Monday, November 21, 2005

Weekend Round-Up

* The thermometer dipped below freezing on Friday presaging the winter to come, but Saturday and Sunday were both sunny with highs in the fifties. Every warm day in Ithaca has an apocalyptic edge this time of year: will this day be the last? Today it looks like more of the same. A lucky thing, because my sister Vanessa has come for a visit before we head up to Chicago for Thanksgiving.

* Kudos to Dan Chiasson for getting a positive review in the major press review of record. The aesthetic premises of the reviewer, Kay Ryan, are a little unclear to me, but perhaps a sentence like "There is something serious behind the literary shenanigans - an ambition to write larger than any one self stirs the book to life" (there's that ambition axis that Steve Burt suggested to Robert Archambeau) is somewhat comparable to what I saw as the register of splintered subjectivity in Dan's book. But the content of a NYTBR review is so vastly less important than the simple fact of its existence. Will such acknowledgment bring Dan the readers he deserves, or must he hope for a review in Rain Taxi or at least his own usual reviewing venue? What is the value of a NYTBR review to a poet beyond the satisfaction of having momently pierced the membrance of the mainstream media?

* A colleague introduced me to and a fierce essay by one Jeremy Scahill, This War Cannot Be Stopped By a Loyal Opposition. It's a salutary attack on the nostalgia many of us feel about the Clinton Administration and on my own reflexive Democratic-party impulses. I agree that we need a multiparty system, but how to get one when, as this thoroughly depressing Times magazine article will tell you, we barely even have a two-party system? Also, I note that the site is sponsored by an outfit called The Randolph Bourne Institute that seeks to promote "a non-interventionist foreign policy for the United States as the best way of fostering a peaceful, more prosperous world." What exactly does that mean, "non-interventionist"? That seems much broader than antiwar or even anti-imperialism. With, I notice, Patrick J. Buchanan listed as one of the site's contributors, it sounds dangerously close to simple isolationism. Such a policy could perhaps have value if it were tied to a program of anti-capitalism, if it sought to bring about justice here at home so that we could act more justly abroad—so that the "democracy" in "making the world safe for democracy" stood for genuine freedom and not neo-liberal economic policies. In the meantime, there are evil things happening in the world and what do we do about them? The sanctions against Iraq were a moral and humanitarian disaster, a positive crime—but surely the alternative wasn't simply to do nothing about Saddam's propensity to acquire WMDs, which he did indeed use on his own people. Many leftists denounce the Kosovo intervention as imperialist aggression, but wouldnt' the best alternative have been a much earlier intervention rather than simple inaction? Who doesn't regret our failure to intervene in Rwanda? What, in short, do we expect from the government we have? Do we deny it all legitimacy on our path to revolution? Do we put our heads down and concentrate on local issues and local organization and our personal backyards? (In New York for starters there's the Working Families Party, and there's the NYU grad student strike that we should all support.) I don't have the answers to these questions, but I'm asking 'em.

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