Monday, September 30, 2002
Fellow academic leftists who question the US government's current Middle East policies, turn yourselves in! Go on, get it off your chest, come to the front of the tabernacle & confess your sins. And if you can rat out a colleague, that would be even better. Prayer counselors are standing by. All confessions will be rewarded with a copy of the New Testament in contemporary English & a copy of the administration's proposed Congressional Resolution.
Note: Also presents an opportunity for culture-jamming, no? What if everybody created a hotmail or yahoo address & turned in fictional professors? Use lots of real information, but turn it inside out. Just a thought. [via Enthusiasm via Cursor]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:27 PM.
I've just read a review of Stephen Toulmin's new book, Return to Reason, which is on my must-read list. Toulmin's project is to renovate American Pragmatism for the new century, though he probably wouldn't put it that way. There are a number of problems with Peter Berkowitz's review, not the least of which is its source; beyond that, his description of postmodernism strikes me as caricature. In any case, if Toulmin wants to replace laissez-faire post-modernism with a rigorous, pragmatic philosophical pluralism, he is definitely on my wavelength.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 12:59 PM.
The chickenhawks & warbloggers routinely & contemptuously dismiss comparisons between Afghanistan & Vietnam, but stuff like this keeps turning up. Update: To say nothing of stuff like this. Look, folks, I don't want Afghanistan to fall apart just so I can say I told you so; but the administration seems determined to find the next war before it has brought the last one to anything like a successful close. In fact, Bush & his cowboys don't see much future in helping Afghanistan rebuild, to say nothing of establishing a functioning state. And that goes double for Iraq.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:17 AM.
Jeanne D'arc is conducting an interesting & valuable discussion of the relations between the arts, humanities, science and the instrumental disciplines of engineering & business. I wish I had time to make a lengthy contribution to the discussion, but other work draws me away. As a humanist / poet who has been teaching engineering & science students humanities for fifteen years & who has just become the director of a double major program between the Schools of Liberal Arts & Business at my university, I highly recommend this discussion--an example of what intelligent weblogging can do to further understanding.
I teach a course every other year called Imagining Science that looks at literary representations of science and at science as literary representation. The course consistently attracts the best science students at the university, but only a few engineering students. There have probably been a few business majors in the course over the years, but their perspective has not asserted itself.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:57 AM.
Friday, September 27, 2002
A memory: It might have been Tran Quoc Street, though I'm not sure. It was south of Tran Hung Dao, though, I'm sure of that because I was taking a walk after lunch. After the Old Quarter, this is my favorite part of Hanoi. The French built it in the 19th century, but the Vietnamese have been rebuilding it ever since. What you have are wide boulevards with wide sidewalks--trees everywhere, rising through openings in the sidewalks. Mostly three-storey buildings: ground floor shops & flats upstairs. The shops spill out onto the sidewalks in the Vietnamese fashion & it seems that every third establishment is a restaurant. The restaurants consist of low tables & little plastic stools, sometimes wood. The stools are always red or blue. It is difficult to describe how lively the scene is, especially at lunch time. Burning charcoal, acrid fish, sweet vegitables, pungent herbs, bus exhaust; taxi horns, conversation, shrieking school children, music from radios, a football match from a television; women in from the country in their drab pajamas, women office workers in their white ao dias. Maybe parts of Brooklyn or Queens would give you something of the feel of Hanoi at lunchtime.
That's why the silence of the street caught me up, as in a dream. Vietnam, to an outsider like me, was often enough dream-like, but I remember the scene on Tran Quoc Street in high-contrast freeze-frame clarity: All the tables were deserted & a man I took to be the propriator was muttering to himself while clearing dishes from the little tables. The only unusual thing other than the silence was the body lying on the sidewalk with a few grains of rice still on his lips, his chopsticks still resting in his hand. He was wearing a white shirt & dark trowsers. No one had closed his eyes. Death is bad luck in Vietnam & the Vietnamese are pretty unsentimental about their superstitions. Somebody from the government was going to have to send a van to pick up the body & somebody official was going to have to notify his wife or his parents.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:15 PM.
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
First fire of the season in the woodstove tonight, though we'll have to open the bedroom windows so we can sleep. I'm still turning over notions about sentimentality, personification, cliche & other ways of turning language against its fundamentally poetic nature. Question: how come most of the personification I see in student poems--which I think are a fairly good representation of the culture at large--strike me as sentimental, which is to say, untrue? Is it only because the personifications--of wind, sun, moon--are so often cliches, or is there some further deflection of reality taking place?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:37 PM.
Monday, September 23, 2002
"But enough, for the moment, of the question of technique as such. So far we have argued against the belief in the omnipotence of technique in terms of its inherent limitations. But technique, as it is embodied in our technology, does not exist in a void. Despite the great triumphs of a technological civilization, humankind still exists in the bosom of nature: We are creatures utterly dependent upon a delicate planetary environment--a thin crust of soil and a fragile layer of atmosphere. And despite too the specialization of our culture, which seems to assign each of us to our narrow slots, we are still cosmic animals, haunted by some imagination of our place in the scheme of things. How does technology change our relationship to nature? The question goes beyond the specific questions of the environment, however pressing and important these may be; it asks, rather, what fundamental pieties toward the cosmos are still left to us today. In short, how does technical man exist in relation to Being?" [William Barrett, The Illusion of Technique (117). 1979.]
Here's one answer to the question. It's finally getting cool here, too. Rain fell most of last night & today the temperature was in the sixties, the sky alternately clear & broken by high clouds. Because the summer was so dry, the maples have gone mostly a leathery brown rather than red; the ash trees are just turning yellow. I spent yesterday afternoon with my lovely little Stihl chainsaw cutting down an ugly clump of ash trees beside the driveway--really opened up one of the flowerbeds to the sunshine & allowed the native spruce trees by the stream more room. I've still got a rotten birch snag & a scraggly swamp maple to bring down, but I stopped yesterday because the wind was coming up & I couldn't tell which way the maple would fall. And because I was tired. You don't want to be running a chainsaw when you're tired.
