joseph duemer: reading & writing
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Wednesday, July 31, 2002
The morally bankrupt Congress "The timing is also peculiarly callous. With our "jobless recovery" and the stock market slide, escalating healthcare and drug costs, bankruptcies like that of WorldCom, and thousands of layoffs, many American workers will soon find that their government has just made it much harder for them to receive the fresh financial start that centuries of law have established as a necessary tool of a functioning free market." [Salon]

I'm a fortunate son. I have tenure. My credit is okay. I probably won't need the bankruptcy laws, though you never know. I get three or four credit card come ons in the mail every damn day. Let's be clear: reputable studies demonstrate that the vast majority of middle-class bankruptcies are the result of job loss or medical problems. The canard of the credit card companies that tighter regulation of bankruptcy will discourage irresponsible use of credit is . . . a canard--like the welfare queen so beloved by Ronald Reagan. Apparently, personal responsibility is important if you are an average Joe, but somehow not relevant if you're an Enron executive, or a Halliburton executive, or a Harken executive. You know, I haven't heard much from moralist William Bennett lately. Strange. Who is being irresponsible here?

"Studies have shown that the vast majority of persons who declare bankruptcy are indeed broke. The Consumer Federation of America has shown that lenders are responsible for unwisely approving too much credit-card debt. Consumers League has opposed so-called "bankruptcy reform" which would restrict consumers' ability to use the bankruptcy process. While we recognize that there have been occasional abuses by high income debtors manipulating the system, the pending bills would harm the average middle-class bankrupt by making it much harder to get the fresh start which has been, for 100 years, the purpose of bankruptcy."

It's really not much of a democracy anymore, is it? Shouldn't we own up to the fact that the US is governed by an oligarchy? Such an admission would at least begin the process of clearing our political language of cant. The poet James Wright wrote, in "Ars Poetica: Some Recent Criticism," Reader, we had a lovely language / We would not listen. Wright concludes the poem with a turn toward the oligarchy (though he is too subtle to call it that): Ah, you bastards / How I hate you.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:07 PM.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Coming soon: How you can identify bad poetry & by analogy, bad theology.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:53 PM.

Badd juju: Donald Rumsfeld says that air power alone won't take out Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." Never mind that there has been no really credible evidence published establishing that Iraq has such weapons & no one in the administration has presented a plausible scenario for what a post-war Middle East will look like. (My guess: greater instability, burning oil fields, continued two-way terror between Israel & the Palestinians, demands for a Kurdish state & Turkish resistance to the idea . . .) How many American soldiers will it cost to establish our "credibility"? I'm old enough to remember Vietnam. Weirdly, though, there hasn't been much propaganda from the government about America's place in the world--the language coming from the Republican hawks has more of the tone of a family feud, in which the grievances are assumed & do not have to be demonstrated. Add to this the fundamentalist Christian pre-millenniumism prevalent among our political leaders & what you have is the makings of a holy war, waged not on rational, but emotional & religious grounds. The central analytical question we have to ask ourselves, the question upon we must meditate, is: Who will suffer in this war?

"O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." [Hamlet II.ii]

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:46 PM.

Finally got around to putting my links in order & will be adding a few more in the coming days.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:23 AM.

Reading Mike Golby's thoughts on an American--& that it would be specifically American is part of Golby's point--attack on Iraq, a feeling of dread & revulsion began to rise into my consciousness the likes of which I haven't felt since 1970 when Nixon & Co. bombed Cambodia & shot down American students at Kent State & Jackson State. And just then a military jet roared over my house at about 1000 feet. Though some readers of this journal will know that I live on the idyllic edge of the Adirondack Park, I also live 90 miles north of Fort Drum & its airfield. The military pilots train by flying a "racetrack" over the mountains. In my fantasies, the pilots use my house, which sits high on a wooded bluff, to line up their gunsights. Click, click, they whisper, pretending to pull the trigger.

Last night was hot & I had trouble falling asleep. Soon after I dozed off I had a dream in which I was observing a group of soldiers setting an ambush along a trail, but then I was one of the soldiers, lying in damp grass cradling a rifle & then suddenly a huge enemy soldier was standing above me--he was American--"Get up," he said, kicking me in the small of the back. I woke with a start, but the feeling of the soldier's presence was so strong, I had to turn over & look to make sure there was not in fact someone standing behind me. A bad moon on the rise. In right-wing pre-millenniumist theology, Baghdad is sometimes portrayed as the Devil's headquarters. You remember the devil, last seen scurrying away with his tail between his legs at the end of the Middle Ages? He's back, along with the whole theological kit & caboodle that props him up.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:42 AM.

Monday, July 29, 2002
Kashmiri poetry engages contemporary realities: "Irises, a token of grief and mourning that are traditionally grown in Kashmir's graveyards, are now the central metaphor rather than an idyllic image of the cold peaceful breeze on Dal lake - an emblem of Kashmir's natural beauty and once a favourite honeymoon destination. In the couplets that portray feminine characters, the beautiful face of a beloved is replaced by the gloom and distrust of Kashmiri women. Kashmir no longer symbolises paradise, but a heaven on fire." [Guardian Unlimited]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:31 PM.

I care for neither fugues nor feathers.
What interests me most is the people
Who have always interested me most,
To see them without their passions
And to understand them.

[Wallace Stevens, "Lytton Strachey, Also, Enters into Heaven"]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:12 AM.

