Monday, March 30, 2009

idea for writing experiment

Write about the "two-track approach" of Reagan-era foreign policy with a grammar such that each sentence means what it means & also its opposite.

which man is it that I know?

That's the late Stanley Kunitz taking a break at Poet's House in Manhattan. He happens to stop and pause beneath Robert Creeley's "I Know a Man," which has been inscribed on the large window. Ah, juxtaposition!

Finally, then! An answer to the darkly imponderable Creeley question:

the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against

The answer is: Stanley Kunitz!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

books are not themselves symbols

Ken Krug has painted a series of book-and-thing still lives. A simple and yet--to me, anyway--endlessly pleasurable juxtaposition. Ken takes a favorite book and then quasi-intuitively reaches for the object that "catches my eye," as he puts it. Ken is a brainy guy--always reading and always intellectualizing--but for his paintings, at least these, he suspends the way he thinks about the book and sets the object with/against it in the spirit of an alternative (opposite) mode. For Durrell's Alexandra Quartet it's a pair of sunglasses. For Whitman's Leaves of Grass a single Adidas sneaker. Borges with a Mets cap. Spiegelman's Maus gets accompanied by a salt shaker and a pepper shaker (this is the painting I myself own). Kafka's Complete Stories and a can of Campbell's tomato soup (not a nod to Warhol). Krazy Kat gets painted with an iPod. And Samuel Delany's Dhalgren poses with a cell phone. Krug does these in one sitting, working oil paint on board only with a palette knife.

Book with object does not mean book as object. The object tends to defer to the book, challenging any easy categorical assignment. Ken Krug, it seems, is not opposed to the hegemony of reading, even when its representation is objective, even though, rendered in these works, it bears depictive qualities--color, shape. The book is desymbolized in order, paradoxically, so that its value as a repository of ideas and aesthetics can be reclaimed from the world of things.

The painting of Van Gogh's Complete Letters and a wristwatch is not meant as a temptation to interpret (O, Time!), but it is that. Resist the symbol-making impulse!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

agh, petals maybe

Still transferring old Real-format audio and video materials into the more accessible and less proprietary mp3. Today it's a short discussion--by me and Shawn Walker--of William Carlos Williams's poem "Portrait of a Lady," which, perhaps oddly, I ask my students to read not when we study the rise of modernism but, a little later, when we are preparing to enter the postmodern. Here's the chapter of the course where it occurs. And here is the discussion of the poem.

Portrait of a Lady

Your thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady's
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze—-or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
—As if that answered
anything.—Ah, yes. Below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore—-
Which shore?—-
the sand clings to my lips—-
Which shore?
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
—the petals from some hidden
appletree—Which shore?
I said petals from an appletree.

Above: a detail of Fragonard's painting "The Swing."

Friday, March 27, 2009

New York School types

For my survey of modern & contemporary American poetry (English 88) I once made a recording of a really basic mini-lecture on three fundamental types of New York School poems: anti-narrative, non-narrative, pastiche. The whole thing is plausible enough, although obviously there are more "types" and much more to say about pastiche. Recently we converted a RealAudio file of this recording and produced a new mp3, which I've linked to "chapter 8" of the course. So here is that old talk as an mp3.

editorial presence

The late Ted Solotaroff--one of the most important literary editors of the '60s and '70s--visited us in 2003. He had recently published his very frank memoir, First Loves. He had been an editor of Commentary and the editor of Bookweek before he founded the influential literary journal New American Review. He is the author of The Red-Hot Vacuum, A Few Good Voices in My Head, and First Loves: A Memoir. He taught at the University of Chicago, Yale, Columbia, the City College of New York, and the University of California at Berkeley. He lived in East Quogue, Long Island, and in Paris.

It was in the pages of the New American Review where I found Max Apple's amazing short fiction for the first time. Even then, as I handled the paperback-sized magazine for the first time, I had a sense of Solotaroff's editorial presence. It was strong and clear somehow.

[] Solotaroff at the Writers House: LINK

[] audio recording of his talk: LINK

[] New York Times obit: LINK

reference, like the body itself...

