From Evgeni Bauer's 'After Death'
. . .

The Cluck of the Plow-Chicken

The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?
- James Boswell
(via Caleb Crain at n+1 crossed with the Valve)

If my only duties were to range free and eat, I'm sure I would lay even more and make a even tastier stew.

On the other wing, I did duck that whole pecking order business....

. . .

The Fort Ord Quartet

Anselm Dovetonsils, having recently sold his rolling papers to California State University Monterey Bay, used the proceeds to set up residence nearby, and apparently finds the area inspiring (OF. inspirer [13th c.], ad. L. inspirare to blow hard, to expel hot air). Fellow Dovetonsils sufferer Renfrew Q. Hobblewort found and forwarded the following unsigned but distinctive results.

After its characteristically aggressive and immature opening, the suite shifts to a mood of sustained spiritual meditation. One might describe it as Dovetonsils's "Ash-Wednesday".

Well, one somewhere might. Come on, anything's possible.

by Anselm Dovetonsils (attrib.)


Face Painting * Clowns * Entertainment

II. Exodus




IV. Was a Farmer Had a God

inquire within


A visiting scholar suggests the alternative title:

? Chronicle of a Death -- Fort Ord

. . .

Thursday Evening at the Hotsy Totsy Club

Johnny Mercer. My sugar is so refined.
She's one o' them high-class kind.
She never shares a kiss, she lets our lips unite,
But, oh, it feels like kissin' and each kiss is dynamite.
I wonder what she thinks of each time I hold her tight....

Totsy. "England"?

Hotsy. Oh my god! You bested Johnny Mercer! If you die in surgery next week I'm gonna put that on your tombstone.

Totsy. "England"?

* * *

Hotsy. [In Werner Herzog voice.] "It is true, I cannot deny this was a fucking worthless idiot. And yet when I watch this footage, I wonder: am I not like him in some profound way?"

Totsy. Yes.

Hotsy. [In Werner Herzog voice.] "Yes I am not or yes I am?"


It seems important that Little Richard's "gal named Daisy" only almost drives him crazy.

Yes, although Mr. Richard is by no means clinically sane, he retains enough self-awareness to understand that his condition springs from genetic and environmental factors outside Daisy's control. In contrast, I doubt Daisy and Sue face any issue more challenging than Mr. Richard himself.

. . .

Liar, liar, pants on ice

Starting from friend G. T., most of my favorite unreliable narrators are free indirect discoursers well, I suppose that's almost the defining lesson of free indirect discourse, for readers, anyway, that one's access to narrative truth is tainted by person.

What Villette's Lucy Snowe teaches by first-person example is that one's access to personal truth is tainted by narrative. Intent on rectitude but powerless in worldly terms, Snowe should, like the Duchess of Newcastle, be able at least to discover freedom in words. Instead, cold feet bleeding at a crux, she prevaricates, taking a three-decker plunge into both non serviam self-damnation and redemptive acceptance Lear's end retold in a whispered snarl.

"First Chill then Stupor then the letting go —" Best say nothing; next best, speak truthfully and next? It depends how glibly we reached the question mark. As fond as I am of Beckett, the more encumbered Brontë carries more weight. In sweeping the bullshit away, he clarified the problem but changed it, too, to something with a solution clean enough to be called formula. The latter-day avant-lite, let-go from the get-go, with white lies conveniently stacked in their grocer's freezer, give no second thought to fudging the story for the sake of a gag.


Peli Grietzer restates (

Wait, by unreliable narrators in free indirect discourse, do you mean when the indirect quoter is unreliable, or when the indirect quotee is unreliable?

) a question first raised by Bouvard & Pécuchet and first answered by Ulysses: "Yes".

Although, as Peli pointed out in later email, there have been other answerers since:

Actually Ulysses is small change here: The absolutely unquestionably utterly most insane thing in the history of free indirect discourse is on The Man Without Qualities, page 97, first two sentences of second paragraph (the 1996 Random House edition). In fact, I think it might the craziest mind-fuck in the history of literature, Sterne and Nabokov and Grillet and Borges not even managing to give it a fight.