Sunday, July 28, 2002
Tenacity: "Then, at 10:16 p.m. Saturday, rescuers bored through the ceiling where the miners were trapped. The breakthrough let workers drop a telephone line to the miners and confirm they were alive. One of the miners reportedly requested chewing tobacco. As a result, Conemaugh hospital got more chewing tobacco than it knew what to do with -- though doctors wouldn't immediately allow it, or the beer some miners requested -- for fear of dehydration. At the hospital, hunger overtook the miners, who 'pretty much devoured anything that was put in front of them' -- doughnuts, sandwiches, soup and coffee, Dumire said." [AP / NY Times]

Just very happy about this. I don't chew, but godalmighty how I'd want a beer if I had just been pulled up out of that hole. Time for the "knowledge workers" to pay homage to the people who still work with the knowledge that suffuses the human body. It is, finally & at bottom, a specifically moral knowledge that imbures the body with courage: "The miners, Dumire said, 'decided early on they were either going to live or die as a group'. [. . . ] At another point . . . Thomas Foy, 51, 'tied us all together so we wouldn't float away from each other,' Mayhugh said."

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:01 PM.

Friday, July 26, 2002
Jeff Ward at Visible Darkness writes: " I don't care for free verse. I suppose that’s why I’d really rather read Wordsworth than Whitman. But that’s just a personal bias. I agree with Blake that there should be no competition between poets, and with Thomas DeQuincey that works of literature don’t replace each other, no more than the sight of a new pastoral valley supplants the ones before it." I write "free verse," so I suppose it is up to me to defend the genre, but before I do that I'd like to say that I, too, would rather read Wordsworth than Whitman, though there are passages of Whitman--"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," for one--that are so right about the world that form seems not only appropriate, but somehow ontologically right. Pound famously called Whitman "that exceedingly noxious pill" or something like that & he has a point: What I find most difficult to swallow in Whitman is his great good cheer, optimism, manifest destiny & the rest.

Okay, free verse: Driving into work this morning Garrison Keillor, read part of a poem by neo-formalist Frederick Feirstein on The Writer's Almanac [scroll down through the week]. It was bloody awful thumping along with its bass drum rhymes & clumsy enjambments & awkward trochaic substitutions. (Compare the Kipling and Graves poems from earlier in the week for metrical felicity.) Take a listen to the way the phrase "rock-n-roll fits" into the penultimate line. Ouch. With few exceptions, I find the majority of contemporary metrical free verse--especially that written in American English--awkward in music & hackneyed in language. Now that's painting with a pretty broad brush, I admit, but a look through the flagship anthology Rebel Angels presents a fair amount of evidence for the case I'm trying to make. And for a devastating review of that book by Elliot Weinberger, see Jacket 6.

A thought while falling asleep: By claiming the the idea of poetic form through the use of the word formalism, the social conservatives in the New Formalist movement have sought to colonize the very idea of form; the trouble is that their notions of form--essentially, rhyme & meter--mistake surface characteristics for deep understanding. In order to accept the New Formalist party line, you'd have to toss out all of the later Blake & about half of Wallace Stevens, to take only two examples of poetic genius. Versification: Two of the masters of metrical verse in the later 20th century are Donald Justice & Hayden Carruth. Interesting how the New Formalists (their name for themselves; most legitimate literary movements are named derisively by their foes, then adopt the name as a badge of honor) honor Justice--well, half of him--& ignore Carruth, whose metrics, I suspect, are beyond the sensititivities of Dana Gioia, Paul Lake, David Mason & the rest of them, who instead promote the suburban baroque of Richard Wilbur. Conservative pundit Bruce Bawer--part of the Andrew Sullivan orbit of gay Christian right-wingers, I believe--praises my old teacher Donald Justice with faint damns, slicing away the body of work composed under the influence of Lorca, Neruda & etc. & elevating the more traditionally metered poetry of this master. And thought the NFs from time to time argue disingenuously that theirs is not a political movement, their own statements give the lie to this assertion: "The return to tonality in serious music, to representation in painting, to decorative detail and nonfunctional design in architecture will link with poetry's reaffirmation of song and story as the most pervasive development of the American arts toward the end of this century." [Dana Gioia, from Can Poetry Matter?]

I take particular exception to Gioia claiming song as his own; my own work as a poet is rooted firmly in the Childe Ballads (especially "Barbry Allen" & "Sir Patrick Spens"), Blake & Wordsworth, but also William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound & the so-called Confessional Poets: Lowell, Plath, Sexton,

Berryman, Roethke. Many of the poems in my most recent book, Magical Thinking, adopt a four-line stanza that derives directly from ballads; many of the longer-lined poems go back to Blake as a model. So my quarrel with the New Formalism reduces to two points: 1) My opposition to a reductive & narrow view of poetic form; 2) My opposition the the kind of cagey cultural conservatism that attempts to pass itself off as a merely aesthetic program. There is nothing "mere" about aesthetic programs. . . Well, a lot of this seems like an attempt to get myself on record; not entirely happy with my own tone here.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:11 AM.

Thursday, July 25, 2002
More on William Blake on my other weblog today. Funny how the old guy keeps coming around.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:48 PM.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Jeff Ward is reading the British Romantics, with whom I have my own troubled history as a poet:

"Blake indicted Rousseau for the same reason; he felt that the natural state of man was barbarity, and that man was only saved through religion— and that religion had no analogue in nature. You might get the impression that Blake hated Wordsworth. This isn’t the case— Blake put x’s near many poems in the volume, and commented favorably on them in his conversations with Crabbe-Robinson. Blake thought Wordsworth was misdirected— a crap theorist, though a fine poet. Underneath “To HC: Six Years Old” Blake wrote:"

This is all in the highest degree Imaginative & equal to any Poet but not Superior I cannot think that Real Poets have any competition None are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven so it is so in Poetry

"This is a thought I can agree with. I never sought to pit Henry Miller against Wordsworth in a celebrity death-match, though I figure that the old drunkard could take him easily. I also found myself just nodding in agreement reading Blake’s take on the role of natural objects in poetry. The whole nature schtick seems to be a red herring, and there is a lot to value in Wordsworth that has nothing to do with gazing at the brush waiting for God to come out."

