Monday, October 26, 2009

Yankees Go to Series vs. Phillies + MR Daniel Music Tomorrow + Glissant at NYU

I haven't posted anything on the baseball playoffs since they began nearly a month ago. In part my silence results from the swift and ignominious departure of the Saint Louis Cardinals, who fell in 3 straight games, marked by minimal hitting and maximal errors, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. So the Cardinals are out. The Philadelphia Phillies, however, took care of the Dodgers after walloping Colorado, and now face the American League's best team, the New York Yankees.

The Boss's businessmen in pinstripes have played with great efficiency and pop since dominating their division, reminding me of their late 1990s run, when they reeled off four World Series wins in five years (1996, and 1998-2000). After a spate of playoff failures against the Boston Red Sox, and the annual post-season disappearance at the plate of A-Rod, the Yankees are again taking the field and games like champions. Their off-season acquisitions have also paid off, in particular the multimillion-dollar contract they offered to CC Sabathia, the 6'7", 290 lb southpaw powerhouse who after a bumpy start in April won 19 games for them with a 3.37 ERA, growing stronger as the months advanced. Sabathia has been dazzling so far in the post-season run, and was name American League Championship Series MVP.

Also working out well has been two other acquisitions: switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira, who hit 39 home runs and drove in 122, tops on the team, and righthander A. J. Burnett, whose 13-9 record helped put the Yankees atop the AL East. While Teixeira has been a factor in playoffs so far, Burnett hasn't. Another factor in the Yankees' run this year has been lefthander Andy Pettitte. One of the Yankees' aces during the late 90s, George Steinbrenner let him go despite a 21-8 season in 2003 and a 16-9 playoff record, and during his absence the Yankees' playoff hopes fizzled. Pettitte returned two years ago, however, and with Sabathia, Burnett, and very young pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, constituted one of the best starting rotations in the American League. Last night Pettitte pitched another gem, sending the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who also sank themselves with onfield mistakes, back to Orange County, and setting them up for a battle with the Phillies.

CC Sabathia
My iPhone sketch of CC Sabathia

This matchup could be called the Original US Capital Cities Series, or the Original Major League Baseball Teams Series, or the New Jersey Transit Series, or the New Jersey Turnpike Exit series, or Competing Jersey Media Market Series, or the Two Cities that Dominate New Jersey Series, or the Two Cities Hosting Ivy League Universities Equidistant from Princeton and Rutgers Universities Series, or something else altogether. It's been 59 years since the two teams faced off in the World Series, which the Yankees, in their most glorious era, won 4 games to 0. The 2009 Phillies have very good pitching, especially in starters Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and a dangerous lineup, with good contact hitters like Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Pedro Feliz and a slugger for the ages in St. Louisan Ryan Howard. They more than match up well with the Yankees. They will also have the edge in the games played in Philadelphia, since the Yankees will lose a bat in their order, though Sabathia's very handy at the plate; neither ballpark is particularly pitcher-friendly.

I'm going to give my nod to the Bronx Bombers. If they can get outstanding pitching performances out of Sabathia and Pettitte, some offense from A-Rod, and close games out effectively under the Chamberlain-Hughes duo before future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera has to take the mound, they will win. This is asking a tall order, but I think it's possible. I'm looking forward to watching every game if I can. (And if you have free tickets, you know, you can always share!)

***

Tomorrow, composer-critic-brilliant person MR Daniel will be presenting work at Princeton University, at 8 pm, at
Taplin Auditorium, in Fine Hall.

The Celestial Mechanics vocal trio will be performing her new three movement vocal piece, My Father and I Are Playing. She writes of them: "I've known the performers in this ensemble for a couple of years, and I'm really excited by what I've heard of their approach to the piece so far. And they're really excited to be doing the piece--always a good combination!" I can say that I've heard some of her work live (in Chicago, and online), and I'm really excited to hear more.

Daniel be accompanying the vocal trio with a live visuals mix, and is part of the Composers Ensemble program at Princeton University. Celestial Mechanics is also performing work by "members Lainie Fefferman and Anne Hege, along with Michelle Nagai and Jascha Narveson, and piano works by David T. Little."

Here's another wonderful thing: if you can't make it to the actual performance there will be a live video stream with link available through the Princeton University Music Department's website. I also hope the performance is archived, because another event I'll mention below is taking place simultaneously, and also because I hope more people will get to hear MR Daniel's work.

Lastly MR writes, "(If you watch the webcast, please do let me know about your viewing experience--this is a new offering from the department)." Please do so if you can [go to the Princeton University Music Department link for more info].

***

The other event (and of course there are many) occurring simultaneously (well, a little before) with the Princeton Composers Ensemble concert is the first of four panels devoted to the work of critic-author-sage Édouard Glissant, whose Caribbean Discourse and Poetics of Relation are two of the bedrock theoretical texts of contemporary Black Diasporic and global post(-post)-colonial thought and practice. The events, sponsored by New York University's Institute of African American Affairs under the heading One World In Relation, will be taking place on the NYU campus over a series of weeks. I've had at least four different people send reminders, so I will let all J's Theater readers know about them as well. Here's the flyer:

Glissant's One World in Relation

Institute of African American Affairs

at New York University

presents

Édouard Glissant:

One World in Relation

Four Conversations with Édouard Glissant

whose path-breaking work, according to Gilles Deleuze,

“Ties the knot between philosophy and poetry at their deepest and purest level.”

Tuesday, October 27th

Wednesday, November 4th

Wednesday, November 18th

Monday, November 30th

Édouard Glissant is one of the most important thinkers of our time. In the 1980s, his theories of créolization, diversity and difference, as elaborated in the book Le Discours Antillais, were considered seminal texts for the emerging studies of multiculturalism, identity politics and minority literatures. In the 1990s and 2000s, Glissant’s work moved beyond the mere consideration of meanings as circumscribed by the relation of the signifier and the signified and the recognition of otherness. In his recently published book, Philosophie de la Relation, the concept is used to meditate on the new meanings of globalization, chaos, violence, equality and justice. Whereas in France and parts of Europe, Glissant’s work has inspired critics, poets, artists, museum curators, musicians, philosophers and politicians, in North America, much of its scope is still limited to the circle of Francophone literary theorists. It is now time to bring his ideas to a broader audience in the Anglophone world. With Philosophie de la Relation, Glissant points us to a possibility where our differences are no longer considered as proof of an irreconcilable fact, but as part of what relates us, makes us beautiful, complex and creative. These four conversations with Édouard Glissant will bring together philosophers, social scientists, artists and humanists to discuss his ideas across disciplines and for the larger public.

