Thanksgiving Is Ruined
December 31, 2016
HAVE I no weapon-word for thee -- some message brief and fierce?
(Have I fought out and done indeed the battle?) Is there no shot left,
For all thy affectations, lisps, scorns, manifold silliness?
Nor for myself -- my own rebellious self in thee?
Above is the first stanza of "To the Pending Year."
Does the second and final stanza feature the word "eleemosynary"? Why, of course it does.
Stumbled upon at random within the past 24 hours while thumbing through this fine volume.
Is the "thee" in the poem the reader? The year envisioned ahead? The year bid farewell behind? The arc of history, the march of time itself?
As so often, Whitman's anathemas seem boomerang shaped. Once thrown, they can loop back to clobber the thrower. Here does he have, maybe not a moral duty, but an ethical impulse?
[I give nothing as duties;
What others give as duties, I give as living impulses;
(Shall I give the heart's action as a duty?)
-- "Myself and Mine," 1867]
To see more clearly, feel more compassionately, name things more bravely? Acknowledge to the extent he got swept up in the "affectations," the "manifold silliness"? To maintain maximum humanity in the face of whatever new clouds of stupidity, failure or even disaster are gathering on the horizon?
Whitman astonishingly wrote the poem for the beginning of 1889 -- not 1860. Or 2017.
November 24, 2016
The TiR turned upside down
What if TiR woke up one Thanksgiving morning to discover that Thanksgiving had in fact been just fine and dandy the whole time, but that, in reality, it had been the entire rest of the universe that was always-already ruined?
Would the realization even make any practical difference?
Would the up-ending of the entire normative structure, but leaving all its internal relations fixed in place and unchanged, even be discernible in the first place to someone stuck within it?
[and what a possibly silly, meaningless question]
October 31, 2016
speed and politics -- now even speedier
What better season that this, for TiR finally to get around to reading #Accelerate:The Accelerationist Reader (2014), cover to cover, word for word?
About those words, below is TiR's list of our favorites in the book.
In order of appearance:
Briefly, our only regret is that the Reader only once includes the phrase "politique du pire." The introduction (readable here as .pdf) admits that the Accelerationist stance courts a major risk, "a cynical resignation to a politique du pire, a politics that must hope for the worst and can think the future only as apocalypse and tabula rasa." Elsewhere, Benjamin Noys has called Accelerationism "an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better."
Would that the Reader could be reprinted with an entire section kicking around the ideas contained in the above-mentioned politics, worthy of a moment so deeply infused with the nihilistic spirit of "smash everything," "burn it down" and sh!t-up-f*kking. It's all really quite thanatizing and scrobicular.
More on this tome later, perhaps, if TiR can rouse itself from its usual torpor. Fat chance.
September 30, 2016
The USA has more reason than ever this year to be confused about this question.
Because maybe, in fact, it contains a few sub-questions:
1) Which Elvis?
Sun label Elvis only? Pre-army Elvis, plus the '68 "Comeback Special"? Hollywood Elvis? The Elvis that campaigned during the primaries, before he got the nomination and pivoted to the general? Specifying the Elvis may determine the fan's potential capacity for wrongness.
2) What is a "fan"?
This is related to the above sub-question, but goes deeper. Do "real life" fans only count? What if you're merely pretending to be a fan, on-line, but are very convincing, have many followers and drive the conversation? What if you're just trolling, but are extremely funny? What if you're meta-trolling, and none of the lamesream sheeple have figured it out yet? Or accidentally self-trolling, but nevertheless generating lulz? What if you attended an Elvis concert, but only out of a kind of "hate-watching" curiosity or from boredom? What if you refuse to tell anyone that you are a fan, and are thus part of the "silent majority"? What if you support Elvis merely as a clever and strategic chessboard move, to block the rise of the nefarious Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell or, shudder to think, Pat Boone? Or as a disposable stepping stone to help hasten the burning down of the whole pre-existing system?
3) What's the source of the "50,000,000" number?
Related to the above sub-question, but even more confusing, probably by design. Who gathered the data? Can the pollsters be trusted? Were the results peer reviewed? Might the results have been "rigged"? When was the survey performed? How? Internet Pop-up Poll? Self-Selected Sampling? Registration-Based Sampling? Snowball Sampling? Mitofsky-Waksberg Sampling? Troldahl-Carter-Bryant Respondent Selection Method? Kish selection grids? Random-Digit Dialing? Landlines, cellphones or both? Exit polls? And above all, have the results been "unskewed"? On the other hand, what if events reveal that the diehard fans of a particular Elvis are in reality quite few, but are very loud? Or armed? And refuse to go away?