Natural Objects always did & now do Weaken deaden & obliterate Imagination in Me Wordsworth must know that what he Writes Valuable is Not to be found in Nature

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ezra Pound (no lover of Wordsworth) would write, "The natural object is always the adequate symbol." [ABC of Reading, somewhere near the beginning] This was a gesture toward empiricism & the "scientific method," which Pound misunderstood in fundamental ways. Still, I took it as something like a credo when I was a young man & wrote poems rooted in the world of natural objects. How then explain my continuing love of William Blake? Well, for Blake, the world of Imagination represented the ultimate religious & human truth; nevertheless--I'm working from memory here--doesn't Blake use the metaphor of a hot air balloon? Doesn't he say that imagination requires "ballast" in the form of sacks of earth? And he certainly sees Imagination in a dialectical relationship to Reason, without which Imagination becomes diffuse. So I don't think there is a contradiction here. Blake saw in Wordsworth a great Imagination with the wrong emphasis; had Wordsworth taken theoretical notice of Blake, he would have said much the same thing. In a letter, Wordsworth describes the sensation he had as a child, of being carried away by his Imagination & having to grab onto a rock in order to keep himself in the world of physical objects.

For my money, you can keep your Keats & Byron & even Shelley--the two greatest poets among the British Romantics were Blake & Wordsworth.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:00 PM.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Briefest reply: what the hell is hermeneutics? Actually, my old professor Larry Frank explained it once to a class in British Romantic Poetry as "passing one's hands over a text to see what sorts of vibrations rose from it." This would have been 1970 & Larry was just emerging for what I would call his Classical Freudian Phase. He was headed toward a brief affair with Marx, then deeply passionate marriage with the unlikely figure of Charles Darwin. Though professor Frank's remark about hermeneutics was mildly satirical, he went on to explain the importance of biblical hermeneutics for literary studies in general; also the effect that biblical studies had had on the poets we were studying: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge.

AKMA has pulled me into this discussion presumably because he believes I know something about the early 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Perhaps I do know something, but I'm no philosopher, I just play one on the Internet. Anyway, here's a first stab at making a distinction between AKMA's hermeneutics & those of Pat Roberston: AKMA's reading of the texts add up; they make sense in the actual world we inhabit. Mr. Robertson's interpretations of the bible don't add up; they fail to work in the world we inhabit without all sorts of Ptolemaic circles within circles of false consciousness. Trouble is, Dad, that's just the way we see it from this neighborhood; Robertson has a neighborhood, too, & the folks there have to work things out for themselves. I grew up in just such a neighborhood, which is why I know it doesn't work. I remember being taken to a lecture as a 14-year-old interested in science by some crackpot who had published a pamphlet demonstrating why Einstein's General Theory was in error. The lecture was sponsored by my church. This was not knowledgable skepticism about science (which I'm happy to embrace), but an ideological rear-gaurd action against "relativism." Well, relativism is all I've got, since, unlike AKMA, I'm an animist or maybe a polytheist. Okay, Wittgenstein: The idea of language games, which W. develops in his later philosophy, is crucial here. Language games are always provisional in terms of "ultimate reality," but still need to be self-consistent within certain ranges of rules & meanings. For instance, on an email discussion list once, where the "game" was to discuss poetry, a list member took it upon herself to play with being several different identities; it's not that this was wrong or even meaningless, but it was inappropriate, not in the sense of ettiquette--though it was rude--but in the sense of meaning. On the list, then, we had a member who insisted on playing her own game while we were all trying to play another. [Later thought: You could argue that she was playing a meta-game & that meta-games are intrinsically within the rules of a particular language game; the met-game, though, disrupts the game, jams the gears.]

I think there is a way of judging language games, though I'm not sure I can describe it rigorously. Briefly, the best, most effective, most functional games work within a human context to promote what I would call intelligence, curiosity, imagination. I agree with AKMA that (to use Coleridge's famous distinction), imagination is something quite different from mere fancy. In this light, Pat Robertson's theology fails while AKMA's succeeeds. In my view, though, every system of meaning is provisional even if some are better than others.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:22 PM.

Just found out I'll be talking about literary blogging at the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Baltimore next spring. At this point, it appears that my colleague Charles Harper Webb & I will blog poetry & poetics between now & next spring, then assess the experiment in a conference presentation. Maybe there will be some live-blogging going down. More details as I have them.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:31 PM.

Saturday, July 20, 2002
I've been getting away from politics here lately, what with the endless strife, but this merits attention for the clarity with which it describes class in American society:

"What kills the President is that every time Harken comes up, Democrats get to retell the story of how he made his money. And this, basically, is the story of the spectacular unfairness with which moneymaking opportunities are lavished on the politically connected. It is the story of a man who has been rewarded for repeated failures by having money shot at him through a fire hose. It is the story of a man who talks with a straight face about having "earned" a fortune of tens of millions of dollars, without having ever done an honest day’s work in his life." [Chris Caldwell writing in the New York Press]

Caldwell is a conservative. First Lou Dobbs, then this. What I can't figure out is how come the Dems in Congress are so supine. Riddle me this: I have a nice middle class income & I am nevertheless filled with resentment & loathing toward GWB, who has clearly established a record of failing his way to success; so how come all my working class neighbors are big Bush fans? Is it because he embodies their fantasies of hitting the lotto jackpot? At least when I go to sleep at night I can rest content that my family did not put me through university, nor ever get me a job, or present an investment opportunity; every penny I've earned I have earned by work of one kind or another. When I was younger I worked as a cook, restaurant manager, bartender, construction laborer, & factory worker; after getting a couple of degrees, I have worked as a journalist, teacher & writer. I'm only a few years younger than the president, but everything I have I have gotten on my own initiative. Frankly, though I am a left-libertarian-populist, I think conservatives ought to feel ashamed of themselves for supporting a mama's-boy fuck-up like GWB. I mean, he represents everything I find disgusting in American society, but I'd think that real conservatives--as opposed to mind-drones suffused with false consciousness--would find the man equally repulsive.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:33 PM.

