Monday, June 23, 2008

In the Garden + Oe & Pamuk on Writing

The weather has been so lovely since I've been home that I must thank the gods. Just before the end of the school, when it was still cool and rainy in Chicago, the New York area suffered through a heat wave that has been conspicuously absent since I've returned. Instead, it's been intermittently warm and cool, rainy but not especially muggy, and sunny hours have given way to brief showers before switching back, especially over here in New Jersey. One result is that the gardens are thriving. C did most of the early spring work since I was toiling in the concrete, glass and limestone fields of Evanston, but I did manage to spend one weekend months ago removing the thick ground cover of magnolia leaves that had the effect of protecting a number of the plants during the mild winter.

So far, most of the perennials have returned: among the herbs, two types of sage, African and pineapple, are back, as is the lavender, the rosemary, the mint, the lemon balm, and the thyme. C. planted dill and basil, which are also flourishing. A colleague asked how to keep basil growing from year to year, and I haven't figured out an answer yet; every time I've planted and harvested it that's been the ended of it, but perhaps other gardeners have some thoughts on this. Slightly limey soil does seem to help it take root.

Among the flowers, the roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, and honeysuckle have all bloomed, and the hydrangeas are now in spectacular form. The fruits and vegetables are also in very good shape: the blueberry bush I bought is in the ground, alongside the other, the two different types of strawberries are already growing, as are the blackberries, whose bushes are again creeping across the lawn, and brussel sprouts, red cabbage, collard greens, tomatoes, and peppers are also emerging.

In general, the backyard is turning into an English garden. I will take more photos when we get a respite from the rain and I can take the lawnmower to it.

Here are some photos:

Hydrangeas in the front garden
The hydrangeas, after a rainstorm
Honeysuckle and blackberry bushes
The blackberry bushes in front (the blueberries are hidden), with the honeysuckle canopy behind it
Two types of hosta
Two types of hosta, growing in what was once a bare patch at the back of the yard
Red cabbage
Red cabbage (some of the leaves have proved delicious for caterpillars)
Rosemary and pineapple sage
Rosemary and pineapple sage
Little strawberries
Budding strawberries (which have since disappeared--a cat? a rabbit? an opossum?)
African sage (and basil at left)
African sage, with tiny basil sprigs at left, and peppers (?)
Dill and tomato plants
Tomatoes and dill (the wispy sprigs at right)
Brussel sprouts and peppers
Brusssel sprouts (at left), peppers, African sage


Daily Yomiuri Online newspaper offers a brief snippet of a conversation with two of the leading international writers, Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk (whose highly praised novel Snow I finally finished after months of sustained effort), and Japanese Nobel Laureate Oe Kenzaburo (whose Seventeen is one of the best novels I've ever read about a far-right young nut). From the interview:

Oe: I believe poetry is the best kind of literature. I wrote my first poem as a primary school student. I looked inside a dewdrop on a persimmon leaf and found another world inside it, and wrote about it in a short poem. Unfortunately, I could not become a poet, but in my novels I continue to claim the existence of other worlds.

My writing style involves repeated rewrites. These revisions comprise 80 percent of my life as a novelist. I am trying to achieve a kind of polyphonic expression that I learned from [Russian novelist Fyodor] Dostoyevsky. I want to create a collective voice expressing a truth that transcends the voices of individuals. This can be achieved in a novel, but not in poetry.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dems Capitulate to GOP/Bush on FISA/Telecom Amnesty/Immunization? + Tayari on New NEA Report

Happy Juneteenth!


The Democrats in Congress are on the verge of what could be one of their best electoral triumphs in decades; nearly every poll out shows that they will increase their margins in the House, perhaps by double digits, and will gain anywhere from 2-6 seats in the Senate. In fact, they could gain as many as 9 Senate seats and pass the 60-vote margin that they've allowed the minority GOP to wield as a weapon of control. They enter this upcoming election facing one of the widely acknowledged worst, most unpopular, least trusted presidents in recent US history, a man whose rhetoric, though still dangerous, is so ineffectual--save on the warmongering calls against Iran--that he might as well not open his mouth ever again until he leaves office.

And yet, these Democrats, particularly in the House, have repeatedly found ways to give this deeply loathed president and his party what they want, again and again. On issues surrounding the Iraq War and civil liberties, they have been abominable.

Really and repeatedly abominable.

The newest abomination is the "bipartisan," "compromise," FISA-gutting, telecom amnesty bill, which the Democrats have decided must not only provide the White House and GOP with everything they want in terms of the freedom to spy without a warrant on Americans, but also a giveaway to the telecom industry in the form of grandfathered amnesty; although several lawsuits are now underway to see if the telecoms broke the law (since they are alleged to have been spying on Americans since early 2001, months before 9/11), and although the US had a perfectly workable FISA law that could, with some minor changes, have been updated to make it as effective as possible, the Bush administration decided it must have this horrible draconian new law, in effect protecting itself and the telecoms from possible crimes they committed, and the Democratic leadership in both the House, led by Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, and the Senate, led by West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, are doing their damnedest to make it pass.

In fact, when the GOP controlled Congress, they couldn't get this telecom amnesty debacle through. And yet now that Democrats control both houses, it's almost law.

How bad have the violations been that this bill is trying to wipe away? From Glenn Greenwald:

As Judge [Vaughn] Walker [a Republican appointee and the chief judge of the Northern District of California] ruled, the alleged actions by the telecoms "violate the constitutional rights clearly established" by prior Supreme Court rulings and "no reasonable entity in [the telecoms'] position could have believed [the spying program] was legal." Beyond that, the telecoms -- by allowing the Bush administration to spy on their customers with no warrants -- knowingly violated at least four separate federal statutes (.pdf).

This is the bill that Senator Chris Dodd repeatedly threatened to filibuster when he was still a candidate for president.

And Steny Hoyer has stonewalled and dissimulated about it. Repeatedly. WHY?

Barack Obama has said that he strongly opposes this law. He has not yet spoken out about this new House-led effort. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold says that the bill was not a "compromise" but a "capitulation" to the White House. In Eric Lichtblau's New York Times article, the GOP are already gloating about how they rolled the Democrats on behalf of Bush. Again.

So what can you do?

You can visit this site, Blue America PAC vs. Retroactive Immunity, for more information on this horrible bill, and to donate money for a targeted campaign to oppose several of its most heinous Democratic enablers. So far, the PAC has collected over $200,000 from 4,000 donors. You can write, call or fax your Congressperson or Senator, demanding that she not support this bill, which will be put up for a vote tomorrow.