4) How do we determine what "wrong"-ness is?
Is that determination even possible? Or if possible, allowable? This may be the key question, and an increasingly destabilizing one. After all, one equals one. A fan is a fan. By definition then, on some level it is impossible to be "wrong," is it not? Likewise with "misguided," "deplorable" or "an Elvis fan against one's own self-interest." Mustn't all fans be counted? Regardless of why they are fans or their inner motivations? Thus taken seriously on some level, and heard, simply because they exist? All the more so if coverage of these fans or their chosen Elvis pulls in viewers, or boosts circulation numbers or generates traffic? The sociocultural phenomenon of the fandom must be interesting because it exists. Or does it exist because it's interesting? How much more shredded, fraught, mind-bending and topsy-turvy can the criteria for deliberation about any and all of this possibly become?
Or on the contrary, should certain Elvis fans simply be considered too far beyond the pale, too outside of collective norms to be counted, countenanced or tolerated?
TiR is thinking specifically of Elvis fans (if any) who endorse the film "Harum Scarum" (1965) or refuse to denounce the version of the song "Old MacDonald" (1966) which is listenable here.
August 31, 2016
When Victor Hugo gave his love a bat
The story is sourced to an account of Hugo's life from 1863.
Authority for the tale is a good one, given that the book was written by the very same recipient of the chiropteran gift, Adèle Foucher. Foucher, despite her receipt of the surprise package, was nevertheless not deterred from marrying Hugo, several months later in 1822.
The original-language version of Hugo's poem, "La Chauve-souris" (from April 1822) is here.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Before allowing the reader to commence the reading of his bat poem proper, Hugo precedes it with a separate quote from another author, as he was generally wont to do in this period.
What was up with that? Was this a shout out? Logrolling? Homage?
A very entertaining and useful article that explains some background of the use of literary epigrams in the era is Rainier Grutman's "Quoting Europe: Mottomania in the Romantic Age" (2005), viewable here.
Hugo's choice of epigram for "La Chauve-souris" was a quote translated into French from an evidently favorite author of his from around this time, Charles Maturin, and his 1816 Gothic play, Bertram; or The Castle of St. Aldobrand. A copy of the play is viewable here.
Maturin's English-language play made it across the Channel to the wider, non-English-reading public in France, in an 1821 translation, done by Charles Nodier and one M. M. Taylor. Their translation is viewable here. Nodier's version became the basis for Bellini's opera, Il pirata.
What is Hugo trying to tell us via his selection of epigram here? Where was his head was at when he penned "La Chauve-souris"? TiR doesn't purport to know for sure.
The premise of Bertram is basically that its central, titular (anti-) hero, returns home, courtesy of a freak shipwreck, to his native land, after many years at sea as a brigand, scoundrel and exile / fugitive, to find that his true love, Imogine, has married his worst enemy.
Hugo's quote from the play is in fact a mashup of two lines, spoken by different characters.
The first part is spoken by Bertram in Act 5, scene 3. Spoiler alert: Bertram has by now murdered his romantic rival, and is being led to the dungeon to await execution. A Prior comes, asking Bertram to repent. B. is in a trance, oblivious to the outside world. He proudly, almost snottily tells all around him that he welcomes the most painful death possible. However, he also seems to be struggling, internally and spiritually, with the whole situation, specifically about whether to repent his misdeeds. Bertram's heart appears to be on the verge of softening when the Prior's presence snaps Bertram out of his reverie, whereupon B. snaps back into his hardened and stoic stance. Bertram asks the Prior: "Why art thou here? There was an hovering angel, Just lighting on my heart, and thou hast scared it."
The second part of Hugo's mashup epigram is taken from a bit earlier in the same scene of the play. Imogine has just seen her husband murdered before her eyes. She has fled to a dark cavern near the woods, taking her small child with her. She's wracked with guilt. She's been awake all night, wandering the woods, raving, seeing ghosts. Meanwhile, her child gambols around the trees, playing. She calls to him: "Yet come . . . I'll sing thee songs the churchyard spirits taught me." Creepy. Does this kid live to see the end of the play? We think not.
Hugo jams together the above two quotes, for his prefatory epigram.
Bertram and Maturin today might be even more thoroughly forgotten than they are, were it not for the scorchingly righteous rantage against them, perpetrated by Coleridge and preserved in his 1817 Biographia Literaria, chapter 23 (readable here).
