|. . . 2004-08-22|
By far the best available introduction to the nonmathematical work of Chandler Davis is Josh Lukin's interview with him in Paradoxa 18. Among many enticing but unavailable texts, it mentions an informal piece of argumentation from 1949. Hearing of my curiosity, Dr. Lukin very kindly lent me a copy. And, hearing of my interest in sharing the work, Professor Davis very kindly lent me permission to publish it online. I thank them both.
You'll have your own reasons to find it interesting. Here are a few of mine:
Phil Klass was once talking to somebody about the Civil Rights Movement in the Sixties, and he said, "When I was a Freedom Rider in the early Fifties —" And they said, "You mean Sixties," and he said "Fifties." The Negro Congress had demonstrations, and everyone got the shit beaten out of them —I don't know if Phil ever got the shit beaten out of him — but they started ten years before the famous ones started, and some people were present at both.
My sister had exactly the same conversation in a class she was taking as an older graduate student at the University of California in Berkeley. She said, "When I was arrested in a demonstration against discrimination in hiring in 1949—" They said, "You mean 1969"; she said, "I mean 1949."
Which means I get to spend some time, at least, musing on how comics does something similar to SF (yet again)--
"From birth, science fiction has been defined (and bounded) by a community whose ambiguities of consumer, critic, and producer more resemble philosophical schools or high art movements than commercial publishing genres."
Though there's far more of a distrust of the critical enterprise in comics than in SF. --Artists, you know?
Anyway: there's as vibrant if more brief a history of APAs in comics, too. Scott McCloud lists his inventions in the field of comics, which include such notable creations as Five-Card Nancy and the 24-Hour Comic; he used to include the Frying Pan, a comics APA he founded back (I think) in the early '80s. But he doesn't anymore, because who knows from APAs?
I think he's still got them in a box somewhere in Thousand Oaks. At least I hope so: lots of comics history in there, in a raw, unfiltered form. But formalists are lousy packers, and they've moved a lot in the past few years.
I should feel ashamed that mere dayjob (backed up by a bit of illness and hardware trouble) kept me offline longer than a hurricane and homelessness have Tom Matrullo. But I'm too relieved to build up a good head of mea culpa.
Yes, the critical distinction is why I didn't mention comics myself. But it's true that American comics are another "commercial art" built on uneconomically passionate emulation and argument, with similar adolescent fans, similar reliance on self-publishing, and Dan Pussey as son of Jonathan Herovit. And I suppose one might make a case for some ambiguity even in the realm of criticism, albeit more among the pros than the fans — or one could bring up the ambiguous role of the collector....
That ol' renegade Tom Parmenter is interested too, although I suspect he has stories of his own to tell. And I see that during my recent exile from good fellowship, The Mumpsimus appreciated Phil Klass.
The Happy Tutor reunifies compliment and complement.
David Auerbach returns, and very welcome he is, too:
I guess what I think of is how, with the regularly occurring exception (what comes to mind is that EC comics story where the astronaut takes off his helmet at the end and...he's black!!!) specifically designed to appeal to racial and cultural issues, science-fiction went for a casual universalism, at least in its "golden age." What I remember of reading old-style genre sf were characters with purposefully vague or unnatural names (Jermbo Xenthos, e.g.), which had little to no bearing on their position in the story. Since genre sf tended to revolve around the conceptualization of a single (usually recycled) idea, attendant aspects of character were incidental at best; I haven't read it in years, but I believe this even applies to the Asian protagonist of Delany's "Babel-17". Even something like Heinlein's racist "Fifth Column" is not "about" the race of its characters qua characters. The Asians might as well be aliens (and the story would have had slightly firmer scientific grounding if they had been).
With gender, it only partly applies. The same dichotomy--women are either indistinguishably "one of the guys" with their anatomy switched around, or else a brainless love interest whose role is determined wholly by their gender--usually applies, but the love interest is considerably more common and incidental because of the more common presence of a secondary love story. I remember thinking this when I read Asimov as a kid. It also seems that as male authors grow older, the ratio gradually tilts away from the former. I got more compelling portraits of, for instance, farmers (in Clifford Simak) and manic-depressives (in Theodore Sturgeon) from sf than I ever did of women or minorities.
This is evidently not what Davis wanted, as he says, but the failure of sf to meet his expectations seems more grounded in the agreed-upon restrictions of the genre rather than the failed imaginations of the authors. The generic restrictions of plot, character, and ideas would have made a socially progressive agenda stick out like a sore thumb. I always found "Stand on Zanzibar" very difficult to get through precisely because he approaches Davis's issues from the standpoint of problems to be solved through ideological architecture rather than areas meriting in-depth exploration. In the same way, you wouldn't go to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" for a revelation of the social relations of the immigrant community. They're just too goal-directed.
