Saturday, February 28, 2009
Potts and Hayden assert that the Allies won the war in part because of ‘Churchill’s quite illogical and very ape-like refusal to believe that he could ever be defeated’. I am not making this up; they really wrote that down (on page 186).
It's especially revealing that the songwriters who made them all took great care to ensure that the words came across with perfect clarity. Even Arlen and Rodgers, who wrote only the music to their songs, went well out of their way to make the most of the lyrics of their distinguished collaborators, while Porter turns out to have been a demon for textual precision.
As Frederic Jameson has reminded us, short tales have a kind of "atemporal and object-like unity in the way they convert existence into a sudden coincidence between two systems: a resolution of multiplicity into unity, or a fulfillment of a single wish.” It is a basic human wish that the short story perhaps fulfills better than the novel. According to Hayden White, we desire to have real events “display the coherence, integrity, fullness, and closure of an image of life that is and can only be imaginary. The notion that sequences of real events possess the formal attributes of the stories we tell about imaginary events could only have its origin in wishes, daydreams, reveries.”
This is worth more attention than what the talking heads blather about and what you may read about in NYRB (that means you, Bryan - now that you've got the boots, it's time you became a redneck like me).
And just to scare the hell out of everybody, there's this:
... what if the critiques have merit? Goldberg's anti-media broadsides may be over the top, but his basic argument—that the liberal politics of most journalists influence media coverage, not because journalists don't strive to be objective but because their cultural milieu influences their perceptions of objectivity—has a great deal of truth to it. Few people doubt that Barack Obama got breaks from the press. And there are well-documented instances of media bias leading to sloppy reporting, with journalists all but recycling the press releases of advocacy groups on such issues as domestic violence, homelessness, or the perils of gun ownership. The press has been the target of unfair criticism, but it cannot be absolved of blame for the damage to its reputation.
Friday, February 27, 2009
He deeply loves the landscape that has been intensively managed by people since time out of mind and that he has watched over the course of his life being destroyed by mechanised agriculture. Now, what's left is being obliterated by hundreds of thousands of acres of crops to produce biofuels, and the views are being ruined by gigantic windmills.
Lovelock blames this destruction on "urban imperialist infiltrators" who know nothing of the beauties of plants and animals or the pleasures of country life and who have been duped by the Greens into thinking that the worst things imaginable are trace pesticides in their food, or electricity provided by politically incorrect sources. As a countryman who is passionate about the country and who sees citification as the greatest threat to what is best in being human, Lovelock draws on a much deeper stream of Western culture than is present in his Gaia theory. He partakes of the tradition represented by Henry Williamson and J. R. R. Tolkien in England in the 20th century and by Coleridge and Wordsworth in the 19th.
I should note that I've always liked the Gaia theory. In fact, one of my favorite notions is that a divine being might very well appear to us, from our point of view, as an immensely distant and huge sphere of continuously exploding gases.
More than 400 years ago, the philosopher Etienne de la Boetie wrote of this phenomenon in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Speaking of Rome in the time of emperors, he said:
Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them. … The mob has always behaved in this way — eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured.
This is worrisome:
I prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, in particular because I am inclined towards Plantinga's position over Dennett's and were this to become well-known it could damage or destroy my career in analytic philosophy. This is something I prefer not to put my family through. I almost didn't publish these comments at all, but as far as I could tell, this would be the only public record of the discussion.Friends, if you can identify me, I request that you keep my identity secret. I am sharing my thoughts as a service to the philosophical community and all those who have an interest in such debates. But I prefer not to suffer at the hands of my ardently secular colleagues. This is not to say that all secular analytic philosophers are this way; they most certainly are not. But enough of them are that I cannot risk being known publicly.
See also 7 Cases to Show You How Digital Publishing Does Not Compete With Print.
... on the web, free is by far the most successful approach: Show people something they want to see, then find a way to make money from that attention. Not the other way around, which, I'm afraid, most publishers are accustomed to ...
For long-time residents, the return to pre-boom rents may be a blessing. But it also poses a rattling question of identity: What happens to bourgeois bohemia when the bourgeois part drops out?
Bryan Appleyard has described himself as a craven fan of Ashbery's (what other way of being a fan is there?). I think this in part is because Bryan is extremely sensitive to the purely musical dimension of poetry and Ashbery's usually sounds gorgeous. But there is good deal more to it than that, as this John Ashbery Review of his makes plain. One of the things that makes that review so good is the intensely personal nature of the repsonse it conveys. That is how great poetry is supposed to affect people. Bryan also senses that, beneath Ashbery's blithe surface, there runs a darker current that may well be tragic.