A friendly anonymous proofreader reminds me:


Of course, properly we should be speaking of her under a different name altogether....

. . .

Theory's Windowbox

For the sake of argument, and to judge all others by myself, I'll admit that people who don't explicitly theorize are working on the basis of latent or unarticulated, unreflective or implicit theory.

And with my admission, I'll affirm there are worst crimes than letting theory remain latent and unarticulated. Something has to. Just because we found our writing on a theory doesn't mean the theory's worth writing about.

Or, in my case, worth re-writing, since I myself am just bustin' out with theory! I reek of it! But whenever I consider explicating my metaphysics-and-all an sich I scribble a rejection note. It's not like I'm going to outdo the philosophers and theologians and scientists whose twigs I've limed together. I'm no philosopher, theologian, or scientist; I'm not a writer of primers or popularizations; in theory, I have nothing to add and something to lose, since, like unto the Tantric sage, should I expose my essence rare, I suspect you'd find it a bit clammy, a bit dull.

A guy who spends all his time elaborating the transience of human relationships may be trying to avoid bad faith, but that doesn't make him good company.


What lies latent and unarticulated beneath the theory itself?

I wish my colonoscopy team was here to answer that one....

Jeff Ward juxtaposes.

. . .

Theory's Windowbox, 2

It's close to the old Athenian issue, "Does studying philosophy unfit the student for the polis?", or, in its Academic form, "unfit the student for any life but the philosopher's?" Or the newer American issue, "Do only poets read poetry?"

I think not, but my view may be skewed by my own vocational specs. Even before I began writing discursive prose, I was, in the general sense, an essayist. Not so much well-rounded as bulging in odd places.


katamari damessay
Anyone who, by choice, reads poetry is a poet.

. . .
I'm the horse's head

A stir in the hindquarters

I used to like Robert Bresson till I realized how much more I would've liked him if at the end of the movie someone had pulled off the donkey's head and revealed the bloody beaten corpse of a man.

After that, his whole career started to seem hypocritical.



He certainly wasn't a sadomasochist. Insufferably boring was what Ingmar Bergman called him.

It makes sense that Bergman would be bored by anyone who couldn't suffer.

. . .

Eat My Dust

Artifacts cohere and extend beyond the makers' conscious intentions. In despite of the author, we call for the Muses, and the genius of the race, and the disease talking.

But the knockabout phallus remains just a stage prop. (A mirrored stage, sans doute.) The unbalanced, unreasonable quotidian doesn't justify a belief in spirits as stubbornly motivated as id, ego, and super-ego, things even dumber than conscious intentions. Its evidence suggests a pond ecology, not a three-hander drama.

Well, that point's been well enough made in art often enough, with or without the consent of artists. For example, by A Certain Kind of Death.

In an appended interview, the directors claim they were moved to convince the audience to make plans for mortality, to not be caught by surprise. But their chief protagonist made his plans clear to the point of morbidity; he even diagrammed his burial space. And come the blessed event, his corpse is fobbed off by the assertion that his slot in the family plot had already been taken by the cemetery knew not who. It's unclear how the cemetery knew anyone was buried there at all, since there was no marker, and no memory, despite the earth being so freshly turned. The viewer suspects evasion but what more could the body have done? Legal executors can be blandly stonewalled as easily as county officials.

Instead, their movie forcefully and coherently delivers the message: Why bother? When you're dead, you're gone. And when you're alive, you're going. Mortality begins at home. Ash intermingles with ash in air, earth, and the inchoate ambulatory flesh, the flush of life propelling us towards the porcelain Charon which oversees our passage....

So who really made this thing? I ask because I'd like to congratulate them. It'll make a great double-bill with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu or Forest of Bliss.

. . .

