. . .

Work Song

I don't know what to do about it;
try again tomorrow.

I don't know what to do about it;
try again tomorrow.

I don't know what to do about it;
try again tomorrow.

I don't know what to do about it;
try again tomorrow.

(Repeat 2399 times)

. . .


The following entry treats both the author himself and a more sapient object with insulting familiarity. Anticipating community outrage, this commentator may be excused for repeating that the relationship of author to post is no more identity than the relationship of fence-builder to post, and most resembles the relationship of Edgar Bergen to Charlie McCarthy: accepting liability; denying agreement.

A vulgarized notion of "subconscious" encourages the popular horror fantasy of the ventriloquist's dummy sitting amok. Given due ponderosity, however, the figure might provide insight into the workings of a psychology which takes conscious craft as evidence and takes art criticism as retirement home. "Sub" misleads: What consciousness disavows lies not beneath it but beside it, is supported by and supports it, is not its dirty root but a fellow twine-trunk of the hollow banyan.

Or it might not.

John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.

Crazy Rhythms

"The Role of Aesthetic Judgments in Psychotherapy" by John S. Callender,
Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 12.4 (2005)
(via Project MUSE or Cap'n Morgan the scurvy intellectual pirate)

It's become fashionable to frame (in a nice way) recently discredited psychiatric theorists as fashioners of useful myths, or as literary critics who discovered a more direct way to soak neurotics. The Bible and Shakespeare provide eternal wisdom despite weak grasps of history; similarly, Freud and Lacan provide eternal wisdom despite lapses in scientific hygiene. Cheaper than taking 'em off the reading lists.

And hey, I want to look as fashionable as the next guy, though I do wonder when someone will join William S. Burroughs in acknowledging the eternal wisdom of L. Ron Hubbard.

Meanwhile, the pseudomedical side of the divide has done their bit with best-sellers like Proust, Not Hydrotherapy. (How is it that the mental health professionals always grab the lucrative end of the stick?)

Now John S. Callender takes another step towards reunification of the pre-analytic State of Philosophy.

You know how patients have this exasperating tendency to walk agreeably along with the therapist, step by reasonable step, yet then deny his conclusion? "Yes, I see what you mean, but I still feel dirty and disgusting." "I would prefer not to." What are you gonna do with someone like that? They continue to believe something they admit they can't prove, even when it can't be justified as investor exuberance!

Well, Kantian aesthetics might explain this puzzle. Firmly held beliefs, check; unprofitable, check; irrational, check; demonstrably not universal yet more than purely personal, check; fiercely judgmental and painfully trivializable, hell yeah.

As the proud-yet-humble coiner of "neuraesthetics", I applaud Dr. Callender's essay and fully concur with the parallel he draws between cognitive therapy and art appreciation.

What I don't understand is why he finds the resemblance mutually flattering.

. . .

Playing Hamlet with the net up

Poor Auden, trapped by his own meter. He wrote the thesis ("We must love one another or die"), he revised to the antithesis ("We must love one another and die"), and when the synthesis round came round lost his stake.

All he needed were a few more syllables. Something along Out of the Past's lines:

JEFF: That isn't the way to play.
CATHY: Why not?
JEFF: Because it isn't the way to win.
CATHY: Is there a way?
JEFF: There's a way to lose more slowly.

"We must love one another or die quicker and nastier." But even allowing the demotic grammar, it doesn't scan.

And even if it did, Auden in '39, like Bailey in '47, could've been checked, unarguably, by the standard response of those who don't already agree with him: "I prefer it like that."

. . .

Cavil, Foragers

For the Happy Tutor

In January, 1870, John Ruskin began Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain, issued near-monthly through early 1878 and more spasmodically between 1880 and 1884.

  1. As a zine, it seems worth its tenpence. Collected?

    Tastes have changed in 130 years, but the book remains weak, and weakens as it goes. The first and last frontispieces illustrate the progess from Giotto to ick.

    Between them, we're whiplashed between fulmination and namby-pamby; we plod through dull fiction, eccentric introductions to geology and entomology, a few close moralizing readings of paintings, histories, and saints' tales, bad-tempered quarrels with the well-meaning and mostly good-natured, daydream descriptions of imaginary coinage, comment-larded translations of Plato's Laws and the Bible....

    The arguments I found most cogent thin with repetition; pages dissolve into a welter of cross-references: "Let her read the account of our modern pastoral music, at page 90 of my fifth Letter,— of modern Venetian 'Barcarolle,' page 245 of Letter 19, and 257 of Letter 20..." And, as Ruskin himself points out, they only restated more bluntly what he'd written prettily before.

