Dec 31, 2010

The best of 2010
a personal list

1 offer to start a Ph.D.
1 wedding anniversary, which Beth and I spent in Vienna.
1 new book shelf.
1 thesis in the process of being written.
2 web sites used to pirate American TV in Germany.
2 years in Tuebingen.
2 siblings who visited me.
3 pictures of Kalyn, one of Beth's interns, that were most-viewed and most-favorited on my Flickr page.
3 times per day we prayed at Taize.
4 days at an academic conference in England, where I presented a paper for the first time, and tried to talk academically about one of the first murders I reported on.
4 direct mentions of Martin Heidegger in my writing.
5 "preachers who do not believe" in Daniel Dennett's study, which I wrote about for Killing the Buddha, which my doctor-father read before offering me a position studying with him.
5 articles published by online magazines, including a book review, and "It Sounds Weird," which I still really like.
5 countries I was in.
6 hours a week in a classroom teaching per semester.
6 English pre-tests given before the Winter semester started.
7 friends who came to see me in South Bend.
7 posts as a writer at TheThe poetry blog.
8 years of blogging.
11 Wittgenstein on Wednesdays, a translation and reading project.
17 World Cup games watched.
19 Weiherhaldenstrasse, where I lived with Beth.
31 pictures of windows.
33 days spent in America.
47 books read.
75 page paper on war photography.
80 percent -- about the average of what I understood of the sermons at Jacobus Gemeinde.
95 individual page views of last post on Wittgenstein.
98 students to teach grammar and academic paper-writing in the fall.
100 Wilhelmstrassee, which I think of as ein hundred, which is where Beth's campus ministry house is in Tuebingen.
117 -- The Delta flight from Stuttgart to Atlanta.
191 years since the birth of Walt Whitman, the poet I spent the summer working through and writing about.

Dec 30, 2010

Valerie visit

Dec 29, 2010

Metaphysics before media studies

I quit reading Chris Hedges' book after the first section. It's possible that all the things that are wrong with Empire of Illusions are resolved or taken care of the other three sections, but I doubt it.

If you can go more than 50 pages without taking the time to define or even, apparently, think about the very key terms of your entire argument, then your book doesn't deserve to be read. Chris Hedges, for example, has no idea what he's talking about.

I should say that I found some of Hedges' work on war very helpful, last year, when I was working on a paper on war photography. His War is a Force That Gives us Meaning is an excellent book, expressing some things about the trauma of violence I haven't found clearly expressed anywhere else, and some of the work he's done for The Nation on the same topic is quite good. Now that he's branching out, though, he's writing things like Empire of Illusion, which is a social critique and also very much cultural studies through media, and this is a book that's total crap.

That's me being kind.

There's enough things wrong with this book that it could be a good case study about what's wrong with media studies and cultural studies as done on the popular level.
Window washer man

Dec 24, 2010

In-law Christmas

Census maps
Scripture sport
RIP writers of 2010
Zizek and Theology
A year in marginalia
God does not not exist
Wittgenstein after Norway
Laundromat literary project
Inhumane prison conditions for the wikileaker
The struggles of evangelical environmentalists
Sanatorum's long (long) shot for the White House
Seattle's grunge mascot poet, Steven Jay Bernstein
James Mann, who drafted Nixon impeachment, dies at 90. May he rest in peace.
How to write like an average undergraduate male
Claude-Levi Strauss's 1st English bio
Are prizes the real reason for poetry?
Translation as literary ambassador
The youngest successful religion
Writer's wives
Kant was right
Maud Newton
1st edition Pynchon
Struggling with Santa
Progressive heroes of 2010
Thinking w/ word processor
A short history of film title design
What the left still doesn’t get about rape
How the GOP lost on the new START treaty
The first Jewish-annotated New Testament
Santa: a brief history of brand management
Empowerment and the sacred, a call for papers
Black Swan, The Wrestler, and redemptive self-destruction
We can’t even imagine the end of the world without borrowing the past
The church of Assange, or what’s the difference between the man, idea and politics?
Republicans really really want you to call them racists
Pat Robertson supports decriminalizing pot
Jon Stewart takes cable news too seriously
Conservative heroes: always better dead?
Berlin gets 20th century art for Christmas
The space offered to public intellectuals
David Foster Wallace and Wittgenstein
Standing athwart history
Taboo in public
Yale’s iTunes U
Barthes lectures
The lost Canadians
Talking to Garry Kasparov
From Jefferson to Assange
Journalist's avoiding the conversion
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Franzen finally talks to Oprah, and oy!
Jesus in the sky, or, a theodicy problem
140 bears killed on the first day of New Jersey's bear hunt
Private Manning and the making of Wikileaks
The best argument against gay marriage (Robbie George's) is nothing new, and

Of course Christimas is a myth. Thank God!
How will future critics read the cloud?
Malcolm Gladwell's reading for 2010
Wikileaks and language poetry
World's most expensive book
Homeschooling comes of age
Talking to Walter Mosley
Big Fucking Hit TV show
Translation ambassadors

Dec 23, 2010

Strip malls for forever

The thing I forget most about America, as different from what I miss most or least (which is what people ask about), is the strip malls.

Driving through Tennessee, this time, and North Georgia and both Carolinas, and through Indiana, last time, and Ohio and Pennsylvania, they're everywhere, endless and placeless. They stretch into the cities, with a few marks of urbanization or gentrification, a flicker against the never-ending same, and out again, through the suburbs with suburb markers and out along the rural interstates where they turn to country, but are still just strip malls, passing passing passing.

