|. . . 2013-03-31|
There are two pictures of Venice side by side in the house where I am writing this, a Canaletto that has little but careful drawing and a not very emotional pleasure in clean bright air, and a Franz Francken, where the blue water, that in the other stirs one so little, can make one long to plunge into the green depth where a cloud shadow falls.- William Butler Yeats, Discoveries
Her new Novel called Cecilia is the Picture of Life such as the Author sees it: while therefore this Mode of Life lasts, her Book will be of value, as the Representation is astonishingly perfect: but as nothing in the Book is derived from Study, so it can have no Principle of duration — Burney’s Cecilia is to Richardson’s Clarrisa — what a Camera Obscura in the Window of a London parlour,— is to a view of Venice by the clear Pencil of Cannaletti.- Hester Thrale, c. 1782, Thraliana,
extracted from that mammoth lump of flarf
by Burney editors Troide & Cooke
As always, Thrale's of her time. And at that time objection was most often made to Cecilia's untraditionally mixed conclusion, defended by Burney as naturalism:
With respect, however, to the great point of Cecilia's fortune, I have much to urge in my own defence, only now I can spare no time, & I must frankly confess I shall think I have rather written a farce than a serious history, if the whole is to end, like the hack Italian operas, with a jolly chorus that makes all parties good & all parties happy! [...] Besides, I think the Book, in its present conclusion, somewhat original, for the Hero & Heroine are neither plunged in the depths of misery, nor exalted to unhuman happiness,—Is not such a middle state more natural? more according to real life, & less resembling every other book of fiction?
[Edmund Burke] wished the conclusion either more happy or more miserable: ‘for in a work of imagination, said he, there is no medium.’ I was not easy enough to answer him, or I have much, though perhaps not good for much, to say in defence of following Life & Nature as much in the conclusion as in the progress of a Tale; & when is Life & Nature completely happy or miserable?
A taste for what is permanent would prove as transient as any other taste, and a century after Thrale's bon mot, even Cecilia wasn't real enough to satisfy:
Fanny’s Diaries are now much more studied than her novels. Few of us would wish to exchange the journal of her life at Court for another fiction from her pen.- Leonard Benton Seeley, Fanny Burney and Her Friends:
Select Passages from Her Diary and Other Writings (1892)
|. . . 2013-04-02|
|. . . 2013-04-04|
Iyer doesn't just revise his prose. He polishes: smooth as a baby's bottom; clear as Coors; slick as Swingle Singers Go Bernhard. Boing Boing being potholed by jargon and brand names, Spurious always made the fastest drop-in on my blog stroll.
Nothing gladdens reviewers more than opining at length about something they sped-read.
|. . . 2013-04-07|
W. lived in a small ugly city whose night life was distinguished by the emptying of a nearby insane asylum. He prepared cuisine classique a few times a year but otherwise subsisted on fast food followed by scotch and a cigar. Once, when I'd been totting up the come-hithers and stay-thences of a mutual friend, W. told me, "Just fuck her." It remains the only time I've heard the word hissed.
My problem was lack of faith, W. told me in spring of 1991. I still thought I might find a way to be happier. I had not fully learned my place. We are miserable and meant to be, said W.
We stopped speaking after I moved to California. It was one of those close friendships which last only until someone does something.
Like that of Hester Lynch Thrale and Frances Burney: my fellow blitherer Thrale, raised as a child star and hoping to raise child stars, very much the little boy's dog sitting up and begging to divert a company, compulsively open and rawly needy, trapped in a world without Facebook —
— and Burney, a born writer: the "little dolt" of the family, slow to speak, slow to read, kept at home; flattened between the good-cop of her conniving father and bad-cop of her bristling stepmother; shy, prudish — refusing to open anything titled Les liaisons dangereuses, dropping Werther when she discerned its "evident tendency," shuddering at the touch of her disgraced stepsister — clueless and scarily observant:
He was frightened out of his Wits, at me, he said, lest he should do any thing improper! [...] This always much vexes me, but I know not how to conquer so unfair a prejudice, while I never can get sight of these folks, except through an opera-Glass!—In which way they most assiduously view me in return, whenever I am in Mrs. Fitzgerald's Box.
