Friday, October 31, 2003

Two unexpected "selah" sightings tonight. First, the letters page to the latest Poets & Writers inexplicably has the header, "Selah, Selah." Next I picked up and read "A History of the Lyric" in Peter Gizzi's new book Some Values of Landscape and Weather and saw the word again. Spooky, huh? It is Halloween, after all. . . .

I hope I won't get in trouble quoting the haunting (no pun intended) conclusion to Gizzi's poem:

When the sky came down
there was wind, water, red

When the sky fell
it became water, wind
a declaration in blue

When the end was near
I picked up for a moment, joy
came into my voice

Hurry up it sang
in skiffs and shafts
Selah in silvered tones

When the day broke open
I became myself
standing next to a door

In my dream you were alive
and crying
As long as we're talking about good poems, I'd also like to call your attention to some kickass new work in Indiana Review by Karen L. Anderson and Deborah Wardlaw Pattilo.

Still don't know what my costume's going to be yet.
Fascinating article in the new Critical Inquiry by one Oren Izenberg: "Language Poetry and Collective Life." He produces an acute analysis of what supports an opinion that I've often heard expressed, and have expressed myself on occasion: the ideas behind Language poetry (as expressed in numerous essays, interviews, and manifestos) are fascinating, the poetry is dull—and not just dull, but dull in enormous quantities. Here is what looks to be Izenberg's thesis paragraph:
"Language poets are experimental, that is, because they treat their poems not as semantic tokens or as aesthetic objects but as examples, and it is the curious nature of an example that while there must be enough of them to warrant an inference, in no single one of them is it self-evident what the example is an example of. Language poems are social in that what they take poems to be examples of is the unique capacity to produce language altogether and thus to announce—as nothing else at the moment seems to be able to do with the same persuasiveness—the existence of something fundamentally human on which the very possibility of social life can be predicated. Language poetry considered under this description is simply not a literary practice, for it does not produce objects that belong to any category of language use. Nor is it, properly speaking, an aesthetic practice, for it is not oriented toward aisthesis, or perception. It is, rather, an ontological and ethical practice. Language poets produce poetry that is precisely equivalent to language, where language is considered as a kind of creatural knowledge or potential; therefore Language poets tend to treat the objects of their art—poems—as epiphenomenal evidence of a constitutively human capacity fo free and creative agency that is the real object of their interest" (Critical Inquiry Vol. 30 No. 1 [Autumn 2003]: 135-36).
It's a sweeping article, centered on an application of Chomsky's theory of generative grammar (which is in passing succinctly explained for the first time in a way that I could understand) and linguistic competence to the work of the Language movement in general and the Davidson-Hejinian-Silliman-Watten collaboration, Leningrad. In some ways I think he's basically correct, but even he admits that it is possible to take these poems as aesthetic objects; while singling out a passage from Tjanting as an example of "the overall thinness or insubstantiality of the poems Language poets have made. One might call this quality their anaesthetic" (134) he later admits that it's possible to carry out the Language project as he sees it while "reintroducing into Language poetry a more traditional lyric sensibility." This is in reference to Michael Palmer, "a poet whose work, incidentally, I find quite beautiful" (156) and for someone with my own lyric sensibilities that "incidentally" seems far from incidental. Not all Language poetry is intent on defeating the judgment of taste; perhaps what's missing from Izenberg's argument is a consideration of the sublime chora that saturation in Language poetry can provide for its readers. I should point out that he does validate the overall project in a somewhat backhanded way; it's just hard to imagine one of the practitioners he discusses wholeheartedly concurring. It would be interesting to read some responses to this article, especially from Mr. Silliman himself.
My Political Dream