Friday, July 19, 2002
I'll stipulate right at the start that it's impossible to use language to describe the taste of food. There is Proust with his Madeline & his million words, after all. Anyhow, today Angie & Carole went to Ottawa, leaving me with the (previously noted) five dogs. They returned with a new grater for me, with six sides, very solid & recommended by Cook's Illustrated. They also brought home a selection of sausages from our favorite meat store: lamb w/ garlic, pheasant, & a little sort or hot North African number, all of which I cooked on the grill over a birch fire. Also grilled big chunks of fresh pineapple to eat with the sausage. If you haven't tried grilled pineapple plus pork, well, you haven't been to the same heaven I've been to. We had a salad of mixed greens, grilled peppers & grilled radicchio with just a little olive oil & lemon juice. Hummus, olives & a baguette finished things off. Washed it down with an Argentinean Malbec from Almos. This was another of our "best meals" this summer. One of many. Carole also got a cute dog-shaped rug at Ikea for the bathroom. We're going to get a second one & lay them on the floor soixante-neuf.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:25 PM.

Five dogs again today. Every once in a while I do a head count to make sure I haven't left one wandering along the river. (Note: the first name I came up with for this blog was "What the Dogs are Doing & What I'm Reading.")
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:40 PM.

Thursday, July 18, 2002
Rescue: All the cool guys in South Colton are in the Rescue Squad, but we'll get back to that. Anyone who has looked in on this open notebook over the last several months might remember that I live on a river in northern New York State. The River, the Raquette, has the distinction--someone told me years ago--of being the "most-dammed small river in North America." The Raquette originates in the Adirondack Mountains & flows to the St. Lawrence River. This is what it looked like in 1904 upstream from my house:

In fact, it would have looked much like that at my house until the 1950s when hydroelectric dams began to be built along the course of the river. There are now 17 dams & my house is about a half mile below one of them & across the river from a powerhouse. Though when I look out my front window or even walk down to the water, I can't see the powerhouse, the river I live on is effectively a work of human engineering. The thing you don't realize about such a river is that its level can rise & fall, not seasonally or in response to a downpour from a thunderstorm, but as a result of human will. Human will is notoriously erratic & so it is with the level of the river. Depending on an unpredictable combination of seasonal variation in flow, the need for electricity, & the malfunction of engineered systems, the river can rise or fall several feet in twenty to thirty minutes. Folks who live along this stretch of the river are aware of this & adapt their activities accordingly. Our little road, called Mill Street because there once was a starch mill here, ends at a waterfall that in the old days would have looked a lot like Buttermilk Falls (pictured above), but which is usually not much more than an ankle-deep stream emptying into a lovely swimming hole at the bottom of the falls, most of the water having been diverted through a long pipe to the power plant. For fifty years, since the dam was built, folks have been coming down our road to sit in the sun on the rocks & take a dip in the icy river.

Yesterday I was feeling lazy & came home from my office at school a little early. First thing when you get home around here is to take the dogs out. We were walking down toward the end of the road & I noticed the level of the river was up--I could hear it before I could see it. It's a little unusual this time of year for the river to be spilling over the dam, but not that unusual, given the unpredictable interactions of man & nature. I also notice a slightly dilapidated, older car at the end of the road--also not unusual. Most of my neighbors in this rural hamlet drive just such cars. But as the dogs & I entered the woods at the end of the road, we saw that there were three girls trapped on one of the old mill footings about thirty feet from the bank. The river had risen suddenly, trapping them. I hollered across the roar of the water that the river never rose above where they were stranded & that they should sit tight--I would go get a rope. I took the dogs back to the house & got a nylon rope out of the shed, to which I tied a chunk of firewood. After several attempts, I managed to fling the rope over to them & one of the girls secured it to a piece of iron in the old mill foundation. I got the other end secured to a tree. My plan was that they would be able to use the rope to steady themselves while coming across the waist-deep water. We didn't count on the strength of the current. When the oldest of the girls tried to come across she was swept off her feet & barely struggled back to the rock she had been on. Had she let go, she would have been swept down a narrow schute of water over jagged rocks & old treetrunks. In the process of getting back to safety, she cut a gash in her foot.

At this point I realized that we were going to need help, so I went back to the house & called the rescue squad. The siren sounded over at the station & inside of 90 seconds one of the squad had showed up. He called in the situation & before long there were fifteen cars, two firetrucks & an ambulance at the end of my little road. The members of the VFD used my light line to get a bigger rope across to the girls, but the river was really going by then, a foot of water coming over the dam a half mile upstream. SMcR, one of the chiefs & I guy I know because I bought a chainsaw from him, got on his cellphone & began talking to the power company who runs the powerplant. It wasn't long before a couple of there guys showed up & told us that they were "going to shut the river down." Two or three dams up the chain of reservoirs that is the modern Raquette, switches were thrown, sluice gates were closed & in 90 minutes, the flow at South Colton had decreased enough for the Rescue Squad to go across & lay a ladder over the river so the girls could crawl to safety. The EMT insisted that the girl with the cut foot get on a stretcher & I had the great honor of being one of the four guys who carried her to the ambulance. She went to get her foot stitched up & I retrieved my rope. As I was walking back toward my house, one of the Rescue Squad guys leaned out the window of the pumper & said, "You might as well join." For a "professor at the college," which is how most of my neighbors know me, it was a sentence freighted with honor. As he was getting into his car, the Chief said to everyone, "Good Job, nobody got hurt. Let's go." The final two words were necessary, though almost no one was conscious of the necessity: there is a deep, subtle pleasure in situations where people pull together for some good. This, surely, was what Kurt Vonnegut was getting at in his praise of volunteer firemen in God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:29 PM.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002
Amazing selections from Laura Riding's Anarchism Is Not Enough from Bellona Times. Here's one aphorism titled "A Complicated Problem": "A complicated problem is only further complicated by being simplified. A state of confusion is never made comprehensible by being given a plot. Appearances do not deceive if there are enough of them. The truth is always laid out in an infinite number of circles tending to become, but never becoming, concentric--except occasionally in poetry."