A coalition calling itself "Strange Bedfellows" has drawn people from across the political and ideological spectrum. They are concerned with yet another serious threat to civil liberties, and the possible legislation of behavior that drew strong rebukes after it reached some of its worst abuses under the Nixon administration. You can visit the site at:

And you can call Senator Obama's campaign, at (866) 675-2008 [Dial 6, then 0, on the menu], and demand that he take action to prevent its passage, since he is on record claiming that he opposed it. Or you can contact his office directly, if you're an Illinois resident. From his Senate webpage: Phone: (202) 224-2854 / Fax: (202) 228-4260 / Email


Tayari has posted on the NEA's recent comprehensive report on artists in the workplace. It's worth checking out. Three of her bullet points:

  • The percentage of female, black, Hispanic and Asian artists is bigger among younger ones. Among artists under 35, writers are the only group in which 80 percent or more are non-Hispanic white. I wonder why it is that all other areas of art are becoming more diverse, but not writing? I would think that writing would really lend itself to inclusion since the start up costs are so low. A question worth thinking about is whether this means times are good or hard for writers of color. On the one hand being so darn rare makes us attractive, or at least it does, theoretically. But on the other hand, the scarcity suggests steep challenges.
  • The “Artists in the Workforce” report, prepared by Sunil Iyengar, the endowment’s director of research and analysis, identified 185,000 writers.... That's a lot of people.
  • Overall, the median income that artists reported in 2005 was $34,800 — $42,000 for men and $27,300 for women. That's just depressing. No comment needed.
  • Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Celtics Win + Willie Randolph Fired + Black French Love Obama

    The Boston Celtics have won the NBA Championship in a blowout, 131-92, taking the series 4 games to 2. It's the franchise's 17th championship, and first in 22 years. Coached by Doc Rivers and led by longtime veteran Paul Pierce, the series MVP, and new acquisitions Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, they outplayed and successfully defended the Los Angeles Lakers, whose overhyped star Kobe Bryant faltered at the end of the game's last two quarters.

    The victorious team

    MVP Paul Pierce, whose teammates made up for his weakest championship game

    Kevin Garnett, one of the key people behind the Celtics' victory

    The stats say it all.

    Congratulations to the Celtics!


    Willie RandolphAnd now for one of the hugest debacles of the baseball season: the New York Mets' firing of manager Willie Randolph.

    What I wrote to Bernie and others was basically a summary of what everyone else has said, but I'll reprint it (with one change) anyways:

    Really classy move, Mets. In the middle of the night, after sending the poor man out to California! Is it Randolph's fault that so many of his key players are aging and injured, or that the ones who're on the field are underplaying? Are the Mets that far out of first place? No. Do they have that poor of a record? No. Did he assemble all these overpaid has-beens (including Carlos Delgado, who is gorgeous but has the mobility of a grain silo)?

    Bring back Willie and FIRE OMAR MINAYA!


    On a different note, I posted Michael Kimmelman's New York Times article to the CC list:
    "For Blacks in France, Obama's Rise Is Reason to Rejoice, and Hope." (Is it in the Arts section because Kimmelman's a well-known art critic?). Here's a snippet:

    A new black consciousness is emerging in France, lately hastened by, of all things, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States. An article in Le Monde a few days ago described how Mr. Obama is “stirring up high hopes” among blacks here. Even seeing the word “noir” (“black”) in a French newspaper was an occasion for surprise until recently.

    Meanwhile, this past weekend, 60 cars were burned and some 50 young people scuffled with police and firemen, injuring several of them, in a poor minority suburb of Vitry-le-François, in the Marne region of northeast France.

    Americans, who have debated race relations since the dawn of the Republic, may find it hard to grasp the degree to which race, like religion, remains a taboo topic in France. While Mr. Obama talks about running a campaign transcending race, an increasing number of French blacks are pushing for, in effect, the reverse.

    (Even the failed Socialist presidential candidate, Segolène Royal, is a fan; she even attended one of his speeches in Boston.) The excitement and enthusiasm goes far beyond France....

    Monday, June 16, 2008

    End of Quarter Finally + California Same-Sex Marriages Begin

    Well, I am finally done. The students' grades are all in, undergraduate and graduate, and the school year is over!

    For my brutal lecture course, I want to give special and sustained thanks to Brietta, Patricia, Sarah, Wana, and Wendy, my wonderful TAs, whose brilliance, insight and diligence I cannot say enough about. And to all the students, thank you for a great quarter.

    Here are some of them in the lecture hall, taking their final exam.


    It's official, extraordinary and still somewhat unbelievable to me. Whatever you feel about marriage as an institution (I personally have always been somewhat of a skeptic), California has taken a huge step in terms of equality under the law. This evening, the Golden State will begin issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples, and legally permit same-sex weddings to occur. (At right, from the New York Times: Del Martin, seated, and Phyllis Lyon were the first same-sex couple in San Francisco to exchange wedding vows on Monday. Mayor Gavin Newsom, left, presided; Jim Wilson/The New York Times).

    I knew this day was coming, and I figured that California would be on the leading edge, but I didn't know it would happen so swiftly, especially after Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (twice?) declined to sign bills permitting gay marriage passed by the California legislature. The marriages still face the threat of an anti-same sex marriage referendum, which will be voted on this upcoming November, I believe, but the most recent opinion polls I've seen appear to show a majority support same-sex marriages being legal.

    With New York's governor David Paterson announcing that he wants the state to follow legal rulings and recognize same-sex marriages, and with California allowing marriages of out-of-state same-sex couples, how much longer will it be before other states beyond Massachusetts recognize these couples or change their own laws? What will the next states to take this step be? I predict that of the non-civil union states, Rhode Island will be among the first; of the civil union states, Vermont and New Jersey, where I believe a challenge to the legality of not allowing same-sex marriages is still wending its way through the courts. And which states that have barred same-sex marriages will be among the first to repeal those laws?

    Sunday, June 15, 2008

    Happy Father's Day + Wessen Gepäck Ist Dieses?

    To all the readers who are fathers, grandfathers or daddies of any sort, or mentors and guides who serve in a fatherly role, Happy Fathers Day!


    One of the things I periodically heard growing up was not to assume that everything was okay because it appeared on the surface to follow your usual routine. If things were going too smoothly, perhaps check them out. This bit of advice would have come in handy yesterday when I flew back home to New Jersey from Chicago had I thought about it. But I didn't, and so I had one of those adventures that are, from what I can tell online and friends' anecdotes, not so uncommon. Though the outcome was fine, it could have turned out very badly. But I'll get to that in a minute.

    Here's how it went down: on Saturday morning I headed to O'Hare, and go there without a problem. I had already printed out my boarding pass, but since I realized I had too many bags to carry on the plane, decided I would check one. It turned out I had to check two. The second, I learned from the Continental check-in rep assisting me, would cost an addition $25. Perhaps Continental had announced this new fee somewhere, but I'd missed any mention of it on their site, which I'd visited the night before, or in my correspondence with them, or in the news, so I pressed the check-in agent, who proceeded to tell me, somewhat defensively, about the other airlines' new, exorbitant fees, all of which I was aware of. Soon, I thought, we'll be charged to use the bathroom or get a drink of tepid water. He added that Continental had only just initiated this change for everyone who wasn't a gold or silver elite member (or, I assume, flying first or business class), which was real consolation, since I am neither. As we were having this conversation, I gave him the boarding pass I'd printed at home and my passport, and he rechecked me in, processing the additional fees and confirming my seat. He tagged both my bags and handed me back my new boarding pass, and I carried my two bags over to the x-ray machine, where I saw the first of them sent through the scanner. After I passed through the TSA screening area, I found my gate, eventually boarded the plane, and in a little under a two hours, arrived at Newark Liberty Airport. C called me and I told him I'd be picking up my bags in just a few minutes and would be outside in no time. So far so good.

    As soon as I deplaned, I hurried through the circus of Terminal C, where Continental has moved their flights to and from Chicago, to the baggage carousel to collect my bags. My flight's luggage trove appeared fairly quickly, but my two bags weren't among them, so I waited and waited. Then the carousel stopped. I waited a few minutes for it to restart, but it remained still. A feeling of dread rose in my throat. There was a Continental employee standing nearby, so I asked him if all the bags had been sent forward, and if the carousel was finished for the flight, and he told me they had and it was. For a second I looked at the carousel as if I expected my bags to appear by magic, then I showed him my two baggage claim stickers, which were on my boarding pass envelope. He replied, "Well, you'll get your bags at your final destination. In Zurich." In Zurich? ZURICH? "But I'm not going to Zurich!" So I focused on the claim stickers, and sure enough, my two bags were tagged for a final destination of Z(U)R(IC)H, under the name of...someone else! This other person's and my last name are similar, same length, even phonetically close, though still distinct enough that it would have been hard to mistake them. Did I read the tags when the check-in agent put them on my bags? Did I look at the stickers on my boarding pass envelope? Have I regularly done so in years? The answer to all three questions is no.