I'm sitting on a kind of grassy knoll with a bunch of young people on the Cornell campus, looking down onto a paved area where some kind of Republican rally is being held. Three stepladders have been arranged in a row with about ten feet in between them and a plank laid across the top. Sitting in the middle, strangely small and child sized, with his back to the crowd, is Rush Limbaugh. A man in a suit is haranguing the crowd. "Makes you feel small, doesn't it? Maybe it's too much multiculturalism!" Arnold Schwarzznegger climbs up onto the ladder on the end and stands precariously on the plank, also with his back to the crowd, but at enough of an angle so his profile is visible. I become angered and step into the circle around the ladder: "This muscleman can't solve our problems!" But the ringmaster and a couple of his assistants are helping a third man onto the ladder, a grinning bespectacled guy with long arms who I don't quite recognize. Bill Gates? But he's more or less liberal. Maybe it's Rumsfeld. The arrangement of ladders seems certain to fall; suddenly alarmed, I say, "Gentlemen, I cannot advise this!" But the monkeylike guy with glasses is now perched on the ladder, grinning, the only one facing us. The crowd is longhaired and lackadaisical, generally indifferent to the spectacle. A heavyset woman wearing a long, low-cut gown turns to me—she has a sore visible at the top of one breast. "Don't worry so," she says. The dream fades.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

A paternalistic advisory. . . . While sublimely silly, the link I provided earlier to 86 the Onions does contain imagery that some might find offensive—especially in the workplace. Caveat surfer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I just fixed that link you must all click on. A mouse!
Should I drive three hours to Buffalo for the Bottom: On Shakespeare conference? If something's happening that you'd definitely attend if it were in Binghamton, why does Buffalo seem too far away? He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.

As a clumsy dodge against accusations of blogger fatigue (which has apparently taken down both A Sorter and Ululations in my absence) here is my latest summary of progress toward my 'A' exam (which, coincidentally, appears likely now to be partly focused on "A"):
Topic Area One: Aesthetics and Ideology

I’ve made the most progress in this area, having read the relevant portions of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment, Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics, all of Jameson’s Marxism and Form, and am currently embarked on reading Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory in Prof. Peter Hohendahl’s seminar on that text. The aesthetic formation that I approach this work in light of is Heideggerian, drawn from my readings of such essays as "The Origin of the Work of Art," "The Thing," "The Question Concerning Technology," etc., as well as certain inferences I’ve made for the aesthetic consequences of Being and Time. I would describe the question that I want to ask, as it’s currently taking shape, as one that pits existential aesthetic priorities (artwork as a path to subject formation) with and against materialist social and political imperatives (the objective world as it is reflected or negated by the artwork and its inevitably ideological position in a given historical moment). The beautiful subject versus the sublime object of society might be a glib way of putting this.

Topic Area Two: "Pastoral"

This is proving to be the most problematic area to define, because I find I am largely uninterested in pastoral as a genre. My pastoral is the expression of a particular form of the utopian impulse that is always in the background of the reading I do for Topic One. Pastoral as narrative function interests me (Empson’s notion of the double plot) insofar as this acts both to mirror a given social situation (of "the city") and to negate it in favor of a proletarian fantasy (of "the country"). It’s pretty obvious that I need to read Raymond Williams’ book on this subject. But the complex of ideas I’ve named "pastoral" has more to do with the subject’s fantasy of realizing his or her own "nature" while in relation with the society that, at least since the rise of industrial capitalism, has replaced nature. This has led me unexpectedly to the work of D.H. Lawrence, whose poetry I have written about in a paper that I presented at the Modernism Studies Association Conference in Birmingham (I also wrote about Gertrude Stein). Lawrence interests me because for him, the realization of the subject’s inner nature can only come about in relation with an Other which is not a representative of the society that has conditioned everything about the subject that is not "natural" to him. Lawrence becomes the epicenter of a strain of thought about subjective authenticity that for me reaches back to Whitman, encompasses Stein and Williams, and reaches forward to the Objectivists and more difficult-to-place figures like Ronald Johnson. It also requires understanding of psychoanalysis (which provides the basic concept of what I’ve been calling "inner nature" under the name of the unconscious) and the ways in which psychoanalysis has been deployed both to foster a utopian reconciliation of inner nature with objective society (Marcuse) and to debunk any such reconciliation (Lacan). It seems to me that this complex of ideas, which I still find easiest to think of as "pastoral," is rooted both aesthetically and historically in modernism, and has only a tangential relationship to the English tradition of pastoral poetry (though the tropes of such poetry are constantly surfacing, often in a highly self-conscious manner, in the work of these writers).

