A little autonomist bird tells me that Doug Henwood's talk at the Lenin conference that Zizek organized a few years ago
is the only one that won't appear in the proceedings of the conference, to be published by Duke University Press.
I always thought that Doug was a bit of a Kautskyite. Then again, so are Negri and Hardt, right? Isn't Empire
just the "super-imperialism" that Lenin denounced in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky? Only with,
like, better publicity?
A couple of weeks back, not quite, while standing around waiting for my editor to get off the phone, I grabbed
the new paperback edition of Elizabeth Young-Bruehl's Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World off a stack of incoming
books. First time I read it was, jeez, twenty years ago? That can't be. The stuff about the affair with Heidegger that people
got all worked up about in 1995 was all there, in a book published in 1982, handled with mere intelligence and maturity, which
is why nobody made a big deal about it. Anway, a really good biography, and I also think a lot of Creative Characters,
in which Young-Bruehl creates a kind of psychoanalytic typology of forms of the creative process. A very highly recommended
book, though not so easy to find.
Reading the intro to the new edition of the Arendt bio, I saw a footnote that led me to to
doing this article
. Something I left out is my own personal experience of the fact that Edward Said could be a touchy guy. Long story.
Anyway, in the course of interviewing Young-Bruehl, I got confirmation of a hunch: namely, that her typology
in Creative Characters was somewhat influenced by Karl Jaspers, especially his book The Psychology of World Views.
Which I haven't read, because it is in German. Also, by some counts, more or less unreadable, except to someone immersed
to the gills in Dilthey and Weber. But with luck it will be possible to track down some extracts in translation,
in hopes that the unreadableness is overstated. Until now, I've had to count on descriptions of the argument
at second hand, which is a pain, because it sounds intriguing.
Welcome back, after a long hiatus, to a Gauche. (Can't seem to type the accent, sorry.)
From an entry on attending a lecture by Julia Kristeva
: "Her complete unwillingness to say the word 'economy' is conspicuous." Well, yes it is, but it's not a surprise,
nor an accident. Mr. Kristeva, a.k.a. Phillipe Sollers, is the heir to a zillion dollar fortune. They can carry
on their little "intimate revolts" in luxury, with all the tingly joiussance of knowing somebody else will clean it up.
That they ran around waving pictures of Chairman Mao, back in the Tel Quel day, don't mean shit. How
it is American academics still think of Kristeva as a leftist in any sense whatever is a mystery that used to fascinate
me. Now it's just irritating.
Favorite turn of phrase this week: "I'm not a wagering man, just a simple carpenter trying
to make a shoeshine box that doesn't wobble...." (from James Wolcott
I haven't come across a good "pox on both their houses" argument in a while. And I'm not sure that this one
actually qualifies, on the "good" part anyway. But it's by Alasdaire MacIntye, which makes it interesting in a way that something
from the Workers' Vampire
Thanks to an old friend, Don Kenner, "regional coordinator" of the Vatico-Zionist alliance
, for this link. The expression "regional coordinator" is an inside joke that would take forever to explain. It
involves someone who went to Cuba in a gesture of proletarian internationalism, but also to get his teeth fixed. (A
very long story.)
A link does not imply an endorsement. Shouldn't need to say that. But you know how it is.
All photographs or images at this site have vanished into the ether. Which is not the only reason I
am considering changing servers, sooner than later. Anyway, that is why the cat blog and so forth won't be featured,
at least for a while.
People, even people who should know better, sometimes refer to me as a "book collector," which is strange. A collector
is interested in the object, as such. First editions, for example. Inscribed copies. That sort of thing. The word "collector"
summons to mind the kind of bookcases that have glass doors.
Now, it's true that I read a lot, and the books do sort of follow me home, especially from the office, where I get maybe
ten new scholarly books a week, on a really slow week. That's not the same thing as collecting, though. It's not less compulsive,
but the rationalizations involved are a bit different.
If you wake up at 4 a.m. needing to know something about Italian radicalism in the 1970s, it will have been
better to have something on the topic on hand than not. Right? And while it is true that I have two copies each
of, say, Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death and C.L.R. James's Notes on Dialectics, well, that,
too, is reasonable, because one copy is heavily annotated, and sometimes you want to reread without prejudicing your sense
of what is important.
So anyway, it was interesting to come across Thomas H. Benton's essay
on his own habits, if only because he seems to think that having about 3,600 books around is evidence
that he might have a problem with bibliomania. He also notes with alarm that he spends more on books than on food.
So what's the big deal? How interesting is food, over the long run anyway?
The real problem with my own system of rationalizations is that, in acquiring a book, one does tend to indulge in
a bit of magical thinking that the required time will go with it. But it's much better to have a volume
of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon writings at hand when you need it than to go hunting it. It just is.
Towards the end of the essay, Benton writes:
"At bottom, I suspect I am a scholar because I am a bibliophile rather than the other way around. One could scoff at
that as putting the cart before the horse. But if professors and students spent more time buying books, instead of just writing
them at a furious rate, it might help to revive the endangered enterprise of scholarly publishing on which we all depend."
Well, on that last point, another solution is possible -- one first proposed, if I remember correctly,
by Philip Rieff, who said that academic promotion should be awarded for not publishing. For example,
if, after seven years, you don't publish your dissertation, they should make you associate professor.
(My own experience suggests that I became a writer in order to indulge a fetish for pens and stationary. But
that is another story.)
You don't need a high-speed connection and Windows Media Player to watch the performance. It is what you could call a
text-based spectacle. But seriously, it's not for the squeamish.
Sorry for the future anterior. Still a lot of Derrida kicking around in my system.
By the way: this blog entry
by Russell Arben Fox will, therefore, have been the most interesting thing about Derrida by a Mormon intellectual.
Small world. I came across that item last week, then headed over to Fox's home page, where I came across -- and
printed out, and read -- his review essay on Terryl Givens, who I interviewed a while back
. Never thought I'd come across another reference to The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley. But there it was.
For those not in the know: Hugh Nibley is the grand old man of orthodox Mormon scholarship. I have somehow managed to
get this far in life without reading him, and suppose it is now a matter of soldiering on.
However, a profile
of him available online quotes Nibley saying: "Scholarship in America is as dead as the dodo and has been for at least 30
years: go to their conventions if you don't believe they are a bunch of ineffectual zombies; they are simply marking time
waiting for nothing to happen."
Well put! But dude, you don't know the half of it.
of Gertrude Himmelfarb's new book appeared in the New York Times yesterday.
Thanks to Henry Farrell for posting this item
at Crooked Timber, generating an interesting discussion. The piece is also up this morning at Arts and Letters Daily.
The tagline refers to the British having "moral sentiments," when the more fitting term would be "the moral sentiment." But
that is a quibble.
It's always good to start the day seeing I've got something listed at ALD. In short, this has to be a better week than
last, which spilled over into a weekend of nonstop work.
There are some tangential thoughts, spinning off from the piece, that I'll write up as soon as possible. Not today.
Must....meet....deadline... (So tired. So very tired.)
Announcing a new feature: the Friday Reading List, a selection of links to various items of interest.
At first, it was exciting to see the title "The Unrest is Growing: Habermas in Iran" -- although it turns
out the interview
is now actually more than two years old. Still, it's worth a read. (Via Infinite Thought
links to Alan Wolfe's article on Carl Schmitt, and notes that it pissed off some Republicans. Well yes it did. But the
really impressive thing about Alan Wolfe's article is that he appears to have written it without actually studying anything
by or about Schmitt except for Mark Lilla's piece in the New York Review of Books,
from seven years ago. (He
sure as hell didn't actually read Jan-Werner Müller's A Dangerous Mind
, unless maybe you count looking
at the dust jacket.) That Wolfe is a prolific fellow. I am impressed by his intellectual thriftiness.
Speaking of right wing authoritarianism.... Here is Rick Perlstein
. Wait, that didn't come quite right. Let's start over. A couple of weeks back, Rick was in DC, sleeping on our
couch, while running around interviewing political operatives (i.e., flacks) about the campaign. Without
actually lapsing into the increasingly fierce we-are-Weimar rhetoric that a lot of folks on the left are now
prone to indulging, he does make the case that the centrist Democratic hacks are utterly incapable of dealing with aspects
of "the process" (as they call electioneering, in centrist hackspeak) that are really worrisome.
Meanwhile, in The Nation
, Scott Sherman, another roving reporter known to fight our cats for space on the sofa,
reviews a bunch of volumes about the Times
-- tomes comparable, in their way, to the memoirs and briefing books that Kremlinologists once pored over. Scott
also has an article about Dissent
in a recent issue of the Nation
. I read it in draft, but have
not seen the printed version. Reportedly, however, it does mentions the Dissent
line of qualified
but firm support for the Vietnam War, at least until Tet.
As a mutual friend has put it: The sound of thunder off in the distance comes from dozens of pacemakers giving out on
the Upper West Side.
The writing goes badly. The various ideas and bits of information do not fit into the structure rigged up for them. Damn
you, ideas and information! Get out of my face, falsely rigorous structure! Nor does it help that I feel sick.
And yet I say: Woo hoo!