    It doesn't even excerpt easily: Ruskin was a manic monologist, not an aphorist.

  2. Why plod then?

    The serial started forcefully enough, engaging a still-live issue: the moral and ecological costs of capitalism. And suspensefully enough while I waited for the author to reveal his plan.

    Post-revelation, the grounds of suspense changed. Now I wondered how long it would take for his plan to fall apart, and how completely it would fail before he admitted defeat.

    And then, a while later, how long it would take for him to become certifiable, and how that would show up in the "letters"....

  3. The suspense of authorial decline.

    Oh, I've encountered successful works shaped by and incorporating their artists' mental collapse. Not here. Here I was drawn on by pure, if sympathetic, morbidness.

    It's not my favorite way to read a writer; it's not how writers prefer to be read. But after finishing the book, curious, I found that even its greatest champion, Tim Holt, reads it that way. He says that's why he likes it most.

    That's the best Ruskin's biographer can fish from the man's life work.

    From political prophet and model prose stylist to human interest story the degradation's ours as much as Ruskin's.

  4. I was surprised when I hit the bit about Whistler.

    All these decades I'd hosted Whistler's version of the story: a victory of wit and art over the opressive Establishment.

    But Whistler wasn't the only presumptious upstart in the case. Ruskin had climbed far in life, it's true; so far that, without realizing it, thrashing in the upper foliage, he'd left behind anything which could support his weight.

    In context, Ruskin's insult was a singular throwaway in an ever less coherent and ever more discountable flood of attacks on enemies much more Established than either disputant. Whistler was flogging a lame horse. The target of his suit would collapse into complete delirium long before the trial took place.

    This revision teaches a lesson worth learning. (Although I needed it more at eighteen.) Our license to rave isn't a sign of fear or respect, but of our fecklessness. Milords, miladies, & Most Reverend and Right Honourable Archbishops needn't soil their gloves chastising the fool. Sooner or later, some other thin-skinned desparate clown will do the job for them, unpaid.

  5. It's the familiar place of the political poet:

    Unseated at the foot of the table, splattered with drumstick grease, wine dregs, and worse.

    And Ruskin's yen for the early Renaissance, his execrations of usury, his frantic vehemence, and the sad curve of his career all forced thoughts of Ezra Pound. (Some people even compare Fors Clavigera with the Cantos, although Pound's post-1930 prose seems a much closer match.)

    Both were convinced they stood on unassailable dignity even when hopping, frothing, screaming mad. They were both very fond of the word "Master". And they shared an abusive pedagogy: Disgusted Ruskin describes himself hammering a nail into our thick skulls; disgusted Pound describes slamming a dick into the passive vulva of London.

  6. The terms differ, though.

    A dirty job that somebody's gotta do: Carpentry or rape?

    Pound wants credit for suffering through a purported source of pleasure.

    And one difference between Ruskin's and Pound's late madworks is who they're aimed at and how: discursive prose for the working class vs. high art for the perceptive elite.

    Both men were pushed off the path of pure aesthetism by the same conviction: Great art can only be created by a great culture, and so a great society must be remade.

    But Pound circles the argument around again to shape and keep a cozy bed. How does one set about creating a great society? Why, by making great art, of course.

  7. Ruskin tried that; it hadn't worked.

    Fors wasn't written as literature or criticism; it documents an attempt to achieve more than words alone achieved, and to actualize fantasy by less comfortable means than continued fantasizing.

    Ruskin's choice was Quixotic, literally. With Quixotic results.

    But Quixote was at least a principled man.

    And, in the end, restricting himself to purely verbal labor protected Pound neither from guilt nor retribution.

  8. Fail fast and principled, or fail slow and loose?

    Best not even go there.

    And so another American I think of's Henry Adams.

    Ruskin was a conservative Christian communist; Adams a "conservative Christian anarchist".

  9. "Conservative."

    The adjective falls oddly against those nouns.

    Ruskin and Adams opposed it to a just-as-obsolete usage of "liberal": "rule by free-market capitalism."

    Outside of academia, it's been obsolete a long while. By Ruskin's time, all major Anglo-American political parties accepted capitalism as a given, and the only economic dispute between "conservative" and "liberal" was, and remains, whether government should provide welfare exclusively to the wealthy or to others as well.

  10. "Christian."