In 1781 Thrale predicted "we will be Friends these forty Years." In retrospect they look doomed from the start (but what doesn't?). Freed from a loveless marriage which had surrounded her with loveless children, facing the first mutual attraction of her life, Thrale very naturally threw herself in, even if poor Signor Piozzi might as well have been Mount Stromboli so far as friends, family, and press were concerned.
Burney's disapproval did more harm to herself than to its target. Hester Lynch Thrale had been her closest female friend and her first female mentor. Samuel Crisp, her emotional support since childhood, died the year before Mrs. Thrale's re-marriage; Samuel Johnson died five months after. Aside from an increasingly preoccupied sister, Burney was left only the ultra-respectable role model of her post-Cecilia acquaintance Mary Delany. Through her, and to the gratification of her father's snobbery, Burney was locked into the anti-intellectual isolation ward of George III's court for six years. When Burney made her own completely unsuitable marriage to a penniless Catholic, Mrs. Thrale was a decade in the past.
What interests me most about the story, though, isn't in the story. It's in the way the story's source material stays not-a-story. The living friendship was face-to-face; we can't share its excitement or comfort. But Thraliana and Burney's letters convey its death more vividly than any novel or biography could: a slog through hints, asides, petty annoyances and vehement pledges, apologies and ambiguous backchat and tiresome melodrama and well-meant betrayals and unexplained gaps, and a trailing train of increasingly relaxed wish-her-wells...
In the presence of a narrator, that sort of pacing would seem undisciplined and pointlessly arbitrary. Endurance tests like La maman et la putain come close, but the experience is best communicated through remnants of the process itself.
|. . . 2013-04-14|
In post-Revolutionary America, slavery seemed antiquated and inefficient and unlikely to extend its reach. Cotton gins and English industrialization renewed its earning potential, and by the time Congress took over administration of the Mississippi Territory, the richest inhabitants owned plantations worked by slaves. And so, like the sensible Obama-and-Bush team members who protected corporate speculators because theirs was America's only thriving industry, and like the sensible doctor who refuses to excise a tumor because it's the only part of your body exhibiting healthy growth, Congress did the sensible thing.
Slavery was available, and so slavery was utilized, and so slavery became a necessity, and so forth and so on until push came to shove. Of course a banner like "Maintain My Position of Power" might not rally the troops, but by then the South's moneyed interests were old hands at shucknjiving:
Discarding elitist pretensions in the early republican era, alert office-seekers from the upper classes had learned to wear their oldest clothes to the hustings, affect rural accents, drink and fraternize with common folk, and fill their speeches with coarse humor and heavy-handed sarcasm in finely calculated appeals to those they ruefully called “the unterrified democracy.” Caldwell was particularly vexed by the prosperous local planter who affected poverty on the stump in order to demonize the prospect of higher taxes. The typical office-seeker in the rural districts, he fumed, was “one of these richer people, with a wagon and plenty of horses, and good houses and barns, and slaves too... and from five hundred to a thousand acres of land.” Despite his prosperity, such a man would claim in public that “he is a poor man.... He drives his own wagon, and has no pretensions to be a gentleman. If rich people want better roads, let them make them for themselves. For his part he has no intention of being taxed to gratify the rich and answer their purposes.”- Harry L. Watson,
"The Man with the Dirty Black Beard: Race, Class, and Schools in the Antebellum South"
Journal of the Early Republic 32.1 (2012)
Populist democracy wasn't created as a capitalist tool, but when populism threatens money it's simple enough for money to take up populism. Simpler to campaign when you don't have to leave a day job, or when you can afford to make it someone else's day job.
Capital found benefits in emancipated Jews; antisemitism put nary a dent in capital. Feminism was mostly pushed by and mostly benefited well-off ladies; you can say pretty much the same for any identity politics, but I guarantee, speaking as someone who's seen before and after and beforagain, you won't strike a blow against The Man by resegregating.
Anything can be abstracted into a token, and any tokens can then be more-or-less randomly shoved around in hope of local maxima. That is what the little algorithms do: they float, fasten, inflate, collapse. But lungs are not mycobacteria's way of making more mycobacteria. We tokens have another life. We are fickle, but we are not as fickle as money: money's ways cannot be ours. It cannot render delightsome what is hateful; neither can it taint a known good.