They all have names, all the strip malls, though no one knows them. Nondescript, generic names, they're real estate place-holders put up on signs no one reads.

And they go forever, all more or less the same, block after block and center after center, stores different but also the same, the same different ones than the ones that were there last time. They're hard to remember, mostly. They just sort of fade and we only notice them if they're somehow for a moment more -- an excess or an odd pair or a sign that's more wrong. One said, HAIR & WIGS, and I noticed. One said, WORLDS LARGEST FIREWORKS STORES, which I thought was odd, by chance to see, until I realized STORES was plural and this was a chain and there were more, and then I saw them at every stop and stretched out, scatter, through the state. But besides that, they just pass. Flickering by.

There are, I suppose, two aesthetic responses to the strip malls. One is to not see them. They are so ugly, so brutal and blunt in their normalization, their invisible naturalized state, that they have to not be seen to be what they are. The other is to hate them, despise them in their gaudy, horrible ugliness. To want something better. Which is right, I think, but is also, here, caught up in cultural distains and secret class distinctions hidden as taste, and that's a different set of invisible, naturalized ugliness to that.

A third response, that might be possible, would be to see the strip malls as Edward Hopper saw his cities. As slightly watery, melancholic spaces. Places against which we live, them dilapidated and faded, us, alone.

I don't know that I've seen anyone do that with strip malls. I don't know if anyone has taken those documentary photographs or written that story, set in or against the endless same that changes, slightly, with the rhythm of the flicker of lights through the slats when you cross a bridge, this place that isn't suburbia even, isn't a place, really, but goes on, on, on.

Dec 18, 2010

High voltage man kisses night to bring the light to those who need to hide their shadow-deed/ Seek electricity

Even Captain Beefheart's earliest music still sounds strange. Weird and experimental, deranged, mentally ill and freaking out and fantastic, even his early music, the stuff he did where you can still hear the sounds of what came before, where you can still hear him and his Magic Band as blues rock that's gone off-kilter careening, before the really critically acclaimed work, it still sounds that way. Like, What??? After more than 40 years.

I don't know whether to attribute that to a culture that doesn't appreciate art, regressive philistinan forces, etc. Or to Captain Beefheart's, aka Don Van Vliet's, incredible originality. Originality up to there.

People always say, when they write about Beefheart, that he's psychedelic blues or art house/post-punk music, the godfather of something, and his connection to Zappa and then on to Waits etc is clear, but it occurs to me that Beefheart most resembles and shares something with, not them, but Thelonius Monk. The illness and influenced art, the invention that's reinvention that's distortion that's interesting. The Americanness of a mind that's completely strange to America and so completely American, so you don't really which is the thing and which the fun house mirror reflection. He's like Monk, I think, most of all.

He's dead now. At 69. And may he rest in peace.

Links: An artist of "protean creation," Beefheart is dead, but then, he said, "I'm not even here," like he was a synthesis of the weird,or, as Lester Bangs said, a giant of music of the 20th century.

Dec 16, 2010

Teaching backwards

I wonder if cultural studies history shouldn't be done in reverse.

I know it's a slightly or more-than-slightly crazy idea, but teaching cultural history in chronological order (i.e. the normal way) has a couple of problems.

One is just practical: the further back one goes, the harder it is for the students to read. Beginning at the beginning means starting with the least familiar material. Classes already tend to be harder in the beginning and get easier as the class goes on -- as everyone becomes more familiar with the questions being asked, the methodological maneuvers, etc. -- and chronology exacerbates that.

The second is a little more theoretical: teaching in chronological order lends itself to presentism. The past is taught as a way of explaining the present, thought of only in how it explains the present, and it is warped in weird ways. Undue weight is given to some facets, and others are ignored. The present is given a kind of gravitational priority, made the center of the solar system around which everything else orbits. It's the logical and fated outcome of the past, and the past is seen as inextricably leading to the present (and nothing more).

A third but related problem is the tendency to mistake chronology for something more than it is. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, etc. Teachers and students both do this. We just kind of fall into it, assuming the conditions and causes suggested by chronology, instead of actually working them out.

It occurs to me, too, that it's really not all that unusual to learn history backwards. Don't we always know about our out time before what came before? Don't we know or understand what's happened in living memory before we go back "to the beginning," and know our era or age before the ones that came before?

Teaching backwards might be easier, actually, and might offer a bit of correction to some of the presentism problems. At very least, even if it isn't a fix for presentism and history-as-fate, it might make it better just by making it more explicit, which would mean we could try to be careful about it.

Would it be better to teach cultural studies history backwards, beside the fact that it's crazy?

Dec 15, 2010

The man on the plane

The man on the plane said he just doesn't understand novels.

"I get nothing from them. Nothing. What's the point? It's just a bunch of stuff someone made up. It has nothing to do with life. It doesn't tell me anything. There's nothing useful in novels."

The man on the plane said he doesn't really read books.

"I've read maybe 12 books in my whole life. I have a masters degree. I didn't need to read books for that. It's in public policy. I had this class called American literature? All of them were crazy -- what was that guy who wrote the poem, about grass? Walt Whitman! He was just on drugs. I knew this right away, before we even got to the part of the class where they talked about the Beats. What was his name? That guy? Ginsberg! And the other one. Kerock! All of them were on drugs. That's why they wrote like that. I knew that right away. Same as Walt Whitman. It's just stupid. I wrote a paper about how Whitman was like Ludacris because both of them wrote shit that makes no sense. The one had music and the other didn't was the only difference. It's stupid. The teacher thought it was interesting. And Emily Dickinson was a crazy bitch."

