main: November 2008 Archives

Back from Austin and trying to get caught up on various things... Jenny Attiyeh passes along her Thoughtcast interview with Bob Silvers, the founding editor of The New York Review of Books. I'm listening to it now.

Jenny asked if there were anything I would suggest as a question for him, and I said it would be interesting to have him comment on The Gangrene, a book about how torture by the French military in Algeria spread from the colony to the metropolis. Silvers translated it shortly after it appeared and it was published in 1960. It seems odd that it has never been reprinted. Here's a recent article about it.

Anyway, she says she asked him about the book, and much else besides. Check it out...
November 30, 2008 4:48 PM | | Comments (0)

Lou Reed meets the press in 1974:

An homage, of sorts, to this interview from ten years earlier:

November 30, 2008 4:14 PM | | Comments (3)
hi how are you.jpg


Rita is annoyed that it was impossible for her to take this picture (the Daniel Johnston mural from the side of what used to be Sound Exchange, in what I tire of calling "back in the day") without the clutter of boxes for "For Rent" and other such inspiring publications.

But I think that's fitting somehow.

Sound Exchange was where Daniel sold his handmade tapes and t-shirts. (I still have an  original "Hi How Are You" shirt that is too faded and ratty to wear.) It was across the street from the Macdonald's where he worked in 1985.

Back then he was regarded more as pest than genius. But if you gave the tapes a chance it was pretty clear there were some talented bats in the belfry, along with a few rabid ones.
November 21, 2008 8:42 AM | | Comments (2)
I should update (and maybe purge) the blogroll here one of these days. It is on the list of things to do. I always lose that list. Don't hold your breath, is what I'm getting at, here.

For now let me recommend Signatures and Sophisticated Dorkiness, and thank the respective bloggers for linking to my column recently.
November 18, 2008 5:26 PM | | Comments (1)

Your dose of "what the hell was that?" right here...

In other Badiou news, see this interview on the tendencies within French Maoism.

Speaking of which, Godard's La Chinoise is finally available on DVD (as opposed to bootleg VHS, which is how I saw it a couple of years ago) and listed here, should any generous soul be interested.

November 18, 2008 9:47 AM | | Comments (4)
Critical Mass has a roundup of some recent tributes to John Leonard, including the one that ran as my column yesterday. In due course, I'm going to write more about him -- with much less emphasis on my own experience, and more on his work as such.

But it felt necessary to write something in a personal vein first. Particularly so as an IA column -- given that he was part of its audience.

More than "part," actually.....
November 13, 2008 12:12 PM | | Comments (0)

We head to Austin one week from today -- my second visit this year, Rita's first ever.

Quite a bit has changed in the twenty years since I left (the Drag now looks kind of like a suburban shopping mall that's been split wide open, and the loss of Les Amis still gives me grief) but it was a great relief to find that not everything I loved is gone.

Perhaps my visit in March was too quick for it to sink in just how much Austin has been, as it is sometimes put, Californicated. But wandering around my old haunts, I found that the place still had that distinctive feel. It left me wanting to move back.

My Austin "to do" list includes:

-- get "lost" Glass Eye album
-- ditto Kathy McCarthy solo release
-- eat at Conan's Pizza
-- show Rita the libraries
-- hang out on West Mall, denounce imperialism, etc.
-- see if any professors I knew back in the day are actually keeping their office hours this semester, which was evidently not the case in in the spring
-- show Rita the place where the Ark Co-op used to be
-- fail to convey what the Ark was like
-- more Conan's
-- visit with friends, if any of them see this and want to do so (for example, at Conan's)

November 12, 2008 10:57 AM | | Comments (2)

I just learned that the critic and novelist John Leonard has died.

He was a friend, the source of encouraging words at a particularly difficult time, when I was not hearing many of them. I tried to see him as often as possible, because John was a guy whose stories you wanted to hear, and so was glad to know he was writing his memoirs even as his health was going. We spent part of a morning talking over coffee in early 2007 -- after which I felt guilty, because that was when he would have had the energy to be writing.

He appeared on an NBCC panel at Book Expo that year, which our mutual friend David Glenn points out was recorded on video:

I ran into him in the hallway later. He looked run down, but was completely in his element. It was the last time I got to talk to him.

