'Eccentric, eh?' 'Or could it be silly, eh?'
. . .

He could play guitar like ringing a bell

Even during live stretches, Television's guitars seemed more sing-the-damn-song than look-ma-I'm-expressing-myself. But I wonder if Tom Verlaine moved away from extended solos partly to avoid the misunderstanding.

... just a bunch of cats who didn't know how to improvise playing scales basically ...
Lester Bangs

Odd for a Troggs fan, but Bangs made the same mistake here as Shaw made on Shakes. Although their structures may seem arbitrary or trite, those plots are just to grab the groundlings. The poetry's in the timbre of the lines.


It only took me four clicks from the Bangs quote to find out Bob Quine was dead. What a brave new world we live in when bad news bleeds over via free association. Renfrew.

+ + +

A more ambitious analysis: Matt Wall on Get Happy!!! I don't know if Matt's right, but he got me listening to Elvis Costello for the first time in years, and I know that can't be wrong.


"at 25 and 26 and 27, when you are faced with the choice of dying before you get old and moving into the great unknown of middle age, is the correct attitude to take." Literate wanking. At that age if you had the soul and the balls you were already so fully into it middle-age was entirely an abstract thing, like reincarnation, like having lived in 15th century Florence as a gopher for some Medici sub-family. I was listening up til then, but it just became animated chemistry so I stopped and came back here.

My own reaction to that line was "27 isn't middle age?" But then I remembered that there's a sliding scale at work here. Someone who can't afford to finish high school will start middle age earlier than someone who goes for a Ph.D., and successful pop musicians probably outlast even the Ph.D. As for being animated chemistry hey, man, who isn't?

. . .

Do you think that you could make it with Frankenstein?

A question at the end of one of Jeff VanderMeer's recent posts has been nagging at me -- "Do writers of experimental fiction need to prove they can tell a good story before they start experimenting?"
- Mumpsimus

Conclusions elude us. It could be there are none to be drawn without distortion.

  1. The laws are ambiguous and the judges are prejudiced.

    Matthew Cheney and I both seek out the tang of the unexpected problem; we welcome obstacle. And so, faced with increased experimentation, we're likely to tilt our camera eye to make a narrative of progress where others may tilt a decline. Whenever Joyce published, he lost a former supporter. Gardner Dorzois, among others, regrets the "squandered promise" of Samuel R. Delany's maturity. And I'm sure there are some who wish M. John Harrison had never put Viriconium through its literary retcon.

  2. Outside a historical context, terms like "craft", "good story", and "experimental" are little more than Whiggish fertilizer.

    Nothing I've read in the past few years can compare with the experimentation of Tom Jones or Wurthering Heights, but we don't see Mark Amerika giving them props. Me, I don't think Beckett ever again wrote anything as brain-droppingly new as Watt; I think of his last thiry years as laying down a very good groove and think of John Barth's later career as safe shtick. Make Barth as hard to find as Barbara Comyns or Bob Brown and I'll reconsider.

  3. It's chancy to generalize about particularities.

    Was Orlando more or less experimental than To the Lighthouse? How about positioned between To the Lighthouse and The Waves?

    Flaubert started out with wildly uncontrolled blurts of fantasy. Were those stabs in the murk less or more experimental than Madame Bovary? Was Salammbo less experimental than The Temptation of St. Anthony? Bouvard & Pécuchet?

  4. What seems blandly normal or tediously artificial to the reader may have been a coltish celebration of new skills for the author.

    If Melville chafed against the limitations of the autobiographical sea story while writing Typee, it doesn't show. The sincerity of Modernist poets' juvenilia is hardly its besetting problem.

  5. In conscious transitions from "expected" to "peculiar", what matters may be the sheepskin, not the education.

    That is, the trigger is being granted permission to experiment, either from the publishing industry or oneself. If you write to make a living, there may not be much of a distinction. The Glass Key wouldn't have been Hammett's first publication, if only because he couldn't have afforded it.

    The most startling such transformation I've personally witnessed was at Clarion 1993, when a workshop member who'd slaved over unconvincing Analog filler realized that such an apprenticeship wasn't required, and suddenly began producing beautifully polished and balanced works of ambiguous speculation. (Like most good artists, he seems to have eventually decided that artmaking wasn't worth the effort, but that doesn't dim the thrill of witness.)


Discussion continues at Mumpsimus, at Reading Experience (with a clumsy, verbose response of my own), and at Splinters.

And does Dan Green's hospitality know no limits?— still more at the Reading Experience.