Consumer Alert

We interrupt this incomprehensibabble for some straightforward advice. If you care about movies and you can get to Berkeley, California, make the trip while the Pacific Film Archive projects an unprecedented selection of films by Frank Borzage: 12 in its official Borzage series, 3 as part of a Janet Gaynor fest.

From what I've seen before, I'm particularly looking forward to Man's Castle (the reason Lars von Trier doesn't impress me), Lazybones (the most mysteriously moving experience I've ever had in a theater), and A Farewell to Arms, whose recent restoration transformed a warhorse into full Borzageosis. Among those I've never had a shot at, I'm especially excited by Little Man What Now? if only because goddamn what a great title for a Borzage picture.

Enraptured cinephiles "invariably" consider Borzage the most unrecognized of great Hollywood auteurs. Despite his unique long-career-long meld of earthiness and transcendence, the situation's unlikely to improve until his best work becomes more widely available. Join us in our privilege.

. . .

92 years ago, Mr. Barbellion looked at a newspaper.

It happens sometimes.


I have absolutely no idea what this means, but my bunker is well-stocked and well-armed all the same.

Yes, that should fix things right up....

. . .

Spuriouser & spuriouser

I'm unhappy and writing less.

I'm not unhappy that I'm writing less; I'm writing less because I'm unhappy. It wasn't until I was thirty that writing began making me feel less unhappy, and if I ever start feeling happy again without writing I'll feel fine about it.

There's nothing ignoble about passive consumption. We are, after all, only speaking of consumption. Is it less polite to show appreciation for a good meal through digestion than by spurning it in our own rush to serve the 8 PM tables, or by afterwards pressing a scholarly finger down our throat, or with the long loud burp of the critic?


There is as you say nothing ignoble about passive consumption. Yet one does feel a certain ignobility in having written something (to continue the eating metaphor) delicious, and then to write nothing further. Many of us find ourselves en même bateau.

Now that remark really does make me sad. Should I desecrate the graves of authors I admire because they haven't published anything for a while? If not, do the living deserve less gratitude than the dead? No creator owes us a better end than Joe Brainard's view of Veronica Lake, with the flea circus barkers of "the art scene" lost in the flip-flap of pages of Victorian novels. May all our boats be drunken ones.

i'm trying to find out about why the word 'yellow' means someone is afraid or 'chicken'

You've come to the wrong place, my friend. I'm so pig-ignant I don't know what "aquarian pronoun" even means. (Do you?) But if I had to fake it, I'd fake like it referred to the jaundice of the lily-livered.

what are you unhappy about?
The ignoble-feeling One seems to be assuming that One's own dishes were so delectable and nutritious that others would starve without them. There are enough provisions in the world to last us all a good long while, even if we all leave off cooking. And so many of the dishes that we serve up ostensibly for others' delectation were never really meant to nourish anyone but ourselves, like the mouse pie that Ribby the cat so graciously prepared for Duchess the dog. (Admittedly, the pie did have bacon in it....)
Your readers might resist lumping your consistently illuminating eructations in with a pack o' "the critic." I felt a bit cheered coming across this the other day, (from Mr. Kafka): "It isn't necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don't even listen, just wait. Don't wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy."
one writes not from discontent, but towards it

So I'm a discontent provider? That seems fair.

Brian R. Hischier writes:

All I know is that it's been over six months since I visited your website --- in the meantime, in fact in one short fortnight, I've come across nearly 659 blog-stories about T. C~~n Boyle. I'm fed up, sir. So I've returned to the false-footlift and found a lovely short two paragraphs (a couplet of chunks) about giving in to a less-than-blissful penna-less existence (I appear to have rediscovered for myself the hyphen: apologies). I did that last January. Stopped cold after depressing a man in Switzerland only 23 pages into the first novel. Starving the page lasted only six months, I'm sad to say. I started a new book in June. Coincidentally (in the true sense of that word), I'm less happy now than in January. And like you, not because of the writing.
I hates it when you is sad.