Reading Kurt's description of his day, I was struck by his refusal--though it surely wasn't conscious--to personify Nature the way my beginning creative writing students do. So I'm thinking about personification & the Pathetic Fallacy & Being. I'm hoping to continue working out my ideas about sentimentality & connect them to this recent reading, though I'll have a batch of student papers to read before I get to focus on this much. The papers, come to think of it, might give me some examples of sentimentality, personification & an innocent trust in technique. (They're going to be writing about Gilgamesh.)
Mr. Bad Example: "If you have delicate sensibilities, or even average sensibilities, maybe this isn't the place for you. If you think the Bush is the duly elected President, Peggy Noonan is sane, Dick Cheney is not a death-bound souless jackal who would sell his lesbian daughter into a Saudi harem for a quart of thirty weight...well, I'm probably not your boy. This blog is for bad thoughts, cruel putdowns, and nasty hit-and-run attacks on the rightwingers, evangelicals, crappy popular culture, drunken First Daughters, and anything that comes to mind."
My kind of fella. I've added some other bad examples to the blogroll too.
Friday, September 20, 2002
I meant to post this earlier. In response to our earlier discussion, my correspondent Bill Breen writes: "Joe: Well, again you give me pause for thought......I had literally just clicked over from a story on UPI: that quotes Bush as saying that rebuilding Iraq after our "regime change" is not the responsibility of the US............good God, where are we going?
And that result, to me, is evil; evil that is being done in my name. After work Thursday morning, I'm heading to the UN for the demonstration........after school today the girls and I drove to Cold Spring, which is on the east bank of the Hudson, within sight of West Point. A beautiful little town , now full of antique stores and daytrippers from NYC. It used to be a bustling little foundry town, building cannon for the Army. Sailboats on the river, one or two trees starting to change, red tailed hawks up in the currents, and Maggie who is taking a photography course this year had her new 35mm in her hands. She turned to me and asked 'what should I take a picture of?' and I almost yelled Maggie there's beauty all around, shoot what you see.......but on thinking about it, I realized my kids have been surrounded by beauty all their lives, they have to be 'taught' to see, as much as to read. And we, as Americans, don't 'see' what we have, don't realize the work that went into achieving it. My parents were kids in the Depression and it scarred them, but my children, well, my children are soft..........And I protected them out of love and they're not ready for what we're headed for, I fear."
Daniel Ehrlich of Double Reflection , beginning by quoting me back at myself, emails: "Joseph, 'Well, I refuse to let scriptural literalists steal works of literature from me. Job & The Gospels & Sophocles & Ovid & Shakespeare & Hayden Carruth & Octavio Paz. They're all mine & no snot-nosed fundamentalists going to take them away from me.' Indeed, we have little choice in the matter. I grew up as a zealous fundamentalist (an experience I wouldn't trade for anything) and broke away in my late teens.... I have a sense that there is nothing I could do to loose myself of the imagery of, in particular, Job and the Gospels. If Christ at some point failed to be for me an answer, I doubt if he will ever cease to be a question. And these, for me, are of infinitely greater worth. // I think Kierkegaard understood this, and this understanding gave his faith a depth that I can't help but envy -- and neither could Wittgenstein, for that matter. // BTW, I just discovered your Philosophical Investigations blog a couple weeks ago, and I really enjoy it. I'm hoping that I can use your archives as an impetus to pick up the PI again and start trudging through it. I can think of no vocation more suited for Wittgenstein's thought than that of the poet."
I wrote back: "Dear Daniel, it is letters like yours that keep me blogging. I, too, wouldn't trade my fundamentalist upbringing for anything--it went a long way toward making me a poet. I don't know how old you are, but back when I was a kid in the GBC we had these inter-church scripture contests. Little electronic devices on our seats & everything: first one to stand up got to quote the passage. I memorized whole swaths of the Bible. It's one of the reasons that arguing with my correspondent Clay was so easy. It also gave me the gift of English syntax & rhythm down deep in my bones. Anyhow, I'm not so concerned with who owns the cross as I am with who (presumes to) own particular texts."
His reply: "Joseph, That any one sect could claim some kind of exclusive rights to the Bible is besides ignorant, totally laughable. Wasn't it the King James Bible that almost single handedly taught the entire English speaking world to read? And if the KJB dwells at the root of our culture's literacy... doesn't it dwell at the root of our culture itself? ( . . . obviously the influence of the Bible on our culture goes back much further, and extends much further than this example . . .) The Bible isn't merely a text that we all have 'rights' to, but one that is clearly indispensable to any attempt at understanding ourselves as Westerners and/or ex-bible-thumpers."
Daniel, I'm sorry for not writing back sooner; in any case, I couldn't agree more. By the way, Clay Waters responded [permalinks not working, scroll down] & though he's right about one thing--I'm a better poet than he is--he gets a number of things wrong, to wit:
1) "Duemer seems to think it’s shameful to express sympathy or empathy for the victims of 9-11." No indeed. We were not talking about sympathy, but about the sentimental use of language. I have sympathy for all victims of violence, which is why I find the warblogggers' selective sympathy so troubling. The fundamental distinction I was trying to draw--& which not one of the WBs could grasp--was that there is a difference between feeling & sentimentality--a qualitative, not merely quantative difference.