Opacity, Stupidity and the History of Unintelligibility:

The Right to Opacity as a Prerequisite for Politics and Philosophy

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

Panelists: Avital Ronell, Francois Noudelmann, Joan Retallack,

Sylvère Lotringer, Tracie Morris, Manthia Diawara and Denis Hollier (Moderators)
Location: Kimmel Center, Rosenthal Pavilion, 10th Floor

60 Washington Square South, 4th Floor, NY, NY

Diversity in the Black Night: Chaos, Créolization and Metissage

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

Panelists: Michael Dash, Ulrich Baer, Patricia Williams,

Kendall Thomas, Arjun Appadurai, Manthia Diawara and Judith Miller (Moderators)

Location: Cantor Film Center, 36 East 8th Street, NY, NY

Roots & Imaginary Offshoots: Ecstatic Difference

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

Panel: Theory of “Relation and Difference”

Panelists include: Francois Noudelmann, Mary Ann Caws,

Breyten Breytenbach, Fred Moten, Emily Apter,

Manthia Diawara and Avital Ronell (Moderators)

Location: Cantor Film Center, 36 East 8th Street, NY, NY

De-capitalization and the Way of the World: Religion, Secularism and Multiplicity

Monday, November 30th, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

Panelists: Richard Sennett, Avital Ronell, Francois Noudelmann,

Craig Calhoun, Arjun Apadurai,

Manthia Diawara and Avital Ronell (Moderators)
Location: Kimmel Center, Rm. 914-Silver

60 Washington Square South, NY, NY

Free and open to the public

Please RSVP at (212) 998-IAAA (4222)

Presented by Institute of African American Affairs

Supported by: L’Institut du Tout-Monde, The Institute for Public Knowledge,

French Department and Comparative Literature Department

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sarah Schulman's Book Event

October is almost over, and it feels like it has raced by. It's been wonderful and at times disorienting to be back east for the entire month; usually I'm well immersed into the dizzying hive of the fall quarter, but so far I've had a chance to think and read and write (and yes, write letters of recommendation!) and go to conferences, with breathers in between every activity, and it feels almost unreal. But wonderful nevertheless.

Since I've been in town I've had an opportunity not only to see people I haven't run into in a while, but meet folks I've known of or even have corresponded with over the years but never met face to face. Such was the case earlier today when I attended a book launch party for author Sarah Schulman, someone I admire tremendously and one of my literary heros/sheros. In addition to writing novels, plays, and a variety of nonfiction work, Sarah has been relentless in her activism over the years, particularly around issues affecting women, queer people, people of color, and working-class and poor people. She doesn't just pay lip service to these issues, she writes and fights, to use Ishmael Reed's phrase. This year the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at CUNY named her to deliver the prestigious 18th annual David R. Kessler lecture, which she'll do on November 12. Its title is "Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences." She joins an illustrious group of previous eminents that includes Samuel R. Delany, Barbara Smith, Adrienne Rich, Cherrie Moraga, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, John D'Emilio, Edmund White, Isaac Julie, Judith Butler, Douglas Crimp, and Joan Nestle.

Sarah's new novel, The Mere Future (one of my September 2009 book picks, I believe) captures her critical and activist approach, in speculative, fictional form; despite its unassuming title, the novel perceptively and incisively extrapolates from present-day New York, with its luxe-mania and unhelpful bromides and megabillionaire mayor, into a dystopic Big Apple (and US), now run by proverbial "others" and which appears to be functioning utopically, at least on the surface, but which her protagonists soon discover is as rotten as the pilings underneath the FDR Drive. I'll write more about the novel when I've had a little time to think about it more, but it was great to see Sarah yesterday, and also to run into some fellow wordsmiths I hadn't seen in a while, like Doug Jones. I also met Jack Waters and Peter Cramer; I used to receive their emails for Allied Productions, Inc., and even caught some of their work years ago (they co-ran ABC No Rio back in the mid 1980s), but had never met either of them. Until yesterday. So that was great too. Please pick up Sarah's book and if you're around NYC in November, catch her Kessler lecture.
Sarah Schulman signing her new novel
Sarah signing my copy of The Mere Future
Jack and Dominic
Jack Waters and Dominic
Charles
Charles Rice-Gonzalez, whose first novel will be out next spring (2010) from Alyson
Doug
Doug Jones

=+=+=

Despite Ronaldo mentioning it after his reading on Thursday, I misread an online note and thus missed the final day of William Pope.l's recreation of Allen Kaprow's seminal and oft-staged "Yard," an interactive tire sculpture that permits adults to become children and gleeful explorers again, at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery uptown.

In fact I've never seen Pope.l perform any of his pieces live, but I have been a fan of his for some time. (Interestingly I cannot recall if I've ever mentioned him on J's Theater, or just thought of him as I've expounded on someone else.) Here's a link to two YouTube videos which are about as close as I'll be getting to a real Pope.l performance for the near future. Enjoy.



And here's "jameskalm" participating in the interactive creation:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

iPhone Drawings

In lieu of the many posts I've been meaning to write, here are some iPhone drawings I recently completed using the Brushes and Sketchbook apps. I'm still learning how to use both, but I decided to try both out as a way of not always defaulting to snapshots. One of the challenges is using my index finger or thumb instead of a narrower-tipped instrument, like a stylus or pen or pencil because the iPhone screen responds only to electricity. Another was figuring out how to erase, undo marks, and resize the screen to add details. I want to try darker backgrounds and more colors.

