book editor position--and, possibly, its book review section--is demoralizing beyond words. The AJC's book section is one of the best-edited literary pages in the country. It provides Atlanta, which ranks #15 on the University of Wisconsin's list of most literate cities in the U.S., with a powerful and necessary cultural dialogue. Under the astute guidance of the section's editor Teresa Weaver, the books page has demonstrated an admirable commitment to both literature and nonfiction works which have grappled with some of America's most complicated issues and themes...."

read the rest of the petition here, and please consider signing it.

UPDATE: The first comment below is by a literary figure with a fascinating history.

April 22, 2007

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

Over the years, my interest in the work of Cornelius Castoriadis has more than once led to a moment of conversational awkwardness, when it turned out that the other party had been quietly distracted by the effort to figure out what the anti-totalitarian left had to do with taking peyote.

With time I have learned to detect the signs of struggle early, and so make haste to point out that I don't mean Carlos Castaneda, whose tales of cosmic shenanigans with Yaqui shaman Don Juan once played a big part in the counterculture.

Continue reading "What a Long Strange Trip It's Been" »

Iggy

Anthony Paul Smith says it's Iggy's sixtieth birthday. Try wrapping your mind around that one for a bit.

Here he is, from 1987, performing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with Sonic Youth. A much better song than "Happy Birthday to You" in any case. More festive, for one:

April 23, 2007

Continuing the Iggy-thon

Very odd: Iggy on French TV in 1977....

Updating the Local Strangeness

Thanks to Maud Newton for informing her readers about my recent strange visitor. It seems that he has a fan base, albeit of the tongue-in-cheek variety. I'm told that he tends to loiter around Arts Journal, commenting at blogs. His recent appearance will have been his first here at Quick Study. Also his last.

"The nature of e-mail is such that verbal subtleties such as tone of voice or irony do not come across well," he later explained.

"Why, if I see anyone looking threatening, Asian, wearing black -- I'm going to shoot that sucker first and ask questions later," English professor Joel Wingard wrote in an e-mail exchange Tuesday that was circulated on the college computer network. "I'm going to drop into my shooter's stance, one knee on the ground, gun hand supported by the other hand braced by the other knee, and do what has to be done."

Such a fine line, sometimes, between clever and stupid....

Or between pedagogy and assholery, for that matter. See Margaret Soltan's account.

April 24, 2007

Well Now, There You Have It

You could listen to talk radio for a week, or you could just read this sentence:

Decades ago, little George Soros decided to take over the world so he got rich through the capitalist system which he wished to destroy by paying John Kerry to fake his wounds and forge his service records in Vietnam so Kerry could run for president one day while leaving lots of people POW-MIA in Vietnam so that we'd all stop being afraid of Marxism so that literary critics from France could infect the minds of the young with Cultural Marxism and pornography via tenured radicals in English Departments and organizations like MoveOn.org and Media Matters and the Em Ess Em so that the Great International Communist Islamofascist Conspiracy to Dominate the World could move ahead by means of feminists evolutionary biologists atheists and liberal Christians who want to ban Christmas so that everyone will be gay and that way they'll all be feminized and passive and won't be able to do anything but stand around when the Islamic Bomb is built which it will be any moment because Saddam really did have WMDs in fact the only supply of WMDs in the entire world that the terrorists could possibly get their hands on and the Islamic Bomb is being built right now by Syria Russia North Korea and China most of which are not Islamic countries but it's all the same thing anyway and everyone in the government from the Bush Administration to the Congress and all the way down the bureaucracy and the Em Ess Em knows this but isn't saying anything because they're too embarrassed and when the Islamic Bomb is developed it will be dropped on American cities and soon all those atheist liberal Christians will see oh yeah they'll see all right when they all have to wear hijabs and then George Soros will have won.

Sounds like a plan.

from The Vanity Press

Perpetual Motion, Here We Come

Not as a gloss on "taping bacon to the cat" but as the product of an entirely unrelated matter for speculation comes the following item, via Evan Hughes, which I present without further comment:
View image


April 25, 2007

And Then He Reviewed Another Book

My column today is part of a new campaign by the National Book Critics Circle. It has a slightly different contributor's note this time:

Scott McLemee writes Intellectual Affairs each week. He has reviewed books for The New York Times, Newsday, The Boston Globe and The Nation, and he takes George Orwell's description of the book critic as "a man pouring his soul down the drain a pint at a time" rather personally.

Very true. Be that as it may, I'm doing my little bit for the cause, and hope it gets some circulation among librarians and university-press folk.

UPDATE: This is a good sign. Librarians are the organic intellectuals whose role is least appreciated. They give a lot of thought to media of all kinds, and they play an important part in organizing and distributing knowledge. I wrote that column with a very strong sense that getting them on our side is, to use the old expression, an urgent task.

(Would I be saying this if my wife were not a librarian? Let's just say that it is a complexly overdetermined matter, and that with the benefit of hindsight marrying one does seem like destiny. Also, as I've said many times, the single smartest thing I've ever done in my life.)

MORE: Links at Romenesko and ArtsJournal. This is all very encouraging.

Marxism-Lexiconism

Mark Fischer, national organizer of (what's left of) the Communist Party of Great Britain, gives an interview to the BBC on the meaning of terms like "Stalinist," "Leninist," "Menshevik," and so forth. He does it all with admirable precision, but also good humor.

Definitely worth a listen -- particularly for when the interviewer asks him about Titoism and he just breaks down laughing.

April 26, 2007

You Kids Get Off My Berlin Wall

Two radio spots that aired when I was a freshman in high school (that would be Wills Point High School, aka "Home of the 1965 State AA Football Champs," which can now also proudly boast that it is "ranked as 'academically acceptable' under the Texas Education Agency") have stuck in my head for the past -- oh good lord, this can't be true -- thirty years almost. And to think Kieran feels old.

Continue reading "You Kids Get Off My Berlin Wall" »

Nature Will Castigate Those Who Don't Masticate

I almost never look at the comics section of the newspaper, large portions of which just leave me very confused.

You would need to do advanced research in narratology even to begin to explain strips like Mary Worth or Apartment 3-G in which -- and I do not think this is much of an exaggeration at all -- nothing ever happens. If a character decides to make a sandwich, it takes three months to complete the task.

And I do mean make it. Eating the sandwich would take longer. Mary Worth is very thorough about chewing. She may well be a follower of the late, great Horace Fletcher.

Continue reading "Nature Will Castigate Those Who Don't Masticate" »

April 28, 2007

Feeling Freakosophical

The paperback edition of Freakonomics contains a postscript that mentions my review of the hardback edition. That piece ran two years ago this weekend. In the course of listing various comments that were not entirely enthusiastic, the authors refer to

a Newsday review, by Scott McLemee, which chided the book's "style of evasive lucidity"; [and] a review in Time magazine, which said that the "unfortunately titled Freakonomics" has "no unifying theory ... which is a shame." (In fairness to ourselves, we should note that both the Time and Newsday reviews were largely positive.)

Now, it's true that I seldom reread my work after it is published, and tend to forget what I've written pretty quickly once the last revision is done. (Forward ever, backward never.) But this reference to the review as "largely positive" certainly came as a surprise, for I do have some recollection of the book, and it is not a fond one.

Continue reading "Feeling Freakosophical" »

April 29, 2007

The Best Medicine

Last week I wrote a column, a piece for Bookforum, and a review for Newsday. Yet I am still behind -- with a very bad cold having kicked in almost immediately after meeting the last deadline. (In short: If you are reading this and I owe you some work, please realize that I'm doing the best I can.)

Lifting my spirits somewhat was our viewing of Flushed Away, from Aardman, the studio responsible for Wallace & Gromit. Evidently the movie did not do well when released here last year. I don't even remember it coming out, and we're longtime fans of Aardman. In any case, Rita ordered the film on Netflix, and now I am convinced that the singing slugs deserve their own musical. Their choreography is also brilliant:

Good news: The Aardman short film Creature Comforts will soon be reborn as a series. There is a lot to say for the curative power of comedy when you are ill, and Aardman's mode of anthropomorphizing really does it for me.

(On consideration, it seems to me that Creature Comforts is actually whatever the opposite of anthropomorphizing would be. It doesn't humanize animal so much as animalize humans. If there is a word for that, I can't think of it.)

April 30, 2007

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

Via Continental Philosophy -- and for a limited time only, probably -- access to the Slavoj Zizek documentary The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Haven't seen it yet but look forward to doing so.

I've occasionally watched a film and wondered, "What would Zizek say about this?" Someone should create the Zizek Movie Data Base (ZMDB).

May 1, 2007

Celebrate May Day!

May Day with the Lovestoneites, circa 1931:
mayday.jpg

The workers' flag is deepest red
It's shrouded oft our martyred dead
But ere their limbs grew stiff and cold
Their heart's blood dyed its every fold.

So raise the scarlet standard high!
Beneath its shade we'll live and die.
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

Psychlo Babble; or, Get Behind Me, Thetan!

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney revealed his favorite novel yesterday on a television network that I cannot watch even while feeling healthy, let alone with a bad cold. Per the Times:

When asked his favorite novel in an interview shown yesterday on the Fox News Channel, Mitt Romney pointed to "Battlefield Earth," a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology....A spokesman said later it was one of Mr. Romney's favorite novels. "I'm not in favor of his religion by any means," Mr. Romney, a Mormon, said. "But he wrote a book called 'Battlefield Earth' that was a very fun science-fiction book."

Let's take this opportunity to revisit the plot via from my review of the box-office-imploding screen adaptation from seven years ago (can that be right?):

Continue reading "Psychlo Babble; or, Get Behind Me, Thetan!" »

May 2, 2007

The Altmouse Files: A Portrait in Non-Partisanship

Evidently some webcams are more flattering than others:

May 4, 2007

From This Week's Column

When Jacques-Alain Miller pontificates, it is, verily, as a pontiff. Besides control of the enigmatic theorists's literary estate, Miller has inherited Lacan's mantle as leader of one international current in psychoanalysis. His influence spans several continents. Within the Lacanian movement, he is, so to speak, the analyst of the analysts' analysts.

He was once also a student of Louis Althusser, whose seminar in Paris during the early 1960s taught apprentice Marxist philosophers not so much to analyze concepts as to "produce" them. Miller was the central figure in a moment of high drama during the era of high structuralism. During Althusser's seminar, Miller complained that he had been busy producing something he called "metonymic causality" when another student stole it. He wanted his concept returned. (However this conflict was resolved, the real winner had to be any bemused bystander.)

full article here

Jean Baudrillard: The Art of Disappearing

Video clip of an interview (in English) from 2000:

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

From Twelve, Patti Smith's new album of cover songs:

The last three minutes are dead air for some reason. For footage of her performing this live, go here.

May 5, 2007

Meta-Free-For-All

My cold is getting better -- should be fully verbal again soon.

In the meantime, for anyone else who hasn't seen it, a clip of the figural-language throw-down between Sean Penn and Stephen Colbert, moderated by Robert Pinsky:

Via MaryDell at BookBlog

May 6, 2007

Sailing Out From the Blogipeligo

The cartoonist known as XKCD has created a map of online space that is attractive, useful, and otherwise incredibly appealing.

Much too large to post into this entry, but it pops up here:
View image

Hiatus Interruptus

I've been on a kind of sabbatical from writing for newspapers. This was a purely personal decision, one having nothing to do with the kinds of factors making the National Book Critics Circle campaign necessary.

The last time that I recall doing anything was a review of Norman Mailer's last novel -- a piece filed about four months ago. (See also the Quick Study postscript to that review.)

Well, now I'm back in the fray. My review of Cullen Murphy's Are We Rome? ran in today's Newsday, and it also available here.

Continue reading "Hiatus Interruptus" »

May 7, 2007

Reader's Digest for the Hyper-Literate

As noted here before, Bookforum and Political Theory Daily Review have merged. Now the process has gone to the next stage.

Check out the new, improved Bookforum homepage -- which is rather easier on the eyeballs than the old-school PTDR site, I must say.

May 8, 2007

Career Opportunities Are the Ones That Never Knock

There is a neutral and generic sense of the term "career" that I've seen in sociology and ethnography -- one that does not necessarily relate to a profession or a particular kind of work. A career is something that goes through phases of deepening involvement, more precise role definition, recognition by peers etc. That broad usage can apply to the "career" of a heroin addict, a Jehovah's Witness, a Communist organizer, or whatever, just it might to a CEO or a famous actor.

So I've sort of been playing around with the questions of what it might mean to speak of a blogging "career." What would be the stages, transitional moments, marks of distinction, occasions for exit, and so on?

Continue reading "Career Opportunities Are the Ones That Never Knock" »

May 9, 2007

Cover/Age

Over the past couple of days, I have become immoderately fond of Patti Smith's new album, Twelve. (First mentioned here last week, before I actually had it in hand. It is now, as a b-day present from my better half, and I'm on probably the dozenth listening, which seems appropriate.)

Continue reading "Cover/Age" »

"Other Relative Unknowns"

The Huffington Post launched two years ago today. It has the fifth largest audience of any blog in the United States.* I know this, or think I do, because it is so reported at the pertinent Wikipedia entry, which then goes on to say:

In addition to regular (often daily) columns by Huffington and a core group of contributors (such as Harry Shearer and John Conyers) , the HuffPost has featured notable celebrity contributors from politics, journalism, business, and entertainment (Norman Mailer, John Cusack, and Bill Maher, to name a few), as well as other relative unknowns.

