Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Phillies Take Series 4-1

Amidst some of the worst umpiring in years, and despite rugby weather and a three-day game, the Philadelphia Phillies have won the World Series, 4 games to 1. It's their first World Series win since 1980, and second in their 120 year history. The Most Valuable Player was starting pitcher Cole Hamels.

Pedro Feliz
Philadelphia Phillies' Pedro Feliz singles off Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Chad Bradford to drive in Eric Bruntlett during the seventh inning of Game 5 of the baseball World Series in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Tampa Bay Rays have the nucleus of a multi-year playoff team, if they're willing to keep these exciting young players on staff. With better, timely hitting, and competent umpires, they could have held their own.

Unfortunately for the Phillies or fortunately for the Rays, hardly anyone watched. The Houston Chronicle points out that viewership was abysmal (an 8.4 rating and 14 share), lower than the dismal 10.1 rating for the Cardinals-Tigers series in 2006 (which the Cardinals won, by the way). Short series are ratings killers, and small market teams (i.e., someone other than the teams based in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, etc.) draw fewer viewers. The weather issues didn't help. Perhaps doubling up on a few more double headers to trim the regular season might be a plan, though it would mean less money in owners' pockets.

I just hope Bud Selig, a font of bad leadership, doesn't decide to follow the NFL's lead and picking AL and NL domed or warm-city stadia might be a good idea for the Series. Could you imagine if the Cubs finally made it to the World Series with a team that looked capable of winning it all, and then their poor fans realized they had to travel to Anaheim or Atlanta or Miami to see them play?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Mulligatawny

Sarah SchulmanThis summer before I got sick I'd hoped to catch up with Sarah Schulman (left), a writer whose writings and activism I really admire, and who gave me (and others) some very useful advice years ago up in Vermont. I wasn't able to, but I have been following one of her recent moves, which, according to Patricia Cohen in the New York Times, has been to co-organize a town hall meeting (it took place Monday night) to protest the paucity of female playwrights on Off-Broadway and non-profit New York stages.

The gathering was organized by the playwrights Sarah Schulman and Julia Jordan, who have rallied their colleagues to the cause, contending that their male counterparts in the 2008-9 season are being produced at 14 of the largest Off Broadway institutions at four times the rate that women are. More than 150 playwrights appeared at a meeting last month to discuss the issue, and all 90 seats at New Dramatists, the playwriting center where Monday night’s meeting is scheduled, are already spoken for, and there is a long waiting list.

I'm curious to see what comes out of this and prior meetings. Will there be concrete proposals on the part of theaters' artistic directors and boards to address the disparity? Will female playwrights be given more and equal opportunities to have their works staged and enjoyed? I'm also curious to know if this is a problem elsewhere, and if there have been similar discussions and gatherings in other major cities, like the second theater capital of the US, Chicago.


It was gone for a little over a year, but now it'll be back: regresará one of New York's finest Spanish-language bookstores. But only online.

As I wrote at the time of its closing last fall, Que nunca se la olvide, que siempre se la recuerde.

Will Macondo return in virtual form as well?


Who says pro athletes aren't into the arts? Literature? Poetry, to be exact? Yes, that's a leading question and no, I don't just mean the kind that comes wrapped in memorable melodies and beats (i.e., hiphop, r&b, rock, etc.), but the kind that follows in the wake of 20th century Modernism and warms the hearts of so many? Meet New Jersey's own Obama-supporting Fernando Pérez, of the Tampa Bay Rays:

Are you staying away from heavy plots during the playoffs?

Actually, what helps me a great deal right now is poetry, like Robert Creeley and John Ashbery.

But of course! Now, what would get your and your teammates backs swinging again?

(H/t to Reggie H.)


Perhaps the only thing better than The Wire starting a new season and surprising the hell out of all its fans is seeing its actors together again, for a good cause.

A colleague mentioned that it was somewhat startling to see Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector) and Chris Partlow (Gbenga Akinnagbe), two of the most psychopathic characters not on a reality show to grace recent TV, supporting Obama. I guess I initially saw the actors as themselves, and then I considered that all these characters had some serious ethical and personal flaw--well, the psychopathic duo were really on the outer fringes, to put it mildly--and probably would send Obama running if they were the ones giving their endorsement. I mean, he's not anywhere in the general vicinity of Kwame Kilpatrick, is he?


Does the global financial crisis demonstrate that Libertarianism as a practical and practiced ideology is dead? (Admit it, you're hoping the answer is yes, even as a struggle rages at the ground zero of its late high priest, Milton Friedman.) Jacob Weisberg thinks so. Ultrarandian Mr. Irrational Exuberance Alan Greenspan appears a mite chastened. And yet, we are on the verge of electing--shhhhh, don't tell the McCainiacs, Palindrones and sad old members of the GOP--a Communist socialist libertarian paternalist, right? I don't think so, and certainly not in light of the mess he'll have to clean up...but Cass Sunstein very well could end up on the federal bench nevertheless.


And don't say I didn't warn you....

(H/t to Christina Springer)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quote: Rem Koolhaas

Rem KoolhaasWith its first 12 floors accessible only to men, the Downtown Athletic Club appears to be a locker room the size of a Skyscraper, definitive manifestation of those metaphysics--at once spiritual and carnal--that protect the American male against the corrosion of adulthood. But in fact, the club has reached the point where the notion of a "peak" condition transcends the physical realm to become cerebral. It is not a locker room but an incubator for adults, an instrument that permits the members--to impatient too await the outcome of evolution--to reach new strata of maturity by transforming themselves into new beings, this time according to their individual designs. Bastions of the antinatural, Skyscrapers such as the Club announce the imminent segregation of mankind into two tribes: one of Metropolitanites--literally self made---whose used the full potential of the apparatus of Modernity to reach unique levels of perfection, the second simply the remainder of the human race. The only price its locker-room graduates have to pay for their collective narcissism is that of sterility. Their self-induced mutations are not reproducible in future generations.
--from Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, New York, Monacelli Press, 1994, pp. 157-158. Copyright © 1994, all rights reserved.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Video: Two Artists

A little Alison Saar and Kehinde Wiley for the weekend!