In the introduction to The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews wrote that:

[C]onfusion about the nature of this exploration flourishes. For instance, the idea that writing should (or could) be stripped of reference is as bothersome and confusing as the assumption that the primary function of words is to refer, one-on-one, to an already constructed world of "things." Rather, reference, like the body itself [and there, again, is the body, the "plan"], is one of the horizons of language. . . . It is the multiple powers and scope of reference (denotative, connotative, associational), not writers' refusal or fear of it, that threads these essays together. It is a renewed engagement that comes from the recognition that the (various) measuring and questioning and composition of our references is the practice of our craft.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kit's balance sheet

Kit Robinson's 1993 reading at the Ear Inn has now been segmented into individual poems. Here's our Kit Robinson page.

Monday, March 23, 2009

moody Moody & the coming of the modern

At right: William Vaughn Moody.

When I teach my students (in English 88) the literary-historical context for the rise of poetic modernism in the U.S., I know I don't have a lot of time and I know I don't want them to be reading more than a few poems from that pre-modern interregnum after Victorianism and before modernism. So I have them read--among a few others--some poems by William Vaughn Moody, he whose verse has tons of modern sentiment and mood but whose form is facile and traditional. Some years back I created an audio mini-lecture on this topic, in which I consider Moody's "Gloucester Moors" and its context in the final demise of Victorianism and the coming rise of the modern. It's pretty basic stuff, but some readers of this blog might enjoy it at least as a pedagogical exercise: MP3.

This is the final stanza of Moody's poem:

But thou, vast outbound ship of souls,
What harbor town for thee?
What shapes, when thy arriving tolls,
Shall crowd the banks to see?
Shall all the happy shipmates then
Stand singing brotherly?
Or shall a haggard ruthless few
Warp her over and bring her to,
While the many broken souls of men
Fester down in the slaver's pen,
And nothing to say or do?

Here's a longer excerpt from the poem.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

translation boom

John Timpane writes in today's Philadelphia Inquirer about translation. He wants to know why there's such a surge in translations of poetry? And he quotes me on the point. Here's a link to the article.

Here is Murat Nemet-Nejat's response to this article:

Translation has always been crucial in the development of a country's literature, in France, in England, in Germany, until recently in The United States, to name just a few, at least in the West.

I disagree with you on one point. In the last fifteen years or so, American poets, particularly those considered avant-garde have shown an amazing lack of interest in, creative involvement with the poetry of other languages. The last American examples of such a non-American focused interest would be poets of earlier generations, for instance, Rexroth's Chinese translations, Jerry Rothenberg's anthology The Technicians of the Sacred, original New York School poets's interest in French poetry and Dante, Zukofsky's interest in Catullus, etc,. and in its early years Language School poets' interest in European thinkers. The best example of the change is, in my view, Ron Silliman's blog, which, to the best of my knowledge, had never had a serious discussion of a non-American poet, without even acknowledging the lack of it.

I agree with you that in the last five or six years a change has begun to occur among younger American poets. Whether this is due to globalism or a realization of the sterility of the previous attitudes, I can not tell.

fascism=communism, with Obama thrown in

This morning I'm having a discussion with two Facebook friends, Dave and Peter (they don't know each other). It started when I posted a Facebook "note" with a photo of Nazi film-maker Leni Riefenstahl and a link to the New York Times obituary of her published after her death at 101 in 2003. Dave started us off by likening the Obama inauguration to the Nuremburg rally. To view the thread of Facebook comments, click on the image at right.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Didion live

During Joan Didion's visit to the Kelly Writers House as a Writers House Fellow, two of the sessions will be available as a live streaming video, and you are more than welcome to tune in. These sessions are:

1) a reading beginning at 6:30 pm ET on Monday, March 30; and

2) an interview/discussion moderated by me beginning at 10:30 am ET on Tuesday, March 31.

To connect to the KWH-TV video stream, just go here:

- and at the time of the program clicked on "view live video."

Kelly Writers House Fellows since 1999 are made possible by a generous ongoing grant from Paul Kelly. Among our previous Fellows: Grace Paley, John Wideman, Robert Creeley, Susan Sontag, June Jordan, Tony Kushner, Art Spiegelman, John McPhee, Jamaica Kincaid, Cynthia Ozick, Roger Angell, Adrienne Rich, Lyn Hejinian, E.L. Doctorow, John Ashbery, Michael Cunningham, Laurie Anderson, Russell Banks, James Alan McPherson, Gay Talese. For more:

weekend tweets

Follow me on Twitter.