    Once the vision of my bags circling a carousel in Zurich faded, I rushed over to the baggage claim area, where I found a claims agent to whom I unloaded my problem. Although I could already hear "Wessen Gepäck ist dieses?" and "À qui ce bagage appartient-il?" and a vague outline of the Italian version of this question being barked out before the bags were consigned to a holding area before they were opened, emptied, and tossed into a trash bin, I remained calm. The agent, who keyed in my name and told me that I had no bags checked whatsoever, then listened to me repeat my story. This time he grasped what I was talking about, telling me that since the flight to Zurich didn't leave until the evening, they could pull the bags off the new plane (or from a holding area) and deliver them to me at the last, distant carousel, which was usually reserved for golf clubs, skis and other large cargo. He cautioned that he couldn't take care of my case right away, however, so he suggested I get back in line and he'd handle it when he was done. Almost as soon as I got back in line, another claims agent beside him called me to her desk, and she said she'd assist me.

    We soon ran into a problem when I explained the issue to her. I described what happened, and told her that my bags had been tagged under this other person's name, and were being sent to Zurich. She looked at my boarding pass and the claims stickers, typed something into her computer, and replied that no bags turned up under my name, so she wasn't sure what we could do. I repeated that my bags were under this other person's name, and pointed to the two baggage claim stickers. She still appeared confused, looking again at my boarding pass and her screen, until the first claims agent explained to her, almost verbatim what I'd just uttered, about what had transpired, and then she got what was going on. She punched in the request to have my bags, tagged under this other person's name, sent to the distant carousel. At this point, I tried to call C, whom I figured was circling the airport and burning gas, but I couldn't get a signal, so I headed outside, finally reached him, and told him what was going on. He decided to park the car and then met me outside. We headed back over to the claims area, and I told him not to get upset, and he remained calm, as I had, while the first claims agent conversed with him about what was going on.

    Then we walked over to the distant carousel. We waited. It didn't take long, but two bags appeared. The first was one of my bags, tagged "XBAG" under this other person's name. The second was...another bag, a black, rolling suitcase, also tagged under this other person's name. But it wasn't my suitcase! So C and I waited a bit more, until nothing appeared at the distant carousel except large plastic baskets. Curious to find out if perhaps more bags might be arriving, C and I asked the baggage attendant about the carousel and tried to explain what was going on, but we very well could have speaking German, or Arabic, or gibberish to him; he had no clue what we were talking about. At this point, C went to check the original carousel, and I decided to look at the luggage tags on my one bag and the other person's bag again closely. My one piece of luggage which had appeared had the same claim number as the sticker on my boarding pass sleeve, but the other person's bag had a different number. So now, I realized, was that all Continental had to do was deliver the right bag. I told C this when he got back, and then I headed back to the claims area. The first baggage claim agent was again busy, as was the second one, so I spoke with a third person. Her first response was that we could put in a claim, and since I lived in New Jersey (and Chicago), I could easily be contacted whenever my bag was found. Aware from friends who'd had luggage "misplaced" and spent entire trips washing out underwear and then returned home with the hope of finding their bags waiting for them only to learn they were irrevocably "lost" and that a battle with the airlines would ensue--that is to say, aware of how that narrative usually turned out, I gently dissuaded her from this route. I noted in the kindest and most helpful voice I could muster that since the Zurich flight didn't leave until the evening, my bag could still be pulled from wherever it was. At that point, the first claims agent noticed me, and I explained to him what was going on, so he said to the new person I was speaking with, "Mis-tag," which seemed to contextualize everything I'd just been saying in such a way that it was utterly clear. I pointed to the claim numbers and added that instead of pulling bags by this other person's name (because who knew how many bags he had going to Zurich), perhaps she might try the claim number itself. So she carefully typed it in, and said that if this worked, it would take about 20 minutes. She tried to call the baggage handlers to alert them, but no one picked up. No problem, though; if after a half my bag did not arrive, I could then return to the claims desk, and ask the first agent or someone else to call the baggage handlers again to see if they could make another effort. I was praying that things wouldn't come to this, but the phone non-pick up didn't augur well.

    I headed back to the distant carousel, where C was sitting with all the bags, and I told him what had happened. We waited. Then, after about 20 minutes, the carousel began humming, turning, and there appeared, tumbling down the carousel's chute, my other bag. Tagged to this other person, of course, and formerly on its way to Zurich. I pulled it off the rolling track and almost wanted to hug it. As we headed out, I made a point of thanking the Continental baggage claim people for salvaging what had been a fairly routine trip until my discovery that my luggage (which included several irreplaceable times, including a few of the university's books) almost had an unexpected Swiss holiday.

    As for the other person with the phonetically similar last name, I sincerely hope his bags did arrive where they were supposed to, especially that first bag that appeared on the distant carousel and then mysteriously disappeared during one of my trips to the baggage claim desk. ("Wessen Gepäck ist dieses?")

    I now know that I will always look carefully at the checked baggage tags, both the ones the agents place on my bags and the claim stickers on my boarding pass sleeves. I also know that if I have to, I'll cram as much stuff into one bag to avoid the extra $25 fee, which I'm sure will be $50 or even $100 if oil prices keep rising. And I know that despite my firm, experiential and empirical knowledge that flying has become an ordeal since 9/11, and is never routine, I will not ever assume, especially if things are going really smoothly, that it is.

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    Blogging Good For You + Houlihan, Harvey & Poetry as/or Conceptual Art

    Blogging may be good for your health, or so say researchers. I suppose so, but I would place it under the larger rubric of (semi-)creative forms of self-expression, which are, I've read in many places, psychologically good for you. Blogging is an expressive media that also happens to be public. (Are there still blogs that can only be read by the blogger?) I do know that in past years, before my university duties and responsibilities began to increase to the point that my ability to type even perfunctory entries here decreased to silence, I found even toss-off blog posts quite therapeutic and very enjoyable. In many cases, it's the only place I can, well, download the crap that's in my head (other than dropping it on C or friends whom I unfortunately see only infrequently these days.) Adrian Piper floating across the surface of my consciousness? (She really is, I kid you not.) Blog it. A translation I attempted? Blog it. My visit to the Santo Domingo Book Fair, which was both thrilling and terrifying, because I did not have Señor Montgomery, who can rattle off Spanish adroitly enough to make a real estate agent take pause, by my side, so I had to get by on my own, twice--and was able to manage okay? Blog it. Every so often I will be Googling something...not usual, let's put it that way, and J's Theater will turn up. Not a pat on the back, but just to say that I do like that some of what happens here, or used to happen here, will be available to the wider world. Certainly the idea of conversation, one of my great dreams in life--not the dream of an "audience," in Theresa Cha's terms, or a "common language," in Adrienne Rich's, though both are quite important but quite unlikely, at least in the standard terms both are often posed--but of a conversation, which is what I envisioned the literary world to be like, university life to be like, life to be like, though all have turned out to be really something quite different, at least has the possibility of occurring here. There are no hierarchies, everybody, including the creepy ad-bots who occasionally figure out how to sign in, even have their turn. I haven't had any hardcore ranters, like the pro-Bush zombie who posted several years ago, though, in a long time.


    product imageI would love to meet Joan Houlihan over coffee. (Does she really exist, or is there a committee that writes in her name?) I imagine we wouldn't agree on much, but she does have a way with her reviews. I read this one on Matthea Harvey's recent book, Modern Life (Graywolf, 2007), and it got me to thinking about something I've been rolling around in my head for a while, so here are a few simplistic and not very coherent thoughts which I hope someone will respond to.

