Thursday, January 31, 2002
Utterly sweet reaction to my notes last night about Maude at OnePotMeal, which, even without the deeply humane reaction to my words, is fast becoming one of my favorite weblogs.
The sad news here is that Maude has liver cancer & is very weak. There is no positive prognosis. Carole & I have decided that the only choice we have is to euthanize the old girl tomorrow morning. This of course makes us sad & it will be lonely around here after tomorrow morning, even though we still have two other healthy dogs in the house. Maude has had a good life & lived about as long as most hounds live, on average. I'll go out in the morning & dig a grave near where Mingo is buried, then take her over to JC's so he can put her down. I'll bring her back & bury her near the only other dog she ever really loved & bonded with, Mingo.
So, a literary question: what is the difference between sentiment & sentimentality in feeling & writing? I'd say one is false, one true, one authentic, one fake; but literary judgements are so . . . subjective.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:37 PM.
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
From Breaching the Web: Smart piece on the cute aesthetic in American popular culture by Annalee Newitz. But I'm skeptical of the claim linking cute to Clinton (though he is no doubt cuter than hell.) It's always been there in our national consciousness--remember Shirley Temple? I'd want to balance this particular analysis of cuteness with Daniel Harris' "The Kitschification of Sept. 11th" in Salon a few days ago. [Not sure this link will work, since the article was published in Salon's Premium section.] In any case, the sentimental is always a lie. Which is not to say that images that evoke emotion must needs be a lie: Just now, going out for firewood before turning in, I saw where the old hound had stood in the snow--her footprints splayed-out because she's weak & has a hard time balancing--& in front of the four big paw prints in the crusty snow, the little front-tooth scoops in the snow--twenty or more--where she had been eating the snow, seemingly her only pleasure these last few days of not eating any food, not even drinking much from her bowl in the kitchen. I love that old dog & she is almost certainly dying. Sentimentality deflects real feeling, simplifies emotion. The only real comfort in this world comes from looking at things directly. Even the looming death of a dog, that most sentimental of subjects in this culture.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:24 PM.
The old hound has stopped eating & only gets water the last two days by going out & licking the snow. Today the vet drew blood & tomorrow we'll know if she has lymphoma. We had thought she wasn't eating because of the pain in her back, but apparently there is something else going on--two processes--not one, as we thought. She's old & though she has always been overly sensitive & spooky, she's a sweet beast. Whatever the diagnosis, I can't imagine that she'll be with us in the spring. Maude's a bluetick, a breed famous in song & story:
I had an old dog and his name was Blue,
Betcha five dollars he's a good dog too.
Every night just about good dark,
Blue goes out and begins to bark
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Blue chased a possum up a 'simmon tree,
Barked at the possum and grinned at me.
Chased that possum way out on a limb,
Blue sat down and he talked to him
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Blue got sick, he got mighty sick,
Called for the doctor to come right quick.
The doctor come and he come in a run,
But he said old Blue your huntin's done.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Old Blue died and he died so hard,
He shook the ground in my back yard.
I dug his grave with a silver spade,
And lowered him down with a length of chain.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
There's just one thing that troubles my mind,
Blue went to heaven and left me behind.
When I get to heaven, first thing I'll do,
Is get my horn and call for Blue.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Here old Blue, you're a good dog you.
Monday, January 28, 2002
Reading the news (part 2): Ex-Enron CEO's Wife Says They Are Broke "Asked what had happened to the reported $300 million in compensation and stocks her husband earned over the past four years, Linda Lay said the couple relied on now-worthless Enron stock and did not have a diverse portfolio. "It's gone. There's nothing left. Everything we had mostly was in the one stock,'' she said, adding they were also under pressure due to cash calls on their long-term investments."
If true, there is a disorienting kind of justice here: A great capitalist "genius" so filled with hubris & egotism & the doctrine of deregulation that he ignores the investing advice dished out to schmucks like me: diversify.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:03 PM.