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:54 PM.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:11 PM.

We Have Fed You All For A Thousand Years

We have fed you all, for a thousand years
And you hail us still unfed,
Though there's never a dollar of all your wealth
But marks the workers dead.
We have yielded our best to give you rest
And you lie on crimson wool.
Then if blood be the price of all your wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in full.

There is never a mine blown skyward now
But we're buried alive for you.
There's never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew.
Go reckon our dead by the forges red
And the factories where we spin.
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth
Good God! We have paid it in.

We have fed you all for a thousand years—
For that was our doom, you know,
From the days when you chained us in your fields
To the strike of a week ago.
You have taken our lives, and our babies and wives,
And we're told it's your legal share;
But if blood be the price of your lawful wealth
Good God! We have bought it fair.

[from The Little Red Songbook, published by the Industrial Workers of the World circa 1904]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:00 PM.

Trouble in the board room: I don't usually watch CNN's Moneyline with Lou Dobbs, but I was flipping around last night & came in while Dobbs was offering the thoughts linked above. I haven't had CNN on for more than a few minutes since I lived in Vietnam during the last presidential election & I still think of it as the house organ of Globalization, but I couldn't push the little button under my thumb: after Moneyline comes Cossfire--featuring an interview with Dobbs in which he was roasting the administration & the CEOs of America for breaking faith with ordinary investors. If you're a Republican pol & Lou Dobbs is tearing you a new one, you've got trouble & that's spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E. [Can't find a transcript of this one.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:07 AM.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002
The Resident's Amazon Wishlist [via Bitter Shack via American Samizdat]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:34 PM.

Daisy the burned dog: We all know that human beings invented evil. One of our kind did this to a harmless puppy:

Send your donations via Paypal to the North Texas Humane Society--use the button in the upper left corner of their homepage. The vet bill is $300 a day & though Daisy is doing better she still will have a long recovery. Please help. [Story via Bitter Shack] They caught the guy. I've never been in a fight or hit anyone since I was six years old, but this wants to make me kick this bastard's ass--or set him on fire. Dogs are the world's great innocents.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:13 PM.

On The Connection this morning: Israeli settler Ruchi Avital calls for a Palestinian apartheid without statehood, which seems to be the Bush-Sharon policy as well. Map.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:17 AM.

The anti-intellectuals always call you "Professor": Shark Blog: July 2002 Archives "Prof. Joseph Duemer of Clarkson University, who seems to be the Chairman of the Dept. of Specious Rhetoric, tells us he doesn't want his tax dollars going to pay for the war on public education" (the Supreme Court decision on vouchers). Take a looksee at his blog and ask yourself if taking courses from this guy would be a good use of hard-earned tuition money." Thanks for the endorsement, Sharky, but I've got all the students I can handle. They seem to keep coming to my classes (even on this conservative campus), despite the fact that I ask them to think about the world beyond the horizons of their particular ideology & experience. They even rate me highly in evaluations at term's end. Go figure.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:57 AM.

Monday, July 15, 2002
Dog Dreams, a comment: Steve Himmer writes about his friend Nick, who is thinking of getting a dog. I have dogs, the terrier is barking downstairs at this moment & the others are stretched out in cool places around the house. Here's my thought: Nick, don't get a dog until you must have one. A dog is different from a child--it's not really yours, but its own being. You can't drown a child when you're bored with it & you can't drown a dog when you're done with it, but for different reasons. It's hard to explain, but you never really own a dog the way you own a child of your own species. You have less moral claim over a being who happens to be a member of another species because you do not share its universe. In the face of our ignorance of the the universes of other species, we ought to act with circumspection. You do not see the world the way a dog does. As for going to monasteries & all that Western crapola, I have spent my share of time in Vietnamese Buddhist monasteries & most of them have dogs. Your spiritual quest is nonsense in the face of a dog's willingness to abide your presence. In the temples I visited, the dogs ate before the monks. Make that your practice, if you can. Or maybe, if you get a dog & then want to go off on a spiritual quest, you should drown yourself.

Update: Steve Himmer emailed me to say, "Actually, that passage is from a book by Nick Woolsey; I've never met him but he's a friend of a past girlfriend. I haven't read the whole book yet (fictionalized memoir?), so I don't know if he actually got the dog or not. I'll let you know. But the thoughts he had felt familiar to me: I struggled for a couple of years determining whether freedom for international travel was more important to me than canine partnership, and in the end I've never doubted that I made the right decision: I've managed to go all kinds of exotic places just by visiting the park down the street since I have a guide to point out all the interesting smells and leaves."

I am fortunate to have friends with dogs who don't mind taking care of our dogs when we go out of town & we do the same for him: Just this summer I've had Dooey, Max & Blind Ingrid Blues Girl Peace Dog (her owners only call her Ingrid, the rest is my invention. She is blind, though.) I maxed out a couple of weeks ago when there were five canines in the house, not counting me.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:28 PM.