    Houlihan critiques Harvey's book as a work of "poetry," and finds it wanting. While she notes that it does possess, in formal, modal, technical, rhetorical, figurative and discursive terms, key aspects of what we would define as poetry--though it is falls into none of the traditional poetic genres, which is to say, it is neither lyrical, narrative, epic, comic, etc.--the individual poems and the book as whole lack what I read Houlihan suggests as sufficient tonal variation and a concomitant trajectory, a movement towards something, a telos that, even if not reached, might somehow endow the poems with that poetic purposiveness (even if, in Kantian fashion, without purpose), that critics and readers of poetry, as well as poets themselves, expect of poems. Even in the wake of Language Poetry's several generations of poetic practice, where the expectations of trad poetry were called into question on political, ideological, and theoretical grounds, and in so many cases, for good reasons, those expectations have not dissipated, at least not fully, and certainly not for a critic like Houlihan--or for a great many poetry critics, teachers, poets, and students.

    Nevertheless, she says that Harvey's book, even if it fails her test as a work of poetry, could be read as a work of "conceptual art." And it is this suggestion that particularly fascinates me, because, I noted to Chris Stackhouse some time ago, apropos of Kenneth Goldsmith's work, that while it may fail (or fail to qualify, under certain critics' views, including even Goldsmith himself) as poetry--Houlihan cites Goldsmith as an exemplar of what she's designating as the ne plus ultra of this type of contemporary "poetry"--it struck me then as now that, instead of defending his work as poetry, he should simply call it conceptual art, or place it within that broader rubric, and be done with it. Cover all bases at once, and proudly stand beside, say, Vito Acconci or Lawrence Weiner. Are they not also poets, or rather, what happens if we think of them in this way? (I feel the same way about the poetic production of, say, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra, but I'll leave that to Aldon Nielsen, Nahum Chandler, and Fred Moten, among others, to argue.) There are all sorts of issues and questions that arise, of course, if one decides to do this, and Goldsmith was blogging on the Poetry Foundation's website for a while, perhaps getting paid to do so or not, but ultimately, as Goldsmith described his work himself, it appeared to be more a conceptual project--which does not cancel it out as poetry, since all poetry, and all art, can at some level be classified as proceeding from a concept or concepts, even if a posteriori--than poetry, though under broad definitions (institutionally legimated ones, since Goldsmith writes and teaches at various prestigious institutions, I'm told) it certainly qualifies.

    This got me thinking about my class discussion several weeks ago of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's remarkable Dictée, and my appeal to the class to consider it not only as a work that crossed and eluded genres, as a text of American literature (as well as many others), but also as a conceptual project. A successful one that could also, I feel, be read as a work of poetry, or even fiction or (auto)biography, if such terms are necessary. Cha (1951-1982) was a practicing conceptual artist who came of age and studied with a number of major figures at Berkeley and in Paris in the early 1970s. Sculpture, film studies, conceptual art practice, and the range of structuralist and post-structuralist theoretical interventions all factor into her rich but brief artistic career, out of which Dictée appears. This particular work, I feel, arises out of conceptual play, out of concepts that Cha was puzzling over, trying to understand and resolve, playing with, throughout her career, and in this particular text, they cohere in a marvelous way such that the reader cannot but be struck by the way that conceptual exploration unfolds, blossoms, into narrative that isn't developmental, but associative, that, in post-modernist fashion, results in an artifact whose very form and content resist closure, and press endlessly towards process, towards ideas whose formulation, whose understanding, whose coherence requires the active participation of the reader/viewer. The concepts behind Dictée, however, are quite evident. Yet it works as both a conceptual art project, and as a work of, among other things, poetry.

    This line of thought calls forth a wide array of works that, especially in the history of modernism and modernist literature (and thus post-modernism and post-modernist literature), both tidily fall into place as acclaimed (or ignored, say) works of poetry, but also could be reread as conceptual art projects. So for example, what if we consider Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons, a work that I first encountered as a student in Joel Porte's class back in 1983 or 1984, with utter bewilderment and fascination, a work that recall reading and rereading over and over until I was in a spell, which made me want to understand not only what the texts meant and the intent and motivations (those bad words in English studies) behind it, but its governing concept or concepts (which Harryette Mullen rethinks and transforms so powerfully in Trimmings), and which, when I taught it this year, had a similar effect (including terror) in (many of) my students? Isn't Tender Buttons, in addition to being a landmark work of poetic production, also a conceptual art project, and overtly so? And what happens if we read the work in this way? Are we really going against Stein's grain? Because since her conceptual framework entails a writing of the object that entails and requires engagement along the lines of Cubism--simultaneity, fragment, juxtaposition, rupture of field and ground, abstraction, etc.--and derives meaning from this conceptualization, and from the conceptualization of poetry as a modernist, anti-patriarchal practice, among others, in fact, really takes on meaning in light of this conceptual understanding, isn't it almost necessary to start from the standpoint of Tender Buttons as poetry and conceptual art, especially if none of the biographical and historical underpinnings of the work are immediately known to us, and if we do not have other theoretical prisms, such as feminist theory, queer theory, psychoanalytic theory, deconstruction, etc., all of which are important to understanding the work, at hand? William Pope.LThe concepts in Tender Buttons are immediately in play. Certainly one can use all the tools of poetry to read and grasp a great deal of this work, and yet in some key ways, they fail the reader. This is what Houlihan, I think, is arguing about Harvey's work. But when we also view Tender Buttons as a conceptual artwork--or perhaps if the limitations of conceptual art are too great, something along these lines--then we have yet another way of reading and understanding what might to some critics fall outside the boundaries of what is understood, at least in common parlance, to be poetry.

    I take it that Houlihan does not find this additional category useful within the context of poetry criticism or the constitutive body of poetic practice today. It is literally something else. And should be recognized as such. But to me it seems to be a very useful way of thinking about certain works, certain poets and poetries, certain geneologies, that fall outside the official confines that the poetry hierarchies consecrate and canonize. Stein is in the canon; but what about a writer like Russell Atkins, whose entire poetic project, especially his daring work of the 1950s and 1960s, is deeply conceptual? Nielsen has written about Atkins, so he is not really outside the lines, but he, like Norman Pritchard, for example, can also be understood productively, I think, if the notion of the concept and the conceptual is brought to bear. I guess I should not understate the questions such a categorical shift or reassignment, or trans-status, represents and presses. What are they? What happens when one thinks in terms of both/and as opposed to either/or, especially with regard to distinct genres and art forms? How does it help the artist? Or does it? Does she end up between the cracks, in the interstices, in an overlooked, if productive, third space. Who is empowered to read, to criticize, to legitimate?