Chandler Davis himself provides some additional thoughts:
I think it's true that the spirit of our APAs lives on electronically, without the health effects of inhaling hektograph solvent. As to my then simplified spelling, if that doesn't live on I won't mourn it.
My post mortem on my essay of 55 years ago is just what I told you I thought it would be: it's not all just what I would say today, but it was worth saying.
I don't think I told Josh or you one of the striking responses to my essay. Isaac Asimov remarked that when he wanted to make his character Preem Palver as harmless as possible (so that it would be a surprise when he turned out to be the most powerful guy in the galaxy), he gave him the accent & mannerisms of his father, an East European Jewish immigrant. (Didn't call him Jewish, though, I guess.)
|. . . 2004-08-29|
You wouldn't imagine the life of a cynical newspaper reporter a congenial match for Henry James's late style, and Henry James's imagination concurs. Having been lured or coerced into the subject, it spends the entire length of "The Papers", hampered by age and weight, trying to find its way the hell back out. Recommended to those who expected His Girl Friday to end with Walter and Hildy in an Albany retirement community.
|. . . 2004-08-30|
As for the words that have miscarried in the printing (which I believe are not many, though some there be in all writings), I doubt not but they may be rectified easily in the reading by any reasonable capacity that will but cast over again their eyes, where they apprehend the defect to be, applying it to the sense of the rest, which in my opinion is a better way for direction than to set down the errors in the latter end of the book, since few people will take the pains to compare both places together, being rather willing to let the faults die to their memory than to busy themselves with trouble in another's concernment, especially having enough already in the story for their leisure or recreation. This being all I have to say, I bid you farewell.- "To the Reader" from The Princess Cloria by Percy Herbert, 1661
heyman I was you need to understandpipe and reading and what the hell's this I keep these parts of my life separate ok I was at tofu hat slurping mp3's down the pipe and there's yer scribbling hand again...so get TV back on topic OK , yer gonna get all ubiquitous an everything then do it
Speaking of TV, during my recent AWOL I got my first ever — in ten years of web publishing!— poison-keyboard message:
you're a thoughtless geek and your mindless comments on verlaine and television lack insight or truth. plus you are gay.
The fella's a more astute textual critic than sexual therapist, I'm afraid.
|. . . 2004-09-01|
First, End of the Century is respectful. Good. It's the Ramones, man; show some respect.
Then, from a rock documentary yet, insight.
Why did Joey/Jeff stay in the band instead of finishing that solo album? Why did Dee Dee snuff out when exposed to fresh air? How could both be so solidly and lastingly led by a guy who couldn't write, sing, solo, produce, or charm? The answer hangs like leather reek over the parade of celebrities who saw a band with "no talent" and realized "anybody could do that."
Wrong and wrong. Songwriting aside, the Ramones had something from the start those other kids didn't and kept it longer than those other kids would care to: Ineradicable irreducible loyalty to the idealized group. A fervor to "succeed" in the sense of not dishonoring that stoopid ideal, no matter what the individual costs might be.
And there was Johnny Ramone's unique talent. Casualties meant nothing to him (except insofar as they impinged on the honor of the ideal); being liked meant shit. He was a self-made drill sergeant who turned 4-F fuckups into jarheads. The drummers took their one tour of duty and sanely returned to civvies. Joey and Dee Dee were lifers.
Those early Ramones lyrics weren't literally fascist like the dopiest parents thought. But they weren't just jokes like me and my jerkoff friends thought either. They were the closest the band could come to describing the near-unstoppable heart of the organism itself. Semper Fi.
|. . . 2004-09-06|
The Extent of the Literal
by Marina Rakova, 2003
Neurological, developmental, and ethnographic evidence all resist clean divisions of literal from metaphorical meaning. So far, so George Lakoff.
But the Lakoff posse, like a certain brand of postmodernist, tends to understate precursors and overstate conclusions. In this case, their precursors include Kant, Nietzsche, and a lot of twentieth century literature, and their conclusion is that "all meaning is metaphorical."
As Marina Rakova objects, that stretches the meaning of "metaphor" so far as to make "metaphor" meaningless. Linguistic units like hot, sharp, bright, and disgusting cut across sensory and social realms at too early an age in too many cultures to establish precedence of the physical over the psychic. Instead of fat primal sensory perceptions from which all other meanings are metaphorically derived, Rakova posits even fatter primal synesthetic-social conceptual bundles from which the categories of "literal meaning" and "sensory realms" are eventually (and socially) abstracted.
