Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Heaved a big sigh this morning right before I opened my e-mail inbox: sure enough, it was crammed with frantic missives from the Human Rights Campaign and New Democratic Majority and urging me to step up and oppose the Roberts nomination. Now I'm sure ANYBODY Bush nominates meets neither with my approval nor with the members of these fine organizations, but the whole thing strikes me as a knee-jerk response that hasn't really taken the measure of how cunning Bush's pick is and how easily this guy will be confirmed. I'm with Lawyer Abramson on this one: the nomination of a nonentity like Roberts is actually a measure of Bush's diminishing political clout, and it's designed to be a big distraction from a scandal that, until 9 PM yesterday evening, was entirely out of the administration's control. Yeah, I'm upset this guy's going to be influencing our laws and lives for the next thirty-odd years. But I'm more upset that the loyal opposition isn't smarter about opposing. It sounds at least that, according to Seth, the people at The American Prospect have their priorities in order.

Deep in Harry Potter 4, the first book I remember there being a media frenzy about, and a big leap in complexity and darkness (and length!) from the first three. Rowling is no prose stylist, but she's an absolute master of plotting, the element of narrative that always struck me as the most difficult: she really keeps a story hurtling along. She's also very good at making you care about a character who could come off as an overprivileged whiny prat in less careful hands. Even more impressive, she makes you care about the wizarding world, which in this book now appears to be under serious threat, not least from the fact that it's coming more and more to resemble our own.

Also read last night a fascinating article in the new issue of Critical Inquiry by Sianne Ngai called "The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde", an abridged version of which concentrating mainly on defining "cuteness" is available on their website. Ngai is an interesting figure for me: she's the author of two Language-y books of poetry, who, I've heard, has given up poetry for criticism. She's the author of a new book that I'd like to read called Ugly Feelings, a study of "minor affects": that is, aesthetic responses other than the much-gone-over ones of beauty and the sublime. The article seems to be an example of how she's cornering this field, studying in this case not an ugly feeling but one that appears entirely antithetical to the "hard," masuclinist aesthetic we associate with modernism and the avant-garde. She makes a convicing case for the role of the cute in Stein, and by the end of the article I was seeing cuteness as playing a potentially similar role in contemporary poetry to the one played by camp. I was reminded of my own work in her I think successful attempt to reconfigure Adorno, of all people, as spokesman for the role of the cute (his word would be that from the title of his essay, "Is Art Lighthearted?"), focusing on how for him the weakness and powerlessness of the artwork is its paradoxical strength, through which it indicates and criticizes a social world dominated by power and the lust for power. Fascinating stuff that I may end up citing; both this and Nealon's essay seem like puzzle pieces I can use to help assemble my own chapter on contemporary avant-garde pastoral. I wish the article was availble in full on the web: I'm losing patience with these academic journals. I suppose they need subscribers, primarily libraries, to stay afloat; but I wonder too if they throw up roadblocks to reading in the name of preserving guild controls and keeping the intellectual riffraff out. You shouldn't have to pay more than the price of a movie and popcorn to read a single article.

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