Cathy Park Hong

Emily Lloyd points to a very interesting essay by Cathy Park Hong which, in many ways, parallels Perloff's essay, "The Oulipo Factor."


God Bless the UCC

See the newest UCC commercial the networks are refusing to air.


Realism is the bordello of those who would have their perceptions affirmed rather than dilated. When the door of fascism is opened, Realism will be seen lounging like a whore in its inner sanctum.

from Lara Glenum, Manifesto of the Anti-Real

Buffy Wisdom Monday

Master: You're dead!
Buffy: I may be dead, but I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.
Master: You were destined to die! It was written!
Buffy: What can I say? I flunked the written.

Season One, "Prophecy Girl"


Native Sovereignty & the South Dakota Ban

Oglala Sioux vow to defy the South Dakota abortion ban. Of course, this is Pine Ridge and AIM country, so it's a radicalized crowd to begin with.

(Hacked South Dakota logo courtesy of EKO via feministing blog.)


Some Things

...the French know how to do better. The sign says "It's the street that governs." Why the streets aren't filled with protesters in this country taking it back from the current criminal cabal, well, I don't get it.

Vive la France!

Coverage of the CPE in the NY Times, Libération, and Le Monde.

(Photo from SuperFrenchie's blog.)


Play the Cloud Chamber Bowls

If you haven't already, go read Emily's post on Harry Partch, follow the links there, and play (virtually) some of the instruments American composer Harry Partch built.

Partch was a microtonal composer. He split the standard octave into 43 steps rather than the usual 12. His music frequently had a complex, polyrhythmic core that drove the music forward, as you might guess from the number of pitched percussion instruments he built.

The Rhetoric of Trees

Very interesting column about the larger rhetorical strategy in the Bushite presentation of the Iraq war.

Notice that one way of viewing this is as a clash of narratives (and also as an example of the aesthetic being applied to history).

So, can we bury this narrative = reality = truth bullshit now? How about it, Tony?


Creativity and Ruthlessness

I recently read an essay by Laurence Dreyfus, "Bachian Invention and Its Mechanisms," in the Cambridge Companion to Bach. I suspect it's a condensed version of his book, Bach and the Patterns of Invention.

Dreyfus contends that the complexity of Bach's music arises in part from how thoroughly Bach explored and exploited the possibilities of his materials. When others would create entirely new material, Bach would create counter-subjects, inversions, mode and interval shifts, canons, etc. all from his original material. Many of the methods used are nearly algorithmic. The result is a music of unequalled complexity and energy.

I found this interesting for several reasons. First, it showed me, like nothing else, how Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique is a simple extension of long-established tradition. Second, with regard to writing, it confirmed (I didn't need convincing) me in my belief that seemingly mechanical operations (as in, say, diastic reading or constraints) can produce material of considerable interest. Third, it reminded me of that Blakean proverb, "If the fool persist in his folly, he shall become wise."


Buffy Wisdom Monday

Buffy: Well, I'm not exactly quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots, but there's definitely something unnatural going on here. And that doesn't usually lead to hugs and puppies.

Season 6, "Once More, with Feeling"


Green Integer Review

Doug Messerli has started a review to go along with Green Integer Books. You can also find the catalog from there. The good news is that it looks like many of the out-of-print Sun and Moon volumes are being reprinted. The bad news is that some, like Hejinian's The Cell haven't been, yet.


From Lynn Hejinian's The Cell

It is the writer's object
        to supply the hollow green
        and yellow life of the
        human I
It rains with rains supplied
        before I learned to type
        along the sides who when
        asked what we have in
        common with nature replied opportunity
        and size
Readers of the practical help
They can reside
And resistance is accurate—it
        rocks and rides the momentum
Words are emitted by the
        rocks to the eye
Motes, parts, genders, sights collide
There are concavities
It is not imperfect to
        have died

October 6, 1986

Narrative Suspicions

It is as a political force that the aesthetic still concerns us as one of the most powerful ideological drives to act upon the reality of history.
—Paul de Man, "Aesthetic Formalization: Kleist's Über das Marionettentheater," in The Rhetoric of Romanticism

I thought of this quote when I was reading Hoagland's essay. I've had the quote on my bulletin board for, well, I don't know how long. It's typed, probably on the 1950s Royal manual that got me through most of my course work and exams.

De Man is referring to the inevitable violence when people attempt to put an aesthetic form on reality. The obvious, and most egregious, example is the Nazi party whose realization of their narrative of national glory involved the death of an entire race.