Alison Saar, Interview for Otis College of Art Legacy Project (Saar, Otis '81)

Kehinde Wiley, The World Stage: Lagos-Dakar

Thursday, October 23, 2008

No on Prop 8 + Roubini + Polls + Empty Storefronts

It isn't too late: Proposition 8, with alleged heavy support from the Mormon Church, is in danger of becoming California law, ending the brief period of legal same-sex marriage in the Golden State. You can contact friends and family in California to urge them to vote no, and--yes, I know these are very tough economic times and if you have even any extra money someone is asking for it, but--you can donate here to the Vote NO on Prop 8 campaign to prevent the referendum from becoming law.


There's Krugman, and Summers, and DeLong, and...then there's Nouriel Roubini. A friend of mine who saw him on TV back in the summer but didn't know who he was described him to me in an email as "dour," and "grave" in his affect. She had it right; Roubini rarely appears to smile, though based on what he has to say, what is there to smile about? He's been quite right about the economic crisis for some time (like, going back some years now), and while he was dismissed or ignored for a while, he's now turning up all over the place trying to school folks about what's happening and what's to come. Dour and grave would about encapsulate it, because today he suggests that a "panic" might force a market shutdown. He had previously predicted the collapse of the shadow banking system, the run on hedge funds (which is ongoing), the continued fall in the stock market, the inadequacies of Paulson's original plan, and other horrors that have come to pass. I'm now wondering not whether but when this most recent prediction will come to pass, and have now realize how naive was my belief that the October 1987 crash, which occurred only weeks after I'd begun my first post-collegiate job, in commercial banking no less, was the worst I'd see in my lifetime. Even factoring the possibility of the country electing another George H. W. Bush (who was, circa 1987, soon to bump up an office, start a war in the Middle East, employ a passel of liars and incompetents, and drive the economy in a ditch), and remembering the endlessly colorful and depressing stories my late grandfather (like all my grandparents, and both my parents, for that matter), who'd lived through the Depression, used to tell about the hardships of that era (there were no jobs! people slept on railcars! you had to make a can of beans last a week! etc.), I can't say I ever imagined things would get this bad. And the terrifying thing is, they could very well get even worse before they improve....


I say I'm not going to look at the polls and then I can't help but look at the polls. Or sites that post the polls. And then I read the comments about the polls. Where people post more polls. And sometimes, as happened today, someone mistypes figures in a poll and I fly off the handle because the polls says that Obama is down 41-51 to McCain in Pennsylvania, Pennsyl-freaking-vania, and my dear friend Sally S. has told me that no Democrat wins the White House when the Phillies take the World Series (Tampa Bay won tonight), which has nothing to do with polling in Pennsylvania or anything else related to politics, at least directly, and though I'm not superstitious I have to go read another poll that confirms that in fact Obama is UP in Philadelphia, followed by 2-3 more polls that say the same thing, including that he's up in all the midwestern states, which means Indiana, which causes almost unreal elation and fear, and then I keep reading the comments section and the mistyper apologizes for reversing the numbers and others who've freaked out as well calm down, and then I realize I probably should get back to what it was I was doing, which is work having nothing to do with polls, but I feel myself wanting to click on a link to yet another site that has more polls....

Larry David offers a similar viewpoint, in his inimitable way.


Gas has fallen somewhat, a good thing, though not enough to make aimlessly sightseeing around the vastness that is Chicago worth it. Nevertheless, I still do take time to tour parts of the city that I'm more and less familiar with, and one of the things I've been noticing increasingly is the large number of unfinished and empty condo buildings, which had begun to sprout like shepherd's purse along the city's eastern spine radiating northward and westward from the Loop. I've also noticed the ubiquitous rent and for sale signs, as well as the unoccupied storefronts, especially on once vibrant commercial strips. This isn't to say that every part of Chicago north from the Loops looks like this, and some streets, like Belmont and Clark in Boystown, or Broadway in Uptown, look as occupied as they ever have. But it does appear that in some areas, things have rapidly accelerated since last June, when I headed back east. I looked online, and this article, in the Milwaukee Business Journal, says Chicago's situation is "fair." According to the Chicago Real Estate Daily, foreclosures in general are rising in Chicago, but are slower than the national average. The empty storefronts are but one cause and symptom of the city's overall financial crunch.


And from the annals of the outrageous, Austrian Naziphile ex-Governor of Carinthia and former Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider had a secret male lover, Stefan Petzner. Haider, in addition to having sung the praises of the Nazis and you-know-who, "voted against a parliamentary motion to lower the age of consent for homosexuals, [and] had presented himself as a family man who drank sparingly." Naturally. Haider engineered his secret lover's ascent in a new right-wing party, Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO). The 27-year-old lover, who'd met Haider when he was a "beauty correspondent" (?), told the world about the relationship in a tearful, public breakdown. The Alliance, naturally, saw no future for Petzner as the leader of its ranks, and canned him. Supposedly Frau Haider knew about and accepted said secret lover. Sort of but not really. Haider died after leaving a gay bar so drunk he could barely walk, and then drove his car off a mountain road. Despite his extreme politics he was widely mourned. I'm a fiction writer and sure, you can make this stuff up, but really, do you? Do I? Does anyone? (Okay, yes, Thomas Bernhard would have had quite a go at this duo.) Does Hollywood? Another thought: had they been born in the US, these two (Haider und Petzner) would have fit right in with the GOP.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Poems: The Sixth Dalai Lama

Two short love poems by the Sixth Dalai lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (Tsangs-dbyangs Rgya-mtsho 1683-1705), translated by Nathan Hill with Toby Fee, from the Winter 2008 special translation issue of the Harvard Advocate.

Our tryst in the dense woods
of the southern valley
a parrot only knows,
all else are ignorant.
O parrot, please do not
repeat our secret words.

Behind me a demon.
Who cares if he's fearsome?
I saw a sweet apple
and was compelled to pluck.

Copyright © Nathan Hill with Toby Fee, The Harvard Advocate, 2008.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quote: Abdellah Taïa

Abdellah TaïaI was in my second life. I had just met death. I was gone. Then returned.