Friday, March 20, 2009

just a few lines along a certain line of thought

In '99, as I prepared to teach my modern and contemporary American poetry course all online, I made some audio and video recordings of mini-lectures on various poems and topics. All very basic stuff. We've been converting these from RealAudio to mp3. The most recent mini-lecture converted is a short audio on William Carlos Williams's poem "Lines," which I love. Shawn Walker joined me for this discussion.

choosing to live in the city

From the Daily Pennsylvanian, March 20, 2009. Click on the image above for a larger view. Oh, yes, and I'm also the quote of the day. Back in July '07 I wrote a little bit about how I got to West Philly in '98 and provided a link to a Philadelphia Business News article about it.

poet urges creative campus

Last night we made available the full video recording of Hank Lazer's reading at the Writers House. (A few days ago I posted here a 50-second video clip.) While Hank was here, Charles Bernstein recording one of his Close Listening - featuring more reading from Hank's work and also a half-hour conversation between them, which is already available. This is and will be on our Lazer PennSound page. Check it now and come back later too.

Charles Bernstein provides this summary of his talk with Lazer: "Hank Lazer talks to me about the confluences of his identities; about Southern poetry; about the poetics of jazz and transition; about the forms of his work; about the purported conflict between creativity and critical thinking; and about his poem 'Figure.'"

Hank Lazer is an associate provost at the University of Alabama and in that capacity heads up the university's museums and art entities. He directs a project called the Creative Campus Initiative, which is "dedicated to building a collaborative environment where students can connect with each other, faculty, and their community in turning innovative ideas into action." There's a good deal of b.s. in that general description/mission statement, but I sense something very real here. I'm guessing that Hank and others saw a campus where the artsy students were isolated and probably suffering from institutional disrespect. So CCI becomes a holding place or project site for them--in part by merely moving into one virtual place all the related activities already happening, so it seems to be more than it is, rather than, as before, less than it is. After that administrative convergence, new things (added things) begin to happen. During his visit Hank and I had a chance to talk about this--but most of what I've said above is a guess made from looking at the situation from the outside.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


The Chomskybot, which I've been using for years, recently located to a new server. So I've changed my links variously and found a renewed fascination for what it does to and with the language of Noam Chomsky. Chomskybot takes sentence parts from Chomsky's linguistics writings and organizes them into randomly formed paragraphs.

It works by what its programmer and others call the "American Chinese Menu" principle, viz. One from Column A, One from Column B. There are four sets of phrases: Initiating Phrases, Subject Phrases, Verbal Phrases, and Terminating Phrases The program, called "Foggy," simply selects one of each, at (pseudo-)random, and then strings them together into a sentence. Five sentences make a paragraph. Foggy never even gets down to the word level; everything is phrases, and most of the phrases don't mean much. "In this," says the programmer, "foggy resembles a large proportion of real language.

Here's the Chomskyian paragraph I just read:

Comparing these examples with their parasitic gap counterparts in (96) and (97), we see that this selectionally introduced contextual feature is not quite equivalent to irrelevant intervening contexts in selectional rules. It may be, then, that a subset of English sentences interesting on quite independent grounds is unspecified with respect to an important distinction in language use. Let us continue to suppose that any associated supporting element is rather different from a general convention regarding the forms of the grammar. To characterize a linguistic level L, the descriptive power of the base component does not affect the structure of a parasitic gap construction. Suppose, for instance, that an important property of these three types of EC is to be regarded as the requirement that branching is not tolerated within the dominance scope of a complex symbol.

Now here's another:

By combining adjunctions and certain deformations, any associated supporting element is not to be considered in determining irrelevant intervening contexts in selectional rules. Nevertheless, the descriptive power of the base component appears to correlate rather closely with the requirement that branching is not tolerated within the dominance scope of a complex symbol. For any transformation which is sufficiently diversified in application to be of any interest, the fundamental error of regarding functional notions as categorial does not affect the structure of problems of phonemic and morphological analysis. I suggested that these results would follow from the assumption that an important property of these three types of EC does not readily tolerate an abstract underlying order. Comparing these examples with their parasitic gap counterparts in (96) and (97), we see that the appearance of parasitic gaps in domains relatively inaccessible to ordinary extraction cannot be arbitrary in a descriptive fact.

children of survivors

I have long admired Pier Marton's film consisting of interviews of children of Holocaust survivors. It's called Say I'm a Jew.

