Bellona Times
The Modern Jonah
. . . Topics . . .   . . . Annals/Logs . . .
Search for word or phrase:
Responses welcomed
. . .

Our Motto

There is no snare more dangerous to busy and excursive minds than the cobwebs of petty inquisitiveness, which entangle them in trivial employments and minute studies, and detain them in a middle state between the tediousness of total inactivity and the fatigue of laborious efforts, enchant them at once with ease and novelty, and vitiate them with the luxury of learning.
- Samuel Johnson, Rambler 103

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

"So Round So Firm So Fully Packed" by Merle Travis, as performed by Johnny Bond & his Red River Valley Boys, 1947

So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal
So complete from front to back
That's my gal
Toasted by the sun
And I'm a son of a gun
If she don't make my five-o'-clock shadow
Come around at one

You can bet your boots I'd walk a mile
Through the snow
Just to see that toothpaste smile
They mention on the radio
If you don't think she's a lot of fun
Just ask the man who owns one
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal

So round, so firm, so fully packed
She's for me
She's just like a money back
Like the barfly goes for drink
Like the bobbysocks go for Frank
And just like Jesse James would go
For money in the bank
Now she's so sweet and perfect-size
She's a whiz
But she wears a 45
(Gun, that is)
She's got the looks that's so impressing
She's got the pause that's so refreshing
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal

She always hits the spot
Like a twelve-ounce bottle of pop
And when she smiles I go so wild
I pert near blow my top
Now she's got lots of looks to spare
She's for me
And that certain ring she wears
Is a lifetime guarantee
She's done told me I'm top hand
Won't be long till she wears my brand
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal
Spanked with a foxtail brush
Corporation disciplines consumer with the foxtail brush of advertising

For a hundred years or so, Americans have explored the ambiguous frontiers of self-definition, forcing the world at gunpoint to join our exciting journey.

Of course I'm not talking about sea-froth like "gender play," or "virtual avatars," or "community." No, I mean the ambiguity so central they put it in the name: incorporation, the profit imperative made better-than-flesh and sent to earth to redeem humanity (value 5¢ ME CT VT MA NY). Which, with recent "trade" agreements, has become the global equivalent of the medieval European Church: a spiritual authority that trumps all local secular rule.

We simple consumers have come to terms with the inescapable as we always have, with our own small attempts at incorporation. We swear allegiance to our patron brands, pin their badges to our clothes, draw our commonplaces from their testaments, collect their relics, and blaspheme at leisure.

I witnessed one notch-click on the pendulum-blade of progress in the 1980s, when, after years of viewing paid celebrity endorsements, American youth volunteered life-service in the sandwich boards free of charge. (For some reason, blanketing the family Volvo NASCAR-style never took off the same way.) I'm a transitional type, myself: although I still unstitch the leatherette patches from Levis, I was perfectly willing to advertise nostalgically "aesthetic" corporate products.

A generation earlier, Merle Travis took the path of Solomon, Hafiz, Meera Bai, and Teresa of Avila, merging sexual desire and spiritual quest in the limited stability of lyric.

It's human nature to bolster one unattainable yearning with another, although that rarely resolves the confusion at their hearts. Here, the singer praises his darling using the sacred vocabulary of sales, which seems to imply that he's selling her. And yet he also insists on her as his exclusive property.

The collector who claims copyright: a Raymond Rohauer of love.

. . .

Advertising Supplement

Jake Wilson resolves one old issue:

  I considered writing to you a couple of months ago when you were looking for sources of the Rotwang/Dr Strangelove archetype. I was going to suggest that one source might be the Poe tale The Man That Was Used Up, but then from your phrasing I wasn't sure if you'd already made that connection.

That damned phrasing stuff trips me up every time! I responded:

  That was, in fact, the grotesque that I vaguely thought might be Poe or (if post-Civil-War) Twain or even Crane. (When I browsed through Poe collections, I became distracted by "Maelzel's Chess-Player".)