Count your blessings. When I'm happy, I can get pretty obnoxious.


. . .

True Ott

Fantagraphics' series of Krazy Kat Sundays has entered my favorite period, Herriman's dark'n'scratchy final phase. Layouts are boldly expressive, anchored in black. The protagonists have grown thick with age, and weirdly doll-like, with mitten hands and wide glassy eyes, but somehow convey even more pathos with their expressiveness restricted to gesture. A literal layer of abstraction is added when short page-wide panels start to appear below the narrative.

But I'm a mournful guy, and my excitement over the new volumes can't erase my mourning over the abortive (two years only!) Kitchen Sink Press series. Yes, its colors were bizarre and often appeared blown out. But its pages were larger, the glossy paper clung to detail, and it was produced before that digitized sweetening which finds welcome under the name of "restoration".

Unless great care is taken, a contrast boost which adds punch and makes linework spring out will also blunt gradations of shade and width....

Feetsteps, hitzin.
December 19, 1937, Fantagraphics
Feetsteps, hitzin.
December 19, 1937, Kitchen Sink Press
* * *

That sort of thing's debatable, though; a matter of taste. Any reproduction is a compromise, and any cartoonist signs on to a compromising life.

The episode of September 12, 1937, presents a more straightforward problem.

An old favorite, and always a pleasure to see it again, but this time round the lettering and speech balloons seemed off....

Thumbnail of page

Because they aren't by George Herriman.

In pairs, the Fantagraphics versions, followed with the originals as reprinted by Kitchen Sink.

He'll not foil me - that kop.
He'll not foil me - that kop.
He'll not fool me - that mouse.
He'll not fool me - that mouse.
He'll not fail me - that dollin.
He'll not fail me - that dollin.

No notes explain the switch, but I presume one source newspaper allowed tampering on the way to press and the other source newspaper didn't. And I hope a swap-back can be arranged before the next edition.


Lost in the most recent purge of the Comics Journal Message Board was a suggestion that the paste-up was done to make Herriman's words larger and more legible. That seems reasonable, and explains why Offisa Pupp's speech balloon needed to be moved.

. . .

Walk This Way

In artistic history, coincidence is commoner than influence. Most productive writers barely find time to follow the careers of their closest friends, and the bulk of anyone's cultural experience consists of ephemera, whether knowingly ephemeral or not. Consider how much of your own intellectual life has been carried away wrapped in newspaper.

When artists do describe career-altering encounters, they tend to describe liberation rather than apprenticeship bonds a sense of being given permission. And when they take established models and then play dress-up or dress-down, they're merely treating predecessors as peers in the usual give-and-take conversation of genre. It's a sororal, not a filial, relationship. The most intense "anxiety of influence" is felt by the scholar trying to justify their notion of the thing.


this weblog has caused a error in Module 101 and will be shut down, alas

. . .

Good Books from the English Department

Book reviewing don't come natural to me, but the call of politeness sometimes vanquishes nature's. In gratitude for John Latta's pointer, here are two other recent publications which deserve talking up.

  1. Hart Crane : After His Lights by Brian M. Reed

    Beneath his bright candy coating, Hart Crane can be a tough nut to crack. This is the best appreciation-analysis I've seen. If Reed occasionally repeats himself or overstates his case, well, that may be pedagogically necessary. When we limit the force of our expressions to reflect their validity, most readers and listeners miss the point entirely; for the object to be noticed, the mirror must magnify.

    Polemic and expository, Part One mimics the form and mocks the spirit of those "And here's how a feminist talks about Wordsworth" menangeries by showing how both the attractions and screw-ups of Crane's work and life refuse to fit any theoretical structure, academic trend by trend.