2) "I’ll pass on the oddity of hearing accusations of sentimentality from a poet who edited a poetry book, Dog Music, devoted to man’s best friend." I haven't looked at the book in a couple of years, but I suppose it's possible that we used the phrase "man's best friend" somewhere in that book, but if we did, I hope it was ironically. It's a sentimental cliche. In fact, Jim Simmerman (the other editor) & I worked hard to put together a collection of poems that were examples of deep feeling without being sentimental, a distinction lost on Clay Waters. (And he doesn't even link to the book at Amazon!) Hey, I am the dog poet, coo-coo-ca-choo: A Dog's Book of Truths (photographs by Nancy Levine) comes out next month. Here's a sentimental little ditty from my last book, Magical Thinking.
3) "After Duemer makes a ludicrous comparison of Islamic fundies to Christian fundies (as if the murderous nuts who flew full planes into towers were Christian) Duemer manages to quote both the Old and New Testament in support of his arguments. Then he employs the snotty term “Xtian” to feed the flames of his fundy-baiting. Xtian is short and disrespectful for 'Christian.'" I've already responded to this in my original account of the exchange. Since Mr. Waters is an aspiring poet, I feel compelled to point out the mixed metaphor in "feed the flames . . . fundy-baiting"; but beyond that I find it astonishing that he proscribes the honorable American tradition of irreligious polemic, settling for the weirdly touchy-feely & dare I say liberal, stance of the "respectful agnostic." But what is really offensive & twisted in this whole position is that it emerges from a group of self-described fundy-bashers, the warblogggers. It's just that they like some fundamentalists--Xtians--but not others--Muslims. Me, I'm an equal opportunity fundy-baiter. (As for the "ludicrous" nature of my comparison of Christian fundamentalists with their Muslim counterparts, see: The murder of Dr. Bernard Slepian; the Army of God & related groups; John Salvi . . . the list goes on.)
4) "Duemer considers “sentimentality” the most immense crime in the literary pantheon, whether in essay or poetry form. But he doesn’t have anything against crushing didacticism, judging by his recommendations. As an example of nonsentimental poetry, he reprints a Vietnam poem from John Balaban, who could well be a friend (he and Duemer were both there around the same time, doing the usual “understanding our ‘enemies’” thing)." I have no idea what the phrase "most immense crime in the literary pantheon" means. Crimes and gods are incompatible categories & so the comparison makes no sense. But if he means that I prefer didacticism to sentimentality, he's right. Didacticism often tells the truth, but when it lies, it lies directly to your face. Unlike sentimentality. Balaban, in fact, is my friend, by Waters is wrong: We've never been in Vietnam at the same time. John first went there in 1973 to work as a Conscientious Objector in a hospital that treated war-injured children from South Vietnam. He went back a bit later & walked around with a tape recorder collecting Vietnamese ca dao (folk songs), which he later translated. While John was doing this, I was a not terribly well-informed anti-war protester / student at the University of Washington in Seattle. I first went to Vietnam in 1997, long after the Vietnamese had been our "enemies." I went as much to figure out certain things about my own country as to learn about Vietnam. Anyway, while this is not the place to restate the case for the immorality of the American War in Vietnam, I deeply resent Waters' snide phrase 'understanding out enemies thing', as if John's lifelong & my more recent interest in the people & culture of Vietnam is merely a fashionable stance. He should try learning Vietnamese if he thinks that. And since he disputes Balaban's use of the word "evil" in the poem I quoted, I'd suggest reading Paul Hendrickson's The Living and the Dead, about McNamara; Halberstam's classic The Best and the Brightest would also be of value--but nothing will sober these warblogggers up.
I didn't really intend to go on at such length, But Waters' intellectual sloppiness cries out for detailed refutation.
Michael Kinsley doesn't use the word sentimental, but his analysis of the way the right has been using the word evil over the last year takes up another aspect of the idea I've been worrying for the last week or so. Sentimentality always involves the denial of thought & the deadening of feeling.
It would be disingenuous to deny I was flattered to find myself mentioned on the Liberal Arts Mafia website--it's one of my favorites, always pointing to provocative essays & thoughtful commentaries. LAF's commentary develops the idea of a sentimental war narrative, whereas I have been talking more about the lyric modes of sentimentality. I think we compliment each other nicely.
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: "That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression. // Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom. // Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress."
Persian Gulf Resolution: "The president is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions referenced above, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region." [full text]
Josh Marshall & Joe Conason [Salon Premium, subscription required] write clearly about the politics of the coming war; as in Vietnam, we are preparing to go to war on the basis of a convienent fiction born of an ideological fixation.
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Dick Minim wants to chum around with me, it looks like, despite the fact that most of my editions are paperbacks; Candidia, however, seems less charmed by my earnest efforts against the social forces referred to by the Sage of Rydal: "The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies. to this tendency of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the country have conformed themselves. The invaluable works of our elder writers, I had almost said the works of Shakespeare and Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.—When I think upon this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation, I am almost ashamed to have spoken of [this] feeble endeavor . . ." Now, Candidia, wipe that La Prairie off your face & come on over here, I want to show you something.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:23 PM.
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
The sentimental muse: Well, she's a half-sister, really. She only completed the eighth grade. But she has her devotees. The problem is that the Muse of Sentimentality has not read very much, or listened to music with attention. She likes television. Not that I'm superior--sometimes I shack up with her & she always shows me a good time. But if I want to think, if I want to write a poem, I have to climb a little higher on the mountain. The Muse of Sentimentality is numbed-out.
Sentimentality is a deflection or a deflation of feeling, especially ambivalent or unapproved feelings. Today in my intro creative writing class we had our first workshop of student poems. The poems had been posted to the class on-line discussion area & revised a bit; I distributed them without anyone's names attached, though some of the students in the class would recognize the author & I didn't make a rule about not revealing yourself as the author. We worked in four groups. In one group, which finished way ahead of everyone else, I kept overhearing things like "This is really psycho!" & "I just don't want to go there!" as they read over the poems. This is a group of very smart students, at least one of whom is in the Honors Program; but it became clear to me that they were keeping the poems--especially one that expressed strong emotion--at arm's length. The Muse of Sentimentality was in control of that group: larking, laughing, denigrating, deflecting, deflating, rejecting. Sentimentality is the enemy of educated feeling. Here's a published example of the same sort of emotional deadening, describing the aftermath of the ware in Vietnam:
Despite a steady rain
the southbound flight departs as planned,
I look down from the plane
and spy some craters on the land.