Reading the news: "In fact, while White House officials said it was a given that Mr. Bush would repeatedly invoke his determination to create jobs and to rid the world of "evildoers," the looming questions were over what words he might not utter." [NY Times 1.28.02] As a paid-in-full leftist / liberal, I should be salivating at the thought of the Bush Whitehouse being dragged into court trying to defend the wholly fictional doctrine of vice-presidential privilege. Many leftists, coming out of Marx, are historical determinists; right-wingers, though, tend to look at history from the quasi-religious perspective of Original Sin & salvation. This is essentially a distinction between a materialist & a metaphysical worldview--between social causes & "evildoers." Evil people hate us, on this view, because we are good. And so anyone who suggests that there might be historical causes for terrorism & branded by Lynn Cheney, Joe Lieberman & American Council of Trustees and Alumni as "blame-America-first" intellectuals or "weak links in the response to terrorism." The complicated truth ias that "we" are good in many ways, but not metaphysically good; the Taliban & Bin Laden are indeed bad, but not metaphysically bad. Harold Bloom (I know, I know . . .), in his stunningly good book The American Religion has called this metaphysical turn in US politics "American gnosticism." Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. I should be jumping for joy that these idiots are daily exposing their idiocy, but I'm merely depressed. Clearly, the head of American law enforcement is deranged. The American president isn't smart enough to be deranged. Which reminds me of an anecdote, perhaps apocryphal: A wealthy American lady, near the beginning of the last century, traveled to Vienna in order to submit herself to the rigors of psychoanalysis by the master himself. After an initial interview, however, Freud said, "Madam, I am terribly sorry--I cannot psychoanalyze you. You have no unconscious."
Sunday, January 27, 2002
Almost balmy today--40 F on the front porch by mid-afternoon. Reading the dog's body: The old hound Maude is ill & will have to go to the vet tomorrow. No appetite, only thirst. Of course, being a hypochondriac myself, I have searched all the relevant on-line literature & decided she has diabetes, along with the spinal arthritis we already knew about. Poor thing has spent most of the day on her puffy bed in front of the woodstove, though pretty often she gets up & asks me to let her out to pee. She's lost a lot of weight in the last week to ten days. She's 12, old for a dog of her size & breed. The little French Bulldog, Weezer, who, to put it charitably, is not very smart, nevertheless has been following the old hound around & plunking himself down beside her, even when she wanders off into an uncomfortable spot--like under the kitchen table. Several times today I sat down on the floor beside Maude & stroked her head or cleaned the gick out of her eyes with my thumb; running my hand along her backbone I could feel every vertebra. We live in this world with our bodies, whether we are dogs or humans.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:41 PM.
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Picking up on an earlier post concerning the nature of net-writing & particularly in light of my experience in setting up two Manila sites over the weekend for my students, I come back again to the public nature of this kind of writing. And on Thursday in class we spent a good deal of time talking about the difference it makes when you know your are writing "in real time," in public. This is a new sort of composition that technology has made possible, but it gets instantiated in numerous ways: we talked about the complete informality of IM conversations, the quick-response ethic of email, but also about the more considered sort of composition that occurs when posting to a weblog belonging to a defined community. Next week we're going to try to take a fine-grained look at the ways in which technologies of writing have created the kinds of writing that can be done, given the particular technology.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:13 PM.
I'm multi-blogging--is this a cybernetic advance, or merely a weird cultural phenomena? Or a personal affliction? I have two class blogs (1, 2) running on a Manila server at my university & two Blogger blogs, this one, a personal reading journal, the other a collaborative reading journal dedicated to a specific work of 20th century philosophy. And yet I managed to cook dinner tonight. (The nerdification of the poet: I was charmed just now by when linking to xrefer to discover that one of the entries for cybernetic was "rhymes for phonetic.")
Thoughts to develop: 1) "Hypertext" predates computers (see Eliot's The Wasteland); 2) pedagogical uses of hypertext differ fundamentally from literary uses.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:53 PM.