The man on the plane worked for the American government.

"Counter terrorism," he said, and he read his file folder of e-mail print-outs for the rest of the flight.

Dec 13, 2010

"Writing is -- you know. It's like being stuck in a phone booth with yourself."
-- Richard Price

Dec 11, 2010

Yes I am home / Home is when I'm in love with you

Dec 10, 2010

Close to closing

Dec 8, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 011


There's a tendency to pretty up Wittgenstein. To make him look nice.

A lot of this is done by the aestheticization of his genius. He is made to be daring, dashing, brilliant, and blindingly so, and so our response to his work is one of admiring a thing of beauty, but not, actually, taking it seriously.

By making him brilliant -- I mean, he is, but by taking him that way -- we make it safe not to not actually think seriously about what he's doing.

And how could we take it seriously?

How would we take, for instance, "We cannot think illogically," seriously?

Dec 7, 2010

What Daniel Dennet doesn't know

1. Cog (Dennett's artificial intelligence project) failed to achieve any of its goals and is already in a museum. But, as far as I know, neither Dennett nor anyone connected with the project has published an account of the failure and asked what mistaken assumptions underlay their absurd optimism.
-- Hubert L. Dreyfus

2. Even those sympathetic to the recent wave of evolutionary attacks on religion cannot help feeling that something is missing there: Dawkins and company lack a minimum of understanding of what religion is about, of how it works.
-- Slajov Zizek

3. There are many great Wittgensteins to choose from. My hero is the one who showed us new ways of being suspicious of our own convictions when confronting the mysteries of the mind.
-- Daniel Dennett

Dec 5, 2010

As snow days become snow weeks...

Dec 4, 2010

that I leave in early in the morning / and I won't be back till next year

Dec 3, 2010

Night birds

Dec 2, 2010

& then we're told we're doomed

There should be a warning on the cover of Moby-Dick. Beware, it should say, reading this will require blood.

Fair warning would only be fair. As it is, the word of caution comes too late. Melville only mentions this cost, this culpability, when one is already hundreds of pages in. It’s only mentioned after we know to call him Ishmael, after we’ve followed, fascinated, behind Queequeg the face-tattooed harpooner who carries his god in his pocket, after we’ve sat through a scary sermon, heard a beggars warning, met the crazy Quaker shipping company owners and boarded the Pequod with Ishmael. It only happens after we’ve watched the waters for whales, watched while the water’s impossibly calm, and after we’ve learned the customs and social structures of whaling ships, after we’ve met everyone and after we’ve seen the one-legged captain with his thumping and his obsession.

Then we’re told we’re doomed.

The structure of this moment — this too-late announcement that one is irrevocably involved — is, of course, the same for the reader as it is for the characters in Moby-Dick. This is what happens in the novel and what happens, at the same time, to the reader of the novel. It’s a metafictional moment revealing one’s ethical responsibility, revealing it not as a choice, but as a sentence.

Read the rest of the essay, Moby-Dick and metafiction ethics, @ TheThe.

Dec 1, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 010

Wittgenstein with his older brother

I tend to think of "logical" as something somewhat akin to "correct." Not "true," exactly, but supported. "Correct" as in "correctly thought" or "thoroughly thought." When I say "that's not logical," I mean the idea hasn't been put together quite right and will, under scrutiny, under pressure, fall apart.

Often, of course, "logical" and "true" are taken to be, if not the same thing, so directly and closely connected as to be all but indistinguishable. Logic is understood to act as a kind of insurance for, an ensurance of the truth of something. It's a guarantee. When, for example, philosophers talk about a "logical language," they imagine it as a kind of utopian language that, by being logical, will only allow for certain kinds of statements, where there is this guarantee.

Many, though, especially when they're working with logic and truth claims, work to clearly separate the two. I had a prof., for example, who regularly talked about "justified true beliefs," a turn of language that opens up the possibility and makes us aware of the possibility that one can have true beliefs that are unjustified, and justified beliefs that happen not to be true. It's an important distinction, and one I try to make, try to be aware of and try to teach -- it's necessary, for example, in the way that it forces one to move beyond just the claim of the truth of something, or the orthodoxy of something, or its general acceptance, and to actually have to think the idea through.

Done this way, though, "logic" is kind of defensive. It's a negative thing, a complicated thing, a kind of equation aimed at solving for the truth. When one asks "is it logical?", one is check to see if the idea will fall apart under pressure.

Wittgenstein does something different with the word, though.

Nov 30, 2010

As the morning melts away

Derrida's reception: in France he was known for his political stances
Extended '98 interview with David Foster Wallace
MFA vs. NYC: Which lit culture will win?
Ezra Pound: the 11-year-old poet
50 best documentaries
Stand up Kafka
Tree bombs
Gaga studies
New Deal utopias
What is philosophy?
Post-traumatic poetry
Porn stars read poems
Painting Christian nudes
Talking to Eileen Myles
New narratives, old brain
Eliot among the paleocons
Jay-Z deconstructs himself
Bush's non-decision points
Spirituals for White people
A Darwinian theory of beauty
Watching movies with Mormons
Wikileaks vs. American power
The Cherokee bruiser-for-hire
Help Tim Burton write his story
The cognitive cost of expertise
Dennis Lehane is back, baby, back
An unpublished Barry Hannah story
What does Wikileaks actually tell us?
The problems photographing Hemingway
Ian Fleming talks to Raymond Chandler
Are they forgetting Tolstoy in Russia?
Rene Girard talking to National Review
Comparing the Evangelical to the Mainline
Beliefs are not the precondition of action
Jane Smiley's Man who invented the computer
4 dead men of words: may they rest in peace
No more prayers at govt-funded soup kitchens
Bio disguised as memoir: ex-wife searches for PK Dick
John Updike and the curious business of lit reputations
Huxley v. Orwell & Postman's amusing ourselves to death
10 books that ended White male literary dominance in the US
The inevitability of prophecy among models of New York city
Dumpsites and Transience: the western photographs of Stephen Chalmers
Justice Stevens: death penalty shot through with politics, racism, hysteria
Imposing a narrative on the cacophony

The other thing that frustrates me about Robert C. Fuller's Religious Revolutionaries is the way he imposes a narrative on American religion.