I was running. I was running. Quickly, quickly. Quickly, quickly.

Towards where? Why? I didn't know at the time. I don't remember everything. I don't remember anything now, to tell the truth. But it's coming, I know it.

I see words, I hear voices. I see an image, the same red and yellow image again and again. It's blurry. It will eventually clear up. I wait. I'm not writing any more. I'm on my little bed. I try to fill the pages of my private journal. A future book. I concentrate. I force myself to find that moment, that race. That chase. I'm not breathing anymore. I close my eyes. I concentrate even more. I curl up and try to distinguish the voices from another world which reach me in a din and which, with a single blow, stop. I relax. I'm afraid. I look at the sky, then my slightly dirty feet.

It's now returning to my head, my memory, my body. To my fingers. I feel it, I feel it. It's coming, it's coming. I'm happy. I'm excited. My heart's revving. My skin's growing slack. I lift my head, I open an eye and I watch what's falling.

It's me. Me. Little. An adolescent from the 1980s. A huge schoolbag stuck to my stomach, I'm crossing time, seconds, minutes, as quickly as possibly. I'm in a race. I have one idea in my head. An obsession. An Egyptian actress, mythical, beautiful, more than beautiful. Souad Hosni. A reality. My reality. I am pressed into going into my other life, imaginary, true, entering into communion with her, searching in her for my unknown soul.
--From Abdellah Taïa, Une mélancolie arabe, Éditions du Seuil, 2008, pp. 9-10. Translation by John Keene, 2008. Copyright © 2008, Abdellah Taïa, all rights reserved. (Photo © Denis Dailleux)

Monday, October 20, 2008

2008 World Series Contenders + SNL + Late Blooming

Howard and RollinsLast night, the World Series lineup was set: the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red Sox to win the 2008 American League pennant, and will now face the National League's Philadelphia Phillies. The Ray's ascendance is remarkable; they are only a decade old, and only twice have they not finished last in their division: in 2004, and this year. The Phillies have also known futility. Playing in the same division as formerly dominant Atlanta, the always-contending New York Mets, and the ever surprising Florida Marlins, who have managed to win 2 World Series despite constantly being stripped of their best players, the Phillies haven't been to the World Series since 1980, and with some of the most enthusiastic fans in the league, probably feel they have a debt to remit.

Rays CelebratingIt will be an exciting matchup. Both teams have prodigious homerun hitters (the Phillies have the NL's best in St. Louisan Ryan Howard, above right, with Jimmy Rollins (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek), who hit 48 during the regular season and drove in 146 runs; the Rays got hot when the playoffs rolled around, and Carlos Peña (at center above, with Fernando Pérez, biting on the league trophy, and Michel Hernández, Doug Pensinger/Getty Images), Evan Longoria, and the relatively light-hitting B. J. Upton), strong defense, and decent starting pitching, though the Rays have the stronger starting corps and the Phillies have the edge in their closer, Brad Lidge. Because of the All Star game results, the Rays have home field advantage. At the risk of saying the most obvious thing possible, I believe it'll come down to pitching--which team's relievers, in particular, hold up best--and whether the Rays' relative youth and inexperience prove a liability.

William Rhoden talks up one noteworthy angle I broached several posts in a recent piece Bernie sent along. In addition, both teams also have players from Japan and the Dominican Republic, and the Rays also have players from Venezuela and Australia, while there are Phillies natives of Canada and Panama, an indication of the now unremarkable internationalization of the league.


I caught Governor Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live two nights ago, and it became clear to me what her calling is: a media personality. She appaers to know even less and be far more telegenic that the vast majority of the on-air punditocracy, so if she ever decides that Alaska is too small and remote for her, I can foresee a thoroughly scripted, hour-long show, probably more in the variety vein than a chatfest, with her at the helm. On Fox, of course. (She can keep the beat pretty well, I must say.)

Best non-Tina Fey bit: Kristin Wiig as the crazy McCain supporter, with the hair all over her head, who thought Obama was an "Arab."

They're starting to fall off from the first few episodes of this season, though. And they've got to find a better Obama-impersonator. Fred Armisen, not so good.


I was recently speaking about the following article with a friend of mine who confessed his own anxieties over, to put it simply, not being a prodigy. We all know how our culture in particular extols and exoticizes them, but it's not just the US. Nevertheless, play Mozart and Chopin before learning to crawl or solve problems in topology at the age of 7, which would admittedly be quite extraordinary, and you'll certainly appearing on 60 Minutes with Morley Safer slobbering his delight with you before millions of equally admiring viewers.

The literary arts also love a quick and prodigious study: the younger and more accomplished the painter, sculptor, and especially author, the more cash and attention she or he can command. As Malcolm Gladwell's recent New Yorker article notes, there's something to be said for the late bloomer, though. It isn't all in her or his hands, he argues, as he goes on to explore the parallel careers of Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne on the one hand, and Ben Fountain and--let me suppress a gag--Jonathan Safran Foer. Lots of other things have to fall into place, both within and outside the artist's control. Above all, contingency, persistence, practice and a certain amount of struggle are the begetters of late genius, I guess you could put it. But then this is true of most career pursuits, isn't it, for all but a very few?

(Well, there are some careers, like physics, where youthfulness might be integral to exceptional accomplishment. Hmmm.)

At any rate, here's a quote from Gladwell:
“All these qualities of his inner vision were continually hampered and obstructed by Cézanne’s incapacity to give sufficient verisimilitude to the personae of his drama,” the great English art critic Roger Fry wrote of the early Cézanne. “With all his rare endowments, he happened to lack the comparatively common gift of illustration, the gift that any draughtsman for the illustrated papers learns in a school of commercial art; whereas, to realize such visions as Cézanne’s required this gift in high degree.” In other words, the young Cézanne couldn’t draw. Of “The Banquet,” which Cézanne painted at thirty-one, Fry writes, “It is no use to deny that Cézanne has made a very poor job of it.” Fry goes on, “More happily endowed and more integral personalities have been able to express themselves harmoniously from the very first. But such rich, complex, and conflicting natures as Cézanne’s require a long period of fermentation.” Cézanne was trying something so elusive that he couldn’t master it until he’d spent decades practicing.

