Monday, August 27, 2007

AG Says Bye-Bye + Eberstadt on Saramago + Ashbery, mtvU Laureate + Adios a Cos Causse

Months after many Congressional Democrats and some of their Republican colleagues, along with many critics in the blogosphere, repeatedly called for his resignation, and a week after rumors began circulating that Michael Chertoff, the semi-competent Secretary of Homeland Security had the inside track on his job, the farcical, perjurious current Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, announced this morning that he is stepping down, effective September 17. Like other rats jumping what remains of Bush's ship of fools, Gonzales has decided--or had someone decide for him--that hanging around another year was not worth it.

Gonzales still faces investigation on multiple issues, including the political firings of 9+ US Attorneys and his role in the illegal warrantless wiretapping schemes that were imposed after the September 11, 2001 attacks. That he lasted so long is remarkable, and a testament to the tenacious hold, which I have never understood, that his boss has over his own and the opposition party.

Gonzales's welcome resignation gives the Democrats one less person to consider impeaching, so they might as well get going on Cheney while there's still time. And Democrats, how about enforcing some of those damned contempt citations? Huh?

More on Gonzales's resignation from The Raw Story, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.


SaramagoIn yesterday's New York Times Magazine, Fernanda Eberstadt profiled Nobel Laureate José Saramago under the headline "The Unexpected Fantasist," though if you were to base it on the general thrust of her piece, it would probably be better described as "the Incorrigible Idealist/Fatalist." Eberstadt covers the general contours of Saramago's life: his impoverished childhood in rural Portugal and Lisbon, his youth and young adulthood under the durable dictatorship of Antonio Salazar; his dearth of publications between his 20s and his 50s, when he began to pen the books which secured his fame, such as In the Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis and Balthasar and Blimunda; his second marriage to a dutiful, protective spouse; his exile from Portugal, over a religious proscription of one of his books; his incredulity and nonchalance, as it were, about his international fame and laureateship.

Amidst this we're told about his political immaturity, as assessed, incredibly enough, by Harold Bloom, his ongoing Stalinism and tendency to lecture as if the world had stopped in pre-perestroika days, his general unpopularity among his fellow Portuguese intellectuals. (This put me in mind of my Portuguese tutor and conversational partner of many years ago, an Azorean, who disdained many of Portugal's modern writers as having to rely either on politics and war (Lobo Antunes) or fantasy (Saramago), and constantly urged me towards the authors who dealt with realistic, often folk-inspired themes, like the fiction writer Fernando Namora or the poet and novelist Jorge de Sena, whose propensity towards translation I've never forgotten.) It's not clear how much Eberstadt buys this criticical discourse, so I would have appreciated her having pressed the matter a bit more, particularly on the political front, to find out the real tenor of his ongoing commitment to politics far to the left of Portugal's social democratic system, whose birth, at the end of the dictatorship and the collapse of a worker-led government he allegedly marks as a negative turning point. Does he seriously think the Soviet Union's economic system approximated capitalism, or was the author of The Gospel According to Christ playing a bit of the eiron? And while I grasp his physical isolation from Portugal, he is, nevertheless, living in Spain, a country whose political system not only paralleled Portugal's, dictator and all, but which not only practices a similar form of social democracy but remains a monarchy. And Spain is one of the global engines of capitalism, and which is still reckoning with its own history over the last 100 years. Thankfully artists--including many of the greatest--thrive on internal contradictions, as do their works, so Saramago is hardly an outlier.

I was also curious about his comments about death, which he seemed to take less stoically--in the broad and not philosophical sense--than his other attitudes might imply. More contradictions. Then there was the offhanded appraisal of his post-exile novels, which have tended increasingly towards the fabular. Blindness, perhaps his best-known novel, is a masterpiece of speculative fiction, but I am fascinated by the dense, metaphysical and yet existential investigations of works like The Double, which I read a few years ago, and The Cave. What they lose in specificity of mimetic, materialist detail they make up, at least in my opinion, in a rich freedom of querying discursivity, as if the mind itself were puzzling out implications liberated from the rules and demands of realist narrative. Eberstadt tells that Blindness will soon be a film to be directed by Fernando Mireilles (City of God), which got me wondering, why doesn't Saramago or someone with influence and funds to realize such dreams suggest that Manoel Oliveira, who is still going in his 90s, or someone working in a similar vein, consider transforming Ricardo Reis or The Double into cinema? I'd buy a ticket script unseen.