He seems to see it as going somewhere.

I think this warps the view of the religious thinkers he likes -- putting them all on the same side, moving in the same direction, opposing the same regressive forces -- and sidelines the ones he doesn't. Instead of taking these various and diverse thinkers on their own terms, in their own contexts, he places them in narrative, making them characters whose function is to move the ball down the field.

In the end, he gives up even the pretense of history and makes these people heroes, leaving the reader with a lesson: "The legacy of our religious revolutionaries lives on," he says in conclusion. "Their thoughts and actions have opened up new spiritual pathways. To this extent these rebels not only succeeded in helping to free their contemporaries from the religious past, but they also make it possible for us to be inspired by their historic efforts."

I don't really see how Fuller can justify this, academically. I know it's supposed to be a book for a general audience, but still.

Even if one is OK with the model of progressing history and if one wants to own these historic figures take up this cause, it's absurd to think of thinkers as diverse as Anne Hutchinson and Mary Daly, Phineas P. Quimby and James Cone, Joseph Smith and William James as all moving in the same direciton. That model requires elisions, at best, and some sloppy presentism, and lends itself, I think, to some sever misrepresentations.

The very idea that America's religious history can be put into some sort of narrative seems to me to only even be possible if one is willfully myopic. It can't even really rightly be made to go in two directions -- the history is one of cacophony, with movements and counter movements, new religions and new takes on old religions, and old takes on new religions, with experimentation and development and reaction and always, always, pluralism and plethora and multitude. Imposed narratives oversimplify all this, and miss a lot of it, and drastically reshape everything in a presentist way to make a point.

Fuller, for example, ends with an account of a glorious now, where "seekers freely choose within a wide-open spiritual marketplace," which, oddly, turns out, in his depiction, to always be this choice of this same free seeking, and he gazes off into the future where we too can "embark on spiritual journeys aimed at establishing a deeply personal relationship with these higher levels of existence ... journeys [that] promise to be filled with ecstatic adventure." This picture of what's happening in American religion today seems to be insanely narrow, and when I look at what I know is happening, I know I can't tell you what is going to happen, but whatever it is, it won't be just one thing.

Nov 29, 2010

Religions' relationship with culture

Religious people sometimes resist any analysis of their religion that moves beyond the creedal. Any attempt to contextualize their faith, to show its relationship to the surrounding culture, to treat it as a part of culture and analyze it as cultural seems to them to disregard the religion's truth claims, or, worse, to assume they're false. To treat a religion as cultural seems or appears to take it as contingent, which is taken as not taking it seriously or as meaning it's not true.

Sometimes this is the case, of course, but what cultural studies of religion try to do is actually bracket the truth claims, considering them beyond the scope of they inquiry. Rather than dealing with the rightness or wrongness of it, addressing the claim of truth, when cultural studies addresses a religion it looks at and considers how that religion came to be what it came to be, how it relates.

How it relates is a complicated question, though, at least in part because religion is not an epiphenomena of culture.

Nov 27, 2010

Tuebingen after the snowfall

Nov 25, 2010

ich bin dankbar 026

Nov 24, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 009

Young Wittgenstein

The Tractatus is one of the stranger dissertations written.

Even for philosophy, which certainly sees strange dissertations, the Tractatus is unique. For one thing, it wasn't mainly written in the course of Wittgenstein's studies with Frege or Russell or G.E. Moore. He started it by himself, writing it alone, on the front during World War I and then as a prisoner of war. It was begun in isolation and is a strangly, markedly isolated work. Most works of philosophy are in conversation with other works -- footnotes to Plato, responses to Kant, and so on -- but the Tractatus is, in contrast, really a text without context. Wittgenstein says, in his introduction, he doesn't even know how or if it relates to other philosophy. Where normally a work, and esp. a dissertation, is in a conversation, the Tractatus is encased in isolation.

It's not directed to anyone. There's this sense the text is talking to itself, talking to the wall.

Nov 23, 2010

Thinking of 'photography'

Whereas I want to think of photography as it is in photographs, as a textured medium that's normally invisible, Roland Barthes says he can only think of photographs, in their particularity, and never of photography.

"Photography," he says in the beginning of Camera Lucinda, "evades us."

What Barthes means by this is that photographs are profoundly, disturbingly particular. Photographs reproduce and re-reproduce "what could never be repeated existentially ... it is the absolute Particular, the sovereign Contingency."

Photographs mark, he says, a "disorder of objects," a kind of ontological upset, in that the photograph, through mechanical reproduction, elevates the particular beyond the scope of particularity without making it universal or a category, which puts it in this unsettling, neither/nor ontological position. It's also an ontological upset in that such selection is an elevation of this particular, over and against everything else, which is a sort of betrayal. Barthes asks, "of all the objects in the world: why choose (why photograph) this object, this moment, rather than some other?" Note that a photograph, here, for Barthes, does the same perverse thing love does for Slovoj Zizek: it's an act that damns the universal and the ideal in favor of the flawed, failed, "fallen" individual.