Monday, January 21, 2002
A bit more metablogging: Why try to define the different kinds of weblogs? Why insist on links as definitive? Of course we like to name things & make distinctions between them, so definitions can be useful if they are not exclusionary. Perhaps it makes more sense to talk about the different forms of writing that this technology has given rise to: The list of links, the personal but public diary, the philosophical journal, the political magazine/pamphlet (spirit of Tom Paine). Many of these forms have precursors back in print culture, so one interesting question to ask ourselves would be, How has the technology changed the forms? For instance, back when I was an undergraduate in the 60s, everybody with any literary pretensions was reading Anais Nin's published diaries. Were they written for ultimate publication or were they meant to be kept secret or shared among only a few friends? Increasingly, in my thinking about writing in general & net-writing in particular, I have become convinced that the public nature of the discourse makes all the difference. The sites that put me off, that send me groping for the mouse to hit the Back button, are those who seem to have forgotten that they are giving a public performance. Lots of teenagers' sites fit this description, but then teenagers are, as a group, pretty solipsistic. Linking is one way for the writer to avoid staying inside his or her own skull, but not the only way--even mostly private musings can adopt a public or semi-public voice. . .
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:12 AM.
Friday, January 18, 2002
Blog or journal? The technology is open, flexible. What is this obsession to define the blog? A brief foray into metablogging, then: Mike Sanders has recently devoted a lot of time & thought to the nature of weblogging. Is it journalism or journaling? Does linking matter? What is an opinion? I've been reading this deeply satisfying conversation every couple of days & trying to get a handle on what is being said. I'm a relatively new weblogger & what strikes me again & again is the way in which a relatively simple technology can have so many permutations. I am far from being a utopian; I scoff openly at those who tout the internet as a golden road to an ideal future. That said, it is amazing how many different things people do with weblogs. In some, the links are everything. To take two wildly different examples at random, there are the wonderfully intelligent Boing Boing & the wonderfully bizarre Everlasting Blort. Blort is nothing but links, while Cory Doctorow comments briefly on the links he posts. But I also follow a couple of weblogs that almost never link . . . because I am interested in the voices of the writers: Hashbrown & also The Story of Nothing: slices of life I'd be sorry not to have read. (This is about reading, remember?) But the weblogs I return to daily or almost daily combine a voice & a point of view with content that interests me. I think the metaphor of weblogs as filters is a good one--which is to agree with Virginia Postrel that webloggers serve the common good as editors. Some, too, serve as the originators of content. My current notion is that the same technological platform can serve many social uses--Wittgenstein might call them language-games--& that the urge to nail things down too tightly is understandable but misplaced. One of the characteristics of language games is that they do not always line up with eache other. This is a view of life & language that insists on philosophical pluralism. We ought to be thinking about new uses for weblogs, which I will now define as intellectual spaces with dynamic content. Doc Searls is right to note that bloggers are writers & writing is a process of thought. This is where we do our thinking.
For example, my colleague Chris Robinson & I are currently reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations together. We are both busy & can't always find time to sit down in chairs & discuss the book, even though our university offices are separated by nothing more that some metal studs & a couple of layers of wallboard. So we have set up a blog where we post our notions. (Amazingly, both Chris & I have received email from folks who are following our discussion.) For the two of us, the weblog is an intellectual tool--a network interface device; but it is also public: being public (even to two or three readers) gives lends our posts a certain gravity, I think. We hope to be responsible & even responsive. There are readers--this is a public performance. And this is where I disagree with Virginia Postrel when she says that as a weblogger she can post any damn thing she pleases because she doesn't have to answer to a boss. In public, we are faced with the choice of being responsible or irresponsible. Most, perhaps, choose the low road--the internet is full of thoughtlessness & worse, mere opinion--but a fairly large number of people are trying to use this technology to promote new forms of thought & writing. For those, being in public enforces responsibility. In an era when Real Journalism is to a large extent bought & paid for by those who own the means of production, a weblogger, free from anything but his/her own sense of ethics, can post to Blogspot or a Manila site for a negligible financial investment, but with, in many cases, a tremendous moral investment. I like to read people who have nothing to lose--poets like me--in this new medium.
[I am also just now beginning an experiment with my students in two different classes in which blogs will be the centers of gravity of all the course work. I will post links once things are up & running to everyone's satisfaction--the students themselves will be the owners & creators of these intellectual spaces. Aside: they have to be intellectual spaces because we do not have bodies in cyberspace. This is at the same time a wildly attractive & wildly disconcerting fact.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:01 PM.