The Tennis Court OathLeave it to MTV to be a pioneer: in a move that I doubt will inspire other stations to follow (BET, Logo, Oxygen, Spike, Sundance, take note!), a university-based version, mtvU, of forward-looking youth-oriented channel has selected its first Poet Laureate, and it isn't someone from Generation X, Generation Y, or Generation Z. It is a poet from the "greatest generation," the 80-year-old John Ashbery (b. 1927). According to Melena Ryzik's Times article, snippets of Ashbery's poetry from across his 50+-year career will appear in 18 spots over the 12 months, and another highly regarded--though considerably younger--poet, Yusef Komunyakaa, will judge a collegiate poetry contest that will publish a student author's book under Harper Collins's imprint. Stephen Friedman, the general manager of mtvU, is a poetry fan and states that Ashbery in particular resonated with college students. (He remains one of the poets who generates the most interest when I've taught his work in the past, perhaps as much or more so than when I was in college, and his major series of works--from the pitch-perfect volume Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1976) and Houseboat Days (1977) to A Wave (1984) and Flow Chart (1991) were still fresh.) mtvU will run excerpts from Ashbery's poetry, chosen by his business manager and former scholar David Kermani and three 20-somethings. The youngsters supposedly have selected things with a raunchy edge, of which there more than a few such examples in Ashbery's vast corpus. Daniel Halpern, the noted author and Ecco Press-Harper Collins (I still have to pause when I state these two presses in the same breath) publisher, isn't sure what will come of this, but I like the idea. As I said, now we need to get the other channels to feature poets, fiction writers, playwrights, and sponsor televised readings, staged performances, and so on. Ashbery's getting no cash for the gig, though he may sell a few more books, which would bring satisfaction to any poet, I imagine.

Just think of what might happen if they got the cast of High School Musical or some of the enfants terribles featured on My Sweet 16 to read the snippets aloud? For the idea, I'd be willing to settle for a 15% cut.

An Ashbery poem, one of my all-time favorites, from the National Poetry Foundation website:

These Lacustrine Cities

These lacustrine cities grew out of loathing
Into something forgetful, although angry with history.
They are the product of an idea: that man is horrible, for instance,
Though this is only one example.

They emerged until a tower
Controlled the sky, and with artifice dipped back
Into the past for swans and tapering branches,
Burning, until all that hate was transformed into useless love.

Then you are left with an idea of yourself
And the feeling of ascending emptiness of the afternoon
Which must be charged to the embarrassment of others
Who fly by you like beacons.

The night is a sentinel.
Much of your time has been occupied by creative games
Until now, but we have all-inclusive plans for you.
We had thought, for instance, of sending you to the middle of the desert,

To a violent sea, or of having the closeness of the others be air
To you, pressing you back into a startled dream
As sea-breezes greet a child’s face.
But the past is already here, and you are nursing some private project.

The worst is not over, yet I know
You will be happy here. Because of the logic
Of your situation, which is something no climate can outsmart.
Tender and insouciant by turns, you see

You have built a mountain of something,
Thoughtfully pouring all your energy into this single monument,
Whose wind is desire starching a petal,
Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.

John Ashbery, “These Lacustrine Cities” from Rivers and Mountains. Copyright © 1962,
1966 by John Ashbery. Reprinted with the permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc.
on behalf of the author.

Source: The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry (1997).

Audiologo wrote to tell me that Cuban poet Jesús Cos Causse (1945-2007, at right, Carnevale di Venezia) had just died. A native of the eastern cultural capital Santiago de Cuba, Cos Causse was known as the "Quijote de Cuba." The short obituary she sent stated that his renown came from his literary artistry, which included plays, journalism, anthologies, and his poetry, which was deeply influenced by Afro-Cuban and African Diasporic literary traditions, but also from his political activism on behalf of the people and arts of Cuba and of the Caribbean. He was vice president of the Union of Cuban Writers (UNEAC), and at the time of his passing, was president of the Taller Internácional de Poesia El Caribe y El Mundo, and of the World Poetry Congress, whose annual meeting took place in Santiago in conjunction with the Festival del Caribe or the Fiesta del Fuego.

Here's one of the poems, in its wistful simplicity so moving, that was in the email:

Dagmaris alejándose en la playa.
Asunción su abanico su peinado breve.
Gloria dos días antes de morir.
Roberto señalando nada.
Idermis detrás Oscar después Jorge.

Yo tan lejos que casi no me distingo.
Mi hermano gastando una sonrisa.
Mi tía fea hasta el fondo de la palabra.
Abuela en sus mejores tiempos.
Abuelo con una corbata contenta.
Mi padre embriagado otra vez.
Mi madre como un perfume derramado distante.

Copyright © 2007, Jesús Cos Causse.

If you speak Spanish and/or Italian, here is a link to a video interview with Cos Causse at the 2006 Carnevale di Venezia. My friend Herbert Rogers mentions Cos Causse in an interview on his cultural exchange and humanitarian travels to Cuba at the ChickenBones site.

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