The particularness of photographs, with the attendant ontological disorder, is, I think, perhaps why photographs of war and crime scenes work in a way that paintings or drawings never would. The disorder of attention, the perversity of the importance of this particular, these particular details, is exactly what we want to picture there.

For Barthes, here, such a thing as "photography" would be a kind of ontological opiate, a way of opting out of the disorder of the particularness of photographs, which is also, he thinks, the passage of time (the photographs' "testimony bears not on the object but on time"), that is, on Death ("Death is the edios of that Photograph"). Rejecting the concept of photography as such -- suggesting that it doesn't exist, that it has no "'genus' of its own" -- is an existential moment and an ethical moment that breaks down our denials of our own finitude, and forces the crack up of ontology.

Still, as much as it's a good thing to attempt to break down ontology, and as much as I agree that this disorder of particularness is pushed on us by photographs, and that mechanical reproduction of a particular was a disruption (for example, by replacing uniqueness or rareness with reproducibility as the primary value of pictures), it seems kind of silly to me deny the existence of photography as such.

There is this that we talk about that is called photography.

Barthes was using "photography" as a stand in for ontology, though, and I'm using it and its invisibility as a stand in for ideology and ideological functions.

Newsweek profiles David Foster Wallace's archives
Twain's autobiography sells out before Christmas

Bob Saget sojourns in subcultural America
One word as window to an author's work
In the age of the internet book stunt
Jonathan Letham talks to Patti Smith
Reading like it's your effing job
The Asperger’s of Ludwig Wittgenstein
Vonnegut honored in Indianapolis
Mystery of the tainted cocaine
Hemingway's Garden of Eden
Turkey hunting with Twain
The rise of Israeli jazz
Misquoting Wittgenstein
50 years of Friedlander
America's greatest word
Writing the Civil War
Underwater sculpture
Pluto and the chaos
Intro to Langpo
Poetry & boxing
A genre glossary
Revisiting Death Wish
Talking to Adam Levin
Talking to Aimee Bender
Talking to Wendell Berry
On being out, gay and art
Thelonious Monk: Off minor
Collaboration in the humanities
New Atheists do two big debates
Eggcorns for all intensive purposes
Buying banned books in the Middle East
What could computers learn from poetry?
Old rightist argument for raising taxes
The great unpublished keep writing. Why?
Sniffing T.E. Lawrence's copy of Ulysses
Americans and Sci Fi in the Early Cold War
James Baldwin and the importance of artists
Talking to a world leading first amendment lawyer
What could poets learn from Hip Hop's language lab?
An incomplete, partly secret history of Nazis in America
The hidden narratives and half poems of a classic style guide

Nov 22, 2010

The photographic character of photographs
Supper last

Photography must be the most self-erasing of arts. The most self-effacing: it makes itself invisible.

The texture of photography is invisible and it has an authority that's so great as to seem not to be an authority, but just to be a natural state. It is just there. Of course we take photographs to be more than record, but to be, actually, evidence: they are not just most in line with our idea of actual truth, they are what we mean by the word and idea. The photography itself erases itself for us, and leaves us just the real. Or so we think. The photographic nature of photographs, the photographic qualities of photographs, the photographic characteristics and texture of photographs ... they all evaporate before us. We can't see them. They disappear for us and we see only the referred to, only that which is signified. The sign is see-through, the referential transparent.

A question I've been toying with, though: can one photograph in such a way as to make that invisible visible? In such a way as to make the photography part of the photograph? To show the texture of the thing, and not erase it, not embrace the "myth of photographic truth," which is this invisibleness, with the photograph, but to acknowledge the mediation, induce meditation on the mediation -- and even appreciate it?

Which is how I ended up taking pictures of windows.

Nov 18, 2010

The pizza shop called home
The average reader

My standard for versimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write porse narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for average reader in my newspaperlife. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.

-- David Simon, in the liner notes to The Wire: & All the Pieces Matter.

Nov 17, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 008

Wittgenstein's corrected text

The normal way of reading the Tractatus should be turned on its head. It should be read, I think, upside down. That is: inverted.

The sentences are, of course, numbered, with seven "top level" sentences, and then, below that, sub sentences, sub-sub sentences, sub-sub-sub sentences and so on, all of them decimalized and ranked. The normal way of reading this -- the natural way -- is to give the highest priority to those first level sentences, paying less attention to the ones buried deep down in the text.

Those sub-sub sentences, though, should be taken as the most important ones.

Nov 16, 2010

Puddles and rain

Jesus radicals
What Montaigne hath wrought
Towards an Agrarian Urbanism
Hating Foer/it's been done before
Collected essays of Robert Creeley
Translation, film, and ESL students
Is there anything left to say about Melville?
Trains and transportation essential to American economy
A 7-year-old's death, botched police raid, Detroit's death, and America now
Rejecting Wittgenstein's Mistress, and rejecting, and rejecting, and rejecting
The movie-history importance of the Night of the Hunter

