<= 2004.10

2004.12 =>

[NOVEMBER 2004.]

otchayanie

Final papers were slow and thankless last night, and I got distracted by Googling the authors of some of these Nabokov essays to see what had become of them. Christ, was that the wrong thing to do. One gentleman, whose essay was not particularly good (but is much better than what I'm writing) was for a time a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, then went to become an Assistant Professor at some tiny college in Arkansas, then returned to Washington University to "teach English and Film Studies"—the lack of a titled position suggests to me that he must have been an adjunct or some other second-class citizen—and of his activities in the last couple years Google is completely silent. He doesn't appear on any of the university web pages. I take this to mean that he lost any hope of getting tenure, or indeed of any respectable academic position at all, and out of shame he changed his name or moved to Tajikistan or sank into the mire. All that remains is his mediocre essay on Nabokov, which is better than mine.

The cat, neglected during my absence, now spends the day sitting directly before me, her face lowered to the paper-strewn surface of my desk. What do you desire, cat? Are you a gargoyle? Will you protect me?

 

every civilized man should know

No, piracy is no good. I will move to Germany and become a governess for the JBF-Maschinen. I will teach the Maschinen drawing and French. They must get lonely.

Actually I'm going to Reno today. I'll give your love to the family. Family, everyone loves you. Hot holiday reading: Adorno and Benjamin and Brecht arguing about aesthetics and fascism, Lukács's Theory of the Novel, the bilingual Kafka book of die schönsten erzählungen. Airplane, you just try that on for size.

 

des tat twam asi?

Lies! It was not to be. I got bored translating the newspaper, I tried to translate Adorno instead, after translating Adorno I looked up the authorized English translation on the web and realized that I had produced such a hilariously terrible mistranslation that I immediately plunged it into the oubliette—it will never be seen by anyone—least of all on the web. Ugh. I'm not sure what happens now. Maybe I finally give up and become a pirate.

 

burgfräulein

I got as far as the letter O with German flashcards, and then I freaked out and revolted. I can't learn any more words out of context—they just rattle around my brain like coins in a dryer. From now on I will read newspapers in German and learn P through Z incidentally.

They tell me Die Zeit is the best, although it's more like an in-depth weekly and the sentence structure is a step up from your typical paper, even if it isn't Adorno. There's a deeply strange article on Condoleeza Rice here. You knew that she is the first person Bush sees in the morning and the last at night, but did you know that she has her own little guest house (Gästehäuschen) at the Crawford ranch, that she and the president watch football and work out and pray together, that they are hardly apart except when she has to go to her chamber orchestra rehearsal? Babelfish is probably inadequate for Die Zeit, but this coming week, as a) language practice and b) in order to fulfill this site's pledge to Bring More Germany to You, I'll be doing some inadequate translations. Peeved Germans are better than peeved me.

 

spout!

Scholar.google.com is up. I'm not sure what it can do that a university library can't, but maybe a use will become apparent. Searching for "Nabokov" gets me his classic work "Endothelin receptor antagonists influence cardiovascular morphology in uremic rats." Searching for "Nabokov Lolita" gets me citations of unpublished dissertations from Budapest but not the dissertations themselves. And by listing these search terms, which Google will now index, I have once again added to the noise. I am Shannon entropy, destroyer of worlds.

Party people in the house. This site is making less discursive sense all the time. Jack Spratt ate no fat, no myelin in his brain.

 

slippage 2

Website, if you think you're neglected, you should talk to my book. That word count up there isn't moving, and it's entirely my fault. The seminar papers intervene, the seminar papers—perhaps—make me feel more like an amateur than I would otherwise, not yet qualified to put real words together. Just these fake words. Books have lifespans, and it is always a race to finish the book before its lifespan expires and it becomes not worth finishing. It was easier when I had no other obligations but to sit in the Arizona sun/Portland rain and feel sorry for myself.

Heilge Kreuze sind die Verse, dran die Dichter stumm verbluten.

 

slippage

Remembrance for Derrida on campus yesterday. Three panelists.

Judith Butler: Derrida spent his life trying to learn how to live and how to die. He considered this knowledge unattainable. Yet the search continues. Think of Socrates.