Topic Area Three: Objectivism and After

This topic essentially becomes the second half of the pastoral topic, in which I read the work of the second-generation modernists with an eye toward giving an account of their attempts to realize a utopia that, as the name of the major movement I’m focusing on suggests, is focused on the objective world and not on the individual poetizing subject (collective subjectivity is something else again). I see Zukofsky as the central writer here, because "A" describes a complete dialectical process: reacting, with Pound and Williams, against symbolism he focuses the first half of his long poem on an objective world comprehended through Marxist dialectics. But after World War II he turns his back on the larger objective world and creates a more modest utopia based on the family romance between himself, Celia, and their son Paul. I’m nowhere near finishing "A", so this preliminary evaluation is bound to change. Oppen’s work will also be important, especially because he embodies the contradictory position of a Heideggerian existentialist with Communist/materialist political commitments. There also appears to be a curious chiasmic relation between his way of interfacing politics and poetry and Zukofsky's; whereas Zukofsky at first decides that the point of writing poetry is to change the world, Oppen decides changing the world and writing poetry are incompatible modes of being. Both, arguably, renounce an activist engagement with politics (though they by no means abandon their critical political stances) in order to resume writing after WWII.

I also want to read Basil Bunting’s Briggflats (you see that I want to maintain the narrow bridge between American poetry and the more idiosyncratic texts of English modernism), which has obvious pastoral connotations, and end with a consideration of Ronald Johnson, who more than any other poet I’m aware of performs the emergence of "nature" (inner and outer) in his language.

Monday, October 27, 2003

So I haven't blogged much lately. So what? Neither has Shakespeare.

That's adapted from a card one of my officemates at Cornell has on the door.

Click, don't walk, on this fabulous link. Fwench fwies!

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Another piece of Fourier Series, "L’AMITIE," has been published over at Chimera Review. They've done a beautiful job with it.
Yet another excuse not to provide any of my own content arrives in the form of Ron Silliman's notes regarding the Poetry & Empire retreat he and lots of other poets I esteem greatly took part in this past weekend. Go read it. I've been reading Marx and haven't got anything more interesting to say at the moment than Gee, the workers really should seize the means of production.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I've been backchanneling a bit with the estimable and inimitable Kent Johnson over some questions regarding the heteronymic strategy toward avant-garde writing—avant-garde as Peter Bürger defines it, as that which challenges the institutions (and perhaps all institutionalizing tendencies) of art. This is entirely distinct from modernist and postmodernist strategies aimed at renewing language, which can be and usually are confined to the space of the page—this work stretches the bounds of what's institutionally acceptable but offers no real resistance to it. Anyway, Kent has given all this a great deal of thought, and if anyone deserves recognition for actual avant-garde praxis nowadays, he does. I highly recommend his lucid and useful accounting of the current poetry scene in the Coyote magazine interview that's been "reprinted" by VeRT. Check it out if you haven't already.
At this moment the ad banner at the top of The Ingredient, probably taking its cue from her use of Woody Guthrie's motto for his guitar ("This machine kills fascists"), is for Mein Kampf. "Find the best deals! Compare prices on all products from across the web" sez one. "Free Super Saver Shipping. Millions of titles, new & used," sez the other.

I am fascinated and appalled.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

You've just got to check out my students' blogs.

Friday, October 17, 2003

The interview with Nick has helped me to recontextualize him and more fully understand his notion of time travel. What he has to say about the interrelatedness of everything—and the simple importance, for poets, of other people who are not poets—seems incredibly obvious and yet of course it needs saying. I also like to see him making acute observations that are not immediately situated in the literary and meta-literary; his description of how and why men talk to each other, and the role of psychonanalysis in perpetuating the deadness of that speech, rings true. How far we are from freely espousing. Men are so conditioned to take the erotic as the only zone in which emotion can be expressed that there's inevitably a little homosexual panic in the presence of another man's (naked!) emotion. Even gay men aren't immune from this. There happens to be an Edward Gorey postcard near my desk here at The Bookery depicting two Edwardian gentlemen, with Lawrentian quantities of facial hair, reclining on a couch facing each other, their hands laced together at the middle to form an arch that mirrors the bend of their knees. And there's a verse:
Were yout but mine, we'd sprawl supine
   Across a chintzed settee;
And slabs we'd take of pounded cake
   And swigs of Q.R.V.
Certainly it's homoerotic, but it's more a picture of fellowship, comradeship, Whitman's adhesiveness. In our eagerness to claim Whitman as a modern gay man (which is of course a much-needed correction to a century of willful blindness about his sexuality) we are apt to forget the possibilities he suggests for love between men that is not primarily sexual. I doubt any kind of bonding can happen between human beings without a libidinal investment of some kind, and maybe that's the source of the anxiety. As the economic language indicates, a relationship is an investment, and you could always lose your shirt. Better to invest in model trains, or your job, or shares in Post-Po-Faced Boy Inc.

