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[FEBRUARY 2005.]

making good on iowa

I was pleased beyond measure the other day to get a link to the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop from a mysterious source at Pfizer. How professional is that? We love you, Julia, way to go.


the prison-house of language

"Wallace Stevens says: the moon follows the sun like a French translation of a Russian poet."
"That's twee!"

The campus bathroom says:


And I thought buying that secondhand Singer would liberate me from the textile indusrty. Damn it!


the horrible truth about burma

I finally fixed the email link and the home-brewed search engine there on the left, though it took far too long—I am a doofus with Perl. So, um, email and search!

After our terrible experience at the Modest Mouse show, we really needed something to restore our faith in rock and roll; last night Mission of Burma came through. The set was long and must have covered about three-quarters of their catalog—all the really good songs, anyway. These days, because of Roger Miller's hearing damage, he takes the stage wearing the sort of enormous headphones they use at shooting ranges, but this didn't stop him from showering mighty, mighty guitar noise upon us. "Academy Fight Song" and "The Ballad of Johnny Burma" made me feel about seventeen. So they gave no cause to regret not catching the last reunion tour, before the new album came out; in fact, the six or seven cuts from OnOffOn sounded so great as to raise it in my estimation.

Openers Erase Errata are a fine band, but we think they must have had an off night; their guitarist just quit, so the singer was doing double duty and only picked up her trumpet once. She was also drunk enough to get distracted by her own stage patter, so that periodically the drummer (and what a drummer!) would have to whap her snare to get the band back on target. For all that, they sure have some cool songs.


become a member today

Marlowe eulogizes Hunter S. Thompson.

A while back the comment box told me to get a life; now it wants to know how my cat is. Comment box, how did you know how intimately these things are connected? The cat is supple and gray and will be celebrating her fourteenth birthday this summer—or we will celebrate it for her, while she blinks at us. (Cf. Wittgenstein's private language argument: "the uniformity in normal human reaction which makes it possible to train most children to look at something by pointing at it. [Unlike cats, which react in a seemingly random variety of ways to pointing.]") She is associate professor of German literature at the University of Hamburg. Apart from articles on eighteenth- and twentieth-century German literature as well as literary theory, her publications include Zweideutigkeit als System: Zur Geschichte der Beziehungen zwischen der Vernunft und dem Anderen in Thomas Manns Roman "Doktor Faustus" (1988) and Ethische Projekte: Literatur und Selbstgestaltung im Kontext des Regierungsdenkens; Humboldt, Goethe, Stifter, Raabe (2000). Presently she is at work on a study that deals with literature in the context of maritime culture.

The sublimity of fresh coffee beans!


use your illusion

That ETA date up there is looking more and more like a chimera, but I guess it's a useful chimera, like "free will" or "the self"—so let it stand, boys, let it stand—

Read an essay by Lyotard, that old dog, in which he refers to "an event—ein Ereignis, as Martin Heidegger called it," to which J. responds: Well, yes, he's German, and he uses German words for things. Amazing! Shall I write an essay about a car—or ein Auto, as Martin Heidegger called it—


Well, if she can get away with it. You'll note that word count is burgeoning, and I have no life outside it. In a new prosaic low, I am having dreams about web design. This corner of the web used to be something other than what it is.

I tried to perform a public service by getting the actual news from Paraguay, but it appears that someone famous has been kidnapped and murdered, ABC Color is running a special edition, and the server is very slow.


for lent i promised to give up thoughts of the future

Passed that German test against all expectation. O, I still don't know about any of this; often I feel like the ideal position would be to read books and never have to talk about them—communicative reason is so much work and misfires so easily. But in this sphere, discursive analysis is the tax you have to pay on aesthetic pleasure. I wonder sometimes if it's bad faith to be doing this when I never really wanted to become a professor. Maybe taking a real job would not have been such a terrible thing. If I had played my cards differently, I could own a house by now. I would read books at night, I suppose, and privately love them.