Ah yes, those decades....Best not to think of how finite they really are. I do think my friend felt better, though, after reading the article. I certainly did, and I certainly am nobody's Cézanne.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Show Me Rally + Powell's Words + Congrats!

Rally in St. LouisI was incredibly proud of my hometown, and my native state, when I learned that Barack Obama drew an estimated 100,000+ spectators to his speech beneath the Gateway Arch at the St. Louis riverfront (at left, Jae C. Hong/Associated Press) and an estimated additional 75,000 people at his public rally later that day in Kansas City. For Obama to draw so many people (his largest rally to date, I think) in a traditionally conservative, bellwether state so close to the election augured well for his changes in Missouri. Even still, I think the election there will be very close. Curiously, I haven't seen many photos of the Kansas City rally, as if the images from the St. Louis gathering are supposed to serve, by the media's lights, as a metonym not only for both events, but for his current appeal, statistical lead, and likelihood of victory.

After belittling and spinning away the huge May rally in Portland, the immense crowd in Philadelphia, the 200,000 people who stood to hear Obama in Berlin, and Obama's stadium-filling Democratic National Convention acceptance speech in Denver, how will Republicans and their media lapdogs dismiss this unambiguous affirmation in their proverbial, beloved HEARTLAND? Everything I've seen shows that they've decided under the circumstances to pass over the rallies, if not the fundraising, with minimal comment. You can't wish that many people away no matter how hard you try.

One point that I may have missed others noting is a visual and historical one. In the photo below, the cupolaed building in the background is St. Louis's Old Courthouse (c. 1826-1862) The significance of this building in relation to Obama political run, his presence in Missouri and his potential victory can't be understated. As I like other St. Louis schoolchildren learned from my parents, enslaved people were sold on the courthouse's steps. In 1847 and 1850, two of the first trials in the Dred Scott case were held in its courtrooms, and Scott successfully sued for and temporarily gained his and his family's freedom, in 1850, within its walls. And in 1870, suffragette Virginia Minor's case for a woman's right to vote came to trial at the Old Courthouse as well. When I saw the Courthouse's dome rising above the vast see of people, I wondered if somewhere amidst those faces, descendants of Scott (some of whom still live in St. Louis) and Minor, along with their ghosts, weren't also cheering Obama on.


Alongside the news of Obama's $150 million September fundraising haul, the other big announcement for today is former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State General Colin Powell's hearty endorsement of Barack Obama. It is huge news, and although I cannot ever forget his crucial roles in creating political difficulties for helping to sell the illegal and unwarranted Iraq War, I believe that he still has enough political capital that his critiques of the slanderous direction of John McCain's campaign, the McCarthyite ranting by Representative Michelle Bachmann, and the unanswered racist slurs against Arabs and Muslims will, along with his support of Obama, prove noteworthy. I still don't trust Powell, and am dismayed to learn that Obama is planning to offer him some sort of position--will he replace the now-invisible War Czar, or head the Department of Veteran Affairs?--but I get the politics of the return gesture. Now, when is the incompetent and totally disgraced Dr. Condoleezza Rice going to offer her endorsement of Obama? How many effigies must be hung, canvassers attacked, death threats be lodged vocally, reporters kicked to the ground, and so on before she finds herself so disgusted she has to take a public stand against McCain, Palin, and the politics so eagerly fostered by the man she once labeled her "husband"?


Among the many moving and heartening get-well notes, cards and encouraging gifts I received, for which I'm forever grateful, I want to show the following, but for reasons other than to do with my own health.

My former student Tai Little, one of the smartest and most talented and inventive writers I've worked with (her graduating class is still one I remember vividly and fondly), sent this CD of Chihei Hatakeyama's music. I wasn't familiar with Hatakeyama or this CD at all, but I've been playing it frequently on my drives around Chicago. I particularly appreciated the title (Tai flourished in the drudgery of my aesthetics theory class years ago), which playfully invokes a certain philosopher I greatly admire, but spares the listener of struggle through his prose. Not only did it help my convalescence, but it has a definitive calming and yet invigorating effect when I encounter Lake Shore Drive's sclerotic traffic on my drives south to my graduate class in Chicago.

This letter is from other than Ronaldo Wilson, of whom I've written on here before. I initially skimmed the letter with gratitude, which as you can see includes an artful insert, drawings, and RW's distinctive calligraphy. Then something told me to reread it, because I've come to realize that careful rereading always pays. And it did, because it was then that I learned that Mr. Wilson is now officially Dr. Wilson--so congratulations, Ronaldo Wilson, Ph.D.! Though as anyone who knows him will attest, he already possessed mastery of areas the rest of us have hardly envisioned.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Le Clézio, le Nobeliste

J.M.G. Le ClézioSeveral weeks ago, Reggie H. wrote about the newest Nobel Laureate in literature, J.M.G. Le Clézio, who sparked the same question--"WHO?"--that attended his previous French Nobel literature predecessor 23 years ago, the most Faulknerian of the nouveaux romanciers, Claude Simon. (I am not counting 2000 laureate Gao Xiangjin, who lives in France but whose award came for his Chinese-language prose and plays.) In an email exchange, I told Reggie that I'd never read any of Le Clézio's works (unlike Simon's) and had few thoughts about him either way, beyond my immediate criticism of the neo-colonialist and exoticist comments from the Academy and some of the initial commentators. (Not everyone was surprised by the victory, though, and the French thought the award fitting and due.) I added, in agreement with the end of Reggie's post, that there are a number of significant writers across the globe, and in particular outside Europe, some even writing in French, who were and are quite deserving of this top honor.

In the early 1980s it appeared that the biennial Neustadt International Prize for Literature, presented by World Literature Today, was a tip for the Nobel, but successive winners since then, from 2006's Claribel Alegría, backwards through Adam Zagajewski, Álvaro Mútis, David Malouf, Nuruddin Farah, Assia Djebar, Kamau Brathwaite, the late João Cabral de Melo Neto, and so on, have not been Nobelized. The last Neustadt Nobel laureate was 1982's winner, Octavio Paz. All of these writers have been widely acclaimed, and as I noted in a previous post, there are many others for whom you could make a strong case.