Pheng Cheah: Derrida spoke of the gift of time—if there is such a thing—for we know time only through its slippage and effacement. It is never present in itself. Similarly, a gift cannot be acknowledged as gift, for acknowledgment implies debt, debt implies repayment, repayment effaces the original fact of the gift. Certain debts must remain unpaid. What implications does this have for time?

Richard Rorty: I never understood what deconstruction was. If you think that the main achievement of mid-twentieth-century philosophy was that of the later Wittgenstein, Quine, Davidson, etc., who made us see words in terms of their use, rather than as kernels of meaning that you can deconstruct, then you're not going to have much use for it. I think in time we'll remember Derrida for other things, just as we no longer consider Nietzsche primarily as the philosopher of the superman. Derrida comes out of the anti-metaphysical tradition started by the Sophists and reawakened by Nietzsche. He took Heidegger's tragedy of existence and rewrote it as farce.

Woman in audience: I feel such a presence here as we're talking. Professor Rorty, do you think we'll speak with Derrida again in this life?

Richard Rorty: Er, what's that?

Judith Butler: She said, will we ever speak with Derrida again in this life?

Richard Rorty: No.

 

mirror men

Right now this NYTimes article on Bush's meeting with Blair is called "Bush and Bush Meet to Discuss Mideast Peace." Many a true word in jest, etc., but by the time you read this the monkeys surely will have fixed it.

Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism. Kids, I love this book. It's easy to get disheartened after a long day of grappling with Deleuze and whoever his friend was that called everything a machine, and Barbara Johnson reading Derrida reading Lacan reading Poe, and people who call Nabokov a misogynist because they don't have the elementary critical skill required to separate him from his characters, and people who invent really terrible and shaky defenses to save Nabokov from misogyny, and whoever else is out there in the wide world; how nice to occasionally run across someone who has a coherent project, the cojones to go after it in grand style, and enough horse sense to sit down and practice the sort of readings that he advocates. His aim is actually very simple; he doesn't want to take aesthetics out of literature, he just wants to relate it to politics in a coherent way. The fierce and reductive Scylla of reducing all literature to social reportage? He skirts it. The murky Charybdis of goopy generalities about "art"? Gets past that too, and even if he knows we'll never get to Ithaca as such, it doesn't stop him from trying. Forward.

 

sweetness and light

2004 election results:

America at night:

 

to-do

—J. walked across kitchen floor in white socks, socks instantly became gross. Must mop kitchen floor. Excuse for not noticing earlier: I don't wear white socks.

—Finish Bertrand Russell's enormous history of Western philosophy. I'm only at Aquinas right now. I must swallow more Aquinas, I must devour the world. Having done this, I will feel competent to actually go read Kant or Spinoza or someone.

—Cat, why are you cying?

—I really need a haircut.

—The "critical crux" of Lolita. Well, we know that; it's solipsism and the tyranny of unchecked aestheticism. But how to make that interesting in six pages.

—German. I am still making flashcards. I am up to the letter E. I sneaked a peek at some Adorno yesterday and I still can't fucking read it.

—Entropy is settling like a blanket. There are places where the books should be, and the books are not there. The coffee mugs have undergone a diaspora and are all over my desk. The beer bottles contain no beer.

—Finish Culture and Imperialism. It's a TARDIS-book. It's too large to possibly fit inside that slim paperback cover.

—There's some other reading in the future. Olaudah Equiano, photocopies, essays. I still haven't finished that other book on Maya shamanism.

—Cat litter migrates from the litterbox. It forms cat-litter dunes that take three days and nights to cross. They bury the head of Ozymandias.

—500 words/day, 500 words/day, I am a little train that says 500 words/day, even if it is like pulling an ore cart up a mountain half the time. Have to break 104 today.

 

gone but not forgotten

I have settled (with a little help from J.) on the subject for my dissertation. It will concern the life and works of the unfortunately neglected Wilfred Hardgrave-Rumpleworth, Lord Kensington (1721-1788). After a typical aristocratic upbringing of fencing, French, and fox-hunting, Kensington published his first volume of poems, Divers Thoughts From Rambles O'er My Estate, in 1743. Today the best-known poem from the collection is the vigorous "Reflections Upon A Fox-Hunt."

