<= 2004.07

2004.10 =>

[SEPTEMBER 2004.]

le prince d'aquitaine

Hi! God, I know, this has been so sporadic, and I may actually have to give up the practice of updating every day. In the four years since I started this site, this is the first time I've ever had much to do, excepting those brief bursts of gainful employment in Reno, during which I never updated anyway.

Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
You shall be like the swallow when your kitchen is clean.

Everything is okay, aside from the predictable complaint of feeling kind of tired and overwhelmed all the time. My novel will be done in 2012. By then I will have expended ten thousand hours of labor on it, and in return I will get ten thousand dollars from a university press, which at that point will be just enough to buy a plane ticket to Costa Rica, and no one will ever see me again.

 

the damage game

Behind the voices on the radio is a terrible, secret voice that growls ever louder: "CIVILIZATION IS ENDING AND YOU ARE NOT DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT."

The best thing about German magnetic poetry is the compound nouns you can make. Because we're mature around here, most of the poems have been on the order of:

deine Mutter
hat ein
Fleischhosengesicht

Your mother has a meat-pants-face. Thanks, Jen & Andy, we're liking it.

Black People Love Us.

 

gouge away

—There must be some country where we could live well off our current fortunes.
—Hmm...
—Of course in your case, that would be the country where minus is plus.
—That's it! We're moving to Opposite Land!

Guess what we did last night! If you said "saw the Pixies," you are mostly right. "Saw" is a slight stretch, only because we didn't actually have tickets and therefore camped out on a hill directly behind the amphitheater. If you stood and carefully negotiated your position vis-à-vis the trees, you could kind of see what was happening on stage; but under any circumstances the hill provided excellent access to the sound and light show. We were certainly closer to the Pixies than I was to, say, U2 at the PopMart stadium.

Before the show I asked the rock gods for "Subbacultcha," and they delivered! Otherwise the set was heavy on material from Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, and Doolittle; they knew what we wanted. We got both the album and U.K. surf versions of "Wave of Mutilation," and Kim sang a weird, short song about heaven. I don't know if it was a cover I should have caught, or a little ditty she just made up backstage, or what. Frank's voice certainly does not sound as it used to—he couldn't manage quite as many of the requisite high-register screams as formerly, but he worked around it. At any rate, Joey Santiago hasn't forgotten his amp settings. The lead guitar sounded exactly as it does on the records: trebly, scratchy, cranked way up above everything. As it should be. (Geeky rig here.) I tend to forget how much of rock music simply involves finding the right combination of dials, and then riding those dials to heaven.

 

incremental

Still here, still of good cheer. The love is here, the money will come; I will wait, I will wait in the sun, I will water my garden. I will do my best to distinguish the crops from the weeds. What does a tomato plant look like before the tomatoes appear? Learn from the soil.

 

dirty ceramics

Ach, two consecutive days without updating... little blog, you need to be watered more often than that. Your leaves are shriveling. I wondered this morning when I may officially be said to have entered my "late twenties." If you divide it evenly into early, mid, and late, as seems the reasonable thing, I would pass the cusp at age 26 and two-thirds, or 10 May 2005. God, that's terrible. I'll hold a wake for my vanished youth. Lots of black crepe and whiskey.

Michael Tilson Thomas (or MTT, as Those in the Know affectionately dub him) and the San Fransico Symphony do The Rite of Spring with precision and restraint(!) and a keen eye for structure; the familiar recording against which I measure it in my mind was Bernstein's, and this was an entirely different kettle of fish. I actually found myself paying attention to the harmonies—not that I didn't formerly think Stravinsky was harmonic, but when the orchestra does the obvious thing and hits the 9/8 and 13/8 and 7/8 et seq. like there's no tomorrow, considerations of pitch tend to go on the back burner. (And big ups to the fellow who played the opening bassoon solo—you lovely liquid fluttering tone of bassoon!) MTT and SFS also do Tchaikovsky's Second as if it were a sort of proto-Stravinsky—everything was rhythm—and they blast out excerpts from "The Firebird" with such schizoid verve that the mild-mannered septuagenarian sitting next to you suddenly raises both hands and starts beating the air in time with the music, maybe remembering the longago drills of his youth on the military parade ground? Or maybe he had a former life as a Russian prince.