Turns out I am now among the "other relative unknowns." Or will be, anyway, once we track down a photograph (for the contributor's note) in which I do not wear a pained expression. This could take a while.

Continue reading ""Other Relative Unknowns"" »

May 10, 2007

Sex! Politics! Dubious Footnotes!

My column for this week.

The Movement of History

"The movement of history is heavy, and slow. The movement of history always takes place behind one's back. As your gaze is fixed upon something immediately in front of you -- the object of your anger, for example -- history makes a slight, almost imperceptible slither, or shudder, in a direction of its own choice. The distinguishing mark of this direction is that it is not the one you had anticapted. How history does this is not known. Because history is made up of the will of all individuals taken together, because these oceans of individuals are mostly, or always, in conflict, the movement of history is at one and the same time tightly bound, and outrageous....Study of the previous behavior of history does not prepare one for these shifts, which are discomfiting in the extreme. Nothing prepares you."

Donald Barthelme, "The Angry Young Man," Guilty Pleasures (1974)

(crossposted at Cliopatria)

May 11, 2007

In Search of the Great 9/11 Novel...Or Not

Jerome Weeks, writing at the next blog over, ponders the sources and consequences of the expectation that our novelists will produce topical narratives on major events (and in a timely fashion):

Continue reading "In Search of the Great 9/11 Novel...Or Not" »

May 15, 2007

In Memory of Jerry Falwell

ca. 1982:

Lyrics here

Thanks to Chris Phelps for letting me know the news and suggesting the soundtrack....

May 16, 2007

WTF?

I have never understood why anyone would play internet poker. Why not just go the ATM machine, take out all the money your bank or credit card will allow, then set fire to the bills one at a time? I imagine that would be more fun. And yet even online gambling seems sensible compared to watching people play poker on cable. I'm completely flumoxed by that one.

So can anything be more "here, stupified viewer, consume your own passivity and alienation by proxy" than that? Why, yes, there can. This seems like it ought to be a joke, but I do not think it actually is a joke:

It makes me want to burn some money.

Surely in Need of Much More Argument

Evaluating a recent book about Derrida at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Nancy J. Holland says:

One wonders, for instance, about the statement that philosophy in America "has the role of legitimating the US government and the scientific enterprise" leading to the suggestions that analytic philosophy "has as its telos the establishment of a universal culture for a static, totalitarian universal civilization" (pp. 124-125). Intriguing, and possibly even largely justified, but surely in need of much more argument.

Continue reading "Surely in Need of Much More Argument" »

May 22, 2007

An Idea Possessing a Certain Elegance

Someone commenting at Kevin Drum's blog over at Washington Monthly has just suggested that the best way to improve Alberto Gonzales's memory might be a little waterboarding.

At this point I must pause to reflect on the distinction between aesthetics and ethics.

Bible Punching Heavyweight Evangelistic Boxing Kangaroo

I'm a longtime fan of the Rutles, a.k.a. "The Prefab Four." Since we're coming up on the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, why not celebrate with the best cut from their neglected Tragical History Tour album?

I'm glad to see that my old hometown, Austin, has given birth to a Rutles tribute band, Ouch! For live clips, go here.

Advertisement for Myself

In principle this blog should serve the world-benefiting purpose of allowing me to self-promote my own published work on a regular and indeed constant basis.

Yet I often forget to mention in a timely manner that my column has gone up at IHE. Almost a week has passed, for example, since the one about Zygmunt Bauman's "secret Stalinist past" (not).

Continue reading "Advertisement for Myself" »

May 23, 2007

Beach Blanket Bingo

This week's column:

Entertainment is in the eye of the beholder. Consider the case of what are usually called "beach novels" -- bulky sagas of lust, money, and adventure, page-turning epics of escapism that are (it's said) addictive. I've never been able to work up the appetite to read one, even while bored on vacation in a seafront town. Clive James characterized the dialogue of one such novelist as resembling "an argument between two not-very-bright drunks."

Which might be fun to witness in real life, actually, depending on the subject of the dispute. But reading the transcript seems like an invitation to a bad headache.

Diversion doesn't have to be mind-numbing, let alone painful. With the end of the semester at hand, then, a few recommendations of recent books and DVDs that are smarter than your average bar fight -- and more entertaining.....

the rest

Karl Marx: The Pre-Beard Years

The Hollywood Reporter, uh, reports:

Haitian auteur Raoul Peck will direct "Karl Marx," tracing the young adventures of the German philosopher and revolutionary, producer Jacques Bidou said Thursday.

The picture will cover the period 1830-1848, including Marx's time in Paris before being expelled to Brussels and culminating with the publication of the Communist Manifesto. "Marx was considered a young genius at the time, but it was also a period marked by the birth of a great movement in thinking," Bidou said.

The story also will encompass Marx's love for his aristocratic wife Jenny von Westphalen, and his friendship with Friedrich Engels, with whom he co-authored the Manifesto.

No cast is yet attached, but Bidou said the principal characters will necessarily be young....

Well, yes, I would say that is probably true, given that Marx was 12 years old in 1830.

Continue reading "Karl Marx: The Pre-Beard Years" »

May 27, 2007

A Book of Dreams

The small boy was an officer in the Cosmic Engineers. He helped his father with the machine they used to send beams of mysterious energy into the upper atmosphere, causing rain to fall during a drought. Their ray gun, called a "cloudbuster," had other uses as well. The UFOs that seemed to be keeping track of activities around Daddy's laboratory would try to avoid the beam. You could chase the flying saucers across the sky with it.

Continue reading "A Book of Dreams" »

Rolling Thunder

It's an armada of motorcycles, thousands of them, the mufflers removed from every one, it seems, so a low steady cyclical growl floats over the whole city -- and from the horizon, for the bikers are across the river as well, in the neighborhood close to Arlington National Cemetery, which is the magnet pulling all this metal to Washington, D.C. each year during Memorial Day weekend. It's called Rolling Thunder (which was also, not so coincidentally, the name of a bombing campaign during the Vietnam war).

The usual tourists wander around, of course, taking the usual pictures of the usual monuments. But more awe-inspiring is the temporary installation of artwork on the streets downtown. There are long rows of parked motorbikes, customized to the point of mutation, parked at angles that seem like a temptation to gravity and the domino effect. The place is full of sweaty, beer-swilling, heavily tattooed bikers. And you should see their husbands.

(more)

May 28, 2007

Invasion of the Pod Person

I've read quite a bit of work by and about Norman Podhoretz over the years, and am looking forward to an updated edition of DSM (the diagnostic handbook for psychiatrists) that will define the precise nature of this puzzling impulse.

Well, that's not quite fair. I take it back. Some of it anyway.

Continue reading "Invasion of the Pod Person" »

May 30, 2007

Book Expo, Here We Come

I'll be in the crowd at the NBCC event on Thursday mentioned at the top of my column today. Hope to meet a few of you.

At one point, I was, it's said, to be part of the panel itself, but evidently this changed when Joyce Carol Oates became available. And so my obscurity continues, albeit at a somewhat higher level.

Book Expo is one of the busier few days of the year for me. No blogging probably until early next week. I probably won't even check comments until we get back Sunday.

June 4, 2007

Crossover

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.

more

Expo Aftermath

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."

Continue reading "Expo Aftermath" »

June 5, 2007

I Fell Into a Burning Ringworm of Fire

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.

June 6, 2007

C.L.R. James Meets Tony Soprano

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.

(more)

June 7, 2007

Academic Freedom, Continued

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.

Continue reading "Academic Freedom, Continued" »

And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, For Your Dancing Pleasure....

....the Lounge Lizards performing "Voice of Chunk":

June 8, 2007

The Nugent Digest

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.

It's For the Wall That I Set a Place

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.

He was also, according to this tribute site, a nephew of the philosopher W.V.O. Quine. (I always wondered about that.) There's also another Quine site with an extensive discography.

June 11, 2007

The Sopranos Finale

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.

(crossposted at HuffPo)

June 13, 2007

Richard Rorty

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.

June 14, 2007

Greetings, Association of American University Presses! Are You Ready to Rock?

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.

Continue reading "Greetings, Association of American University Presses! Are You Ready to Rock?" »

June 17, 2007

Robert Goulet Has Been Messing With My Stuff

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:

June 19, 2007

In the Dutch

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).

Continue reading "In the Dutch" »

Another Update

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.

June 20, 2007

Jason Isbell Goes Solo

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:

Banal Strategies

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.

Continue reading "Banal Strategies" »

June 21, 2007

Death Hell Bitch

Thanks to the appearance of those words here, it seems.....

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

"Death Hell Bitch" would be a pretty good name for a band.

We Only Steal From the Best

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.

Anna.jpg

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....

Continue reading "We Only Steal From the Best" »

June 22, 2007

Loaded With Nourishing Roughage

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.

(crossposted from CT)

Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues

There is some discussion at Unfogged over whether Complete, a group from Fort Worth, is a parody band or not. I see no reason to think so. Besides, a parody of what? The Shaggs?

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.

Complete: Behind the Music

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....

June 24, 2007

Critical Index

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.)

June 25, 2007

Aural Sex

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.

Continue reading "Aural Sex" »

Here's Some More of More of the Same

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.)

Continue reading "Here's Some More of More of the Same" »

The Red in the Black

Glad to hear that Verso, my favorite left-wing publisher, is commodifying its dissent in such fashion as to avoid TRPF. In other words, they are making money.

Continue reading "The Red in the Black" »

I've Joined a Social Network....Now to Find Some Skills to Go With It.

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.

June 26, 2007

Yes, That Man is Playing an Amplified Jug

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.

Freaks and Geeks, Revisited

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.

June 27, 2007

Experimental Cell-Phone Cat Video Number 1

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:

Not unlike the Althouse meta-vlogging experiment almost three months ago (or joining Facebook for that matter), this is part of my continuing forced march deeper into the digital landscape.

Continue reading "Experimental Cell-Phone Cat Video Number 1" »

Fixer Upper

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.

Well That's Not Good

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."

-- "Ai-yi-yi."

Somewhere in Scandanavia, the computer simulation of an IKEA saleswoman is giggling.

(crossposted from CT)

Small Skirmishes Just Off Grub Street

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.

Making Time

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....

Dawn of the E.P.O.C.H.

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.

June 28, 2007

The Key to All Mythologies

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.

Continue reading "The Key to All Mythologies" »

Easter is Everywhere

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."

If perchance you missed it, by all means have a look at the clip I put up earlier this week. His solo work is also fantastic.

June 29, 2007

A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire

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.

June 30, 2007

Sometimes a Jackhammer Pounding the Walls of a Quarry Is Just a Jackhammer Pounding the Walls of a Quarry

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:

By coincidence, I'm reading about Harold Laski, who is said to be one of the models for Rand's epicine collectivist villain Ellsworth Toohey -- the other being Lewis Mumford.

July 2, 2007

The Pardon of Scooter Libby is a Reminder That the "Rule of Law" Under Bourgeois "Democracy" is a Fig Leaf Covering the Bloodstained Dictatorship of Big Capital

You know, screw it. Next time I am voting for Bob Avakian.

Speaking of which, it is time to mention the website of Engage! sponsored by something described as "A Committee to Project and Protect the Voice of Bob Avakian." I think that involves buying microphones and throat lozenges and stuff.

While off on this tangent, let me also recommend a remarkable entry at Thanksgiving is Ruined.

July 3, 2007

"I seed it! I seed it with my own eyes!"

I'm only just now catching up with Phil Nugent's rant from last month that begins:

We're supposed to be living in this new era of CGI technology and kids who can sit down at their laptops and whip up a little movie showing Yogi Berra on the grassy knoll with as much ease as I used to stick baseball cards in between my bicycle spokes. (More ease, actually. I always used to give myself these wicked paper cuts.) I'm kind of disappointed that it doesn't seem to have resulted in a golden age of horrifyingly convincingly videos of lake monsters and skunk apes and little green men. I feel that if we'd had the the technology back when I was a sprout, we'd have had so many homemade spin-offs of the Patterson film (for those of you who can't quite make the connection, that's the footage of a pregnant-looking Bigfoot sashaying around the woods) plastered all over You Tube that it seem as if Sunn Classic Pictures exploded. Instead, all the little boogers are probably holed up working on their test reels for Pixar. I can't say as I blame them, but it does make you wonder. I've seen those characters in England demonstrating how they made all those crop circles themselves and scared Mel Gibson half to death. Whoever was or wasn't in on the making of the Patterson film, sticking somebody inside that costume and arranging to have a camera film the event for posterity took some initiative. As for the "surgeon's photograph" of Nessie that formed the modern image we all have of what the monster is supposed to look like and is the reason that some star-struck kids like me when quizzed about species of dinosaurs could immediately name, in addition to the T. Rex, the pterodactyl, and the brontosaurus, the long-necked sea-dwelling water balloon known as the plesiosaur--well, let's just say that after you've been informed flat out that it was just a picture of a toy sunmarine with some clay stuck on and seen the uncropped version of the photo that shows it as looking very small, it may not seem like much, but that didn't stop if from really getting something started, now did it?