"Pier Marton is a second-generation artist who has wrestled with problems of his parents' survival and the impact of contemporary anti-Semitism. This led him to merge the video interview of children of survivors, called Say I'm a Jew, with an installation entitled Jew, set in a cattle car. Being a member of the second generation and experiencing European anti-Semitism in France in the 1950s and 1960s led Marton to the inability to openly express his Jewishness. Drawing from his own experience, Marton was obsessed with the question of how children of the second generation have coped with growing up in Europe after World War II. While attending a convention of second-generation survivors, Marton advertised for individuals willing to tell the story of their European and Jewish identity experiences on camera. Many volunteered. Marton edited bits and pieces of the video together to form an engaging artistic and psychological work. The American-European painter R. J. Kitaj has represented what he terms "diasporism" as a major component in contemporary artistic life. This is a useful concept to explain the works of many artists in this show, who constantly have to deal with a Jewish identity problem in a world that is potentially enticing and supportive and also contains anti-Semitism, denial and insult. Marton's space was made to represent a blend of cattle car, barracks and a mausoleum. As Marton has written, "Memory can fuse separate locations in an inextricable blend." [19] Within the installation area were seats where the video played continuously. Those attending the show were encouraged to write their responses on the walls of the entrance and boxcar itself, recalling the memory of how deportees did the same on their way to death camps." -- from Stephen Feinstein, Witness and Legacy

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

renewed dance of the intellect

Hank Lazer reads from his poetry an hour ago at the Kelly Writers House.

more poets in my office

From left: Marcella Durand, Hank Lazer, Eli Goldblatt, Al Filreis - this afternoon. (Well, they came to record an episode of PoemTalk.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

college is for winning the war of words

I've just read an op-ed piece published by an undergraduate named Irwin Kahn in the Daily Pennsylvanian (the student newspaper at Penn) dated October 6, 1952. We were losing the war in Korea, Kahn argued, because "we" (he seems to mean only anticommunists and pro-capitalists) were losing the rhetorical battle at home. Schools (he presumably meant Penn too) should be active in teaching the benefits of capitalism and the horrors of alternative economic theories. Any fair and free curriculum would teach "that the path of capitalism and free enterprise is the road for them [the 'masses']." But don't think too much: "Probably the individual's right to strive, the highlight of the American way, is lost amid our own introspection." Here's a link to the whole text.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

50 million poems

Here is a note we're sending around tonight:

Dear friends & colleagues:

Users of PennSound downloaded 4 million mp3 sound recordings and related media files in the past month. At this point, we are projecting 50 million downloads for 2009. This is far, far beyond what we expected when we created PennSound in 2003-04, and we're grateful that the project is receiving such a positive response.

Al Filreis & Charles Bernstein, Co-Directors
Mike Hennessey, Managing Editor

divinity school does March madness

Middle of my long long day in the archive yesterday. Was told by a knowing-looking student that I could get a really good and strong cup of coffee at a funky cafe in the unrenovated basement of the U of Chicago Divinity School, and here I found an NCAA tourney-like bracket for gods and godly figures, presented on a chalkboard behind the counter. The Final Four: Buddha defeats David, Obama beats Moses. Final goes to Buddha. The whole place was swarming with divinity students. They were hepped up on the java, which really was as good as I'd heard.

beautiful ugly

The Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago. On my own list of the top five most beautiful ugly buildings in the world, it's number 3. It's a Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill building, completed in 1970. It stands on the former grounds of the great Stagg Field. (Think about that as a symbol of a university: Hutchins got rid of the football team in 1931 or something like that. Big controversial move. So build a library on the site--just to press the symbolic shift to academics--by 1935. Goodness knows, there were New Deal stimulus dollars around to do so, and Hutchins was a good fund-raiser. No**, get rid to the football program and then take 40 years to build on top of it.)

** Of course there are probably 100 stories about why this makes sense. And wasn't it under the stadium that the A-bomb research was first done?

which era is the era of The Pound Era?