Update: Dan weeded and discarded his initial post in 2006. Here was my comment at the time:

I'm prone to note resemblances, which is fine, but then rhetoric sometimes tempts me to go too far. So I might talk about a "tradition" of presumptious lyric, and in that jumble together some unaristocratic Tudors, some Restoration satirists, Keats, the Objectivists, the New York School, and Language poets. I suppose somewhat the same impulse determines Oxonian anthologies and encourages such after-the-fact categories as film noir, nationalist canons across the world, and women's writing.

In your brief overview of "experimental writing," there's a temporal gap between "Tristam Shandy" and James Joyce's career. Do any books fit in there? I ask partly because I think I'd like them, and partly because explicit experimentation *as a tradition* would seem to require a firmly established norm, and I'm not sure when the particular narrative conventions being fought became firmly established, or how long it took before insurgent tactics became narrative conventions in their own right.

I also wonder about the conceptual gap between a single book and a career. "Tristram Shandy" stays just as wonderful but becomes slightly less startling positioned between the "Sermons of Mr. Yorick" and "A Sentimental Journey"; Sterne-as-career becomes slightly less startling positioned between the polyphonic digressions of sixteenth and seventeenth century English fiction and the sentimental, didactic, and political novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Even before an "oppositional" tactic becomes group property, it may be a personal habit. Is a writer who attempts something drastically new in each new publication only as "experimentalist" (to use Steve Mitchelmore's word) as a writer who challenges narrative convention the same way every time? (I'm not denigrating the latter, by the way; I believe in the power of the groove.)

Conversely, early Joyceans proved that it was easy to miss the formal ambitions of "Dubliners" and "Portrait" without "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" to foment suspicion. One might read "Moby Dick" as a (failed) conventional narrative, but can one say the same of "The Confidence Man"? 150 years after "Madame Bovary", we might take it as conventional, but I believe Kenner is right to draw Joyce's artistic ambitions directly from Flaubert: "A Simple Story" to "Dubliners", "Sentimental Education" to "Portrait", "Temptation of St. Anthony" to the later episodes of "Ulysses", "Bouvard and Pecuchet" to Leopold Bloom -- and, on a different trail, to Beckett's "Mercier and Camier".

And there's that final gap between the isolated heroic figures of the modern canon and a contemporary American school of writers who share some publishers, make livings in academia, and swap blurbs, bridged by the pulp-sprung and compulsive Burroughs.

Well, I'm afraid all this gap-minding sounds both more detached and more combative than my feelings justify. You yourself call it a "pragmatic" distinction. I suppose my uneasiness truly comes down to worrying just what use our pragmatisms get put to. Provisional categorization can work as a portal of discovery. (Jerome McGann's championing William Morris as the first Modernist is a delightful example of what can be done with hindsight genre.) But windows require walls, and human beings do seem to love their wall-building. Once we have our categories up, it may be hard see around them. If I'm not mistaken, a similar uneasiness stirred your "Don't Change" entry of September 22.

I suppose I sound as if I'm trying to eradicate distinctions, when what I'd like is to make them finer.

. . .

"Rhyme: An Unfinished Monograph" by Hugh Kenner

(Abstracted from Common Knowledge, August 2004, Volume 10, Issue 3)

The Romance languages are romantic because love rhymes with heart rhymes with flower.

The English language is English because love rhymes with shove and heart rhymes with fart and flower rhymes with power.


Domenic Salotti rightly protests:

The above doesn't apply to Spanish. Love (amor) and flower (flor) do not rhyme with heart (corazon). Heart rhymes with sound (son) and teasel (cordon).

Incidentally, in Italian power (potere) rhymes with flower (fiore), love (amore), heart (cuore). Also, king (re).

Love rhymes with dove, and above. Heart with start, which isn't great but it's better than fart. Flower has shower, tower, sour....

And with that we're well into a reconstruction of Kenner's essay, which I could have abstracted more accurately by appending "in Provençal" to the first sentence.

Norman, is that you?
Right, and if you leave some kids to be raised by a mute shepherd in the forest, they end up speaking Provençal! I should have guessed that. Okay, for my next trick I will show that "love" rhymes with "gendered discourse," "ineluctable modality of the visible," and "tenure review." -paul k.

I think Kenner's story goes more like "Any kids who've independently invented the key generic traits of the rhymed romantic lyric must've done so by first independently evolving Provençal." Neat trick, by the way maybe you & Charles Bernstein could sub for Siegfried & Roy!