I know some artists have been using the Brushes app extensively; in addition to Jorge Colombo's much talked-about May 2009 New Yorker cover, David Hockney, one of my favorite artists, has begun to produce daily Brushes drawings that he mails out to friends and followers, and one of Jersey City the artists whose studio I visited last month during the big local open house festival had a worktable full of them. I don't know of anyone else who's using Sketchbook (perhaps a simple Google search would answer that question), but I find it a bit easier to use, and more powerful as well.

Here are five of mine (pretty crude, but they were fun to create):
On the subway
Man on the subway (this was the very first one I tried)
Cup and book
Still life (Cup and book on coffee table)
C
C
Subway drawing
Woman on the subway
Kitty cat
Kitty cat

Friday, October 23, 2009

Poems of the Black Object Book Launch at T&W Collab

Last night I caught a really fresh poetry reading at the launch of Ronaldo V. Wilson's Poems of the Black Object (Futurepoem Books, 2009). This collection, Ronaldo's second, is one of J's Theater's October book picks, and it's easily one of the sexiest and liveliest collections you'll find on bookshelves today. Teachers and Writers Collaborative hosted the event at its 8th Avenue offices, which I'd never visited before. (I had to cancel a Seismosis reading that coincided with university events during the first year I served as the undergraduate program director, and never was able to reschedule.) I really like the new space, which is roomier and has even more dramatic views (of the Hudson River) than the old Union Square offices.

After Futurepoem Books founder and head Dan Machlin introduced the book and described the process by which it was selected (Futurepoem Books has a revolving cast of judge-selectors), three outstanding writers--Frances Richard, one of the book's judges; Wayne Koestenbaum, one of Ronaldo's graduate school profs; and Meena Alexander, who also taught him at CUNY--spoke about Ronaldo and read and performed poems from the book before he came to the podium. This was a great set up that I wish more readings would try; each reader gave the poems different and distinctive shadings, while whetting the desire to hear the poet himself read them. Richard described hearing Ronaldo read in Provincetown like witnessing the ocean rush through a large glass background window into the room, and I would have to concur, both when he reads alone and when he's with his fellow Black Took Collective poets. Last night, like Serena he served up three straight aces.

I'd never met Machlin, Richard, Koestenbaum, or Alexander (in person), though I'd corresponded with the Richard and Alexander times over the years via email, and I have been known to quote Koestenbaum from time to time. (He wrote the best Bette Davis poem I've ever read.) I also got to meet Garrett Kalleberg, whose collection Some Mantic Demons was the first Futurepoem book I came across (via Chris Stackhouse). Also wonderful was running into fellow language-lovers Tonya Foster, Duriel Harris, Bakar Wilson, Erica Doyle, Khari Polk, and Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene, among others. As always, I took photos, which are below:

Ronaldo V. Wilson reading from his new book
Ronaldo
Dan Macklin
Dan Machlin
Wayne Koestenbaum
Wayne Koestenbaum
Frances Richard
Frances Richard
Meena Alexander
Meena Alexander

Monday, October 19, 2009

French Essay/l'essai français + Art & Project Bulletin @ MoMa

Recently I finished and sent off a draft of an essay I'd been working on for a good portion of the summer. I don't actually write that many essays, especially because I find the process very time-consuming and difficult, no matter how rewarding the final product, but what was significant and different this time was that the Canadian journal I wrote it for publishes in French only, and so after I was asked to submit something, based perhaps on my praise of and fascination with Taïa, I decided and then agreed to write it in French rather than in English, to be translated by me or someone else later on. It was, to put it simply, a challenge, or rather a series of them, and that, I think, more than anything else, made me determined to complete it.

Abdellah TaïaThe first involved reading and taking notes on the book, Abdellah Taïa's Une mélancolie arabe (Seuil 2009, Taïa at left, from thehumpdaycrew.blogspot.com), which hasn't been translated into English yet. (One of his earlier books, L'armée du salut is now available in English as Salvation Army. If I had the time, I'd be willing to attempt it.) Taïa's French fortunately is fairly straightforward and contains little slang, so getting through the book wasn't hard. Moreover, the novel, though sometimes exasperating in its protagonist's sentimentality and self-dramaticization, was nevertheless engagingly provocative and broached a lot of issues that would serve further discussion. The second involved constructing an argument in relation to the journal issue's theme, which was the Théâtre de la Cruauté, which I read as referring directly back to the original version proposed by French visionary playwright and activist Antonin Artaud (1896-1948). I'd read a little of Artaud's work before, and enough about him, primarily I believe via Susan Sontag, and I knew something about his successors, such as Peter Brooke, to have a general idea of what his two manifestos on the Theater of Cruelty were saying, but I figured I ought to read the actual texts themselves, in basic scholarly fashion, before I began trying to tease out a relationship between Taïa's novel and Artaud's ideas. I did so, first in French and then in English, to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding them, and what struck me as always was the slippage in meaning between the original and the translation, though the gist remains. In Artaud's case, I think the gist is what's most important, since he was trying to get away from texts in and of themselves, towards a more experimental, gestural and visual theatrical experience, one in which a deeper metaphysics, and thus, he believed, an authenticity, might be accessed.

ArtaudI saw several routes into this connection between Taïa's novel and Artaud's (at right, Guardian UK, Getty/Martinie/Roger Viollet) theories, and worked through them, particularly around the frequent deaths and almost-deaths that occur in Taïa's book, every major crisis portending or transforming into a confrontation with la mort, and their links to la cruauté as Artaud defines it. But it wasn't until I came across some commentary by the critic Peter Sloterdijk that I was able to formulate a way of reading Taïa's work, via's Immanuel Kant's 3rd critique readings of the sublime (though Sloterdijk reroutes the Kantian reading, as Jacques Rancière does, via Jean-François Lyotard), to suggest a melancholic ethics of becoming that the protagonist was engaging in. Then there was the third challenge, which was the most difficult of all: writing an essay in French. I have to make clear that I haven't written anything beyond letters or email in French since I was in high school. In fact, the last time may have been one of those French essay contests that the local Alliance Française sponsored, and I believe I wrote one describing Marseille, a city I have still never set foot in. The gulf between a high school essay and one written for an adult journal, however, is vast, so I did take the added step of reading some contemporary French journal and magazine essays, in order to get a grasp of essayistic idioms, and I realized that it was going to be an uphill climb. For just as it is often a struggle for most native English speakers who find themselves at someone's college to write a coherent and convincing essay on a given topic in English itself, so it is in French, especially for someone who is not a native French speaker and who in fact when encountering French mainly is translating it into English. What I especially strove to do was think in French, as much as possible, so as to be able to put those thoughts, in idiomatic French syntax, on the page.

