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. . . 2003-03-28

Notes & Queries

Tom rightly modifies our Shock-N-Awe:

Might it depend on whether one is looking at Tommy and the other actors, or at the representations of them served as our daily fare? I'm genuinely unsure of the differences - the game is delimited in order that it can be played so that it can be wagered upon. The war is a "mosaic," says Tommy.

Athleticism is a fine mode - would it include wresting, in which we take comfort in the mismatch and hiss the dastardly ones who break the "rules"?

In my posting I'd obscured an essential distinction between the covert partisanship of contemporary political coverage and the open partisanship of contemporary war coverage. In both cases, specialists often (and understandably) think in terms of "games"; news media have increasingly (and less forgivably) followed their lead by treating both as spectator sports, but with the implied viewer identification shifting from "gambler" to "fan." The partisanship is just a matter of degree, of course, since talking about the game rather than the consequences of government implicitly gives preference to those who are out for personal gain (the other side being hypocrites or fools -- whether they in fact lose or not), and talking about the game rather than the consequences of warfare implicitly gives preference to the strong aggressor (the other side being a bunch of losers -- whether they in fact lose or not).

Wrestling is an appropriate analogy for the requisite vilifying, but their video technique seems drawn more from inspirational NFL documentaries....

Another reader remains unheard and unidentified:

I am not going to say a damned thing.
Not everyone is so inarticulate, thank goodness. Juliet Clark passes along a pointer to a genuinely responsive news agency:
In a time of crisis, is looking at the big picture. At the top of their listings page, they ask the question on everyone's mind right now:

How will the War in Iraq affect my TV Listings?

How, indeed?

Doug Asherman may supply an answer:
The quote that I was looking for -- a little context first. Krazy is reading the "Krazy Kat" strip in the paper, and is quite confused...

Krazy "But, if *I* are *here*, and you is here, *HOW* come I are in the paper, and you also -- ansa me that."

Ignatz: "Because, Fool, how could it be aught were it not thus -- you answer *that*".

Waggish kindly writes:
I appreciated your entry on dissertation advisors, and I'd add that since those relationships aren't based on need or symbiosis but on pure charity towards the grad student, there exists a fundamental neurosis that can only be alleviated insofar as the relationship can be recast as collegial friendship. This is what I've seen, anyway.
And some stray merchant peddles his wares:
The Poet's Poet: Louis Zukofsky Reads From His Uncompromising Works. (PHONOTAPE-CASSETTE).

. . . 2003-03-29

Reading Leggott's Reading Zukofsky's, cont.

If you were going to say "I'm a tree,"
here's how you'd say it.
- some guy on a plane

       When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible,
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
  do not admire what
  we cannot understand
- Marianne Moore

I like a tune and I feel that one should be as clear as one's natural reticence allows one to be.
- Marianne Moore

Jaron Lanier is a smart dude, but I must take issue with his statement about how scientists and technologists are "often enchanted with the beauty we see in nature beauty that's harder for nonspecialized people to appreciate." As if his scientifically informed view of the natural world somehow means he's better equipped than the rest of us to appreciate it.
- Abbi

          wind flower

- Louis Zukofsky

... to be continued ...

. . . 2003-04-05

Reading Leggott's Reading Zukofsky's, cont.

Non-anorexics can't always discern the healthy glow to be gained from obsessive-compulsive fasting, scrubbing, and exercise. And to the uninitiated reader, Pound's and Zukofsky's fear of fatty inexactitude didn't produce dignified austerity but new forms of excess. (Lorine Niedecker had too robust an appetite to fully trust that imperative. From a letter: "I know that my cry all these years has been into -- into -- and under -- close your eyes and let the music carry you -- And what have I done? -- cut -- cut -- too many words...")

Working from different notions of sincerity, Pound and Zukofsky carved down to different peculiarities. Pound-pundit's minimalism is as bullying as the maximalism of D. H. Lawrence or Wyndham Lewis: rather than advancing an argument, he bellows a few sacred words and assumes our bellowed "Ditto!", and if we don't supply it, well, fuck us for fuckwits. Whereas Zukofsky never seems comfortable with the idea of self-expression, and, though his passive-aggression might be called cold, he never bullies.

For Zukofsky, the sincere is the objective. Sincerity opposes subjectivity.

But given what's been acceptable poetic message-matter since the mid-nineteenth century, to eliminate self-inflationary rhetoric from one's poetry is to risk eliminating message entirely.

It's a risk Zukofsky took without a second glance. Zukofsky's essentials are the words. The inessential pared from the words is the message.

Which sabotaged any early ambitions as Marxist propagandist or movement leader.