Clarification: I can't bear to think of Bryan hyperventilating. In putting it the way I did, what I was clumsily trying to say is that Ashbery doesn't obviously put on airs of profundity (hence my use of "shtick"). Neither did Frank O'Hara. Both adopt a casual, almost breezy manner. This actually makes a good many of Ashbery's recent poems especially moving. Still, I don't pick up Ashbery when I want the sort of thing R.S. Thomas provides. But I meant no denigration of Ashbery and should perhaps have simply defended him.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
... in addition to be an estimable writer, Burgess was also a composer. You can hear his music tonight at 7 p.m. (CST) on a webcast from The Ransom Center of the University of Texas: Music from the Collections: Anthony Burgess. I know I'll be tuning in.
Here's the news release:
Performance of Music Composed By Anthony Burgess to Be Webcast
Event: The Harry Ransom Center hosts a "Music from the Collections" event with Alan Roughley, executive director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, and pianist Dianne O'Hara as they read and perform works by Anthony Burgess.
When: 7 p.m. (C.S.T.) on Feb. 26.
Where: Harry Ransom Center, 21st and Guadalupe streets.
Background: Readings include segments of "A Clockwork Orange," "This Man and Music," "Nothing Like the Sun" and more. The musical performance will feature "Preludes 1-6," "Tango," "Rhapsody" and "2 Preludes and Fugues," among others.
This program will be webcast.
Few people realize the author of "A Clockwork Orange" was also an accomplished and respected modern composer and visual artist. The Ransom Center holds a significant collection of Burgess materials, including manuscripts of some of the works to be performed. Learn more about the Burgess materials.
Another must-read is Wiman's Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet, a splendid book.It is no blasphemy to say that each of us creates the God who is creating us. We are facets of a work whose finished form we cannot imagine, though our imaginations, aided by grace, are the means of its completion.
I've always felt that reading Justine is a bit like reading The Waves: one understands little, and yet one recognizes unquestionable bits of literary genius. The same might be said of Michael Wood's recent review of Lawrence Durrell's Quartet, except that, as I made clear in a letter to the London Review, Wood's essay is so unreadable that any specks of insight are clouded by an unyielding opacity.
... then there's this: Outdoor Wire Names Obama “Gun Salesman of the Year”.
Mr. Nugent decries the regimentation of "ill-mannered watermen" who once did business by handshake and lived by codes that an outsider might appreciate but could never really understand. He and his dockmates prefer the yesterdays when "every fisherman was an independent cuss working alongside an independent cuss who happened to own a boat. It worked damn good for a hundred years." Another of Mr. Nugent's characters, the superannuated mob fixer Pink, worries that small-scale commercial fishing is going the way of whaling and that soon, in Mr. Nugent's typically pungent paraphrase, "the docks will turn into some sort of Sturbridge Village by the Sea, sanitized and saltless, with college boys pretending to be deckhands and former pencil pushers posing as captains."
Like Gadarene swine, the putatively best of American colleges have rushed to take on the worst of intellectual freight. Behind the much-vaunted notion of diversity in contemporary universities is the attempt to make sure that no corpus of bad ideas isn't amply represented. In this attempt, the top universities have succeeded admirably.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
This is a deeply thoughtful piece, a model of its kind, and deserves to be readfullu and pondered long. Here are a couple of things I thought on a first read.
In a religious worldview, one can say that what grounds one’s commitment to treating people decently is that the will of God makes everyone sacred. But then what grounds one’s belief in God? We have moved from one shaky foundation to another; there is no gain in confidence.Which brings to mind this:
... what could be the cause of being as being? Certainly not a being of the universe. For whatever being one would want to indicate as the cause of being as being, it would always be a participating being, a contingent being and, therefore, a caused being. Being, however, is not the cuase-of-being, for it is caused-being. Precisely under the aspects under which it would be indicated as the cause of being - namely, as being - it is not cause but caused, because it is participating and contingent-being. ... Nothing appears much simpler as soon as it is understood that the universe, conceived as the universality of all beings does not have the ground "to be" in itself. However, there is not nothing. There are beings, the universe is. Being is being-caused, being-under-the-influence-of-something-else; therefore it is excluded that this "influencing reality" would not be, for otherwise nothing would be. But something is.