And to balance things out, Jake Wilson introduces one new issue: Senses of Cinema No. 26, with excellent background on the Hong Kong woman warrior, a Stan Brakhage tribute appropriately split between formal and personal concerns, enticing overviews of Ned Kelly stories and Italian movies that I'd probably hate, a pointer to the near-future sf film None Shall Escape, and the usual much much more.

My other favorite web-based movie periodical, Bright Lights Film Journal, has also served up a fresh batch of fine reporting, reviews, and meditations. But would you think badly of me if I admitted that my favorite part was the Holly Woodlawn interview? 'Cause if you would, I admit nothing.

Elsewhere on the web, Dr. Justine Larbalestier has provided a preview of "A Buffy Confession," her spirited defense against (and equally spirited surrender to) nattering nay-Slayers. "For those who haven't seen the finale yet don't read the coda at the end."

And another of our favorite doctors, Josh Lukin, brings us the welcome news that paper-based periodical Paradoxa is finally unleashing FIFTIES FICTIONS: Chester Himes! Patricia Highsmith! E.C.! Richard Matheson! Samuel R. Delany! Judith Merril! People I don't even know! Get your order in early; you know how ephemeral paper-based periodicals are, and this looks like the best issue of Paradoxa yet. (I'd say "the best issue yet of any magazine ever," but I can't be sure till I track down a copy of that Vanity Fair with the picture of Tuesday Weld in the back. [Update: That Vanity Fair issue stunk.])

Yeah, I kid the academy (those nuts!), but when its component parts are given half a chance, the combination of publishing venues, deadlines, and job reviews can be mighty productive. Out here in the boonies, I've been blowing hot air about "doing something" on Highsmith for more than a dozen years; with sharp and decent folk like Lukin and Earl Jackson Jr. on the case, the world might live long enough to see some results.

. . .

"That is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye've time to know."

The proprieter of Everything Burns remarks on a compare-and-contrast opportunity:

I wonder if Don Marquis was familiar with Attar's The Conference of the Birds.
Attar's moth searches for understanding and truth; Marquis's moth craves beauty and excitement. The lovers' justifications differ but not their consummation.

Or would a more appropriate word be consumption? In post-archy America, as we noted a few days ago, enlightenment became available only to the purchaser of The Real Thing (just ask the man who owns one), the production of wanting something that badly became industry's chief concern, and now we'd say the moth has bought it.

. . .

Rethinking "Aye, and Gomorrah"

If the meaning of "A" is "B", then erasing all knowledge of "B" will render "A" meaningless. Relationships which exist primarily in sexual experiences seem empty and arbitrary if described without sexual descriptions.

As logic, that's trivial; but as a pretended paradox it drives entire narrative genres, including most advertising. The true well of loneliness isn't passion, but the inability to raise passion to the surface; the dare isn't love, but saying love's name.

"Aye, and Gomorrah" strikes at the root of the problem by making it explicit. The reason the story can't describe sex between frelks and spacers is that the spacers have no sex.

The usual ensues: frustration, despair, isolation, addiction.... But at least those results, finally, have been somewhat justified.

That solution reminds me of the early Vaughn Bodé cartoon whose last panel shows a hapless Bodé-lizard teary-eyed, realizing he's condemned to eternal horniness "'cause lizards got no genitalia."

It's pretty clearly a stop-gap solution, though. It wasn't long before Bodé-lizards (and even Bodé-robots) started sprouting cute little Bodé-equipment....

. . .


"again pondering time and date stamping. It seems such triviality but has a strong presence in the weblog." - nqpaofu
Speaking of ponderous, during an anti-PDF frenzy the other day, I gained some insight into the appeal of the permalink after my hapless audience pointed out that print-mimicry at least makes it easier to write proper academic citations....

It's understood well enough nowadays that web-browser-targeted writing and reading tends to steer us in a different direction than book-targeted, pulp-magazine-targeted, or glossy-journalism-targeted writing and reading. But the legacy voculabulary used to jerryrig this jalopy tends to veer us into the ditch.