You and I only saw great movies and heard great music as mediated or influenced by the culture industries, but that doesn't make their creators industrialists and it doesn't cheapen the human value (if you'll pardon the expression) of our boffo laffs or three-hanky tears. You'd rightly feel foolish if you'd convinced yourself you advanced the revolution by preferring one LP to another, but that was clear to anyone with a lick of sense even back in 1977, even back in 1968, even back when the very best class of emigrés soaked achin' feet in a seltzer bath of Schoenberg. Alienation will not liberate you; alienation will be sold back to your budget-starved library in $80 academic press editions. As the poet sang, "Hold on to what you got, don't let it go." What you got wasn't trickled down from any incontinent old prick, and our love is not beholden.
All of which isn't news but's easy to forget in the recurrent flush of disappointment. Since the first Bush administration, in the heyday of cyberpunk's hurts-so-good technophilia, I've taken comfort in the formula above. I offer it in hope it might find use on your own block of funky, funky Broadway.
Lawrence White alerts us:
"Bo Diddley Is a Communist"
That is always the responsorial that goes through my head, & for once it's appropriate.
If I were a useful member of society I would transfer my scratchy copy of Vermin of the Blues to mp3 & download it on YouTube. That way other people could use it as they see fit, to fill in the bare patches in their mental collage.
Dr. Shpamböt proclaims:
You can definitely see your skills in the article you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.
Thank you, Dr. S. That means a lot coming from you.
From "Justice Deferred Is Justice Denied" by Jed S. Rakoff, NYRB February 19, 2015:
The analogy of a Fortune 500 company to a juvenile delinquent is, perhaps, less than obvious....
|. . . 2013-05-03|
View from my parents' home in Braymer, Missouri, 2013 May 3
|. . . 2013-06-16|
Je souhaite dans ma maison:
Un lion rugissant sa raison,
Une chèvre, qui mange de toute sorte
Et dort en paix, comme une poule morte.
CONSUMER ALERT: We watched this last night, and neither Goat nor Dead Hen appear! Dead Duck and Zebra do OK jobs, I guess, but anyone who buys this hoping to enjoy another signature turn by Dead Hen or Goat will be very disappointed!
|. . . 2013-06-25|
It's good to be reminded that appalling people sometimes sing like birds. But then it's good to be reminded that man is not a bird.
|. . . 2013-07-21|
I'd hoped to leave some marker on the occasion of this venture's fourteenth anniversary, but dayjob. Sister Jeanne Deroin and brother Louis Gabriel Gauny have kindly offered to speak for me:
“I was never familiar with the joys of infancy or the games of early childhood. From the time I learned to read, reading became my sole occupation and the charm of my every moment. I felt a vague desire to experience and know everything. God and religion had aroused my attention most of all, but the mobility of my ideas kept me from focusing my attention on one object for a long time. Weary of searching without understanding, I compared and related what was said to me or what was taught me by books to fairy tales. Still too young to appreciate my social position, I was happy. The future seemed bright and gracious. I saw myself rich with the treasures of learning. The necessity of working made me realize that I, without wealth, would have to give up learning, give up happiness. I resigned myself....”
“As he heads for his workplace, this man has a singular mien. Anger hatches in his glance. As he bounds along like a rebel slave,. one would think he was hastening to sign a pact to wipe out his oppressor. When he arrives at the place, the battle begins. First, his poor musculature, somewhat rested from sleep, is focused relentlessly on the task. Giving way to habit and overflowing with solidarity, the worker conscientiously applies himself to doing the job right. Given over momentarily to the inner satisfaction of useful work, he forgets his surroundings. His arms work, some craft detail is done pleasingly, he keeps going. An hour slips by.... he works violently to achieve the intoxication of oblivion. For a moment he manages to distance himself from the resentful feelings of his implacable memory. He works furiously. A living machine, he gains for the profit of his proprietor what he loses at the expense of his own strength.”- from The Nights of Labor: The Workers’ Dream in Nineteenth Century France
by Jacques Rancière, translated by John Drury
The contracting years were better in some ways:
“The worker, who has not been winded by the exactness of the hour, considers his task for a moment as he prepares to undertake its sound execution. Nothing about his tools repels him; it is with a sort of affection that he handles them. Abandoning himself to the riches of his liberty, he is never made gloomy by his workplaces or the time he must spend there... He does not dread the abhorrent gaze of the master or the time signals that force the other workers to break up their conversation and hurry under the yoke. On the job one effort excites another, the movements follow one another in a straight and spirited way. Lured toward the conclusion of the work, he is taken up by the charm as he kills boredom: that awful cancer that gnaws the soul of the day-laborer....