Continue reading ""I seed it! I seed it with my own eyes!"" »

Double Plus Un-Ungood

All the heavy thinkers of the American right are united in condemning any cynical ideological doublethink that might be used to justify the pardon of Scooter Libby:

* Robert Bork and James Rosen, writing in the National Review: "Lying under oath strikes at the heart of our system of justice and the rule of law. It does not matter in the least what the perjury is about."

* Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois, who from 1985 until 1991 was the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Intelligence: "If citizens are allowed to lie with impunity -- or encourage others to tell false stories or hide evidence -- judges and juries cannot reach just results."

* Roger Kimball, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Leftists Sacrifice Truth on the Altar of Friendship": "In the culture wars that have been transforming American society since the 1960s, truth has been a conspicuous casualty: not only particular truths but also allegiance to the very ideal of truth as an indispensable component of any just and moral life. The competing, countercultural ideal holds that loyalty to the personal trumps loyalty to the truth...."

Oh, no, wait, I may have misread something....Plenty more at Acephalous. (And hat tip to Josh as Brainiac, whose cherry-pickings are here expropriated.)

UPDATE: Check out Phil Nugent's commentary on the stupid things that can be said -- and are, in fact, being said -- about this fine moment in the history of the republic.

(crossposted at CT)

Business Instead of Game

Beyond good and evil -- beyond good taste and bad taste, even -- the world is to be redeemed only through the act of aesthetic creation.

And with that I give you something sublime. Or that leaves me speechless, anyway:

Unlike some people, I have no problem at all with the recycling of lyrics about Mr. Wallace. As Amelie Gillet writes:

I mean, a tribute is a tribute, right? Lyrics like, "Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show/ I laced the track, you locked the flow/ So far from hangin on the block for dough/ Notorious, they got to know that" are universal. Really, everyone should be memorialized with a 7-minute song that Diddy very specifically wrote about one particular person.

We should all be so lucky. Still, some tweaking may be in order at times. At the moment I feel like singing.

Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show
I laced the track, you locked the flow
So far from hangin on the block for dough
KnowwhatI'msayin, Teddy Adorno....

Podcast Alert

My friend Maud Newton's interview with Shalom Auslander is up at the Book Expo website, where it can be either downloaded or played in streaming audio (if I have the lingo right). Here you go.

July 4, 2007

Eno/Can

Via Jahsonic, a short video commentary on Can by Brian Eno:

July 5, 2007

Branded

In today's Inside Higher Ed, Mark Bauerlein writes:

After I left graduate school, more literary/cultural criticism anthologies appeared along with various dictionaries and encyclopedias. The process seems to have culminated in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (ed. Vincent Leitch et al), whose publication in 2001 was momentous enough to merit a long story by Scott McLemee in The Chronicle of Higher Education that included the remark, "An anthology stamped with the Norton brand name is a sure sign of the field's triumph in English departments."

For McLemee to speak of "stamping" and "branding" was apt, more so than he intended, for every anthology assigned in class carries institutional weight.

Uh, no, that would be precisely the overtone and degree of aptness intended. I haven't reread the piece in a very long time, but do recall that the institutionalization and commercialization of theory were very much the focus of my attention.

The text of that article from 2001 (the first cover story I wrote while at the paper) is available online.

(crossposted from Cliopatria)

July 6, 2007

The Serial Comma Is Not Necessarily Your Friend

Via Political Animal, I see that Marty Peretz has taken a break from denouncing Arabs as subhuman primates long enough to comment on the fortunes of Scooter Libby:

It was from the beginning a politically motivated case, as Dershowitz argues in this morning's Post, the appointment of the special prosecutor, the prosecutor's own obsessions, the case itself with the doubtful and understandably doubtful but diverse memories of many witnesses, including the defendant, the especially harsh sentence pronounced by the judge, the refusal of the appellate court to continue Libby on bail -- all of these were politically motivated.

To which, former Peretz employee Andrew Sullivan responds, "This is an argument?"

Fair enough. But there is an even more obvious conundrum to ponder: This is a sentence? It feels like something Kerouac might have written before the benzedrine kicked in.

July 7, 2007

I'd Guess More Like the Intellectual-History Equivalent of "Metal Machine Music." But Hey, Whatever.

Mockery of Jonah Goldberg's work-in-progress continues, and not just around here. A contributor at Sadly, No! goes in search of the proper cultural landmarks for triangulating the book's already proto-legendary status:

Liberal Fascism is rapidly becoming a modern day cross between the Beach Boys' SMiLE! and William Shatner's Transformed Man. It's like the Shatner album in that it's valued only for its camp appeal. And it's like the Brian Wilson's lost masterpiece in that, despite being worked on for years, it never seems to get finished.

Consequently, every day that Liberal Fascism spends in the shop and away from the shelves is a day that its legend grows even funnier. The recent change in the book's subtitle - which was rewritten to accuse yuppie organic food shoppers of Nazism - was an all-too-fleeting glimpse into one man's ongoing mental implosion, much like the stories of Brian Wilson's ill-fated attempts to force his studio orchestra to wear fire helmets. Similarly, DoughBob's pathetic, laughable defenses of his work are akin to hearing Shatner yelp "MIIIISTER TAAAAAMBOOOOURINNNNNE MAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!" into the microphone at full decibel.

Interesting point: From an analysis of what Amazon says people who look at the Liberal Fascism page ultimately end up buying, it seems that "14 percent are wingnuts, 14 percent are nerds and a whopping 72 percent are lefties looking for a good laugh."

Not the sort of information designed to keep an author "far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow."

SEE ALSO: A helpful suggestion, not to say a modest proposal, from Jon Swift. (Best if viewed in Firefox.)

July 8, 2007

Skeletor vs. Haber-Man

You know, I do realize that "the free, user-generated content spawned and extolled by the Web 2.0 revolution is decimating ... our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced ... by amateur bloggers, hack reviewers, home-spun moviemakers, and attic recording artists."

I tremble at the thought, for it no doubt means my ass.

But as the redoubtable James Marcus points out, it is hard to take The Cult of the Amateur at quite its announced level of gatekeeperish seriousness given that it refers to the German philosopher Jurgen Haberman.

Menace to civilization that they may be, I nonetheless find myself enjoying the "amateur" reworkings of old He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoons now available as The Skeletor Show:

The full series is available via Flying Squid Studios. Please do not take this as an endorsement. My cultural gatekeeper license might be repealed. That said, I have to wonder if Haber-Man lives in Eternia.

July 9, 2007

Eat Not At All in a Worried Mood / Or Suffer Harm From the Best of Food

If memory serves, there is a reference to fletcherizing (the fad of chewing your food until it is liquified) in David Lodge's Author, Author.

That was the novel Lodge was working on when I profiled him, though of course he did not say anything in particular about it -- let alone that it was about Henry James, though this did not come as a huge surprise.

More on Fletcher, the Master, and style-as-mastication at Acephalous.

July 11, 2007

You Don't Say

"A common reaction to psychological trauma is the construction of what psychologists call the 'ego-ideal,' a kind of counterself, grand, inflated, magnificent, free from imperfections, and impervious to the kind of injury that created it in the first place."

-- Lee Siegel, Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television (Basic Books, 2007)

Continue reading "You Don't Say" »

Lyndon LaRouche Mystery Theater

Writing about the LaRouche Youth Movement finally allowed me to use some of the research material piling up for a novel that's never quite come together.

Maybe it was the anxiety of influence. Lyndon LaRouche always seemed like a character right out of Thomas Pynchon.

Continue reading "Lyndon LaRouche Mystery Theater" »

July 12, 2007

Footnote to Folly

A very good explanation of the basic LaRouche template is given in a chapter of Architects of Fear, a book from the early 1980s by George Johnson, who I believe is still a science writer for The New York Times.

World history boils down to a war between the anti-technology agrarian oligarchs (reductionist followers of Aristotle, every one) and the city-building forces of scientific progress (who are Platonists).

The whole thing started in either Atlantis or Mesopotamia, or maybe both. I can't read my notes on that part.

Continue reading "Footnote to Folly" »

Come Together

A YouTube clip released by the European Union has had almost 3.5 million hits in under a month -- some of them, I would guess, repeat visits:

Not that it has gone over well with everyone. An article at the ABC News website quotes Godfrey Bloom, from something called the U.K. Independence Party (which, in spite of the sound of it, does not actually consist of several friends from the pub and three members of his immediate family) saying that the clip is "soft porn" and "cheap, tawdry and tacky" and "like watching an elderly relative trying to be cool: very embarrassing."

But here in the States, the promo spot is being taken as a reminder of how much more sophisticated our cousins abroad are. To quote one comment at YouTube from a viewer in LA:

The United States is much more puritanical. Really, the abhorrence of openness about sexuality is an American thing.

Why, yes -- that would certainly explain why you never, ever see sexual imagery in our mass culture.

Also the continuing popularity of those black hats with the buckles.

I've pointed out the misleading nature of that equation between Puritanism and "abhorrence of openness about sexuality" before. Not that it makes any sense even to bother arguing the point.

Who Will Defend the Children of Priviledge?

The cover story of the Washington City Paper this week is about Late Night Shots, "a very exclusive, invite-only social-networking Web site" enabling rich young white people from good prep schools to get drunk and have casual sex with others of the kind in the Washington, DC area who share their right-wing politics and their sense of entitlement (if that isn't, in this case, verging on the redundant).

LNS claims to have something like 14,000 members. Many are, the article says, Episcopalian or Presbyterian. The whole things sounds like something produced by splicing together the work of John Updike and Bret Easton Ellis with a business plan cooked by a savvy venture capitalist.

Features in the City Paper are often dubiously reported and normally at least twice as long as the content merits, though this one seems competently edited. It might be worth a look for those of you concerned with networks, online and off -- just as an example of something off the MySpace/Facebook binary, so to speak.

But it's the cultural politics of the comments section that I found especially interesting.

Continue reading "Who Will Defend the Children of Priviledge?" »

July 13, 2007

Lady Bird and the Tramp

My immediate response to hearing that Lady Bird Johnson died was to remember a story that went around in Austin in the early 1980s. At that point, she still owned the radio station KLBJ.

It is said that one day she was listening when a disc jockey played the song "Too Young to Date" by a local band called D-Day, released on a single in 1979.

Continue reading "Lady Bird and the Tramp" »

Apocrypha Now?

A friend has asked about a story that may be the academic equivalent of an urban legend. I had never heard it. I asked some journalists who cover higher education, and they also say it does not ring a bell. But the thing sounds just plausible enough that it might really have happened. So at my friend's request, here is a call for leads in case there is anything to it.

Continue reading "Apocrypha Now?" »

On This Point Additional Correction Will Not Be Necessary

More or less as predicted, I have now been informed, more than once, that the title of the piece at Crooked Timber last night, "Who Will Defend the Children of Priviledge?" (also here, below) contains an error. It seems that the last word should actually be spelled "privilege."

Continue reading "On This Point Additional Correction Will Not Be Necessary" »

July 14, 2007

V. F. Calverton

A comment at The Valve starts out with a reference to the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (who knew folks would still be talking about it this late in the day?) and goes on to another topic of interest:

V.F. Calverton isn't exactly a marginal literary historical figure; his best work isn't exactly a peripheral achievement. That is, shouldn't be. Not in reality. Though he surely is in the reality of the academic lit establishment today (and previous days). What percentage of the lit establishment has even heard of The Liberation of American Literature, let alone read it? 1 percent? .... Who has even heard of V.F. Calverton himself, editor of the Modern Quarterly for 17 years, from 1923 until his death in 1940. Just as Calverton was eventually marginalized in his own time, for ideological reasons as well, so have many central progressive literary concerns been marginalized by the academy.....Leftward Ho! V.F. Calverton and American Radicalism, by Philip Abbott, was published in 1993 as part of Greenwood Press's series Contributions in Political Science. This seems to be how a limited amount of work of some "radical" substance gets done in the academies. It can be easier to get it published in someone else's field other than your own. Less threatening that way, I suppose.

Continue reading "V. F. Calverton" »

July 16, 2007

Clarification Via Reflected Brilliance

Rather than unpack at length all the ways Nonpartisan has minconstrued certain things -- doing so would take a while, and it's probably my fault for being too oblique -- let me just recommend to everyone's attention a fine post by Tim Burke that ends with the following, which is actually quite close to one aspect of what (I thought) I was saying:

I'm going to go on calling things as I see them. If I think I was wrong about something I thought or said earlier, I'm going to say so. I'm going to be as skeptical as I can manage about my own claims and commitments. But none of that is a politics at this point: it's just a personal aesthetic, a quirk, a habitus. It's not a public conversation that I feel myself to be part of, with some precious, treasured exceptions.

We can't get back to any kind of consensus politics until people who have made mistakes are prepared to admit them. Without caveats, without evasions, without double standards. That goes for the war in Iraq. It goes for attempting to turn the government of the United States into a personality cult driven entirely by the objective of structurally locking in partisan advantage for the foreseeable future. It goes for most of what has happened in the last six years.

Of course he makes this point (among others) in a cleaner and smarter way than I did. Or could, probably.