Pancake rhymes with breakfast whereas pain au chocolat does not. Even in Provencal with the little dealie on the "c". Rose with nose and ocean with emotion and of with love just as easy.

No grain, no pain.

. . .

The Quarrel between Philosophy and Philosophers

UC Berkeley, September 9, 2004, "The place of the Republic in Plato's political thought"

During a rushed tour of Plato's imaginary cities, grumbling at the pace, Christopher Rowe snapshot these antitheses:

  1. A city of philosophers needs no laws, but only philosophy determines just laws.
  2. In a flawed society, a philosopher is the only genuinely happy man, but a genuinely happy society has no need of philosophy.
  3. The split between early Plato and late Plato, with the Republic setting the border, doesn't represent a change in philosophy but a change in intended audience.

Rowe draws the line midway through Book II, after Socrates has described his ideal community: small, peaceful, and unambitious.

"For a dessert they shall have figs, chick-peas and beans. They will roast myrtle berries and acorns in the fire, all the while drinking in moderation. Living this way in peace and health, they all can probably expect to reach old age and pass on the same life to their children."

"But this is fare for a city of pigs, Socrates. Would you provide nothing else?"

"What do you suggest, Glaucon?"

"The usual things. If the people are not to be uncomfortable, they must be able to recline on couches and dine from tables. They ought to have sauces and sweetmeats the way we do."

"Now I understand what you mean. We are to consider the origins not simply of a city as such but of a luxurious city."

In Rowe's telling, Socrates (and Plato) remains perfectly satisfied with his earlier arguments, as he would have remained perfectly satisfied in his City of Pigs; he only changes his account (and his city) to deal with a different class of interlocutor. The myths of the Republic, like the laws of the Laws, are a second-best substitute for dialectic, since, unfathomably, not all citizens understand that happiness lies there rather than in their fevered appetites.

After Rowe's performance, another scholar heatedly submitted that, at the end of Book I, anyway, Socrates doesn't sound at all perfectly satisfied with his earlier arguments. The passages at issue seemed to me (no reader of Greek) too calculatingly ambiguous to ever settle the dispute, but both parties became vehement. As I listened to them, I thought about the treacherous allure of dialectic. What we desire is a collaborative effort at truth; what we slip into unawares is something more like civil litigation. From philosopher to vanity sophist in one frequent move and you know what they say about lawyers who represent themselves.

Writing exacerbates such slippage; we tend to treat our written word as our stake in the ground or our stake in the game. This troubles those of us who value discourse over intellectual property.

And yet when Plato attacks writing in Phaedrus, he leaves that aspect unmentioned. Instead, a writer himself, he attacks writing for not encouraging the illusion enough:

A writing cannot distinguish between suitable and unsuitable readers. And if it is ill-treated or unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its rescue; it is quite incapable of defending or helping itself.

Hey, what happened to the selfless play of dialectic? We no longer seem to be talking about conversation, something that multiple people have, but about something that one particular person makes. Something that needs to be defended, like a child.

And a stiflingly sheltered child at that. There's no recognition that our child might want to grow up, run with a fast crowd, listen to music we don't approve of, and maybe even settle down with an unsuitable partner and make some spiteful children of its own.

Well, just wait till dad kicks off.


Leigh Fullmer lays out a winning compaign platform:

in the ideal city, magnesia or not, i'm for lying, for "singing of beautiful and impossible things, of things that are lovely and that never happen, of things that are not and that should be" (oscar wilde). it's a generous kind of magicking for each other, nein? such lying gets around the problem of audience by sheer surfeit.
i thought christopher rowe was a writer from kentucky

You thought right, my friend! That other guy should have been billed as "Christopher Rowe UK".

... to be continued ...

. . .

What a Pal, What a Pal

We must give up trying to know those to whom we are linked by something essential; by this I mean we must greet them in the relation with the unknown in which they greet us as well, in our estrangement. Friendship, this relation without dependence, without episode, yet into which all of the simplicity of life enters, passes by way of the recognition of the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends but only to speak to them, not to make of them a topic of conversations (or essays), but the movement of understanding in which, speaking to us, they reserve, even on the most familiar terms, an infinite distance, the fundamental separation on the basis of which what separates becomes relation. Here discretion lies not in the simple refusal to put forward confidences (how vulgar this would be, even to think of it), but it is the interval, the pure interval that, from me to this other who is a friend, measures all that is between us, the interruption of being that never authorizes me to use him, or my knowledge of him (were it to praise him), and that, far from preventing all communication, brings us together in the difference and sometimes the silence of speech.