Speaking of émigrés, I've been combing newspaper archives for the fifties to find mentions of Lolita. For a while there was nothing at all, and the book probably would have ended up as one more forgotten ejecta from the small presses if it weren't for the good offices of Graham Greene and a stodgy Brit named John Gordon who got all huffy about Greene's promoting pornography. I really ought to make this research of some use to others and upload a Lolita Newspaper Archive; for the moment I'll give you the first tremor in the American press, to wit, the New York Times Book Review of 26 February 1956:

In and Out of Books—Albion

We have been looking at the English papers and we notice that Mr. Graham Greene, fine novelist and hater of all things American except Texas, is riding again. In The Sunday Express, columnist John Gordon writes of his shock at reading a book "Lolita," a long French novel about nymphets, recommended by Mr. Greene as one of the best books of 1955. "Sheer unrestrained pornography," wrote Mr. Gordon, and lectured Mr. Greene severely.

Two weeks later Mr. Greene retaliated in The Spectator:

"In recognition of the struggle he has maintained for so many years against the insidious menace of pornography, in defense of our hearths and homes and the purity of public life, the signatories propose to form the John Gordon Society, if sufficient support is forthcoming. The main object of the society will be to represent the ideals of Mr. Gordon in active form, in the presentation of family films, which will fearlessly attack the social evils of our time, and to form a body of competent censors, unaffected by commercial considerations, to examine and if necessary to condemn all offensive books, plays, paintings, sculptures and ceramics."

The astute reader will note that the Times doesn't bother to define "nymphet." According to the OED the word has been around since 1612 in the sense of "a young or small nymph," but that meaning is considered obsolete, and Lolita itself introduced the modern sense of "a sexually attractive or sexually mature young girl" in 1955. Thus contemporary readers of the day presumably imagined pornography about nymphs, and scratched their heads.

 

activism

The Catholic diocese of Tucson is the second to file for bankruptcy, after... the diocese of Portland, Oregon. I am a contagion to Mother Church.

I have it on good authority that the protagonist of The Man Without Qualities does in fact have qualities. I'll get to it one day. Right now my German is limited to the magnetic poetry from Jen, and non-class reading is limited to Robinson Crusoe. No, I had never read it before; I don't know how I got away with it either. I won't lie and say that I've never wanted to be on an island with no companions but parrots and goats; I wonder if I could live on goat's milk and bread alone, and eat no flesh.

Krist Novoselic is on NPR talking about politics, and he's not very sharp, but then the radio host thinks that Guns N' Roses were a grunge band, and he plays the live "Come As You Are" from From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah and says, "This is 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' from Nirvana's Unplugged in New York, and we're talking to Kirst Novoselic." Incommensurable worlds.

 

the chemical symbol for antinomy is bs

Class this morning treated an essay about Emily Dickinson that prompted me, while reading it last night, to remark to J., "This is the worst piece of critical writing I've ever seen." In the spirit of collegiality I softened that opinion for discussion, but I still seemed to be against the general drift of the group and I wound up feeling like a reactionary. This isn't the first time that this has happened. I am a grumpy 1950s critic already, I guess, but there honestly are a lot of silly arguments out there.

On the bright side, I got from Nik a zip file with many mp3s of fun German music, on the power-pop to industrial continuum, that he picked up in Leipzig this summer. At the moment I'm into Die Ärzte (The Doctors), "die beste Band der Welt!" and the weird electro-folk of Die Toten Hosen (The Dead Pants). " My helpful big dictionary says that "toten Hosen sein" is to "be a washout" or "be a dump."

 

lines written in my bathrobe

In any other nation on this earth
With politics analogous to ours,
This imputation would be no attack;
How topsy-turvy has our land become,
When "health care for the nation" is a phrase
That politicians flee, or else employ
To discredit their foes? Have we no hope?
Is the electorate so ill-informed
That it will swallow peaceably a stance
So contrary to its int'rest? Is it so?
(The answer is affirmative, I know.)

 

a harmless drudge

Is it possible that I am becoming too busy to update this every day? Is it possible that I have things to do? Heaven forfend! Last night I was up until three-thirty a.m. (or four a.m., if you count the time it took to eat the granola) hunting typos in Lolita, and nerd that I am, I started to enjoy it. Honestly, what does it mean that The Annotated Lolita changes the City of Cheboygan, a perfectly plausible mid-century ferry (page 158 in your edition, dear reader), to the City of Sheboygan, a 1915 shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Ontario? Did Nabokov know about this? Is he fucking with us all?