Hugh Kenner's huge (and hugely important) book on Pound was published in 1973. A book of its time? Well, considering '73: maybe a book counter to the trend of its time. Ah, but never mind those assumptions. The book was first planned in....1960. Thirteen years earlier. As I learned yesterday when reading some Kenner correspondence in Chicago. Check out my 1960 blog for more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ut pictura poesis descends a staircase

Here's X. J. Kennedy's "Nude Descending a Staircase," published in 1959 or 1960. From the title we know that Kennedy was in some sense at least rewriting or reworking the image of Duchamp's great early modern kinetic-cubist painting of the same name. I could go on and on about this poem as a 1950s-style poetical quietism. I won't here. Maybe what one can say on this score will be obvious. Whereas in the Duchamp the subject position is everywhere at once (we are seeing the nude from all angles - she moves and thus our rendering of her must be dynamic), here we are watching her from below - down the stairs. (In porn-ish pics I believe this is called "upskirt." Google that word and watch out.) From that vantage "we" watch her thighs rub together and although there's "the swinging air" the image is static. We've seen her, spied her. rendered her. Her descent is likened (it is not itself but something like it) and then, in the final line of the poem, the motion is not motion, but has a definitive end. Her motions are collected into a shape, a metered and rhymed who-has-zoomed-who unmistakable shape. This poem about a painting about constant mimesis-defying movement ironizes that kind of movement.

Here you go:

Nude Descending a Staircase

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh--
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.

Monday, March 09, 2009

PoemTalk #15 released

Episode #15 of PoemTalk is being released today. It's 25 minutes of talk about a single poem - this time, a poem by Lyn Hejinian and the talkers are Tom Mandel, Bob Perelman, Tom Devaney and myself. Take a look at the PoemTalk blog entry and find all the links you'll need, including, of course, to the show itself.

live-blogging from mega-churches

Four of our students are live-blogging from southern mega-churches this week. The photo above was taken during set-up for yesterday's gathering at a church in Virginia. Follow them as they go.

the new Booker T.

For the communist-affiliated Masses & Mainstream, novelist Lloyd Brown wrote a negative review of Ellison's Invisible Man in June of 1952. Here's a passage:

Here, as in James Jones' whine From Here to Eternity, is the one-man-against-the-world theme, a theme which cannot tell the "whole truth" or any part of the truth about the Negro people in America or about any other people anywhere.

Ellison's narrator-hero is a shadowy concept, lacking even the identity of a name, who tells of his Odyssey through a Negro college in the South, then to Harlem where he is hired by the Communists as their mass leader ("How would you like to be the new Booker T. Washington?'') for $300 cash advance and the munificent, depression-period pay of $60 per week; he is quickly disillusioned and, battered in body and soul, finds refuge down a man-hole from whence to write a book about it all.

It would not be in order here to speak of responsibility, for the writer has anticipated and answered that objection in the prologue: "I can hear you say, 'What a horrible, irresponsible bastard!' And you're right. I leap to agree with you. I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived."

The text of the whole review has been on my 1950s web site for 15 years and is one of the most often-visited pages I have.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

new at PennSound

New, new, PennSound: our Michael Davidson author page. Michael has been at UCSD since 1974, where he helped create the now utterly invaluable Mandeville Special Collections (which houses manuscripts of many avant-garde poets including George Oppen and Jackson Mac Low). He is the editor of a new edition of Oppen's collected poems (2002), has published many books of poems, and a number of critical books. Of the latter, The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-Century is probably the most well known (1989). My own favorite is Ghostlier Demarcations: Modern Poetry and the Material Word which is, in part, about the modernist documentary poem and was a real influence on my writing about the same form in my Counter-Revolution of the Word.

a pre-spring walk up the west side

Yesterday afternoon we walked from West 10th Street, up along the Hudson, to West 83rd. It's three miles (surprisingly). The much longed-for continuous parkscape along the west side of Manhattan isn't nearly finished yet, but of course one can walk or bike along a continuous path (rough in some places, temporarily wending through construction sites in others). And of course there are two beautifully designed sections of completed park--benches, separate bike and walking paths, lawn, playgrounds, boardwalks and docks, etc.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Steve Earle

Steve Earle - yes, the great Steve Earle - stopped in at the Writers House two nights ago. He met with a group of about 50 people in the living room during a reception and then went into the Arts Cafe where Mingo Reynolds introduced and Anthony DeCurtis moderated a conversation - during which Earle played three of his songs and talked about them and lots else. We've caught the whole wonderful event as a downloadable mp3 audio and as a streaming video. And here are photos of the evening taken by John Carroll. The program is funded by a generous grant from Mitch and Margot Blutt. Previous singer-songwriters have been Rosanne Cash and Suzanne Vega. If you have ideas for next year, send 'em along.