There are two reasons for this:
(1) Until yesterday, my website was way, way down on the blogroll at Crooked Timber. It was under the category "Obscure shit and people with pictures of their cats" or something like that. Now, it is listed in the Lumber Room, i.e. the very top of the list.
The table with the cool kids, in another words. This will make me the most popular hermit around. And
so: Woo hoo!
The entries and discussions at Crooked Timber are what I'd like to imagine it was like to be in a Vienna coffee house,
way back when. Every link you click at CT actually makes you smarter. It's not just procrastinating. That's
my story and I'm sticking to it.
(2) Over at the Poynter website (home of Romenesko, the journalism news-and-gossip site every "journo" in the country reads), the Book Babes are discussing the National
Book Award, and along the way quote from my essay from last Sunday's Newsday.
It is nice to be reminded that, on occasion, I can actually write something. Because it doesn't feel
that way at the moment. And so, again, I say: Woo hoo -- albeit in a more subdued way.
It is Wednesday. The day of the week when the number of visitors spikes.
It seems as if I ought to have something new to put up. Just, you know, for the sake of courtesy. Not all of you
are in-laws, stopping by from force of habit. (Good morning, Jennifer! Your sister says hello.)
But anyway....today I am writing. Today is a "writing day."
Of course, it's always a writing day. Somebody has to fill all these notebooks.
But at present there is an editor standing nearby, ready to throw a noose over some convenient high spot. Do-or-die
Now, many people want to be writers. They dream about it. They think it must be
an interesting life. They may even feel sure they could do it, if given an opportunity. (I suppose the test is whether
or not you insist on writing and publishing and writing again, even without encouragement.)
That's a very different desire from wanting to write.
Most of the time, I'm in the latter camp. (No pen may yet glean my teeming brain, and so forth.) But today, it would
be cool just to have written. It's a difficult project, and no way will it be adequate. I just want to
be able to watch a movie without feeling incredibly guilty.
Okay, okay. Stop shaking the noose.
Check back Friday, maybe. I've got a piece in the New York Times Book Review this coming weekend. With
luck, I might have an early link by then.
The best essay on/in the wake of Derrida's passing that I've read so far? That's easy. No contest, really. For the
best reading experience, you turn to Daniel Green
His optic is always a lot more literary-aestheticist (to put it that way) than my own instincts and biases tend to run.
There's a lot more to be said about Derrida as "political relay," for example, which is a way more complicated matter than deconstruction's
role as erstaz combat strategy for soi-disant leftists in lit programs.
But even in that regard, Green's references are really useful. Yes, by all means, people ought to read Christopher Norris.
If the conversation is ever going to get out of a certain dubious effort to periodize Derrida as an episode in something called
"literary theory," it will probably involve Norris's reading of what I guess we'd have to label "the early Derrida."
Other sites you might want to visit include:
Bob Avakian Speaks
providing 21st Century Maoism, in low-fi. Dig that reverb. The folks running the site proclaim themselves "followers
of Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA." The RCP pretty gets it, that you'll
probably be voting for the lesser of two evils in a few weeks. Now, who's fault is that? Run, Chairman Bob, run
Annotated table of contents for issue one of N+1
, which you might still be able to find at a newstand. If not, please consider asking for it. The cost is about nine
bucks. For the quality, it would be cheap at twice the price. So you maybe buy two, and give one away.
That's what I'm doing from now on.
As for the article itself: the challenge of writing such a piece, as always, was to cover the material in a way
that would be comprehensible to someone without any background, while also being at satisfactory to the
person who does know the work in question.
That is not so easy. In fact, sometimes it is impossible. ("Okay, here is the paragraph that'll discuss Negri's
concept of real subsumption. In two sentences. Two really short sentences.")
With the Derrida piece, with luck, there will be enough unfamiliar material to reward the attention even
of someone who grumbles, "No mention of logocentrism? And you couldn't get in a reference to 'Plato's Pharmacy' somewhere?
This won't do at all." (Actually, that is the sound of me talking to myself. It happens a lot, I'm afraid.)
A couple of smart and otherwise unreasonably well-read folks have indicated that the quick account of Derrida's
late "turn" was news to them. And the little bit concerning deconstruction and legal theory was not something I'd heard
about, at the time. It was also great to have a chance to quote Chip Delany (whose photo appears in the print edition),
among other people. So in any case, I'd like to think it is a useful piece, and will not inspire thousands of people
to sign a letter of protest
After correcting proofs on the article on Thursday, I went home for the afternoon. Almost immediately
after taking my shoes off, I got a call from the op-ed editor at Newsday, asking if I'd be able to help him
out by writing a short essay on the news that the list of nominated titles for the National Book Award included
the report of the 9/11 commission. (Which I've been reading, off and on, for a few months.)
And if so, could I file it more or less immediately?
Despite being totally exhausted, or perhaps even for that reason, I said yes. The column
appeared on Sunday. Newsday
put it "on the wire," so might appear in other newspapers. Or it
Seeing a reference to Hegel in the first graf is not going to be a high recommendation in the eyes of a lot of editors,
probably. I didn't really consider that, while writing it -- just wanted to spin out my available line of thought,
within a set of very exacting length and deadline requirements. In such circumstances, you can't afford to spend a lot
of time worrying about whether anybody is going to want to syndicate it or not.
In hindsight, however, it does feel a little like I was maybe channeling Max Lerner circa 1945. "Write and
be damned," that's my motto.
also ran this review
of a new version of Gilgamesh
Somehow, Ed Cohn over at Gnostical Turpitude provided a link to the review on Thursday
-- well before I even knew that the piece was going to appear. Now that's
a close reader!
Final election debate thoughts and/or involuntary verbal spasms:
-- Isn't there something faintly Nixonian about the way the President laughs at his own jokes?
-- He seemed a bit "up" last night. Wondered if maybe beforehand he had enjoyed some Coke. Not just any soft
drink. Definitely seemed like maybe it had been a Coke.
-- Kerry referred to Reagan at a couple of points, in terms suggesting he's in the pantheon, along with FDR and JFK.
Turned to Rita and said, "That's it, I'm voting for Nader."
-- Feelings of deja vu throughout all three debates. This morning I remembered the 1996 election, when, as you remember
from The Simpsons, the space aliens took over the process:
Kang: The politics of failure have failed. We have to make them work again.
Kodos: I am looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will eliminate the need for a
A hell of a week, and it’s still not over. Went on Pacifica radio the other night – Monday? pretty sure it
was Monday – to answer questions about Derrida on Suzi Weissman’s talk show. Or rather, to be more specific, during
the last four minutes of the program.
Fortunately I am paid enormous sums for these appearances. It is also fun to
ride in the limo.
I keep attempting these jokes about my role as king of all media /
public-intellectual- living-large. Why? Because of a couple of notifications about green-eyed pissants who are grumbling
about my "success." Yeah, right. If it were anyone whose opinion were worthy of respect, this might
not be so funny. The malice, that is. Not my jokes about it. (Which are lame. Sorry.)
The reality of the situation
is that, looking around my desk at the moment, I feel like a guy who has been living in his car for a while. There are empty
coffee cups, cans of ginger ale, plastic bags with the cardboard boxes from frozen dinners purchased at the little grocery
place downstairs and nuked in the office kitchen. To get to my desk has involved stepping over large piles of books. About
half of my books by or about Derrida are now in my cubicle, which means it will be necessary to lug them all back home. A
photocopy of Michele Lamont’s paper "How to Become a Dominant French Philosopher" (American Journal of Sociology,
1987) is just about to fall and scatter all over the place. Oh good, more entropy.
However, no microwaved burritos
were consumed in the writing of my feature story for this week’s issue of the Chronicle. (I have some dignity.)
Just corrected proofs on it, except for the part that starts on the cover. The end is in sight.
The good will keeps
on flowing, though. Man, did people I'm hearing from hate that obit in the Times. And rightly so.
It is already
having some pernicious effects. People are taking at face value the part where it says that Derrida, asked to define deconstruction,
said: "It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied."
Aha! It’s impossible
to define! It probably doesn’t mean anything!
Of course, it is no problem at all, just from looking at the Times
obit, to work out the circumstances of the interview in which he said that. The exchange probably went something like this:
Professor Derrida, would you please explain deconstruction in terms that may be understood by someone who, when hearing
the name "Aristotle," thinks of Jacqueline Onasis? Also, please do this in two sentences.
is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied
Derrida did provide a reasonably
concise account of what he meant by the term. The point of a "general strategy of deconstruction," he said in an interview
with Guy Scarpetta in 1971, "is to avoid both simply neutralizing the binary oppositions of metaphysics and simply residing
within the closed field of these oppositions, thereby confirming it." He then goes on to spell this out in more detail over
a couple of pages. It’s in Positions. You could look it up.
Of course, if you don’t have any patience
for, or interest in, philosophy, you aren’t going to follow any of it. That does not mean that it does not mean anything.
And I say that as someone who doesn’t necessarily think it will work. Deconstruct them oppositions all you want.
That just pisses them off, makes ‘em meaner.
For an antidote to the Times obit, check out Marco Roth's essay "Derrida: An Autothanatography"
at N+1. (Mental note: Just bookmark the site, for crying out loud. Otherwise, you will keep ending
up at the site for the Italian ultra-left publication of the same name. Of course, I'm in the mood for that sometimes. But really, just not as often.)