Pockmarks are painted with no set design
and clustered closely in a band;
of course, B-52's [sic] fly in straight lines.
Back in the craters, everything seems fine,
it sounds so quiet all around,
the rain has stopped and soon the sun will shine.
No sign of conflict can be found
across the carved and cratered ground.
Beneath a clearing sky
I hear a plane drone by.
[from Behind Blue Eyes by Robert Hughes. Mark Standen Publishing 2000]
"Bomb Craters is so bad in so many ways it is hard to know where to begin. Let's start with the spastic meter. Mostly a lame iambic pentameter, it drops at several points to trimeter without apparent reason; it is either childishly intonated or utterly flat. But most offensive is the profoundly mis-seen use of language: The speaker is looking at bomb craters, but asserts that "no sign of conflict can be found"; and how in the world does the speaker get from inside the southbound plane down to "beneath a clearing sky" in the penultimate line? Must have had a parachute. The cliches provide for the final gauzing over of the author's poetic sight. Such a poem is a betrayal of reality.
By way of contrast, here's another poem dealing with the aftermath of the war. Note the differences: it will be an education in accuracy.
In Celebration of Spring
Our Asian war is over; others have begun.
Our elders, who tried to mortgage lies,
are disgraced, or dead, and already
the brokers are picking their pockets
for the keys and the credit cards.
In a delta swamp in a united Vietnam,
a Marine with a bullfrog for a face,
rots in equatorial heat. An eel
slides through the cage of his bared ribs.
At night, on the old battlefields, ghosts,
like patches of fog, lurk into villages
to maunder on doorsills of cratered homes,
while all across the USA
the wounded walk about and wonder where to go.
And today, in the simmer of lyric sunlight,
the chrysalis pulses in its mushy cocoon,
under the bark on a gnarled root of an elm.
In the brilliant creek, a minnow flashes
delirious with gnats. The turtle's heart
quickens its taps in the warm bank sludge.
As she chases a Frisbee spinning in sunlight,
a girl's breasts bounce full and strong;
a boy's stomach, as he turns, is flat and strong.
Swear by the locust, by the dragonflies on ferns,
by the minnow's flash, the tremble of a breast,
by the new earth spongy under our feet
that as we grow old, we will not grow evil,
that although our garden seeps with sewage,
and our elders think it's up for auction--swear
by this dazzle that does not wish to leave us--
that we will be the keepers of a garden, nonetheless.
Monday, September 16, 2002
That long conversation with the warblogggers (somehow the extra "g" adds something appropriately guttural to the word, don't you think?) ended very weirdly. [Not that you'll want to, but just to cite my sources, this little series of exchanges can be found in this post at Warblogger Watch. You have to open the comments box.] Someone named Clay accused me of being a hypocrite because I quoted, first, The Book of Job & later, some words of Jesus' from the Gospels. Apparently, unless I believe that the "Son of God named Jesus died on the cross for your sins" I am prohibited from quoting from the Bible. This notion strikes me as so bizarre it leaves me (nearly) speechless. By this logic, only Jews can quote the Hebrew Bible, only Christians can quote the New Testament, only Buddhists can quote the sayings of Gautama, only Muslims can quote the Quran & so on. Which leads to a kind of insane sectarianism, doesn't it, in which no one is allowed to quote--or read--another's scripture. Well, here's what Clay Waters actually wrote:
"Twice you've cited a book to bolster your arguments (The Bible) that you believe is nothing but superstitious nonsense. (I say this judging by your disrespectful use of the abbreviation "Xtian" and your bizarre comparison of today's Christian fundamentalism to today's Islamic fundamentalism.) That's hypocrisy. As I said in response to Eric Blair's original post: It's really revolting to see people like these guys, who hold Christians and Christianity in contempt, to try and use the Bible to make their political points."
No one owns the Bible. In any case, I think the Bible is anything but "superstitious nonsense," so I can only conclude that Clay Waters is projecting his own anxieties onto me, a common enough symptom of psychological dysfunction. I responded: "Clay, you ought to review the orthography of old Christian texts, many of which used X in the way I used it--X being a symbol of the cross. I don't hold Christians up for "contempt," only fundamentalist know-nothings. The Bible is a great compendium of literature, philosophy, theology, ethics, & etc. You ought to read it sometime. [. . . ] the Greek letter chi, written as X & pronounced ch, is the first letter of Christ's name. Far from being disrespectful, my use of the spelling Xtian is sanctioned by history & is common knowledge among educated Christians." But of course I was being provocative, I don't deny it. The conversation concluded this way: "So your "X" is actually a sign of respect for the cross--that you don't believe in? Some respect." In response to which, I asked: "What do you know about my beliefs?"
The response? ". . . [J]udging by what I've read of your poetry, I'm guessing you were raised in a fundamentalist Christian family and underwent the usual backlash against it to become the enlightened liberal you are today. Congratulations. I don't believe you think that a Son of God named Jesus died on the cross for your sins. Given this admittedly bold assumption on my part, your use of X as a "symbol of the cross" seems to me an appropriation of a symbol that actually has no meaning for you. In other words, it's not your cross to bear." The concluding cliche brings the discussion round again to sentimentality, no?