Apocrypha Now II: The Revenge of Samuel Pepys

Jerome Weeks offers another tale from the crypt:

A 17th century English lit doctoral candidate has completed her dissertation on Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist. Early on in her studies (yes, the gender makes this seem sexist, but I'm just reporting the anecdote as I heard it) she moved away from the university because of something -- oh, let's say she had to live with her parents. So she completed her work by mail. This was not that uncommon 25 years ago, and probably even less so today with the internet.

At any rate, it's the day of her defense, she returns to the department and faces a jury of professors -- who quickly realize that in all this time, no one has explained that Pepys' name is pronounced "Peeps." But the professors are embarrassed as well, to have one of their Ph.D. candidates get this far and never to have spoken to one of them directly. So our plucky candidate has the unnerving experience of hearing her mentors nervously coo at her for several hours.

Everytime she says "Peppis," one of them would softly go ... "Peeps."

Maybe it actually happened. Maybe it's academic folklore. But Jerome says he had one bit of confirmation of the premise: He told the story to an English professor who admitted he hadn't realized how the name was pronounced either.

Update: an interesting point

(crossposted from CT)

July 17, 2007

The Long Twilight

The reunited Television performing in 1992. Verlaine's solo, starting at about the 4 minute point, is beautifully clean and undemonstrative -- much stripped down from the old days, when, as Patti Smith once said, his guitar sounded like a thousand bluejays screaming. (Loved that sound too.)

I'd love to be able to put this on autorepeat, to have it playing while I'm writing at the computer.

July 18, 2007

The Miscellany is a Kind of Book

From time to time, I think of winnowing down and revising my published work into a collection of essays. And then kicks in the memory of having a player in literary publishing in New York (fully "made," as they say in the Mafia) tell me, in the tone one would use in explaining things to a child, "You can't publish a book of essays until you are somebody."

Well, now I'll keep in mind the example of John Emerson, whose writings appear at Idiocentrism and who regularly intervenes in the CT comments section. He has launched the Éditions le Real imprint with a book of his poems and a volume of essays.

Continue reading "The Miscellany is a Kind of Book" »

Magic!

It was tempting, while writing my column this week, somehow to work in one of the best headlines ever to run at The Onion: "New Harry Potter Film Turns Children On To Magic Of Not Reading."

"My daughter Julia never liked to sit passively and stare at a screen, but this new movie has really locked the power of her imagination," said Hannah Foss, 38, of Dayton, OH. "She can't put her books away fast enough." "Movies are great," said Tarzana, CA, 10-year-old Emily Hart. "You can see exactly what the characters look like without having to guess."


July 19, 2007

Breaking News, As It Were

For the Final Time, Harry Potter

Just an observation, not about the books themselves, or even about Pottermania as phenomenon, but about one particular experience. That is, mine. Let n=1.

So, I write a long column that mentions, in passing, and in the spirit of openness, that I have not read the Harry Potter books or seen the films.

The piece makes clear this is not a matter of deliberate policy, or fierce disdain, or what have you. It's just one of those things that never happened.

I also raise for discussion the idea that there might be grounds for objecting to an undergraduate course on Harry Potter.

Continue reading "For the Final Time, Harry Potter" »

Defunkt

I've only just discovered Defunkt and am trying to figure out how that oversight was possible. They play a fusion of jazz, funk, and No Wave (at least one member was also with James Chance and the Contortions) and the result is pretty astounding. Here is a performance from 1981:

There is a documentary about them due out next year.

July 20, 2007

Close to the Frozen Borderline

A few months ago, I became -- well, obsessed is such a loaded word, so let's just say very fascinated by The Marble Index. The first solo album by Nico, Chelsea Girl, tends to land near the CD player around here a lot, even though the chanteuse herself didn't like it very much. But The Marble Index is just from another planet. All the folk-rocky stuff is purged from her system, there's no compromise with pop, and she's found her instrument of choice in a harmonium that is a bit out of tune with itself. Which is to say it is perfectly in tune, given the context.

Lester Bangs wrote: "I don't know if I would classify it as oppressing or depressing, but I do know that The Marble Index scares the shit out of me." I've certainly felt that. Not all of the album has that effect, or affect rather. But "Frozen Warnings" is sublime. It was released in 1969 with a video -- a time capsule loaded with imagery from the Factory at peak instensity -- though the song itself is best listened to alone, in all its severity, without any visual distractions.

So...that said, here's the video anyway, because the footage is just too good to miss:

July 23, 2007

The Groves of Academe

For the second time this year, I have had the odd experience of reading a dissertation and finding that the bibliography includes a reference to my work.

Both times, my name was spelled wrong.

I am willing to bet this happens a third time.

An Accurate Depiction of the Proprietor

southparkscott.bmp

July 24, 2007

Expert textpert choking smokers / Don't you think the joker laughs at you?

David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, appeared at the Televison Critics Association Awards over the weekend. According to Alan Sepinwall, he told the audience, "Here's another clue for you all -- the Walrus was Paulie."

More clarifying remarks from Chase:

Somebody said it would be a good idea if we said something about the ending. I really wasn't going to go into it. But I'll just say this: When I was going to Stanford University graduate film school, 23 years old, I went and saw Planet of the Apes with my wife. When the movie was over I said, "Wow, so they had a Statue of Liberty, too." So that's what you're up against.

It's actually a better movie if you think of it that way.

Extra!

batboy.jpg

It is a dark day for American journalism. Rick Perlstein alerts me that the Weekly World News -- paper of record for "stories about aliens, Satan, giant pigs rampaging through the Georgia woods, Nostradamus-like prophets, time travel, and, of course, Bat Boy" -- is going under.

During the run-up to the Iraq War, it was a Weekly World News reporter who blew the lid on Saddam's program to clone dinosaurs for use as weapons of mass destruction. Other tabloids have their social function of course, but none was ever half so fearless.

In the words of perennial WWN columnist Ed Anger, "I'm madder than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest."

(crossposted from CT)

July 25, 2007

We Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy

"I am on the verge of making a radical decision," a professor told me in an e-mail note a couple of weeks ago. The plan taking shape was "to get rid of almost all the books I have in my office," he said, "based on their almost total superfluity."

more

(One of the commentors says, "Sometimes I swear the things copulate overnight and create new paperbacks which grow up to become hardbacks." The same thought has crossed my mind.)

Sugar Kane

Amusing juxtaposition of scenes from Some Like It Hot with a cut from Dirty, the last album by Sonic Youth that I really like. The matchup of song and movie probably turns on a coincidence, but it clicks. And Marilyn Monroe is smoking. Any argument about whether this is her best movie?

July 26, 2007

Attention Deficit Day

The only thing to say against Steven Augustine's literary blog The Ept, The Ane and the Fantile is that its title is resistant to memory -- or to mine, at least. But it is worth a look right now for the interview with James Marcus that went up recently. I'll be adding EAF to the blogroll at some point soon.

Meanwhile (small world) Marcus has just published an interview with William Langewiesche, whose The Atomic Bazaar is the rare case of someone turning magazine pieces into a book without padding everything out. (See my review from a couple of months ago.)

And finally, a visit to Minor Tweaks, where it sounds like Tom Bartlett is getting an early taste of cranky senior citizen-itis:

Hey, you kids, stop throwing stuff in my yard!

[shakes fist in air]

I've recently picked up a Vitamin Water bottle, a pudding container, and a cigarette package. Not to mention a condom wrapper. What are you kids doing? Driving around in your cars, drinking flavored water, eating pudding, smoking and engaging in premarital relations all at the same time? That's not safe!

[tugs at too-high pants]

Back in my day we didn't even have Vitamin Water -- or premarital relations, for that matter. And when we ate pudding we did so in the privacy of our own homes, not out on the streets like hooligans.

[starts coughing]

You better not let me catch you! Believe me, you'll regret it!

If they are doing all those things at the same time, it's all the more important to look both ways before you cross the street.....

July 28, 2007

Local Landmarks

The other day, Quick Study passed two milestones that I've only just noticed. One was the half-year point since the blog's launch on January 24. The other was posting of the 300th comment.

Might have some new developments here after Labor Day. In the meantime, I'm going to start being more regular about updating the "Recent Work" and "Readings" sections, over in the right-hand column.

It's also just about time to add some new names to the blogroll.

Intellectual Affairs is coming up on an anniversary this week as well. As of Wednesday, I will have been doing it for two and a half years. Although both IA and QS appear online, the experience of writing them is utterly different -- and not just because the column is paying work and the blog is not. It would be hard to spell out the contrasts, but there are a number of them, and they outweigh any common resources of format.

That column will be the 157th so far -- not a number with the pleasing qualities of a nice round digit, but part of what is called (it seems) a sexy prime triplet. Which sounds less like a concept from number theory than a movie running on Showtime at two in the morning.

July 29, 2007

Sounds Painful, In More Ways Than One

My friend Scott Eric Kaufman has been advised that Acephalous, the name of his blog, is actually stolen from a Belgian heavy metal band. According to one website, they play "blackened, brutal melodeath, which isn't an everyday combination."

I will take the critic's word for it on that last point, given that I have no idea how those particular qualities would normally be distributed.

Anyway, here's Acephalous performing live in October:

All I can say is that it seems clear they somehow got ahold of rehearsal tapes by Motley Umlaut, my own band from the mid-1980s. (There should be an umlaut on every vowel but I just don't have time right now.) We should be able to settle all of this out of court, provided that SEK can continue to use the name for his blog.

July 30, 2007

Now to Break into "The Springfield Review of Books"....

Over the weekend, my wife Simpsonized me. The Milhouse glasses do seem appropriate.
Scott_simpsonized%20%282%29.PNG
In real life, there are suspenders, as with Grandpa Simpson, who has influenced so many of my sartorial choices.

See also the South Park avatar

July 31, 2007

A Weeks Reading

Jerome Weeks has a long review/essay up at Critical Mass that hits very close to home on certain matters of longstanding preoccupation around here. I'm going to have a look at Gail Pool's Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America as soon as somebody from the press sends a copy. (That nobody has already is....well, puzzling.)

Continue reading "A Weeks Reading" »

Hiatus, Retreat, Downtime, Countdown

Quick Study will go on hiatus for most of August; maybe all of it.

I will put up links in the "Recent Work" section (over there in the righthand column) as necessary. Those posts will be sent out via the RSS feeds. But unless there is some really overwhelming need to do so, I'll quit blogging as such, both here and elsewhere, for a few weeks at least.

In part this is a matter of needing to get ready for work this fall. For that matter, I need to get caught up on some overdue projects. I also have a fair bit to do on the old site -- major portions of which have not been updated for more than three years now.

Perhaps most of all, I just need time to think over and plan my activity (blogal and otherwise) so that it becomes less episodic and more cumulative.

Continue reading "Hiatus, Retreat, Downtime, Countdown" »

August 6, 2007

George and Georg

My "intriguing Hegelian reading of Bush" gets a nod from David Greenberg at Slate.

This is sufficiently gratifying to make me break the hiatus.

Albeit only very briefly....See you next month.

September 3, 2007

Let Me Up on the Stand

It'll be slow here for a bit as I rush to meet some obligations. But the hiatus is over.

For theme music, let us now return, brothers and sisters, to Detroit on Halloween 1968....

So does anyone know when the documentary is coming out on DVD? Or maybe that should be "if." I've been waiting for a while.

September 5, 2007

The New Haven Review of George Scialabba's Books

Mark Oppenheimer sent a copy of the print edition of the first issue of The New Haven Review of Books last month, which arrived just in time for me not to say anything about it.

press1.gif

Continue reading "The New Haven Review of George Scialabba's Books" »

September 6, 2007

Metal Machine Music

This is inspired -- a remix of Reed's noise opus as dance track:

Pretty catchy. For more on MMM revisited, check this out.

September 7, 2007

Making the Scene

The National Book Critics Circle is holding a symposium in New York late next week with various panels -- one of which, "Literary Magazines Go Electronic," will give me the chance to pontificate a bit. (Rita can't make it, which she probably regrets, given that she never gets to hear me pontificate otherwise.) (That would be irony, there.)

The event will be held -- as a lot of NBCC things are -- at Housing Works in Soho. That's Thursday at 7 p.m. I'll be around for two other sessions, held at the same location, on Friday afternoon.

Other than that, my plan is to do some archival research before returning to DC on Sunday. And then back to the deadline grind.

Here's hoping friends will turn out for the NBCC events -- my participation being, after all, the closest thing to a social life I am likely to have for a while....

September 8, 2007

Mentioning the Band Throbbing Gristle Might Not Work as Well

Something I meant to mention was cited yesterday by my Arts Journal neighbor, Jerome Weeks:

In a recent e-mail to me about his return to blogging, Scott McLemee mentioned that he's learned there's one advantage to having a site named Quick Study. Your number of reader hits goes way up when school starts again.

Continue reading "Mentioning the Band Throbbing Gristle Might Not Work as Well" »

Desiring Machine

The English translation of Anti-Oedipus appeared in 1977. By a total coincidence -- one that is really not much of a coincidence at all -- so did the following short film:

As it happens, the band had formed at just about the same time Deleuze and Guattari were publishing the book. It's worth remembering that they expected it would have an audience among teenagers and artists and strange folks probably not heading off to write about desiring-machines in pursuit of academic credit. Funny how that worked out.