    Although I haven't filled in the spreadsheet, Ruskin directed perhaps his most sustained and violent abuse against church leaders.

    Adams didn't, being more interested in politicians than in evangelicals, and there being, back then, a difference.

    Pound, of course, was a pagan.

    Yet Ruskin, the only fanatic gospel reader of the three, was the only one not to fall into the idiot trap of anti-Semitism. Deluded, he was at least able to clearly see the capitalists two feet in front of him and what churches they attended.

  11. "Communist" or "fascist" if you can imagine a way out.

    "Anarchist" if you can't.

    Despair drives us mad; hope flies there. When Adams referred to himself and his friends as instutionalizable, the joke had teeth. He was careful to restrict his ravings to private letters.

    And he proposed no plan but to watch.

  12. Ruskin's plan:

    Set up an inner nation to survive the crash. Bit by bit, donated acre by unmortgaged acre, volunteer serf by volunteer baron, neo-Medieval economy, religion, culture, and technology would re-establish themselves in England's green and pleasant land.

    The scheme anticipates Hari Seldon, but its goal anticipates the post-apocalyptic pastoral. Over and over, we've imagined the development of low-tech pseudo-feudalism after the big blow-up. Ruskin just wanted to have it ready to pivot into place early on.

  13. No big blow-up's managed the job so far.

    The land which turns swords into ploughshares is always beaten by the land which turns swords into money.

  14. And, although the Guild of St. George manifestly failed to meet its goals, no big blow-up's done it in.

    What Ruskin could build was ridiculously trivial next to his dreams. But he built its trivia soundly, and trivially it still stands.

    In the long disastrous history of attempts to make over society, Ruskin's fiasco counts as success. He managed to erect a molehill instead of a bomb crater.

  15. The pure products of anywhere go crazy.

    Geography's not the issue. The conflict's between purity and productization.


The Tutor graciously acknowledges the razor-bladed apple on his desk.

. . .

World Wide W. E. B.

For the Happy Tutor & Luther Blissett 7

Color & Culture: Black Writers and the Making of the Modern Intellectual
by Ross Posnock

Posnock opens by claiming that the first and paradigmatic "public intellectuals" in America were black.

Good hook, but it doesn't land square. His examples aren't like Zola and Sartre, Sontag and Mailer, high-falutin' forthright four-steely-eyed heroes swooping down from atop the editorial page to right a wrong and then move on. Instead, he tells and re-tells the story of African-American aesthetes and scholars not given a choice about going public. Maintaining any intellectual existence at all meant (was forced to mean) either taking a stand as a public intellectual or being posed that way.

This could be thought of as the high-culture special case of racism's general rule and fuel, selective attention. No matter what you do, it "reflects on the race," because race is what the polarized mirror shades let through. You take a seat, you're making a statement; you play golf, you're making a statement; you publish a book, you're making a statement.... Very tiring, very OK I get it I get it here you go then.

Or you could think of it as the American special case of a more general type of public intellectual. Not the Zola or Sontag type, though more the GarcĂ­a Lorca or Mayakovsky type. In a totalitarian state, if you take a seat, you're making a statement, and if you're unwilling to make a statement yourself, the nearest cop will volunteer one. Hell, sometimes even if you do try to make it yourself! That's what Nabokov really hated about the USSR: It wouldn't allow nuance to the poet or naturalist; you had to live with coarse distinctions like dissident or collaborationist.... And that's what he really loved about the USA: It didn't care!

About white Russians, anyway. But for a specially selected, near-exlusive clientele, the USA has always offered add-on totalitarian services.

Aside from the odd depression or civil war, the tactic's worked out pretty well. Black-and-white racism, guaranteeing a permanent yet permeable underclass, grounded our economic class system. Meanwhile, the donnybrook everlasting of more transient bigotries (occasionally freshened by immigrants) resisted high-voltage demagoguery.

With full globalization, though, there's no work for our working class, and a single coast-to-coast church professes a universal creed of selfish self-righteousness.

And so the colorfully corroded spaghetti-wired and chewing-gum-soldered circuit shorts. Smear tank by Diebold machine, gerrymander by gerrymander, state by state, the fuses pop and leave a dim red light behind. Newspaper by radio station by cable network, vouchered school by grant-grubbing school, we lose what Du Bois and Benjamin lost before us: the right to be harmless.

It was our greatest privilege.


Could you summarize what you're trying to say here? I'm having a hard time understanding.