I give Clay Waters props for reading my poetry & though I am leery of biographical readings of poems, he's got me dead to rights: I'm a lapsed Grace Brethren--haven't been a "believer" for more than thirty years. But the notion that "the cross" has no meaning for me simply staggers my sense of reality. The cross has a subtle, nuanced, historical role in the way I think about Christianity & my own history inside that system of belief. What Clay Waters really means, though, is that the cross does not have the same meaning for me as it has for him. For CW the cross can have only one meaning; for me (I'm a radical pluralist), the symbol of the cross can have many meanings without the necessity of denigrating any one of them. Well, I refuse to let scriptural literalists steal works of literature from me. Job & The Gospels & Sophocles & Ovid & Shakespeare & Hayden Carruth & Octavio Paz. They're all mine & no snot-nosed fundamentalists going to take them away from me.
Saturday, September 14, 2002
Dumb Lucky: [Written 9.14] Yesterday my chocolate lab Angel, who hates water, leapt into a narrow, cold, swift channel of the river & pulled the Flexilead right out of my hand. The last I saw him he was cutting down a little island beside the falls & out of sight. He must have pulled himself free of his collar, which carried his tags, & then rock-hopped back to the mainland. Or maybe crossed the river. He probably started after a chipmunk, but the cold water & the plastic handle of the lead bouncing after him probably panicked the boy. Best guess is he took off running & found himself someplace he didn't know how to get back from. I've spent the last twenty-four hours--six off for sleep--walking the trails by the river & driving the back roads looking for him, but I'm pretty sure he's gone for good. I've called the dog warden & put out the word around the hamlet to be on the lookout for Angel's stupid face.
[9.15] Carole got home from her horse show in Rochester about 10:00 last night & I had to tell her Angel was gone. She was really sweet to me & said she thought he might still show up. She could tell I was really wiped out. We sat & watched Iron Chef until 11:00 then went to bed. As soon as we had gotten ourselves comfortable it started to rain, so I got up to close the windows. When I went down stairs I thought I heard a dog whining. It's only Weezer snoring, I told myself, but I flipped on the back porch light anyway. Nada. Well, I'd been imagining that I saw him in every wind-blown branch for most of the day. Anyway, I went into the bathroom & was sure I heard something. I went out onto the front porch & there was Angel, soaked & missing his collar, but otherwise all right. Carole came down & we dried him off & gave him a bit to eat, then we all went up to the bedroom where he flopped on his bed & slept hard for the next twelve hours. We went for a walk today, but mostly he has slept, eaten, & slept.
I'm very grateful to have him home. Adopting the vernacular of the horse barn, Carole said this morning, "You better put some training on that boy." She's right.
Friday, September 13, 2002
Ad captandum: I finally figured out what it is about the warbloggers--like this one, who is typical: they are sentimentalists. The problem with sentimentality is that it obscures reality in a haze of ill-defined & manipulative feeling. And the Rottweiler's sentimentality is no less sentimental because it is violent & vulgar. [cf warblogger watch]
"They had been corrupted by money, and he had been corrupted by sentiment. Sentiment was the more dangerous, because you couldn't name its price. A man open to bribes was to be relied upon below a certain figure, but sentiment might uncoil in the heart at a name, a photograph, even a smell remembered." [Graham Green (1904 - 1991), The Heart of the Matter, 1948]
"Sentimentality is a superstructure covering brutality." [Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961), Reflections, 1953]
"One may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions." [Arthur Koestler (1905 - 1983), Darkness at Noon, 1940]
For anyone who is interested in my long pissing contest with the warblogging community over at WBW, go here & click on the comments link. (Actually, when I have a little time, I'm going to take this stuff & turn it into an essay.)
Thursday, September 12, 2002
First cool day of fall today, though it's going to get warm again over the weekend. It's going to be a five-dog weekend: Our three & Max (because Carole & Angie are going to Rochester with their horses for a show) & Blind-Ingrid-Diva-Bluesgirl-Peace-Dog (because Cathy & Joel are out of town this weekend). I'm going to bury myself in dogs' fur & try to finish writing an article about the American literature of the Vietnam War.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:33 PM.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
A blessing: After six dry weeks, the rain began in the middle of the night & continued throughout the day today, clearing the dust & smoke from the air. (We've been having brushfires in the area.) Anyway, a cleansing.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 12:06 PM.
Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Department of futile gestures, Part 2: Joe Conason & Andrew Sullivan are "colleagues," at least according to Conason. Maybe it's just because I'm an academic, where the word colleague still means something more that "co-worker," but I find Conason's use of the word, at best, wishful thinking & at worst a symptom of what Mediawhoresonline would call "Kool Kids Syndrome"--the media ideology that says, "Really, despite our slight political differences, we're all members of the same fraternity." That's what "balance" amounts to, in the final analysis. I wonder if Sullivan thinks of Conason as a "colleague." I had thought Conason had more sense, though I had already begun to despair of Salon. Joan Walsh's piece in today's number, "It's My Country and I'll Cry if I Want To," [premium subscribers only] put me in mind of that old Phil Oachs song, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal":
I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I'd lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
I go to civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every coloured boy becomes a star
But don't talk about revolution
That's going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
My faith in the system restored
I'm glad the commies were thrown out
of the AFL-CIO board
I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
as long as they don't move next door
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
The people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can't understand how their minds work
What's the matter don't they watch Les Crain?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
I read New Republic and Nation
I've learned to take every view
You know, I've memorized Lerner and Golden
I feel like I'm almost a Jew
But when it comes to times like Korea
There's no one more red, white and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
I vote for the Democratic Party.
They want the U.N. to be strong
I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
I'll send all the money you ask for
But don't ask me to come on along
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal.