    Part Two spins a more idiosyncratic yarn, drawing Crane's lyric and then epic work from his "undertheorized" peculiarities. For instance, he may have been the first writer capable of appending a playlist to each publication. Sure, competitors like Pound, Eliot, and Zukofsky liked to compare their major undertakings to music. But by "music" they didn't mean "The Moon Shines on the Moonshine" at top volume on infinite repeat. (You can get a good taste of this part from "Hart Crane's Victrola" if you have access to Project MUSE or know someone who does.)

    Part Three moves into influence studies less profitably, partly because there's less profit to be had and partly because Reed wants to include lack of influence as a topic. (Non-influence studies could become a horrifically growing field.) Still, it gives him an excuse to get off some good ones about Frank O'Hara.

  2. Why We Read Fiction : Theory of Mind and the Novel by Lisa Zunshine

    As I've noted before, one reason to get older is so instead of dying sad about what we couldn't accomplish we can die happy about someone else accomplishing them. ("Then you can do the work for me," as the poet sang.) For almost as long as I've wanted to write a fantasy epic starring Jack Spicer, I've wanted to write a series of pieces called "Fiction Science" where tidbits from the cognitive sciences (social and developmental psychology as well as the neurosciences) would seed literary speculation. And here's an ex-Russian named Zunshine taking care of it!

    She doesn't include much science, but a little goes a long way with case studies.

    The little she takes are our human need and capacity to track attribution and reliability, and our mammalian impulse to play with our needs and capacities. Those are enough to explain much of the appeal of fiction, particularly written fiction.

    As a professionally literary reader, Zunshine tends to dwell on edge cases. S'OK; she acknowledges them as such, makes their edginess part of the point, and chooses contrasting edges: The first half of the volume looks at attribution games that many readers find too difficult to follow (the heroes of Clarissa and Lolita); the second half at attribution games that many readers find too artificial to care about (the detective mystery genre).

    It's a short book (with an even shorter version online). And despite its comically overblown title, she wrote it without the lookit-me handwaving of Franco Moretti's or Nancy Armstrong's recent loud-and-skinnies in fact, she writes as well as a good blogger.

    By which I don't mean me. Making complicated things seem simple's not a skill I possess, just a skill I respect.


Simultan kindly forwarded from the TLS a brief demonstration that chatty application of a few easily digested ideas to some engaging particulars will not satisfy a seeker of rigorously theoretical manifestos. Fair enough. For myself, I hope there's room in criticism for both, and more.

(I don't suppose the TLS much less the NYRB or the NYTBR will take any notice of the Hart Crane book, since it's neither a biography nor a lament that nobody reads poetry any more.)

Josh Lukin inquires:

Ian Matthews was a poet?

Inspired by what inspires poets, anyway. "Silver moon sail up and silver moonshine..."

Paul Kerschen breaks the curse of silence:

Just wanted to thank the good people at for the heads-up on the Hart Crane book; I requisitioned it from the library this past week and found it a real treat to read, especially the middle section. I admit that I zipped pretty quickly through the final influence-studies part, but the back-and-forth from scansion and syntax to the poetics of the Victrola was a real bravura performance. Among other things, it made me feel rather better about the possibility of writing that kind of book for a living. (And if Swinburne's never gonna be one of my favorite poets, I'm still glad to see that not everyone followed up on Eliot's excommunication of him.)

In Philosophy and Literature 30.2 (2006), Brian Boyd has published a much better dissing of Zunshine than the TLS managed. Regarding my own more positive response, I can only point to the influence of low expectations. (Maybe another reason I mentioned "good bloggers"?)

. . .

Evening out

The right side of my face looks mad and the left side looks scary.


Ah, but which part's dangerous to know?
white people drive like THIS
But what a harmonious whole!

I don't know; there are all those bent notes....

feeling_a_bit_b ?
Try a different mirror.

Wow, if Frankenstein's monster had gotten as supportive a reception as this, Lee Marvin would've had one more quaint little castle full of Nazis to blow up!

From not far away, Matt Christie suggests:

Try looking at a more sapient, assymetric object. It all evens out.

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