John indicated at some point that he read this blog, among others, and particularly enjoyed it whenever I wrote about Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He said it made him laugh out loud, and during one of our last visits I presented him with his very own copy of Chairman Bob's memoirs.

The NBCC gave him its lifetime achievement award -- here is John's acceptance speech. For the past five years, I have been telling anyone who would listen that it would be a good idea to reprint his first collection of pieces, This Pen for Hire. A few minutes ago, I went to the shelves and pulled down his books, and found that a couple of them were inscribed, which somehow makes the finality of this real in a way it is hard to describe.

UPDATE: Jane Ciabattari, the president of NBCC, has posted a tribute with a number of useful links.

My friend Emily Gordon posts her own farewell. I've submitted a comment to spell out one thing about John that is there between the lines.

November 6, 2008 1:02 PM | | Comments (3)

Chris Lehmann says this song played at random on his iPod this morning. Talk about synchronicity...

It's good to have theme music. I'd guess this is from 1987.

This is the first day in a few that I've actually been able to concentrate on work for more than a few minutes at a time. Until the very moment that the election was called last night, there was dread. I don't think I realized just how much until I sat down at the keyboard this morning and became fully absorbed in writing in spite of not having had quite enough sleep.

As a socialist, I remain skeptical about the implications of what just happened: Nobody gets as far as Obama did as fast as he did without a keen instinct for finding the center (at least not in a period of low social struggle). The idea that he's going to do anything but that without major pressure from below is purely wishful thinking.

But yes, this is a transitional moment, and the energy unleashed by this repudiation of a low, dishonest decade is something glorious to experience.

And while I never thought of it until just this moment, BHO is the first president who might very well have been at a Husker Du show at some point.

PS. Another soundtrack suggestion here.

November 5, 2008 2:33 PM | | Comments (1)
An item I posted at Crooked Timber yesterday -- while in fact little more than a nod in the direction of fellow ArtsJournal blogger book/daddy -- has generated not just discussion but meta-discussion, and maybe a power or two higher than that.

The last word should (but won't) go to the guy who started it all:

Displaying a talent for meta-commentary will often find itself running down an ad infinitum rat hole. That is, you model your comment on mine in order to exemplify my failings--the archness, the high-and-low shiftings, the display of pop snottery, etc. etc.--embodying them yourself but making it clear to us that what distinguishes you is you know you're doing it, which means you can do it much better. You have self-knowledge.... Not such a redeeming factor, in the end: Anything can be subjected to such an approach, leaving us with nothing but attitude.

What's kind of sad about the whole thing is that both Jerome and I indulged in the "critical commentary" gestures as an excuse to circulate particular "literal videos" themselves, out of appreciation for the craft involved. The best ones are well-done in ways that you come to appreciate the minute you look at some of the less skillful examples. And the lyrics to the remake of "Take Me Home" are so much better than anything in the original that it's arguably a better video for having them. I was naive enough not to have anticipated the triggering of all the free-floating anxiety out there about "hipsters" and their "irony." Who knew?

I mourn the day "hipster" stopped having its Milton Klonsky/Norman Mailer-era connotations and instead started applying to certain strategies of self-production through niche-market consumerism, but can't be bothered to keep up with all the fallout of that unfortunate development. To quote Quick Study's longtime imaginary friend Spamzatura, the whole thing is "more like meta-hipster intellectual thumbsucking, actually. Either that or hipster-intellectual meta-thumbsucking. I always get those two confused."

Would it make things worse to point out that the literalism of literal video is arguably the exact opposite of irony? Yes, it probably would.
November 4, 2008 10:21 AM | | Comments (1)

Michael Wesch speaking (for about an hour) at the Library of Congress in June:

via Wiked Anomie

Interesting, but possibly also a case of an approach imposing its own logic on the phenomenon.

Wesch and his students study the "YouTube community" through participant observation. Okay, but a very large part of the audience for YouTube never uploads video -- and among those who do, only a subset are "addressing the public through to the webcam"-style talking heads.

Focusing on the latter subculture then leads to questions of community, self-construction, etc. It turns out that -- hey! great! -- this medium doesn't dis-integrate social bonds at all!

And maybe it doesn't. But that finding seems already half posited by the method.

November 1, 2008 4:33 PM | | Comments (0)

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