Nevertheless, Le Clézio does, as I said, have his champions, and at least one British critic celebrated the backhanded slap at the US's self-regard and American imperialism. He lives in the US part of every year, but he is, it's fair to say, not really on this country's literary radar in the same way that some other French writers, like the highly controversial Michel Houellebecq, for example, are. And he doesn't appear to be well known by our bilingual neighbors to the north, though according to the article you could find his French-language texts in Québec's bookstores. Just after the announcement I informally checked at several bookstores in New York City and Chicago, though at least a handful of US presses, like the University of Chicago Press, University of Nebraska Press, David R. Godine, and others, have published translations of his novels, and not one had a single translated Le Clézio text, though not too long ago, I think I saw a copy of one of his books on the long smorgasbord of remaindered books at one of my haunts, Powell's in Chicago.

Neither the brief, translated New York Times excerpts or the Nobel website's snippet of Le Clézio's work were encouraging (the New Yorker will for the first time be publishing one of his stories this week), so I went to the library and, in lazy fashion, looked at the several of his books that were available in English translation. (Interestingly, I thought, given the number of students and colleagues who read French, almost none of the French ones had been checked out.) His award-winning début novel, The Interrogation (Le procès-verbal), had been checked out, but I did see several large volumes from the early 1970s, War and Giants, which appear to be quite formally experimental in a Nouveau Roman-influenced vein, and, I assume, less likely to draw in casual readers who want to catch up. The latter ones, like 1991's Onitsha, a fictional retelling of his own experiences in Nigeria, seem to fall in the vein of more conventional, contemporary French prose or some destabilizing midway point between fiction and autobiography. (The French in fact have pioneered an entire genre, autofiction, that does this.) This particular volume looked interesting, not least in its blurring of genre, so I've put it on my list of books to read when I have time to do so.

Blogger and critic Guillaume Thoroude sums up Le Clézio's honor and his work this way:

So Le Clézio - why not? He has everything going for him: he's the perfect son-in-law, he still carries the aura of a child genius who conquered both experimental and classical writing, and he's one of the most studied French writers outside France. So the Nobel prize will make a lot of people happy, and frankly, what's the problem with that?

A German critic wasn't so charmed. British critic Mark Lawson suggests, as others have, that the Swedish Academy's political and and aesthetic biases have created a hurdle for contemporary mainstream American fiction. Le Clézio's own thoughts about his work, pre-Nobel, can be found here. One of his own comments, ironic in light of some of the post-Nobel write ups, interests me considerably:

First, I shall say that it doesn’t upset me at all to be unclassifiable. I think that the main characteristic of the novel is that is unclassifiable, in other words that it is a polymorphous genre which is part of an interbreeding, a brew of ideas which is, ultimately, the reflection of our multipolar world.

That said, I think, like you, that the French literary establishment, heir to the so-called universal ideas of the Encyclopédistes, has always had a deplorable tendency to marginalise any ideas from elsewhere by describing them as "exotic". Rimbaud and Segalen paid the price in their time. Even today, writers from Southern countries are only published here if they agree to be categorised in the "exotic" category. The example that comes to mind is the Mauritian writer, Ananda Devi, whose work I championed when I was on Gallimard’s panel of readers. Their response was that her manuscript was not exotic enough!

One other point that Reggie makes it the fate of poets in the last few rounds of Nobel honorees: there have been none, or rather, no writers working primarily in the genre of poetry. Many of the responses to Horace Engdahl's statements focused narrowly on contemporary US fiction, as if the contemporary American poetry landscape didn't exist. Some of the greatest and most original non-US poets of last 100 years have been honored, but David Orr notes that, oddly enough, no American-born poet, other than T.S. Eliot, who moved to the UK quite early, has received the Nobel Prize, despite the widespread consensus that American poetry, especially since Whitman and Dickinson, which is to say, since the late 19th century, has been among the most influential in the world. Gertrude Stein, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Lowell, and on you might do down the list--not a single one of them received the Nobel Prize. (Pound's overtly fascistic leanings completely disqualified him, I imagine.) Orr suggests that Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery, whose influence extends not only throughout the English-speaking world, but also in other literary traditions these days, would be leading candidates, and I would agree, adding that there are about two dozen other American poets quite worthy of the honor.

But as Reggie notes, it's not just American poetry that's been shut out of late, it's poets from across the world. Perhaps with a White House change for the better, one of the US's major poets, and the rich and expansive tradition, especially since Modernism, will be honored.

Ted Gioia serves up an alternative Nobel universe. I think he ignores poetry, drama and most writers from beyond the Euro-American axis, and some of the choices are just silly (Dr. Seuss?* John Le Carré? J.K. Rowling?). What do you think of it?

Anyways, get to your reading!

*I learned to read from Dr. Seuss's books, so I'm not dissing him, just arguing that he might not be the most appropriate candidate for a Nobel Prize in literature.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Poem: Derek Walcott

Walcott"I haven't posted a poem in a long while, so here's one of my favorites, by (at left, from Derek Walcott, Dead White Males), which I first came across when I was a teenager.

No exigesis necessary, I think; as is the case with so many of his poems, from the earliest, of which this is one of the finest examples, to the most recent, it speaks powerfully for itself.


As John to Patmos, among the rocks and the blue, live air, hounded
His heart to peace, as here surrounded
By the strewn-silver on waves, the wood's crude hair, the rounded
Breasts of the milky bays, palms, flocks, and the green and dead

Leaves, the sun's brass coin on my cheek, where
Canoes brace the sun's strength, as John, in that bleak air,
So am I welcomed richer by these blue scapes, Greek there,
So I shall voyage no more from home; may I speak here.

This island is heaven--away from the dustblown blood of cities;
See the curve of bay, watch the struggling flower, pretty is
The wing'd sound of trees, the sparse-powdered sky, when lit is
The night. For beauty has surrounded
Its black children, and freed them of homeless ditties.