Thinking about this makes me realize exactly what I've missed from not being a sports fan. The heartbreak, sure (incidentally my hat is off to Jim Behrle for his graciousness in defeat), but also the passionate community. It's easy to deplore the fact that so many men are only comfortable expressing emotion about the fates of sports teams (and it's usually teams, right? does anyone get as excited about a win by Pete Sampras or Tiger Woods as they do about the Nicks or the Islanders? [I realize athlete-icons like Muhammed Ali are the exception here]), but that only makes me feel the more impoverished for not sharing in it. There are people on the planet tonight in states of elation and deep gloom because of the success and failure of groups of men who they'll most likely never meet, who mostly aren't even from the geographical region they're supposed to represent. The game is a fiction; the emotions are real; male bonding is a real fiction. Which is simply to say, we need the eggs.

Anyway, Nick's ideas about time and dailiness as opposed to the monolithic nature of most literary production are valuable, and come very close to the definition of avant-garde (as opposed to modernist or postmodernist) that I'm getting out of a book I'm reading, Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde. Here's what Jochen Schulte-Sasse says in his introduction to the book: "Modernism may be understandable as an attack on traditional writing techniques, but the avant-garde can only be understood as an attack meant to alter the institutionalized commerce with art" (xv). Tied in with what Ron said today about the interview and about blogging as a genre, I see the potential for blogging, which is daily without being entirely ephemeral, as a mode of attention and conversation which absolutely undermines the existing institutions, primarily academic, of poetry and its criticism. (This is why I'm surprised by the hostility to blogs Barrett Watten expressed in his Birmingham talk; as Ron points out, blogs are flexible enough to encompass both "serious intellectual projects" and The Jim Side—if we needs must make such invidious distinctions. I've got to go ahead and e-mail him to ask for a copy so I can see exactly what he said.) Of course, when a blog is ancillary to a conventional acapoetic career—like mine is—we see once again how no technical innovation is sufficient by itself to make a revolution. Still, my consciousness of what poetry can do—my imagination, in a word—has been expanded tremendously by this experiment we're all conducting in talking past each other. And how refreshing—in the full, drenched sense of that word—it's been to see the range of what's expressible expanded in the teeth of what Nick describes as the fate of finished-product writing in this culture: "Thus an opportunity for expressing and communicating one's feelings and experiences could now be subsumed under the universally acceptable and obsessive competitive drive for achievement and personal power and recognition." Instead we have a conversation that, at its best, goes on both between one poet and others but also between the poet and his or her internal others (this manifests in Nick as "writing from notes but also ignoring them, in a kind of improvisational way").

So long live ambient discourse and the riskers of boredom. Long live the blogs.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The saddest story about an octopus you've ever heard.
I saw the page proofs yesterday. By the end of the month there will be a book where no book was before. Selah fever... catch it!

Here's information on three readings I know about for sure that will be happening in the upcoming months:

Friday, November 14 at 8 PM
The Cleo's Poetry Reading Series at Cleo's Cafe in Highland Park, NJ. I don't advise clicking on the link.

Sunday, November 23 at 2 PM
The Frequency Reading Series at Soft Skull Press, 71 Bond Street, Brooklyn. With fiction writer Colum McCann.

Wednesday, December 10 at 7 PM
Celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of Barrow Street Press (and the Winter 2003 issue of Barrow Street) at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, NYC. This one'll cost ya: $25 entrance fee, ouch. But you get a free copy of the magazine and all the hors d'oeurves you can eat.

If your bookstore, sewing circle, co-op board, or English department is interested in hearing me read, please drop me a line.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

"In that grapesuit I look like a total jackass."