Finally: a big shout of joy to welcome the return of Dennis Johnson and Moby Lives. First literary blog I ever read. ("Back in 'ought one, it was," the old codger recalled.)
Good to have you back, Moby. But now, of course, you have some serious competition.
A couple of hours ago, glancing at a list of books by Zizek, I saw one of them is called Opera's Second
Death. But that's not the way I read it. The title appeared to be Oprah's Second Death.
It's been that kind of day.
Actually it's been a marathon, since Saturday afternoon, when I got an e-mail note indicating that Derrida's death had
just been announced.
It was just after lunch. I'd spent the morning working on the outline of a long feature. The manuscript was
overdue, and I expected to spend the rest of the weekend on it.
Of course it was necessary to drop everything. Much cursing, loudly and at length. I've know Derrida was ill
for a while. For the past several months, I've carried around a notebook (an exam blue book) with "Derrida" scribbled
on the cover, intending to sketch a rough draft of an obituary. Kept putting it off. When the news arrived,
there was maybe one paragraph of notes.
So, got on the phone to a couple of editors, rescheduled the feature, and shifted gears in order to concentrate
on writing something that would be ready to go up at the Chronicle as soon as possible.
Finished it about 24 hours after hearing he had died. It went online Monday morning.
The response so far has been pretty encouraging. It looks really good by contrast with the other stuff on Derrida that
has been coming out.
The piece at the New York Times was particularly awful. The guy who wrote it derived his entire knowledge of deconstruction
from reading the back of the video box for a Woody Allen movie with the word in the title. The piece was amazingly clueless
on even some things that had nothing to do with Derrida's thought. For example, it stated that he didn't get his doctorate
until the age of fifty -- as if that were a failing, somehow, rather than the fairly normal course of things, at
least for someone of his generation.
Just spent another day fleshing out that quick piece -- revising some of it, and doubling the length.
It's really hard to write about a thinker in a newspaper article. I've been doing this for a while, so it
is not a surprise, but in fact it never gets easier.
If you don't know anything about the person in question and don't care, it's probably not that hard. You just read the
back of the video box, or whatever. But when you actually do have some sense of how much you have had
to leave out -- let alone, how much you have not read -- then the format is a burden.
Fortunately I am paid fantastic sums of money to endure this. Just enormous piles of cash. It's hard to fold
the wallet, actually.
I've never really paid much attention to Derrida's later work. Tried reading the book on Marx at one point, and concluded
that while, JD felt obliged to say something in favor of Marx, it wasn't that a matter of having something
The man could make throat-clearing noises like nobody's business. Reading him at his windiest, I very often
thought of the passage in Tristes Tropiques about the gestures and feints that you picked up at ENS.
The student could read something in a few hours, then run it through a certain analytico-synthetic machine, producing
the simulacrum of incisive analysis. Some of JD's later essays (or as much as I could take of reading them) seemed to
be the result of rhetorical questions becoming a tic.
Here is his ripest style, given the Terry Eagleton treatment
: "What is it, to eat peanuts? Why this plural? What is this 'what'? Who is asking here? Anybody
or nobody? Is this question even possible? What if it were at once essential and impossible?"
Ouch! But yeah, I do love me some Writing and Difference and Margins of Philosophy. That has
never changed, and it never will.
Now this is funny....Maybe not as funny as evidence
that Halliburton headquarters is located in Springfield. But still, funny.
In passing, to hit the point a little harder, I had a throw-away line to the effect that, sure, Julius Streicher,
the Nazi monger of porn and hate, was a creep, but that if he was messed up in the head, it wasn't much worse than some
This is known as (a) being provocative; (b) being a smartass; (c) being in possession of enough sense to discern
the obvious. Take your pick. Me, I'd say "all of the above."
Another party -- taking a bit too literally a jab at hunger for media attention -- knitted its brow
at my reference to bloggers heading to the TV studio.
The people jumping up and down, trembling with indignation at my weisenheimer attitude, assumed my throw-away
comment was meant in a spirit of "Bush=Hitler."
Which is funny, because I have always held that the "Bushitler" thing is the product of the febrile typists
of the left-wing blogosphere. As historical analogy, it is deeply idiotic. As political analysis, it is simply useless.
As political rhetoric, it is overkill. But as a chance to work yourself into hysterics, it's pretty effective.
And working yourself into a fine state is, after all, what it's all about.
One of the INDC Journal denizens has it that I'm pretentious, based on an old blog that died
of natural causes. The problem appears to be that I read books, including quite a few old ones -- a suspect activity
in even the best of times. (And quite superfluous at this point in history. All a blogger need read, after all, is other
blogs.) Hell, if they knew about that subscription to the English-language edition of Le Monde diplomatique, think
how mean they'd get.
Another fellow announces that professional writers fear blogs. For, you see, we know
we are dinosaurs, lumbering sadly across the landscaoe while frisky little warm-blooded bloggers scurry around our
Now, that's not funny. Not funny at all. My goodness, how many tears I've wiped away! They almost
stained my paycheck.
And what is that, down there, moving around so quickly? Rats? Neandrethals? Something, anyway. Something that
lives on dinosaur dung.
(In an interview, one of the guys in the Drive By Truckers
says that whenever they used to play the song "Buttholeville" live in their hometown, they would announce, "If
you think this song is about you, it probably is.")
Once upon a time -- in the days when MTV was young and the president was an genial old B movie actor who tended
to remember things he'd done in the movies as if they had happened in real life -- the Trotskyist wing of the international
communist conspiracy had two representatives in central Texas. They were friends. One was Donald Kenner. The other is the
guy who runs this website.
The latter continues to be, more or less, a pinko. He has a picture of Lenin in his study
at home, which he says he will take down if and only if Henry Kissinger dies in prison. He considers the insanity of
Ann Coulter to be evident from her glassy eyes and tendency to spew filth like a pipe feeding an open sewer. Also, his
passport shows that he has visited France.
Donald Kenner, by contrast, is now a conservative Catholic. He started a group called the Catholic Friends
of Israel. He is slightly more papist than the pope. He works as a librarian at a Catholic school. And he has a blog
It is natural to suppose that they can't stand each other any more. Yet they are still friends. Mirabile dictu!
Got up way
too early this morning, to be in position at the keyboard for the announcement of the Nobel
Prize for Literature. Which I then wrote up, in this piece
, way too fast...
Insert Paul Virilio reference here. Or, if you prefer, Steve Wright: "I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and
almost went back in time."
"blogging can never die unless the blogeist, through a process of dialectical self-overcoming, achieves
a self-awareness that simultaneously unfolds as a consciousness of the movements of blogeschichte, which in turn reveal
themselves as the condition for that very consciousness...."
To this, we reply that all dialectics is phalloblogocentric.
“Beyond a specific point in time, history lost its reality. Without realizing it, the entire human race abandoned
reality. What took place from then on could no longer be true, but there would be no way of realizing it… Short of being
able to return to that specific point in time, we would have no choice but to continue to work hard at destroying the present.”
-- Elias Canetti, as quoted by Jean Blogrillard
Going back to the Times piece, however....it was mildly irritating to see the so-called Underground Literary
Alliance listed in the same batch of coverage.
In 2001, I came pretty close to writing something about them for the late, lamented Feed. Back then, ULA
had not taken their blend of self-pity and self-advertisement online. If memory serves, the Internet was itself part
of the dire conspiracy to keep the American reading public from realizing that the only literature in America worth reading
was stuff that made Charles Bukowski look like Paul Valery.
My own role as effete snob is probably confirmed by the fact that the last-mentioned figure is both French and dead.
Very, very dead. Jean-Paul Sartre said that his books appeared in posthumous editions even while he was alive. Damnit,
I just did it again.
Having read some of the ULA screeds (pardon, "manifestoes"), I was struck by their resemblance to the
work of Richard Kostelanetz. If, you know, Kostelanetz were under the influence of really, really strong medication.
That wasn't working.
Now, to be fair, I do like Kostelanetz's early cultural journalism quite a bit -- the profiles in Master
Minds, for example, and the work collected in Twenties in the Sixties. But his book The End of
Intelligent Writing in America is premised on the idea that the New York cultural elite was acting as a cartel whose
main purpose was to marginalize the work of concrete poets. It's an interesting collection of literary gossip, circa 1972.
But as argument? Let's just say that my nickname for the book is The Protocols of the Literary Editors of Zion.
After interviewing the ULA's alpha male, who called himself "King Wenclas" (which I'm guessing was a nom de
publicite, rather than his given name), I got a hand-written note from him announcing something to the effect
that "since you said there were no worthwhile writers not recognized by the NY publishing industry, we won't expect this to
be a fair article."
Of course, I had never said any such thing. How bizarre. Only an idiot would think that, or attribute such a thought
to another person.
A sane idiot might. Were drooling idiocy, as such, not the problem, other hypotheses would come
Feed went under before I got around to writing anything. In the meantime, I assumed that ULA, too, had
gone to its reward. Evidently not. Only the good die young.