Forms of life. It's a phrase from Wittgenstein's Philosphical Investigations & has to do with the ways in which human beings collaboratively use language to construct meanings. I have been thinking this week about how one's form of life is the result of contingency interacting with willful decision making. Reading Ho Chi Minh's life story, I realize how fortunate I am--from one point of view--to have been born in a wealthy & powerful country. But wasn't Bac Ho also fortunate--the world conspired to bring him into an impoverished & oppressed country, while at the same time giving him the intelligence, fortitude & courage to become a revolutionary hero. And last night I had a dream in which I was telling my wife how deeply I love her--the dream being a confirmation (from the "feeling-tone") that I am intigrated into my way of life. So it seems possibe to live authentically as a middle-class professor & poet in a house by the river. As long as one pays attention. I have had to be fifty years old & long-married to understand that any form of life pursued consciously, authentically, can sponsor beauty, meaning. And, ethically, shouldn't someone as fortunate as I use my advantages for the benefit of all those other people born into less fortunate circumstances--with the proviso that what what appeares "less fortunate" may in fact contain the makings of heroism. Or, to turn this all inside-out: is the person born into difficult circumstances not--at least sometimes--blessed by having been given a life that demands focus & concentration? But then how many wasted lives are there for every revolutionary hero who transforms her circumstnaces?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:43 PM.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
This is the first week this winter that we have really had to deal with snow. We've gotten quite a bit of accumulation the last couple of days & it's snowing hard now. All of my reading has been directed toward the two classes I'm teaching this semester & hasn't felt the least bit leisurely. Hurried & fragmented. Still, driving into work this morning through the snow, eating a banana, I was very happy, consciously so. Filled by thinking. Well, who says reading should always be a leisurely activity? Reading is just reading. Maybe. Modes of reading? Reading for information, reading as meditation. Reading to see what's around the corner, reading the back of the Shredded Wheat box; reading the weather, reading the trail. And so on forever, always reading.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:48 AM.
Monday, January 14, 2002
Surprisingly cold this morning-- 1 F when I went out on the porch to get wood for the stove. Clear blue sky. When it's this cold everything wants to crack or break, not bend: ice, firewood, crust of snow, a twig on the path. The old hound, who isn't feeling well anyway, really hates the cold.
Reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations with my pal Chris Robinson & leaving a record, in case anyone is interested in reading what two guys are thinking about their reading! Seriously, this project is an experiment in using a blog as an intellectual / scholarly tool & so far seems to be demonstrating the applicability of the technology. Aside: Construct a list of new literary genres &/or forms made possible by networked writing systems.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:13 AM.
Sunday, January 13, 2002
A good midwinter morning. Started off gray & snowing, about 25 F. Then the wind picked up, knocking the snow off the spruces, cedars & pines in streaming curtains. Now the clouds are breaking up--mottled white & gray with creases of blue. I love writing about the waether, but I'm a lightweight compared to Kurt:
°C (39.2°F) Extravagant. Generous. Beautiful. Driving home today I noticed the clouds before sunset: wild strokes - expansive gestures covering half the sky. Each turn, each break in the trees revealed a totally new perspective. // -2°C (28.4°F) Crisp and clear this morning. The entire horizon, even to the west, was pink at sunrise. You wouldn't think pink could easily fade into blue, but that's what it did. The sun's light was warmer - yellower, oranger (is that a word?) - than usual for winter. It made the tree limbs into a warm brown, like in mid-autumn - like chocolate. [Viviculture]
Those are phenomena that have struck me, too, but I've never described them, even to myself, so clearly.
Thursday, January 10, 2002
Very odd weather here by the river. Two nights ago it was -6 F, yesterday we got 6" of snow & today it was 40 & raining. Nasty slush like we don't usually see until March. This being the first day of classes, I was assigning more reading than I was doing. That & trying to get all the webpages for my classes organized--a little difficult because I am using two new computers & still bringing files over from an old machine. So there is the tedium of moving lots of files around. Every once in a while, though, in the midst of some cut & paste I am struck by how amazingly powerful the technology is. The fact that I can move large collections of information around in a space that is half-real & half-abstract demonstrates . . . I'm not sure what, quite. But for a guy whose first keyboard was an Olympia portable typewriter given to him by his mother as a 16th birthday present . . . it gives me pause. And then today talking to my honors hypertext class I gave a little panegyric on the profundity of Universal Resource Locators. We used to ask my grandmother what it was like to live in a world in which manned flight had come into being & the automobile become common. As I recall, we were disappointed by her response: the changes had come so gradually that one barely noticed them, she told us kids.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:36 PM.