Doubly rejected, and thin-skinned and soft-spoken by nature, after the mid-1930s, Zukofsky famously restricted his polis to the family triangle of father-mother-son. He became celebrant of a closed-system cocoon of irritable praise.

In both parts of his career, the disappointing moments are the uncoded ones. Earlier, the mantis is fine, but the armies of the poor thud: the disjunction between spavined syntax and familiar figure brings the cliche zooming to the foreground. The later valentines, OK, but that "Blest ardent Celia" hoohah creeps me out as much as John Lennon's flat "Yoko and me: that's reality" or Lou Reed's shower-baritone "Syll-ILL-vee-ee-ee-uh!" Keep it in the bedroom, guys.

Zukofsky's music is incomparable: it's the sound of crabbedness folded back into itself so densely as to break through the floorboards into downstairs' lyric ceiling. When not biscotti, it feels undercooked. When not startlingly odd, it feels compromised.

Since Zukofsky was always going to seem excessive, he might as well skim and serve up the pure excess. Clotted cream: a springtime treat.

... to be concluded ...

. . . 2003-04-06

Reading Leggott's Reading Zukofsky's, concluded

I've written before (and will again) about our urge to subsume lyric in narrative.

Genealogical narrative is a way to co-opt even the most abstract work. It's more indirect a method of identification than some; still, the artist remains the point-of-view hero.

The utility of Leggott's book is not as crib sheet, reference, or propaganda. Direct application's not the point. What Leggott provides isn't an explanation but disproof (and liberation) by example.

By removing all proper names from "A" 22 and 23, Zukofsky said that he was trying to convey the "noise" of history. As Leggott demonstrates, that's not a reversible process. Putting the proper names back in doesn't make it less noisy; it just makes the room more crowded. (And two hard-boiled eggs!)

She spends sixteen pages on the first 40-word song -- a dozen or so pages on many others.... And having shown just how far that gets us, Leggott leaves me satisfied to give up.

Whether as a goal or as a side-effect that contented him, Zukofsky was determined that his heart us invisibly thyme time would stay invisible. And he did his job: it will, no matter how much thyme time we apply.

But the odd thing is how, over these hundreds of pages, any lingering sense of frustration or disappointment is worn away. As we vicariously live through Leggott's months of flipping between notebooks, manuscripts, the ten-volume Century Dictionary, a Shakespeare concordance, the Burpee seed catalog, the Loeb Library, the Zukofsky library, "A", and All, we participate in a renewed echo, in a resemblance fit to join the very resemblances she's documenting: the plagiarising Renaissance naturalist, the classical transcriber of hearsay, and the transplanted bookish New York retiree scrabbling in the soil to figure what bulb the hell just sprouted. A transtemporal community of focused potterers, joined in vegetable contemplation.

Our identification becomes non-narrative and experiential -- in other words, lyric.

Zukofsky was smart to call his country retirement project 80 Flowers instead of 80 Sunday Double Acrostic Solutions. The title plants it straightforwardly in the tradition of anthologies anonymized, fragmented, winnowed, condensed, abstracted, arranged, but alive.

Here in his final work, by sheer dint of artificial wordiness, he created something as opaque as the material natural: organic but not subjective; inhuman, cultivated, fragile; blossoms which may invite, to the inquiring or ambitious mind, explanation or replication, but which remain intractibly themselves.

"That central privacy, a silence where words leave off (and flowers bloom?) is unassailable...."
- Michele J. Leggott

+ + +


Well, one never knows how things are going to work out, do one? I feel terrible about having tried your patience with such inaction, much preferring to try your patience with excessive chatter.

Behind the scenes of this major metropolitan newspaper we find the usual excuses: job crunch, time away, health problems, emotional traumas.... But there's also been a peculiar excrescential character to this Leggot-Zukofsky serial, as I watched attempts at continuation spin off into digressions too elaborate even for me to incorporate. As a result, not only have our pages been rather monopolized by Zukofsky-and-such for a while now, but they'll likely continue to be. Odd's blood!

We will continue to regret any inconvenience.

But in the meantime, who will properly mourn Leslie Cheung?

. . . 2003-04-07

Two Political Allegories

-- dedicated to all the pediphiles down at Candidia Cruikshanks
"If the feet knew their strength as we know their oppression, they would not bear as they do."
- Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, speaks to Parliament in the 1590s

"And the brave little blood cells tumble down, down, down on the long journey to the feet -- where they take one look at those feet, turn around, and rush right back."
- Robert Benchley explains the circulatory system in the 1930s

. . . 2003-04-09

Blue, Pacific

Our territorial correspondent sends this war dispatch:

Decoding the military category "non-hostile deaths" I conclude that the US has killed more British soldiers than the Iraqis have.

