Monday, September 24, 2007

taking attendance

This appears to be my twentieth post since No No Yes Etc. was inaugurated nearly three months ago. I'm ambivalent about whether this is a sufficient pace of publication. On one hand, this has to be a secondary mode of output, creatively speaking, to my main writing, which I am getting my mind around as a book manuscript right now. But as a blog reader I know how important new blog material is, and how the old material has a way of going instantly out of date regardless of how topical or evergreen the subject may be. Even the format of the vertical blog text, which sends old entries into the internet netherzone of the archive, suggests the demand for fresh thought. I had a discussion with my mother's friend who is a librarian and who noted the problematic meshing of library science with the onslaught of online blog material overwhelming research tools and filters. In a way, it would appear, blog entries' format, with auto-archiving and permanent online niches, render the librarian almost nugatory or at least superfluous, except insofar as they might point you to the unlisted blog or the secret entry. But isn't that what Google is for? I feel like we're rearguing atonal music all over again, the science of science. But, then, who's arguing?

My own impulse in terms of inventing a blog writing style has been to think fast and try to make connections, paragraph to paragraph of the seemingly disconnected. Paul Rosenberg, a very smart blogger at, engaged in an interesting discussion of conspiracy theories, vis a vis Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine, which Farrah has been talking about a lot this week. He debated whether it is conspiracy thinking to point out dormant structural connections or whether it requires a special cabal, public masks, cigars in a room where a lot of inexplicable down town occurs. Today I read Klein's related article in Harper's, which predictably raised my blood pressure but is basically a simple observation: the government has funded a disaster relief industry that now lobbies to maintain market dominance. No conspiracy, just politics.

I thought again about the fantastic Don Siegel movie I watched the other night, The Big Steal, in which one bad guy chases Robert Mitchum who chases Jane Greer who's chasing another bad guy. The movie starts out with lots of normal tough guy wit but halfway through suddenly goes wordless as Mitchum and Greer flirt by driving crazily over a series of switchbacks in the mountains of Oaxaca. Suddenly it's like a dream I keep having, taking these hairpin turns in a car that drifts through the curves as if its plummet over the precipice would be deliberate and gentle. It's not the speed that makes the characters fall in love, it's the skill with which they don't quite lose everything. Two details seem especially dreamlike: the pavement, which because of the minimal Mexican infrastructure (cf Klein) peters out almost indecisively at the edge of the road, like a passing fancy; and the background, which lurches from soundstage backdrop to reality with an antic abandon. While the projected backdrop skitters up and down, Mitchum and Greer barely jostle. They're just that good, or it doesn't matter one way or the other as long as they show up at all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

theology at lunch

My hair still damp, I just walked in the door from an outdoor lunchtime reading in Bryant Park that proved to have the second most exciting weather of any poetry readings I've attended. The most exciting was a year ago, when I flew to Buffalo to attend a conference at U Buffalo on Robert Creeley and landed in the midst of a gathering early October blizzard. By the time I made it downtown where the reading was getting underway in a church on the main boulevard, it was flurrying heavily, and just as Robin Blaser got up to read, an overwhelming fusillade of thunder boomed through the gallery. I remember Blaser raising his arms in mock triumph before continuing. It was obviously uninterpretable (no more than the paranoid who holds the airplane or the world aloft through their compunction) and yet totally appreciated, simultaneously overstating and understating the Importance of Art in the face of Nature as an answer that could be tiny and also sufficient. Blaser, not large, was perhaps taking credit where credit was due.

And yet the weather did win after all; I never made it to the conference. Instead, braving the highways of Buffalo in snow so thick with lake effect as to make the road signs literally unreadable, where I holed up during a total electricity blackout in a Marriott in full-on emergency mode: the electric locks on the rooms requiring manual keys and the stocks of snack-size potato chips and irradiated apples running low as the generator's gas supply dwindled. For twenty-four hours it was the apocalypse and then the plows arrived with fresh supplies of early autumn.

This time the squall arose through midtown as Joshua Clover stood behind a microphone in Bryant Park's so-called Reading Room. It had already been drizzling around the tent but the rain grew in intensity as Clover read (he suggested at the outset that the scenery was appropriately apocalyptic, and given the oddity of his reading his elegy-for-modernity-through-pop-wizardry poems on September 11 -- compounded with a setting next door to the Fashion Week tent -- one was inclined to believe him) until, interrupting the second work of a line, a huge crash resounded overhead. I wondered across the park what the runway models in their air-conditioned pavillion took as their proximate cause, which seemed surely the appropriate thought to be having: not, what should we do, but, what was it we did.