“Made feverish by action, he finds that the hours roll by quickly. His task, which he fecundates as he accelerates it, is a magnetism that dominates his thinking from morning to evening and ensures that he devours time, whereas the day-laborer is devoured by it.”
And not in others:
“He is overwhelmed with indifference and unproductive matters. He is the one that the entrepreneur sacrifices to his day-laborers. Before anything else the entrepreneur readies work for them and neglects the jobber, whose lost time in no way hurts the entrepreneur. If some unproductive piece of work crops up, he imposes it on the jobber; and it is always the jobber that he satisfies last, enclosing him in the exigencies of a finished task without any concern for the hours and pains he expends on it.”
Btw This is how you look like? I'm sure everybody already tells you all the time, but you're a dead ringer for David McComb
Thanks! Yeah, a couple of years before I started serially self-publishing, back in my thirties when I could still wear contacts. And nah; I've heard Ralph Fiennes, and some heavy metal singers I don't know, and (for schnozzola alone) Pete Townshend, but never David McComb.
|. . . 2013-07-22|
Karen Joy Fowler : Ever since I came into the field, there have been long discussions, sometimes in my presence, sometimes not, over whether I belong or not, with heartfelt decisions on both sides. And I'm happy to be here, so.... Often people ask me do I think I write science fiction, or do I think I write fantasy. In my heart, I think that's not my job to answer that question. So mostly I try to determine which answer is going to piss the person who's asked me off less. If you tell me I don't, I won't argue with you, and if you tell me I do, I won't argue with you. I do feel strongly, however, that whatever it is I am writing, the kind of audience I'm writing it for is the science fiction audience. It's a kind of reader that I see more inside the field than outside it, a reader who likes a challenge, a reader who likes to solve puzzles and problems, a very engaged reader. And so the most honest answer I can give is I don't know if I write science fiction or fantasy, but I'm writing for science fiction and fantasy readers.- from "The Coode Street Podcast" Episode 94,
hosted by Jonathan Stahan & Gary K. Wolfe
|. . . 2013-07-28|
Movies which convincingly capture — well, capture's too intent a word: conviction requires contingency; let's instead say catch, as one might catch a cold while trying to catch the train. Aside from any other goals, met or unmet, movies which convincingly catch a sense of place (early novelties, silent ethnographies, human-interest newsreels, home movies, low-budget ’70s exploitation) always convey the sorrow of time irretrievable, narratives interrupted, the ever-mounting and finally unpayable cost of the contingency we're watching.
Fruitvale Station convincingly catches a sense of place.
So... should I see it? Or watch more avant-garde Eastern European flicks instead? (And then write essays for MUBI about them.)
Oh, you should see it. Pretend it's in Daco-Romanian and you'll even be able to write an essay for MUBI.
|. . . 2013-08-03|
A rare interview with Banksy
The funniest bit was Shepard Fairey accusing some guy of being a no-talent self-promoter.
|. . . 2013-08-18|
For the first time in thirty years I live in a neighborhood nobody calls "dicey," so it makes perfect sense that we've been burgled twice.
|. . . 2013-08-19|
As a life-long autodidact with no knack for lecture-hall learning, I of course continue to welcome any aid offered my more-or-less beleaguered people. But I can't help but think of the many more, and possibly more-more-and-less-less beleaguered, allodidacts I've known, and can't help but reflect that the attention being poured into MOOCdom might be more effectively and sustainably directed towards expansion of public libraries and the public domain.
"More effectively" by number of autodidacts aided, that is; perhaps not so effective at funneling public funds into private corporations and academic funds into software development.
|. . . 2013-10-05|
“Article One. No individual of any rank or condition may in future lend or borrow books except within his own family, and this privilege will extend in direct line only to the third generation, and collaterally only to the first cousin once removed, known also as a Breton cousin or cousin-germain; the penalty is a fine of five hundred livres, payable to the author of said book.