One correspondent on CNN who needed to talk more than he needed to say anything outside the church where a Mobile alabama solider's funeral was going on said that the only comforting news the soldier's father has heard so far is that Jessica Lynch had been captured by the Iraqis. I waited for a correction for about ten minutes but none came. I also liked the US general's advice to the residents of Baghdad to behave in such a way as to increase their capacity for participating in the future. And finally I am indebted to a blond MSNBC model concluding her interview with a "Military Psychology Specialist" by asking him if he thinks that "Saddam Hussein wants to be caught dead or alive?" Unfortunately, I couldn't understand his answer.

+ + +

Addenda & Errata

Joshua Corey is a fellow traveller on one of our favorite trains of thought.

+ + +

The owner of The Poet's Poet's tape's tape proves sympatico:

Hey, man, tho; I will check out that Zukofsky tape (uncompromising) & see if I can't make a few mp3s out of it for yer
+ + +

Someone suggests:

joseph and his techno coloured dream coat
Why? I don't know. Maybe it was a message meant just for you, my reader.

+ + +

The other night, in the Q&A following Frederick Wiseman's The Last Letter, was submitted what may be the quintessential Berkeley movie comment. The movie's heroine (and sole character) is a patriotric Soviet woman who, ghettoized by the Nazi occupation, finds herself embracing the traditional identities (Jew and Ukrainian) used as justification for her suffering and murder. The soundtrack is pure recited text, except for one hummed lullaby. Thus the Q:

"I thought the music was very beautiful and soothing. It sounded like a Native American melody to me, and so I was wondering what particular chant...."
+ + +

And a linguist can't stand the gaffe:

you mean "podophile". pedi- latin, -phile greek, you're mixing your roots!
That's why it's called perversity, babe! Besides, this way I can become number one search result among child molesters who can't spell.

Hey, it's a community.

. . . 2003-04-10

A Testis of Poetry

"He ridiculed 'Womens-Poets' who had 'a kind of tuneing, and riming fall, in what they write'.
(Jonson tended to compose initial drafts of his poems in prose.)"

-- David Norbrook on Ben Jonson, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance

. . . 2003-04-12
Leslie Cheung  
Here Comes Trouble
1956 - 2003
  Late on Thursday, I attended Leslie Cheung's farewell concert. (The funeral was scheduled for even later, I guess.) It was a small venue, and I was seated fairly high in the balcony. That turned out fine, because it happened that Leslie Cheung was startlingly tall -- eight or nine feet tall, at least! (He looks much shorter on film.) We made eye contact!

After the show, I was happy but a little drowsy, so I stopped at an unreconstructed diner for coffee. I must've nodded off, because next thing I knew, it was morning. I asked the proprietor behind the counter -- a gruff old guy -- what I owed.

He said "25 cents."

"25 cents? That's impossible. I know I had more than one cup, and what about the other people at my table?"

"It's 25 cents."

I gave him five bucks and told him to keep the change, but he insisted on giving it to me, in the form of a bundle of micropayment traveler's checks and coins mounted in cardboard.

"This alone must be worth more than five dollars," I said, trying to return one of the coin collections.

He stood there with his gray-haired arms folded.

As tributes to Leslie Cheung go, that one was less odd than the one accorded by our newspaper of erasure, the New York Times. In a fit of shame, they've removed access, but, if memory serves, it was buried at the bottom of a puff for an MTV movie, mentioned Chow Yun-Fat as much as the deceased, relied on pre-1997 press clippings for information on his sexual identity, and ignored most of those roles noticed even by the NYT over the years.

My own list surprises me, once assembled, by the range his consistently self-pitying timbre was able to cover:

  • the epitome of teenage angst in Nomad
  • bumbling wimp in Chinese Ghost Story
  • idealistic cop in A Better Tomorrow
  • the infatuated rich kid of Rouge
  • damaged cocksmith in Days of Being Wild
  • sword-wielding assassins tragically reformed and cynically resigned in Bride with White Hair and Ashes of Time
  • turning drag farce to grand opera in Farewell My Concubine
  • the misty gigolo of Temptress Moon
  • and Argentina's most dysfunctional boyfriend in Happy Together
Surprises, I think, because, although he was central to the success of all these movies, he was never the point of them in the way that other stars might be.

The sheer daring of HK actors can make it difficult to come up with Hollywood comparisons. But in a boyishness that verged on the cadaverous, in his perfectionism, and in his persistent cold distance, as if all his masks, no matter how varied, were carved from a single unbreachable shell of loneliness and disdain, Cheung reminds me of Henry Fonda. A Fonda who skipped John Ford and went straight from Fritz Lang and Preston Sturges to Sergio Leone.


. . . 2003-04-13

Memo to my betters

(a seasonal dedication to Leslie Cheung)

A progressive tax isn't a penalty. It's not a personal attack. It's simply a practical matter, like shooting a mad dog.