Coleridge's chapter, like the practice of literary epigrams, contains within itself a window into a miniature history of Romanticism. He suggests a scurrilous process whereby the superior grotesqueries of Elizabethan drama were plagiarized by the French, from whom they were in turn stolen by the Germans, with the dramatic material coarsened and cheapened at both steps of the way. At last, per Coleridge, the gullible and slavish British theatrical public is buying back its heritage from its own "apes' apes," as continental Europe floods the market with schlock ("speaking monsters imported from the banks of the Danube"), and imitators jump on the bandwagon. Prime example: Bertram.
Coleridge attended a performance of Bertram in Drury Lane, probably with the great Edmund Kean in the title role. An image of a print of Kean as Bertram is here.
Coleridge's observations about the play and its contents include the following:
Yes, sure enough: Bertram was a huge hit with the theater-going public, enjoyed a long run, and saved Maturin from financial ruin. Robert Lougy's book on Maturin has some good details on this.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hugo published "La Chauve-souris" among the odes in his book Odes et Ballades.
But is the poem in fact an ode? What exactly is one of those, anyway? Did Hugo even really care?
He addressed these questions, somewhat, in his 1826 preface (one of several published over the years) to the book, saying in effect:
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
TiR, having found no complete English translation of "La Chauve-souris" on-line or published anywhere, decided to give it a shot. Below is our possibly fanciful version.
by Victor Hugo
"Why art thou here? There was an hovering angel, Just lighting on my heart, and thou hast scared it. . . . Yet come . . . I'll sing thee songs the churchyard spirits taught me."
Sad bird! Yes, I know you, I've seen you in dreams.
Now o'er me you lurk, although useless it seems.
In long loops erratic, you block out the sun,
But I'll never fear your dark portents of dread.
I've heard them already from ghosts of the dead.
So go! Guilt or gladness, you bring neither one.
My young bride awaits, so you linger above,
'Though heaven itself blessed my fate with her love,
Long hoped for, of worth more than crowns worn with pride.
You'll visit our wedding day, plotting to spread,
'Midst sweet celebration, wings over my head,
Like two veils in black to mourn someone who's died.
Your kin: woeful owl, preying eagle that screams,
Or glum holly crossed with pale leaves from dead streams.
You're too friend of witches, called for in their spell;
Flee far from my home and the air my lungs draw;
My poet's lyre, touch not with hideous claw,
Or down I'll call on you all specters from hell.
On murky nights when, in dance, demons take wing,
From the gloom you sail forth, enticed to hear sing
The infernal coven, joined evil in song.
Begone! Nuptial flowers here give sweet perfume.
Begone, yours instead is the stench of the tomb,
With pools of blood steaming. That's where you belong!
Who sent you my way? Flew you from black hillsides,
Strewn with ruins bleak, where the moon even hides?
Your brow, pale and mournful, is like that same hill.
Did weak eyes here guide you in devious flight,
Thus stalking the fire of my lamp's distant light?
By radiance brought, to bring dark omens ill?
Come you from some tower where Vertigo rules,
Or peaks where you flutter, beast stunted and cruel?
You stoke the hot swamp, bid it ignite and hiss,
But too buzz the precipice where, laughing, you
Would unfoot the mountaineer, aghast, and who
To vultures below plunges in the abyss.
I'm unmoved; above me you flutter in vain.
So flee with your stench of dry human remains,
Or, wait 'til tomorrow, you monster. That's when
I'll set, like a gift, before innocent eyes
Your carcass of gauze, like one hung as a prize,
By the rustic shepherd who adorns his den.
Your once-fearsome fangs, I'll give to tykes for toys.
My fair maid will see you and shriek, and the noise
May rouse you. You'll bolt towards the sky in blind fright,
Exiled by nobler flocks who fly by bright day,
Who'll jeer, foul wretch, as you flounder away,
In vain hapless search for the shelter of night.
July 31, 2016
Is everything really beautiful?
In its own way? Like a starry summer night? Or a snow-covered winter's day?
Granted, so would have us blithely believe what we understand to be a multiply award-winning hit country-gospel-pop song from two generations ago, with video here.
To listen to the record today is to measure the immense distances we've traveled, and have yet to travel. The song seems like an artifact from an utterly faraway, almost unrecognizable time.
You catch TiR's drift. How quaint the recording sounds, those sentiments feel today. Like a relic from our parents' generation, our grandparents', even.
Beyond quaint -- offensive! Presumptuous. Bigoted. Totalitarian. Creepy! From its monotheistic theological presuppositions to its coercive recruitment of schoolchildren as background singers or, as seen in the video, stage props, For example, did those children freely give consent to participate, if that's even a meaningful question? How traumatized may they have been by the experience of being forced to sing such a monstrosity?