Tuesday, January 08, 2002
Reading now against the law: The day Ashcroft censored Freedom of Information "The president didn't ask the networks for television time. The attorney general didn't hold a press conference. The media didn't report any dramatic change in governmental policy. As a result, most Americans had no idea that one of their most precious freedoms disappeared on Oct. 12.
Yet it happened. In a memo that slipped beneath the political radar, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft vigorously urged federal agencies to resist most Freedom of Information Act requests made by American citizens."
Combine this action with President Bush's executive order (#13233) sealing presidential records effectively forever & you see the drift toward totalitarianism. No government can control its citizens' behavior without controlling their minds & part of that task is manipulating what it is allowable to read / know.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:55 PM.
Monday, January 07, 2002
After taking the dogs out tonight I grabbed the binoculars & went back outside. A few degrees above one of the big white pines in front of the house I focused on the Pleiades--an astonishing cup of jewels. I don't think there is anything more beautiful than the night sky. Coming in, I saw that--despite the current above the rapids--the river is skimmed with ice from bank to bank for the first time this winter. The stove is hot & full of last year's seasoned maple & birch; I'm about to climb into bed & read the bio of Ho Chi Minh that has been my main book the last few weeks.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:41 PM.
Mr. President, we are incredulous: Bush, on Offense, Says He'll Fight to Keep Tax Cuts "Adjusting for inflation, the income of families in the middle of the U.S. income distribution rose from $41,400 in 1979 to $45,100 in 1997, a 9 percent increase. Meanwhile the income of families in the top 1 percent rose from $420,200 to $1.016 million, a 140 percent increase. Or to put it another way, the income of families in the top 1 percent was 10 times that of typical families in 1979, and 23 times and rising in 1997. [. . .] Republicans have moved so far to the right that ordinary voters have trouble taking it in; as I pointed out in an earlier column, focus groups literally refused to believe accurate descriptions of the stimulus bill that House Republican leaders passed on a party-line vote back in October." [Paul Krugman in last Sunday's NY Times (emphasis added)]
"While never mentioning Mr. Daschle's name today, President Bush used a "town meeting" in Ontario, Calif., to ridicule the Democratic leader's critique of the effects of the tax cut last year. He urged Americans to rally behind his economic program, stalled in the Senate, the way they rallied behind his war." [NY Times 1.7.02]
If we had honest reporting, at least of few of those Americans who can't fucking believe the truth might see just exactly what sort of barrel they are being stretched over & what sort of corncob is being stuffed up their asses.
[I guess this would be an example of opinion journalism--the intractable facts as I see 'em.]
Journalism or journal?: Mike Sanders' Keep Trying weblog has been the site of a very interesting discussion this week on the nature of blogging & it's relationship to journalism. I've only been blogging since October & I don't pretend to have a fix on the phenomenon, but I am skeptical of those who want to say that weblogging is either this thing or that thing. I began my reading & writing blog as a reading journal with links to resources that seemed relevant; I thought of it as "semi-public" (I have never trusted people who say, "I only write for myself.") & have been quite surprised by the number of times people have clicked on my URL.
If "opinion journalism" is mere assertion, it's no better than half the freshman papers I read every semester; but if the opinions are founded on structures of ideas, then it amounts to interpretation or criticism, both of which have time-honored places in intellectual discourse. Here's the thing about ideas that makes them different from opinions: ideas have a tendency to stick together into forms or structures that make sense, that are coherent, that reflect our general experience. Structures that make sense, that are coherent, also have a way of letting us deal effectively with the world. When the structures become rigid, they turn into ideology & what Marx called "false consciousness." Caveat: there are likely to be competing coherent views of the world: this is called pluralism.