Me too. But if you summarize your misunderstanding maybe we can get somewhere. Working this out is like rock climbing, I think.

Not that I've ever rock clumb. It's like something that can paralyze you, anyway.

That one hurt.

The Tutor will be so proud!

The Tutor hisself, and hisself again:

Yes, I am proud. You have given up your right to be harmless, what you say has and will be used against you. Fortunately you have mastered the art of writing in riddles, parables, jests, aphorism and conspicuous irrelevancies. You will go, but not in the first wave.

And the plaudits continue to spit:

a thousand mile journey begins with
This is so confusing. Its literally mind-blowing!

"Not since the Necronomicon has a piece of writing so reduced me to gibbering insanity!"

Of course, given my compositional methods, the real miracle is that any (deaf as a) post ever manages to communicate any meaning at all, intended or not. Still, when particular posts particularly irritate readers, I can't help but want to make up for it somehow. Could it be that a few sentences of rococo metaphor weren't enough to clearly convey both an unfamiliar theory of American political-economic stability and a diagnosis of destabilization? Must we drudge through something longer and more conventionally expository?

In the meanwhile, readers offer a few diagnoses of their own:

The man who fears his shadow learns to hate the light
I'm still harmless.
It did care! It did, America, then, care. It liked that, it felt validated, confirmed, its ideals upheld etc. Who cares what happens next, said America, that wall's coming down! Nabokov being "just another brick" in. Which dangles a segue into Krazy Kat, but I'm running late.

And Tutor again, showing how to compress with clarity:

We lose the right, maybe, like loitering blacks in the old South, to be treated as harmless by the authorities until proven innocent. - The Happy Tutor

In January, 2011, Josh Lukin adds:

That's odd I found it perfectly intelligible and indeed familiar: June Jordan made a similar point several times. But she knew that Du Bois usually has a space in it, like Le Guin.

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

Trifles light as air.
"Carve Dat Possum"
by Sam Lucas
(with an assist from "Go Down, Moses")
(as performed by
Harry C. Browne & Peerless Quartet,
The possum meat am good to eat.
Carve him to the heart.
You'll always find him good and sweet.
Carve him to the heart.
My dog did bark and I went to see
Carve him to the heart.
And there was a possum up that tree.
Carve him to the heart.

I reached up for to pull him in.
Carve him to the heart.
The possum he begun to grin.
Carve him to the heart.
I carried him home and dressed him off.
Carve him to the heart.
I hung him that night in the frost.
Carve him to the heart.

The way to cook the possum sound:
Carve him to the heart.
First parboil him, then bake him brown.
Carve him to the heart.
Lay sweet potatoes in the pan.
Carve him to the heart.
The sweetest meat in all the land
Carve him to the heart.

Carve that possum,
Carve that possum, children.
Carve that possum,
Carve him to the heart.
Oh, carve that possum,
Carve that possum, children.
Carve that possum,
Carve him to the heart.

As environments grow harsher, biodiversity becomes chaff. It's winnowing time again. A good time to know one's species.

Couple years back, the Fantagraphics web site posted a recording of a Nixon-era on-stage interview with stogie-chompin' obscenity-tossin' 100%-pure-bitter Walt Kelly.

I recollect one moment in particular, when, after repeated attempts to get him to admit to harboring some last splinter of child-like wonder and hope, Kelly roared, "So what you're saying is I'm a fairy."

Having worked on Pinocchio, Kelly knew from fairies, so I guess we can take his word he wasn't one.

Me either. I'm more a Jiminy Cricket type, 'ceptin I remain one of those folks Jiminy bets don't believe that.

Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote.... Squirrels have been suggested as an avatar, but I feel no bond to the greedy beggars.

I admire the white bear, but my wagging jaws lack tenacity.

And The Man's best friend, like poor poopy Hitchens, uplifted from brick-dodging junkyard dog to yapping Corgi, I pity you. You can't beat them, so you join them. Once you join them, they beat you more. Now they beat in sport instead of in earnest, but still it's more.

Also "a deer in the headlights of history" I'm not. I'm not so decorative, nor so herbivorous, nor so ignorant of trucks.

Nor am I a pedigreed, primped, and tenured gerbil, exercising my wits against a bell and mirror and sleeping on a bed of shredded Marcus.

A scavenger of garbage, a hisser, a sulker, urbanized but un-urbanable....

When nuance becomes an established technique of sabotage, us quibblers feed the revolution only in the most literal sense. We try to play possum and find we're playing Shmoo.