The pleasures of a meal: Last night we went to Andy & Angie's house for dinner. The weather has been hot, so Carole & I decided that the best accompaniment to Andy's grilled pork tenderloin (marinated in vermouth & bitters) would be a super salad. We stopped at the grocery on the way & when we arrived I threw six kinds of greens, carrots, kiwi, yellow bell peppers, toasted pecans & I forget what else into a big bowl. But what brought this all together was an item that has become de rigeur this summer--grilled fresh pineapple. The salad, with a ranch dressing & the perfectly cooked pork (crisp outside, just barely pink at the center) were married by the caramelized sweet & sour of the pineapple. We also went through quite a few bottles of Samuel Adams Summer Ale. The food was perfect, but not as perfect as the friendship that produced it. As the meat was cooking we sat on the patio with the dogs; during the meal, the dogs, joined by two kittens, sat at our feet (kittens occasionally trying to climb our legs); afterward, I lay down on the floor with the hounds while the kittens romped across our besotted bodies while Angie got the geckos out so they could get some exercise by crawling up & down her arms & neck. I've called this a peaceable kingdom before & so it is, so it was last night. Angie & Andy's house is down in the St. Lawrence Valley & our place is in the foothills of the Adirondacks: this is the boondocks.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Louis Armstrong & Dinah Washington were playing on the stereo. I don't believe in streets of gold after death--why should I when I have Paradise right here in northern New York state? Friendship is Paradise.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:34 PM.

This was such a sweet surprise that after I read it (twice) I had to get up & go outside & walk around with the dog by the river & just be happy: "God bless AKMA -- which I say as sincerely as an agnostic can, no irony or sarcasm whatever intended. He is a rare soul, which is an awful pity as we could surely use whole legions of him. The same could be said of Jonathon Delacour, who combines erudition, clarity, and a finely-tuned writing style with immense humaneness (I originally wrote "humanity," but it doesn't quite express what I mean). Tom Matrullo and Joseph Duemer share this blogspace also, both thoughtful, insightful people who can be savagely incisive when faced with wrong but are invariably gentle with other human beings." Thanks Dorthea! [Caveat Lector]

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:40 PM.

Saturday, July 13, 2002
Many parentheses: Christopher Robinson is going to have to get his own blog. Hey, Chris, I'll help you set it up. So what you gonna call it? (A note about blog weirdness: Chris Robinson's office is right next to mine in Snell Hall at Clarkson & we see each other pretty often, but our most intense interactions have been over / under / around / through our Wittgenstein weblog, Philosophical Investigations. I think we're both fundamentally shy people who have--mostly--learned to negotiate the social world without being entirely comfortable there. The weblog opens up a space for unforced conversation. (like AKMA [I've just emailed him for the link, which I can't find: update forthcoming], I have certain problems with the metaphor of space in relation to the Internet.)) In any case, Chris Robinson needs his own weblog--he is by far the most generous & fluent political philosopher I have ever met. As for parentheses, see John Barth's story "Menelaiad", from Lost in the Funhouse. Makes Wittgenstein look like a grammatical lightweight! Update: The relevant discussions of the space metaphor for blogging & the Internet via AKMA begin here. My single contribution to the topic: we humans are basically two dimensional creatures: we walk around on a flat surface, we can't fly like a bird or swim like a fish. I think the way we make sense on- & off-line is more of an endless dance to tesselations; or, to change the metaphor, a collection of games all of which we recognize as games without being able to offer a single definition of a game (this is pure Wittgenstein, not my own notion).
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:24 PM.

Adonis: The poetics of Arab politics. "I am among those who seek the ills of the Arabs in their own history, not outside of it," he said. An outspoken champion of secular democracy and a ferocious critic of organized religion, Adonis has published many studies of Arab culture and history, notably the book "The Changing and the Fixed: A Study of Conformity and Originality in Arab Culture." In that volume, banned in certain Arab countries as heresy, Adonis accused Islam's clerics of perpetuating what he calls past-ism — a stubborn tendency to cling to what is known and to fear the new. According to Adonis, even apparently secular forms of politics in the Arab world, notably Arab nationalism and Marxism, are religious in structure, presenting themselves as revelations — absolute truths that confirm received wisdom instead of fostering debate. [Adam Shatz, NY Times, requires registration]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:12 AM.

Friday, July 12, 2002
Is it okay for a leftist to even have a retirement account? Sure: pensions, social security systems, etc. are all products of socialist theories of social organization. Too many middle class Americans with pensions, though, have forgotten--or never knew--the underlying idea--that everyone should have a way to live when they are too old to work. How else do we account for the 49.9% who voted for Bush? Anyhow, I agree with Max that the recent news about the estrogen trials puts certain things in perspective, I'd point out that having one's retirement sucked away in the corporate ethics vortex is also extremely harmful to one's health. And another thing (writing as someone whose mother died of cancer), I'd point out that the drug trial was stopped when data suggested the dangers involved. (I take it that that is what Max is referring to when he notes the "dangers of libertarianism.") All participants in drug trials are "guinea pigs"; the crucial issue has to do with informed consent. The question that comes to mind for me is whether informed consent is possible in an economic system in which powerful drugs are advertised on television & in magazines. Ask your doctor about . . . This really hit me over the last few days with news reports about the dangers of hormone replacement therapy being paid for by advertisements for at least two hormone replacement products.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:03 AM.