The fact that the next time Clover repeated the same word - "Capital" - the same thunder replied in its gospel call-and-response only compounded the humor, the avowedly secular death's door conversion. It was money's fault, wasn't it. (Or not fault--laugher.)

And the thing about opulence is someone will always enjoy it. (The recent Paul Goldberger article in the New Yorker lauding the new Stern palace on CPW reads like an advertisement--pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, etc.) Clover reminded me of this through the title of one of his terrific poems, which referred to the first mall in the world ever constructed, in Brussels: the Galleries St-Hubert. As if by some force, Farrah and I were drawn through the central streets of Brussels to the glassed promenade when we visited Belgium last year. I would glibly call it an American thing, and yet only in imitation.

We had a free evening and returned in the mall to a movie theater sliced off the Rue de la Reine to see the excellent, conveniently wordless German documentary Our Daily Bread. Annals of late capitalism, the film presents completely compelling images of the efficient, heavily mechanized food production system that can vacuum every nut from a well-shaken tree, carefully cover acres of root vegetable furrows in gleaming mylar blankets, and, with only a resolute, industrial thud, truss pigs calmly onto an elegant stainless steel Catherine wheel and unzip them at the belly. It's an unsparing film to watch, but excellent and inspiring, offering stories from the slow motion apocalypse that has been going on, to judge by the two-century mall on Brussels' Grand-Place, basically forever. Cue the sound effects, turn down the iPods.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

time flies buzzing

I ran out of time on yesterday' afternoon's entry and had to run out the door to go to a reading for the new issue of Lit magazine (which includes two pieces by my friend Matthew Pennock). Running down the clock meant I didn't have time to say anything about the good book I was reading yesterday, Sandy Florian's Telescope. It's a daunting bit of work--long prose pieces unpacking an abecadarian of exotic everyday objects over many pages. I had a curious experience reading it of a rapid succession of shutter-speed associations as I read: first it made me think of Gertrude Stein in its chunky syntax that is developed into something like a moral philosophy. I remember having this thought originally when I was studying the masonry of dry stone wall building in France and struggling desperately to remember and wield French vocabulary at the same time. So Florian makes me think of this, first language as a second language, workmanlike, something to strive for.

Telescope is also like Stein's Tender Buttons in its "stony stones" Russian formalistish attempt to look at an object--say, an accordian for Florian like a carafe for Stein--minus its pragmatic usage but still drenched in its visual and tactile impact and its cultural context. Suddenly I'm thinking this is a totally structuralist idea but in both cases it's too personal to become a myth.

I'm also reminded in a similar way of Lawrence Weiner's '70s artwork in which he presents not a minimalist sculpture but a description of one painted on the wall as if the word could be what it means rather that meaning it. Here's an example which I hope I get right, squinting at a too small picture on the Dia:Beacon web site: "Two slabs lying against each other to form a form with another slab lying on the ground." It's like this in Telescope, the feeling that words just have to be vacuumed and swept enough to produce something actual. It's an idea so idealistic it makes me want to try it myself, like Pygmalion.

But then at the same time in Florian's consistent use of "And." "For." "Or." etc. to link sentences I find myself pondering Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica and logic, all those "intersection of" and union of" ideas built out of upside-down U's and transformative ='s. Reading it is a little like unraveling a proof, following sentences into algebraic chains. And strangely this is practically the opposite of words becoming things: it's words as numbers to juggle in a perfect flowchart, the pure purest ideas. I think this is the crux of the book and what it makes it impressive, that it can simultaneously feint (float like a butterfly, sting like a bee?) to both sides of some Platonic dichotomy. The distinctions won't hold but if old metaphysics needs work here's evidence to get us somewhere.

I found Florian's name perusing the schedule of a wonderful-sounding English language reading series in Paris. Now there's an idea that's transporting.

Friday, September 7, 2007

not it

(place your finger beside your nose while contemplating)

I woke up this morning with a strange anxiety that it was possible in my last post that I had misidentified the Dorothea Lasky from the interview video as the poet--no particular reason from the video, perhaps some residue from a dream of people wearing masks of their own faces or some such. In any case, some youtube sleuthing (the video comes from "weirddeermedia" which has a link from Dorothea Lasky's site) reassures me but I was momentarily fascinated by this problem. I have thus far been fairly generous with links but it is certainly possible I would it get it wrong. I was discussing this problem with friends last night in reference to my own name which, when googled, reveals a plethora of creative and productive people who are not me. There is even a musician or two and, apparently, a writer.