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
How many illegal immigrations do you think there are?
Yeah but where is Joseph Conrad's birth certificate?
Germany's gaping security loophole: slow paperwork
TS Eliot presided over literary culture's demise
Weisberg's Slate stutters after years of success
Erotica and the real first amendment fight
Homophobiaphobia (also an ideological move)
Hendrix, the patron saint of alt blackness
Graduate unemployment is at 17-year high
Lyrics, musicals vs. poetry, & Sondheim
The values of verse in the 21st century
Jonathan Safran Foer's novel by erasure
Elmore Leonard knows what to leave out
Pat Conroy's favorite Southern writers
A defense of journalistic objectivity
Goodard: is he the pimp or prostitute
Lit mag revival, courtesy of internet
Poetry and the US - Canadian border
Benjamin Franklin's social network
I could have joined the Tea Party
Cormac McCarthy vs. Larry McMurty
Politicizing the TV programming
Flarf: the Jon Stewart of poetry
Michael Chabon's 'wrecked novel'
Americans and the death penalty
Comics of comic book customers
Didion to write on aging
Goodards film socialism
Following snake signs
The future is looting
19th century Fox news
Letters to Lincoln
New DeLillo covers
Idiots with wings
Bellow's letters
Talking to Foer
Oh, yep

Nov 15, 2010

What we need is an actual history of Christian Reconstructionism

Twice last week, Religion Dispatches published pieces connecting Sarah Palin and Christian Reconstructionism. The connection seems to be complicated, though, in that, in the one article, Palin is adopting a Reconstructionist idea and Theonomic language, specifically Gary North's talk about the Federal Reserve, which she may have also gotten from Howard Phillips, calling the Fed "unbiblical," and in the other, she's dismissing the Reconstructionists' idea about the place and role of women, their anti-feminism and idea of "Biblical Patriarchy," dismissing them as "neanderthals."

Neither piece really takes the time to explore that complication, though, and though the author, Julie Ingersoll, has done a lot of good reporting pointing to the connection between the modern right and the Christian Reconstructionist movement, there are some basic questions about that connection that go unanswered. What Ingersoll reports seems to me to be completely accurate, yet there are still some gaping holes in the account of how the theonomic thinking that came out of the presuppositionalism and postmillennialism of an Armenian Calvinist came to influence a whole wing of the Republican party, including pretty powerful Senators and more than one presidential contender.

Nov 13, 2010

Germany/ I don't know, I don't know

Nov 11, 2010

Before you go

Nov 10, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 007

Wittgenstein's clenched fist

In a kind of crude, reductive way, philosophy is either about supporting or overthrowing the intuitive, common assumptions about the world. A philosophy -- ontology in particular, but also epistemology, for example -- will either tend towards the idea that what we commonly think is wrong, even radically and significantly wrong, or towards that idea that it's basically already right.

Plato's idea about the cave, for example, suggests that we have been wrong about everything. What we think we know, we don't. What seems real to us, isn't.

Descartes' project in Meditations on First Philosophy, on the other hand, attempts to found common knowledge, ascertain the truths we think we know are true, but takes normal, non-philosophical ideas about the world as basically right, if inadequately supported.

This is one of the really, really basic disputes about the Tractatus. It's so basic, but so disputed, there are points where you have to wonder what's going on that we don't even agree on what's being said, much less whether it's right or not. We know, though, that Wittgenstein will, in his later writings, take a position that could be characterized as "the kids are alright." Here, though, it's not so clear. It's a real question: is Wittgenstein arguing that what we normally, naively, casually think about the world is basically right but philosophically unsupported, or does he think that we're all totally wrong?
He develops, for example, what is called the "picture theory of truth." I have read this both ways.
There is a way to read what he's saying as saying we can't, actually, be wrong.

1. Future generations of scholars will use Conan O'Brien's loss of his job and subsequent heroization/meme-ification to explain the country's response to the economic crisis. He will be understood to have symbolically represented us to us.

2. The internet could have been good for reporting. It wasn't because, given the chance, given freedom to consume the media we want, we overwhelmingly preferred opinions to facts. The internet is, in this sense, a symptom not a cause of journalistic decline.

3. Flarf was prefigured by Tyler Durden's passive-aggressive office Haiku. Flarf prefigured Tao Lin.

Nov 8, 2010

Woman in Fall
Like a beautiful but never ending maze

There are two answers: 1) Beauty. 2) Entanglement. Except that maybe they're the same.

As the photographer focused his lens, framed his shot, and snapped the faces of philosophers, nearly 200 of them over a span of 22 years, he asked, "Why philosophy?" He asked and he got these answers, which might be this answer, which is, I think, a strange truth about philosophy.

Some of the photos went up on the New York Times site this weekend, along with the 50-word answers to the question. More can be seen on Steve Pyke's own website, where you can see some of the work he's done to ensure "some record of the philosophers."

The sampling shows there were two general answers to the question. Of course this is a reduction and an oversimplification. There are a variety of answers, a whole spectrum, but the spectrum seems to have two sides, and to go from a sense of philosophy as a feeling of feeling trapped, to philosophy as amazingly breathtaking.

From, philosophy is the highest accomplishment of humankind, to, help, I can't get out of here!

Slovoj Zizek, for example, the most famous of the bunch the New York Times selected, says:

Nov 7, 2010

To Carve a Face

To carve a face in wood you must practice. And practice and practice. You must practice eyes, especially, and mouths and noses, though you cannot think of them that way. Think only of the wood and the edge of the knife and of shapes. You must break the face into pieces, in how you think of it, and think not of faces but of pieces and parts, 0f shapes and lines. Practice triangles with your knife. Practice triangles with your gouge. Practice circles and ovals, oblongs and uneven polygons, rectangles and slightly-off squares.

Cut triangles with the tip of your knife for eyes, pairs of triangles on each side of each eye. Connect them with thin, arching lines, cutting a curl of wood away, leaving a circle remaining, a mound, a pupil, inside.