If today follows anything like the usual pattern, this little item
-- knocked off one morning last week over a cup of coffee -- will get dozens of times as much attention as any
given pieces that required weeks of reading, interviewing, outlining, drafting, etc.
But that's okay. (This time, at least.) Anything that gets out the word on this very smart and funny book
is, as such, good. I hate every single manifestation of America's culture of constant political infotainment -- except The
, which almost makes things bearable sometimes. And America (The Book)
is, overall, as good as The
was at its best a quarter century ago.
Oh, hell. Where did the time go?
Had the same feeling, actually, after we went to see End of the Century this weekend. Rita is not a Ramones fan, though she did recall that "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" was on that mix
tape, a dozen years ago. But she found the film interesting, if kind of sad, and suggested that perhaps, like Metallica,
they should have gone into group therapy.
The documentary had a much stronger impact on me -- and not just from seeing probably
the last interview with Joe Strummer, though that was quite emotional as well. The film was completed while Johnny was still alive. Now
the three main members are all gone. There was something melancholy about realizing that, as far as their own aspirations
were concerned, the Ramones never really "made it."
When I saw them in early 1989, in what must have been one of Dee Dee's last shows, they were
playing in a fairly small venue -- which meant that the sonic jackhammer was really fierce. (My ears rang for two days afterwards.)
The film makes clear that they all hated one another by that point, for reasons that went well beyond career frustration.
But there was plenty of that, as well. And it's sad to think it.
While the radio and MTV programming wizards never did right by them, the Ramones were -- for me
and for my friends, and for anybody whose opinion we ever respected in such matters -- simply one of THE great bands in the
world. And dysfunctional as they may have been in some ways, they were incredibly hard-working. I left the theater feeling
more respect for them than I did going in, which took some doing.
Note to anybody who thinks that it is "easy" to play Johnny's guitar parts -- you don't know
what you are saying. Sure, the chords are simple and few. But try playing them that fast, that precisely, for maybe
two straight hours. Then we'll talk.
My only complaint about the film is that it would have been good to hear about "Bonzo Goes to
Bitberg," their great anti-Reagan song, which must have been a landmark moment in internal band tensions, given how right-wing
Johnny was. But the compensation for that comes from learning that one of my favorite songs, "The KKK Took My Baby Away,"
was actually Joey's response to Johnny stealing his girlfriend.
Someone would put together a collection of all the available film and video footage from CBGB's
in the 1970s. There's something so beautiful about it all, no matter how grainy or jumpy. Every time I see one, it makes me
catch my breath.
T.C. Boyle has a new novel based on the life of Alfred Kinsey. Plus there's a biopic coming
soon to a theater near you.....In Sunday's Times, Caleb Crain has an interesting piece
on the latter, situating it with respect to some of the arguments over Kinsey.
With that in mind, I'm almost hesitant to link to my review-essay
on one of the biographies, from -- holy crap, this can't be right -- seven years ago? Seven years? No, no, no.
Well, yes actually. Looking over the piece again, my geezerly recollection is that the opening section
was meant to allude to both Foucault and Marcuse, somehow. That was the intention, anway. Now I really don't see it, so it
must not have worked.....
Had there been more room, I would have wanted to make a point about something striking about the book. It
includes interview with Arthur Rosenberg (by the way, how in the hell is it that the leading Nazi "thinker" was named Rosenberg?)
and Julius Streicher. But several of the other men Goldensohn interviews say that they found Rosenberg's work
too difficult to understand, and some of them express disgust as Streicher's newspaper, even saying that
they would not permit it in their homes.
Aside from that, there are a number of indications by the leaders on trial that they never
found the racist aspect of Nazi ideology especially appealing or even plausible. Some of them even considered it a bit
I don't think they were necessarily trying to win any brownie points with the psychiatrist. Most of them
knew they had a date with the hangman. Their comments may tend to corroborate the point that Richard Evans
makes -- that while anti-Semitism was certainly a huge factor in the movement, lots of people signed on for other
This is not, as such, an especially reassuring thought.
Maud Newton is doing a series of interviews with critics over at her awesomely prominent website
, which, a little bird informs me, gets about as many visitors during the lunch hour as this one does in any given month.
One of those interviews will be with me. Whenever I get it in gear to, you know, answer her questions.
Anyway, she's starting things off with a discussion with Chris Lehmann
, my friend and sometimes (perhaps the suitable word is "former"?) editor. And at some point she will have an
interview with Terry Teachout
, a conservative critic whose work I read with some regularity.
Leon Wieseltier once dubbed Teachout "the freelance philistine," a nasty crack TT himself quotes (without attribution)
in the Terry Teachout Reader
Perhaps this is a suitable occasion to mention that, at one point, when it looked like I might do some pseudonymous writing,
my moniker was going to be Leon Weasel-Terrier.
Being (as ever) at the cutting edge of exactly nothing, I am way behind the curve in noting the arrival of Galley Cat
, another literary newsblog, presided over by Nathalie Chicha, whose helpful blogroll
I have just discovered.
Newsblog, blogroll, blogosphere....blogorrhea, blogolalia, blogophilia.... Seriously, folks, we need need a new vocabulary,
because this one is getting old. It's bad enough that we have no name for the present decade. (Actually, that is starting
to become mildly inconvenient in conversation.)
There was one moment in the debate last night when the real, long-term stakes of the American ruling class came into
Sorry to lapse into such terms again. I try not to do that. It just makes people look at you funny. Consider it the knot
in my stomach talking. (That knot tightened for a solid ninety minutes, and it was still there when I got up this morning.)
Anyway....the moment in question came when Bush made clear that, under his watch, the United States would never put itself
in the position of being subject to an international criminal court.
Not exactly what you would call a breakthrough moment in the history of American policy, of course. At one level, nothing
new at all.
But yes, indeed, a little glimmer of fear was visible, for just a moment there, in those beady little frat-boy eyes,
instead of the usual bland twinkle.
Kerry did not rush in to dispute the point. Let's put it this way. Suppose that, for the sake
of argument, there really is more than a dime's worth of difference between the parties, this time.
Well, that ain't the dime.
The formula for determining the specificity of ruling-class interests: First, select out the subset of issue
that the two major candidates do not express disagreement over. Then (second subtraction) ignore
whatever has no direct consequence for people who lack money or power. The remainder is, so to speak, the final determining
They don't disagree on whether to continue the war, only on how to continue it. So that passes through
the first stage. But not the second. If I were an Iraqi trade-unionist, for example, I might well prefer an internationally
controlled police presence to an American occupation, and certainly would not want to be handed over to the tender
mercies of whatever Baathist/Islamicist hybrid is now cooking in the countryside.
No, what the debate last night suggested is that, at the end of the day, for all the talk of multilateralism and whatnot,
there is a specific interest in making sure that "the indispensible country" always reserves the right to define itself as
being within its rights.
Otherwise, certain people might have to measure their actions against the possibility of personal consequences.
And we all know how distracting that can be.
For an altogether more enthusiastic and less pissed-off take on the debate, see this item
, over at Caleb Crain's place, which in any case has the coolest name of any blog that I know.
It was also, it seems, the very first place to link to the website of a new cultural magazine providing
booster-shots against McSweeney's-ism, namely N+1
. And it offers plenty more than that. Been meaning to link to it here for a while.
Speaking of procrastination.....
Caleb, if you're reading this, please tell Peter that I promise to write the thing about The Epic of Gilgamesh
No kickbacks were received for this product endorsement. Consider it pro bono shilling.
At some point, they really should offer a St. Derrida trucker hat. They would sell like hotcakes to follower
of John Caputo
. If he has followers, anyway. And if they wear trucker hats.
Brainstorm: Perhaps McLemee.com could offer selected images from the Cat Blog
, complete with Adorno aphorism, on shirts and lunchboxes?
My sense is that it would only be appropriate to use the massive influx of revenue to send free stuff to people at sites
that are even more graphically bereft than this one. And yes, that does
mean the folks at Cliopatria
He might not admit it, but Ralph Luker really does want a Chairman Bob Avakian
lunchbox. Hell, so do I, come to think of it.
The Politics of Terror
: "Mike Fandal recently declared his intent to run for president,
and the best thing he has over Bush and Kerry is that he admits to being a clown. 'People terrified of clowns will have to
face their fears,' he says." (from New York Press
Being busy, at the moment, with deadline-related program activities, this'll be brief....Just a matter of pointing
out a couple of items of interest.
It turns out that John Burke (no relation to Kenneth, he says) has a blog
. Be sure to have a look at this piece by E.M. Forster that JB has revived. It's still pointed, after eight decades,
given the latest trope in the language of war, which I guess we'll hear more and more in the future. That is, that "a thousand lives will have been blotted out for naught"
if we don't
-- uh, destroy Iraq in order to save it?
Meanwhile, in other rhetorical news....Graham Larkin
makes some interesting points about the presumption -- implicit in the "academic bills of rights" discourse, and also in most
media coverage of, well, any intellectual "controversy" -- that the range of positions boils down to two camps.
I'm not sure that this is always a matter of crypto-Manicheanism. Sure, sometimes. But never underestimate the power
of slack-jawed philistinism.