A challenge that arose out of this one was vocabulary, and in particular, the difficulty of selecting certain words that had differing shades of meaning in the two languages, or that did not exist at all in French. To give one example, French has two words for knowledge, la connaissance (from connaître, to know someone, to be familiar with, from the Latin cognoscere, to know, akin by root to English to know, but also the noun, ken, a vista) and le savoir (from savoir, to know something, know how, from the Latin sapere, to taste of, have the scent of, be wise, discern, akin to the English words "savor" and "savory," both of French (Norman) provenance) At several points, I had to decide that it was la connaissance, based in part of la reconnaissance (recognition) that the protagonist Abdellah had gained, rather than le savoir, even though my initial tendency was often to choose the latter term, in part because of past readings of Michel Foucault (such as his 1988 interview, titled "Le Gai Savoir," for example, with its ironic, double-entendre riff on Nietzsche). Abdellah's knowledge is a knowledge of himself, rather than a learning or a knowing how, though when the latter is salient, I use the latter term.

Then there are English words for which there are no direct French equivalents (and vice-versa, of course, such as double-entendre, which English imported wholesale). French, from what I could tell, does not have an exact term for awe, one of the emotions produced by the sublime (or the Kantian sublimes to be exact). French has words that combine fear and reverence (la crainte, fear, apprehension from the verb craindre, to fear, be apprehensive about, being one), and astonishment (l'étonnement, astonishment, surprise, quite close to English), but not one that captures the melding of the two. So I used a compound term, la crainte mêlé d'admiration, which doesn't exactly capture the condensed power of "awe," but approaches it. But then it wasn't so much the response generated by the sublime as the recognition in life of sublimity creating a deeper sense of our mortality and the consequent sense of the aesthetic and the ethical that I was after, so the exact translation was less important, perhaps, especially since the sublime is le sublime and the ethical and ethics are both l'éthique in French.

All of which is to say that I have finished the French essay (or at least a draft), sent it off to the editor, and now have a deepened appreciation for anyone who does this sort of thing regularly, as well as for Taïa's book and the French language. When the essay is published, if there's a link, I'll provide it, so that you can read it yourself. And perhaps I'll send it to Abdellah Taïa as well.

***

Gilbert & GeorgeWhile I didn't manage to get to the pricey Museum of Modern Art before the In & Out of Amsterdam conceptual art show was there--the Monday I and a friend had planned to go, MoMa was closed, so we ended up at the Met--I did finally get up there, on Columbus/Peoples of the Americas Day, no less, and saw the tinier, residual Art & Project Bulletin show. The exhibit presents the Art & Project Gallery Bulletin's entire 156-issue run, stretching from 1968 to 1989, as well as artworks by the European, American and Japanese artists who'd appeared in its pages and within, without or on the gallery's walls, literally or figuratively. Some, like the controversial performance artist-photographers Gilbert and George (above right, Sydney Morning Herald) are now quite well known, though I hadn't realized how they'd begun their careers, staging live durational performances as human statues and causing a sensation as a result. Others, like Robert Barry, are less well known but should be central to any discussion of contemporary art practice, which draws heavily from the conceptual well. What the show makes clear is that Art & Project's founders, Dutch artists Gert van Beijeren and Adriaan van Ravesteijn, created a vital nexus in the translantic conceptual art movement, putting Amsterdam on the map alongside New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, and other important sites in the development of an important vein of artmaking that remains central to contemporary practice.

I should add that reading the In & Out of Amsterdam show catalogue, which picked up after the show, I learned that the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, that city's major venue for 20th century art and one of my favorites, was a key institutional site in the trans-Atlantic late 1960s conceptual revolution, much as MoMa, in its earlier years, had been for a much earlier generation of artists. I also hadn't known that it was MoMa's legendary black curator, Kynaston McShine (what a name!), whose 1970 "Information" show introduced conceptual art as a major contemporary trend, and later curated shows on Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell, and Andy Warhol, among others. He is still there, now as Chief Curator at Large, and co-curated the 2007 40-year-retrospective show of sculptor Richard Serra's work. Some photos and a video.

Conceptual art show, MoMa
The explanatory plaque
Art & Project issues, conceptual art show, MoMa
The bulletins on display
Daniel Buren strip, conceptual art show, MoMa
A Daniel Buren striped strip--seeing this made me smile with glee. Buren once covered large sections of the interior of the uptown Guggenheim Museum with these, and also placed them all about Paris, London, and other sites. This is the first time I'd ever seen one up close.

Lawrence Weiner piece
David Robilliard drawings, conceptual art show, MoMa
David Robilliard drawings (the ones on the right show Gilbert and George)
video
And a video of David Askevold's "Catapult" (1970), Super8 film transferred to video

And, as I said, I passed the parade, so here's a photo:
Waiting to march

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fire & Ink III Writeup + Natl Bk Award Nominees + Segue + Musik

The weeks are whipping past. Last Sunday at this time I was returning from the amazing Fire & Ink III: Cotillion conference in Austin. I would try to recapitulate it, but I imagine my sentences would continually dissolve into a river of superlatives, which would only be appropriate because it really was a superlative experience. The conference brought together a great number of black LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly creative people, from all over the USA and world (Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America) for three days of conversations and discussions, presentations, and performances. The conference site lists presenters, but there were many more people who came just to see and listen and learn and teach. To be there. I want to thank the organizers once again for the wonderful job they did, from selecting the site itself--the Austin Hilton was great--to how well they organized and scheduled everything, to their patience, friendliness, helpfulness, resourcefulness, and kindness--and for the general ambience they established.