Continue reading "Desiring Machine" »

September 10, 2007

Think Twice

My essay on the 20th anniversary of Russell Jacoby's The Last Intellectual will run in the new issue of Bookforum. It is currently available at the website -- though at 4000 words, minus any of the section breaks used to structure the piece, it is hard to believe that anyone could actually read it online. Here's hoping the print incarnation is easier on the eyes.

As if to provide evidence that some folks actually have made it through the "screen version," however, I've received a couple of messages from people asking about the concluding paragraphs. Is the scenario sketched there likely?

Continue reading "Think Twice" »

September 11, 2007

Foreign Affairs

One of my brilliant colleagues at Crooked Timber offers a bit of sage advice:

If you are a young man or woman of fair-to-middling ability, or even a borderline dullard, but you want to get a reputation as an uncommonly bright and perspicacious thinker, it's really not that hard to do. The secret weapon is this: take an interest in what happens in other countries.

It's really quite unusual to find an important issue on which international comparisons aren't worth knowing about. Even in situations which look purely domestic, you can often get an entirely new perspective on things by looking at your fundamental assumptions in the light of what happens overseas. There are few sights sweeter than the look on someone's face after they've confidently proclaimed something to be impossible, only to be informed that they've been doing things that way in Australia for the last twenty years.

It's also a great way to generate ideas; it's both easier than coming up with something yourself, and more likely to succeed, to plagiarise something that's already worked well in a different time zone. So few people bother to keep up with the international news that one doesn't even need to be an expert in these things; simply reading the relevant pages of your daily newspaper will probably do, whereas reading the superficially more "relevant" domestic or business pages will usually just tell you a load of crap you know already, and tell it wrong.

Or as the first commenter says in reply: "Ah, the old Dutch way of thinking."

September 12, 2007

Territorial Pissings

Thanks to Larry Craig's decision to keep on keepin' on, my column this week, "Wide-Stance Sociology," remains at least somewhat au courant. Thank you, Senator!

It would have been better to have run it within the last couple of weeks, but I already had pieces lined up -- first, an interview with Peniel Joseph about The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse, then a podcast with Richard Kahlenberg, author of the biography of Al Shanker. (My review of which will be out elsewhere at some point.)

One week, a discussion of Black Power; the next week, a discussion of the New York City teachers' strikes against Black Power. It might seem as if the scheduling here were deliberate -- and there will be at least a couple of people who decide that this implies something or other. If only I could claim to be that organized.

Continue reading "Territorial Pissings" »

From the Department of Wounded Sensiblity

Writing yesterday in the Times (of London, that is), Martin Amis had this to say:

...my principal objection to the numbers ["9/11″] is that they are numbers. The solecism, that is to say, is not grammatical but moral-aesthetic--an offence against decorum; and decorum means "seemliness", which comes from soemr, "fitting", and soema, "to honour". 9/11, 7/7: who or what decided that particular acts of slaughter, particular whirlwinds of plasma and body parts, in which a random sample of the innocent is killed, maimed or otherwise crippled in body and mind, deserve a numerical shorthand? Whom does this "honour"? What makes this "fitting"? So far as I am aware, no one has offered the only imaginable rationale: that these numerals, after all, are Arabic.

He goes on from there -- and on, and on.

Suitably taciturn reply, courtesy of The Debatable Land:

To which, I think, one must say, Oh shut up...

Tomorrow is Dragsville, Cats

With all the Kerouac in the air lately....

Via Cosmopoetica

The South Will Rise Again

Thanks to Ralph Luker and Henry Farrell for the getting out the word about my column this week. It now occurs to me that blogging is a good way to follow a tangent on something that did not really seem to belong in the article itself.

In an unfinished manuscript left at his death, Laud Humphreys described meeting with a prominent Dixiecrat politician and his wife in 1948. When the politician left the room, his spouse began undoing Humphreys's tie so that they could all have a little party -- as, she explained, was their wont.

The biography of Humphreys explains that "this archconservative longtime segregationist served as U.S. Senator from South Carolina from 1954 until shortly before his death in 2003." But the at least the authors don't actually, you know, name him.

(crossposted from Cliopatria)

The Damndest Things Can Make You Nostalgic

For example, here's a mini-commercial from the LaRouche campaign in 1984:

You can see why he never got ahead. He was up against the KGB, the left wing of the Socialist International, and the grain-cartel interests. I believe that is in ascending order of sinister-ness.

Hat tip: Skull/Bones

September 13, 2007

Local News

Off to New York for the next few days to do the rounds at the National Book Critics Circle symposium etc.

No blogging until next week, and I won't be able to approve comments for posting until Sunday evening probably.

There will be reports from the NBCC programs posted at Critical Mass, of course.

September 16, 2007

Notes from the Underground

We are all familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. Everyone must strive to meet the basic biological requirements: food and water, a place to sleep. Once those conditions are satisfied, our nature is such that other demands then emerge. And so, when satisfied, our requirement for thriving as human beings rise to higher levels.

One of the most basic is, of course, the need to complain.

Among some litbloggers, it appears that the need to complain about the National Book Critics Circle is very nearly organic. Were it not met, they would sicken and...I don't know, complain about something else, maybe. It's hard to say. (The situation as such is not so much hypothetical as practically unimaginable.)

Continue reading "Notes from the Underground" »

September 17, 2007

Those Were Different Times

On Friday, I spent several hours at the Tamiment Library in Greenwich Village, looking at, among other things, microfilm of The Call, the city's Socialist Party newspaper.

I was searching for articles from 1914 by a particular writer, but also found that you could have pretty interesting time just look at the ads.There was one from a merchant who would sell you a player piano for #350; you could pay it off monthly. Also, and this was more surprising, Ex-Lax was a frequent advertiser.

The highlight of my accidental discoveries: The women's section of the paper featured a short story by August Strindberg.

If you were in the library that day and wondered why, at one point, the guy at the microfilm machine laughed out loud, that was it.

September 18, 2007

The Lion in the Temple

Samuel Johnson is one of the household gods around here -- others in the pantheon including Diderot and Hazlitt, of course -- so it's a pleasure to point out Jerome's "In Retrospect" essay at Critical Mass. I haven't read Bate's biography, but it sounds as if doing so ought to be a priority.

We votaries of Johnson praying to him for strength as we stumble down Grub Street often feel a kind of guilt for blogging. It is an activity that violates the First Commandment -- which I won't spell out, because if you know it, you know it, and you feel it in your bones.

In other words, writing about Samuel Johnson for Critical Mass -- writing anything for Critical Mass -- would not please the good Doctor. But no doubt he would read Critical Mass pretty regularly, even so. I like to imagine him looking down on its contributors with more compassion than disapproval.

September 19, 2007

The Man Was Truly a Prophet

Bob Dylan warns of the Cylon uprising....

September 23, 2007

Our Band Could Be Your Life

A while back, Quick Study was spreading the word about Complete, the great quasi-neo-primitivist/outsider band that emerged in Fort Worth about a dozen years ago and then disappeared without (it seems) anyone really noticing. I keep wondering if any of the members are aware that the band has been discovered. That's one Behind the Music episode I really want to see. Some of the songs are great, or at least the performances qualify as inspired.

QS has had a fair bit of traffic over the past day or so from a discussion of Complete at another blog. No, not just "another blog" -- from Steve Albini's blog. And, yes, that Steve Albini.

Continue reading "Our Band Could Be Your Life" »

"The people of Iran are asking themselves whether the UN Security Council is only decisive and effective when it comes to the suspension of the enrichment of uranium"

An essay by Akbar Ganji that ran in The Boston Review a few months ago had one of the more striking contributor's notes I have ever seen:

He is working on the third installment of his Republican Manifesto, which lays out a strategy for a nonviolent transition to democracy in Iran, along with a book of dialogues with prominent Western philosophers and intellectuals. He plans to return to Iran, where, he has been told, he will be re-arrested upon his arrival.

On the occasion of President Ahmadinejad's trip to New York, Ganji has written an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations. It has received more than three hundred endorsements from around the world, among them Jurgen Habermas, Ziauddin Sardar, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Juan Cole, and Slavoj Zizek.

A copy was just forwarded to me by Nader Hashemi, a fellow at the UCLA International Institute, with the request that it be disseminated as widely as possible. The full text follows:

Continue reading ""The people of Iran are asking themselves whether the UN Security Council is only decisive and effective when it comes to the suspension of the enrichment of uranium"" »

September 24, 2007

Yeah, Buddy, I Got Your Walter Bagehot Right Here

Over at the New Criterion's blog, Roger Kimball is once again putting his reference books to use:

The English essayist Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) is not much read these days, I think, and more's the pity. Bagehot (his name, by the way, is pronounced "badge-it") was a delicious writer, commanding a manly, outdoor style, a quiet but infectious sense of humor, and a sensibility that was at once large and admonitory. Of course, those very qualities help explain why he is out of favor today: a manly style? That unpleasant squealing you hear is from nearby feminists powering up their whine-machines. Bagehot would not have been at home in early 21st-century America. Today we prefer our writers soft, exculpatory, self-righteous but nevertheless wrapped in the rhetoric of non-judgmentalism.

To which the only suitable response (warning to the irony impaired: look away!) would be: Hey Kimabll, how come you gotta be such a little bitch about it?

I do hope that was manly enough for everyone.

Searching BookTV

Something useful to know about: C-SPAN2 is now offering a search engine for its backlist of author interviews. In some cases there are transcripts and/or streaming audio, though the level of detail and availability of material are quite uneven. I just looked up a program where a friend was discussing his book, and all that came back was the original airdate.

Anyway, here's the link.

Hat tip to ResouceShelf (via my in-house librarian)

No Energy Crisis in 1978

Starting off Monday a little under the weather -- a bad thing, given how much work there is to do this week. So for an infusion of raw power, it's time to shift from all the skinhead reggae I've been listening to lately (man, those Trojan boxed sets are addictive as well as cheap) to the Clash.

It seems like a natural progression -- and what better way to charge the batteries than "Tommy Gun"?


Continue reading "No Energy Crisis in 1978" »

September 26, 2007

Zoteromania

My column today is a very basic introduction to Zotero. As noted there, the release of Zotero 2.0 is a thing to look forward to -- it will, among other things, allow you to store your searches, annotations, etc. on a server, rather than your computer, which will have all sorts of benefits. But it's not clear when that will happen.

People have pointed out that the enhanced version faces two potential problems: storage space and intellectual-property issues (regarding ownership and control of stored material, mainly). I asked one of the directors of the project, Dan Cohen, about that. Unfortunately he only got back to me after the column was done. But here's his response:

Continue reading "Zoteromania" »

All Power to the Second-Life Soviets!

The struggle to build a revolutionary vanguard party of the workers and peasants has never been easy here in the United States. The line of march is tortuous, the peasants rowdy, and it often happens that a group must split. Usually one of the resulting entities will keep the original name, while the other will assemble a new one from the standard combinatoire. (As Dwight Macdonald explained when the Socialist Workers Party begat the Workers Party, "Originality of nomenclature was never our strong point.")

Continue reading "All Power to the Second-Life Soviets!" »

September 27, 2007

Reading, Thinking, Purring

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September 28, 2007

Shake It For the World, Smartass

One of my favorite books is a collection of essays by Seymour Krim called Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer. Even putting it that way is an understatement. I first read it as a teenager (no little while ago, then) and have lost count how many times I've revisited it in the meantime. Krim put together two later volumes of his pieces -- each interesting in its way, but somewhat anticlimatic in the wake of Views, which is an extraordinary mixture of criticism, memoir, fiction, and cultural commentary.

To begin to account for its fascination, let alone to chart its effect on my sense of life, would take some while. And a blog is hardly the venue for such an effort.

But it's the right forum for recommending a new piece on his work by Mark Cohen. He treats Krim both as figure strangely missing from recent treatments of the Beat generation and as a writer deeply marked by a complicated relation to his own Jewish identity. I think the case could be made that Krim is also an important figure in the emergence of the New Journalism, but he's been pretty completely ignored in that respect as well.

It's an interesting essay, and its emphases do make sense. But I also have to say that Krim's remarks on his own Jewishness were never central to my reading of him, which always treated that as just one possible particular focus for the experience of self-consciousness and estrangement.

If you grow up in redneck fundamentalist-land and read whole bunch of Sartre, then Krim will probably speak to your condition -- margin of ethnic overlap or no..

Two, Three, Many Parties of the New Type

A link to the following item has shown up in my mailbox twice in one day, which is no accident. Friends do know what to send along, sometimes....It's by the British science-fiction novelist Ken Macleod, whose The Star Fraction I have heard described as "Trots in Space."

Whenever he made a speech, the late Tony Cliff looked and sounded like a mad scientist, explaining how his apparatus of cogs, wheels, transmission belts and rank and file movements was about to transform the diaphanously-draped damsel of trade union reformism into the capering chimpanzee of revolutionary socialism. There was no personality cult of Cliff, but his personality left an imprint on the party he founded. The same was true of all the grand old men of British Trotskyism. It's no surprise, as John Sullivan puts it somewhere, that the SWP is excitable, Militant long-winded, and the Healyites [redacted] had anger management issues.