I am interested in weblogging as a potential intellectual tool. My friend & colleague Chris Robinson & I have just begun a new blog in which we will record our joint reading(s) of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Is this a journal or journalism? Does it matter? We are trying to use the software available to us as an intellectual tool. Weblogging, I think, is at its core about process, not produce--though the product may be very interesting.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:18 PM.
Reading the night sky: Just went out to bring in stovewood for the night. This is usually Carole's chore, but she is in NYC at a papermaking workshop this week. The sky is flat, deep black--temperature hovering at zero F & we'll probably hit -10 tonight. The atmosphere so still the stars absolutely distinct, unwavering; no moon. Orion, Cassiopeia, Jupiter all visible above the trees along the river.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:05 PM.
Sunday, January 06, 2002
Reading the future: America the Polarized "I know from experience that even mentioning income distribution leads to angry accusations of 'class warfare,' but anyway here's what the (truly) nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently found: Adjusting for inflation, the income of families in the middle of the U.S. income distribution rose from $41,400 in 1979 to $45,100 in 1997, a 9 percent increase. Meanwhile the income of families in the top 1 percent rose from $420,200 to $1.016 million, a 140 percent increase. Or to put it another way, the income of families in the top 1 percent was 10 times that of typical families in 1979, and 23 times and rising in 1997. [. . .] Republicans have moved so far to the right that ordinary voters have trouble taking it in; as I pointed out in an earlier column, focus groups literally refused to believe accurate descriptions of the stimulus bill that House Republican leaders passed on a party-line vote back in October." [Paul Krugman]
How deep does the divide have to go before we have a breakdown in the social contract?
Maybe I should get back to discussing book reviewing. Actually, I've been following with interest the discussion Mike Sanders has been having at Keep Trying on the subject of journalism. Because it's late (for me), I'm not going to pitch in until tomorrow, but I'd suggest to Mike & anyone else who's interested that opinion, yes, is a belief that's held without necessary reference to the facts; but I'm not sure that facts are at the opposite end of a continuum from opinion. Facts, I think, are intractable; ideas, however, we can get out minds around. The defining quality of ideas is that they fit together into systems that make sense. That make sense, first, of their own relations (logic) & --maybe--then make sense of the facts (science).
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:11 PM.
Carpe fucking diem: "In about two billion years Earth will become uninhabitable as a gradually warming Sun produces a runaway greenhouse effect. In five billion years the Sun will swell up and die, burning the Earth to a crisp in the process. At about the same time the Milky Way will collide with its twin the Andromeda galaxy, now about two million light-years away and closing fast, spewing stars, gas and planets across intergalactic space. // Any civilization that managed to survive these events would face a future of increasing ignorance and darkness as the accelerating cosmic expansion rushes most of the universe away from us. 'Our ability to know about the universe will decrease with time,' said Dr. Krauss. 'The longer you wait, the less you see, the opposite of what we always thought'." [NY Times 1.1.02] Best I can tell from all this is that we poor human bodies are inside a black hole that is expanding more or less rapidly & slowly emitting Hawking Radiation . . . (but emitting it where?) Happy New Year!
Last night, after a day of low clouds & light snow, the sky cleared at dusk. I went out by the river with the dogs & the sky as a translucent blue, glowing but cold. It was about 10 degrees F. I had to go pick Carole up at work so we could go meet friends for a beer & as I was topping the hill on Rt. 56 between South Colton & Colton, the entire horizon, ragged with evergreens, was glowing peach / pink, shading into that china blue. There is no way one can describe the limpid depth of such light--at best, I can point to it with words. Wittgenstein's famous indicative feature of language--the sentence as gesture or recognition. Later, coming home after dinner in Potsdam, the sky was brilliantly clear, the constellations standing out against the random field of stars--the sort of sky that can be read, that presents the human mind with signs by which to navigate, not only externally but internally as well. (Any good navigator will know that the stars in the sky are also stars in the mind & that the stars in the mind depend upon the stars in the sky. And then I came home & read this from the NY Times:
"In the last four years astronomers have reported evidence that the expansion of the universe is not just continuing but is speeding up, under the influence of a mysterious "dark energy," an antigravity that seems to be embedded in space itself. If that is true and the universe goes on accelerating, astronomers say, rather than coasting gently into the night, distant galaxies will eventually be moving apart so quickly that they cannot communicate with one another. In effect, it would be like living in the middle of a black hole that kept getting emptier and colder. // In such a universe, some physicists say, the usual methods of formulating physics may not all apply. Instead of new worlds coming into view, old ones would constantly be disappearing over the horizon, lost from view forever. // Cosmological knowledge would be fragmented, with different observers doomed to seeing different pieces of the puzzle and no single observer able to know the fate of the whole universe or arrive at a theory of physics that was more than approximate."