These are not my accomplishments or opinions and it strikes me as strange that just as the Internet has the problem of flattening text of affect (a recent article I read claimed that this is why exclamation points are more acceptable in text messages) but also personality and identity. Taken to the extreme are horrible cases of overzealous renderings from Macedonia or JFK to black sites for questioning we hear barely about. Of course I don't mean to imply there would be some actual person for whom extraordinary rendering might be appropriate--I try to ascribe to 'ordinary' theories of people relating.

In any case, to ward off confusion, this is me now. And besides those to the right here are a few other prior instances.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

dropping a frog into boiling water

Being back in New York has me grappling once again with the notion of the structure of the city, as enveloping a situation as an ideology. Obviously there are layers within layers of decision makers and when the subway is delayed it is because someone somewhere made it so. And yet the experience of obstructed and facilitated motion is so discombublatingly organic compared to a jog in the woods, where the pace and the mind are in sync on the surface as the muscles and the neurons fire off in teams. Here it's all momentum, commuting in traffic with the laws of thermodynamics. I saw on television an interview this summer with a journalist imagining the world quietly disintegrating and also persisting after the disappearance of humanity, leaving behind a detrits of bronze sculptures and feral housepets; today I read the John Seabrook article in the New Yorker about the Global Seedbank on Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago (where there is excellent terrain for cross-country skiing, incidentally) where they could collect noble heirloom plant seeds that could survive the apocalypse as a great big vegetable blight. (Spill some wine for that future passover.) So which is it anyway: screeching to a halt or skidding forever forward on the old tracks? How is it being involved, but not entirely accustomed?

I've been trying to give Farrah (yay!) good advice as she works on her novel in progress and find myself through lack of practice with fiction no longer acclimated to the basics, such as narration. It's amazing in a way that after a few hundred years of writing these things we just accept the feeling of this person writing with an "I" in which there is simply no context. I feel the same way when I turn on network television after a long time away, or right now as I wander by the propagandistic ad posters glued all over Manhattan: what a completely radical, noisy, totally artificial landscape to feel normal around. Astonishing what you don't even notice yourself getting used to. So I open a book and keep thinking, why are you telling me this. (Italics can be distributed as preferred.) Of course it's taken weblogs about ten minutes to normalize the converse relation of private/public journal. But obviously the mixture of voice and tense in fiction makes the problem all the more glaring--who are you and when did we get intimate, like waking into a marriage of amnesiacs, or at least one drunken one night stand...

I was reminded of this issue today browsing books in the Barnes and Nobles on Lexington at 86th st. (which boasts a surprisingly decent poetry section and should not be confused with the branch on 86th st east of Lexington, which doesn't) and getting sucked into Dorothea Lasky's Awe. It caught my eye because I had just been looking at H-NGM-N's web site yesterday and read about the flipbook-chapbook they made out of poems of hers and my Columbia mate Sam Amadon's. In any case, Awe was a fun discovery for the day and absolutely demonstrates the very unexplored weirdness of talk as a formal device. Lasky sometimes uses tiny emphatic Q and A intrusions into a smear of directed thoughts that suggest arrows shot off at funny angles and bouncing round to smack the archer. Let me answer my own questions, in other words, and with exclamation points. It might be a little slapstick but, you know, "poetic slapstick," as Pauline Kael said, and thus disarming and windowlike. I don't see tricks here so much as personality--there's a fair amount of the word God in the book (goes with Awe, perhaps) deployed I think as a placeholder for why anyone would tell anyone anything. Because, maybe, they already know? Funny, given my instant thought of Q and A in the bookstore that when I googled her name just now I came up with the above video of her literally being interviewed.

The other book I've been reading lately is Joanne Kyger's selected poems As Ever. I loved her poem "Carl Jung Greeted" in Stephanie Young's aforementioned Bay Poetics, which seriously ranges--psychology, politics, the cosmos--to capture a very accurate portrait it seemed to me of how it feels to feel these days. I found it fascinatingly hard to locate a copy of the book, despite its being published by Penguin--no copies for instance anywhere in Boston, so far as I could tell. Strange because it illustrates elegantly what can grow over decades in an Olsonian open field and it seems to me people that people would like that. I like this: "There was a long time in silence. For myself I can tell you that certain things give me limited pleasure for short stretches of time / but I do not know where to put them."

She can tell me, and I can tell you.