Changing the subject entirely
, it is interesting to note from Larkin's article that one of the new terms of
opprobrium on the right is "neo-communist." Now that they've started offering merchandise
over at Weblog du Kotsko
, we are thinking seriously of launching a line of "neo-communist" gear as part of the effort to make this site over
into a "fully integrated brand concept." Would like to use this graphic
for the first t-shirt. Either that, or a picture of Badiou.
It's a drag to be back from vacation
. At least this time I was able to locate a favorite novelty-store item -- namely, the Switchblade Comb. Menacing,
yet conducive to good grooming.
This morning, in the course of her own thoughtful post, Maud Newton quoted something that made coffee go up
through my nose -- a remark on what you could call the genteel M.F.A. novel. It would be funny if it didn't ring so true:
"They are books with 500 pages discussing a subtle but allegedly profound shift within a relationship. They are books where
intricate descriptions of a man taking a glass out of the dishwasher, taking a tea-towel off a rail, opening out the tea-towel,
then delicately drying the glass with the tea-towel, before pouring a drink into the glass, signify that he has just been
through a divorce."
There is much that is subtle, but nothing genteel, about the stories of divorce, unemployment, and redneck
anomie told by the Drive By Truckers, who were in town on Friday. They played a set lasting more than three hours straight.
(Got home at about 3 in the morning -- an unwonted thing, now, for a senior citizen such as m'self.)
Around the second hour, Patterson Hood mentioned that it was their 18th straight night of playing, with all the travel
etc. that entails. They got another wind not long after that. The evening culminated in a rousing rendition of "Buttholeville,"
the very song that gets me through the day, sometimes:
Working down at Billy Bob’s Bar and Grille
The food here tastes like the
way I feel
There’s a girl on the dance floor dressed to kill
She’s the best looking woman in Buttholeville
day I’m gonna get out of Buttholeville
Gonna reach right in
Gonna grab the till
Buy a brand new hat and a Coupe deVille,
lay a patch on the road that runs
over the hill....
Never going, never going, never going never going back!
Oh yes, I do know that feeling. But then, it's what you say when you fear you may never quite
We just got back from a week, almost, in Virginia Beach, during which time I wrote nothing. Well, not quite literally
so, but nothing for publication, at any rate. For all practical purposes it was a fallow period -- of
the sort that I don't expect to have again anytime soon.
We relaxed. We looked at the ocean, and at dogs running along the shoreline, an especially keen form of
In the windows of countless storefronts, we examined t-shirts embodying bad taste at such a level of perfection as
to constitute its own unique form of art. Sample wording from one of them: "There's Nothing Like Hunting at the
Crack of Dawn." (I leave it to you to picture the graphic.)
We visited the library and the bookstore run by followers of Edgar Cayce
. The bookstore, which has a rather cloying smell from incense and various bottles containing herbal extracts, offered several
books predicting cataclysmic "earth changes" during the late 1990s. These titles were available at considerable discounts. Had
to bite my tongue at that -- a challenge, given that I was also trying not to breath through my nose, because of
the rather too heavenly scent.
Upstairs, in the library, I photocopied two more documents that go into the working file for my extremely
long-term (i.e. utterly deadline-less) writing project about the "contactee" subculture of the late 1950s -- including
the program for the 1959 convention of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America, Inc. Man, do I love that name.
During the Eisenhower years, it seems, the spacefolk were all transmitting benign messages. They tried to warn
us away from our warlike tendencies, kind of like in The Day the Earth Stood Still. By the time Reagan got in
the White House, the aliens had developed an insatiable appetite for cattle innards. They lost all interest in the
Cold War, and just wanted to plant homing devices on people, in order to facilitate their program of intensive
A puzzling transformation. My hunch is that it may be the key to postwar American cultural history.
At any rate, such archival digging was entirely incidental to the week, the main point of which was
(in a word) walking. Walking, walking, walking. On Thursday, for example, we covered at least 146 blocks -- roughly ten miles.
Other days were a bit more leisurely, but still involved a hell of a lot of walking.
Bermuda shorts were purchased, and worn, by me -- a sign, perhaps, of the apocalypse. Rita and I both
got what we insist on calling tans. Others might not chose that term. (Think of the difference between regular and "off
white" typing paper.) My intent to acquire several t-shirts depicting a cartoon character named Big
Johnson -- who provided the occasion for many subtle and very witty captions -- was vetoed just as frequently
as it was announced. Maybe next time.
We are officially
until Saturday the 25th....
Laziness is okay, under precisely controlled conditions.
It may well be that Renata Adler is just as batty as a careful reading
of her memoir about The New Yorker
may suggests. And no, I won't be holding my breath until she publishes more fiction.
was quite enough, thanks. (In case a craving for neurasthenic epiphanies comes up, I've got plenty
of old journals and notebooks to read.)
But Adler's early collection of essays, Toward a Radical Middle, is one that I return to every so
often. Likewise, there are interesting things in Canaries in the Mineshaft -- especially that scorched-earth thing
about Pauline Kael. That very odd thing Adler wrote about John Sirica in Harper's a few years ago was either a
brilliant piece of detective work or completely unhinged. Which is not to say that it couldn't be both.
Also worth reading: an essay
by Maud Newton on blogging. She finds it addictive. I agree with her, but only in part. That is, reading Maud's blog
is certainly addictive. But writing this one
is just a really bad habit.
Four or five times this year, a literary agent or editor has asked if I plan to write a book. This is
pleasant. It is also hard to believe. (Those making the inquiries have been, in each case, big-deal, top-name, powerful NY
mofo-type people.) But more than anything else, it is awkward.
Well, sure, I do plan to write books. A bunch of them. Hell, I've even got a couple of them reasonably well outlined,
with some parts rough-drafted.
If anybody in the DC area wants an internship that would involve typing up some notebooks and mouldering legal pads --
plus the yellow-highlighted passages in various stacks of xeroxes of ancient-left wing mimeographia -- then something can
definitely be arranged.
What gets in the way (or, to put it differently, what I am not as yet capable of clearing from the path, or stepping
right over) is a certain amount of perfectionism -- combined with the external demands of the day job.
Life as freelance was pretty miserable. I have no nostalgia about it. And having an office job helps keep the hermit-like
tendencies in check. It's an anchor for the anchorite.
So, no whining.
Still, I keep wondering what would be involved in becoming a writer-in-residence. Seems like a do-able gig.....
I can write. I can reside. Seems like that covers the important bases.
Although it consists entirely of still pictures, this series of images
somehow brings to mind a horror film. (Warning: not for the faint of heart!)
Much the same point is made, in almost but not quite so funny a way, by this item
from the Onion. Today, in a review
, Janet Maslin says "The Onion has been peeled dangerously often." I started thinking that a while back, when they had one
writer who seemed to think that jokes about a child molester sodomizing kids were hilarious.
I'm now reading one of his books, The 'Death of the Subject' Explained, which is not available in the U.S. for
some reason, though you can find a couple of excerpts through his site.
Site statistics don't lie....Sure, some of you come to this site for the essays and so forth. But it's
pretty clear that what people really want is more cat photos.
The pictures are by Peyton Williams, who used to live in our building -- a professional photographer, as I think shows.
After a while, you realize that you have (as a friend put it yesterday) "a doppelganger in New York....a somewhat better-paid doppelganger."
On Sunday, someone writing in the Book Review
called Washington a place "where people treat their social lives like a political campaign, sending out drunken calls
for company at 2 a.m. via BlackBerry and organizing think-tank happy hours as mock 'departmental summits.'"
Wow! And to think I've lived here for, what, going on 16 years, without spending any more time than absolutely
necessary around such an individual.
Certainly any large city contains its share of people who treat everyone else according to a strictly
utilitarian calculus. Who regard the world as an audience, or a constituency.
But you know, once you learn to spot them, it's not that hard to get to the other side of the street in a timely manner.
Q: Why is the title of Benedict Carey's article
in today's New York Times ("Déjà Vu: If It All Seems Familiar, There May Be a Reason") funny, ironic, and faintly pathetic,
all at once?
A: Go to the Chronicle of Higher Education
and read David Glenn's article from six weeks ago
, called "The Tease of Memory: Psychologists are dusting off 19th-century explanations of
déjà vu." Oooh, spooky......
A friend notes that Atrios
can make some claim to having coined the expression "Friday afternoon cat blog." Given that I've just spent an awful
lot of energy reporting a story about plagiarism
, the last thing that would be appropriate is to lift somebody else's trademark. Besides removing the "Friday afternoon"
part means I can post new pictures whenever seems appropriate.
Contrary to the insinuations of one Ralph Luker
, the upside-down cat in this picture
is not making any effort to escape, nor is he even slightly unhappy. It is when my attention shifts to any of the
books nearby that the bitter weeping begins. The heftier the volume, the more urgent, it seems, that
some cat sit in my lap.
Way too much to do today to update Cogito
. Sorry. But please do take a moment to examine the charges against "General" George Washington being lodged by the Row Boat Veterans for Truth
Humanity will not be free until the last capitalist is strangled with
the guts of the last bureaucrat.
Really, it's just been one of those weeks. Part of me keeps trying to remember that we go on vacation in, what,
ten days? Not even. But that means working constantly in the meantime.