But that's mostly an aside. Conason not only abuses the word colleague, he engages in a rhetorical sleight of hand made famous recently by the Washington Post's defense of Susan Schmidt; that is, he claims that the letters Salon received objecting to hiring Sullivan were "similarly worded." Exactly what is being impled here? I would like to know how many letters there were & how many were "similarly worded." Did people copy my letters to Salon, posted here previously? Is there some orchestrated effort that the editors of Salon find offensive? I'd thought that the editors were, at least, liberals & that they might see "orchestrated effort" as a form of political organizing, a concept that used to have some currence on the left, especially in the labor movement. (It was an "orchestrated effort"--or many of them togehter--that finally brought the Vietnam war to a close, though our leaders at the time made sure it was as dishonerable a close as possible.) Were Eric Alterman's & my letters similar, how about the one sent by Dr. Menlo? Or some of the other folks who commented over at American Samizdat? This just seems like a smear to me. Come on, Joe, are your really saying you're being targeted by fanatical leftists?
Eric Alterman & the Media Horse have defended Salon in the past & so have I, but Alterman's column today gets it about right, I think, except that I'm more skeptical of the whole idea of "balance" than Alterman, who notes that he has in the past suggested conservative writers Salon might hire instead of Horowitz & now Sullivan. I'm of the mind that balance is bullshit, frankly. When the right starts hiring real leftists to comment from inside the corporate media then maybe I'll change my tune.
Monday, September 09, 2002
This came in the mail a couple of weeks ago: "Somehow found your site this ayem and while ignoring the spelling (it's 'regime' and 'Perle', but the nuns got me obsessed w/spelling....) thought i'd send this on.... (http://www.nhgazette.com/chickenhawks.html)---this guy also is pretty interesting, as is his newspaper. Here's another one, ) but neither has Perle's bonafides, but I'm still digging. Bill Breen p.s. I was IN RVN in the USMC (artillery) in '66-'68 and my three children have been raised as Quakers.........BB"
My reply: "Dear Bill Breen: thanks for the corrections. I've edited my blog entry. No nuns in my past to make me a better speller, alas, just half-literate fundamentalists. My first trip to VN was in 97, not 67 (which is what everyone thinks at first). I was fortunate in 1969 to get a very high draft number, otherwise I might have followed you there sooner: I spent 10 months there on a Fulbright in 2000-2001-one of the great, deep experiences of my life. Thanks for the links. I know about buzzflash, but will check the others out."
BB replies: "I think your views about The War (for our generation) & war in general stand up to what I think of as "the complexity test." That is, anyone who approaches me with some all-encompassing, definitive answer, I just know in my heart that person is full of shit."........Jesus, where does that put out 'leaders'.....men like Ashcroft and Cheney and Bush and DeLay and on and on......? Not too pleasant a prospect to know we're led by idiots.....I read a lot of foreign newspapers on the web and they're almost universally laughing at us. As to 'just war', of course you have to defend at times.....but here's another level...my wife is a Quaker, and the kids were raised as such, and my 20 year old son, Matt, would go C.O., if not out and out resist. One of his mentors in the Quakers, now dead, was Woody Washburn, a great and peaceful man, who did alternative service in WWII.....If that wasn't a 'just' war, what is? Hey, it's one ayem, I've got to get a paper out and of course you can quote me....Bill Breen."
Me: "Bill, sorry to have dropped the ball on our exchange. School is starting up & I've been busy. I hope you do go back to Vietnam as a civilian. I think you'll be amazed at how welcoming the Vietnamese are. They have a long martial tradition & while they will excoriate the US for its policies toward them, they have a lot of respect for soldiers. They understand the notion of duty. I think your views about The War (for our generation) & war in general stand up to what I think of as "the complexity test." That is, anyone who approaches me with some all-encompassing, definitive answer, I just know in my heart that person is full of shit. But when someone admits to ambiguous feelings, I know I can trust that guy. Or gal. I'm not a pacifist. I would defend my country & my family; I have the strong sense that there are times when a nation must respond to an attack & I supported the initial response against Afghanistan & the Taliban, though I am deeply troubled by our failure to follow through & really attempt to secure the peace in a country whose ordinary people are thirsting for peace. But I am deeply skeptical of the application of military force abroad for what are essentially domestic political reasons. That was Vietnam; that will be Iraq."
Bill: "Joe: Well, better late than ......Anyway after my last two, (twins Maggie and Caitie; now H.S. juniors) enter college in two years i plan to retire from the NYTimes where i'm a (union) delivery foreman and travel to 'Nam.......don't know if it's to assuage guilt or just look around....one man Peace Corps maybe.....all the vet organizaions' magazines offer tours ("see where you fought",etc.)but I want more of a reconciliation type thing.....again, don't know if it's more for my benefit.....I loved what little I actually saw of the Far East---R&R in H.K. twice and Bangkok once; whorehouses and cheeseburgers,actually.....but I have very complicated reflections on my personal voyage to war.....and my kids ask-what would you do now- and I honestly don't know.......I was/am a Marine and you can't turn a switch- but I hate war, at least that war....y'see what i mean?.......anyway I write letters to the papers and vote against Cheney and hope for the best, as the enormity of the towers collapse 40 miles south of my kids high school is weighed against 'collateral' damage to Afghani ville's........remember 'we had to burn 'em to save 'em' ? and the Israelis forget their past............Was it ever easy?"
Me: If it's easy it's a fake, I think. This goes for foreign policy as well as poetry. My old teacher Fred Ewoldt told me, in the first creative writing class I ever took, when I was seventeen, "Never take the easy way out of a poem." It was good advice & I have managed to follow it at least sometimes. Strikes me that any act of human communication can be thought of as a "poem" & that the easy ways lead to various kinds of failure, but mostly to failures of meaning. I conclude that the Bush administration is pursuing a profoundly meaningless policy--it is without form & void. Which is not to say that the president's nihilism is not dangerous. It's a sort of "invert-nihilism" that spouts the rhetoric of stable meaning without believing it for a moment; or, it is an ideological fundamentalism so reduced & narrowed & impoverished that nuance & subtlety are eliminated. In either case, the result is the same.) Anyhow, Bill Breen & I were having this exchange during the height of the outrage (in some quarters) over Ann Coulter's call for the bombing of the NY Times building. Presumably, Bill is one of the guys she thinks is worthy of death. If you wanted a definition of nihilism . . .