If a website is a book, then a page would be... a page? Thus early punditry decreed a web page should be at most "one screen" long. As we also understand well enough these days, this was awful advice. The paper page and the HTML page only coincide for the publisher of short poems.

Weblogging fulfilled the promise of web self-publishing because it was the first form whose conventions directly supported the natural tendencies of web-browser-targeted writing and reading. Here, the web page is more of a "chapter" or a "topical discussion" than anything a prose writer might call a printed page.

Which makes the web page unsatisfactory both as bog paper and as a way to point to a more-or-less arbitrary manageably constrained span of source material in its original context.

Permalinks were accordingly welcomed as a natural replacement for the convention of page numbers. And I can't deny that we publish serially, or that references to serial publications generally include the date, or that a single-author serial publication generally won't release an unwieldy span of source material on a single day.

But, as Jouke indicates, there's something creepy about it. Dates carry connotations outside the realm of publishing, whereas I'm unlikely to feel a pang of remorse or nostalgia when someone mentions page 1062.

. . .


Floppsy Bunny Bag The Flopsy Bunnies dreamt that their mother was turning them over in bed. They stirred a little in their sleep, but still they did not wake up.

. . .

Record review

I like the new Lucinda Williams album. She sounds like Daniel Johnston.

. . .

Critics rave

One anonymous reader truncates:

This is a real good show to discover, said from a 1975 wearer of a single sneaker for the entire summer (Gerry greeted me at the civic auditorioum rock concert gathering by ripping the other off and flinging it 30 rows back; and I shrugged, just like the
Another corrects:
Well, we like those pangs of remorse or nostalgia associated with dates. We love to know where we were when. We always have. "Mmmm...lemme see...3 day old piss...mine?..yup. I was here 3 days ago. Hum, That twig wasn't there then. Or that strip mall."
And a third queries:
'most' 'much' 'some' 'some' 'some' - any chance of an official Kokonino ___structuralismist er wot Handlist?
.... fer just us kids startin' out.
As my kiss-off confessed, I'm not really any kind of an authority on the Er-Wot Nation, but the usual rock star rule seems to apply: young and hungry beats old and pampered.

. . .

"Political Arithmetick"

Daniel Defoe, Giving Alms No Charity:
"All the Labour of a Person who was Idle before, is so much clear Gain to the General Stock."
Lawrence Braddon:
"Every poor Briton, which shall be born alive, will be... more worth, to Great Britain, than Twenty Pounds in broad Gold...."
John Bellers:
"Supposing that there are Seven Millions of People in the Nation, and that one in Fourteen, either will not work, or that wants it; that is, Five Hundred Thousand Men, Women, and Children. And reckoning that they might Earn, one with another, Six-pence a Day, a Head, it comes to Twelve Thousand Five Hundred Pounds a Day; which is Seventy Five Thousand Pounds a Week. That makes Three Millions, Nine Hundred Thousand Pounds a Year, which the Nation loseth.

"To which add but Twelve-pence a Head, a Week, the Nation may be at Parish Rates, and other Gifts to the Poor, and it comes to One Million, Three Hundred Thousand Pounds a Year: Which Account in the whole, makes the Loss and Charge to the Nation to be FIVE MILLIONS, TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS A YEAR."

"Substance of a Proposal for the Employment of the Poor":
"60,000 children are maintained by rates in idleness.... If the labour of these children can upon an average be made to produce 3d. per day, reckoning 300 working days to the year, the annual savings in the poors rates only will amount to 225,000l. besides that 60,000 hands will be always at work in such low manufactures as foreigners are now paid for carrying on...."
Sir Henry Pollexfen:
"... the working people of England to be but four millions and that the labor of each person be valued at but 6d. per day, their work for one day amounts to one hundred thousand pounds: which for twenty-four days that they keep in a year more than the twenty-nine days observed by the Church of England amounts to two millions and four hundred thousand pounds sterling per annum which of itself is sufficient to... enrich the nation.