This book I'm writing was meant to be the spaceship that bears me out of this.


taking tiger mountain

Seeking solace, I found it last night in cleaning up the recording studio. I untangled the labyrinth of cords, got the tuners and pedals and microphones set up, found a place to hang Chris's saxophone, taped up the gaps in the acoustic drapes, restrung some of the guitars, hooked up the twelve-track to the CD burner. After class today I will get some more guitar strings and a power adaptor for the pedals and one of those peg boards from which grown-ups hang their cords, and then I will get the laptop's USB audio interface working again. The instruments are all waking up after their long neglect, they're happy to see me. They want to play.


the young, dumb future

A helpful hint to Superb Productions, spinoff of the Associated Students of the University of California: when you bring rock acts to Berkeley, please do not put them in community theaters which are actually high school auditoriums. I expected the Modest Mouse show to be full of undergraduates, but it had not occurred to me that the auditorium would also be full of fifteen-year-olds, nor did I expect the opening band to be fifteen years old. I think they must have been Berkeley High students; at least I can't come up with any other explanation for why an act would actually get applause after a song which consists of everyone playing three notes out of time and a singer occasionally "crooning" lines like: "Human skull / human skull / human skull / I feel your pull." The second band (adults) knew how to play their instruments but were also terrible—you actually wouldn't need to change any of their properties to put them into a Christopher Guest film. "I'm going to hear that song," the singer informed us, "because nothing ever goes wrong / in the star-studded space before dawn," then did a wanky guitar solo and grouchily stomped offstage, I suppose because none of the fifteen-year-olds were throwing their bras at him.

The fifteen-year-olds wanted to see Modest Mouse. They wanted this so damn much that they all crowded up front by the stage until the event coordinator guy came to the microphone and explained that the Fire Marshal had put his foot down and everyone needed to take a seat. Somehow the little darlings didn't interpret this to mean that they had to go sit down. The event coordinator guy had to repeat his message, and then another Authority Figure (I think he might have been the high school principal; he certainly resembled one) came out and explained that the band was not going to come on until everyone had sat down, and some of the intellectual giants yelled "FUCK YOU!" and some other charming people yelled "SIT DOWN!" and by this time I was so completely alienated from the event and the audience that I wasn't sure how any performance was going to redeem it—I mean, Modest Mouse ended up putting on a good show and in the end I was glad I went, but the Berkeley Community Theater is on the nix list from here on. God, I hate teenagers.


new adventures in the semiosphere

Apparently grumpy old Ralph Nader had a speaking engagement around here not long ago and spent most of it hectoring the student body for watching crap TV and binge drinking rather than fulfilling their civic obligations. This, he said, is the demise of the progressive movement. I wasn't sure if yelling at the undergrads would do any good, but then most public restrooms on campus have the following handy sticker in view:

"Help us help you"
University of California Campus Services

So I guess no job is too small.


the music issue

At Amoeba Records the going rate for your average used LP of twentieth-century classical music is two to four dollars, so I came home with a bunch of Kodály. The string quartet No. 1, Opus 2, turns out to be a pretty dull student piece and for some reason the recording has a terrible screechy timbre; but the record of choral pieces is great, as are the orchestral Háry János Suite / Dances of Galánta and Marosszék, which sound like cheerier versions of Bartók's "Miraculous Mandarin." I know, I should not compare him to Bartók just because he's Hungarian, especially after the incident where some reviewer referred to Kodály as "the poor man's Bartók" and Bartók wrote an angry letter to the effect of "Stop it, Kodály is my friend and you guys are idiots and you all should go listen to his cello sonata." Said sonata, in which a solo cello keens and wails like a lost soul, is the reason I went out and bought all the other Kodály. It's also his Opus Eight; didn't take him long to find his feet.

Also picked up the first Erase Errata record—we're going to see these four local ladies open for Mission of Burma at Bimbo's, woo!—and fortunately the album, while abrasive, lies on the good side of my personal Boundary of Unlistenability, which lately I've become very aware of. Over the past ten years you can trace a pretty linear history of my ears learning to accommodate harsher stuff, but I think I've hit the wall. Possibly I'm just older and have decided that life is short and that if I can't figure out the aesthetic of, say, Melt-Banana after fifteen minutes, there's all that Bach I've never heard. I recently heard an anecdote about a friend of a friend encoutering a great industrial station on the radio and only realizing later that it was a dead shortwave channel and most of what he was hearing was static. Which isn't to say that his aesthetic experience was invalid while it lasted; it's just that once you find out there's no human agency behind that sort of thing, it gets much harder to talk yourself into appreciating it unless you're unusually attentive to the everyday details of the world. (Kant would draw a distinction and call it natural beauty and, I suppose, try to get teleology involved.) Meanwhile, if you're unusually attentive to the everyday details of the world and are enterprising, then presumably you can record the shortwave static onto a CD, slap your name on it with some liner notes explaining that you're interested in the aleatory properties of unregulated frequencies, release it on a label operating out of someone's basement in New York, and you'll find a small coterie of fans. I've got nothing against it, just like I've got nothing against Jainism; but I will admit to being nonplussed.


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