When I was describing the conference before it was held I kept suggesting that it was primarily literary, while its origins and thrust remained literary--and by this I mean literature in all its dimensions--there were filmmakers (and screenings), performers and a large performance (theory) contingent, and social scientists also in the room, expanding the conversation beyond the book and page. What underpinned a great deal of the weekend, and what I found so invigorating, in addition to seeing so many people I hadn't seen in a while and meeting many new ones, was the vibrantly activist tone, but activism in and through the arts, activism in a variety of modes, not just the most commonly understood ones. A review of the panel titles and workshops makes this clear; there was little of the aroma of the cloister I sometimes feel in academe, but instead a deep sense of continuum with the wider world. The stakes for what people have and are doing were quite clear, and we recognized this, even if others often don't.

I was unable to attend the first Fire & Ink conference, so it was particularly and personally important to me to be part of this one. So many strands of my own experience, and not just as a writer and teacher, came together here. There were echoes of the 1980s and 1990s (OutWrite and Black Nations Queer Nations), the various Black Writers Conferences at Medgar Evers College (they included the famous statement by black LGBTQ writers protesting that conference's treatment of LGBTQ writers, books and issues), the biennial National Black Arts Festivals in Atlanta, and the annual Celebrations of Black Writing in Philadelphia, my pre-academe years in the literary world, and my stint, over the last 15 or so years, teaching writing. At the conference were writers whose work I'd been reading for years but had never met, people whom I knew when I published my first stories and poetry, and writers whose work I was learning about for the first time. In much the same way that I felt about the Adfempo conference, I wish I could spend a lot more time, not just a fleeting weekend, with these folks.

My official presentations included a workshop on translating LGBTQ writers, which I made by racing from the airport, and which drew a small and interested group of people. I also organized two panels; the first was on Dialoguing Across the Diaspora, which included Tisa Bryant showing a wonderful clip with interviews on black LGBTQ arts and activism in the UK; Yoruba Richen screening a snippet of a film she worked on about the Sisterhood of the Good Death in Cachoeira, Brazil, and remarks about candomblé and an expansive view of art and activism; and Colin Robinson, who explored some of the ways Trinidadian Calypso has addressed and negotiated same-sexual desire. The other panel I organized focused on publishing today and the new technologies, and each of the panelists, Reggie Harris, Lisa C. Moore, and Steven Fullwood, offered cogent thoughts about the topic, while connecting it to their own work (Reggie as an author, librarian, event programmer, and sage, Lisa as an editor and publisher, and Steven as an author, publisher, librarian, and archivist, all three activists). As with Adfempo, I wish it would have been possible to catch all the concurrent panels, though I did attend many others, including ones on libraries and archiving, scholarship and archives, and the sources of writers' work.

I mentioned the role of performance at this conference, and it included a night of performances. We got to see a portion of Sharon Bridgeforth's play, Delta Dandy, which she is currently continuing to shape as a visitor this quarter (year, I hope) at the university; my colleague E. Patrick Johnson's performance based on his book Sweet Tea: Stories of Black Gay Men in the South, and during the piece he announced that he had been able to resume contact with one of the legendary figures in the book, the 90-year-old from New Orleans, Princess Vivian; and Daniel Alexander Jones's conjuration, as Jomama Jones, with her Sweet Peaches. The conference also included three conversations, under the title "Dash" and curated by artist Torkwase Dyson, that featured 3 pairs of writers and artists in conversation about links and reciprocal influences. The 3 were Tisa and Wura-Natasha Ogunji; Ronaldo V. Wilson and Carl Pope; and Nalo Hopkinson and M. Asli Dukan. Carl and Ronaldo also showed a short video made the night before, featuring Ronaldo at his most limber and liminal, and Dukan screened a clip from her film about Black female vampires that had me and others jonesing for some Grace Jones in Vamp--the full version, though.

All in all, as I tweeted, it was an amazing gathering. One of the videographers, Q, got me on tape rhapsodizing incomprehensibly about the proceedings, so I hope that doesn't appear in the final Fire & Ink Video, but I subscribe to my statements that the three days were soul-raising and that by Sunday, I felt like I and others had grown a set of special F&IIII wings and could take flight. Photos:

Lisa and Steven before the performance
Lisa C. Moore and Steven Fullwood, two of the Fire & Ink III board members and conference organizers, before the performances
Shelagh
Poet Shelagh Patterson
Reggie!
Fire & Ink board member, conference organizer, poet, librarian, programmer, and longtime friend and correspondent Reggie Harris
Tisa & Wura
Tisa and Wura during their conversation at the "Dash" panel
Samiya introducing Nikky
Samiya Bashir, introducing Nikky Finney
State Capitol building
Walking to the event, past the Texas Capitol Building (my friend cartoonist and writer Victor Hodge is the near silhouette)
In the main hallway
In the main hallway, Austin Hilton

***

Congratulations to all this year's National Book Award nominees, and an especial congratulations to this year's poetry nominees! They are:

Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan University Press)
Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again (Viking Penguin)
Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy
(University of California Press)

Like last year's list, this one is really exciting; all five collections are very strong, four of the poets are known for pushing formal conventions, and, on a personal level, Carl and I were in the Dark Room Writers Collective together in the late 1980s, Lyrae and I were in the same Cave Canem group in 1999, and were there together also in 2001, and Keith was one of my favorite colleagues back in 2001-2002. Bravo to all of them, and I would not want to be one of the judges, because all are outstanding poets and most deserving of this year's award.

(H/t Reggie H.)

***

Last night, I had the honor of reading with Keith at the Segue Reading Series, at the Bowery Poetry Club, in New York. Every time I've read there, I have been with excellent company; the last time, I think, I read with the one and only Julie Patton. I read a sliver from the opening chapter of one of the books I've been working on, while Keith read from his nominated volume and several others, including his translations of Baudelaire's Paris Spleen. Our readings eventually be on Penn Sound's website, so when that occurs, I'll post it on here. My thanks to E. Tracy Grinnell and Laura Sims for inviting me, pairing me with Keith, and bringing people out!