    One issue that Houlihan does not broach per se is that in some contemporary poetic works, the "concept" or conceptualizations are so effective hidden, interwoven, buried, nested, the source texts so carefully veiled or hooded, the various intertexts so subtly put into play, that unlike most art world conceptual art--think of the artists I mention above, or, say, Daniel Buren, for example, or William Pope.L (above right, U. Michigan School of Art and Design), or Marina Abramovic, or even writers whose works (or at least some of them) could be reclassified as also being overtly conceptual, such as Wilson Harris, Diamela Eltit, John Ashbery, Werewere Liking, Alexander Kluge--the concept or concepts in play are hard to grasp, except without considerable effort. Houlihan, it appears, may be interested in that effort, but it appears that she wished Harvey had made taken more of a step towards some of the conventions of "poetry" that might afford critics and readers like her greater means of understanding, exploring, enjoying the work. Or perhaps the concept or concepts could have been more overtly foregrounded. What do you think?

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Review: Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice + Griffey's 600th

    I know I'm almost done with the school year because I'm able to read quickly (or fairly quickly) once again. Yesterday I finished Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (Yale, 2007), a book I'd originally bought and skimmed primarily to gain background biographical information for my lecture on Gertrude Stein. As these things go, I found a few tidbits that were useful and used them, but I had to set the book aside for so much else--the primary texts, critical works of all types, countless other things that had to be read--so that I wasn't able to return to it until recently. Yesterday that is.

    I am, as I've made clear on this blog and as my own work probably demonstrates, a great fan of Stein's. What's clearer to me now more than years ago, when I first encountered her work, is that in the case of her work as opposed to some other authors, the biographical is particularly important. She is also one of the leading paragons of American experimental literature, women's writing, queer literature: in all three cases, the roads leads back to her biography. And so I returned to Malcolm's little volume, whose dust cover has an unfortunate optical illusion that I hope is corrected when the book is printed in paperback format.

    Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice is a book you could read in only a day or two. Malcolm's main concerns can be split: to illuminate some of the hidden biographical information about Stein that clarifies her work, and to resituate Alice B. Toklas in terms of her and Stein's, and her and Stein's prior biographers', power relationships. In the first case, there is a lot anyone familiar with Stein probably knows: she came from a wealthy immigrant family, she was a pupil of William James's at Harvard, she left Johns Hopkins before taking her medical degree, she lived in Paris with her aesthete brother and cultivated friendships with many of the most imminent artists of that era, she wrote her forbidding but groundbreaking works with attracted a cult of admirers but sold little, she had her financial breakthrough with the relatively straightforward and highly ironic The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, she made a succesful lecture tour of the US in the 1930s, she stayed in France long past the period when it would have been safe, which is to say during the German Occupation, she and Alice survived the war, their relationship have lasted decades, and she died in 1946. These are the well-known points, along with her egotism, insufferability at times, and undimmed belief in herself as a "genius" (she was, depending upon whether you accept the term and how you define it), which pushed her to create works that, as Malcolm rightly puts it, appear to have almost no formal predecessors or siblings in literature, unless one takes the works of prior authors and refracts them through a funhouse mirror. (Her importance as a pioneering feminist and challenger of patriarchal language, in addition to her elevation as one of the major Modernists, has now been established in the scholarly literature.) There is also her utter personal and physical magnetism and erotic power, which you learn provoked sexual arousal in Hemingway and others, male and female, and her devotion to Toklas, which Malcolm stresses, although it's also clear that Toklas's devotion to and belief in Stein's genius was crucial to the series of artistic leaps Stein made in the teens, leaps that would confirm her place as a figure whose work has lost none of its power or strangeness a century later.

    What Malcolm does reveal that I found new are several aspects of Stein that might be easy to pass over. One is her reactionary political stance, the result of her "rentier" background and perspective, as Malcolm put it, which led her to castigate Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, to dismiss Hitler as a serious threat (she saw him as a "romantic" but not a murderer), and to champion the fascist Francisco Franco. She was a diehard exponent of the by-the-bootstraps, individualist credo, even though she celebrated the fact that she did not work, beyond her writing and entertaining, a day in her life. Another is her complex negotiation of her sexuality--she came to terms early on with her sexual identity and desires, but suppressed the openly queer book, Q.E.D., that would have erupted like an earthquake in American literature had it appeared when she first wrote--and her Jewishness, which she managed to both affirm, especially in personal relations, and efface when it came to her public perspective. Malcolm details how eros-suffused Stein's work truly is, how imbued it is with the narratives of her life-- for she lacked the capacity for narrative invention--many of which revolve around her female friendships and relationships, including the loss of her mother at an early age and a traumatic breakup that is at the center of one of her earliest and best known works, Three Lives. Malcolm points out that all three narratives in that work, including the very famous "Melanctha," which merited praise from Richard Wright, are fictional restagings of Stein's failed relationship. This early broken love rumbles through Stein's work, with odd consequences; passages of the nonsensical syntax of the grueling and impenetrable Stanzas in Meditation becomes clearer when you learn that every instance of the word "May" in the work, whether it referred to Stein's ex May Bookstaver, had to be replaced with "can," even when the resulting phrase or sentence made no sense, by vehement order of Toklas! With regard to the issue of religion, Malcolm notes that in Stein's acclaimed war memoir, Wars I Have Seen, Stein treats the reality of her Jewish background and experiences in Vichy France, and the experiences of French Jews, with indirection, culminating in a passage that at first glance appears to be an eruption straight out of the earlier and Cubist Tender Buttons, but that upon careful rumination, invokes Biblical themes in the face of the persecution that was all around Stein.

    The fact that she and Toklas, as Jewish women and lesbians, were able to live in Occupied France without harm leads Malcolm to investigate their protector, Bernard Faÿ, a Catholic royalist gay man and collaborator, whom the book repeatedly underlines was a very nasty character. An anti-Semite, a traitor, a man whose inhuman zeal led directly led to the deaths of hundreds of Freemasons, among others, Faÿ was also an adept of Stein. A devotee, Malcolm says, to the point of obsequiousness. But that obsequy led him to protect to the full extent of his powers two people who very well might not have survived under other circumstances. In fact, the biography makes clear, Stein had the arrogance, or confidence, to turn down an American government offer to escape to Switzerland. She and Toklas did not want to move from their comfortable new home, it was that simple. At the same time, it's clear that, while she had food and heat and no immediate worry of deportation, courtesy of Faÿ, she did feel tremendous fear, which she reflects, in her war memoir not as content, but through formal and rhetorical means. Elision, understatement, and an anxious affect convey the looming threat rather than an overt description of the Germans' brutality. She continued to champion Faÿ until her death, and when he was finally jailed for his many crimes, she worked tireless to free him. Toklas, it turns out, helped him escape, because she too was convinced of his essential goodness. One imagines that if one were not one of these two it was very difficult to dissuade either of them of any of their beliefs.

    Back to the question of form, Malcolm goes on to show, in her adroit and jargonless way, how form was often the means through which Stein worked out both personal and aesthetic problems. In the monumental and nearly unreadable The Making of Americans, a work often called a novel though it hardly resembles anything other work bearing that title, Stein after a fashion abandons the effort of writing what might even charitably be labeled realist fiction, and instead focuses on the process of writing itself. This is a well-known post-modern gesture, and she was not the first to do so, but Malcolm notes that in Stein's case, what was later reduced to, in the metafictionists' hands, moments of self-consciousness, structural considerations, an aspect of plot and thematics, becomes the very content and ground of the work itself. It literally goes on for pages and pages about its inability to be written, or rather, Stein's failure of imagination and her inability to produce the novel that she has been striving to write. Malcolm has to chop up the novel into pieces, and manages to get through it twice. After consultation with some major Stein scholars (Edward M. Burns, Ulla Dydo), Malcolm detours into the fascinating case of playwright and Stein researcher Leon Katz, who discovered some of Stein's early notebooks in Yale's library, used them both to write a dissertation that became a landmark in Stein scholarship and also unlocked some of the major mysteries of Stein's life through his interviews with Toklas, yet has never published the edited versions of the notebooks, thus denying several generations of scholars access to a Rosetta Stone of information. Part of what the notebooks reveal is the terrible struggle, the isolation and despair Stein felt at her early inability to produce the very works of genius she expected of herself, her crises in her personal affairs, and the personal, biographical associations that underpin the texts. With this information and her deepened understanding of Stein's method, the links between her life and aesthetics, Malcolm can appreciate the work's true importance and value as the turning-point project that permitted Stein to then write some of her famous, later works.