Thursday, July 11, 2002
I've just been out walking around my less-than-an-acre by the river, looking at some of the landscaping work I've been doing this summer. I'm very happy with the way this little piece of property is coming together & I can imagine it into the future, a continusious process of caring & tending. (I've got the beginnings of a path through the woods, edged with deadfall branches & covered in wood chips from all the brush I've been clearing; Carole's gardens out front are maturing beautifully & I've been moving rocks & making pathways.) At the same time, I want to run away to Hanoi, study Vietnamese & translate poetry. (Hanoi is the city I know better than any other--I would like to live there again.) I'm 51 years old & should, perhaps, be able to devote myself to some particular way or life or other; but I feel like an adolescent torn between two girlfriends. In urban Vietnam, virtually every citizen still identifies with a lang, a home village. At Nguyen Tet, the lunar new year, everyone who can manage it either goes back to that village for a week of celebration, or at least gathers their relatives--all associated with the village--together. In the old days, one's village would have been perhaps a day or two's journey from the capital, though it can now be considerably farther. In my case, my lang, South Colton, NY, is half the world away from Hanoi, my city.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:56 PM.

How's your retirement account, Mr. President? Mine has lost eight thousand dollars since you ushered in the era of personal responsibility. Somehow, I am doubtful that my loss is the result of Bill Clinton's sexual profligacy, as SEC chief Harvey Pitt suggested; I'm more inclined to the view that your financial profligacy is to blame, Mr. President. Mr. President?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:29 PM.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Braided blogging: I've attempted something like a response to Steve Himmer regarding novel writing--or at least taken off from a couple of things he said--in my other blog, which is co-written with Chris Robinson, because . . . well, because Chris initiated the conversation. Jeeze, this gets complicated.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:02 PM.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002
Thanks to Steve Himmer for noticing my threat to commit prose fiction & to my colleague & co-blogger Chris Robinson for suggesting that I write the thing on-line. The latter is a terrifying proposition, though one that has occurred to me. It's clear that new technologies of writing will spawn new literary forms. Always have, always will. At the same time, the narrative mode is deeply ingrained in the ways humans organize reality. Nothing new in this observation, of course, except that it tends toward refutation of the post-modern notion that "there is no sucha thing as human nature." I know what this means & even agree with it, but it is really a political assertion rather than a metaphysical truth. Human nature is not a thing, an essence, but a collection of practices: human nature equals songs, stories & science. The novel, I think, is historically an amalgamated form, so while Chris is right about different language games, it seems to me that the novel allows a writer to create a laboratory for experimentation with forms & games. There are novels, for instance, that we refer to unselfconsciously as "lyrical": The Great Gatsby, The Quiet American. Chris mentions Mann's Dr. Faustus--I would add The Magic Mountain, which seems to me profoundly symphonic, though including passages as intense as a late Beethoven string quartet. The Magic Mountain is a meta-symphony. But I digress. I suppose there have been songs associated with every war, but the Vietnam War was the first one in history to have a soundtrack. One of the tired old saws of the Vietnam apologists is that the press lost the war by not being sufficiently pro-American. This claim has been debunked by Jeffrey Record in The Wrong War & by Arnold R. Isaacs in Vietnam Shadows. Still, there is half of an insight in the claim about the unpatriotic press: Vietnam surely was the first war to be packaged by the global media as a product & one of the really strange results of this was the way the "youth culture" of the 1960s got sucked into the media stream that created the reality we now name The War in Vietnam. Personally, my contact with that war was mediated by rock 'n roll. But I don't want to write a rock novel. Actually, I want to write something about my Uncle Joe, who kept coonhounds. He was my mother's favorite brother & I'm named after him. I think this will be a novel about uncles, including Uncle Ho.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:14 PM.

The good versus evil president George W. Bush defending his own business practices: "Sometimes things aren't exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures." As we used to say on the playground, "No shit, Serlock."

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:07 AM.

Monday, July 08, 2002
Smart new weblog for us lefties: LiberalOasis. Good writing & plenty of luscious links. And an interview with a Grand Old Man.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:28 PM.

I wonder if the right wing press, punditocracy & the warbloggers will go after Clyde Prestowitz, founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute & a U.S. trade negotiator in the Reagan administration, for "blaming America." He writes in today's Washington Post, "Many people abroad are now convinced that the United States aims to control their destiny and that, despite its talk of democracy, human rights and free trade, the United States really thinks only of its own narrow interests." Having lived abroad recently (in Hanoi), I can attest to the truth of this statement. I was in Vietnam when the US was at war in the Balkans & none of my intelligent, sympathetic, university educated friends would agree that the US had bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade accidentally on May 7, 1999. Contemporary Vietnam is in most ways disorientingly (to an American) pro-American. American dollars serve as a second currency; American music blares from clubs; American films are pirated & consumed at an amazing rate; American tourists are welcomed; American intellectuals are welcomed & given VIP treatment. And yet, most Vietnamese saw in the Belgrade bombing a stark reminder of a (nominally socialist) small country suffering the consequences of American bombs; historically, the Vietnamese are deeply suspicious of Chinese intentions, but in this case the Chinese were seen as victims of the arrogance of American power.

Prestowitz continues, "The perception abroad of a new American unilateralism is even more serious. A number of U.S. actions -- our rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming; refusal of initial offers of NATO help in Afghanistan; rejection of agreements to create an International Criminal Court, ban land mines and restrict chemical and biological warfare; as well as the U.S. declaration of a "first strike" policy that might include an attack Iraq -- have convinced foreign observers that the United States no longer feels any need to consult its friends or, indeed, any need for friends at all." This from a member of the Ronal Rayguns "we start bombing in five minutes evil empire" administration. While I'm deeply opposed to many of the policies that go under the rubric of "globalization," I am in favor of internationalism, the political doctrine that since all the nations of the world are linked by ties of economics, culture, arts, (even) self-interest, we might as well try to evolve institutions that allow everyone to cooperate whenever possible & that provide for means of resolving inevitable disputes with as little recourse to violence as is humanly possible. I guess you could say I'd like to see the UN able to live up to its original lofty vision. The vision of American superiority being promoted by the current gang of political & corporate criminals in Washington is staggeringly arrogant--& contrary to the deepest traditions of American democracy & pluralism. [Thanks to Altercation for the link to Clyde Prestowitz's essay in the Washington Post.]