“Article Two. His Majesty forbids all lackeys, waiting-women, coachmen, kitchen-maids, scullions, chefs, and cooks to lend each other the books of their respective masters, and even more strongly does he proscribe their carrying these books without asking permission from one house to the next: and this, under pain of a year’s wages. And anyone who cannot pay this fine, should be branded on the left ear with the letters ‘L.O.B.,’ Lender Of Books; and then whipped at the doorstep of every bookseller in town.
“Article Three. His Majesty nevertheless permits his subjects to petition the Permanent Secretary of his Academy for a dispensation to buy and to read aloud books in private rooms, although not to carry these books away with them; the said Permanent Secretary will issue this permit in the form of a bull for a given number of years, or for life.
“Article Four. The Permanent Secretary shall be authorized to sell this bull at the same prices as a Crusade Bull, and to excommunicate from literature any person who does not make such a purchase once in a lifetime; without such excommunications affecting those made by bishops and curates within the kingdom.
“Articles Five and Six … up to 100,000, as the Minister may wish; His Majesty ordains that the present decree be registered in every literary Academy and society within the kingdom, and posted where necessary. Done in the Council of State, in His Majesty’s presence, at …”
While awaiting the government’s issuance of this decree or one like it, I have devised a way to end the swindle. My solution is to have this book bound in calfskin, with gilt edges, and forbid my bookseller to sell stitched brochure copies; and thus, on my own authority, plenary power, and positive science, I forbid the aforesaid *** to sell my work in loose pages, in boards, or stitched in marble paper or even sewn in blue, on pain of being denounced to posterity and my contemporaries as a pirate and thief: all this, for the very first work I produce. Ha! Ha! …
Your impatience is growing by leaps and bounds, but I had every right to take care of my own interests, before satisfying yours: every man for himself. No — I refuse to be a martyr to foolish impartiality, neglecting my own affairs. I admit I chat a bit about myself: but where do you find an author who forgets himself in his work? Mine is the contemporary style.
- from “Chapter Thirteen: Various Projects Highly Important to the Public Weal”
of The Bohemians, written in the Bastille between 1784 and 1788
by Anne Gédéon Lafitte, Marquis de Pelleport,
& convincingly translated by Vivian Folkenflik in 2010
|. . . 2013-10-20|
|. . . 2013-10-29|
The lyric is
In a sense, this three-word capitalized line is even more of a shuck than Zukofsky's sentence-cased fiver: Zukofsky crams in hyphenated compounds; Friedlander hyphenates at will over line breaks.
But regular lineation which intensifies semantic and sensual effects must fit some sense of poetic meter, and in that sense Friedlander improves on his inspiration. (As Friedlander himself demonstrated before the book was finalized.) A line cut to the beat or the rhyme, or prose broken at emotional paragraphs, lets my eye, ear, and consciousness coast: I see the corner and what I sense in the walk is my target. Here, to slacken is to jump the track. The abrupt stops and noisy starts force focus to stretch the length of the lyric. I need to sound out the sentences to make them cohere.
And they always cohere. (One of the few obscurities was revealed as ekphrastic by a photo posted to Facebook. No things but with ideas.) Friedlander keeps his bow tightly strung between speech and music, never ascending to noise or nonsense. A game without stakes is not his game; neither is grabbing the pot and diving for the door.
Zukofsky came of age while Pound and Eliot were in full strut; Friedlander in the Language-era Bay Area, and, among other things, One Hundred Etudes studies his contemporaries. Aside from some readymades and conceptual stunts, hilo-brow punning is the tonic note; the anti-paratactic pointedness and concision are Friedlander's own — even more concise and aphoristic than Mark Scroggins's arithmetic suggests, since several individually numbered etudes are sequences of separately titled pieces. (Number Twenty-Six, for example, is an abecedarian arrangement of twenty-six sentences "for Ron Silliman"; number Thirty is a set of thirty tiny lyrics "for Robert Creeley.")
The effect is sharp but weighty, determined in multiple senses. Friedlander worked on One Hundred Etudes through the 2000s, when our country flipped out of its slowly descending handbasket into pure plunge. And this to date is my favorite poetic response: no inane pronouncements, just expression, expeller pressed.
Proper packaging, too: 6" x 4.5" x 1," a small sturdy block ready for incision. Or a Little Big Book, ready to be stuffed in a stocking or dropped in an acknowledged legislator's jacket pocket.
|. . . before . . .||. . . after . . .|
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2013 Ray Davis.