In the 1970s I was a member of the International Marxist Group. It was the largest British Trotskyist group not led by one of the grand old men of British Trotskyism. This was less of an advantage than might be supposed. Lacking a grand old man the IMG settled for a squabbling coalition of alpha males (and females). The resulting frenzy of competitive nit-picking has often stood the group's ex-members in good stead in their later careers. It also helps to explain why the intelligence of so many of the group's individual members seldom showed itself in the group's political line, which lurched hither and yon as the squabbling alphas wrested the joystick from each other....

Here's the whole thing. At this point I have to admit that Socialist Unity, a group I was in during the mid-1980s, looked to the IMG as an example of a healthy organization. Well, maybe it was, by contrast with the Communist League (Trucker Hat) anyway.

October 1, 2007

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:

Continue reading "The Googlization of Everything" »

Spamalot

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.

Continue reading "Spamalot" »

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.

The Life of the Mind

h/t Jerome

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 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.

October 4, 2007

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

Bubbling Up

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.

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.

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)

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 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 andalusia
a

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 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.

Continue reading "Apocalypse Pretty Soon" »

October 10, 2007

Snoopyotics

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 12, 2007

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.)

Continue reading "The Whole World is Watching" »

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?

Continue reading "Blood Without Glamour" »

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.)

October 15, 2007

Getting Shrew'd

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.

Continue reading "Getting Shrew'd" »

Theoretical Girl

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.

October 16, 2007

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.

Continue reading "Radio, Live Transmission" »

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:

Continue reading "New Adventures in the Dialectical Economics of Keplerian Studies in the Orbit of Ceres (an Asteroid)" »

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 18, 2007

Whoah...Not Quite Infinite Regress

Quick Study participates in -- which is to say, feeds into -- a new blog aggregator:

Hermenautic Circle

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.

October 21, 2007

Strange Bedfellowship

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)

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.

Continue reading "Loafing with LaRouche" »

October 31, 2007

N+1 (+X)

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.

Continue reading "N+1 (+X)" »

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.

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.

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.

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)

November 1, 2007

A Surprise, Yet Not Surprising, If I Can Make That Distinction

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.

Quick Study:
Official Blog of the Chicago-DC Corridor (new slogan)

November 2, 2007

Rock On

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.

November 5, 2007

How My Day Begins

November 7, 2007

Where Have You Gone, Bob Avakian? The Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

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?

Continue reading "Where Have You Gone, Bob Avakian? The Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You" »

True Confessions

"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.

Gone Again

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.

When Ephemera Meets Euphemism

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.

Anyway, I've just posted that review at my archival website, along with some other recent things from Newsday that are listed on the main page.

November 8, 2007

Where Brooklyn At?

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.

November 10, 2007

Outrageous!

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.

November 15, 2007

Where Brooklyn At? Part Two

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:

Continue reading "Where Brooklyn At? Part Two" »

Touch and Go

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.

As Chris Hayes writes at The Barnes and Noble Review, you get the pleasure of his company, but the result, as autobiography goes, is "alternately frustrating and fascinating."

I agree entirely, and made some effort to sound out what is lacking from the book in this essay.

One Day Tom Brokaw Will Seem Like Walter Lippmann and Then I'll Really Have Something to Complain About

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:

Continue reading "One Day Tom Brokaw Will Seem Like Walter Lippmann and Then I'll Really Have Something to Complain About" »

November 16, 2007

Not Many Bar Mitzvah Party Gigs, However

It struck me, while watching this, that The Perfected Jews would be a pretty good band name:

Courtesy of Perverse Egalitarianism

November 17, 2007

I Mean Really....

...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.

"Shaving Biscuits"?

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.

November 18, 2007

Après les derniers intellectuels

"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.

Page_1.JPG

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.

November 19, 2007

Live and Learn

It turns out that if you blog about porn aesthetics, the result is a lot more traffic than when you blog about American Maoism.

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."

The Academic Presses

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.

November 20, 2007

Eat Flaming Death, Fascist Media Pigs!

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.

flamingdeath.gif

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.

Harlan Ellison -- Live Like Him!

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

La Mal Babe Sans Merci

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.

Continue reading "La Mal Babe Sans Merci" »

November 21, 2007

Sometimes Publicity Involves Making Stuff Up

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.

It is Time to Open a New Front in the War on Christmas

famcirc.jpg

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)

November 22, 2007

Cheap Beer and Warm Hats

So much of the truth of history is denied to us by those in power.

source: Dwight Garner

great minds think alike

Thanksgiving is Always Already Ruined

It turns out that poststructuralist thinkers have repeatedly warned us that this holiday is in a state of emergency.

Who knew?

Turn Them Speakers Up Full Blast

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."

The next album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, is out in January. Read Patterson Hood's account of its making here. His song-by-song discussion of it is here.

November 24, 2007

At Least Until Publication of "Beavis and Mimesis," My Memoir of the 1990s

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.

Still, the results are in, and AJC has announced that the winner is Cooking with Pooh. This title is for real. But I'm sure readers can come up with worse titles than that, just as real.

(hat tip: Michael Merschel)

(crossposted from CT)

The Standards of Polymathy Have Hit an All-Time Low

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.

(via Pandagon)


November 25, 2007

Gray Dawn

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:

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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.

Continue reading "Gray Dawn" »

November 26, 2007

By All Means Avail Yourselves of Other Fine Amenities in This Neighborhood

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.

Continue reading "By All Means Avail Yourselves of Other Fine Amenities in This Neighborhood" »

Dude, All You Had to Do Was Ask

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.

November 27, 2007

You Have to Wonder If They Are Related

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.

November 28, 2007

Reading Lists

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.

Continue reading "Reading Lists" »

The Last Curse in Pandora's Box

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.

Continue reading "The Last Curse in Pandora's Box" »

November 29, 2007

The Menace of Urban Youth

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.

badass4.jpg

And what do we learn from this? Valuable lessons for today:

Continue reading "The Menace of Urban Youth" »

November 30, 2007

For Hardcore Book Nerds Only

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:

December 3, 2007

Supersonic Sky Cycle

My feeling for the early 1970s comes from four distinct but somehow blended memories: Watergate, the energy crisis, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Evel Knevel. The first three were in the papers and on the evening news -- while the latter was a presence looming in the daily conversation of any white boy in elementary school in Texas, even a bookish one. Evel, who died on Friday, was the bravest man in the world, or at least the most famous, which was almost the same thing, given the circumstances.

Naturally Phil Nugent says everything I could, and does it one better:

Continue reading "Supersonic Sky Cycle" »

December 4, 2007

My Hat ----> The Ring

To serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle sounds like whatever the exact opposite of a sinecure would be. Lots of work, no tangible reward.

The intangible rewards are enormous, however. Or so it has been said a number of times over the past few months by people trying to get me to consider running.

Continue reading "My Hat ----> The Ring" »

December 5, 2007

Around the Web

My column today at Inside Higher Ed is based on an informal survey of some academic bloggers who are part of my regular round of webcrawling.

I asked them to recommend the ones they liked, but that might not have very large audiences, even by the normal standards of the academic microblogosphere.

The results turned out well. Have a look.

Also: Glad to see that Critical Mass is spreading the word about the new feature at the Austin-American Statesman.

December 6, 2007

A Uniter, Not a Divider

Some of my friends who read this blog are gay. And some of my friends who read this blog like comic books. But so far as I know, the two demographics do not overlap. This is a cosmopolitan establishment; and to each, his or her own.

However, it seems as if this extensive rant-and-dialogue regarding gay comic book characters might close the gap.

It seems more pathetic than anything else. On the other hand, I've always thought Dr. Frederick Wertham was probably right about Batman and Robin.

via here

December 7, 2007

Can Do

I have got to see this documentary:

The Pervert's Guide works best when Zizek treads lightly and moves nimbly, engaging in capsule analyses that offer opportunities for quasi-desultory philosophical speculation. Of David Fincher's Fight Club (1999), he wonders in regard to Edward Norton's self-flagellation if "in order to attack the enemy you first have to beat the shit out of yourself." And with respect to Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974), which Zizek discusses at some length while sitting, fully clothed, on a toilet, contemplating the flushing mechanism, he ponders the notion that "the eye is the window to the soul," asking: "But what if there is no soul? What if the eye is simply a window to the abyss of the netherworld?" At any given screening, half of those in attendance are likely to lean forward, trying to figure out where they stand on such conjectures, while the rest are likely to lean back, trying to figure out what Zizek is doing on the can.

Continue reading "Can Do" »

And He Spake Unto Me, Saying....

I could do without hearing anything more about Mitt Romney for a while. That would be totally okay. And it seems reasonable to guess that in a few weeks my wish might just come true.

Come what may, though, I remain quite interested in the history of Mormonism. It's been a few years since I wrote a feature story called Latter-day Studies.

Continue reading "And He Spake Unto Me, Saying...." »

December 8, 2007

Somebody's Had Too Much to Think

I like the studio version more, but seem not to have the album (one of my favorites in the early 1980s). Hint, hint.

The most striking thing about the video is the audience's response when the song is done: A few seconds of stunned silence before anyone claps.

December 9, 2007

When Attack Ads Attack

Found this via the comments at CT

The Class of '03

Ralph Luker points out today that the history group blog Cliopatria has just celebrated its fourth birthday. Or anniversary perhaps. I guess it depends on how you look at it.

CT passed the same marker in July, though it does not appear from the archives that anyone noticed at the time.

Continue reading "The Class of '03" »

December 12, 2007

Starting Out in the Evening

I love Brian Morton's novel Starting Out in the Evening and am ambivalent about the film. On the one hand, I really don't like it all that much; the adaptation never even hints at many of the nuances there on the page, and it takes a couple of liberties that seem in poor taste.

On the other, if it doesn't get an Oscar nomination for Frank Langella, then I am going to lose all faith in the judgement of Hollywood phonies, and that is going to be a sad day.

But it was a happy one when Brian Morton agreed to the interview that runs in my column today.

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(Photo of Frank Langella
playing Leonard Schiller
impersonating me in a few years)

Archival Zotero-fication, or Possibly Vice Versa

I like Zotero a lot. It makes collecting and organizing material from research online much easier than it would be otherwise. Plus they sent me a t-shirt after my column about it appeared, which pretty much amounts for all the non-book-related swag to have arrived in 2007.

Still, I have been somewhat irregular about working with Zotero. Required to give a more or less sensible reason for this, I could say that it is a matter of waiting for the 2.0 version, none too patiently. But the really deciding factor is that I still use Netscape, which is proving less rational or defensible all the time. Shifting over entirely to Firefox (of which Zotero is a plug-in) seems like a good resolution for the new year.

Continue reading "Archival Zotero-fication, or Possibly Vice Versa" »

December 14, 2007

This is Radio Schizo

I really like Oliver Sheppard's taste in noise. A while back, I came across an episode of Radio Schizo, his regular music podcast, that paid tribute to Killing Joke and bands influenced by KJ. Right this minute, I'm listening to another episode that opened with a Spanish band covering "Now I Wanna Be Your Dog."

Later, there's a cut by a band from the sixties called Stereo Shoestring that -- as the host points out -- sounds a bit Joy Divisionish.

Now, I've never heard of Stereo Shoestring, and chances are you haven't either; but there's no big display here of Sheppard making sure you know he's known about the band for years, and too bad for you that this is the first you've heard of it. He just plays the song and asks if listeners think there's a resemblance.

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But then I lost track of Radio Schizo, partly because the show was webcast through MySpace, and my eyeballs just won't tolerate that kind of abuse. Now it's also available via Cultpunk, which goes into the blogroll here shortly. Check out the latest podcast here.

Continue reading "This is Radio Schizo" »

December 17, 2007

Considerations on the Cultural History of the Top of My Head

Between overdue work and impending travel, this will probably be my last entry here until the new year. I would like to use it to invite any readers who will be at MLA in Chicago to get in touch. I'm expecting to meet a couple of people in person for the first time there, and to say hello again to a few others. My schedule is still pretty open, though I need to make definite plans over the next few days.

But first, I am going to blog about my hair.

Continue reading "Considerations on the Cultural History of the Top of My Head" »

January 1, 2008

To Whom It May Concern

The year starts with a bit of poison penmanship coming my way over the digital transom:

I really have never seen on AJ Blogs such a self-centered blog. Your hair, your schedule, your tastes...I hope that the new year brings a bit more interests in things beyond yourself.

Well, sure! Good point! The pile of stuff on my desk at the moment includes

-- at least five sets of galleys of new books, to be reviewed posthaste
-- several university press catalogs brought back from MLA
-- some Congressional documents concerning the subprime mortgage thing
-- a set of pamphlets from the 1920s by a renegade monk who became a propagandist for atheism
-- the revision of my introduction to a volume of George Scialabba's collected essays that will be published in a few months
-- several issues of Line of March: A Journal of Marxist-Leninist Rectification from the years 1981 to 1984 (long story)

Stuff that piled up in the final weeks of 2007 because, obviously, such things are all about me. Seems like '08 will finally be the year for me to starting developing a wider range of interests. And not a minute too soon!

Continue reading "To Whom It May Concern" »

January 3, 2008

Framing Theory's Empire

It seems as if the exhibit hall at MLA gets a little smaller each year. The one in Chicago took no time at all to cover -- even with a few impromptu discussions with editors and publicists along the way.

Since returning home, I've been drawing up a list of publishers who weren't there but ordinarily would have been. Maybe people just didn't want to go to Chicago in mid-winter? But the shrinkage (as it were) was evident last year at Philadelphia, too. It's probably just another sign of the "crisis in academic publishing," which just keeps rolling along.