Which in turn means that another part of me wants to get all Italian Autonomist on somebody's ass.
I was at the office until after nine last night -- much of that time spent searching around online for stuff to
read on Autonomia, while waiting for page proofs on my feature, appearing next week.
At some level maybe this was proletarian self-valorization at the point of production.
Nah, it was labor, really. It made my eyeballs hurt, as staring at a screen for hours at a stretch will. Proofs were
hugely delayed because of the bottleneck that came from the schedule-disruption of Monday (so-called Labor
Day, though seriously, shouldn't we celebrate that on May 1? which was started in honor of the judicial murder of
American labor leaders? oh never mind).
By the time the proofs actually came around, my eyeballs were toast. Caught a couple of mistakes, and
hope others got the rest.
So anyway....I go home, and find some consolation with the arrival of a large cardboard box, containing Baldwin's
Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, in a pretty good edition that I got for a very decent price. More
on that (the dictionary itself, not the price) tomorrow.
"The Left in this country is intent on dwelling in the past. Well, I’ve got news for you: George Bush isn’t
running on things that happened 5, 10, 30 weeks ago. He’s running on things that are going to happen in the future —
the place that we’ll all spend the rest of our lives. If John Kerry is elected president, swarthy francophone trial
lawyer freedom fighters will descend on this country with impunity and force your grandmother to take 'prescription drugs'
that might — we don’t know — have been cooked up in a Canadian meth lab, and then sue you for everything
you’re worth. Is that what you want? I don’t want that, and I don’t even know your grandmother."
Splendid and timely item
by Caleb Crain, quoting William Hazlitt.
Speaking of which....Why is Hazlitt's Letter to William Gifford
-- arguably the most brilliant piece
of literary disembowling (disembowelment?) ever put on paper -- not online? His piece on Gifford from The
Spirit of the Age
is available here
. It is pretty stringent, but still not as sharp as when he addresses WG right on.
Gifford was something like the Norman Podhoretz of his day. Hazlitt's denunciation of him ("the invisible
link that connects literature with the police") is so fierce that it left me wanting to read a book about Gifford, just to appreciate
what a son-of-a-bitch he must have been.
Hazlitt is the man. Here he is on Gifford as editor of The Quarterly Review: "His Journal,
then, is a depository for every species of political sophistry and personal calumny. There is no abuse or corruption that
does not there find a jesuitical palliation or a bare-faced vindication. There we meet the slime of hypocrisy, the varnish
of courts, the cant of pedantry, the cobwebs of the law, the iron hand of power. Its object is as mischievous as the means
by which it is pursued are odious."
Just imagine what he could do with a sub to The Weekly Standard. Or Fox News.
Interviewing Leslie Fiedler was one of the things that made me glad to work at the Chronicle. Until starting at the paper, nearly everything
I wrote was based on my own reading and musing. The notion that you could (and, when possible, should) pick up the
phone and talk to somebody -- well, that was pretty alien to my whole habitus.
As it is, after all this time, it still feels peculiar to be called a "journalist." I answer
when they call me that, now. (Thanks to, you know, the paycheck.) But it does seem kind of like somebody
has made a mistake.
It seems, for one thing, as if a journalist would need to be an extrovert. Be that at it may, the obligation
to turn one's attention outward -- to learn how to frame questions, and to listen both to the substance
and the tenor of an answer -- is actually a pretty good discipline. Even, or perhaps especially, for a
bookworm. Over the years, I must have read Fiedler's first collection of essays, The End of Innocence (1955) half a
dozen times. Doing the first piece, for our Hot Type column, felt like an excuse to talk to
a legendary figure. It was a surprise to learn that he was even still alive. Then again, he sounded a little
surprised by that himself. He had the voice of someone who was just holding on.Not long after that, I got to do a follow-up
after hearing that Meadow dropped Fiedler's name on The Sopranos. It was a matter of seizing the time
-- and being very glad, afterwards, to have done so.
Not long after the second item appeared in the Chronicle -- in the Research section's interview column,
called Verbatim -- somebody circulated it on an academic e-mail list devoted to queer theory, with a note indicating
that Fiedler was a gay scholar.
Come on, people, get a clue. One of these days, maybe we could all take a look at that term "liberal
education," just to see if it ever had some meaning unrelated to identity-mongering.
At the present moment (and, really, for the forseeable future) my favorite name for a political organization
is the Brooklyn Orgastic Politics Collective. A Reichian entity which may or may not exist in the material world, at
any rate the BOPC maintains a neat website
. Thanks to Ralph Luker, who linked to this yesterday at Cliopatria
On Thursday, BOPC promises to "suck the fascism from Madison Square Garden" by aiming a concentrated beam of orgone energy
at the RNC. I am in favor of keeping the orgone circulating, by any means necessary. So the best of luck to them.
Still, if the Homeland Security people catch you with a cloudbuster, that is going to be one long conversation.
On Sunday, a friend in New York wrote: "I took a stroll around Madison Square Garden this afternoon, on my way home from
the 42nd Street library. I've never seen so many kleig lights and automatic weapons in my life. (The Secret Service guys stalking
around with small machine guns made the NYPD officers loafing there look like Cub Scouts, which they are not.) I thought I
had stumbled onto the set of a movie starring the Governator."
In the words of Chuck D: Welcome to the Terrordome. (Not to be confused with Terroristan
.) It's going to be one of those weeks. The kind where you check the Associated Press
way too often. Actually, that's the situation for the next three and a half months, at least. All dread, all the
What an occasion for the Revolutionary Worker
newspaper to go on hiatus! They won't have another issue for two more weeks. I guess the whole staff is in New York, where
they constitute the news organization most likely to be beat shitless by the police.
Now, like me, you are probably thinking: "Surely at a time like this we need a source of running commentary and
reportage that applies the revolutionary science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, Chairman Bob Avakian Thought to breaking
events. How can we prepare to take power -- how can we dare to struggle, let alone dare to win -- without the correct
application of MLM, CBAT? The last time I tried, the result was Lin Piao-type deviations. Man, I do not need that
Given the hiatus at the Worker, you have two options:
(1) Locate Chairman Bob, ask him what's up. Not so easy. (Unlisted phone number, mail bounces back from email@example.com
At the moment they are not updating this as often as circumstances would seem to require. My guess is
that it is that most paradoxical of online entities, a blog run by democratic centralism. What a concept.
I fully expect members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade to end up on the cover of Time or USA
Today at some point this week, because they are a photojournalist's dream come true, what with those scary-cool t-shirts
and all. Unfortunately I cannot find the image online. The shirt has, as I recall, a red star upon which is superimposed
the silhoutte of someone holding a rifle over his or her head.
For some reason, that logo always calls to mind the credits sequence in the old Planet of the Apes
TV show, which was on when I was a kid.
Sorry for the dead silence, the past few days. There was a problem with the server, such that it was impossible to update
For a while, I figured the difficulty in accessing the page came from
the rush of people coming to see if I really was going to turn this into a subscription porn site called Celebrity Skankette.
That was a joke, folks. Though I do appreciate the offers to invest.
On Monday, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, of Planned Obsolescence
, stopped by for lunch while she was in town. And a couple of weeks ago, I, got to meet Henry Farrell, one
of the founding members of Crooked Timber
All part of the bold new "Scott removes nose from books, for short periods" trend. But in the usual course of keeping
the nose buried, I saw that a new volume, Interviews with Edward W. Said, reprints an article by my friend Scott
Sherman. Why is it not strange that Scott had no idea his article was being anthologized until I told him?
On Tuesday, I read this article
by another friend, Rick Perlstein, and tried really hard to find some way to to disagree. This did not prove possible.
During a brief flashback, I found myself muttering "Labor must break with the Democrats and form a revolutionary workers party!"
The impulse did not last long, however.
There is something to be said for not holding political beliefs that require shit to happen that is not, you know,
gonna happen. A gloomy realization. One of many. (See also: James Baldwin quotation
On Wednesday, I got The Dirty South
by the Drive By Truckers. More on this later. Meanwhile,
please go to their site
and listen to the free songs. In particular, let me draw your attention to "Never Gonna Change." For the past
couple of days, I've been singing to myself
You can throw me in the Colbert County jailhouse.
You can throw me off
the Wilson Dam
but there ain't much difference in the man I wanna be and the man I really am....
-- a sentiment that is complicated by various things, including the fact that (like many of the voices on
this album) the speaker is one pretty scary guy.
Also on Wednesday, corrected proofs for our section of the Chronicle in the first regular issue
of the fall, including my Hot Type column. The lead article is by my friend and brilliant colleague David Glenn, reporter
extraordinaire on matters social-scientific.
Given that it only just went to the printers last night, I should not say what the article is about,
except to note that it inspired gut-wrenching, bowel-tightening fear. In another words, it concerns a matter
of contemporary relevance.
A good week, all in all. It feels like this entry has been a festival of name-dropping -- even though none
of the names can generate the degree of recognition taken as an entitlement by any given Celebrity Skankette.
So it goes. Doesn't matter. Step aside. My posse got velocity.
It’s so cool when people get interdisciplinary like that. And to think that scholars once mocked my theory that Axis
Bold as Love is an allusion to the Earl of Rochester.....