More along these lines in a moment. As a threshold logical matter, how can literally everything be beautiful at the same time? Equally so? If so, then beauty must be a property pretty commonplace, trivial, even empty. If something exist, then it's beautiful? Beauty is no more than is-ness, thing-ness? In other words, every individual thing is a thing? Everything that is . . . is?
How is that information supposed to help or be of use to us? The singer's weasel wording tips us off right away that something phony is going on here deeper down.
Then again, below the showbiz phoniness, yeah, yeah, we get it, we get it. He really means: "Everything contains within itself its own unique particle of special, redeeming, snowflake goodness, which can be found and treasured if you know how to look for it, through the right perspective, an open-hearted viewpoint, blah blah blah. The singer leaves it as an exercise for the listener, after this song ends, to figure out exactly how in practice to do that work. The singer trusts the listener totally to know how to do so in a way that gets it right, fairly, correctly, humanely, respectfully, decently, etc. etc."
Yes, but how on earth do we do the latter work? Wouldn't a follow-up record to explain the complexities have been helpful, or more like a follow-up shelf of LP box sets? The record ends exactly where it should have started. Today's savvier and more historically sensitized listener sees this and knows that events could not have been otherwise. No such instructional album to be used by everybody for all purposes would have been possible, conceivable or maybe even desirable. Thus our dilemma. Thus how cruelly antiquated, how dishonestly simplistic that old tune now sounds.
The above aren't even the most damned and damning of the dilemmas.
No, TiR will go even further -- while of course conceding in advance, on the one hand, our growing contemporary awakening that it's never possible to go far enough about anything and, on the other hand (and perhaps hard to concede 46 years ago), the reality that we can never presume to be certain about which direction we should travel together, or about if "we,""should" and "together" can even be imagined, and that any "agreement" about which road to take is itself probably suspect. Agreement on whose terms, at what cost, in whose interests?
"Everything is beautiful." Ha!
Who are we to characterize how or what "everything" is? Can't everything speak for itself? What if some members of the set of Everything don't want to be "beautiful"? Or what if their ideas of or about beauty differs from ours?
Aren't we unfairly imposing our idea of beauty, the idea that "beauty" even exists, on possibly unwilling others? How dare we aestheticize on such a universal, totalizing scale! As if they, the "things" that make up "everything," are mere objects devoid of independent agency to decide their own fates, identities, and statuses or lack thereof?
Ultimately, shouldn't we simply refrain from trying to say anything at all about "everything"? What indeed does everything include? Does it not presuppose the hegemony of our own oppressive preconceptions and one-sided criteria for defining a "thing" and determining whether we're in fact presented with one?
Listen again to the little ditty from 1970. Does it, can it ask whether everything thinks that we're beautiful? What room or freedom does its worldview afford for everything's utterances,self-expression, avowals or refusals? None! And if none, then by what right dare we set up a conversation that by it's very terms is entirely one-sided, then drag everything into it as a possibly unwilling supposed participant?
TiR is pretty sure that, back in the day, the creators of the record believed it to be a plea for humility, tolerance, universal love, harmony and peace. Nowadays, we're more wised up. The rug's been out from under us too many times. We can see the plea for what it is. Condescending. Obnoxious. Insulting. Entitled. Totally lacking in self-awareness. Manipulative. Guilty, guilt-tripping and shaming. Violent.
What about all that which stands outside of our inevitably limited and biased idea of "everything"? Are the denizens of such a realm, if any, therefore by definition ugly? Who are we to decide what stands inside or outside of the set called "everything," imprisoned as we are too within its border walls, not floating above them? In what position are we to really know the boundaries, then the limit cases, then to cast any judgment on them whatever? Who are we to say?
So shouldn't we really just STFU, about beauty, about "everything," about everything?
In fact, shouldn't TiR really just STFU in general? Including about whether this very blog post is serious, comical, ironical, a combo of these, not entirely sure and trying to figure it out aloud, or whaat?
June 28, 2016
peas, and not peas
A few obituaries and appreciations of the late philosopher Morton G. White mention his 1950 article, "The Analytic and the Synthetic: an Untenable Dualism."
The article first appeared in John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom, a Symposium, edited by the great Sidney Hook, and published by The Dial Press. It was later collected in White's From a Philosophical Point of View: Selected Studies.
TiR's current favorite passage from the essay (pdf.) is this one:
A self-contradiction need not literally resemble in shape 'A and not -A' or 'Something is P and not -P.' All it has to do is produce a certain feeling of horror or queerness on the part of people who use the language. They behave as if they had seen someone eat peas with a knife. . . . But I have a few questions . . .
Who is supposed to feel the horror in the presence of the opposites of analytic statements? Surely not all people in the community that uses the language. There are many who feel no horror at seeing people eat peas with a knife just as there are many who are not perturbed at statements that philosophers might think self-contradictory. Who, then?