It is true that at a certain moment this discretion becomes the fissure of death. I could imagine that in one sense nothing has changed: in the "secret" between us that was capable of taking place, in the continuity of discourse, without interrupting it, there was already, from the time in which we were in the presence of one another, this imminent presence, though tacit, of the final discretion, and it is on the basis of this discretion that the precaution of friendly words calmly affirmed itself.

- Maurice Blanchot, Friendship
Don't put it in the papers.
Don't put it on the air.
Don't put it in your pipe.
Put it there.
- Bob Hope & Bing Crosby, Road to Utopia


RIP Derrida. Your say, Mr Pseudopodium?


. . .

The Quarrel between Philosophy and Philosophers

(Previously on, classicist Christopher Rowe UK claimed that Plato legislated specifically and solely against fevered appetites; an argument ensued.)

If, instead of a debate, Rowe and his interlocutor had held a conversation, they might have had time to notice the imagery by which Plato transitioned from Republic Book I to Republic Books II-X and the remainder of his career:

"Consider your entertainment complete, Socrates, on this feast day."

"You are the one who provided the feast, Thrasymachus, after you ceased to be angry with me and began to speak gently. Nevertheless and through no fault of yours —I have not dined well. It strikes me that I have been like a glutton, snatching at one dish after another and eating in such haste that I had no time to savor the food."

That is, Socrates suffers from his own fevered appetite. Perhaps that's why the ideal city has no more place for philosophers than for poets? There are "leaders", "guardians", and "architects", but there doesn't seem to be a Socrates.

Of course, Socrates admits to his appetites fairly often. He just believes their goal is a meat sweeter than Glaucon's.

Mysterious, though, this meat. Is it happiness, or good citizenship, or truth, or just stirring up trouble with cute boys? Plato makes plain enough his belief that a move to further abstraction will always reveal the underlying above-it-all true and everlovin' aims of humanity. But what if it merely reveals an unwholesome appetite for abstraction?

It is, after all, philosophy rather than sophia: a love of (or manaical lust for) wisdom rather than the presumably more placid stability of knowledge itself. Like culinary devices and sexual devices, the devices of philosophy aim less at satisfying than at stimulating an appetite.

And appetites differ. I don't quite understand why anyone would compare Aaron Haspel's writing to a physical assault, or why Haspel himself would characterize responses as picking on him. But then I'm a lover of discourse, and therefore have a taste for amusing provocations which offer argumentative openings on subjects dear to my heart.

Next: More picking on Aaron Haspel!

. . .

The Quarrel between Philosophy and Philosophers

Someone who reaches over the chessboard before their opponent can make a move, snatches the king, and dashes out the door with it doesn't understand the point of playing chess. Introduced to baseball, someone might remark on the sad padding of the whole affair: to determine a winning team, one inning would probably be enough. (Indeed, when TV summarizes a game, it's typically with the score and a single pitch.) Or a baseball fan might deprecate cricket's misuse of balls and bats.

These mistake the goal of a game for the point of the game.

In contemporary anglophone culture, poetry is that form which explicitly marks the workings of language over the work to be done with language. This nonutilitarian position has advantages and disadvantages, freedom among them. However, someone who's ascribed to a particular historical variant of the poetry games may measure other variants against its goal posts and touch lines and find them lacking.

Or someone may wonder why we'd fuss with philosophy. Verified truth is science's job, and the science du jour knows how to get it (with wide tolerance of exceptions, embarrassments, and half-assed explanations).

But the point of studying philosophy isn't verifiable truth any more than the point of eating is chestnut soup with foie gras custard. The discipline's founded on dialogue. What we gain from it is the pleasure of the exercise and (possibly) some ability to handle multiple systems of abstraction more coherently, flexibly, and sincerely sincerity being what distinguishes the philosophy game from sophism.

A well-lubricated shift between the gears of dogmatism and cynicism takes care of most social contigencies, and so "Develop heartfelt abstract multiformity" isn't on everybody's to-do list. As a natural born bible-thumper, though, I've found the effort to my benefit. Left to its own devices, a love for abstract reasoning can grow narrowminded, vicious, and eventually delusional.

So, no, I don't know if most philosophy departments are useful to most students in which uncertainty they're no different from any other academic department but one did supply the two or three classrooms in which I learned something.

There were other classrooms even within that department, of course.

There's no law of noncontradiction in the history of thought: Plato and Nietzsche, Descartes and Kant, Pierce and Popper all are valid. But such a law may well be enforced by a particular school or a particular teacher. Sadly for philosophy, the most common instigator of sincere discourse, even among philosophers, is self-promotion.