    The work is titled Two Lives, not one, and Alice Toklas's centrality to Stein's career, her success, her mythic stature, and her reputation, is one of the other major strands of the book. Toklas appears to have been a difficult character, fiercely jealous of anyone whose friendship with and attraction to Stein grew too strong (she drove Hemingway, among others, off), and Malcolm reveals that there might even have been an S/M element to their pairing. Supposedly Hemingway even overheard Toklas browbeating Stein, a striking inversion to the impression the two usually gave to others, with Stein the fleshy, radiant monument (her head is compared several times to that of a Roman general, her tan skin celebrated), while Toklas, small, dark, with a prominent mustache, sometimes provoked repulsion in those who met her for the first time. She abetted and afforded her "genius" everything; one of my favorite descriptions is of Stein's writing process. The great author would sit at her desk, and with pen in hand scribble huge, loose words, almost in automatic fashion, across pages, leaving them to be collected and typed, as they dutifully were, always, by Toklas. Malcolm attributes this in part, on Stein's account, to her belief in ideas about birth order and familial tradition. As the baby of her family, she expected to be catered to, no matter what, and in Toklas found a most willing accomplice.

    One of the other interesting bits among the many in the text is the story of Toklas's years after Stein's death. Toklas's granitic personality challenged all but the most loyal friends, and yet once befriended, she showed a more gentle and solicitous side. Though she did prepare her famous cookbook, most of her writing channeled into letters which Malcolm describes as showing some flair. Stein's death was particularly brutal on Toklas's finances. The will ended up leaving everything to one of Stein's blood relatives, but offering whatever material holdings remained to be used for Toklas's maintenance, which ultimately meant a vicious act by a greedy Stein in-law that spelled terrible poverty for Toklas at the end of her life. Not only was she thrown out of the apartment where she hoped to live our her last days, but American friends had to come to her rescue again and again. As well, she, far more than Stein, did not want to be identified as Jewish, and even converted to Roman Catholicism , becoming quite devout. Malcolm suggests that she thought that Stein's genius, in the absence of baptism in the one, truth faith, would admit her, in any case, to heaven. Both women adored young men and had little time for women of any sort (including admirers), Toklas even less than Stein. One of Stein's early biographers thought she might somehow circumvent Toklas, but it's clear who had the last laugh. The sum of Malcolm's exploration of Toklas is a far more multilayered portrait than might commonly be considered. It is to her that all who appreciate and honor Stein's work must never forget to pay a bit of tribute and offer gratitude. The sum of the book is to demonstrate how to effectively write a dual biography, and to explore the art's difficulties, its possibilities, while providing what a reader turns to it for in the first place: the indelible story of a life or lives, vivid portraits of a world.


    More baseball, more astounding feats:
    Griffey Hits 500th
    Cincinnati Reds star outfielder Ken Griffey hits his 600th career home run tonight, against the Florida Marlins in Dolphin Stadium, Miami (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

    Sunday, June 08, 2008

    Tribune Printers Row Book Fair

    Only a few days ago I was writing about Chicago's northside fog, and now summer has arrived, though not in full garb. It's been very warm (high 80s) and humid, but storms have rolled through almost every day, and this evening, when I went out to do laundry, a strong, cooling breeze was rolling westward from the lake, it seems, even winding through the canyons of apartment buildings up here in Rogers Park. It's so windy now that I wonder if a storm or rainshowers are coming.

    Today, between the bursts of rain, I headed down to the Loop to attend the second day of the Chicago Tribune* Printers Row Book Fair, the "Midwest's literary event," which convenes a slew of lit and publishing organizations based in and around Chicagoland. I was very happy to find a copy of George Lewis's A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago, 2008), a past J'st Theater monthly book pic. I think I have alternated between staring at the photos, which include such as treasures as the "Experimental Band, Chicago, 1995," featuring the likes of Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Joseph Jarman, Wadada Leo Smith, Amina Claudine Myers, Henry Threadgill, and Lewis, among others--and reading snippets from the book since I purchased it.

    I also picked up poet A.B. Spellman's new collection of poems, Things I Must Have Known (Coffee House Press, 2008). Spellman, a fine poet, wrote one of my favorite music books, Four Lives in the Bebop Business (Limelight, 1985 [the earlier 1965 version, I believe, was a Schocken book, Black Music, Four Lives]), a text I found so engaging that as soon as I put it down, I wrote several poems based on anecdotes in it. I didn't have enough cash to get more than one volume of Dan Beachy-Quick's poems, so I picked up Spell (Ahsahata Press, 2004), which the poetry majors and minors will be reading next year. I didn't get down in time to catch some of my present and former colleagues reading, however, though I won't blame the steady El, which was, naturally, rerouting trains this weekend because of track repairs. Riding downtown brought back so many memories of my pre-car Chicago days--good and bad....

    Below, some photos from the day:
    Looking down from the El
    The street from the El Station
    Amid the Printers Row Book Fair tents
    Amid the Book Fair tents
    At a used bookseller's stall
    Listening to the musician
    A musician, whose French standards were enchanting
    Printers Row book fair, towards Dearborn Station
    The emptying fair, looking towards Dearborn Station
    Resting couple
    Two shoppers resting (someone's bags of books behind them)
    Sailors on stroll
    Sailors on a stroll nearby
    At the subway station
    Art Institute of Chicago, from Adams
    The Art Institute of Chicago from the Adams St. El Station
    Kid phoning loudly on the El
    A young man sitting across from me who was chatting loudly on his phone and listening to music (almost at the same time); is there a verb for this?

    *I've never been a fan of the Chicago Tribune, long been known for its conservative politics, but the poor paper is being gutted to the bone. (Actually, it is the entire Tribune Corporation, which is now the playtoy of Sam Zell and his managers.) If there is a Chicago Tribune (or any viable Tribune news entity) in 10 years time, or rather, if there are any reporters, editors, and columnists left in 10 years time, it may be a miracle.

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Congrats + Fog + Perlstein on Chicago Backlash + Monaga on Afrolatinos

    Ah, reading week! Which is reading papers week, attending lots of meetings week, conducting an oral exam week, finishing planning for the summer week. But a good partial-week nevertheless.

    First, congratulations to all the Ph.D. students in my department who took their orals this week: all passed! And especial congrats to one of my TAs, Wanalee Romero!

    Congratulations to Felicia Butts, the brillliant student whose honors thesis in African American studies I supervised this winter and spring. Felicia was one of two students to receive departmental honors, and she graduates in a few weeks, so congratulations!

    Congratulations to all of my former writing students and to all the students who received prizes at last week's departmental prize ceremony!

    Congratulations to my colleague Barnor Hesse, one of the smartest people I've ever come across, who received tenure!