One title I had hoped to see on display in Chicago is the Parlor Press book Framing Theory's Empire, about which more here. But it was nowhere to be found.

framing150.jpg

Upon returning home, however, I find that my contributor's copy has arrived in the mail. So yes, the book actually does exist as three-dimensional artifact. As John Holbo pointed out last month, you can get it from the publisher for less than Amazon will charge.

January 6, 2008

Year-End Picks

At the end of each year, Newsday asks a few of its regular reviewers for a short comment listing some of their favorite recent books.

The resulting piece -- which ran a week ago, on December 30 -- will probably not be available online for all that long. And so

Here's my bit:

Continue reading "Year-End Picks" »

Indecision 2008

Catching up with the latest round of debates among the Democratic candidates, I cannot avoid a sense of deja vu.

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It seems obvious that Hillary Clinton is, in fact, a space alien. It is difficult to believe that she has gotten this far without saying, "The politics of failure have failed. We have to make them work again."

Related thought: Barack Obama embodies Clintonism with a human face.

It's seeming more and more as if this might be the time to donate to the Moore-Alexander campaign....

January 9, 2008

The Frenzy of Renown

Walking back from the Cliopatria banquet on Friday night (see photographs here), some of the participants had a brief experience of the leap from blogospheric glory to real-world fame.

A guy on the street -- in his early twenties, it seemed, and too casually dressed to be in town for the American Historical Association, probably -- saw a cluster of us approaching and seemed to take notice. As we started to pass, he stopped us.

"Are you Juan Cole?" he asked Juan Cole.

"Yes, I am," said Juan Cole.

Who, it turns out, is quite used to that kind of thing.

The Grueling Weeks of Campaigning Have Come to an End

The National Book Critics Circle has announced the eight new members of its Board of Directors, elected amidst the heaviest voting in recent memory.

Imagine lots of bookish Iowans braving the weather to make their voices heard. Something like that, probably.

Previous item.

January 10, 2008

This Time Vote Like Your Whole World Depended on It

thanks to David Glenn for the link

Summer blockbuster advance notice: Nixonland by Rick Perlstein

January 14, 2008

Jonah Goldberg? Why Bother?

Without going on hiatus, exactly, it looks like things will be slow around Quick Study for a week or two. I've got a backload of work, some of it now seriously overdue.

And in any case, the topics of the day of late seem to be Clinton v. Obama or Liberal Fascism. People are scrutinizing the latter and finding that it's by no means well-argued or deeply informed. Which is sort of like slicing open a cantaloupe and discovering that it is not, in fact, made out of cheese. Just how many demonstrations of this are really necessary?

Continue reading "Jonah Goldberg? Why Bother?" »

Go Tell It On the Mountain

Thanks to recent developments in the Democratic primaries, trivialization of Martin Luther King's legacy is off to an all-time early start this year. But Christopher Phelps has just published an excellent overview of recent historical work on MLK that knocks some of the ceremonial tinsel off -- the better to see the real figure, who would never get a word in edgewise today.

Continue reading "Go Tell It On the Mountain" »

January 16, 2008

There is a Spectre Haunting American Politics

Today's column tries to launch Erika Falk's new book Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns (U. of Illinois) into non-academic conversation. It has been linked at Media Bistro, and I'm told the piece has been sent around to other such venues.

Apart from whatever effect it may have on behalf of Falk's book, my great hope is that it will help relaunch the political career of Victoria Woodhull. Given that the two Democratic frontrunners are both creatures of the DLC, I figure you might as well vote for a dead candidate.

January 21, 2008

Help Wanted

The third anniversary of Intellectual Affairs is coming up soon. The first column appeared on February 1, 2005, and it looks like the two hundredth will be published at some point within the next few months.*

intellectual_affairs_medsmall.gif

Over the past several years, various people have suggested that it might be worth putting together a collection of my essays -- which would mean, among other things, making a selection of IA pieces, transferring them from cyberspace to the printed page.

The very idea has tended to induce a deer-in-the-headlights response on my part, at least in the past. The thought of rereading twenty years of my own stuff is not thrilling. All the biting of the tongue it would involve is disagreeable to imagine, and there is a real question whether the occasional pieces add up to some kind of whole. But maybe it's time to find out.

In any case, another more short-term prospect has come up, which is to create a webpage at IHE offering a "Best of Intellectual Affairs" selection -- maybe six or eight columns.

A few possibilities come to mind. But at this point, honestly, after writing about 180 columns, I can't even remember all of them.

So all of this is prologue to asking friends or regular readers for nominations. If you recall anything that made an impression, please either leave a comment here or send a note via the address thing over in the right-hand column. Don't worry about indicating the exact title or date. Just the topic ought to be enough for me to track it down.

Presumably this will also be helpful in putting together a collection of pieces, too, if it comes to that.

* Speaking of anniversaries: Quick Study is coming up on its first birthday. It seems like a lot longer. Then again three years of Intellectual Affairs feels like a decade.

January 24, 2008

Why Complain about Homophobic Crap on Fox News When You Can Laugh at the Death of a Beloved Conservative Icon?

Some guy named John Gibson, who appears on the so-called Fox News Channel, has made homophobic remarks about the actor from Brokeback Mountain who died a few days ago. Well, that sure is surprising. Discussion of this is taking place on the radio as well as in the blogosphere. Example here.

Instead of complaining about Gibson being obnoxious, though, why not do him one better? Rather than gripe, let's respond with a rousing chorus of the MDC song "John Wayne Was a Nazi."

They first recorded this circa 1981, while based in Austin and playing as the Stains.Sure wish I still had the single. The flipside was something like "No War, No KKK, No Fascist USA."

Back when nobody could imagine that a black presidential candidate would ever try to make nice about Ronald Reagan. A certain clarity about things does seem to get lost over time.

January 29, 2008

Partially Disenblogged

Apart from being overextended on various fronts, I've been going through a little spell of uncertainty about what role blogging plays -- whether actually, potentially, or what have you -- in my work as a writer. Hence the slowdown here over the past two or three weeks.

When Quick Study launched a year ago, it was with an essay of sorts on the experience of finding myself both caught up in this medium and out of touch with the culture it is fostering.

Actually, rereading it now, that inaugural post still seems like a pretty good diagnosis of the confusion and ambivalence lately at hand. There may be very little to add to it. The situation it describes is not going to change -- or at least not for the better.

Continue reading "Partially Disenblogged" »

January 30, 2008

Not as Keen on "Mao More Than Ever," Though

Per today's column, I must confess to being pretty enthusiastic about the slogan "Revolution in the '80s -- Go For It!"

"Atlas Shrugged" Kicks the Ass of "Fight Club"

The website Books That Make You Dumb seems designed to bring out the scolds among us. The methodology is dubious (use Facebook to determine the ten most popular books among students at various colleges and universities, then organize this data according to average SAT scores for each institution) and there is no reason to suppose the books cause stupidity, rather than serving to diagnoise a preexisting condition.

The creator of the site, Virgil Griffith, acknowledges the problems. "I'm aware correlation [does not equal] causation," he says. "The results are awesome regardless of causality. You can stop sending me email about this distinction. Thanks."

Gripe if you must, but diverting the chart certainly is. The Book of Mormon falls right in the middle. There is probably a Mitt Romney joke to be plucked from this, like over-ripe and low-hanging fruit. Verily I say unto you, have a look. (via Librarian.net)

(crossposted from CT)

Future is Now!

Nina Hagen's Nunsexmonkrock is one of the great albums of the early 1980s. I always assumed that her wild vocal shifts (from Exorcist-style growls to angelic soprano passages) were made possible by multitracking in the studio. But no -- a search for video footage of Hagen in performance shows that she could get that dissociated-personality effect live.

Here she is in 1980, doing an inspired cover of a David Bowie song:

Interesting commentary on some of her early records here.

January 31, 2008

Soon Selling Review Copies to Supplement My Income Will Be a Thing of the Past

Over the past couple of days, I have been corresponding with Mr. Kelch John of the Apex Bank in the Republic of Benin. It seems he is supposed to give me a very special ATM card that will allow me to withdraw up to $20k per day on an account his bank needs to disburse, for reasons I do not entirely understand.

There is some paperwork involved, and I am supposed to send him $103 via Western Union.

I have promised to do so just as soon as I have the ATM card in hand. He hasn't gone for that idea, and insists that the fees must be paid before he can FedEx it my way. He points out that I need to trust him. The only alternative, he says, for me to come to the Republic of Benin and handle the paperwork at his office.

At this point, I am taking him up on the offer and promising that he will be paid in cash after we go to the nearest ATM machine. Here's hoping that his schedule permits. I think my frequent-flyer miles should cover the trip.

As a gesture of appreciation, I have also offered him lunch at a restaurant of his choice, on the assumption that he will know what the good places to eat are, there in Benin.

February 1, 2008

Regarding the Death of Others

My piece about David Rieff's book on the death of Susan Sontag is just up at The Barnes & Noble Review -- an interesting site, to be recommended on other merits than that, but still....The occasion inspires me finally to point the site out.

Sontag has been a major source of inspiration and ambivalence for me since the age of 16, which was not yesterday. Among other things I've written about her over the years are this review of a late collection of her essays (from The Washington Post) and this one about Regarding the Pain of Others (from Newsday).

The latter seems always to have gotten quite steady flow of traffic, to judge by the site meter -- a thing that for some reason has long made me think Regarding the Pain must be assigned a lot on courses.

Rita and I sat across the aisle from her at the NBCC awards ceremony in March 2004. She looked energetic if not exactly well. Rieff's book opens about two weeks later. I read it twice. It is a short book, but it took forever each time, because it really got under the skin.

February 5, 2008

Good Reads

The National Book Critics Circle has just announced the results of a poll of the membership about the recent books we'd recommend to readers. Roughly five hundred of us made nominations and/or voted, according to a note from NBCC president John Freeman.

This is the second such poll -- the winter list, in effect. Being named to it is not quite as big a deal as being a finalist or winner of the NBCC Awards proper, I suppose, though there is some overlap. In any case, it does reflect a certain amount of sorting and winnowing of new titles on the part of people who spend a lot of time paying attention to the flux. (My own nomination was evidently too esoteric to make the cut, but what the hell: Charles Taylor's A Secular Age rocks the house.)

This month, NBCC is also holding a series of public events around the country in connection with the Good Reads initiative -- about which more here. I'll be on a panel at the one here in Washington, DC on Saturday, February 16 at Politics and Prose, hosted by Bethanne Patrick from Publishers Weekly.

Within the World of Cultural Journalism, No News is Good News, Until Further Notice

Frank Wilson, the book-review editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is stepping down as of Friday.

It sounds like this came at him out of the blue -- rather like being informed that that most of his freelance budget was being cut, as he once mentioned happening. (He told the story during an NBCC event a couple of years ago, which was when I got the chance finally to meet him.)

It is troubling to hear about this. Somebody once defined "cool" as knowing how to get a dollar out of fifteen cents. By that measure Frank' has been one of the coolest gentlemen in the business.

I am sorry never to have had an opportunity to work with him -- and actually pretty shaken by the announcement. It is hard to imagine a circumstance in which this development makes any sense.

UPDATE: Another tribute.

And another.

February 13, 2008

Let The Dauntless Spirit Of Comrade Valentine Illuminate The Bright Red Path Of Revolutionary Romanticism!

The Freedom Road Socialist Organization has (once again) announced its official slogans for Valentine's Day, for distribution among the broad masses.

To that end, they have been translated into Swedish, which is a start.

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Here are this year's slogans:

Toilers And Oppressed People Of Every Nation:

Let The Dauntless Spirit Of Comrade Valentine Illuminate The Bright Red Path Of Revolutionary Romanticism!

Love And Desire Are The Birthright Of The Working Masses And Must Be Defended Against Rapacious Capital's Drive To Reduce Them To Shoddy Commodities!

Never Waver In The Battle To Smash Reactionary Feudal And Bourgeois Worldviews Which Deny Agency To Women And LGBTQ People!

I am a social democrat, more or less -- not, in any case, a Maoist. That said, this blog endorses all the slogans.

Good Question

Over at Dial M, main man Phil Ford asks what "post-rock" is, exactly:

Is it a genre, with specific musical conventions and characteristics that can be invoked or withheld for expressive effect? Is it a scene, a regional filiation of bands and individuals? Maybe, and maybe. But I like to use it as a term for music conceived within a particular historical moment -- a moment where the rock narrative is revealed to be the rockist narrative, i.e., as just another ideology, and as such something with a history and therefore doomed to eventual senescence and death.

...It's not as if you can't make rock music after that awful moment where the jazz-flute abyss opens before you, but you can't carry on as before. Henceforth, you're not rocking, you're "rocking." You take your first tottering steps towards modernism, doubt, and self-reflexivity -- all notably un-rocking things.

Okay, sure, but that raises a question of periodization. The expression is associated with certain 1990s bands, for example, most of which I would pay no small price never to hear from again, unless struck with life-threatening insomnia. But Phil's description seems like it could apply to earlier developments.

Not to turn this into a replay of that old game show When Did Modernism End/Postmodernism Begin? but I have to ask....

February 14, 2008

Video Valentine

You know who you are.