They told me poetry was naming things. And that all the basics were covered, so now the poets were naming really abstruse stuff, like the way it feels to go to work with a hangover under a totalitarian regime when you're in love with a waitress who wants to move to Milan.

Poets' children might disagree about their knack for names.

If chestnut soup with foie gras custard isn't the point of eating, what is?

Pecan-encrusted whitefish with braised greens and a Sancerres on the side, of course.

No, no, no, fried peanut butter and banana sandwhiches!

+ + +

Below the fold

"Theory, however, could and did change individual lives. Briefly, it redeemed difficulty and especially a discomfort some people felt intuitively about subject and object, language and self. Those people who felt they stood on shaky foundations suddenly had a home for their native anti-foundationalism."

"A way of thinking that emphasized the singular and unrepeatable, the absent and the paradox could never offer the satisfaction that one was leading the good life, only that you and others were leading an impossible life. The temptation to put the man himself in the place of absent certainties and paternities was overwhelming...."

- Marco Roth

. . .
...merely old rubbish out of books...

Prince Prigio by Andrew Lang

New from the Repress, an illustrated edition of Andrew Lang's Prince Prigio.

Because there are wittier fairy tales, and there are more profound fairy tales, but there aren't any fairy tales with a better moral.


What serparates the brain into two sides?

A Tibetan neurosurgeon. Next!

Let Manly, house of Manly rejoice with the Booby a tropical bird. And give thanks with the rest of us, and credit where due.

jkljklkkjkj. Next!

Long-lost Beth Rust sends:

Greetings from the Great Old Pumpkin Patch

John Holbo wisely draws non-parallels.

. . .

Ba-lue Uh-Lack-Shun Ba-lues-Are

Dedicated with timid tenacity to The Little Teapot and The Tofu Hut.

My mind scurries round and round the fumigation chamber of this great democracy... I find fewer exits than if I was five hours old....

Have you heard the story about the boy who unlocked Grandmother's cottage, hid in the closet while Red Riding Hood was devoured, and then got a cushy job as wolf-crier?

Sure you have, so why tell the story again?

I dislike refrains. Except in songs.

Therefore, a playlist: 1824's "Little Know Ye Who's Coming", sung with conviction by Oscar Brand, Sonny Boy Williamson's "Fattening Frogs for Snakes", Memphis Slim's "Four Years of Torment", Bo Diddley's "Don't Let It Go", Swamp Dogg's "These Are Not My People", and the finest Clinton's two finest hopes for the union, "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy". And remember (for a limited time only), our earlier political meditations, "Someone Wants You Dead" and "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show".


This just in:


A more apropos quote, I think, would be:

"If it was anybody else, I'd say what's going to happen to you would be a lesson to you. Only you're going to need more than one lesson. And you're going to get more than one lesson."

Another Pseudopodium correspondent notes:

It's 11:16 am here and TN, and I'

And another finds:

No more money in the bank
No cute baby we can spank...

Whats to do about it?

. . .

"My Life"

I pictured it to myself, and at once people came to my memory, all people of my acquaintance, who were slowly being pushed out of this world by their families and relations, I recalled tortured dogs driven insane, living sparrows plucked bare by little boys and thrown into the water and the long, long series of obscure, protracted sufferings I had been observing in this town uninterruptedly since childhood; and it was incomprehensible to me what these sixty thousand inhabitants lived by, why they read the Gospel, why they prayed, why they read books and magazines. What benefit did they derive from all that had been written and said so far, if there was in them the same inner darkness and the same aversion to freedom as a hundred or three hundred years ago? A building contractor builds houses in town all his life, and yet till his dying day he says "galdary" instead of "gallery," and so, too, these sixty thousand inhabitants for generations have been reading and hearing about truth, mercy, and freedom, and yet till their dying day they lie from morning to evening, torment each other, and as for freedom, they fear it and hate it like an enemy.
- Anton Chekhov, from "My Life"


Ow. Oh, oh, ow.
The serial killer profile that the wusses adopted vis. animal cruelties was in some measure a note-for-note of the hidden cruelties of many boyhoods, kept secret from all but each other. I saw, and did, some awful things, though the worst was something I spoke against - and in the end you know, as far as animals, the unintentional carnage of the highway's been worst of all. But yeah, Anton - eviscerate them with your scalpel'd truth.

I should note that the story's narrator is saintlier than Chekhov seems to have been and much saintlier than I seem to have been.

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