Meanwhile, at Beatrice.com, Ron Hogan continues to whup Paul "Definitive Biographer" Maher definitively upside the head, and otherwise beat him like
a redheaded stepchild.
If you haven’t been following this, it all started when Hogan reviewed Maher’s Kerouac bio for Publisher’s
Weekly. PW does not assign bylines for those thumbnail pieces. But the occasion of another tough review of the book
encouraged Hogan to end his own anonymity. To which Maher responded -- defending himself, sort of. But he proved strangely inarticulate in the process, with a
command of the written word comparable to someboyd ranting on Usenet at three in the morning, after a couple of beers.
(All of this transpires in the comments field of Hogan's entry.)
Then, in a second post, Hogan pointed out (among other things) that Kerouac's "definitive biographer" seems
not to understand the concept of "genre." To which Maher responded once again -- inadvertently demonstrating that,
no, he really has no idea what the word means.
You’d think that would be quite enoughl. But wait! There’s more…..
And still more….
For some reason, I keep thinking of Beavis and Butthead, with Butthead saying: "Don’t make me kick
your ass again."
My guess is that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (what, with their rather loose sense of the whole "truth" part
of their title) may want to use my review
of a book about Vietnam Vets Against the War in order to prove that John Kerry was once a passionate supporter of the
People's Republic of Albania.
In any case, a surprising number of hits to that review over the last few days.
Last week, I griped a bit about a footnote reference that instructed the reader to "see Robert Kaufman, 'Negatively Capable
Dialectics: Keats, Vendler, Adorno, and the Theory of the Avant Garde,' unpublished manuscript."
Easy to recommend. Not so easy to do. But now, thanks to an alert and informed reader named Frederick Veith, I am
informed that the essay in question appeared in the Winter 2001 issue of Critical Inquiry.
Much appreciated. Of course, I was just being cranky about the citation format. But it's an essay that does
fit into a project now in progress, so this goes on the list of stuff to copy during the next library visit.
Yesterday, in passing, I used the phrase "celebrity skankette." A check of Google suggests that this may have been the
first public use of that particular (and very useful) combination of terms.
We got cable this summer, which revealed to me the existence of one television program called Celebrity
Justice and another called Celebrity Poker, or a title close to that.
I have decided to stop muttering against the culture industry, sell my Frankfurt School books to Second Storey, and start
working to make Celebrity Skankette a brand with which to be reckoned.
Consider this a declaration of intellectual property rights. And expect some big changes as this website, coming
Earlier this week, writing about celebrity skankette Jessica Cutler, I posed the not altogether rhetorical question: "What
happens when Histrionic Personality Disorder becomes an economically viable set of skills, rather than a symptom?"
A reader, John Burke, has provided the answer: "You get Grand Opera."
Fair enough. My own familiarity with Grand Opera is limited to a certain short film in which Bugs Bunny wears a Viking
helmet. But no doubt John is on to something.
Even so, one must quibble a bit, just to live on. Opera is the product of an age when only a few people
ever made a living in the public eye. "All the world's a stage" has any real power as an image if and only
if it creates "perspective by incongruity." (That is a line from Nietzsche, I think, used by Kenneth
Burke. Any relation, John?) It loses a lot of its force when it become literally true that all the world's a stage.
Actually, we saw a brilliant, and very funny, effort to combine Histrionic Personality Disorder with opera
while in London last fall. I'm referring, of course, to Jerry Springer: The Opera
The first act ends with a black man in diapers accidentally shooting the talk-show host while attempting to
assassinate the head of the Ku Klux Klan. The second act takes place in Hell, where the Devil wants Springer to arrange
a very special episode in which the Dark Lord can vent his frustrations with God the Father's insufferable
favoritism towards the Only Begotten Son.
It culminates in the singing of passages from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by the same chorus
that, in the previous act, had been chanting "Chick with a dick!" I may never read Blake the same way again.
A footnote to something I am reading says: "For an elaboration of Adorno's notion of the 'speculative ear' in the
context of English Romantic poetry, and in particular Keats's notion of negative capability, see Robert Kaufman, 'Negatively
Capable Dialectics: Keats, Vendler, Adorno, and the Theory of the Avant Garde,' unpublished manuscript."
Okay, now just how in the hell am I supposed to do that?
According to the White Trash Test
, I score at 32%: " The white trash in your blood will not keep you from becoming a doctor
or a lawyer, but it will keep you from a good haircut and any sort of fashion sense."
I find no plausible grounds for argument with this result.
Of course, it's hardly news that the editors of the New York Review of Books would see life below
Mason-Dixon as, basically, Cro-Magnon Man plus air conditioners.
Remember, folks, there is nothing so provincial as a cosmopolitan New York intellectual.
On the list of my linguistic pet peeves, the top three items are (1) the use of "critique" as a verb, or really in just
any sense other than the Kantian; (2) the fact that almost nobody knows what the word "enormity" actually means; and (3) the
tendency to use "notoriety" as a synomym for fame, of whatever kind.
This weekend's issue of The Washington Post Magazine
-- that distant, suburban, and moderately retarded
cousin of the New York Times
's Sunday glossy -- has as its cover story a profile of Jessica Cutler
, better known as Washingtonniene. It's a long piece. I don't recall if the words "enormity" or "notoriety" appeared. But
for once it seems possible that the reporter might have used them correctly, if only by accident.
Of all the reasons to loathe living in DC (and they are legion) the fact that anybody knows who this person
is may belong near the top of the list.
What's repulsive is not that Cutler had sex with half a dozen guys on Capitol Hill. (Not simultaneously,
unless I missed something, since it is true that, after a couple of pages, I did skim.) And it's even sort
of interesting, at least in the abstract, to think that she kept a blog on all this -- if only because, like
reality TV, it implies that the whole public/private distinction is morphing in some strange ways. The psychiatrists
are going to have some tough calls to make whenever they get around to updating DSM-IV. (What happens when Histrionic
Personality Disorder becomes an economically viable set of skills, rather than a symptom?)
No, what's really disgusting is the whole apparatus by which this episode has put Cutler into the media spotlight --
making her famous, if not yet a celebrity
in the strictest sense (someone well known for being well known).
My gut sense is that she will be able to make that transition, however. The Post article makes pretty clear that she
is someone who conducts herself as though Seinfeld
embodied an ethos
worth cultivating. Looking good, and having lots of sex and money, would be just the outer
skin of superficiality; for what really matters is reserving the right to treat everything and everybody with contempt
-- including oneself, since nobody can treat you with derision if you do it first, right? Other people exist only
as extras (or, at most, regulars). The laugh track never stops. And sex is the least of it, really, since it means absolutely
nothing. A spasm, a pleasure, like that enjoyed by a dog humping your leg. But never a bond. Unless in the strictest
sense of being a contract for an exchange of services.
Speaking of which, Cutler is writing a book. It's kind of neat to think that the word "pornography" will return
to its etymological roots, just this once.
It's the existence of that contract -- of a whole set of contracts, not just between Cutler and her publisher -- that
makes this a story that won't be over any time soon. There are whole layers of the mass media that exist for
no other purpose than to create, record, destroy, and revive celebrities.
I want to think that this is a process that is ultimately distinct from politics in any meaningful sense. But maybe
not. Lenin said that politics is concentrated economics. And Debord said that the spectacle is the perfected form of the commodity.
So maybe this is not a sideshow from public life, but its essence.
The main thing is to keep the recognition that cynicism is nearly a material force in the
world from turning into total indifference to the fact that it cannot be defeated.
Everything in this culture is organized so as to encourage the thought that feeling indignation means
you are naive. It is important not to lose the capacity for revulsion. "I used to be disgusted, now I'm just
amused" is a great line in a song, but not an attitude to let run your life.
For example, I decided a few months ago that there are one or two weblogs specializing in this kind of "news"
that I will never look at again. In large part, this was a matter of basic self-respect. (A
determination that, after all, I will never have nothing better to do than to read so-and-so's roundup
of snark and innuendo.)
So it would be a mistake to call this decision, as such, something political. But if enough other people made
the same choice.......
Back from NYC, and to the grind. A big stack of new books on my desk -- on top (almost literally) of the last batch that
I barely had a chance to glance over before leaving Tuesday -- including a couple of things by/about Luce Irigaray. Let
me confess it: Two paragraphs of ecriture feminine are the equivalent of a large glass of warm milk and twenty minutes
on a waterbed. Zzzzzz......This is not a matter of boredom. It is the desire for a nap.
By the way: if you are smart enough to have noticed that the accents were left out of "ecriture feminine," you are
smart enough to deal with the fact that I don't know how to type 'em. Will look into it, once the coffee kicks in sufficiently.
On Wednesday, at the Tamiment collection at NYU, I located, among other things, the minutes of the 17 October 1938 meeting
of the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party, which contains the following item:
"Motion by Cannon: That we accept the proposal of the I.S. for Comrade Trent's work for a six month period; that Comrades
Cannon and Shachtman prepare a budget, on the basis of appropriating part of the international dues for living expenses, and
get the project underway. Carried."