Ah, crafty Reynard! Thou may'st show thy Tail
Provocatively o'er Hill and Dale,
But know that I have gathered up my Hounds
And we shall seek thy Pelt with Leaps and Bounds!
Ay, we shall crash through Gardens and through Hedges
With no concern for their finely trimmed Edges.
Brave Nimrod or Actaeon could not fly
Through my Land-Holdings half as quick as I!

There follows a long and rather confused epic simile likening the fox to a woman named Mary, for whom no historical correspondent has yet been found, after which Kensington asserts that the sight of the fox's pelt will surely win Mary's heart. The poem closes with a vision of the happy couple settling down to a light meal of roast widgeon and the subsequent delights of Venus.

In succeeding years Kensington's attention was diverted from poetry by ill-advised agricultural investments in Carolina, but in 1758 he returned to the literary world with The Steeple-Chase. The title poem recounts a horse race in a bold anapestic meter that, as a reviewer in the Spectator noted, "pounds the Reader into delighted Submission beneath the Sway of Rhythm and Play of Fancy, as if a thousand Horse-Hooves were verily Treading upon his inmost Heart."

With Prancing and Dancing, and Clapping and Clanging,
The Horses start out (as I now am explaining)
All bold from the Gate! And all swift down the Track!
Who shall win? Who shall lose? Who shall bear the Prize back?
My Blood fills my Frame (as sage Harvey has shown us)
With Excitement and Longing at this Hippo-Dromus,
To see the brave Stallions, all friskful with lust,
So nobly compete for the Honour august.

Near the end of "The Steeple-Chase" we see an abrupt change in subject matter, as Kensington pulls back to allegorically explore much weightier moral issues.

For this Life is a Steeple-Chase, all Men know well;
Some shall go to Heaven, and some go to Hell.
We must stay the Course, we must not be diverted
By Apples or Sugar (or some Mare who has flirted)
For all these Temptations, tho' mighty alluring,
Are Snares of the Devil. They're always occurring!
The Jockey who rides us, and urges us on,
Is our Lord and Savior. We shall not go wrong,
For we are true Stallions, and shall win the Prize
Of Life Everlasting, in our dear Father's Eyes.

This introduction of religious subject matter presages Kensington's famous "turn," in which he abandons discussions of worldly pleasure for a preoccupation with salvation and damnation. His later work does not bear out the optimistic mood of "The Steeple-Chase." Burdened by debt, in ill health, struggling with alcoholism and an incipient laudanum addiction, he spent most of his final two decades in bed. With the aid of a specially constructed writing desk, he worked daily on his allegorical play Heaven's Pearly Throne, though progress was slow and it remained uncompleted at the time of his death. The principal character is Euraeus, an ailing and alcoholic nobleman who delivers long and questioning soliloquies on the state of his soul.

And shall this priceless Treasure of Free-Will,
Which God has given me, be so debased
By continual Perversions of the Soul,
By bawdy Thoughts, and Laudanum, and Snuff,
And the occasional Bit of Buggery,
To cast me ever out of Paradise?
Shall I be thrown to everlasting Fire?
And is the Fire of such a Quality
As the Scalding of a hot Tea-Kettle
When your palsied Hands spill out the Water
All a-boil, that was to make your Tea,
Or is it like the Burning of one's Guts
After a Meal too heartily enjoyed,
Which maketh one sincerely rue, and pray,
"Lord, O let me ne'er eat Pheasant again!"

In the fourth act Christ appears and holds a dialogue with Euraeus; written in the last year of Kensington's life, it is a testament to his infirmity. He could no longer summon the concentration to write in verse and resorted to prose monologues of wobbly structure and considerable length.

Christ. Unhappy Euraeus! Are you not familiar with the Doctrine of Transmigration of Souls, from which we may infer that the Fox you once so lustily Hunted was in fact the Reincarnated Soul of a Man, or possibly a Woman, perhaps someone known to you, a distant Cousin, likely one of those obnoxious Cousins from France with whom you were forced to play as a Child, who mocked your French Pronunciation, and stole your Wig and hung it from a Mulberry-Tree—for all that, miserable Euraeus, was it right for you to Hunt the Creature down with your Hounds and, having dispatched the Wretch, dance your Obscene Jig of Victory in the Wooded Glen?