But I got nowhere else to go, so still I go Pogo. It's what's for dinner.

Berkeley, California – Wien, Osterreich.
For Phil Cubeta.


I think it would fly as a rap: "I'm the real Walt Kelly / I really rock 'em / I'll shoot you dead / An' ya won't play possum" etc. - RQH

An old friend anonymously inquires:

But what about Daffy Duck?

"When have I last looked on the round dot eyes and the long wavering bodies of the little black ducks of the moon?"

Josh Lukin triangulates:

First time I read Swamp Thing 32, I cried for five days straight. But I would not have objected if anyone'd thought my lachrymosity had a different orientation.

Phil declines.

. . .

The Peripatetic again

Georgina Green writes from Oxford:

Just wanted to point out that The Peripatetic is narrated by a character, not by Thelwall himself. This makes it more sophisticated than your account suggests, allowing for irony etc.

Nevertheless, I like your analogy and its good to see Thelwall getting some attention.

Unlike, say, Defoe or Sterne, Thelwall confessed that the explicitly novelistic element of his "novel" had been an afterthought, and I'd presumed on that confession and on his personal history.

Green is right to correct me it was an unwarranted presumption. The Peripatetic was written in that glorious era when Clark Kent, mild-mannered law enforcer, would duck into a coffeehouse to don the libelproof byline of Superbus before writing wrongs. Pseudo-fictional narrators who allowed for a wide range of auctorial distancing were just as much a convention of the time's discursive prose and verse as of its fiction, and the convention matters just as much in The Peripatetic as in "Mr. Yorick"'s Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.

It was silly of me to miss that, given how it bolsters the weblog comparison.

. . .

Cavil, Foragers again

But regret is one thing and resentment is another. Seeing one morning, in a shop-window, the series of Mornings in Florence published a few years since by Mr. Ruskin, I made haste to enter and purchase these amusing little books.... it was difficult to sympathise, for the simple reason, it seems to me, that it savours of arrogance to demand of any people, as a right of one's own, that they shall be artistic. "Be artistic yourselves!" is the very natural reply that young Italy has at hand for English critics and censors. ... "One may read a hundred pages of this sort of thing," said my friend, "without ever dreaming that he is talking about art. You can say nothing worse about him than that." Which is perfectly true. Art is the one corner of human life in which we may take our ease. ... One may read a great many pages of Mr. Ruskin without getting a hint of this delightful truth; a hint of the not unimportant fact that art after all is made for us and not we for art. ... Differences here are not iniquity and righteousness; they are simply variations of temperament, kinds of curiosity. We are not under theological government.
- Henry James, "Recent Florence", 1877

This seems simpatico, and true, and cruel. Henry James all over.

What creeps me out about it about early James in general is the genial air of contempt, of exclusive access to "the real right thing." Yes, if we stay smart and aware, passive analysis can get us somewhere. But the active objects of our gaze ain't hearing nothing they don't already know. They also think who don't just stand and wait.

By the time young James wrote this put-down, old Ruskin had already made the decision to forsake art history for an attempt to (re-)create the sort of theological government which would make us "artistic ourselves." His effort may have been delusional, but it at least demonstrated self-awareness.

"First, do no harm" is a more difficult injunction than it seems at first. Maybe that's why I prefer the later James: just as ineffectual but less smug about it. The decades of bruised conscientiousness built up their protective layers of silk (if you like the style) or numb callus (if you don't), and the voice became its own padded cell.

. . .

Love Defined

Anselm Dovetonsils's poetic legacy has finally found someone willing to take on the tax burden!

Here, the first graduate of California State University Monterey Bay's School of Discombobulated Poetics explores the Petrarchan lyric tradition. Or repurposes a personal ad. Whatever.

by Short-Form McGill



I think there's a line missing at the end: "Seeks Same for possible LTR" - RQH

. . .

The Journal of Lower Education

Oh, Spengler's all just fun and games until someone starts a world war.

* * *

Subatomic phenomena may be "like" particles, but they aren't like grains of sand. They may be "like" waves, but they aren't like the surf at Ocean Beach. Trying to talk about things that can't be seen or felt, we use models and analogies. If those models and analogies don't completely fit, that's not a paradox: it's only to be expected.

* * *

To promote the town, it became necessary to destroy it

Pop science, Cliff Notes: In hopes of getting bread faster, we skip the harvest and torch the wheatfield.


I hate sloppy analogies like Macbeth

Oh, yeah, and nerves aren't wires.

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