Yesterday's Spanish proficiency text turned out to be a translation of Engels's introduction to Das Kapital where he talks about the discovery of oxygen, of all things (go here, search for "phlogiston"); I think my English version was all right except for a really stupid blunder (which I realized five minutes after handing it in), where I translated no es sino as "is not only" instead of "is nothing but," and thus reversed the entire meaning of the sentence. I don't know how strictly they grade these things; so next week I find out whether I get to feel like a dumbass and retake the test in the spring.

But but I have seedlings in my garden, and Aimee showed up on her book tour! Go Aimee!

 

critique of judgment

I bought heavy curtains for the music room, they keep falling down and pulling the nails out of the walls. I am seeking a more Innovative Construction Solution. I'm sorry, I should have things about the life of the mind for you, but I'm still reeling from this new obligation to sit in a room with other people and try to formulate coherent thoughts on the spot. I'm more used to coming up with things on my own, in the shower; you get to take really long showers when you live alone and don't have a job. No more of that.

 

the will of the people

I hate to spread doom, but in my innermost heart I know that it will end up about like this. The other day Studs Terkel was on the radio talking about the idiocy of it all, and he said "If Bush wins this election, the Democratic Party should just dissolve." In my grimmest moments I think he should have replaced "Democratic Party" with "The United States of America." I live in California and my vote literally does not matter, because we still elect Presidents through an arcane and archaic system designed to protect slaveholders, and the country is ripping apart and I can't even see the other half, can't even guess about them any more—all I know is that they govern me and will continue to govern me until I die or go to New Zealand or something.

 

Amoeba Records stuck out a pseudopod the other day and engulfed me, but at least I gave as good as I got; and hey, isn't that new Björk something? I keep expecting to find Matthew Barney's influence on her, God knows why, as if titling your album after part of the brain automatically links it to Cremaster—but it's easier to track than her influence on him, since he seems to have already ingested all of Western society and is now regurgitating it in weirdly mixed pellets.

Anyway, Medulla most obviously seems to bear the stamp of all the 20th-century classical music that Björk grew up with, but maybe it's just clearer since she's now using the same palette as a lot of classical works. The record isn't entirely a capella, I should point out; there are beats on most of the songs. I guess it's possible that all of those sounds were somehow produced by the human form, but if so they've been so processed and cut up and spliced that they sound exactly like synth drums, and I don't know if it matters. What does matter is that the overall change in instrumentation has given her the freedom to arrange her songs more orchestrally. The harmonies are more daring, and they metamorphose in new ways; the reviewers are calling it "challenging," but it doesn't actually seem inaccessible. A little surprising in places, but even on the first listen it gratifies. When we're all old professors pontificating about the merger of "high" and "low" in pop music post-1960, here's one we can point to, and wag our beards.

 

negative capability

I've been popping in and out of bookstores all week, largely because I am convinced that everyone else here is a more natural graduate student/literary scholar/critical thinker than me, and that I need to go out and do some secondary critical reading in order to repair the enormous gaps in my knowledge and not sound like a total boob in class—today, for instance, I think I said some boobish things. A side discovery has been that out of the nearly dozen bookstores in Berkeley, not one carries the Southern Review or appears likely to do so in the future. It's all Glimmer Train and Tin House and weird anarchist social thought journals. So I keep going to the magazine rack and discovering that, shockingly, I'm not famous yet. I did leave one of my contributor's copies in the English department lounge, thinking that bored grad students might pick it up—come on, guys, it's easier than Julia Kristeva! Meanwhile Lauren accidentally gets into ZYZZYVA.

The money is going. I'm not sure how I thought that I could live in the Bay Area and not bleed money from my ears and less delicate orifices, but it is disappearing at an alarming rate. And I'm not even being that irresponsible, mom, it's just that Andronico's wants $4.50 for a little bag of granola. I'm going to have to get on the Steve Marlowe All-Rice Diet soon. Chris mentioned the other day that everyone here is working some job they're indifferent about while waiting for their big break in another venue; in that sense I certainly shouldn't complain about trying to attend school and finish the book at the same time; but most day jobs don't pay a salary of negative eleven thousand dollars a semester. Christ, what am I doing to myself?

 

the rocket's red glare

I didn't know until I was told that today is Patriot Day.