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:29 PM.

Sunday, July 07, 2002
Jewelweed: This morning Carole was out in the woods with Angel & Max & ran her legs against some Poison Ivy; by the time she got home she had several welts on her legs. I suggested she wash them with alcohol, which she did. But she called Angie (our biologist friend who is becoming a regular character here), who told her to go out in the yard & crush some Jewelweed, which grows all over our yard & rub it on her legs. By the time she left to go to Lake Placid, the welts were subsiding. Then, this evening, I was out in the yard wearing shorts & got several mosquito bites. (Actually, I thought I had gotten into Poison Ivy.) I figured I'd try the Jewelweed. I crushed some stems in my hand & rubbed them on my welts.The result was amazing: in five minutes, the welts had subsided & there was no itching. A product of the 1950s' faith in Science, I'm skeptical about alternative cures & such, but this one is a winner.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:01 PM.

Neil Sheehan & David Halberstam on the relevance of the Vietnam War to our contemporary politics. [Streaming video from C-SPAN: click the Watch link at the top of the page.] A history lesson worth paying attention to, Now More Than Ever.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:35 PM.

Bertrand Russell's courageous opposition to the First World War (which landed him in jail) was expressed in a letter he wrote to The Nation just after the fighting began: "All this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination and heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country's pride." A relevant sentiment in the present geo-political context, I would say. Russell, by the way, went on to support the war against fascism twenty years later & to oppose the Vietnam War, which he saw in the same terms as WW1.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:57 AM.

Saturday, July 06, 2002
Since I am fed up with poetry, it occurred to me this afternoon while I was driving to the store for bread & beer that I ought to write a novel. The thought has occurred before, but no situation seemed apparent on these occasions. Today, getting down out of the truck, I had the sense that I could write about a character who goes to Vietnam for one reason, but discovers a family connection. The character, like me, is not a veteran, but an older cousin is. I'm less interested in plot, per se, than in an arc of inevitability (I haven't studied my Poetics & my Sophocles for nothing). I also want there to be songs in the story, though I'm not sure I know what that means.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:18 PM.

Friday, July 05, 2002
Five dogs in the house this weekend: Our three--Weezer, Penny & Angel--along with Angie's Max & her temporary charge Dewey. Actually, it's been pretty quiet: Penny let Dewey know that he wasn't allowed on the couch (Only Penny Is Allowed On The Couch). Breeds in order of appearance: French Bulldog, Fox / Jack Russell Terrier, Chocolate Lab, Coon Hound, Basset / Beagle. Carole is in Montreal, Angie is busy with her sampling (counting frogs for a state census) & I'm here at home by the river with the dogs. After several days in the low 90s, it was cool today. I planted a big Peony we got when Angie thinned out her patch & I moved two azaleas down to Maude's grave. There's just something about having dogs around.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:04 PM.

Thursday, July 04, 2002
My kinda patriotism: ". . . independence does not mean egotistic individualism, the object is not to have one's way so much as it is to have a way that is one's own." [abuddhas memes]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:22 PM.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002
The American Poetry Review is among the more prestigious & widely circulated literary magazines in the US. (Others include The Iowa Review, The Georgia Review & Field, to name only three more. There are hundreds.) Over the last thirty years I've subscribed to all of them & had poems published in all of them, but it is only APR that obsesses me. While I have often let other subscriptions lapse, with only a few breaks I have received my tabloid APR six times a year for most of my adult life. Until my office at school was moved into a new building, I had a four-foot stack of them in the corner. It was almost as if I was afraid to throw them away. When I moved I did briefly consider tossing them in the dumpster, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. The now moulder in a box in a storage room in the basement of Snell Hall. Clearly, I'm superstitious. When I first began writing poetry seriously, in my early twenties, "being in APR" represented the pinnacle of poetic fame. We undergrads at the UW would pore over new issues, debating the inclusion of this or that poet, making fun of the author photos, & complaining about all the lousy crap that got published in the magazine--all while desperately longing to get our work in there somehow, someday. Some twenty years later, I began publishing poems in APR; you'd think I'd be able to relax, but I can't. Each new issue revives all that adolescent longing for poetic fame (which admittedly doesn't amount to much in these United States at the present moment). Each new issues makes me aware of who has published a new book, who has gotten a big prize or grant, who has moved to a more cushy academic job. It's not the fault of the magazine--it's my fault for reading it this way, but I can't help myself. Even the advertisements for new books, or the notices seeking submissions for a new anthology throw me into eccentric orbits of anxiety. That's why I've turned this last year to reading philosophy & even a little fiction. I'm neither a philosopher nor a novelist, so I'm able to read in these areas without envy or desire. I should give up reading my contemporaries entirely, purify my soul. I want to go back to being an amateur poet.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:10 PM.

Too hot to blog: The dogs & I are stretched out in attitudes of prostration. Angel likes the landing where a fan upstairs blows air down the stairwell. Penny & I like the couch, except when sun from the living room window shines on it. Weezer likes the kitchen floor. We're all murmuring Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot" today. . . Hmm, hot weather songs: "There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," "Summer in the City" . . . contributions welcome.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:02 AM.

Monday, July 01, 2002
Dog blog: all the news that's fit to bark, woof or howl.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:22 PM.

A manifesto I'm happy to sign on to. And I speak as a "professional" poet. Whatever that might be. The more people making culture rather than consuming it, the better.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:46 PM.