Though no one reading this will be around to see it thirty billion earth years hence & the earth itself will have been consumed when the Sun expands into a red giant, there is something unsettling to the fragile human ego about the stars winking out & even more unsettling that the ability to know the world would, if our consciousness found a way to survive, be limited, fragmented, uncertain. But wait--our consciousness is already limited, fragmented, uncertain. The whole anxiety is the result of the delusion that science is potentially omniscient.
Wednesday, January 02, 2002
In working my way through the pile of review copies for Poetry International I have come to the conclusion that the categories usually used to talk about & sort out contemporary American poetry no longer reflect reality even vaguely. In discussions at conferences & on mailing lists & in the hallways of English departments terms like "language poetry," "experimental poetry," "mainstream," "New Formalist," "confessional," "deep image" & etc. get tossed around confidently as if we knew what they refer to. But simple empiricism gives this confidence the lie--books like Matthew Cooperman's A Sacrificial Zinc & Janet Holmes' Humanophone make hash out of such distinctions. I have myself been too often guilty of lazy category-making, or assigning & my intellectual New Year's resolution is to avoid this kind of thinking from here on out.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:53 AM.
Tuesday, January 01, 2002
A defense of book reviewing: Well, it's a very focused kind of reading. At it's worst it amounts to racking up points with publishers & other writers whose books you puff; at best, it offers an oppo0rtunity to stake out territory & make meaningful distinctions. Scholarly reviewing (History, Sociology, even Literature) needs to be distinguished from literary reviewing, I think. Academic reviews are mostly informational. When poets review other poets, though, the process can be a way of establishing the ground on which one wants to dance. For me, over the last five years, it has been a way of encountering kinds of poetry I would have missed. (For what it's worth, my conclusion is that the categories usually mentioned: mainstream, workshop, experimental, language, visual, political, & etc. are mostly irrelevant to the practice of actual poets. The list of books in a previous entry represent not only a wide range of types, but a wild mixing of types. Something I hope to pursue here in the coming weeks is this wild admixing & breaking of boundaries in contemporary American poetry. Maybe it would be worth creating a poetry book review blog with ten or fifteen reviewers as members. It's a notion to pursue.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:12 PM.
Why do the deaths of animals touch us so deeply? This story just makes me swirl into a vortex of sadness. Perhaps because a terrier is the apple of my eye. When we love a dog--or any other animal--the love is pure. Uncomplicated by the difficulties of human families & communities. Relationships with animals have their own complexities & depths, but they tend to be free of human pettiness--at least on the part of the animals. My old dog Mingo, who died three years ago, is still a member of the family--we still talk about him & remember his ways. When I walk down by the river & pass the stones heaped over the grave, I always greet him with a "Good Dog!" Sentimental? Maybe. True to the depths of our animal faith? I think so: "In 1912 he moved to Europe, living three years in England, then in France, and moving finally to Rome (1925-52). In 1923 he published SCEPTICISM AND ANIMAL FAITH, in which he formulated ideas of scepticism. According to Santayana, all rational processes are expressions of animal compulsion to believe certain things, such as the existence of matter. We have an irresistible urge ('animal faith') to believe in the independence of the external world. Further, Santayana distinguishes between existence and being - the latter has four realms: essence, matter, truth and spirit. Matter is external to consciousness, and all existence is grounded in matter. Spirit and body are realizations of the same fact in incomparable realms of being."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:35 PM.