KWH now twittering

Now you can follow the Kelly Writers House on Twitter.

habits of energy and rashness at 100

The current "Poetry off the Shelf" podcast from the Poetry Foundation is a discussion of the current state of the manifesto. Mary Anne Caws (whose Manifesto I happily own and whose pages make me laugh out loud with delight) is interviewed by Curtis Fox, and we get to hear Charles Bernstein read from Marinetti's great futurist manifesto at a recent MoMA birthday celebration. We're celebrating 100 years since Marinetti published it.

Here are the first three ironic/unironic dicta:

1. We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness.
2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt.
3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.

From Art in America's coverage of the event at MoMA celebrating the 100th birthday:

The MoMa event was a collaboration between the newly established Modern Poets series (an attempt to revitalize Frank O'Hara's legacy within the institution) and Poetry journal. The journal had commissioned eight new manifestoes on poetry, four authors of which, with different ideologies and stylistic approaches, were invited to the event. Joshua Mehigen, A.E. Stallings, Charles Bernstein and Thomas Sayers Ellis each read Futurist manifestoes and finished the day performing their own works. It kicked off with Bernstein, a legendary L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet, declaiming in full, high-pitched throttle Marinetti's original manifesto. Nonplussed by it all, the passing crowds simply stared at him.

Above is a reproduction of the manifesto as it appeared in Le Figaro on February 20, 1909.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Joyce in my pocket

Regular readers of this blog might recall the excitement I expressed at acquiring my Kindle, around six months ago. The excitement hasn't abated. Reading articles, magazine issues (e.g. Slate), newspapers, dissertation chapters and draft essays*, occasionally whole books on my Kindle has become part of my routine. Saves paper (especially those drafts!), carries with me most's the portable library its advocates claim.

Today a new iPhone application is being released - Kindle for iPhone (and iTouch). This means merely that through my iPhone I can read all the books that are stored for me by Amazon through my Kindle account. Not ideal for, let's say, a weekend-long read of Ulysses. Nor would I ever, at home, pick up my iPhone to read these books when I can use my Kindle. But for the train, for waiting in long lines, for the days when I meant to bring my Kindle but have forgetten it, having this phone access to the library will be fabulous for me. And it would give me pleasure to ponder a page of Joyce in the supermarket. The phone these days is always in the pocket.

Here's a passage from today's NYT story:

Starting Wednesday, owners of these Apple devices can download a free application, Kindle for iPhone and iPod Touch, from Apple’s App Store. The software will give them full access to the 240,000 e-books for sale on, which include a majority of best sellers.

* Oh yes, as you might know, the Kindle set-up permits one to email oneself any text in familiar formats (e.g. Word, PDF, html). So if a colleague sends me the draft of a 30-page paper for a quick read and response, I can email it to myself at my @kindle account and within minutes it will be on the Kindle, readable in book-like page view.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

three from the Vienna paradox

Marjorie Perloff's PennSound page includes a talk she gave at the Writers House on Frank O' Hara, Jasper Johns, and John Cage in the Sixties; a reading from her memoir, The Vienna Paradox, at Buffalo; and remarks she gave at a 2004 conference on secular Jewish culture and radical Jewish poetic practice. All three recordings are very good - and quite different from each other. But it's surely not enough Perloff, so we'll get out there looking for more. I recommend David Zauhar's essay on her 1990s output, but it seems almost time for someone to assess her 00's too. Marjorie is good at many things. For the moment my favorite of her targets (often of satire) is the sorry state of mainstream literary journalism. Zap! Zing!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cheever everywhere

The death of books? Maybe, depending on how narrowly you define "books." Take John Cheever's brilliant early (first?) short story, "Goodbye, My Brother." There are more ways to read this text than one could have imagined ten years ago when it was already deemed a classic. By now it's seemingly everywhere!

