Invisible Suburbs, ed. Josh Lukin
pseudopodium
. . .

Josh Lukin, August 18 1968 - July 25 2019

... a man of infinite patience and compassion, awesome learning, immense honesty, and almost grating humility, he represents to me the peak of what a scholar can be.
- from "Acknowledgments" in "A Literature of Suspicion: Critiques of 1950s Ideals in the American Roman Noir," a dissertation by Joshua Benjamin Lukin, 2003

Dick Macksey was the role model Josh mentioned most often to me, with H. Bruce Franklin a close second. I suppose what makes us think of someone as a "role model" or a "mentor" rather than simply "admirable" is validation-by-example of an ethos we would like to share once we've been assured that it's possible. And for those who succeed, descriptions of one's role model can conveniently be repurposed by others as a self-portrait.

Josh successfully lived as if the greatest of scholarly virtues, the primary impetus and guide which could not be sacrificed to convenience or time, was generosity. I'm told there are few higher-education jobs more draining than repeated first-year composition classes in an un-Ivied urban university, but year after year he gave his all to students. Almost half the longer pieces in his publications CV consist of interviews with non-canonical authors (and Josh Lukin was the Ernest Haller of interviewers). One of his two book credits comes from editing a collection of next-to-forgotten work from a writer better known as a mathematician; for the other, he edited a collection of essays about undercelebrated writings from an undercelebrated age. If he'd only labored over some first-time-into-English translations, he would have bullseyed every bullet point on the "Valuable Scholarly Work Which Will Not Advance Your Career" slide.

The virtue of "generosity" covers a wide and sometimes conflicting range, and its expressions are shaped by opportunity and need. (To put it more bluntly, Josh Lukin could not have handed anyone his first edition copy of Tristram Shandy although he could and did provide a year's worth of very welcome Donald Westlake recommendations.) In Josh's scholarly home turf of American studies (most often non-mainstream fiction, most often mid-20th-century), his characteristic expression turned away from both a Hermeneutics of Suspicion directed at naive-yet-safely-canonical Literature and the quietist or martial celebration of received wisdom, to demonstrate a Hermeneutics of Recovery and Acknowledgment which let suspicious Literature handle the Suspicion.

More broadly, he worked (and played) to break through the gated solipsism of those who conform to the hegemony du jour and the solitary confinement of those whose experiences or very existence have been denied:

But the taking of sides is not always the point: some of [Chandler] Davis's stories and essays rely on poetic force to evoke the understanding that to put it in propositional form “This state of feeling, or sequence of feelings, is possible and even common.’ A criterion for artistry and for radicalism in such a tactic is whether the statement is necessary and unusual: the pedagogy of feeling to which we are subjected every day by the clichéd and conservative discourse around us does not need more literature to reinforce it. Andrea Hairston has written, “Repetition is meaning. What we hear endlessly, goes without saying—is learned.” We need the tools to unlearn it, or to find affirmation of what we rarely hear validated; but we aren’t blessed with authoritative guides or methods for determining where poetic truth appears, or what manifestations of poetically shared feeling “further our understanding of ourselves and our society.” We must fall back upon our own rational faculties and our own moral imagination, with curiosity and compassion fueling our drive to connect with others.
- "Afterword: Alternatives to Reverence" from It Walks in Beautry
What artists, educators, performers, and historians can do for such movements is establish connections and continuities. If the hegemonic discourse reproduces itself by telling people with dissenting ideas that they are ridiculous, unhip, criminal, isolated, or mad, then any indication that they might be reasonable, aware, just, sane, and possessed of views that are shared by other people or were validated in other eras can help to build courage and conviction. Documenting what happens when shame is used as a mode of social control, when men are limited to a small repertoire of stereotypical roles, and when class is conflated with personal worth, the Literature of Suspicion can tell a receptive reader that a life such as his has been noticed or that her own suspicions that the dominant order's claims are false have been shared.
- "A Literature of Suspicion: Critiques of 1950s Ideals in the American Roman Noir"
Although I will in the remainder of this essay speak of having recognized familiar experiences in literature, I actually tend to feel that the text has recognized me rather than the reverse. And in being so recognized, I get, paradoxically, assured that responding, or having responded, with shame (or indeed with other intense affects) to past or ongoing experiences may not in fact be shameful.
- "Science Fiction, Affect, and Crip Self-Invention Or, How Philip K. Dick Made Me Disabled"