Please welcome the salutary bitterness of Malevolent Owls to my blogroll.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

"The book is the key, and I hold it."
       —Jennifer Moxley, "Where Was I Going"

My book cover came from the printer today, and it's beautiful. I showed it to a couple of people and they said, "So serious!"—referring to my author photo. I tried to explain that when I smile in photos, my cheek and neck inflate to about four times their natural size.

Barrow Street has put up a page where you can read blurbs, gaze at a (rather inaccurate) image of the cover, and yes, buy the book, right here.
Thoughtful response to Friday's post by Henry Gould, who as ever sticks to his purist's guns. I have to think more about his argument, but I'd like to raise the question that I think falls into the gap between our two positions: what is the role of community for the poet? It seems to me that every poet, and every poetry, imagines a community, of readers if not necessarily of other writers; every poem creates the idea of its audience. I have a longing for filiation with other poets, but this is contradicted by the tendency of, as Henry says, "ideological formations to make claims on poetry." But it seems to me that ideological formations are always making claims on our poetry; it's simply a question as to whether we can come to consciousness about what they are, so that we might be able to choose otherwise. I'll always prefer the company of a poet who wears his or her politics on their sleeve to one who claims to be beyond politics. That's living poets. My favorite dead poets are exempted because, however "apolitical" someone like Stevens may have claimed to be, history allows me to situate him in a precise way; I understand where he's coming from. And with that understanding I can suss out what it is in his poetry that appeals to me and is still of use. There remains, of course, a powerful irrational component—the vision thing—which I remain open to, almost against my will, regardless of what card a poet carries.

The great poets always embody contradictions, and I can find poetry that carries ethical along with aesthetic weight even in those writers who were in the grip of anti-semitism and sympathy for fascism: Pound, Eliot, and Lawrence all speak, at least at moments, for values I cherish. Their poetry does "transmute everything (political, social, religious, aesthetic) that comes within its range," but the untransmuted world remains; in fact its presence is heightened in its absence from the poem. And so a poet's attitude toward his or her particular, historical world is always going to be crucial to me, as a reader and as a writer. The "originality" that Henry elevates into something of a fetish-term for the best poetry is literally invisible without an understanding of the poet's situation in his or her time. And so a poet who actually makes and registers in their poetry some effort to understand their own context (it may be demonstrated by logopoeia, allusion, or discursivity) has the most of my attention. The news from poems: just that. The history of the present moment that only a profound effort of linguisitic attention (from someone who knows how to listen to their culture) has any hope of producing.

Monday, October 13, 2003

"What [in the work of the modernists] has so often been described as a new and deeper, richer subjectivity is in fact this call to change which always resonates through it: not subjectivity as such, but its transfiguration. This is then the sense in which I propose to consider modernist 'subjectivity' as allegorical of the transformation of the world itself, and therefore of what is called revolution. The forms of this allegory are multiple; yet all the anecdotal psychologies in which it finds itself dressed—in their stylistic, cultural and characterological differences—have in common that they evoke a momentum that cannot find resolution in the self, but that must be completed by a Utopian and revolutionary transumation of the world of actuality itself."
        —Frederic Jameson, A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present, p. 136.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Have I mentioned my trip to the Saatchi Gallery yet? It's in the old County Hall building along the Thames, a formidable Victorian structure that's been invaded by such emissaries of Cool Britannia as Damien Hirst (formaldehyded shark), Chris Ofili (he of the elephant dung Virgin Mary), Marc Quinn (six pints of blood ahead), and Tracey Emin (make your bed!). Much of the work is reflexively obsessed with its position in the art world, its status as art meant to trouble such concepts as "status," "as," and "art." (You can view some of the pieces in the collection, fortunately or unfortunately without the smug little bits of explanatory text that are posted in the actual gallery, here.)Seeing so many works by comparatively few artists, all working within the comparatively small scene of British art, brought forward the outlines of the British art scene qua scene, which in turn served to raise my awareness of any "scene's" sceneness. I was reminded in some ways of the discomfort I felt a few years ago when I picked up a copy of The Germ at Cody's in Berkeley (I had just arrived in the Bay Area) and read an interview in the back with one of the Gizzis (was it Peter?) which consisted in large part of his memories of various characters and moments in the history of the avant-garde poetry scene. I don't remember which scene particularly, which is part of the point: I didn't know who was being referred to and my feelings of exclusion were almost palpable, manifesting even in the grainy feel of the cover with its eccentrict pseudo-eighteenth century artwork.