One more thing. On my second trip to Vietnam--a teaching assignment in American Literature sponsored by the US State Department--I was staying in a nice hotel at the edge of the Old City. A place where wealthy tourists put up. (I had asked for something simpler, but apparently the State Department has a bottom line & that bottom line is three stars. I was much happier on my next trip in a guest house on the edge of the old flower village of Ngoc Ha.) Anyhow, in the bar one night, a doctor from California asked me, since I was apparently some kind of expert, "Do you think they have forgiven us?" I told him--full of the moral superiority of someone learning the first rudiments of Vietnamese grammar--that I hadn't come to Vietnam to be forgiven, I'd come to figure out what the hell had gone wrong. I'd answer differently now, because Vietnam has healed a lot of my anger. I'd have more gently explained that the Vietnamese are capable of subtle distinctions between persons & policy. Subtlety, that's the key. We might manage to keep from murdering each other if we slow down & actually begin to hear what others are saying. (My own learning of Vietnamese is a case in point: I'm a crappy listener--I can walk into a shop or restaurant & speak Vietnamese well enough that the folks there will respond in kind, but then I'm lost. I still can't hear Vietnamese very well.) Listen. I think that's the way Jesus used to begin his parables.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:24 PM.
Sunday, September 08, 2002
Where was God? God was where he usually is, though the use of "where" as an object of the preposition in this sentence strikes me as incoherent. God lies outside grammar, though even such a proposition lies limp in its sentence. Correction: Where is not an object because forms of to-be don't take objects; it's an adverb modifying was. (And me an English teacher. Sheesh!) I don't think the underlying point is weakened, though: God does not have a quality like where.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:49 PM.
Saturday, September 07, 2002
Catching up with the mail: This weekend I have every intention of responding to Bill Breen's, Ray Davis's & Jonathon Delacour's emails, oldest first.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:50 AM.
Correction: Kurt Indermaur of Viviculture sent the following note the other day regarding my earlier post: "I read your blog today - thank you for the kind remarks and link, but I think you might be directing to the wrong permalink. Is [this] the page you mean?" Yes, but both Kurt's meditations are well worth reading, so have a look at both.
Friday, September 06, 2002
Department of futile gestures: Yesterday when I noticed that Salon had hired Andrew Sullivan as a columnist, I wrote a letter to the editors saying, in brief, that I could not understand why a progressive news outfit like Salon would support the work of right-wing provacteurs like Sullivan & David Horowitz. I actually pay money to read Salon & I asked for my "premium" subscription back. Within an hour, Joan Walsh, Salon's News Editor replied as follows: "If you can read through the list of Salon stories today, from the amazing global warming cover to Spinsanity's incredible debunking of the right-wing smear of the NEA--not to mention the incredible fall fiction package, and throw in Joe Conason twice a day as well--and feel we're not standing up for liberal values and you're not getting your money's worth, well...I don't even know how to end this e-mail. I'm speechless. We rock the mainstream media every single day on a tiny budget, and yes, we occasionally throw an apostate into the mix. I just, well, I give up." I grant Ms. Walsh all her points about the virtues of Salon's writers, and in fact, this morning's piece on Iraq convinced me to write & recind my subscription cancellation. (Both letters I wrote were marked "for publication"--both my cancellation & the retraction. I'm letting it al hang out her, folks.) But I'm still pissed. And I don't think that Salon "occasionally throw[ing] an apostate into the mix" is justifiable in the current cultural & political atmosphere. Before I'd caved, I wote back: "Dear Joan Walsh, Yes, the cover story is fine & I'm a big fan of Joe Conason, but I just can't see myself contributing even an infinitesimal amount to support Sullivan & Horowitz. Frankly, I can't see why Salon would want to either. There are parts of Salon I'll miss, but there is always Eric Alterman, The Rittenhouse Review, The American Prospect & other progressive news sources available--something Salon might want to consider as it--apparently--seeks 'balance'." [I should also have mentioned Josh Marshall's Talking Points & Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler.]
It is not that I am not "getting my money's worth." That's not the issue. The issue is my money, given to Salon because I support their progressive politics, supporting the likes of Sullivan & Horowitz. My thirty bucks a year to Salon is not like a tax I object to, it's voluntary. So this is not like some cracker telling me he doesn't want his tax dollars going to support the National Endowment for the Arts. The cracker can elect representatives to do his bidding, but all I can do with Salon is withold my cash. The beauty of capitalism. Well, as I said, I caved. But I'm still pissed & I still want to make some kind of statement the editors of Salon might recognize. I wrote Ms. Walsh tonight: "as you may have seen I sent a letter retracting my Premium cancellation this morning. Salon remains too valuable to me to give up, despite my continuing sense that you do your readers a disservice by publishing the right-wing screeds of Sullivan & Horowitz. It's not like I can't find their stuff if I need to know what they've said. So, here's what I'm going to do: On days when a Sullivan or Horowitz column appears in Salon I will click away & not come back until the next day. And I'm going to promote the "click away today" idea on my weblog, which is pretty well-linked to other progressive sites. It's not that I want people to put their fingers in their ears & sing la-la-la-la as loud as they can; no, it's just that it is already so difficult to hear progressive opinion in America that I cannot believe Salon would, in effect, turn up the volume on the right." I invite everyone who reads this to join me. Maybe Salon will notice their hits counter's silence on days when they publish the nasty mendacities of Horowitz & Sullivan. Pass it on.