    Congratulations (belated) to my friend, exemplary editor, writer and teacher, Rone Shavers, who successfully defended his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Chicago not long ago! Rone also has a gotten a job on the East Coast, and as my students who studied with him will attest, he will rock! And when his novel appears....

    Congratulations to the many, many Cave Canem-affiliated writers who've received awards, graduated from various programs, are publishing new books, chapbooks, pamphlets, and who're lighting up the literary and cultural realms!

    We are still in the midst of senior major readings and graduation is still several weeks away, but congratulations also to all of my many undergraduate and graduate students, in the major, in the minor, in the English and African American studies departments, and in the graduate creative writing program!


    It's spring, right? Almost summer? Here are some photos from yesterday in Chicago. It was so foggy when I drove up to the university that I vowed I'd drop by the beach after work to take pictures. I went to Leone Park Beach, in Rogers Park, and snapped quite a few, but here are four. Standing outside near Sheridan Road, the air was cool but not especially gauzy, but the closer I walked towards the sand and water, the chillier and denser it became. It actually felt quite wonderful, though I would much rather have the sun beaming and 70s weather. It also reminded me of San Francisco when I visited there some years ago; it was June, I think, but the temperature was in the low 60s and, when my cousin and I took a little trip around the city, we reached the summit some hill and you could both see and feel the fog not far away. I'll take the fog over snow and ice any day.

    The beach facing north, towards Evanston

    One of the concrete piers, facing west, towards the lake and Michigan

    Look south towards downtown Chicago (I've been to Britain but never to British beaches or to any part of Ireland, but this is what I imagine they look like around this time)

    A kayaker heading out into the lake! (He asked me if the police "up here" give lots of tickets, I guess to figure out if he should leave his car at an unpaid meter, so I let him know that they gave out tickets like candy. He found a meterless, tow-less parking spot soon after, and I guess was on his way. I didn't check to find out if he was from Illinois or some neighboring state--Wisconsin? Indiana? Kayaking under these conditions strikes me as a bit terrifying and foolhardy, but what do I know?)


    Good old Chicago, which has (along with Hawaii and other points along the map) given us our next President Barack Obama.

    Some interesting points: Obama's margin of victory in Cook County (which includes the cities of Evanston, Oak Park, Winnetka, and a few other well-known Chicagoland venues) was about 400,000 votes, which about equals his popular vote margin over Senator Hillary Clinton if you exclude Michigan and Florida.

    Senator Obama won his 2004 Illinois Senate race in a landslide, and Illinois was the first state ever to elect an African-American Democrat to the US Senate, doing so in 1992 when it elected the history-making Carol Moseley Braun, who defeated an incumbent, Alan Dixon, in the primary, and then defeated her Republican challenger Richard Williamson by 10 points. Moseley Braun remains the only woman elected to the US Senate from Illinois, and the only African-American female Senator ever. Illinois is now reliably Democratic in presidential elections, having not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988 (George H. W. Bush). The state has elected a Republican Senator, Peter Fitzgerald (who defeated Moseley Braun in 1998), since then, though he served only one term. Chicago, the state's metropolis and the hub of the entire Midwest, has made great strides as well. 25 years ago, it elected its first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, who served for one full term and part of an abbreviated second one (which Eugene Sawyer, another black politician, served out); this was a landmark election in a city that was long considered (and well chronicled, by figures such as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, and others) as perhaps the most segregated and violence-wracked in the North.

    Rick Perlstein, the author of the highly praised new book Nixonland, a history of contemporary Republican-conservative political dominance, notes the changes that have occurred in Illinois and Chicago alone in his blogpost today. He discusses the general backlash against this legislation, and the many letters with which constituents besieged Illinois liberal Democratic Senator Paul Douglas concerning the open housing legislation, one of a raft of liberal legislative triumphs that President Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Congress passed in the wake of his landslide 1964 election, and which led, Perlstein notes, to severe Democratic losses in the 1966 election, two years after which Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States. In that 1966 election, Douglas, an economics professor who'd been one of the architects of the New Deal and a passionate advocate for civil rights, lost to the wealthy executive and moderate Republican Charles Percy, who remained in office until his defeat by another progressive Democrat, Paul Simon, in 1984. Perlstein posts some of the letters, which are potent reminders of the widespread, fear, ignorance, hate, and misunderstanding that has often marked the history of this country, and of how far, in some ways at least, we've come. Here are a few:

    Recently we members of the Marquette Park area of Chicago witnessed violence over the so called subject of civil rights. Since the Civil Rights Act Act was passed all we have seen is violence, riots, and general defiance of the laws of our land by the Negro population under the guise of this nebulous term, civil rights. When is the Congress going to wake up to the fact that it cannot legislate morals or love?
    "We white people have taken a lot from the Negro. We have been patient, and now find ourselves pushed up against a wall by groups that feel it is their God given right to have our property. We have worked hard and saved to get what we now own. Because we do work hard and wish to maintain our property are we to be denied the right to dispose of our property as we see fit? Is the ultimate aim the same as the Soviet Union when all property was collectivized....
    The Civil Rights legislation amendment that which deals with the so-called open occupancy law is disgusting and makes me almost ashamed to admit that it has been proposed in America. All this civil rights legislation is un-American.


    At least fifty square of Chiago is occupied by negroes which means that no part of that area is safe for white people to travel...
    It is safe to say that not a single white person has ever moved into a negro neighorhood yet there has been over a million white people dumped, shoved, or pushed out of their homes by expansion of negroes....

    and from Chicago banker Milton J. Hayes:

    As a member of the over 150 million white population of this country, I respectfully request that some action be taken to prevent such demonstrations in the Nation's capitol. This is an imposition on the majority and prevents the average citizens from enjoying his capital. This is itself is one of the most severe forms of discrimination.

    To quote Perlstein:

    Here is the fundamental tragedy of the backlash: Voters like this empowered a party that decided they didn't need protection against predatory subprime mortgage fraud. Didn't need affordable, universal health insurance; made it easier for companies to rape their pensions; kept on going back to the well to destroy their Social Security; worked avidly to shred their union protections. Fought, in fact, every decent and wise social provision that made it possible in the first place for mere factory workers to live in glorious Chicago bungalows, or suburban homes, in the first place.

    Now a black man from the city King visited in 1966 and called more hateful than Mississippi is running for president, fighting for all those things that made the mid-century American middle class the glory of world civilization, but which that middle class squandered out of the small-mindedness of backlash.

    This post is for Chicago. This post is for America. This post is for our future. This post is for our history—that we may redeem it. This post is for a man who, had he walked down the wrong street in his own city 42 years ago, might well have been beaten to death.


    On his Monaga blog, Anthony points to Joe Contreras's new Newsweek article, on the rise of Afrolatinos. Here are the first two paragraphs of Contreras's piece:

    Hugo Chávez is known as a revolutionary in many contexts, especially his defiance of the United States. In recent years, however, he's also broken ground on a far less well-exposed subject: the question of race in Latin America. The saga began two years ago, when, during a tour of Gambia, Chávez surprised observers by declaring that "I've always said that if Spain is our mother, Africa, mother Africa, is much more so." Since then, the Venezuelan leader has often revisited the theme at home, even drawing attention to his own African roots. It may not sound shocking. But such language would have been inconceivable from a major Latin American leader just a short time ago.