There certainly is something mysterious about strong evaluation in a materialistic universe. The Transcendent Something toward which all this points is, however, obscure.Which brings to mind this:
But if the stuff of the universe that we know directly is mind, and matter is the same thing known only by means of conceptual symbols created by mind, it would seem as reasonable to call that part of reality mind as to call it matter. And matter, even crude matter, is not what it was. It has turned into energy, and the atom has become a pattern and the molecule a pattern of patterns, till all the different physical substances and their behaviour have come to be regarded as the outcome of their primitive components. But we have already met with pattern in the nervous system, underlying and rendering possible the most fundamental characteristics of mind. And pattern in some mysterious way possesses a life of its own, for it can survive a change in the identity of its component parts as long as its structure remains the same. ... The pattern of our personalities though it changes slowly remains substantially the same, though every protein molecule in the body, including the nervous system, is changed three times a year. The ingredients have altered but not the structure. ... This world surely is very different from the world of the older materialists.
... why do so many scofflaws keep using “I” instead of “me”? Perhaps it’s because they were scolded as children for saying things like “Me want candy” instead of “I want candy,” so they began to think “I” was somehow more socially acceptable. Or maybe it’s because they were admonished against “it’s me.” Anybody who’s had “it is I” drummed into his head is likely to avoid “me” on principle, even when it’s right. The term for this linguistic phenomenon is “hypercorrection.” A related crime that Mr. Obama stands accused of is using “myself” to dodge the “I”-versus-“me” issue, as when he spoke last November of “a substantive conversation between myself and the president.”
This detail aside, I am fundamentally in agreement with what Richard says.
Heaney was not yet forty years old when Robert Lowell proclaimed him "the best Irish poet since W.B. Yeats," but already he was no stranger to anointings. The oldest of nine children, he grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland, and the labors and pleasures of that rural life have been an inexhaustible subject for his verse. At the age of twelve, Heaney was sent off to a Catholic boarding school, St. Columb's College, whereupon "I shifted," he recalls, "into a kind of separateness, but also a kind of privilege." "I was being 'educated,' and that meant being set a bit apart."
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
"He did not think I was going mad; on the contrary, I think he envied me. It seemed he thought there was nothing strange about the idea that a resurrected Christ should suddenly pop up and start walking around the heart of Hackney, made obvious to those who were open to seeing him."
The greatest example of the attitude I am describing is the French flâneur.
Flâneur literally means stroller or idler, and, in the nineteenth
century, came to describe an elegant kind of gentlemanly moocher, who
ambled purposelessly through the Parisian arcades, watching, waiting,
hanging around. His hero was Baudelaire, as an anti-bourgeois who had
somehow freed himself from wage slavery and was at liberty to wander thestreets with no particular place to go.
Here is an excellent piece by Terry Teachout on Lambert: A British Bad Boy Finds His Way Back Into the Light.
Though these witty, elegantly scored works (all of which have been recorded by Hyperion) are few in number, their uneasy mixture of high spirits and intense melancholy is utterly individual. No young English composer of the 30's, not even his friend William Walton, had a more personal style.Post bumped.
It was only slowly, and over time, that he insinuated himself into the night world that he made his own best subject. His method was a simple form of Broadway Zen: he went to Lindy’s, then an all-night Jewish deli on Broadway, and sat. “I am the sedentary champion of the city,” he explained. “In order to learn anything of importance, I must remain seated. Why I am the best is that I can last an entire day without causing a chair to squeak.” It seems to have been true ... Basically, Runyon spent the twenties absorbing the material he would use in the thirties.Writers today should get out more and try that.
Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, self-described "progressives" and authors of one of the most challenging recent books on the environment, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, recognize and lament the authoritarianism of conventional environmentalism. "Environmental tales of tragedy begin with Nature in harmony and almost always end in quasi-authoritarian politics," Nordhaus and Shellenberger observe. While environmentalists like Eckersley embrace the postmodern language of "privilege" to denigrate traditional individual rights, Nordhaus and Shellenberger point up the obvious irony that it is environmentalism that is making the boldest claim to be given the most privileged position in politics: "The problem is not simply that it is difficult to answer the question ‘Who speaks for nature?' but rather that there is something profoundly wrong with the question itself. It rests on the premise that some people are better able to speak for nature, the environment, or a particular place than others. This assumption is profoundly authoritarian."
Of course they would probably oppose it, and report it in such a way as to put it in the worst light posssible. The Inquirer, though, which hasn't made any of its loan payments lately, would certainly find itself in an awkward position.
In terms of writers, the necessary skills will vary widely, from old-timers telling stories to the careful and intricate written sentences of a highbrow novel. There will be a new category of something like “wordsmith techie,” supplying things like the throb of a heart or a ship engine. Authors might have their keyboard setup on one wall and a sound-mixing board on another. Some, of course, will make the leap into pure video and not use words at all -- just concepts expressed in images and sound.