"Whether the many holidays now kept may not be a great load upon the nation may be considered; for if but 2 million of working people at 6d. a day comes to 500,000l. which upon due inquiry whence our riches must arise, will apear to be so much lost to the nation by every holiday that is kept."

Bernard Mandeville:
"In a free Nation where Slaves are not allow'd of, the surest Wealth consists in a Multitude of laborious Poor."
Time enough to kill is time enough to be convicted of possession with intent to deliver

The Anxieties of Idleness: Idleness in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture by Sarah Jordan

Sarah Jordan takes an apparently straightforward concept, notes the contradictions that it encased and obscured, and traces that obscurity's use in justifying the hypocrisy of oppressive systems and the pain of personal confusions. With one well-struck chisel-blow to one deep-winding fault, she enlightens.

In short, the old sweet song of 1970s feminist theory and Er-Wot.

Well, I'm still fond as ever of those three-chords-with-a-good-beat, and Jordan writes back to the garage in the good old sweet way: No proof by appeal to Francophone scripture. No self-swallowing-and-regurgitating prose. Just clear efficient deployment of primary sources, analytic intelligence, and bemused empathy.

Her conceptual reagent is "idleness"; the systems are those of English 18th-century class, gender, race, and colonialism; the personal confusions are those of Samuel Johnson and William Cowper.

And although it's a manageably thin (if unmanageably expensive) book, nothing I'm tempted to add would fall within its stated bounds.

But that would be now.

. . .

"Well, perhaps our Emperor is queer," admitted the servant

Jake Wilson, the perfect guest, chucks another prosthetic hand on the barbie:

Incidentally, the same trope appears in American literature circa 1900 as the origin myth of Nick Chopper, aka the Tin Woodman of Oz. As you might remember, Nick began as an ordinary woodcutter, but was so hamfisted that in the course of his work he accidentally sliced off his own body parts one by one. To make up for these losses he furnished himself with metal prostheses, till finally none of the original man was left. In one of the Oz sequels the Woodman holds conversations with both his own original 'meat' head, and a figure patched together Frankenstein-like from some of his discarded appendages along with those of another man. Adding insult to injury, the latter creature is married to Nick’s long-lost sweetheart (which sounds like a set-up for the kind of joke unsuitable in a children's book). L. Frank Baum excluded death from his utopia for fear of distressing his readership, but while personally as a child I could stand any amount of fictional bloodshed, for years I was haunted by this graphic presentation of the mind/body conundrum.

. . .

Mr. Belvedere Conquers the Universe

Knowing my depraved tastes, Dr. Justine Larbalestier points to a superb example of characterization by voice. As one might intuit from John C. Wright's critical recommendations --

I have also filched concepts and terms unashamedly from David Zindell, Poul Anderson, Homer, and Greg Bear. Anyone who likes my work, please read the men I am impersonating. They are giants.
-- his professional fiction is just as affect-deaf:
This comment verged on insult. Phaethon replied hotly: "Or perhaps the tissue merely protects them from irritants, good sir!"

"Hah! So the puppy has teeth after all, eh? Have I irked you, then? This is Art also!"

When I was eight years old I wanted to be this guy, which is why you never see me mooning over the magic of childhood.

In contrast, despite a lifetime in a more insular genre, and a recent stroke, David Bromige still manages to shine his little Lubitsch light, if only long enough to spark a joint:

Let the rich bury the rich. All I can do is destroy their language.

. . .

A Novel of Thanks a Bunch

Before the communicable diseases of friendship faded, friendship faded.

. . .

The Blunderer (via GoryDetails)

What can be learned from Emmanuel Carrère's obtuse telling of a story that combines elements of Edith's Diary, This Sweet Sickness, A Suspension of Mercy, People Who Knock on the Door, and the Ripley novels?

A renewed appreciation of Patricia Highsmith's maligned, malignant prose.

That amour-propre is the enemy of artifact.

That introspection with one eye kept on the public is unlikely to lead anywhere.

That human opacity is not clarified by polish.

Not even spray-on Lemon Pledge.

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

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