Send Joan Walsh a note telling here that you are going to "click away today" when Sullivan & Horowitz appear in Salon. Make it nice. Joan seems like a nice person; in fact, as I was writing this, the following email arrived: "I didn't see your letter retracting your cancellation (not on that list). You made my day. I'll keep arguing with you, though: We haven't *turned up the volume* on the right. We added Joe Conason five days a week, Keith Olbermann twice. We turned up the volume on the left, and added Andrew for a little balance." My problem is I just don't buy the idea that Salon has any responsibility for "balance" in the current state of the media universe. While the left strives for "balance," the right attacks the Bill of Rights; while the left strives for balance, the Washington Times smears America's teachers & the rest of the supposedly responsible media lap it up as if the shit was chocolate; while the left strives for balance, the right endorses Ann Coulter's attack on American values as cute. Give me a break, Salon. Give me a freakin' break.
[Eric Alterman on this issue. MWO on Alterman's reaction to Salon's move (scroll down to "Salon's New War.")]
Thursday, September 05, 2002
Garlic always gets applause. Among my many vices, one that I'm willing to admit to is watching cooking shows on cable television. I'm particular fan of the Jacques & Julia series on PBS, but also find the live shows with an audience fascinating. You watch enough of these programs & you begin to get a feel for the semiotics of the form. (Barthes' little essay on professional wrestling comes to mind in this context.) On Emeril Live, which has not only a live audience but a band, Emeril Legasse reveals himself a master of the discourse. Along with his tag lines "Bam!" & "Kick it up a notch," he uses his audience's powerful desire for (illicit?) excitement in the way he adds particular ingredients to his dishes. Garlic always gets big applause; chilies in one form or another come in second. If it's a desert under construction, the applause ingredient is invariably chocolate. In the Puritan American psyche these foods apparently carry a marker of excess: Emeril, by using them as dramatic elements, enacts a little ritual in which taboos are broken, but under controlled conditions. (Analyzing my vices to death appears to be another among my many vices!)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:56 PM.
Monday, September 02, 2002
Crow weather. Spider weather. Went out the back door this evening to build a fire in the Webber & ran my face into an elaborate spider web occupied by a small red spider. A couple of crows were complaining to each other about something in the woods up by Ed's pond. Still dry as dust. Been reading about sex in ancient Mesopotamia, so the weather is perhaps appropriate in terms of one of those correspondences so loved by mystics & Romantic poets up to & including Yeats. According to Jean Bottero those old Sumerians & Babylonians valued marriage as a contract, but allowed a lot of free play in the expression of sexuality, even for women (given the strongly patriarchal structure of the society, as if there remained a cultural memory of matriarchy). Apparently it had not occurred to anyone to connect personal morality with sex; indeed, Bottero seems to be suggesting that personal morality did not exist in the sense that it does for us. (I wonder if this hooks up with Julian Jaynes' old book about the "bicameral mind," which I haven't read in thirty years, but which, as I recall, suggests that what we now call consciousness is a fairly recent evolutionary development & that in the human past one part of our mind spoke to us as if from outside, in the voices of gods.) Certainly, there was no connection between religion & prohibitions against sexual license--the temples were populated by sacred prostitutes who enacted the copulations of the gods. There were also non-sacred prostitutes who plied their trade in taverns & inns & who lived--apparently the only restriction--along the city walls. Siduri, from Gilgamesh, is clearly one of these & she is presented as a strong figure, one who stands for a certain kind of domesticity & certainly for civilization as opposed to the hero's quest. "Give it up," she says to Gilgamesh, who is inconsolable at the death of his boon companion Enkidu. "Stay here with me. I have fresh bread & good beer." Bread, beer & the self-conscious pleasure of sex seem to have represented the concept of Civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. (Think of Samson, just a little later along the timeline & the role of his lover as opposed to that of Siduri.)
When Gilgamesh & Enkidu return from slaying Humbaba [Huwawa] in the sacred forest, the goddess Ishtar [Istar / Inanna] proposes marriage to Gilgamesh, offering him power & riches; Ishtar, though, has a long history--not just of sexual license--but of sexual exploitation; Gilgamesh rejects her & Enkidu insults her by hurling the thigh of the Bull of Heaven, whom he has just killed, in her face. Ishtar is a composite figure, a combination of a Sumerian goddess of free love with a Semitic goddess of discord & war. She was not a good wife, in the contractual sense. Sex as act & as social practice seem to have been practical matters at the dawn of Western civilization. I wonder what the hell happened.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:19 PM.
Sunday, September 01, 2002
Grasshopper weather. Hot & dry. Yesterday Carole went with friends to Canada for a day of shopping & dinner. I stayed home because I was exhausted from the first week of classes. I did a bit of house cleaning, but mostly what I did was lie on the couch with one or more of the dogs & watch cable television. I have a weakness for how-to shows about cooking & home repair. At some point around the middle of the day I fell asleep for an hour & a half. In the evening I grilled some Italian sausage & corn on the cob for dinner. The result of my day of lethargy? Today I feel refreshed & energetic. Which is a good thing, since I'm going to be spending the afternoon with fifty undergraduates from Project Arete, a double major I administer here at Clarkson between the Schools of Liberal Arts & Business. It's our Fall Retreat to plan for the year & introduce the new students in the program to everyone else. Lunch will be served.
On Thursday of last week I was giving one of my patented quasi-lectures in my freshman Humanities class on the background to the Epic of Gilgamesh. At one point I looked up from the computer screen, where I had been selecting a slide & realized that I had them--they were watching & listening. They were with me. (Not too surprising since we had been talking about the seduction of Enkidu at the beginning of the poem, but still.) But immediately upon my realization followed the sense that I was walking on a wire & that I was expending a tremendous amount of energy. I've always, I think, been an energetic teacher, but now, in my fifties, it takes more out of me. It costs more in physical stamina & intellectual flexibility. I'm not complaining--writing & teaching are the two things that make me feel completely engaged with life: a paradox, since both involve some removal from daily routine.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:26 AM.