Of course I didn't let this put me off permanently. And I don't know how poetry, or any medium, could assist in building community without exclusion; every us needs a them. Arguably, I was able to follow a path into the community that The Germ and other avantish publications had made manifold for me, materializing like a plate-glass window I hadn't known my nose was pushed up against. A willingness to open and surrender yourself is required that isn't any more humiliating than "submitting" to magazines and book publishers. (I am reminded at this point of a great show This American Life did once about how people who, their first day on the job or in school or wherever, make a tremendous effort to pretend that they've always been there—listen to it here.) There is always that awkward moment, brief or protracted, of becoming avant-garde, an anxious category of being if ever there was one. Bob Perelman's Birmingham talk touched on this, the careful curatorship of "the new" practiced by longstanding avant-gardes—the Steve Evans vs. Fence controversy is his signal contemporary example of this. Evans' point, if I recall correctly, is that authentic avant-garde communities are formed in concert with radical social and political practices that are necessarily predicated by a community-formation based on something other than aesthetics. To be introduced to an avant-garde aesthetic divorced from the social (assuming Evans would even concede that such a thing can exist) in the pages of a magazine like Fence or VOLT is to come from a position of hopeless naivety which can all too quickly metamorphose into opportunism and self-commodification.

The Saatchi artists are in a similar position to the editors of and writers who've appeared in Fence (I am one of them); not because they, with postmodern shamelessness and elan have willingly entered a scene that takes its name from an advertising executive, but rather because they have become identified with each other by submitting to and appearing in the same magazine and not by cohering within a geographically or politically or even aesthetically defined space. We didn't make the magazine but found it within a historically pre-existing landscape; now we must take responsibility for making it or be accused of bad faith. I am perfectly willing to accept this responsibility; I acknowledge that I came to the avant garde (I define this by an embrace of what I can only oxymoronically call traditionally avant garde values; I do not claim to be avant garde) through the back door of what Rebecca Wolff undercritically called "weirdness" and not through an enlightened politico-critical position. What I deny is any imputation that, having come in the back way, that I should be refused the front parlor or secret speakeasy den where the revolution is being plotted by those who laid the cornerstones to the house. Less flowerily (there's a Lawrentian phrase if ever I coined one), I simply want to argue that it is possible and, for me at least, creatively necessary for the Fence writer to develop a social-political position within his or her writing even if that writer was initially and only attracted by—shock of shocks!—their perhaps poorly understood pleasure in the "weird" texts first encountered in Fence, Conduit, Columbia Poetry Review, or any number of journals that publish the work not found in Poetry and The New Yorker, etc.

An aesthetic community is always and by definition more than a merely aesthetic community, because community is always a polis. And I've found the aesthetic community that's loosely formed around these magazines and blogs to be as non-hierarchical as I could wish; as far as I can see, you pay your ticket to enter simply by being interested enough (there are barriers to anyone's acquiring this interest, but that's a discussion for another time). From Skanky Possum to Nada & Gary I see people, some with MFAs and some without, coming together and making stuff happen without becoming or wanting to become "The Patron" (you can see a version of Ashley Bickerton's painting if you click here and scroll to the bottom) that Evans accuses Wolff of being. Once you're aware of this community of intersecting scenes, you belong to it. And you will be put in the position of rejecting or embracing what is other to you every time you check your e-mail inbox.

Evans' critique retains a good deal of force; it's out there, a dark planet troubling any will toward thoughtlessness on my part with its gravity well. No freedom without rigor, no play without impacting and being impacted by other people. No form without a force that one must assume a critical consciousness of and responsibility for, else you become another brick in the wall, another node in the Matrix. No solitude. What meaning will I make of being numerous? The question is urgent and inescapable.
By the way, Selah has finally gone to the printer. When copies are available for sale I swear you will be the first to know.
Reading Nicole's blog fills me with respect for those who actually know the (quite wonderful) names for plants and flowers and trees and things. My upbringing was so thoroughly suburban that I managed to evade both street-smarts and an intimate knowledge of the outdoors. Strange that I'm so drawn to the concept of pastoral when I know so little about actual nature; or not so strange, given that pastoral is always a fantasy of nature with only tenuous connections to the real thing. In classical poetry it's the georgic and not the pastoral where Virgil or someone struts his knowledge of agriculture. Pastoral is an attempt to reconcile or efface culture in favor of the nature within, which puts it in the realm of psychoanalysis and Rousseauist revolution. I may have to drop the entire concept and just go straight to the texts that interest me. Reading Jameson's Marxism and Form again makes me want to dialecticize my criticism—to understand my own investment in whatever interpretive lens I happen to choose—and not just burble happily along picking hermeneutics at random.