I should add that before the reading, I got to meet a J's Theater reader, Joyce Russell (I hope I remembered your name correctly!), a Canadian poet who'd read with a group of other Canadian poets at the Bowery Poetry Club before the Segue Reading, and who was chatting with Djola Branner, one of the performers at Fire & Ink and a founder and former member of the groundbreaking Pomo Afro Homos troupe of the late 1980s and 1990s. (I still have my tattered PAH t-shirt and refuse to throw it out.) I'm sorry I missed Joyce and the other poets who read before us, but thank you for reading the blog, and maybe we'll get to read together one of these days down the road.

***

I haven't been listening to as much music as I sometimes do, especially during the winter--I blame Twitter!--when I'm in the car more, but here's my most recent fave playlist, stretched across 5-6 actual playlists on my iPhone (I have not used my iPod in over a year now).

Bebel Gilberto, "Bring Back the Love" (Brazilian Girls Extended Mix)
The Black Eyed Peas, "Meet Me Halfway"
Chrisette Michele featuring Ne-Yo, "What You Do"
Common, "What A World"
Franz Ferdinand, "What She Came For" (Drums of Death Remix)
Janet Jackson, "Make Me"
Jay-Z feat. Rihanna, "Run This Town"
Massive Attack, "Splitting The Atom"
Michael Daugherty, "Sunset Strip"
Miti Miti, "En Los Noventa"
Os Mutantes, "A Minha Menina"
Portishead, "Glory Box"
Q-Tip feat. Norah Jones, "Life Is Better"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quote: Mehdi Belhaj Kacem

MBK"To render Marx disreputable was to suppress the truth that money, as a generalized value of exchange, is incarnated in civilization as waste, shit. If civilization, as Jean-Claude Milner states, is defined by its aptitude for dealing with garbage and waste, as opposed to barbarism which rejects the concept, or the insane who exclude themselves from it, I would say that the turning point of our civilization will come when we have recognized waste not only as leftovers and flaws, but as excess and superabundance. Money is the hygienic form of a superabundance of waste, a waste which is not a simple metaphor for garbage, but rather a waste which is the excess of production without any other end than its own superabundance – which also removes from production the prestige that Bataille wanted to preserve for it, the sacrificial prestige of a possible total benefit, of a cost-free expenditure. I would like to explain, building on Marx, at what point we can no longer delude ourselves with this kind of wet dream: we expected solace from it, and it is nauseating us instead."--Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, from "The Supreme Luxury," translated by Barbara P. Fulks, in Lacanian Ink 23, Wooster Press, 2004.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Fire & Ink III + Nobel Prizes + Michelle Obama's Ancestry + Nonsense Good for Brain

I'm at the Fire & Ink III Conference in Austin, Texas, so my posting will probably be even lighter than usual. (Don't laugh.) So far it's been wonderful running into so many creative people I admire tremendously, and I want to extend a huge thanks to all of the organizers for pulling this conference off!

I managed to get from Newark to Chicago to Austin without any delays, and was able to make my workshop, one of the first ones on the event schedule, on translating LGBTQ writers from the African Diaspora. Many thanks to all who attended.

***

So Herta Müller received this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. Who knew? Actually, as I mentioned last night to Reggie H., the bookies at Ladbroke's, to whom I linked in my previous post. She turns up on their list. She's also been published by the university's press. Congratulations to her.

More astonishingly, President Barack Obama was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Peace. When I heard this on NPR in the hotel room this morning I thought the commentators were playing an April Fool's joke many months too early. Congratulations to him and I do support him, though his inaction on many issues drives me up the wall. But with regard to the Nobel Prize, he's only been in office for ten months. It's really like the anti-Bush award. I hope he doesn't let his head get "swoll up" as we used to say growing up, and start believing his own press more than he already might. I imagine he realizes this, and will aim to live up to it from now on. That would include getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan, pushing for a strong bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change, closing Guantánamo, and resisting all neocon positions and actions, especially against Iran and North Korea, as much as possible.

***

I wanted to link to this series of articles and graphics (this too) in Wednesday's New York Times on First Lady Michelle Obama's ancestry. From the little I've read and seen in the media, save these responses, it's been greeted with surprise. But why in 2009 is this history still surprising? It's a history that millions of Americans, African Americans certainly, but Americans of all colors whose ancestors have been in the Americas--North America, the Caribbean, Central America, South America--and even in Europe. And this is true across the globe. No one is pure. We shouldn't ever forget this.

***

On another issue, I loved these articles, which suggest that puzzling, difficult or even absurd and nonsensical works of art can improve the intellect. To quote the Boing Boing piece:

New research suggest that exposure to bizarre, surreal storylines such as Kafka's "The Country Doctor" can improve learning. Apparently, when your brain is presented with total absurdity or nonsense, it will work extra hard to find structure elsewhere. In the study by the University of British Columbia psychologists, subjects read The Country Doctor and then took a test where they had to identify patterns in strings of letters. They performed much better than the control group. From Science Daily (Wikimedia Commons image):  Wikipedia Commons Thumb 7 7D Kafka Portrait.Jpg 450Px-Kafka Portrait

"People who read the nonsensical story checked off more letter strings –– clearly they were motivated to find structure," said Proulx. "But what's more important is that they were actually more accurate than those who read the more normal version of the story. They really did learn the pattern better than the other participants did."
But many artists figured this out a long time ago. As José Lezama Lima wrote more than 50 years ago, "only difficulty is stimulating...."

Monday, October 05, 2009

Review: Capitalism: A Love Story & Nobel Prize Tips?