Nobody else look, please. This is private. Which is, of course, why it's on the internet.

February 15, 2008

Librarians Aplenty

A group of lions is a pride. But what is the collective term for librarians, en masse?

It seems that librarians themselves have been discussing this, and they've come up with a number of possibilities. Among the suggestions I like are:

-- a shush
-- a google
-- a collation
-- a bibliogeekerie
-- a spectacle

Most of them seem a bit out-of-date, though. Now that the profession is so digitality-minded, the old references aren't as useful, even if the stereotypes are still in force. The latter of course inspired my own my own suggestion, "a bun of librarians." (I will be hearing about this in short order, and in no uncertain terms, from one librarian in particular. Who sometimes wears a bun.)

Via Fade Theory

Howl (Into the Microphone)

The Guardian reports the discovery of the earliest known tape of Allen Ginserg reading from "Howl," recorded while at Reed College in February 1956. (Via Literary Kicks, an appropriately named source in this case)

The recording will be available at Reed's multimedia site around noon EST today.

Saturday Afternoon To-Do List

As an incoming link from the Washington City Paper (duly noted by the QS site meter) serves to remind me, there will be a panel discussion sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle tomorrow afternoon at Politics and Prose bookstore, here in DC, starting at one.

The event will be run by Bethanne Patrick, who is evidently moonlighting from her gig as host of the WETA online interview program Author Author. The panel will include various local literary worthies, plus me.

The idea is that we're to discuss the process of making book recommendations. Everyone else will be considering the state of recent fiction and poetry, and I'll be trying to figure out how to talk about sorting through stacks of monographs from university presses. It promises to be fun and/or awkward. Not those experiences are antithetical or anything.

February 17, 2008

Hey Kids, It's the Autonomist Sockpuppet Hour

And to think it once seemed like popularization to discuss such things in a newspaper article....

Next up: Bert and Ernie meet Deleuze and Guattari

(Via Wicked Anomie)

February 18, 2008

NBCC-DC Weekend Update

Bethanne Patrick has posted a report at the National Book Critics Circle blog about the panel this weekend at Politics and Prose.

It had a decent draw for a Saturday afternoon -- let alone one when the DC metro system's red line was in trouble again. The event was all pretty casual, and the interaction between panel and audience was lively enough that we ran over the alloted time without anyone, even the store owner, seeming to mind.

My role was more or less as NBCC official, which was stretching it a bit since I don't really become a member of the Board of Directors until early March. No much to add to Beth's post at Critical Mass, except also to point to her more "backstage" item at Book Maven.

It would be good to think this is the start of creating some kind of public presence for NBCC here in Washington. Any local member who is interested in forming an active branch, please drop me a line.

Nietzsche Returns?

Oliver at Cult Punk posts this haunting footage of Nietzsche. "I had no idea he'd actually been filmed," he writes, "but just before he died primitive motion pictures were being made, and I guess that included these uber rare scenes of a mentally-gone Nietzsche vegetating in a hospital."

But the problem -- which I noticed on the second time viewing -- is that the quality of "film stock" is just too good. Not a scratch; no grain or degeneration, either. And the images are quite familiar. Chances are, this is what you get from feeding photographs of Nietzsche into some CGI gizmo that can bring the dead back to life.

A matter of time before we get breakdancing Bergson....

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Mark Athitakis, the Washington City Paper's arts editor, is interviewed about cultural journalism and blogging by Victoria Best at Tales from the Reading Room.

Much of which Athitakis says -- including his reservations about the lack of editing in blogs and the slowness to face the ethical ambiguities of certain forms of coziness between litblogs and publishers -- seems to be valid and even obvious. But not as obvious as it should be, perhaps. Likewise, I shared his dismay at some of the comments about blogging from a recent survey of book critics.

Maybe 2008 will be the year when the tired crap breaks down into something less rank and more fertilizing....

February 20, 2008

Zombie Apocalypse Now

People sometimes assume that one of the advantages of being a writer is that you can, if so inclined, go see a movie in the middle of the day. In principle, I guess that is true. But it is an option that, in more than a dozen years of writing full-time, I have exercised on no more than three or four occasions -- and then usually because there was some kind of work involved.

On Friday, I was fully ready to drop everything and go to the first screening, on opening day, of Diary of the Dead -- just out of George Romero fandom, and writerly superego be damned. But as the intention to do so crystallized, so did the feeling that, well, it would be easier to justify somehow if I could count going as necessary for work, somehow.

Continue reading "Zombie Apocalypse Now" »

February 22, 2008

Anticinephilia

Jahsonic uses the death of Alain Robbe-Grillet as an occasion to remind us that -- his script for Last Year at Marienbad notwithstanding -- the novelist was not a New Wave cinephile.

Indeed, rather pointedly not one, to judge by the quoted excerpt from an interview:

"What are commonly called true cinephiles are mental retards (débile mentale) who love 'the movies,' people who run to any theatre to submit to viewing any film. They consume with the same pleasure whatever genre of film. That is what is known as cinephilia. It's an illness, though a less common one than it used to be [during the heydays of the Nouvelle Vague]," he concedes.

February 27, 2008

Well, I Guess That Didn't Work

Control of tone in writing is not easy, and I have an uneasy feeling about how my column about bookshelves worked out. It's obvious that Ezra Klein's post was tongue-in-cheek.

Probably not so obvious is that I was using it as a springboard for a kind of self-caricature. If he risked the appearance of being a poseur -- or rather, played with that risk -- then I was going for a portrait of the columnist as melancholic hermit and uber-nerd. Whereas, of course, I am the soul of gregariousness, a hipster bon vivant, and the life of every party, as everyone knows....

Oh, damn. That's not going to work either. Tone is so hard to get right. One day someone will quote it to prove the depth of possible self-delusion.

Anyway, yes, I do get that Klein's post was humorous. Really, I do. Being po-faced in reply was meant to be part of the game.

I have got to get out more.

March 3, 2008

A Glimpse of Hell

Last week's column about bookshelves generated quite a lot of comment, far and wide. But I'm particularly glad that Ralph Luker has used it as a chance to point out a page offering "30 of the Most Creative Bookshelves Designs" (sic).

The point of the column, to repeat, was that bookshelves are, in my experience anyway, strictly for storage and retrieval. If they do perform this function well (and the ones we built in a few years back have done so) then that is as much as they can do.

The "beautiful" designs offered by the good people at Freshome have thus given me a concrete sense of what it would be like to be punished for eternity.

The CD Meme

Josh Glenn of the Boston Globe's blog Brainiac has outlined a way to create your very own indie-rock CD cover via random generation. It works all too well.

cdmeme3.jpg

Having no Photoshop skills at all, I am disqualified from participating. But this is a meme and it is hereby propagated. See also the followup.

March 6, 2008

NBCC in NYC

Today was the beginning of two days of National Book Critics Circle meetings in New York -- with a solid morning and early afternoon of activity among the membership, followed by the secret Conclave of Twenty-Four to vote for the winners of the book awards, and culminating in announcement of the results at the public ceremony, which Lizzie Skurnick live-blogged.

Here are the results:

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Sam Anderson

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: Emilie Buchwald, founder of Milkweed Editions

Criticism: Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Poetry: Mary Jo Bang, Elegy (Graywolf Press)

Biography: Tim Jeal, Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer (Yale University Press)

Nonfiction: Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (Doubleday)

Autobiography: Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf)

Fiction: Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books)

Tomorrow, I'll officially become a member of the Board of Directors and be taught the secret handshake and whatnot. Among other things, that means signing up for at least a couple of committees that will decide the finalists in various categories for next year's awards.

We also have to elect a new president, since John Freeman's term has reached its end and he won't even be on the board. This is not just a reshuffling of personnel, but a changing of the guard. The membership grew by almost half over the past year -- largely, if not entirely as a result of Freeman's efforts to make NBCC a more active and visible organization. He is going to be the very definition of a tough act to follow, but we'll just have to do the best we can.

UPDATE: My friend Laurie Muchnick writes up the evening over at Bloomberg.

March 10, 2008

Q.E.D.

My understanding is that George Romero will be doing another Living Dead film, in which case I would like to suggest that he consider casting Slavon Zizek as a cannibalistic zombie.

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Meanwhile, on a seemingly unrelated note, Adam Kotsko proves something: It is not difficult to meet Zizek. What is difficult is not meeting him.

But maybe not so unrelated, after all? An inescapable cannibalistic zombie would be particularly terrifying.

My Posse Got Velocity

Over the weekend, The Guardian presented a list of "The world's 50 most powerful blogs" -- one of which, coming in at number 33, does sound rather familiar:

With a title pulled from Immanuel Kant's famous statement that 'out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made', it's an amalgam of academic and political writing that has muscled its way into the epicentre of intelligent discussion since its conception in 2003. Formed as an internet supergroup, pulling several popular intellectual blogs together, Crooked Timber now has 16 members - largely academics - across the US, Europe, Australia and Asia. The site has built itself a reputation as something of an intellectual powerhouse; a sort of global philosophical thinktank conducted via blog.

We must try to remember to use our powers only for good. I do take some pride in being among the non-academics in the crew.

March 11, 2008

The Simile Stumbled Over the Cliche Like a Drunken G.I. Trying to Make Curfew After Waking to Find the Laces of His Shoes Are Tied to Each Other

No date given on this clip from a BBC documentary about the architect Philip Johnson. But Susan Sontag looks here like she did in photos from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s at latest. Her voice-over is pretty funny, and I'd like to think that is deliberate.

March 12, 2008

The Conservative Crack-Up

Tim Hall explains it all:

I have my own theories about why the Republican party is experiencing a kind of colony collapse disorder these days. Part of it is simple Hate Fatigue-too many goddamn demagogues spouting too much ignorance and hatred on talk radio and cable news, manipulating people so much that when times get tough and serious thought and debate are needed a lot of people get disgusted and/or confused and walk away. Another part is the authoritarian bubble-just like in real estate or tech stocks, politics has its own speculators and profiteers who automatically rush to whichever side is in power and don the garments, spout the arguments, and try to position themselves for a piece of the pie-which is, more often than not, merely symbolic. When the bubble bursts they just move on and find a new power source to suck off of. That's why roughly 15% of all sitting Republicans are either retiring early or not seeking reelection (at least, among those who have not already been indicted). It's not about politics; it's about perceptions of power, who wields it, who is gaining and who is losing it. When you take those speculators out of politics you're going to lose a lot of people. And if the Democrats keep gaining in power, a lot of those same people are going to be switching sides, and will ultimately destabilize and screw up the left as well. Hopefully that won't happen for a couple of decades, at least, but it WILL happen.

The problem with this model, as I see it, is that it leaves out of the picture the existence of a very efficient system for making people stupid and keeping them that way.

And this apparatus seems to be able to pay for itself while creating lots of raw material for the politics of fear and resentment.

In which case, we're talking perpetual motion machine, here, rather than market bubble. It might slow down every so often, but I bet it'll get fixed. (Not that I don't hope Hall is completely right, and that I am off base.)

March 14, 2008

Because It's Friday Afternoon

...seems like a good time for the MC5:

The announcement at the end sure comes out of left field.

March 15, 2008

Almost Almost Famous

As noted by Ralph Luker at Cliopatria, I have a piece in The New York Times Book Review. After a dozen times or so, you get to be blasé about this. And so blasé about it I shall be -- although appearing in the Times wins valuable points with my mother-in-law, always a good thing.

But this time they have added a short profile of the reviewer, including a drawing. It is based on a photo. Still, I don't think the glasses and beard are quite that big in real life.

The piece is gratifying mainly because it mentions Phyllis and Julius Jacobson. Every so often some event or book will make me miss them so much it hurts, since we'll never get to hash it out. (Julie died five years ago; Phyllis had a very bad stroke in 2000 and now lives in a nursing home in Brooklyn; the last time we went to see her, there was a brief period of recognition but she faded fast.) A really fine short biographical account of Julius was written by Barry Finger for the socialist journal New Politics, which P&J founded.

As I told the Times in part of the interview they didn't use: the rumor that anti-totalitarian leftists like P&J all ended up as neoconservatives is one of the great slanders of contemporary American politics.

The End

The final episode of The Wire (which I haven't seen yet) is called "-30-." Christopher Gabel at Grid Effect writes:

That title is just a morass of punctuation. It's how I imagine Clark Kent wrote all his columns for the paper he worked at. Not merely written prose, but prose so complex that only people who could fly are able to decrypt it.

Well, no. It's not "just a morass of punctuation." Back in the old days, a reporter would type "-30-" after the last paragraph of an article to indicate that it had reached its close -- that there was no more copy forthcoming. It used to be the case, too, that the farewell piece by a columnist would be called a "-30-" column. Very appropriate as a title, in this case.

This is all ancient history now, and I stopped using it with manuscripts a while back when it became clear that scarcely anyone had any idea why the "-30-" was there.

By contrast, TK fills a lasting need and will live forever.

UPDATE: My friend Emily goes meta-TK. Her additions to the Wikipedia entry make perfect sense, and the appoints apply just as much or more to newspaperdom or online writing.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: That would be Martin Schneider, rather, not Emily. Sorry about that.

March 16, 2008

What He Said

"... he, who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing, but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove."

-- Samuel Johnson, The Rambler (1750)

via

original

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