I think that's about right.
... by imagining I do not mean merely the formation of images in our minds, but rather that process by which we take such images and the ideas we abstract from them and the feelings they generate in us and arrange them coherently and harmoniously into something new, in much the same way as the combination of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen becomes a compound that is altogether different from either of its constituents by themselves. For all that we are hearing in this year of Darwin about a supposed connection between art and evolution, it seems worth noting that no other species has found it necessary for its survival to decorate a nest or lair with frescoes or adorn itself with jewelry or sit around and listen while one of their number sings a tale of bestial heroism or romance.
I think it only fair to mention that over the weekend my friend Dave Lull and I exchanged emails about this column and that Dave's sharp questions and observations enabled me to get a clearer idea of what I was driving at. The sentence that begins the above excerpt came about entirely because of that. So my thanks to Dave for taking the time to help me with this.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Additionally? In a separate and complementary angle on "The Self-Promo Wrangle," Ms. Bedell had the noive to whine that Ms. Atwood didn't talk to *her* person-to-personally (as if, somehow, Ms. Atwood ought to have so done; we should all get so lucky). Quel fromage . . . One can only feel sorry for Ms. Bedell's publisher, given it's dealing with someone who's clearly, from my POV and IMO (only), one pencil short of a case.
Earlier this winter, The London Review presented its readers with a cover, the contents of which are unlikely to find their way towards the front (or even middle) of a comparable publication in the States. I continue to be fascinated by the distinction between the American and European 'Left,' particularly as it plays out in the realm of literary and cultural analysis.
We enjoy sex, grasp facial expressions, understand logic and spontaneously acquire language—all of which make it easier for us to survive and produce children.
Well, other species survive and produce offspring and do it without grasping logic or spontaneously acquiring language (presuming we did acquire language spontaneously).
We tell stories, sing songs, invent tales, recount jokes and draw pictures in order to find a mate and, having found one, produce children.
... Edward Byrne comments: Rating Great Poets and Considering Contemporary Concerns.
Take the Beatles' song "A Day in the Life", in which, Professor Mellers states, "the verse section is without modulation, except in so far as its pentatonic-tending E minor acquires tight, Phrygian F naturals". This is not a piece of information that will interest all Beatle enthusiasts, but it is a fact which, when checked against the recording and totted up with all the many similar observations on other songs, quickly points up a revealing, perhaps even central, aspect of the Beatles' music as a whole: its ambiguous tonality.
Anyway, scroll down the lefthand column and ask yourself how many of those stories are worth your time and money. This is what you get when your paper is run by the unadventurous and dull.
See also When Dinosaurs Smoked Cigarettes …
People still want news. They just don’t want the same news as everyone else has.
John Stuart Mill, of all people, said that the difference between eloquence and poetry is that eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard. I think for the writer of fiction and poetry the first order of the day is to get it down right. Each such writer is communicating first of all to himself. But, since general rules of grammar and usage are involved, what is produced is likely to communicate to certain others as well - who, as it were, overhear it.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Seems like a pretty lively discussion to me.
Here's a podcast of Ed's talk: Ed , the “Philly Poe Guy”: Edgar Allan Poe and the Philadelphia Gothic Tradition.
Scroll down a bit and you can also listen to Christopher Looby, "The Paradox of Philadelphia Gothic."
Actually, this isn't journalism so much as a kind of nonfiction short story.
Bonaventure thought of light as a metaphor for God. He argued that if God can be said to sustain the universe, then God would also have to be invisible in the universe. As God said to Moses, no-one can see God and live. It’s a bit like the notion of God as the ground of existence. If God is such a ground then God cannot be said to exist. Neither can God be said not to exist. God, like light, is somehow beyond existence, beyond seeing – ‘found’ only in the cloud of unknowing.Compare that to this:
... when the philosopher of existence calls man existence, he wants to express the view that being-conscious-in-the-world constitutes the essence of man. This being-conscious is that through which man is man and not a thing, a pure spirit, or a divine Being. Accordingly, we must say that things, pure spirits, and God do not exist, i.e., they are essentially distinct from man. Being-conscious-in-the-world constitutes what man essentially is. Man does not enter into the world because there happens to be a world and it is up to him to enter it or not or to withdraw from it at his discretion.