As John to Patmos, in each love-leaping air,
O slave, soldier, worker under red trees sleeping, hear
What I swear now, as John did;
To praise lovelong, the living and the brown dead.

Copyright © 2007, Derek Walcott, from Selected Poems: Derek Walcott, edited by Edward Baugh, New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, p. 4. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Revenu + Congrats + Sports + Hayden White on "The Practical Past"

Mucho tiempo, no hé blogeado. Or something along those lines. I'll attribute it to too much going on, especially in the larger world (cf. the ongoing economic maelstrom, the presidential election, etc.), though I do still have blog posts ready in my head every morning. The problem is that by midday and especially after I'm heading back from the work, the energy to write them is gone. So here goes another attempt to jumpstart things again.


After vacillating I ended up watching the third and final Presidential debate, which was much more of a debate, or at least a conversation (if only one way), than the previous three dis/infomercials for the crisis in our political system. As I'd felt with the first, I found it tough to watch, primarily because I cannot stand to witness people lying and blathering hypocritically and badgering as John McCain is wont to do, without any challenge, as Barack Obama is wont not to do. But, as I'd also noted about the first debate, Obama's approach is obviously the correct one for what he hopes to achieve in 19 days, which is to secure the votes of undecided voters and independents, who constitute the bulk of the focus groups the networks love to assemble, and thus become President of the United States, so props to him. He won the snap polls, he's increasing his lead in key states, and he looks ever more certain to gain enough electoral votes to become the 44th leader of this nation.

McCain's mugging, snorting and eye-bugging, his calumnies about William Ayers and ACORN, his bizarre scare quotes around women's "health" on the issue of late term abortions, and his annoying invocation of the Republican-plant and con man, "Joe the (Unlicensed, Tax-Owing, Keating-Related) Plumber" Wurzelbacher, would probably have set a less cool opponent off live. But Obama smiled, continually turned and addressed him respectfully, and, as was the case with the previous two debates, won the show.

I will be glad when Election Day comes and goes. Waiting this thing out is wracking my nerves; the previous weeks' seesawing poll numbers have taken an emotional toll. A few days I voted by absentee ballot, and I've been glad to see that large numbers of voters are taking advantage of early voting where it's available. (It is possible to do so in Illinois, but not New Jersey, which does thankfully have an excuse-free absentee voting.) Voting issues and standards really should be standardized at the federal level, however. Every state should have early voting, excuse-free absentee voting, automatic registration of ALL adults (regardless of convictions), severe penalties for caging and unexplained voter roll purging, electioneering, and voter intimidation of any sort, and standardized voting equipment and verifiable paper trails for all votes.

Since that hasn't happened already, I can foresee all sorts of Election Day and Night shenanigans, especially in states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Indiana, where the GOP has already tried its best to hinder the successful, massive registration drives by Obama and the Democrats. Let's hope that Obama and Biden, along with their down-ticket allies, have collected enough votes in enough states to make Republican trickeration less of a problem than it could be.


Lots of congratulations to go around. Let's start with people I know. My very dear colleague, writer Reg Gibbons, was one of five poets nominated for a National Book Award in poetry this week, for his book Creatures of a Day (LSU Press). Reg is one of the finest poets and people I know, so it was wonderful to see this news. Nominated in the same category is the powerhouse wordsmith Patricia Smith, whom I first met through her newspaper columns and then at the Dark Room reading series years ago in Boston. Now one of Cave Canem's doyennes, her book on the Hurricane Katrina survivors, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press), also received a nomination. In the fiction category, another colleague, Aleksandar Hemon, was nominated for his new and widely praised novel, The Lazarus Project (Riverhead). The National Book Awards are one of the most important, multicategory national book awards, so I know all three of these writers, like all the nominees, are really soaring right now.

Congratulations also to someone I don't know but do read regularly, Princeton professor Paul Krugman, who received the Nobel Prize in economics on Monday for his groundbreaking work on trade theory and the new economy. For a minute I wondered if the award wasn't also a fillip to the current Misadministration in Washington, and it might be, but everything I've come across suggests that Krugman's achievements in his field are substantial and lasting. As a blogger--is he the first Nobel blogger?--and columnist, which is to say, as a public intellectual of a new kind, he's been invaluable. Even when I've disagreed with him on issues, like his once-harsh criticisms of Obama, I still have respected his incisive grasp of the issues in general.

Congratulations also to the Hurston-Wright Award winners: in fiction, Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books); in nonfiction, Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf); debut fiction, Kwame Dawes, She's Gone (Akashic Books); and in poetry, Kyle Dargan, Bouquet of Hungers (University of Georgia Press)! And congrats as well to the two poetry finalists, A. Van Jordan and Remica Bingham!

And lastly, congrats to a brilliant person who just cleared one of the final hurdles in her ongoing intellectual journey. The good news was "music," I'm sure, to her ears.


Marcelo Cerqueira pra VereadorI'd hoped to be able to offer congratulations to Marcelo Cerqueira, professor, activist, and the president of Grupo Gay da Bahia, who was vying to become a city councilor (vereador) in Salvador, Brazil, on the Green Party ticket. Marcelo unfortunately was not elected, but he has run in the past and I hope he keeps running, if he can, until he's finally seated. His work on behalf of LGBTQ and human rights is quite substantial, and he would add an important voice to the city's and region's administration. So boa sorte for the future, Marcelo, and please keep doing the good and hard work!


No Cubs no White Sox, don't blame me. I wasn't engaging in, as a friend calls it, hateration. I truly wanted to see an El Series for a change. With the White Sox winning, of course. That would, however, require that the Cubs not disappoint. Instead, Philadelphia's Phillies now hold the National League pennant, after a 28-year drought, and they will face the winner of the AL championship, either Boston or the Tampa Bay Rays. One of these latter two teams, not located in Florida, has won the World Series twice in the last five years, and is iconic in a city whose sports clubs seems to win championships at will these days, so I hope they do not return for another go-round this time. Philadelphia vs. Tampa Bay would probably be a broadcaster's nightmare (who but their fans and hardcore baseball acolytes would watch?), yet given the two squads, it could be quite thrilling, especially if you are like watching home runs leave the ballpark. The Rays will have to not squander leads like they did tonight, losing the Red Sox 8-7 after being up 7-0 at one point. Give up a run and they'll take a....