    That's now changing, due to a black-consciousness movement stirring in Central and South America. Emboldened by the success of their indigenous countrymen in pressing for resolution of long-ignored grievances, Afro-descendientes (people of African descent), as they are known, are now lobbying for recognition of their own communities' land rights and for increased spending to improve living conditions in urban slums and rural villages. Local activists have begun urging Latin blacks to take pride in their culture, and with the help of the Internet, leaders are reaching across borders to share tactics and compare notes with their brethren in the Caribbean, the United States and Africa. This "black-power movement has gone way beyond anything that has happened in the past," says Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, director of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. "People are making critiques of racism in their own societies, and there's been a real shift in black consciousness and involvement.

    Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    Obama Wins Nomination

    The Democratic nominee for the 2008 Presidential Race!

    Thank you, Senator Hillary Clinton, for a spirited campaign!

    Now, let's get Senator Barack Obama elected President of the United States in November!

    Monday, June 02, 2008

    Tuesday Dribbles

    This is my 900th post! Not that that's particularly important, but I decided to look at Blogger's stats before starting this entry, and that's what it says, so I thought why not mention it?


    Today was my final lecture of the quarter, and the last day of spring classes. Reading week starts tomorrow, and exams begin next Monday. I started off telling my class that I couldn't believe we had reached the end of the term, because the end of March and the first class are still vivid in my mind--so great was my anxiety about this class that I have experienced sciatica on the left side of my body, which culminated in almost paralyzing hip pain a month ago, and aoregeiria, or waking up too early every morning--and because we'd covered so much ground. But this was it, and after a few comments about the final exam, I spoke about Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the last book on the syllabus, and attempted to show how it broached all of the many thematic and formal concerns we had been discussing from modernist and Modernist moment forward to post-modernism, which we had focused on beginning with Donald Barthelme's "The Glass Mountain," reading backwards to Nathanaël West and Robert Lowell. (It helps, of course, that Díaz, with his limitless gifts for irony, invokes one of the central figures of Anglo-American pre-modernism and the exemplar of Aestheticism in the novel's title.) In order to leave them with some fairly current scholarship, I briefly touched upon Édouard Glissant's poetics of relation and the concept of "opacity," citing both the novel's poetic epigram from Derek Walcott's "The Schooner Flight" and the untitled prologue, as a way of thinking through the play of modes, genres, idioms, linguistic registers, languages, and language itself in the book, and also as a means of situating it within the context not only of American literatures, but also Caribbean, Latin American and African Diasporic literatures. Its Carnivalesque richness and capacity for creolizing and archipelagoizing American literature is something I'm sure someone will take up, if this hasn't occurred yet, but its many other concerns link it to everything we had read before. As I reread it last week, I could hear the echoes of Hughes and so many others--and I hope the students heard them as well.

    And so the quarter is over...almost. I have another exam to give, another thesis to read, meetings, and much to wrap up before I head home and get some rest and back to my own work, but I can say that despite the amount of work, the class was pleasurable beyond belief, and working with the brilliant TAs, from English and African American Studies, and the many dozens of students, has been worth it.


    Recently, for a forthcoming art book a friend is publishing, I translated a very short prose introduction by the distinguished French poet Yves Bonnefoy, who had been one of my friend's teachers in graduate school, and whom I had the honor of meeting, briefly, some years ago when he read in New York. ("Je te nommerai désert/nuit ta voix, desolé ta visage....") Its difficulty surprised me; my French muscle, at least in terms of speaking and writing, is still functioning, but after so much Spanish (and somewhat less Portuguese), I did struggle with Bonnefoy's elliptical, elusive syntax, which demanded something beyond the adequatio approach to translation that has long been decried. I realized that most of the French texts I've translated, nearly all prose fiction except for Alain Mabanckou's poems, are far more straightforward, and even when infused with a great deal of figuration and idiomatic language, especially prose, they are not trying to express something ineffable, which is, of course, one of the aims of Bonnefoy's poetry in general. The piece, however, is done, and my friend is happy, but I do keep thinking, I could spend weeks on those two paragraphs, if I had the time...


    So long to Yves Saint Laurent and Bo Diddley, who recently passed away.

    C and I particularly love David Teboul's 2002 cinema verité documentary on Saint-Laurent 5 avenue Marceau 75116 Paris, which shows him in his couture rooms, examining and working on new outfits. Catherine Deneuve and LouLou de la Falaise, along with Saint Laurent's longtime partner and business associate Pierre Berger all make appearances. To hear Saint Laurent whisper repeatedly and raspily with utter delight "ravissante" as several the models brings life to his art is worth the entire documentary.'

    Mississippi native and Chicago product Diddley, one of the creators of the global music now known as Rock & Roll, should be best remembered aurally, I think. So here're some clips to check out. Start with the eponymous "Bo Diddley," and then check out "I'm a Man," "Who Do You Love," "Pretty Thang," "I'm Looking for a Woman," and "Diddley Daddy" if you don't know his work, though its echoes run like tributaries throughout so much subsequent rock.


    Bernie asked whether I and others were going to root for these people
    Kobe Bryant passes to Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers defeated the defending champion San Antonio Spurs 100-92, advancing to the National Basketball Association finals for the first time in four years.
    Kobe Bryant, #24, passes to Pau Gasol, #14 (AFP/Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)
    Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant smiles during a practice day in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 1, 2008. The Lakers face the Boston Celtics in the NBA basketball finals starting Thursday.
    Kobe [Narcissus] Bryant (AP Photo/Hector Mata)

    or these:
    AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 30: Kevin Garnett #5 talks with Kendrick Perkins #43 of the Boston Celtics during a game against the Detroit Pistons in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on May 30, 2008 in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2008 NBAE (Photo by D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins (Photo by D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen (20) shoots three's after practice at the team's basketball facility in Boston, Mass., Monday afternoon, June 2, 2008. The Celtics will meet the Los Angeles Lakes in the NBA championship series beginning Thursday, June 5, 2008 in Boston.
    Ray Allen practicing 3-point shots recently (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    in the championship matchup that is inducing spontaneous orgasms in TV sportscasters?

    Although I gave up (on) the NBA after the last lockout/strike nonsense, I've decided to choose and root for the latter, something that I, having lived in Boston and witnessed Celtic fans up close never thought I'd do, but then again, I never thought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen would be playing for the Celtics, so there's always a new day for everything.

    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    Manny's 500th + Julie Patton & Henry Grimes Tonight in NYC

    Last night, Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramírez (above, photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images), 36, hit his 500th home run, joining only 23 other players who've achieved this mark. The two-time Hank Aaron Award winner (1999, 2002), who has a lifetime .312 average, is the third Dominican player, after Sammy Sosa (who has 609) and Alex Rodríguez (525) to achieve this honor. He's the first player ever to do so sporting a beautiful head of dreadlocks!


    From Margaret Grimes, an event tonight you don't want to miss if you're going to be in NYC (I won't):

    Sunday, June 1st, 8 p.m: Julie Patton's “Ghost of a Chance Defense Fun(d) Band” rent party, w/ Julie Patton (“voicesays”), special guest Henry Grimes, “Poet of the Air” (words, instrumental voicing), Brad Jones (bass), Drew Gardner (percussion), Rod Williams (piano), Paul Van Curen (guitar), and more, at the Stone, northwest corner of Ave. C at 2nd St., Manhattan (NYC),,, 212-473-OO43. Juliesays: So accustomed to throwing my own voice I no longer own it. Who does? … I exchange the tone poem (courtesy) my pause, self-contained in a room colandered for pipsqueak messages, every in an out.” NOTE: James Uhart and Gino Sitson follow at 1O p.m.