Euraeus. My Lord, I know not.

Christ. Furthermore, you have soiled your Bed-Sheets.

Surely it needs no further explanation why I feel obliged to bring Kensington's work to a wider reading public. After I defend my dissertation and take a promising academic appointment, I plan to devote myself to preparing a scholarly edition of his complete works, including a number of fascinating letters to Alexander Pope, in which he takes issue with Pope's translation of the Iliad and advances his opinion that mêtioônto is not the third-person plural epic unaugmented form of mêtiaô, "to deliberate," as is commonly believed, but rather denotes a type of fruit compote.

 

I was very decorous and refrained from yelling at the television until they showed the results of an exit poll where "moral values" came in as the No. 1 issue for the largest number of voters—more than terrorism, more than the economy.

Wake me up when Obama is president.

 

representative democracy

So I voted Nader four years ago. I did this because of youth, and the associated combination of cynicism and naïveté; I cynically believed that the system was so broken that a major-party vote would make no difference, and naïvely believed that it couldn't get any worse. At least on the second point, was I ever wrong. Remember 2000? Remember when we thought that the only important issue facing the country was Roe v. Wade?

By my best guess, what Bush means by an "Ownership Society" is a rollback of the New Deal and a return to the 1920s, and if he's reelected he'll probably get to do a lot of it. I won't even start with the administration's insane foreign policy; there's an infinite amount to object to on moral grounds, but their domestic policy is what's going to affect our lives here. All those familiar faces from the last four years will continue to gut the social safety net, regress the tax code, red-shift the judiciary, poison the land, empty the treasury, erode civil liberties, and generally work to establish a society which is libertarian in its economics, evangelical in its values, and fascist in its law enforcement. There's a limit to what can be done in four years, but I have the uneasy sense that one good push on the toboggan could send it skidding down the slope for a long time.

Kerry, at the very least, will replace this cadre that wants to continue remaking the United States. Given that Republicans are likely to come out of this with a Senate majority, I don't know how much of the extant damage he'll be able to fix. You know and I know that there is no real solution to the Iraq mess and nothing there is going to change any time soon, other than a possible increase in European troops and the outside chance that domestic protest will rise to the point that Kerry will have to shrug his shoulders, bring our boys home, and let Baghdad implode. Maybe some of the Bush tax cuts will get rolled back too. But I can't see any scenario for substantive change. Gay marriage? Not this decade, and maybe not the next one either. Universal health care? Ha! The federal piggy bank is empty. There's no point in even discussing, as Nader would like to, Kerry's or his wife's extensive ties to the octopus-tentacled business world; if there was ever a period in our history where you could get elected to the presidency without a lot of help from the tentacles, it's long past. The point is that even if Kerry wants to effect any change in the deep structure, he won't be able to. The best-case scenario is four years of damage control.

It's one thing for the country to be divided. It's entirely another for these divisions to be eroding faith in the electoral process itself. This election stands a very good chance of ending up in the courts again; unlike 2000, everyone knows it in advance this time. The degree of arbitrary power held by the judiciary, from issues like the poll challenges all the way up to that 5-4 Supreme Court decision, uncomfortably reminds me of certain episodes in Latin American history. I do not think that this is a fraudulent show election, or anything like that. I do think that when the margins of victory are so thin, people are inclined to dispute gray areas in the voting process that in better times everyone can pass over. This incessant talk of a divided nation reminds me of the 1850s, and while the fuzziness of the geographical divide rules out another civil war, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing violent protests and a resulting government crackdown that will make the sixties look like a cakewalk. Maybe not this time around, but 2008 and 2012 look to be just as bad. These divisions aren't going away.

I'm going to go out and vote now. I know you're all doing the same. And tonight we'll turn on our televisions.

 

lions do not eat candy

Venerate all the saints today. I give you Pica Pica Nuttalli and the Shiny Objects Band, which has been trucking along for a little while.

 

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