Yesterday evening before catching the debate I went to see the historian and critic Hayden White lecture on "The Practical Past." My very dear friend Phoebe M. turned me onto White's work decades ago, after I'd graduated from college and thought I knew all I need to about history, including intellectual history, only to learn that I didn't know a hell of a lot, particularly regarding postmodern approaches to that field. Enter White. And so my education continued and continues. His talk concerned the role of what he called, drawing upon the philosopher Michael Oakeshott's definition, the "practical past," to which he drew a distinction with the "historical past," which was, he suggested, again employing Oakeshott, the collective past, objective and purposive in aim, constructed and written by professional historians, and unmarked by such things as the encapsulated past (scars, wounds, traumas), our own deeply internalized skills and practice, the remembered past (discrete memories), the recollected past (research, recall, etc.), survived fragments of the past (artifacts, images), and so forth. In other words, a past that could stand up to questions of truth and falsity, its authenticity guaranteed, in ways the practical past cannot always be, by professional historians. White took the discussion down various byways, beginning with the history of history as a field and its attempts to become a science, in part to explore the relationship between history as it's currently written and written about, as a field aspiring towards the scientific without an intent or aim to provide a guide to the present or future, a role history once served (alongside other modes of knowledge, such as religion and metaphysics, natural science, etc.), and its familial relation, fiction, whose predictive powers are all too evident but, as a non-scientific field, bracketed off from the science of history (as in, history as a social science, as opposed to a genre of the arts and precursor of fiction and the novel) per se.

One area in particular, however, where White saw a convergence, and controversy, was in "witness literature," which involved the "practical past" in similar ways to fiction--and he cited "postmodern" (though he also rightly called them "modern") novels such as Toni Morrison's Beloved and W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz as excellent examples of works that drew upon varying aspects of the "practical past" in order to tell readers what they craved at times from history: how the past felt, and what we might look out for with regard to the future. What did American slavery during the period of Margaret Garner's life feel like, certainly an unanswerable question, except that through fiction, we might experience the physical embodiment, through our intellectual, emotional and psychological apperception of it in Morrison's text, as readers. As most fiction writers know, truth claims concerning fiction function differently from the ways they do with nonfiction (cf. Rigoberta Menchú, James Frey, Benjamin Wilkomirski, etc.), and depend upon the internal laws established by the work itself. Modern(ist) and postmodern fiction, whether realist or not, proceeds from the questioning of the real, however designated, and the illusory, often calling the artifice involved in the work's production and its aesthetics and poetics into question, and explores the boundaries or lack thereof between them, underpinning something critics have known since the beginning of storytelling: anything is possible in fiction if you can make it work, whether it defies all physical and other laws as we know them. The historical past, as written in nonfictional history works, deals with questions of truth and falsity; it tell us, by various means (empirical, statistical, narrative, etc.), what was, what existed, what happened. Or it tells us that we do not know what happened, and to reconstruct that absence would require, beyond reasonable speculation, to move into the realm of...fiction. White's interest in witness literature, then, pressed upon this boundary, asking, as I read it, how we might assess testimony, as history, that was undeniably real, to the speaker, yet perhaps not factually true, not documentable, not authenticable by historians. Because the aims of this literature, which includes works that hover between genres, like Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, in part was to assert truth, but also to make us feel what those who witnessed the experiences, who lived them, felt.

All of this got me thinking quite a bit about postmodern realism in fiction, especially in relation to history and historical aspects of fiction--and naturally enough, since I have been working directly in this vein for some time now--and how I might think with greater complexity about issues of truth, realism, the poetic utterance and its possibilities, and the invocation and use of the "practical past," which, he noted, is evoked and called upon every single day in so many ways. He noted Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's usage of it in their references to the historical aspects of their candidacies, but I also thought about how central it is to a great deal of what fills my TV and computer screens when they're not turned off. I'm still mulling over the many other fascinating things he said, and I've probably badly summarized them here, so if I can find a link to the paper from which he riffed his remarks, which also included pictures (including of a painting of the "gay saint," "Saint Sebastian" by Il Sodoma [the Sodomite, painted in 1525 and pictured above] and its use by Levi to describe a fellow prisoner about whom he had the most complicated feelings, Henri (Paul Steinberg)), references to Kant and Heidegger, and lots of pacing and pauses, I shall. Which will, of course, constitute an artifact, like my notes, constituting...the "practical past."

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Oktober + Baseball + Nobel Nonsense + Janelle Monáe

Tonight I was talking to C and he reminded me that it's October. (Bizarre association, but both the Eisenstein film and the art-cult-crit journal* often hover at my consciousness's margins when I vocalize this month.) Not that I'd forgotten it, because like everyone, I have more than enough bills to pay that are due right around now, but I realized I'm still in a September frame of mind. These days I blink and two months have passed. Except perhaps now with classes, where I feel like we've been meeting for months, even though we're only into the second week of the quarter. But it's a good feeling of duration so far.

*It fascinates me to recall how enthusiastically and devotedly I read this journal years ago, especially during the late 1980s. Article by article it provided another parallel education, though I realized that it took me about five good years to assimilate it all. It was where I first learned about Hollis Frampton, the controversies surrounding Richard Serra's public art, anything having to do with the "psychoscopic," Lacan's infamous little critique of Kant ("Kant with Sade," Alexander Kluge, etc. Those were the days!


Manny RamírezLast night as I was teaching my grad workshop, the class and I heard booms going off and then loked outside to see fireworks flaring over Lake Michigan near the giant ferris wheel at Navy Pier. (The class is on the university's downtown campus, though the fireworks probably were visible from Evanston. Cf. photo below.) We quickly realized they meant that the Chicago White Sox were in the playoffs, as they'd defeated the Minnesota Twins. That makes two Chicago teams in the post-season; the Chicago Cubs had the best record in the National League and won their division (in which the Cardinals finished fourth by winning their final 6 games) decisively.