To my suggestion that Josh go public with his particularly acute critique of a then-trendy bit of poisonous rhetoric:

But right now, getting X *more* talked-about seems to me to be as desirable as a fistula (Asking Delany for his thoughts on the guy was a strategy for getting more Delanyan thinking into the world, not more reflections on X per se). You know me --I wunna call attention to as-yet insufficiently celebrated scholarship (among which I count Hoberek's book) or promote the creation of critical work that circumnavigates the Usual Cliches. Or, you know, get more sleep.
- correspondence, 2005
What's at stake here for me is that I would kind of like to say "These authors I have interviewed provide us with tools to rebut, or see through, or assert our dignity in the face of, or ignore, the toxic fantasies of X, Y, and Z" 'cause one is supposed to have a theory as to what theme holds one's work together. I hope my argument ends up having advantages beyond the fact that I know about irony. I'll have to engage Landy's "Nation of Bovarys," I guess; but surely we all see our own insufficiencies and plunge into bovarysm in order to escape the condemnation which, deep in our consciousness, we are the first and perhaps the only ones to make.
- correspondence, 2011

* * *

Present-day curators of American higher education in America set high value on "generosity" among the donor class but otherwise maybe not so much, and the freshly doctorated Josh Lukin duly became a contingent employee with a teaching load which discouraged extended research, writing, or publisher stalking. Chronically short on time, and showing caution appropriate to the academic precariat (as well as caution appropriate to the reader of Patricia Highsmith), Josh reduced his weblog to un-Waybacakble ash long ago, and kept his Facebook account on lockdown more often than not. His latter-day academic publications include book reviews, reference-book entries, and a few historically-informed pedagogically-slanted close readings. All of them excellent jobs; all of them informative, convincing, and true to his own values. At least one of the reference entries has won an impressive citation list in its own right.

But such material requires some fading-into-the-background, and few hold much of Lukin's distinctive voice.

Most obviously (and understandably) missing are the puns. Josh perceived a world of whirling nimbuses of potential pun, where a quiver of displacement might at any moment discharge a cackling flash too loud and bright to ignore.

Then there was his affection for a mostly-vanished mode of mid-century secular American Jewishness; in one phone conversation with Josh, I would hear more Yiddish than from my year in Brooklyn. Like other drops from approved diction into "down home" idioms, it played a tutoyer role, and as such sometimes made a guest appearance in his interviews.

Most crucially, his academic publications muted the unique virtue of his wit, which somehow contrived to be engagingly genial even when furious or despairing. When he stung, he left a sting worth attending. You might gather some notion from his Chandler Davis afterword, and "Science Fiction, Affect, and Crip Self-Invention," and, less formally, from his Aqueduct Press self-bio. Although his dissertation is officially unpublished and (like virtually all contemporary literary-studies dissertations) modularized for easy cannibalization, and has in fact been partly cannibalized, it also coheres and builds, which makes me suspect that extended Lukin may be the best Lukin.

For that reason, I've kept close and frustrated track of the book-length projects he's mentioned over the years: a collection of his "interviews with feminist authors"; "Noir Recognitions, a study of identity in the 1950s novels of Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, and Philip Dick"; and, most intriguingly, "an unpublished draft of a memoir (Urgency: Growing Up with Crohn’s Disease)." Maybe someday, someday... well, a fan-boy can dream, can't he?

* * *

The Josh Lukin I knew was deeper, wider, and funnier than the academically-published Dr. Joshua B. Lukin, but still not quite Josh complet. I know from hearsay that he, like me, loved to eat, loved face-to-face conversation, and exhibited a disconcerting tendency to burst into song (myself in chants which echo Michael Hordern's, Josh [I imagine] in a Melchiorisch heldentenor accompanied by Segovian guitar). But residing 2800 miles apart and on very different career tracks, we (and Ann Keefer, his partner in all things) met only once in the flesh (being flesh, we of course immediately dined), and the late hours of our phone calls discouraged outbursts which might startle sleepy cats.