Tolstoi was almost as great a lover of material things as Balzac, almost as much interested in the way dishes were cooked, and people were dressed, and houses were furnished. But there is this determining difference; the clothes, the dishes, the moving, haunting interiors of those old Moscow houses, are always so much a part of the emotions of the people that they are perfectly synthesized; they seem to exist, not so much in the author's mind, as in the emotional penumbra of the characters themselves. When it is fused like this, literalness ceases to be literalness—it is merely part of the experience.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
See also Poet of pleasure and pain leaves 'em swooning.
Gore Vidal's verdict: "Mr. Barthelme is very deep into fiction's R and D (Research and Development) as opposed to the old-fashioned R and R (Rest and Recuperation)."
It isn't often that I agree with Gore Vidal. Indeed, this may be the only time.
Friday, February 20, 2009
McGovern may have been liberal, but Nixon was no conservative. And McGovern remains a decent, genuinely patriotic American.
My own father, I think, was just a common drunk. As was I.
How rare a thing it is - the succesful novella. But that is what I uncovered - just last week - when sitting down to J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country. Published by NYRB and shortlisted for the Booker, Carr's lean, but endlessly poignant, account of one man's experiences following the First World War left me with a renewed appreciation not only for the novella, but for those with the ability to capture that complex relationship between memory and silence. Carr's work - like a number of NYRB titles - is well worth the afternoon's read. It is, as Rolling Stone said of Joseph Roth's Flight Without End, a "minor masterpiece."
I don’t know what I expected when I read “Farewell” again over 30 years later, but it has proven to be a huge disappointment.
Nice that they made the correction quickly. But it's also a good idea to check like that out before you link to it - you know, just in case.
... and here's the latest: Atwood now hoping to attend Dubai festival 'virtually'.
"... when there are no standards, however imperfectly applied those standards might be, then there is no trust."
Just remember that Deighton and Michael Caine made guys with glasses sexy.
. . . [The Finishing Touch]'s plot, containing nothing of cold wars, or any wars, concerns only the arrival at the school (and hasty departure) of an English princess, her royal breast stung by a nasty local wasp, her headmistress's oral remedy caught by a contraband camera . . . Brigid Brophy's work attracted much thoughtful criticism in its day, but in 1963, no one saw the slightest connection between The Finishing Touch and the Blunt affair, Britain's greatest postwar spy scandal . . .
— TLS Editor Sir Peter Stothard lays it on the hi-pri spy-guy dreadline in this deft, distinguished, and distinctive re-examination of Brophy's lesbian-fantasist novel, the fifth "Buried Treasure" unearthed for The Globe and Mail's ongoing series of sadly neglected gems. The results? Hardcore brilliance, a diamond in the no-guff tough-enough pas-de-bluff finishing-school stuff.
P.S. Happy B-Day eight days early, Sir Peter [Rabbit] (since we're 'bout eight days late featuring this sublimely stun-thundrous cut-above great)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
This is not to say that the book is doomed. But publishers will surely have to change the way they do business. A system that requires the trucking of vast quantities of paper to bookshops and then back to publishers’ warehouses for pulping is environmentally and commercially unsustainable. An industry that spends all its money on bookseller discounts and very little on finding an audience is getting things the wrong way round. Following the strictures of their accountants, the large houses will intensify their concentration on blockbusters. High street bookshops will abandon deep stockholding, becoming mere showrooms for bestsellers and prize-winners. Ever more people will read the same few books. The future of much of the industry will be dominated by electronic distribution, internet marketing to niche audiences, and reading by print-on-demand or hand-held electronic devices. There is opportunity as well as challenge in this model. The roles of editor and publicist, people who can guide the potential reader through the cacophony of background noise to words they’ll want to read, will become ever more important.
I think publishing, to a large extent, has the same problem that art museums and galleries have: They have lost the peculiar talent of the connoisseurs who made them in the first place. Most curators simply don't have the eye or the sensibility of a Duncan Phillips or and Isabella Stewart Gardner. Most publishers these days don't come close to Alfred Knopf when it comes to powers of literary discernment. The same is true of newspapers. The people running them these are distinctly inferior to Pulitzer and Hearst.
As David Brooks showed in "Bobos in Paradise" (2000), the new bourgeois bohemians have figured out a way to have their pesto and eat it, too. They can have nice homes, cars, clothes and vacations—as long as all those consumption items are ones that the Babbitts wouldn't buy, wouldn't like, and whose appeal they'd find mystifying. The Bobo can pay for his socially correct lifestyle by working in a socially correct career—in Silicon Valley, a public-interest law firm, a startup involved with the internet or renewable energy; anything where work "becomes a vocation, a calling, a métier," according to Mr. Brooks.
Brooks should know.