There are also two southern California teams in the playoffs: the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL, vying for postseason glory last achieved in 1988, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the AL. If the Cubs and White Sox made it to the Series against each other, reprising the 1906 contest, it would be the CTA Red Line/El Series, Addison vs. Sox-35th. If the Dodgers and the Angels faced off against each other, it would be...the Interstate 5/Freeway Series?

(One fascinating note is that if it were the latter, the two opposing teams would feature the largest number of Black players, English and Spanish-speaking, from an array of countries, in some time. We're often told about the dearth of African-American baseballers, but the Dodgers and Angels have managed to hire quite a few, in addition to their Latino stars. Cf. Manny Ramírez, above left. Almost as many dreadlocks and twists as in a Brooklyn subway station!)

Rounding out the competition, in the AL the Boston Red Sox again are in the playoffs (why?), along with the spunky Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. Somehow or another, Florida, an unlikely baseball region, has managed not infrequently over the last decade to field a playoff bound team. In the NL, the two other teams are the Philadelphia Phillies, whose last great playoff run was in 1980, when they won the World Series and Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, now gray-haired grandfathers, were still playing. They have the league's leading slugger, fellow St. Louis Ryan Howard, and a solid lineup, and might be the team to beat. (Sorry Cubs.) The other NL team squeaked in: the Milwaukee Brewers, last seen losing, as an AL team, to the Cardinals in 1982, made the playoffs almost completely by dint of one C.C. Sabathia (above right) the 6-7, 290 lb. lefty who after being traded from Cleveland went 11-2 in 17 starts with a 1.65 ERA. He pitched 3 complete game shutouts during that stint, and won his final start, on three day's rest, to ensure his team would go forward.

I'm predicting Phillies defeat Brewers, and Cubs defeat Dodgers. On the AL side, I think the Angels will defeat the Red Sox (we can hope, can't we), and the White Sox will defeat the Rays (who are pretty good). The World Series? Phillies or Cubs vs. Angels.

Note that two teams I didn't mention are the Yankees and the Mets. Other than Yankees fans (I am nominally one), no one mourns their absence. But the Mets' failure to get to the playoffs was a bit sad. They had the talent, lost a very good manager mid-season, came back and were in first place for a while, only to falter at season's end. Next year, Metropolitans!

This may be Chicago's year, not just in the World Series, but in the larger scheme of things. You know, the man who organized dispossessed folks on Chicago's South Side, represented a Hyde Park neighborhood in the State Senate, taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, still has a home in Chicago, and represents the state of Illinois in the US Senate is definitely on his way to becoming president! (It won't be easy, though....)

UPDATE: The Cubs, however, will have to win their games, not just show up. And when did Vladimir Guerrero start hobbling around like he was on the verge of retirement?


Reggie H. sent me an email link to an article about inflammatory comments Horace Engdahl, the top juror of the Swedish Academy. Herr Engdahl slammed American authors and American literature for parochialism, in effect provocatively suggesting that no American author will be winning this year's Nobel Prize for literature. (And thus making Joyce Carol Oates go on a rampage.) As the articles above note, the remarks set several respondents off live. I think Engdahl is wrong on many accounts. His statement about translation probably should be directed at US publishers and not authors. But really, there are some excellent authors outside the Europe-American axis who deserve the honor. Like, oh, Assia Djebar. Or Adélia Prado. Or Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Or Maryse Condé or Kamau Brathwaite. Or Adonis. Or Claribel Alegría. Or Saadi Yousef. Or Luisa Valenzuela. Or Bei Dao. Or Duong Thu Huong. Or Yoel Hoffmann. Or WILSON HARRIS (yes, he lives and writes in Britain, but...).

Seriously, why has no Arabic language author received the Nobel Prize since Naguib Mahfouz? Why have there been so few winners from Asia? Or sub-Saharan Africa? I strongly think Chilean author Roberto Bolaño would have received it had his liver held up, because 2666 (which I tried to read in Spanish this summer, like a fool) is a landmark text. But then, he was living in Spain at the end of his life, so that might have improved his chances anyway.

Looking at the previous list of American laureates, I hadn't realized is that outside of T. S. Eliot, who moved to Britain, no other American poet has received the Nobel. How is that possible? All of the other winners (from Sinclair Lewis to Toni Morrison) have primarily been fiction writers, with the sole except of playwright Eugene O'Neill. American poetry has, certainly since the 19th century, been as distinctive and important as American fiction, and is nowadays perhaps even more diverse, in terms of form, style, themes, and content. It's also influential across the entire English-speaking world, and if one includes its musical forms, globally. So perhaps a senior American poet will be Nobelized once Obama is inaugurated. There are many who are worthy and climbing the ladder of years....

Interesting too that he asserts in fine colonial fashion that "Europe" remains the "center" of the literary world. My literature honors student recently finished Pascale Casanova's The World Republic of Letters, and we were both noting with some bite her attribution of literary centrality, still, to Paris. J'aime beaucoup la littérature française et francophone mais, as if.


The bill-that-must-be-passed-immediately-or-we-will-all-suffer-irrevocably has passed the Senate. Or a slightly better, gewgaw-festooned version of it has. See, our Congress isn't broken. Completely.


Over the last few weeks I've been listening to Janelle Monáe, a very young protegée of Big Boi and Andre 3000 (of Outkast fame). Her CD Metropolis debuted in mid-August (on C-day, no less), and it's hot. I love her Afropunk/futurist stylings and music, which are infectious, fresh pop with a nice soulful twist. (And in addition to invoking thoughts of Grace Jones, she favors the brilliant and beautiful Duriel Harris, doesn't she?) Her musical cyberworms entered my brain after just one audition of "Sincerely Jane," but I also am grooving to "Many Moons" and "Violet Stars Happy Hunting!" which is probably my favorite. "I'm an alien girl from outerspace..." Indeed. I'm excited about the CD, and am going to see if I can catch her if she comes through Chicagoland. Check her out.

Here she is singing "Sincerely Jane" on TBS Storyline.