On Saturday, C and I went to see Michael Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), just as we'd caught his last two major releases, the prescient Sicko (2007) and the Academy Award-winning Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), right after they premiered. Like the two prior films, and very much in line with all of his cinematic and TV works, including his début film, Roger and Me (1989), this new film is a passionate, often upsetting and enraging, sometimes muddled, but ultimately very moving attack on the economic and political injustice that plagues this society. Whereas Sicko focused on the broken health care system, and Fahrenheit 911 assayed the Bush administration's misrule and warmongering in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, this film attempts and sometimes succeeds in taking stock of the economic calamity that has befallen us since the waning days of the Bush administration. But Moore expands the window in an attempt to show that last year's collapse, and 2007 initial moment of recession, actually date back to the Reagan years, when fundamental changes in regulation and the economic philosophies that had guided the country shifted, based on politics, to create the toxic brew that has caused a global disaster, and what was nearly the Great Depression 2.0. The film could easily be retitled Capitalism: A Horror Story, since Moore's relentless aim is to show the many depredations that capitalism in its untrammeled US form has wrought, and a series of horrors they are. But he does not, and cannot tie everything together, because he does not address the larger issue of global capitalism and capital flows, or go as far as he appears to want to in terms of the US's situation and propose a solution or alternative, and this, along with his understandably deep faith in Barack Obama's election as a real politically as opposed to symbolically transformational event, ultimately are the film's major weaknesses.

The strongest aspects of Capitalism: A Love Story are the many powerful, disturbing, though sometimes hilarious, set pieces. These include the jaw-droppingly macabre "Dead Peasants"--this is the actual name, not something either he or I thought up--insurance policies corporations take out on their workers; the workers at Chicago's Republic Doors and Windows who refused to accept the horrendous terms of their dismissal, staged a strike, and forced JP Morgan Chase's hand to ensure that they at least got the pittance they were owed before watching their jobs vanish before their eyes; the appalling imprisonment of teenagers with due process in a for-profit private Pennsylvania prison in which two judges overseeing the cases had a financial stake; the "shock doctrine" attempts by former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, in collusion with the firm he formerly led, Goldman Sachs, to seize control of the entire Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, without any legal or legislative oversight, the popular outrage that temporarily stalled the bill, and the Democrats' capitulation and collaboration in making the theft possible only a little while later; and his designating a huge swathe of Wall Street as a crime scene, with police tape, a megaphone, and confrontations with the door people to boot. Other scenes, such as the ones of people being thrown out of their homes, were redolent of Roger and Me, and as Moore noted, many parts of the country were being transformed into versions of his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The set pieces do succeed in provoking your emotions: disgust, rage, awe, and revenge are among the responses, and validly so, since what becomes clear is that the unalloyed pursuit of money to the exclusion of everything else, which has become what American and global capitalism are, has left a trail of destruction in its wake, and our federal and many state and local governments (bought and paid for) and our mainstream corporate media (collaborators) have actively and passively colluded in making it all possible.


Moore interviewing Indiana Congressperson Baron Hill

Around and through these moments, Moore tries to construct a narrative that can offer a cogent account of how corporate and wealthy interests, in cooperation with both the Republican and Democratic parties, rewrote laws, pushed failed economic policies, robbed the country blind, and then, after devastating everything, managed to salvage as much money for themselves as possible. To his credit, he doesn't just slam the GOP nor does he omit the Clinton administration's participation in all of this. Though the country experienced an unprecedented period of economic growth and expansion from 1994-2000, Clinton's economic team also played a central role in gutting the economy's foundations by pushing for the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the imposition of NAFTA, championing outsourcing and the smoke-and-mirrors industrial-structural transformation to a service economy, and generally accepting the false logic of neoliberalism and conservative/supply-side macroeconomics. He only touches upon part of this, though, and he could easily have gone further back than Reagan; in fact, in the period after the US began large-scale industrialization, the fin-de-siècle battles around monopolization, the Gilded Age and go-go laissez-faire capitalism leading up to the 1929 Stock Market crash and Great Depression gave an instructive, unforgettable preview of what we would be facing if we followed the same terrible patterns of the past.

Along the way, the film identifies a few heroes in this horror story, chief among them Ohio Democratic Congressperson Marcy Kaptur, who clearly and defiantly lays out the stakes and makes clear who is really running the country. There are also some liberal-minded clergy people, including a veritable hippy priest, who condemn capitalism as contravening the Gospels. I really wish he'd gone further on this score, and pointed out not only the Christianist hypocrisy of the contemporary right-wing, but the silence of so many people of faith in the face of the growing economic inequalities we witnessed, the rampant unfairness, unethical and immoral behavior, the amorality of destroying others' lives to enrich one's own, and so forth. Where were the bishops, the rabbis, the imams, as W Bush was bleeding us all dry? Not only was the Iraq War a festering debacle, but also those tax cuts and the attendant spending binges and, even worse, insane borrowing, the refinancing and buybacks, the incessant building, and the shell games and Ponzi schemes that have left us trillions of dollars in the hole, and 7 million jobs poorer. The silence of these clergy people also was as "evil," if you accept the term Moore bandies about, as the hazy "capitalism" that he indicts. I take his point, but find the term, and those uttering it, too simplistic, since it shorts out any real discussion about the nature of economic systems and what they can and cannot provide. Yet Moore also suggests that we might have "capitalism" that isn't so out-of-control when he speaks with Socialist-turned-Independent Bernie Sanders of the "gay state" as he cheekily calls it, of Vermont. In fact Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist, and Moore points to European models that might offer a better, or at least more economically and socially equitable way. To get it, we may need a revolution, but in reverse from the one we've endured in unbroken form since the Reagan era. Moore however cannot bring himself to go that far--and doesn't much cite our own national history of early 20th century Progressives, American Socialism and Communism, as well as a much more empowered and radical Democratic Party, particularly during the 4-term tenure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Instead he suggests that "Democracy" is the answer. But that simply doesn't make sense, and I gathered throughout that Moore knows this. But to call for a socialist revolt beyond the ballot box would, unfortunately, be beyond the pale even for a man so vilified by those on the right. He wants--and I think we need--lots of Americans to see this movie. Badly.