Given the date, this caught my eye. "I.S.," means International Secretariat --that is, of the Fourth Internationanal,
which had been formed in Paris a month before by representatives of Trotskyist organizations. With "Cannon and Shachtman,"
of course, being two of the three "generals without an army"
who had been expelled from the American Communist Party ten years earlier.
"Comrade Trent" is almost certainly C.L.R. James
, who had been at the founding congress in Paris and was just about to arrive in New York, to begin a speaking tour, followed
by a trip to Mexico to hold discussions with Trotsky. I gave an account of that tour in the introduction to a collection of CLRJ's writings
, a volume that included the documents James prepared before and after the meetings with Trotsky.
The minutes of a PC meeting from early May refers to the "failure of James to appear at the
scheduled meetings" during his return tour. An interesting thing in the context of something I noted in the book -- namely
that, by one account, James's experience of travelling through the Jim Crow southern U.S. left him unable
to talk to white comrades for a couple of weeks.
A later set of minutes includes this item:
"Motion: That Comrade James be assigned to write a pamphlet on the history of the struggle of the Fourth
International in popular terms, designed for wide circulation. Carried."
Very interesting, given that ordinarily such an assignment would have gone to Max Shachtman. (His pamphlet on The
First Ten Years of the Left Opposition
is available online, under a different title
; and after attending the founding in Paris, he wrote an article
that is stronger on grand statements of principle than concrete facts about the first congress.) Then again,
James had written World Revolution
, which was the quasi-official Trotskyist account of the degeneration
of the Comintern (available online here
), and discussed the history of the Left Opposition with Trotsky in Mexico. So he would have been up to the job.
Plus which, if I've read the earlier minutes correctly, it would have been a reasonable assignment to make, given
that the party was diverting funds from the International to support James while in the U.S.
But the pamphlet never got written. Likewise, nothing much seems to have come from an initiative, indicated
in PC minutes from August, which I take to have promised some kind of collaboration between the Trotskyists and
some contracts in Harlem that would have resulted in James working for a black newspaper. What happened,
of course, was the Hitler-Stalin pact, which threw everything into chaos.....
Well, I'm gone to NYC for the next couple-three days, to do research and interviewing. And to hang out with a New York
Maoist film audience, too, as part of a writing project that I have just no idea where I'll publish. (If somebody
wants to print a 10,000 word article about Chairman Bob....let's talk.)
So anyway, there won't be much action at this site until I get back. Maybe one update at the blog. And that's definitely
"maybe." In the meantime, I recommend a look, if you haven't already, at The Sampler
But back to the question of site design.....How can you call visually uninteresting anything that features, from
time to time, the eye-catching and altogether stupendous Russell Kirk vibrating suit?
The word "librarian" cannot (it seems) be inserted at any point into the lyrics of "Superfreak," by the late Rick James.
My wife appears to be disappointed -- not at the lack of metrical prowess, but at my persistance in
A friend and colleague, Rich Byrne, just came up with the title of a CD that I would definitely want:
Rick James: The Classic Coke Years
A public memorandum, to the attention of Cosi, a franchised chain of coffee shops/bakeries/restaurants -- now
my preferred base of operations while doing the day's first session of writing. Or (no less exhausting, this) procrastinating
Culture changes, and language changes with it -- at times, to bewildering effect. Something that long
had one meaning may, to the surprise of everyone, develop or acquire an utterly (perhaps almost unimaginably)
different connotation, at a later moment in time. Once, such changes tended to take a while and to diffuse slowly. But the
pace of change has itself changed; and the acceleration can amplify just how improbable the transformations may
A lot has been written on this topic. On my desk at home, for example, are some books by a sociologist named
Zygmat Bauman, with titles like Liquid Modernity -- volumes I will be bringing along to your establishment some
morning soon, to read over a cup of coffee and one of your cinammon bagels.
The latter, by the way, are really tasty. Your coffee could be better, though it's serviceable enough. It gets
the job done. Also: I'm not sure that, strictly speaking, it is right to call something square a "bagel," but that's neither
here nor there.
So, anyway -- liquid modernity. Unstable signifiers. Mutating cultural forms (e.g., square bagels), etc.
This bears mentioning because, over the last week or so, I have noticed some in-store ads that say,
in large letters, things like
Try one of our
FRESHLY TOSSED SALADS
Now, I hate to bring it up. But this is a problem. And if you don't understand why, you are probably
going to find it disagreeable to find out.
I'm sure the salads themselves, as such, are just fine, if you like salad. And the freshness is not at issue. The
phrase "tossed salad," however, is now probably not one you want to use. Trust me on this.
I'm not sure how this happened. Metaphor is a pretty strange thing, if you think about it. But
really, who could've imagined? The resemblance to salad, of any variety, is not evident.
I've heard that Oprah even had some discussion of this on her show. Maybe you could sue her? You could even propose
a class-action suit with some cultural critics who regard Oprah as a menacing force in American mass society. I
don't see that, myself. She seems nice enough. She's got people reading Tolstoy, for heaven's sake.
I forgot where all this was going.
Oh, right......It would be great if you could take down those signs with the words "freshly tossed salads"
just as soon as possible. I don't particularly like salad in the best of cases. But given the circumstances (with
the signifier leaping from one end of the alimentary canal to the other), it's really not something I care
to think about. Especially first thing in the morning.
Thanks to Henry Farrell for the blurb yesterday during Michael Dirda's online chat at the Washington Post, which
brought a modest (but self-selecting-for-brains) influx of readers.
My plan is steadily to built up a readership among Maoists, disgruntled graduate students with Asperger's syndrome,
and people who want to see a Crouch-Peck rematch on cable pay-per-view. So far, this is going really well.
One of the pains involved in digging out old reviews and essays for this site (breathing life into vanished ephemera,
sending it off to stomp around like some paper-mache golem
) is finding that various typographical errors, de-italicized titles, missing words, etc. are introduced while shifting
from one format to the next.
Fixing them is slow work, and my eye is not always good, but a fair bit of new material has gone up over the
last couple of weeks.
It's reassuring to know that there are people out there who (being incapable of any other opportunity
to experience self-respect or a feeling of efficacy in the world) will pounce on any such error in tones that imply that it
could only be the result of abject stupidity. Some might find this pathetic. I just accept it as part of the human
Be that as it may....Will go ahead and put up this link
to an introductory overview of the life of C.L.R. James. It appeared in a magazine whose readership, if memory
serves, was primarily African-American high school students and teachers. Rereading it now, I am struck by how strictly it
sticks to a fairly didactic course -- never really following my own agenda for research into James.
Which has been reviving, lately -- almost a decade since my last CLRJ book
project. Going back to the files and old notebooks is a really strange experience. A whole intricate lattice-work structure
of questions and problems that has been sitting there, all this time, waiting.
If somebody wanted to fund a year's sabbatical from journalism so's I could finish this project up, that would be just
great. I'll start holding my breath on that one right away.
There are two things I like a lot about Daniel Green's blog The Reading Experience
. One is that, even when I disagree with him -- or maybe especially then -- it is always interesting to watch his mind at
The other is that The Reading Experience may be one website out there that, by contrast, makes McLemee.com
appear to have a graphic design department.
The spare design means you never get distracted from the essays themselves. It also makes them easy to print out,
which I've found myself doing a lot. Not many blogs will yield books, but this one probably should, sooner or later.
Still, it was cause for mild alarm to see that Green has devoted an essay
to scrutinizing my recent Chron piece
regarding American literary realism.
The most important virtue of which may have been its brevity. (I wouldn't make any grander claim for it than that.) The
best-case scenario, while writing it, was that the article might provoke some intelligent discussion of realism by people
who are better informed on both the literary and the scholarly fronts.
The worst-case scenario was that, say, disgruntled English grad students would throw small rocks and pieces
of shit at me. (This happens often enough to require the carrying of a raincoat.)
Well....suffice it to say that Green's comments are smart and instructive. To be sure, I can't agree that realism
is aesthetically uninteresting. But then, some very basic disagreements on that score have come up repeatedly as
part of my own "reading experience" while following his site.
That's okay. He's way better at articulating his own metafiction-friendly sensibility than I am the (quasi/paleo-Marxist) prejudice that
realism corresponds to some really basic advance in human civilization or consciousness. That he does so without forcing
me to wear the rain pancho is not surprising, but much appreciated.
I am consumed, as ever, by fear that this pen may never yet glean my teeming brain. And yet writing is
not a very appealing activity, just now -- feeling, as I do (at the moment), pretty much like crap.
It's a gastrointenstinal problem -- probably the result of stress. Long story. Probably even more boring to tell than
to hear. So now I will go away quietly and watch Chairman Bob on video.
Or rather, strictly speaking, on DVD. Four of them, in a set available here
, from something called Three Q Productions. I am pleased to report that Chairman Bob looks to be in good condition -- vivid
and frisky, capable sustaining a marathon of five or six hours of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, Avakian Thought.
So at some point today, I will pop a disc into the machine--on the principle that, as Mao once put it, "What does
not kill me, only makes me stronger."
No, wait, that was Nietzsche. I always get those guys confused.
Okay, now I've seen my all-time favorite set of terms used to find this site, via search engine: "Francis Fukuyama and
No brief gloss can do justice to all the implications. So let's just leave it at that.