This notion of bringing a narrative conclusion to reality persists, though on a smaller scale. It continues in the fundamentalist farmers who work to breed the right color cow to fulfill an interpretation of Revelations and hasten the Apocalypse. It continues in the talkshow host's fantasies of imprisoning all liberals and bringing about a true nation. It continues in launching an unprovoked war to bring about some glorious regional peace in the Middle East. It continues in the Fellowship and Sen. Brownback who work to bring government so completely under Jesus Christ that government, taxes, and regulations disappear. It continues in the story we tell ourselves about what a great nation we are while trailing the rest of the Western world in every measure of health, welfare, and culture.

And it will continue so long as a putatively adult human being can write such twaddle as: "I keep wondering if we can find a broader cultural explanation for the contemporary attraction to dissociation" (518). Stop wondering and just open your goddam eyes.


Hoagland, Space, and Time

A fad or fashion has at least two qualities: it is limited in time, and it does not have a substantial ground. In his essay, "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment," Hoagland does not make an argument that disjunctive writing is a fad; he assumes it and then writes about its contrast with his preferred modes.

There is one place he suggests a precedent for two poems in James Tate and John Ashbery (514). Notice that the "precedents" are limited to living poets. Other places in the essay he mentions Eliot (515), surrealism (515), language poetry (518), "avant-gardes of the past" (515), and Paul Hoover's preface to the Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (519). In each case, the citations are isolated from each other or, perversely, bent to serve Hoagland's argument (quotation from Hoover, 519). Nowhere is there any recognition that these citations point to a history of practice, a history of practice that, in its extent, cannot be called a fad.

With only slight perversity, one could argue that disjunctive writing, and the fad of dismissing it as a fad, begins with Samuel Johnson's (d. 1784) dismissal of John Donne's (d. 1631) writing as that in which "the most disparate ideas are by violence yoked together."

With less perversity, there is a strong, wide grounding for disjunctive writing in Modernism: Joyce (Finnegan's Wake), William Carlos Williams (Kora in Hell, the full version of Spring and All), Pound, Eliot, and Gertrude Stein. These are not minor writers and they are not minor precedents. More recent writers would include Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, Samuel Beckett, John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, and so on.

In recent anthologies, one can trace these precedents down to the most recent practitioners, anthologies like Rothenberg's Revolution of the Word and Poems for the Millenium, Silliman's In the American Tree, Messerli's From the Other Side of the Century, Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry, Primary Trouble from Talisman, and so on.

Critical work also outlines this stream, sometimes in exhaustive detail: Perloff (Radical Artifice, Poetics of Indeterminacy), Altieri (Enlarging the Temple, Self and Sensibility), Molesworth (The Fierce Embrace), and so on.

As several of the anthologies and work above demonstrate, disjunctive writing is also international. One can cite Surrealism, Dada, Futurism, Zaum, Oulipo, Fluxus, and other groupings I'm not recalling at the moment.

All of this, I would argue, demonstrates that disjunctive writing, though its current configuration may have faddish elements, cannot, by any reasonable and informed person, be called a fad. Those who cluster around the campfire of the personal lyric waiting for daylight to drive away the disjunctive poem better have plenty of wood. If the last 90 years of writing are any indication, they're going to have a very long night.

Hoagland, D'Souza, and Despair

When I heard friends and acquaintances talk about Hoagland's essay in Poetry, it sounded like a feast of caviar. When I read it during jury duty this week, the essay was preserved, hot-pink bait-shop salmon eggs.

I don't have the stomach to write a long piece about the flaws and lacunae in Hoagland's argument. The essay leaves me feeling like D'Souza's Illiberal Education did while I was in graduate school. I knew the work of the literary theorists D'Souza wrote about. I knew that what he wrote was utter, total bullshit, and that if he'd read half of the work in his footnotes, he knew it, too. And I knew that the book was going to be popular and that it, rather than fact, thought, and careful argument, would set the public perception of an area of study I found endlessly fascinating and fruitful.

And that is the way hackwork like that of Joan Houlihan and this recent Hoagland essay leaves me feeling. Hoagland's essay is in Poetry, and more people are going to read it, and have their perceptions set by it, than will ever hear of or go near Perloff and Altieri. The essay's readers can nod sagely with Hoagland that all this disjunctive stuff will dry up and blow away. They can then settle themselves comfortably within the claustrophobic circle of the personal free-verse lyric, confident that they know everything that literature can and should do. And they will never know their true poverty.

I'm starting to think that Lisa Robertson had the right idea about going to Paris and getting the hell off this continent.


Two Articles of More Use than Hoagland

Here are two articles I'd recommend over the recent piece by Tony Hoagland in the March 2006 Poetry:
I recommend them over Hoagland because they actually engage with investigative/experimental/disjunctive literature rather than just drawing lines around one's own practice in order to confirm it. They are also imbued with a generous humanism to which Hoagland aspires but does not quite achieve.