The world isn't socialist, and so governments need funding to provide services. Unless the government gets its funding from other countries (the empire model), it has to be funded by its citizens.

Rich citizens have more money, so it makes practical sense to get more funding from them.

Rich citizens receive more benefit from the government (directly through the pork-barrel; indirectly through property laws, courts, a stable currency, and the military and paramilitary forces needed to secure them) and exert more influence on the government, and so it also makes moral sense.

It all seems pretty straightforward to me.

The problem, of course, is that not all rich citizens care about their country or even about their own long-term viability. Should such short-sighted greedy bastards gain control of the government, things fall apart in a hurry.

As for the idea of a tax on intelligence, I'm afraid it's already been implemented as student loans, and they started getting real, real progressive during the Reagan years.

. . . 2003-04-15

New Adventures in the Integral Calculus

I've read McLuhan & Fuller & Sontag & Barthes, Bataille & Blanchot, Derrida & Spivak. I've read Benjamin & Adorno & Bakhtin. I've read Cixous & Irigaray & Kristeva & Jardine. I've even tried reading Baudrillard & Althusser & Bloom & Paglia, the Four Assholes of the Apocalypse.

And the most important insight captured by twentieth century thinking still seems to me to be the following definition:

The word "love" is used loosely by writers, and they know it. Furthermore, the word "love" is accepted loosely by readers and they know it. There are many kinds of love, but for the purposes of this article I shall confine my discussion to the usual hazy interpretation: the strange bewilderment which overtakes one person on account of another person. Thus when I say love in this article, you will take it to mean the pleasant confusion which we know exists.
James Thurber & E. B. White, Is Sex Necessary

Optional exercise: From this premise, derive the world.

. . . 2003-04-16

Reading Leggott's Reading Zukofsky's 80 Flowers - Appendix

Hotsy:... and that's how I learned to stop worrying and love 80 Flowers.
Totsy:A pretty story. As pretty a pastoral as alienation from labor might hope to produce.
H.:Thank you.
T.:You've dropped us off at our departure point, since "difficult" writers typically insist that any perceived difficulty is a product of the reader's own depraved refusal of surface pleasures.
T.:And so Leggott's 400 pages finally consummated your espousal? Filled you with the Holy Spirit where you'd emptily professed before?
H.:Oddly put, but OK....
T.:How many pages of Finnegans Wake criticism, geneaological and researched, have you read over the decades?
H.:At least a thousand, I expect. Maybe two.
T.:Then why haven't they set up a similar chemical action in your soul? As Fritz Senn wrote, the Wake is more often opened to support theories about the Wake than for actual reading. Why, for you as for most Joyceans, does the Wake remain more gestured toward and dipped into than engaged with?
H.:The apparent problem is structural, but the structural mystery is due to mysteries of scale and genre. If the Wake was a short lyric rather than an enormous novel, I doubt we'd stumble so. No one has trouble justifying whatever few pages they choose to read aloud.
T.:Then they give up and go to dinner.
H.:Ulysses had shaken off its own early defenders with its structural stylistic shifts, and Joyce's more clued-in contemporary defenders must've thought they were prepared for anything when Work in Progress began serialization. Anything except more of the same. And more.
T.:And more.
H.:At first, early readers were bewildered and excited; as ensuing chapters stayed true to the initial groove, bewilderment won out. In Ulysses, Joyce's gigantism lifted the characters onto its shoulders and stayed within giant-arm's length of a conventional naturalistic narrative. The Wake instead offers us a microcosmic zoom across a panascopic pan. Who has the time?
T.:It makes me want dinner just thinking about it.
H.:Maybe it's just a question of finding the right context for the scale. One typed page of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" could easily be incorporated in narrative or lyric* literature. Four hundred pages of it would become conceptual art instead. How could one approach a 275-hour Stan Brakhage film? As wallpaper?
T.:The Wake might make wonderful background music. Like at dinner.
H.:Or maybe it's just lack of a framing analogy as richly supportive as "flowers" is. I read "A" 22 and 23 more easily than Finnegans Wake but still not with quite the ungrudging pleasure I now take in the 80.
T.:What, "dream of a dead peeping-tom innkeeper" doesn't grab you? I pitched the concept to Schumacher and he green-lighted it ASAP. Anyway, I still think you're full of shit.
H.:Et in Arcadia est.

*A sample stanza (53 of 60) from Jackson Mac Low's "Converging Stanzas":
experience experience experience experience experience
experience experience experience
experience experience experience experience experience experience experience experience
experience experience experience experience
experience experience
paste experience
experience experience experience experience experience experience experience

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2003 Ray Davis.