main: February 2008 Archives

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.

February 27, 2008 10:56 AM | | Comments (4)

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 (d├ębile 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 22, 2008 10:26 AM | | Comments (3)

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.

February 20, 2008 9:47 AM | | Comments (3)

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 18, 2008 6:57 PM | | Comments (2)

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....

February 18, 2008 6:26 PM | | Comments (4)

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.

February 18, 2008 9:18 AM | | Comments (0)

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 17, 2008 2:39 PM | | Comments (4)

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 15, 2008 2:26 PM | | Comments (0)

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.

February 15, 2008 10:32 AM | | Comments (0)

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

February 15, 2008 8:03 AM | | Comments (3)

You know who you are.

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

February 14, 2008 10:46 AM |

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 13, 2008 6:18 PM | | Comments (4)

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.


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.

February 13, 2008 3:03 PM | | Comments (0)

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 5, 2008 4:56 PM | | Comments (1)

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.

February 5, 2008 1:50 PM | | Comments (3)

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 1, 2008 10:31 AM | | Comments (4)

Recent Work

Fidel Castro: My Life 
A review from Newsday



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