Maybe I'll read some poems now.
My old friend Nicole Cordrey (we co-edited the University of Montana's literary magazine, CutBank, for a year together) has a blog! She's had it for a while, actually. I am proud to belatedly add it to the blogroll.

She has a Boston Terrier named Miles and a big old dog of no particular breed (or is she a German Shepherd?) named Sunday. Sunday and my dog used to chase each other around Nicole's back yard in Missoula. The good old days.

Monday, October 06, 2003

"Images exist solely to spread their own news."

Back in the you ess ess eh. Trying to catch up with all the blogs, which is a little like going to the mustiest of musty rooms in my hometown's public library where the week's newspapers were stored, slowly warping and filling with air. Serve immediately! That's how it ought to be with blogs.

You're all dying to hear about my trip to England, I know, but there's too much to recap about Things I Did and too little to relate about Things I Thought and Felt. Traveling alone puts me in a hazy state of mind, unanchored as I am from my daily context, without even the interior of a car slowly accumulating empty Coke cans to serve as a touchstone. I thought this trip would be an opportunity for introspection (as if I needed more) but my usual self-consciousness was replaced by a kind of placeholder self, to which I could murmur such observations as, "Nine hundred years is a long time," and "Kenneth Branagh's American accent is good, but sometimes he sounds like a smart American and sometimes he sounds like a stupid American." What else can I offer. English food is bad but not as bad as reported. English bookstores were strangely uninteresting to me, perhaps because they offered the same stuff you see at American bookstores—also, most if not all of the ones that sold new books were chains. The poetry sections were dismal: the glories of the Anglo-Irish tradition (Blake, Yeats, Auden, et al) were mixed in with "modern" stuff that seemed either tendentious or "light" or tendentiously light. Dreadful stuff. I did lust after a copy of Tom Raworth's collected poems, with its appealingly plain jacket, but it was 20 pounds or so and would have added considerably to the weight I was lugging. One thing the English do well is Shakespeare—the productions of Cymbeline (Stratford RSC) and Twelfth Night (the new Globe in London) were flat-out some of the best Shakespeare productions I've ever seen. Kind of wish I'd given this dance performance I saw Friday night a miss (work by a choreographer named Cathy Marston; it was lovely but not electrifying) and gone to see Pericles at the Lyric in Hammersmith instead.

Bob Perelman has e-mailed me a copy of the talk he gave, "Old Modernism: News and 'the New' in Williams' 'Asphodel,'" and I'm going to read it over and then perhaps report on what it says. I've also got Barrett Watten's e-mail and I'm going to ask for a copy of his talk, "Disinformation and Modern Authority"; in passing he slammed the practice of blogging and I hope he'll give me permission to quote that bit and then maybe y'all will have some thoughts on it. In the meantime I've got to catch up on reading my students' poems and stories and dig into the draft introduction of Adorno's Aesthetic Theory for seminar tomorrow. And do a final revision of the paper I presented so that it can get graded, already.

Still a bit jet-lagged but from the other end, so to speak. Midnight at seven PM.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

That Is No Country for Old Men

I'm 33 today, staying in a grotty hostel in London not far from Bloomsbury. Having a marvelous time. The paper went well on Sunday; on Monday I went to Stratford and visited the various Shakespeare shrines, including the RSC, where I saw a thrilling production of Cymbelline. On Tuesday I went to Warwick Castle in the morning and early afternoon and London that evening. Yesterday I visited the British Museum, the Tate Modern, saw Kenneth Branagh in David Mamet's not-so-great Edmond, and got a ticket to be a groundling at the Globe Theatre's production of As You Like It for tonight. Today, the Tower of London. Tomorrow, perhaps Cambridge. That's the news for now; I'll come back to the conference and the things I saw and did there when I get home.

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