Practice until you have a whole boards of eyes.

Read the rest of the essay, To Carve a Face, @ TheThe.

Nov 6, 2010

It'll make you holler / and sing the blues in Japanese

Nov 5, 2010

Table for one in the Fall

Theodore C. Sorensen, speechwriter for Kennedy, dies at 82. May he rest in peace.
Supreme Court hears arguments in violent video game censorship case
Novel does immigrant life w/o sentimentalism: How to read the air
What does George Bush think is the worst moment of his presidency?
Yes, Virginia, Tis' the season to deck the halls with cliches
liberty, Liberty, and a short history of capitalization
Maya Angelou and James Baldwin walked into a bar
A life of portraits at Dutch shooting galleries
Govt works with YouTube to censor Al Qaeda videos
David Simon and the influence of Paths of Glory
Ted Sorensen was a keeper of Democratic ideals
Gay Talese's boxers, ballers and silent heroes
Limbaugh vs. Lincoln, or, the arc of the GOP
Dinosaur skull found in polished church wall
Circus: artists and oddballs under the tent
Zizek and the Excremental Body of Christ
Documentary of Stephen Mettitt's writing
Wittgenstein shows everyone his doodle
Mark Twain's brilliant brand management
French theory today (&possible futures)
What's going on with German literature
James Franco's short stories are bad
The Tea Party backlash was worth it
Bush: I gave orders to waterboard
Jesus Loves you, Scott McClanahan
The election after "Citizens United"
Lit tattoos from around the world
The myth of black confederates
An introduction to Elliott Smith
GOP makes Midwest the new South
Young like art better outdoors
Jonathan Letham talks movies
David Markson and naive art
Amazon's 100 books for 2010
New York photos: 68 to 78
Ray Bradbury wrote me back
History of Occult America
Overheard in the newsroom
A Terry Gilliam short film
Happy Birthday Ezra Pound
Tarantino and philosophy
Paul Auster in Brooklyn
New Derrida biography
Walt Whitman's grief
NPR in the heartland
Conservatives on TV
Expired domain girl
Top 10 Republicans
Tao Lin in Germany
Anthology of rap
Jury duty notes
Save the words!
Life of chess

Nov 3, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 006

Wittgenstein cartoon

Auf Deutsch:
2.033 Die Form ist die Möglichkeit der Struktur.
2.034 Die Struktur der Tatsache besteht aus den Strukturen der Sachverhalte.
2.04 Die Gesamtheit der bestehenden Sachverhalte ist die Welt.
2.05 Die Gesamtheit der bestehenden Sachverhalte bestimmt auch, welche Sachverhalte nicht bestehen.
2.06 Das Bestehen und Nichtbestehen von Sachverhalten ist die Wirklichkeit.
(Das Bestehen von Sachverhalten nennen wir auch eine positive, das Nichbestehen eine negative Tatsache.)
2.061 Die Sachverhalte sind von einander unabhängig.
2.062 Aus dem Bestehen oder Nichbestehen eines Sachverhaltes kann nicht auf das Bestehen oder Nichtbestehen eines anderen geschlossen werden.

2.033 The shape is the possibility of the structure.
2.034 The structure of the facts exists from the structures of the states of affairs.
2.04 The entirety of the existing state of affairs is the world.
2.05 The entirety of the existing state of affairs is also true when the state of affairs is not existing.
2.06 The existing and non-existing of states of affairs is the reality.
(The existence of states of affairs we also call a positive, the non-existing a negative fact.)
2.061 The state of affairs are autonomous of one another.
2.062 From the existence or non-existence a state of affairs, the existence or non-existence of another one cannot be concluded.

  • Möglichkeit -- I'm not sure if this should be understood as "possibility" in the sense of "condition," which has a kind of limitation implied, a without-which-not, or, more optimistically, as potential. I've gone with what I take to be the more standard translation of the word, but I wonder if the connotation isn't a bit off.
  • Tatsache -- This can also, interestingly, mean "matters of fact."
  • besteht aus -- I've gone back and forth on the translation of this, and also on how tricky the translation is. One option is "consists of," another "exists from." The former seems more natural in English, but has the disadvantage of translating "besteht" in a way that seems to distinguish it and distance it from the other uses of the word in this passage. Worse, in the English "cosists" is so different from "exists" as to mask the fact Wittgenstein is using the same word. "Exists of" is not an option, though, and how one plays the genitive here, "of" vs. "from," seems like it could completely shift priority from terms of the sentence. Maybe not, though, as "consists of" makes the "Sachverhalte" primary, just as "exists from" does.
  • Wirklichkeit -- How much does this word carry the idea of "Realism"? "Realism" would be translated, I think, "Realisimus," and "reality," "Realität," but one has to think that logical positivists of the day would see this as an endorsement, not a distancing. Is it, though? Rudolph Carnap, in the German, is referred to as attempting "die Kluft zwischen Sprache und Wirklichkeit zu schließen," or, "to close the gap between speech and reality," K. Hübner, of Tübingen, wrote a book in 2001 called "Glaube und Denken: Dimensionen der Wirklichkeit," and the German wikipedia pages on Logical Positivism, explaining a dispute between about the definition of "positivism" between Carnap and Karl Popper, talks about a "Konfrontation mit der Wirklichkeit," or, "confrontation with the reality." So it seems -- seems -- that Wittgenstein is using, here, a very common philosophical word. But is that really what's going on with "Wirklichkeit"?
  • geschlossen werden -- Literally means "to make closed." A loose translation might say something like "cannot be inferred," and the primary idea of the sentence seems to be this logical disconnection, but "geschlossen" and "nicht geschlossen" also have this kind of wonderful idea of "bad logic" being that which closes down the openess that is actually in the world. This, I think, could be an example of how later Wittgenstein and earlier Wittgenstein are, in certain ways, continuous.