Still, it was Josh Lukin enough to fill a satisfying portion of my life. Long after the bulk of free-and-direct discourse retreated from the spooky public sphere into Mark'n'Jack's ClickLike Clubhouse, he continued to engage with an uncredentialed unknown non-academic who (true to form) could not conceivably advance anyone's career a whit. For sixteen years, through mutually inflicted bafflements, bruisings, and boosts, he was my most reliable correspondent, and for sixteen years he instigated my most extended and educational phone calls, frequently punctuated by his signature placeholder, "What, can, I, say...," intoned with the delighted perplexity of a sated gourmet faced by another platter of amuse-bouches. Despite being given the advantage of a four-hour time difference, I'm such an early-rising geezer I sometimes found myself unable to even take notes during the last part of these calls, and wished I'd asked permission to record them for later listening.

(Timmi Duchamp maintained an even longer and closer epistolary/telephonic friendship. I wonder how many more of us are out there?)

Josh always suffered from greater or even-greater health problems, and they worsened this year, interfering not only with his work but with his and Ann's preparations to relocate. In mid-July he phoned to tell me that diagnostic progress had finally been made and a biopsy had been scheduled, and he figured I might be able to say something more than "We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers." I did so; he did so; we enjoyed ourselves but grew fatigued, as a sleepy old guy and a mortally ill guy will. Before we hung up I asked him to phone me again next week with the results of his biopsy, then thoughtlessly added, "We'll be thinking of you." I quickly apologized for violating our contract, at which he just as quickly chortled, "Like Oscar Wilde said, heh, the only thing worse than being thought about is not being thought about."

I didn't hear back from him the next week but wasn't surprised no matter what course of treatment he was prescribed, he and Ann would also be busy with the move.

Early on Sunday morning, July 28, I saw an obituary for Richard Macksey in the Washington Post, and sent a short email to Josh expressing condolences and asking about the biopsy. Late on Sunday night, I realized it had been a while since I checked on Facebook inhabitants, briefly logged in, and found that Josh had died two nights before.

He would've mocked my sentimentality with relish (with mustard, even), but Josh meant the world to me I know he did because the ground beneath me vanished when I read the news and free-fall makes me clingy. I hope this Sondheim number is sardonic enough to pass muster (and the mustard) with his memory.

. . .

Maxwell's Noodge

Much light may be thrown on some of these questions by the consideration of stability and instability. When the state of things is such that an infinitely small variation of the present state will alter only by an infinitely small quantity the state at some future time, the condition of the system, whether at rest or in motion, is said to be stable; but when an infinitely small variation in the present state may bring about a finite difference in the state of the system in a finite time, the condition of the system is said to be unstable.

It is manifest that the existence of unstable conditions renders impossible the prediction of future events, if our knowledge of the present state is only approximate, and not accurate.

It has been well pointed out by Professor Balfour Stewart that physical stability is the characteristic of those systems from the contemplation of which determinists draw their arguments, and physical stability that of those living bodies, and moral instability that of those developable souls, which furnish to consciousness the conviction of free will.

Having thus pointed out some of the relations of physical science to the question, we are the better prepared to inquire what is meant by determination and what by free will.

No one, I suppose, would assign to free will a more than infinitesimal range. No leopard can change his spots, nor can any one by merely wishing it, or, as some say, willing it, introduce discontinuity into his course of existence. Our free will at the best is like that of Lucretius's atoms,—which at quite uncertain times and places deviate in an uncertain manner from their course. In the course of this our mortal life we more or less frequently find ourselves on a physical or moral watershed, where an imperceptible deviation is sufficient to determine into which of two valleys we shall descend. The doctrine of free will asserts that in some such cases the Ego alone is the determining cause. The doctrine of Determinism asserts that in every case, without exception, the result is determined by the previous conditions of the subject, whether bodily or mental, and that Ego is mistaken in supposing himself in any way the cause of the actual result, as both what he is pleased to call decisions and the resultant action are corresponding events due to the same fixed laws. Now, when we speak of causes and effects, we always imply some person who knows the causes and deduces the effects. Who is this person? Is he a man, or is he the Deity?

If he is man,—that is to say, a person who can make observations with a certain finite degree of accuracy,—we have seen that it is only in certain cases that he can predict results with even approximate correctness.

If he is the Deity, I object to any argument founded on a supposed acquaintance with the conditions of Divine foreknowledge.

[...] But singular points are by their very nature isolated, and form no appreciable fraction of the continuous course of our existence. Hence predictions of human conduct may be made in many cases. First, with respect to those who have no character at all, especially when considered in crowds, after the statistical method. Second, with respect to individuals of confirmed character, with respect to actions of the kind for which their character is confirmed.