Perloff argues a point that has often struck me—much investigative poetry pays no attention to the sound of language. She then discusses two poets (Bök & Bergval) who do pay attention to sound and how that may open up additional directions.

Altieri finds a way to talk about emotion that avoids collapsing into sentimentality and shows how affect (his preferred term) operates in investigative poetry. It shows the rigor, intelligence, and humanism that has characterized his work from the beginning. This essay is much more compelling and interesting than his expressivist project of the 70s and early 80s. Altieri's home page at Berkeley includes additional current articles.

Altieri's essay is an early version of an article published in Joan Retallack, Juliana Spahr, eds. Poetry and Pedagogy: The Challenge of the Contemporary (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). I heartily recommend Poetry and Pedagogy. However, it is only available in an absurdly expensive hardcover edition.


If I Didn't Have a File Before...

I probably have one now.

Yesterday, AMERICAblog posted email it had received from the Army. You can see it here. Basically, the U.S. Central Command is conducting a domestic (stateside) propaganda operation by planting stories in blogs.

I sent an email to First Lieutenant Brian M. Anderson telling him that I resented having my tax dollars spent on such things (I probably said "bullshit"). I also suggested that he should resign his commission because he understood neither the basics of democratic governance, nor the necessary subordination of the military to civilian authority.

Today's Sitemeter log shows a visitor who came here via a google search for "ron starr" originating in the centcom.mil domain. No email response, mind you, just a pseudo-anonymous electronic drop by.

If you would like to share your opinion about the military propagandizing civilians, the good lieutenant can be reached at: andersbm@centcom.mil.

In other news, President Bush's assertion that Iran is supplying IEDs to Iraqi insurgents turns out to be utter crap.


Things I Learned During Jury Duty

  • The courthouse buys Hills Brothers coffee. In bulk. And it tastes just as it did in the 70s.

  • Revlon is an arms manufacturer.EMI and Sony are not. You may not take nail files into the courthouse, even if it wasn't a problem the day before. CDs, however, are fine, even though a modest effort and abrasive would put a knife edge on the disc the x-ray machine would miss.

  • Some county workers do not believe reality has a consistent structure. The security person at the metal detector insisted (and told me it was an order when I suggested we just skip to the wand) that I walk through the metal detector again—even though there were absolutely no changes to the contents of my pockets or person. He seemed surprised when the detector went off again. I was not. We finally got to the wand and the electronic patdown.

  • Jury room windows do not open. The possible reasons are ambiguous.

  • Gourmet food. Girl Scout cookies (and Hills Bros. coffee) are a gift from the gods at 3:00 in the afternoon.


"That institution is all doors, but no entrances."

The inestimable Radish King posts part of a Lisa Robertson poem, The Men.

I had the pleasure of taking a class from Robertson at the Kootenay School of Writing a couple years before she decamped to Paris. I have never run into a smarter, more engaged, articulate writer in my life. The class completely changed how I think about writing. Wikipedia has a brief bio. You can order some of her work through Small Press Distribution and Apollinaire's Bookshoppe (search on Robertson, Lisa).

Some older work is online: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


It wouldn't have occurred to me, but someone has built a difference engine (a form of mechanical computer) out of Lego bricks. See the designer's website for details about what it does and how.


The Season Begins

I'm the only person I know who cares about this, but the Formula 1 racing season begins next weekend with the Grand Prix of Bahrain. Qualifying starts at 3:00 AM PST on 3/11. The starting flag drops at 3:30AM PST on 3/12.

Speed channel carries it live. I usually set the VCR or catch the same day rebroadcast.

I'm hoping Ferrari and Michael Schumacher get their butt kicked again, but that's just me.


Matthea Harvey on From the Fishouse

The Fishouse reading series has an audio archive that includes Matthea Harvey (Sad Little Breathing Machine, Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form). First time I've heard her read her work.

"Snowclones are Hard. Let's Go Shopping!"

Peter posts about the most recent Language Log on snowclones.

To expand on Peter's entry, here's an earlier entry on snowclones, the Wikipedia entry on snowclones, and a list of common snowclones, already in the form of templates for your pleasure and amusement.

This seems a close cousin to the Oulipian procedure of the perverb and some of the other things Mathews does in Selected Declarations of Dependence which is darn near an encyclopedia of everything that can be done to a proverb (and a great deal of fun, as well).


'Nuff Said


Minimalist Concrete Poetry

Here. Work by Nico Vassilakis toward the bottom of the page.