This gumbo is starting to smell good. But — dissertation pressure, maybe?—Rakova sometimes comes close to implying a one-to-one relation between concept and word. As a handful of okra I'd add that these seemingly primal concepts of hers can only be communicated (or, if you prefer, approximate mirroring by another human being can only be cued) by nonconceptual means which carry a whole 'nother set of fuzzies.
"Concepts are not meanings." And neither are words meanings. We're fortunate critters in that definitions can help us learn new words. But, speaking as an uncomfortably monolingual subject, I can assure you that access to definitions doesn't guarantee communication. Meanings need to triangulate against something meatier before they cohere into language.
And, although words provide Rakova's chief evidence for concepts, neither are words concepts. Even the experience of watching someone cry differs from the experience of crying. Like the individualistic experience Rakova calls concept, the extended empathy we call language precedes any notion we might form of the "literal"; like (but distinguishable from) the concept, the word tangles the physical and the abstract. If concepts are fat, words are hairy.
And we haven't even started trying to do anything yet.
+ + +
Don't miss David Auerbach's thoughtful response to our recent Chandler Davis reprint.
Or Kip Manley's response to that link and more.
|. . . 2004-09-08|
Political poems improve government like elegiac poems advance medicine. Granted.
Still, poets as citizens are as capable of political astuteness as any other citizen.
* * *
Nevermind that the difference between, the core difference, between Bush and Kerry is somehow like the difference between Coke and Pepsi?- BertramOnline (Denmark)
Bush: perhaps the lesser evil- Headline at splinters (UK)
(I'm not going to quote the guy who uses the pseudonym "Lenin", because, come on already.)
John Kerry plans to block public access to public records, tell law enforcement agencies to ignore laws, roll back a century of progressive taxation and the mobility and security it provided, discard intelligence and start wars based on personal grudges and personal profits, fill the courts with unqualified ideologues, replace federal workers with Halliburton contractors, and strive to eliminate public accountability, private privacy, the Geneva Conventions, most of the Bill of Rights, and the American middle class? It's odd that the Republican campaign hasn't mentioned that.
I guessed that I didn't share Kerry's taste in music and that he didn't agree about our readiness to start a war. I figured he cared more than I did about maintaining corporate profits and stock prices, and I cared more than he did about maintaining the public domain and the distinction between culture and property (although John Edwards seems sympathetic).
But that Kerry would do everything in his power to transform the United States into a plutocratic theocratic two-class police state? This I didn't know.
Live and learn.
Or not, I guess.
* * *
Speculating as to the workings of a just society or the habits of the perfect pet seems like harmless cheap fun, although I'm more a time travel paradox guy myself.
On the other hand, if you theorize your ideal employment and then refuse to take any job that doesn't match, you're likely to stay unemployed until (depending how much family money backs you) your lack of food, clothing, and medical care persuades you to snatch the first job offered. Hey, that's how I became a programmer.
If you decide not to live anywhere other than your ideal residence, you'll likely remain homeless until you start groveling for the best place you can both find and afford.
Let's not even go into what happens to guys who blueprint the perfect woman, and to the women they meet.
All the evidence indicates that I'm very unlikely to ever find an ideal candidate (if only due to previously unnoticed contradictions in my fantasy), and that, if one shows up, she's very unlikely to win. But whether I vote for them or not, from the Democratic or Republican party will come a president, senator, representative, with more power over me than I have over them.
* * *
It's silly to claim that John Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate, although it shows faith that moderates, liberals, and the theoretical left will tear each other apart quite thoroughly on their own. It's equally silly to claim that Kerry is more conservative than Clinton. And it would be downright delusional for any United States resident to claim that the past four years of viciously manipulated fear have been business as usual.
Thanks to the 2000 election, we're in the full red rank flowering of that Second American Revolution Reagan wanted, roundabout complete, the head and heart of eighteenth-century Enlightenment soon to be neatly papered, twined, and bundled to the New House of Lords. No wonder Christopher Hitchens is impressed!
No Hitchens, I mourn my lost apathy and toast l'ancien régime in the plonk of the inconsequential.
To me the difference between Bush and Kerry is the difference between getting a piano dropped on you and getting slapped in the face. And who wants to get slapped in the face?
Our sample voice from Denmark has since brought forth his own presidential candidate: Eugene V. Debs, who would certainly be my pick in any contest with Ralph Nader. Since, though, as I sadly hinted above, I've been unsuccessful in getting Eugene V. Debs to be my employer, my landlord, or my lover, I doubt my ability to get him selected by a plurality of American voters. At least the American voters I've met.
|. . . 2004-09-09|
Were any notable verse parodies written between the Restoration and the Romantics? Mockeries, sure, but Augustan good taste stabilizes its poetry to near immobility. Try to deflate Pope and all you get is better Pope.