Michael Moore callling out the robber barons on Wall Street

Perhaps his most misplaced hope in the film is on Barack Obama's election. On the one hand, it was a remarkable event, and if one were to have vaguely followed Obama's rhetoric during the campaign, he seemed to promise real change. But closer listening showed him to be a pragmatist at best (even if a progressive on some issues at heart), and he has followed his Democratic predecessor in doing little to dismantle many of the worst aspects of the right-wing apparatus he's walked into. In fact, he basically hired the people who helped initiate the economic collapse! Moore does point out that the financial industries showered Obama with cash once he became the nominee and later won the election, but doesn't delve deeply enough into this. We can see the effects with the health care debate; the administration, along with Democrats like Max Baucus, appear to want nothing more than a symbolic bill that would primarily reward their corporate funders. They pay lip service to their constituents, who are overwhelmingly in favor of a more progressive bill, but have done everything they could, as Reagan, HW Bush and W would, to appease the wealthiest and thus most powerful interests. Not even doctors or nurses have had as much input as the insurance, pharmaceutical, hospital, and nursing home industries and their lobbyists, and that input--influence--takes the form of money. I understand Moore's idealism, which is a powerful undertow here, as in all of his films, but more clearsightedness, on Obama as a politician like every other one, would have strengthened the film's overall argument.

Nevertheless, as I said, Capitalism: A Love Story, is a film I hope millions of Americans, especially middle, working-class and poor ones, do get an opportunity to see. I fear not enough of us will see this film; even with its problems, it provokes a great deal of thought and soul-searching, and its revelations, even though many of them are well known, are worth seeing set forth as only Michael Moore can do. As he might say, Thank God for him.

***

I must add a link to three New York Times stories on the private equity industry shell game that has now ensnared institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford Universities. Moore did not touch this at all, except tangentially, but as each piece shows, the people who engineer these disasters rarely if ever lose.

Private Equity Industry: Another Horror Story
Profits for Buyout Firms as Company Debt Soars
An Executive Who Ruled from Afar and Walked Away Rich
Videos on private equity industry

===

Congratulations to this year's Nobel Laureates in physiology or medicine, Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco; Carol W. Greider of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School; and Jack W. Szostak of the Harvard University Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute for their "discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." According to several reports I've read, their work is central to understanding the biological mechanisms involved in aging, as well as in cancer research. I also saw that their award marks the first time that two women have jointly received the Nobel Prize in this category.

Today's announcement of this year's first Nobel Prizes means that at some point later this week or early next, the Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded. Every year (or almost) that I've posted this blog, I've offered my speculations about the winners. Usually it's been a miss, though I did include Harold Pinter among my predictions--he was one of a vast cast--the year he won. Like most prognosticators and littérateurs, however, I was caught off guard by last year's award, J. G. M. LeClézio, who, from all that I can tell, remains in obscurity--not that fame or notoriety should ever be qualifications for this award. Still, his selection was surprising (especially over better known, influential French writers including Yves Bonnefoy, Michel Tournier, Anne-Marie Albiach, and Jacques Roubaud), and made me wonder what the committee, whose machinations have involved public uproars during the last decade, was thinking, and what the LeClézio pick might in terms of subsequent years.

Duong Thu HuongIn recent years the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in literature, has neglected poetry in favor of fiction; no author primarily writing poetry has received the award since Wyslawa Szymborska in 1996. Only two women have received the award over the last 10 years (Elfriede Jelinek in 2004 and Doris Lessing, two years ago). I'd thought these imbalances would be righted last year, but they were not, and so I believe they will this year. Also, despite Lessing's award in 2007, there have been very few winners from Africa; there has also been very few laureates named from Asia (only two from Japan and one from China), and in recent years almost none from the Middle East, Central America, South America, or the Caribbean. There are many reasons why, not the least being the Academy's European location and slant, another being the ways the global literary system works. Nevertheless, I think this year will be different, and am tipping a woman poet or playwright from South America or the Caribbean, Asia, or Africa, though at theOr another country in North America other than the US. One possibly and great choice, I think, would be Margaret Atwood. I'm not sure if Alice Munro's US links disqualify her, but I she ought to be a top candidate.

Other leading candidates include poets such as Claribel Alegria, Adélia Prado, Vénus Khoury-Ghata, and Shu Ting. Other leading candidates include fiction writers (some of whom write poetry and plays) like Assia Djebar, Hélène Cixous, Luisa Valenzuela, Patricia Grace (who received the 2007 Neustadt International Prize), Duong Thu Huong (above right, http://kobason.spaces.live.com/blog/) Mahasveta Devi, and Andrée Chedid. Despite the heavy Eurocentric cast of recent years, I wonder if it would not have gone to Danish poet Inger Christensen had she not passed away earlier. I also keep in mind that no writer from India, Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, New Zealand, Argentina, Thailand, or many other countries, has ever received the award.

Considering male writers, Adonis/Adunis, who would be the first male poet writing in Arabic to win, remains a contender. Other less likely choices that I could foresee include: Wilson Harris, Haruki Murakami, Ko Un, Bei Dao, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Kamau Brathwaite, Jay Wright, Javier Marías, Homero Aridjis, David Malouf, Nuruddin Farah, Philip Roth, Édouard Glissant, and John Ashbery. Most are international known and renowned, some more so than others. Whether they're registering--well, Roth is--on the Swedish Academy's radar is another matter. There are former teachers, colleagues, and even some friends whom I think ought to at least be nominated, but you have to be on the Swedish Academy's hotlist to make that occur.

Reggie sends a link saying that British bookies have tipped Amos Oz, Assia Djebar, Joyce Carol Oates, Roth, and Adonis as their top 5. Oates? Really? (Among Israel writers, I think Aharon Shabtai, David Grossman, Yoel Hoffman, and even Aharon Appelfeld would be stronger candidates.) Among their other picks: Antonio Tabucchi, Claudio Magris, Murakami, Herta Müller, Luis Goytisolo (not Juan?), Pynchon (very unlikely), Ismail Kadare, Un, and Tomas Tranströmer. They put William Gass at 100/1...