Nov 2, 2010

Waiting for the vote count

For the last few years, every election day I’ve gone down to the county headquarters and waited while they count the ballots. In the evening at the end of the day, the poll workers pull up to the bunker, lining up their SUVs and unloading the voting machines by the front door. It was the 911 call center at one point, a concrete building half-built into the ground, radio aerials like squiggly doodles drawn in the sky. They transformed it into a community center, though, and reporters and candidates, party hacks and other observers are shuffled over into a room that is used, most days, for a battered-wives support group. There are chairs there and we wait while they count. On the bulletin boards are brightly colored flyers saying love shouldn’t hurt, help is available, break the cycle of violence. We can see through a window to where they do the actual counting–election officials in a rush, unlocking the machines, sorting and shifting and tallying districts, then uploading the count onto the official site, where, all over the county, all over the state, candidates and journalists, party workers, regular voters, and other observers wait for the numbers to say what is already decided.

That is the weird thing, watching the poll workers come in and unload the machines, watching the counters count and the election watchers watch. You know the decision’s been made. There’s nothing anyone can do anymore. You’re in the interregnum. You’re in that period where you know that soon everything will appear clear and as foreordained as if providence had made it so, everything is complete, and soon this history can be what cultural studies scholars call “presentist,” where everything clearly leads up to what it did the way it did and makes sense retrospectively. But for the moment everything is undetermined. What’s going to be already is and we wait for what’s done, what’s inevitable and, in fact, is already accomplished but only not yet realized.

The future is fluid, to you there, standing there at sunset on election day as the counting counters scurry, and the past is fluid too. The past is done, but unknown; the future done and unknown too. All of it moving. All of it’s as formless as water. But only to you. In another sense, in a real sense or a more real sense, it’s all already solid. The past is decided and the future’s decided and has its shape, its form is fixed, but for you it’s all only liquid.

Read the rest of the essay, Election Day Interregnum, @ TheThe.
Imitation ticks

Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves is not just a blathering of tics and twitches. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was, though, if what you know about it comes from the some of the fans of House of Leaves.

The novel experiments with typography, for example, and the visual grammar of the film and of the internet, and some, when writing about it, can't seem to help themselves, and seem to have to imitate it. I assume it's a compulsion. The other interpretation seems mean.

At Flak Magazine, for example, there's a little imitation-homage going on. At The Cult it really gets out of hand.

I suppose the imitations are, at least in part, efforts to show one "gets it," in the same speaking the language of particular subculture makes you a part of that subculture or imitating the style of a philosopher is often -- so very often -- mistaken for actually understanding the philosophy. Instead, though, it turns the work into something silly.

I was looking at this stuff online to try to find more information about Danielewski's next book, which is rumoured to be titled Familiar, and to be a 27-volume work about a girl who lost her cat.

Instead what I found was cloying.

Probably part of Danielewski's success, 10 years ago (!), though, is that what he does seems so obvious, after you read it, and so imitatable.

It turns experimentalism into tricks and stunts, though. It creates, of seems to me to create, this weird moment where those who love a work and those dismiss it agree exactly on what the work is, and do what they do for the same reason. The important things get missed, and the whole thing gets reduced to a few tics.

Maybe this is just a downside of experimental fiction.

Oct 30, 2010

Not everybody walks straight lines

Oct 29, 2010

A space in which to write

Is Zadie Smith the Barack Obama of literature?
Eminem finds four rhymes that rhyme with orange
Amiri Baraka rereads "somebody blew up America"
The problem with Sufjan Steven's Age of Adz
The withering death of rejection letters
So you want to get a PhD in humanities
100 years of NY subway photography
Reimagining the Gettysburg address
44 ways of looking at marginalia
Vonneguts and bi-polar disorder
Fetish for non-digital writing
Rejection is hard tee shirts
Is Annie Lebowitz an artist?
The chapbook is illuminated
Edger Allen Poe and Eminem
Barthes by Barthes by Bart
Ben Franklin's death mask
Malcolm Gladwell's hair
Roget Ebert on Playboy
Your handwritten font
Jane Austen in Oregon
Talking to Gay Talese
Becoming Thoreau
Poetry as murder
Teaching Anselm
Animating Howl
Oxford comma
Iraq war logs
NYTime's war logs
Peeing is political
On how to be dogmatic
40 years of Doonesbury
Trudeau's best works
Renegade: visual poetry
The Giants old ballgame
Gloves of the World Series
Triumph of the cyborg composer
Conservatives and "sublime" war
Seymour Hersh on the online threat
Can conservatism be rational again?
For sale: 70-ton map of California
Tattoos protected by First Amendment
Zizek and Milbank: A missed encounter
Sony Walkman tape player discontinued
We already had a gay president: Lincoln.
Greil Marcus and Sean Wilentz talk Bob Dylan
Cory Doctorow's adventures in self publishing
The Salem murder that inspired Hawthorne and Poe
Robert Alter's new translation of the Hebrew Bible
Why Doc Brown is the real villain of Back to the Future
Robert Ebert readers take down a take down of the critic
Considering the importance of NPR and radio after Ira Glass
If God wanted to destroy New Atheism, getting this book written was a good start