Models have to risk ridiculousness before ridicule's forthcoming — by taking a risk with diction, for example; by speaking of low things with pulpit sincerity. (A contemporary illustration of the principle is John Latta's exquisite James Wright.) The higher and more precarious the poet's seating, the more tempting the yank on a wobbly leg and the more satisfying the crash.
Keats, with his frank overreaching, has always made a mouth-envenoming dish for snobs. While often very funny, the results seem both cruel and slightly clueless about the churning cross-current of self-mockery that drew him (and that later ridiculous man, Melville) to the tasteless contrasts of Shakespeare in the first place. More ideal are risk-takers who stake their ass on a perch of dignity, such as the didactic nursery poets who so inspired Lewis Carroll. For sheer depth and range of humorlessness, Wordsworth was king. In their utter abandon, Poe, Whitman, and Swinburne still provide knock-me-down stimulation,
But "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" must be the Seventh Seal of poetic parodiability. With its instantly recognizable affectations, solemnity, and ignobility, nothing matches it till "Prufrock" and "The Waste Land".
The first parody I know is also the best. Published in 1819, when magazine contributions were usually unsigned, there seems to be, or to have been, some disagreement over its authorship. Not having found any scholarly defense of either attribution, I thank either David Macbeth Moir or William Maginn for "The Rime of the Auncient Waggonere". All it lacks is Will Elder handling the artwork.
* * *
Dissatisfied with this state of uncertainty, on the way home from work I stopped by the corner newsstand, flipped down a shiny new hapenny, picked up a discarded issue of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, No. XXIII. February 1819. Vol. IV., and what do you know? There was the answer!
Note from Mr Odoherty
MY DEAR EDITOR,
. . .
The other two poems, the Eve of St Jerry, and The Rime of the Auncient Waggonere, were composed by me many years ago. The reader will at once detect the resemblance which they bear to two well-known and justly celebrated pieces of Scott and Coleridge. This resemblance, in justice to myself, is the fruit of their imitation — not of mine. I remember reciting the Eve of St Jerry about the year 1795 to Mr Scott, then a very young man; but as I have not had the pleasure of seeing Mr Coleridge, although I have often wished to do so, and hold his genius in the highest estimation, I am more at a loss to account for the accurate idea he seems to have possessed of my production, unless, indeed, I may have casually dropt a copy of the MS. in some bookseller's shop in Bristol, where he may have found it. Meantime, I remain, Dear Editor, your affectionate servant,
Eltrive Lake, Feb. 29th 1819.
Well, I can see why publishers might want to cover up a scandal like this, but still!
(Prospective subscribers should act soon. Upcoming issues are slated to include Wordsworth's much anticipated "Peter Bell", buzz on Lord Byron's "Mazeppa", and the fifth installment of that popular serial "On the Cockney School of Poetry".)
His nib's on fire! His Nibs is on fire!
Last night I heard mama and poppa talking. I heard poppa tell mama, "You let that boy boogie-woogie. It's in him and it's got to come out."
My Dearest Mr. Pod: I have it on good authority that Blackwood's was owned by CBS News, and its editor was one Jayson Blair. Mr. Coleridge's reptation is safe. - Renfrew Q. Hobblewort.
PS I recently put up Google Ad Sense on my own blog -- not from any true mercantilist impulse, but rather a morbid curiosity as to what adaptive intelligence would produce of a blog that veered from book reviews of children's bible books to accusations of electoral improprietary in the highest circles. I can only speculate breathlessly to myself what sorts of ads would be generated by the pages of Pseudopodium. Anxiously, Renfrew Q. Hobblewort.
|. . . 2004-09-12|
In an aperçu more winning than anything from Critical Inquiry's past few years, Da Hat compares Emily Dickinson to George Herriman. Twin lines of different media: iconic and organic; sketchy and exact; gracefully liberated in self-forged chains. How easy to imagine "kat" stretched, tail akimbo, laboriously scratching out a letter to Master, or Offisa Higginson covering his eyes and moaning, "That dear poet!" How reassuring the reminder that sometimes the pure products of America go krazy.
|. . . 2004-09-14|
John Cage in a highrise with an M21
Belying his reputation as a self-obsessed '70s has-been, Mayor Jerry Brown atunes to the national mood by swinging back to the nineteenth century and reinstating the proud volunteer tradition of the Bowery fire department.Hotsy: Say, Mr. T., why haven't you joined Oaktown's most exciting new civic organization?
Totsy: Nobody axed me!
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Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2004 Ray Davis.