If, therefore, those cultivators of physical science from whom the intelligent public deduce their conception of the physicist, and whose style is recognised as marking with a scientific stamp the doctrines they promulgate, are led in pursuit of the arcane of science to the study of the singularities and instabilities, rather than the continuities and stabilities of things, the promotion of natural knowledge may tend to remove that prejudice in favour of determinism which seems to arise from assuming that the physical science of the future is a mere magnified image of that of the past.

- from "Does the progress of Physical Science tend to give any advantage to the opinion of Necessity (or Determinism) over that of the Contingency of Events and the Freedom of the Will?" as delivered by James Clerk Maxwell to the Eranus Society at Cambridge on 11th February 1873

My preferred analogy for the power of conscious agency is a single voter in a US presidential election, but I guess that wouldn't work in the U.K.

. . .

Twenty Years of Hot One-on-One Action cum grano salis

The first photograph showed a naked ameba, fat and replete with food vacuoles, splashing lazily and formlessly at the bottom of a metal tank in the completely relaxed state that precedes reproducing.

The second was like the first, except that a trickle of salt water had begun down one side of the tank and a few pseudopods had lifted toward it inquiringly. To leave nothing to the imagination, a sketch of the sodium chloride molecule had been superimposed on the upper right corner of the photograph.

In the third picture, the Gtetan was ecstatically awash in the saline solution, its body distended to maximum, dozens of pseudopods thrust out, throbbing. Most of the chromatin had become concentrated in chromosomes about the equator of the nucleus. To an ameba, this was easily the most exciting photograph in the collection.

- from "Party of the Two Parts" by William Tenn (AKA Philip Klass)

* * *

Gosh, I like the Internet: Mr. Waggish surveys the past twenty years from a different vantage point (and incidentally alerts us to two new translations of the Musil work I reread most often). Jessie Ferguson shares lovingly bitter gleanings from a twenty-year gaze into Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina. Two Dutch translators present a convincingly anti-scholarly argument for a revised Finnegans Wake (which was published eight years later, very affordably, by Oxford). My favorite institutionally-funded "blogs" (nasty jargon for "weblogs," which one would have thought nasty-jargon enough as is) compare swallows and strangles among Ibsen translators. At the Public Domain Review, Jé Wilson relates the long history of French male delight in female decapitation and skull-hammering. Justin E. H. Smith considers the beaver. The Neurocritic triggers a bloom of cognitive sparks. Matt Cheney knocks around one of those west/burst years. Michael Peverett hits the road and British rails with Paul Simon and Terrance Hayes. ("America" is one of the three Paul Simon songs I like, but it always embarrasses me too. Puerility well-conveyed remains puerile. [PULL IN YOUR HEAD - WE'RE COMING TO A MISE EN ABYME])

* * *

Big business monkeys: Hoping to get lucrative stock options from a computer science degree is like hoping to get rich parents from an M.B.A.

* * *

A Valediction of his carbon footprint

Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
Whoe’er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other’s death.

* * *

Our Motto: If you build it, they will route the highway around it.

* * *

In production: Leopold & Loeb: The Birth of Modernist Epic from the Classicism of Amateurs

* * *

She's only a bird in a feathered cage.

* * *

Theme from The Vanishing

He was a grave digger
One way passage, oh
It took me so long
To find out
But I found out

(The best story in the anthology which published my first story was a "don't believe in Beatles" affair. I guess that's not very interesting but at least the story was.)

* * *

Errata

Sir,

Your link to "I buried Paul" on pseudopodium.org on your "Bobbettes" page of 2003/04/28 must be changed to the official site for Paul and Jane Bowles as the site janebowles.com is NOT accurate and does not have the endorsement of the official site, www.paulbowles.org which also serves as the official Jane Bowles site. The janebowles.com site is but one of numerous domains bought up by an English couple who never even wanted to meet Bowles during the 20 years they have visited Morocco. No one who knew the Bowleses personally, nor any other authoritative site, links to janebowles.com

Thank you for changing this to www.paulbowles.org, which was established by the literary and musical heirs of the estate of Paul Bowles.

Best wishes,
administrator and webmaster for paulbowles.org

We regret any inconvenience.

* * *

Bah-lue Moan-dei Ur-rah-tah: Reggie Hall says Perry Mason sold shoelaces. But that's not so. He sold Sweetheart Soap.

* * *

I've at least ensured that my wasted life was no great loss. If 'tweren't done, 'tweren't best done cheaply.

* * *

Critics rave

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