I'd like to wish everyone a happy Jingoist Day.

 

revise your life

Today I am 26. It's true; they do come more quickly. And as J. said last night concerning her own position, in fourteen years—an entirely comprehensible span of time—I will be forty.

So live well now. I think I am.

In the past year I gave up on trying to publish Song of Roland; had my first story accepted by a magazine; spent a month doing research in Guatemala; fled Portland, returned to Portland, left again; took up the cello; assembled a two-man, one-machine rock outfit and took it around Portland; saw yet more of my friends get married; got into grad school.

This year I will finish and try to purvey Approaching Zero; make another record or two; learn to garden; learn to read German competently; get better at the piano, cello, etc.; learn a lot more about books. Here's a grand place to do it.

 

ass-guard

Word count—back. Milk count—I bought milk.

One-sixth of our entering cohort maintains weblogs. Everyone's outed me, I will go back and circularly out them. This fine fellow and scholar of Old Norse revealed the other day that the Old Norse nominative singular for "god" is Áss. Which makes sense if you consider it a moment—there's Asgard, and if you, like me, were a mythology dork as a child you may even remember the plural "Aesir." I used to reenact the battle of Ragnarok with my Legos.

The Notorious RRZ is reading something in his section about giving birth to alien babies. I don't know—our section is full of serious scholars who don't have time for that crap. No, honestly, I'm having a much better time at Berkeley than the last couple of entries might suggest. You can ascribe them to my general grouchiness and distrust of jargon. And if you're interested in Berkeley for reasons other than its effect on me—surely it's more interesting once you take me out of the equation—then the blogs of my fellow men are useful correctives.

 

care to see the wine list?

The milk's gone bad. Ugh. Sadly I ate most of my cereal before realizing this. Hey, I have less than no time for anything, but at least I am getting credentials; by which I mean that there are certain locutions that only academics are allowed to use, and I am earning the right to use them. But why should I be stingy? Especially with the cost of my education, I ought to spread the rewards a bit. Anyone who would like to subsidize part of my tuition is welcome to share its benefits. For your convenience I have prepared an à la carte menu:

The right to...                             Price
use "problematize" in a sentence            $20
declare your blog a "text"                  $35
declare your apartment a "text"             $45
declare your significant other a "text"     $75
declare yourself a reader of said texts     $95
declare yourself a deconstructive reader    $125
problematize your significant other         $225
quote Lacan without provocation             $275
yell at strangers for marginalizing you     $340
snigger at strangers' New Critical          $650
tendencies 
compare strangers to the British Empire     $825
compare your significant other to the       $1000
British Empire
compare your significant other to the       $50,000 plus
British Empire, declare yourself a          4 years
deconstructive reader of Empire, write      indentured
a 200-page thesis on your significant       servitude
other's hegemonic tendencies using quotes
from Lacan, publish in a midsize
journal, go on to a respectable career

NO REFUNDS.

 

the shape of the signifier

So many signs, so few comfortable ways to read them. I step inside a beautiful, nearly manorial house in Santa Barbara to use the bathroom, and beside the door I spy a little pamphlet called Speedy Spanish for Employers, offering useful translations such as "Can you come Wednesday?"; "Do you know how to clean the pool?"; "Please dust the bookcases." One's gut recoils at it, but then isn't it, or something like it, necessary for Santa Barbara's economy to function? Then on the web I discover Speedy Spanish for Corrections Personnel and am horrified all over again—"Simple Commands & Requests," "Victim/Witness Interrogation," "Booking/Cavity Search," "Medical Assessment/Injections/Clean Catch."

Freshman girl leaving the English building in a Special K ringer T-shirt. Is it legit? If so, does Kellogg's know that teenagers want their product logo on a hip ringer tee because it's slang for ketamine?

 

"systems"

Those of you who were at Iowa know what excellent people Steve and LeeAnn are, and what a happiness it is that they're getting married this weekend. I am to Santa Barbara to bear witness. On the planes and trains there and back I will read Pamela, because that, it seems, is what grad students do. To add to yesterday's comment about empty jargon: I think if I have much academic bitching or moaning to do I should get it out of the way early, before Google starts associating this site with my new department and so on. This is the problem that sometimes crops up with using my real name on this site. Anyway, from my admittedly cursory look, it seems like most of the scholarship being done here in English lit is genuine and of high quality. The problem appears to lie with certain related departments whose graduate students appear in literature classes not to talk about books, apparently, but to make highly confusing pronoucements about social theory and God knows what else, dripping with pompous theoretical terms, at least some of which have obviously been made up on the spot.