(1) It's in Vintage Cheever, a book that Random House has made available online in full text.

(2) Here's a Google books version of the story, "Goodbye, My Brother": link.

(3) Here's the Amazon entry for Cheever's Collected Stories: link.

(4) And here's the Kindle edition: link.

(5) And finally the story is on the web (although password-protected): link.

PennSound tweet

You can follow PennSound on Twitter now. Get updates on new recordings as they are added. Highlights, etc.

something more intimate to what is called thinking

When we at the Writers House brought Craig Saper back to Penn in 2001 to give a talk about Fluxus, some of us attended because we are fascinating by Fluxus and really admire Craig's way of discussing such art. A few Writers House regulars came in spite of not knowing of Saper's brilliance at first hand - but because it was known around the House that he had praised KWH as a learning community (see below). Still others came because they still by then lamented the loss of Craig from the Penn faculty (by denial of tenure). On that occasion Joshua Schuster - he was by then a grad student but he'd known Saper from his days as an undergrad too - gave a fine introduction. Here is that introduction, in its entirety:

I have this vision stuck in my head of Craig Saper, at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1996, pulling up an essay by Walter Benjamin and reading: "I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am." It was a storybook beginning to a storybook class. We were confronted from the outset that there was a crises in criticism and that we were going to have to invent our way out of it. At stake was a way both in and out of criticism itself. Benjamin was a model; that the act of unpacking one's library could be the very model for a form of scholarship and knowledge. Where else could we find models? With adrenaline and a hallucinatory focus, and perhaps anything could serve as the conceptual apparatus from which to generate new ways of thinking. How can an event be a model of thought? How do you think a handshake or a barricade or a letter being passed through a postal system? All that is solid melts into air-there, capital in its own act of disguise was exposed as a model for new ways of thinking. Or a telephone call, that brings one to the question of what is called thinking? Or to take tonight's topic Fluxus, the art movement, could it secretly be the code by which a university could be built anew?

This search for models itself repeated the structure of avant-garde art, which by fiat never distinguished between material and event as the substances for creative thinking. Using materiality and event as the basis for thinking was nothing new in philosophy either: who could not say that the Greeks used the model of the sun to begin the adventure into philosophy, or the model of the philosopher falling into the well as the model of skepticism? But the key to creativity here was not to use the avant-garde as an object of criticism, but as a process of thinking itself. The false prison of the code of professionalized knowledge in the university was sundered. The breakdown in power became a power generator itself. You became your idea, it possessed you and took you into places you weren't sure could be real. At one point I found myself defending the logic of flypaper by waving the sticky, slimy paper during a lecture. One felt what it might be like not simply to think about knowledge, but to be inside the very force of knowledge when it breaks off from knowledge itself.

The university did not take this irreverent challenge standing still. As the story goes, the university asserted itself in its own model of thought, professional, tame, middle class, coherent with all the techniques of capital. And Craig Saper was not permitted to remain (although thankfully he did find another post at another university, so this fortunately complicates my demonizing of academia). Still, this moment was the most true lesson of my entire undergraduate experience: that knowledge, as a form of discourse, does not take lightly any challenge to its operational status. That knowledge is a field that must be respected, monitered and maintained, and the critic must tend this field, making sure that its fertility is properly harnessed and controlled.

From out of this field Craig Saper comes to us. He is the storyteller that Walter Benjamin warned us about. But he won't just tell us stories that will sooth us and rid us of our fears that grow in the all-too-triumphant field of academia. Not now, not in this world, which is at war, which is constantly in the mode of coming to terms with its own crises. All one can hope for is that somehow the world is becoming more open to such a story teller, a person like Craig Saper who will engage and possibly dazzle his audience, not simply with knowledge, but with something far more intimate to what is called thinking.

For the record, I also want to note that in April of 1997, just before the Writers House closed for 4 months of renovation (after which it opened again as "the Kelly Writers House"), Craig was with us to present as one of the earliest sessions of a series still going today - "Theorizing." That day Craig presented with Dick Higgins, one of the most important Fluxus artists. And: see this earlier post about Craig's "Readies."