Among the commentaries on White's essay is a humbly enjoyable and nicely done 2009 paper in a seemingly short-lived West Virginia University philosophy journal, by one J. Alex Langlinais. The paper offers a way to think about this nest of questions through an alternative framework: "eating peas with a different fork." The upshot: "[I]t ought not matter whether we eat peas with a knife or a fork. What matters is that the peas get eaten."
Going even further, a letter-writer to a November 1870 edition of the Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, Country Gentleman, Bee-Keeper and Poultry Chronicle (published from Fleet Street, London) potentially set up not only a sublation of the "horror or queerness" impasse called out by White, but a radical explosion of the essentialist, binary frame itself, with a still more expansive imaginary. S/he imagined a world of diversity populated not merely with "Ps and not Ps," but with "Peas and not Peas only -- Beans, Cauliflowers, and almost all other crops." Specifically, they were speaking in praise of wide applicability of the "furrow-system of growing."
Is it any coincidence that in the same year, 1870, appeared C. S. Peirce's groundbreaking "Description of a Notation for the Logic of Relatives, Resulting from an Amplification of the Conceptions of Boole's Calculus," his milestone first attempt at the working out of a formal symbolic logic? TiR thinks not. Obviously.
[Peirce's original paper, scanned from a copy at Harvard University, is here. Any consideration of "p" of course immediately brings to mind his chapter therein on "Elementary Relatives," in particular its highly suggestive analysis of their quaternion logical forms (pg. 50): "Let p be 'lover,' and q be 'benefactor.' Then this [formula above] reads, lovers of their own benefactors consist of self-lovers of self-benefactors together with alio-lovers of alio-benefactors of themselves." TiR won't further insult the reader's intelligence by spelling out the clear connections here.]
Regardless, the same letter-writing author ("J. Wright, Gardener to Hon. J. L. Melville," about whom TiR sadly can find no further information) sagely added: "Peas, like other things, are affected by circumstances, hence it is as well to speak approximately."
So, do peas contradict themselves? Very well, then.
[And is the above post merely a pppeaisce of pointless and puerile tomfoolery? Another rhetorical question.]
May 31, 2016
in dreams begin really crap blog posts
This past month, TiR dreamed that we arrived by bus an hour late for a rendezvous at a remote Berlin newsstand. So we shopped for maps and football magazines.
Just prior, a young David Johansen performed a short set behind glass at a punk clothing store. He expressed the following sentiment from the stage, in lieu of a song introduction:
'They say that History is nothing less than the the story of God's efforts to alienate Himself from Himself, then become One again, through Love. In other words, a failed romance."
"Schleiermacher, via Nietzsche," TiR understood.
April 30, 2016
when Thornton Wilder cracked up during a Frank O'Hara play
The story was told by the remarkable and protean Mary Molly Manning Howe Adams, in a December 1975 interview with Charles Ruas, in which she discussed the Poets' Theatre, Cambridge, Mass., USA:
"But suddenly, in the middle of it, it was a very funny play, the first one was marvelous -- 'Change Your Bedding' -- he stood up at the end, the audience roaring laughing throughout, because it was funny, and meant to be funny, at the end of it, Thornton Wilder stood up, shouted at us all, and said 'How dare you! How dare you! This is disgusting! This is a sacred moment in the history of theater. For the first time, poetry, poetry! can be heard on the stage. Shut up, you beasts,' he said.
"He was removed to MGH almost immediately afterwards, he was having a nervous breakdown.
"But I may say, the audience also had one. And we didn't dare laugh throughout the next one, for fear he'd stand up and shout at us all again.
"It made the evening."
TiR transcribed the above from a newly aired radio show entitled "V.R. Lang, A Memorial, Part 1," podcast listenable here, from the mighty and righteous Clocktower Productions. The anecdote in question is recounted around 45 minutes in.
Biographer Brad Gooch assembles a basically congruent account, set within his intensely well-researched City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara (1993), chapter five, "Ann Arbor Variations," drawing upon sources that include a separate interview with Mary Manning / Molly Howe.
March 31, 2016
Was Liberace a good pianist?
We mean, like, technically?
Some links that may or may not pertain to the resolution of this passionately burning question, one pondered by everyone, all day, every day, globally, waking or sleeping, whether they admit it to pollsters or themselves or not, perhaps can be found here, here, here and here.
During March 2016, TiR researched or saved or gathered links pertaining to around 95 topics of at least remotely theoretic blog post-worthiness. Typical month.
However, TiR at the moment can be bothered to blog about absolutely none of these topics, save the above.