The thing that drives me up the wall about cultural studies is its muleheaded insistence that flying in the face of common sense somehow constitutes deep thought. All you need to say is that actually, observed from the proper standpoint, once the false preconceptions and dualisms have been exposed, the heroine of a certain book never changes social position, be she in high society or in disgrace; or that every discourse will reduce to a sort of high-school algebra of domination and repression; or that there is no difference between liberal democracy and the totalitarian state. It's the fake philosophical vocabulary of these arguments, full of words connoting next to nothing, that is the worst; it's onerous and thankless work to unpack them in order to determine whether they're a) blindingly obvious, or b) just plain wrong.

I did find out, last night and this morning, that it's completely possible to write fiction on the train; and that will certainly ease my life. The fiction is still the important thing—this whole academic business is kind of a long and expensive detour, and an economic hedging of bets. I know it's weird and self-important to think of myself as a writer first and student second, given that I've published precisely one thing; but I have to think that way or the damn thing will never get done. It has to get done.

 

"systems"

Those of you who were at Iowa know what excellent people Steve and LeeAnn are, and what a happiness it is that they're getting married this weekend. I am to Santa Barbara to bear witness. On the planes and trains there and back I will read Pamela, because that, it seems, is what grad students do. To add to yesterday's comment about empty jargon: I think if I have much academic bitching or moaning to do I should get it out of the way early, before Google starts associating this site with my new department and so on. This is the problem that sometimes crops up with using my real name on this site. Anyway, from my admittedly cursory look, it seems like most of the scholarship being done here in English lit is genuine and of high quality. The problem appears to lie with certain related departments whose graduate students appear in literature classes not to talk about books, apparently, but to make highly confusing pronoucements about social theory and God knows what else, dripping with pompous theoretical terms, at least some of which have obviously been made up on the spot.

The thing that drives me up the wall about cultural studies is its muleheaded insistence that flying in the face of common sense somehow constitutes deep thought. All you need to say is that actually, observed from the proper standpoint, once the false preconceptions and dualisms have been exposed, the heroine of a certain book never changes social position, be she in high society or in disgrace; or that every discourse will reduce to a sort of high-school algebra of domination and repression; or that there is no difference between liberal democracy and the totalitarian state. It's the fake philosophical vocabulary of these arguments, full of words connoting next to nothing, that is the worst; it's onerous and thankless work to unpack them in order to determine whether they're a) blindingly obvious, or b) just plain wrong.

I did find out, last night and this morning, that it's completely possible to write fiction on the train; and that will certainly ease my life. The fiction is still the important thing—this whole academic business is kind of a long and expensive detour, and an economic hedging of bets. I know it's weird and self-important to think of myself as a writer first and student second, given that I've published precisely one thing; but I have to think that way or the damn thing will never get done. It has to get done.

 

no terrorists in our treehouse

Do you know who Tariq Ramadan is? I didn't, until Manan posted about him, and it's a goddamn abomination what's happened.

It turns out that it is possible to work on the novel in Berkeley, and maybe even finish it by New Year's, but it is going to take scads of time. Reluctantly I have dropped the fascinating but completely terrifying British Modernism course from my load—it was full of, and pitched toward, second- and third-year students who, unlike me, know what they're doing in the lit-crit realm. I mean, it's not all empty jargon; there are avenues of critical thinking that are useful and incisive, and I just don't have them yet. I can't play in the big kids' sandbox.

 

no terrorists in our treehouse

Do you know who Tariq Ramadan is? I didn't, until Manan posted about him, and it's a goddamn abomination what's happened.

It turns out that it is possible to work on the novel in Berkeley, and maybe even finish it by New Year's, but it is going to take scads of time. Reluctantly I have dropped the fascinating but completely terrifying British Modernism course from my load—it was full of, and pitched toward, second- and third-year students who, unlike me, know what they're doing in the lit-crit realm. I mean, it's not all empty jargon; there are avenues of critical thinking that are useful and incisive, and I just don't have them yet. I can't play in the big kids' sandbox.

 

<= 2004.07

2004.10 =>

up (archive)

What goes on