Friday, February 28, 2003
This is not your father's Blossom Dearie: Don't get me wrong, I love Blossom, but I haven't found any music in a very long time that makes me as happy as Dave's True Story, a cafe jazz duo consisting of Kelly Flint, who sings & Dave Cantor, who writes the lyrics & plays guitar. Cantor & I mean this seriously is the new Cole Porter. I've been listening nonstop to Unauthorized since I got it the day before yesterday. Retro? Lounge? Some of the reviewers use these terms, but this is an extension of a much older American tradition. Tin Pan Alley, Cafe Society, Broadway crossed with Beatniks & with knowing references to Kafka & Foucault & Sartre & Homer (not Simpson) & Keats strained through a postmodern Manhattan sensibility. Words fail me, you'll just have to listen for yourself. I really want to see these guys live. "There was this guy I met / He had a birthmark on his knee / But he had more respect for Nixon / Than he had for me."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:41 PM.
Henry says "there must be something more enlightening to say about games & poetry." I often try to get the beginning writers I teach to understand the playfulness of poems & stories. Games imply structures; playfulness marks an approach to structures.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:17 PM.
I hadn't though I was in the grip of fear, but last night I had a dream that terrorists crashed a helicopter into a huge gas storage tank in a nearby village & at the same time exploded a dirty bomb north of the border in Canada. I was driving my old truck & talking to a friend when we saw the explosion. The time scale of the dream was fractured. First we saw the explosion from a distance, then I was right up close looking at the men trying to scramble off the tank before the chopper hit. (The close-up was also an instant replay.) Fear is how we will be mastered . . .
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:08 AM.
Thursday, February 27, 2003
Continuing the discussion: "The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests." HG, here, from the inside, is why I cannot support the coming war. Look, I am an internationalist by inclination, but I understand the harm corporate "globalization" is doing in the developing world. We have to hope for & work for a better international system that the one we have. The one we had a few years back was no utopia, but compared to this New World Order, it looks pretty edenic. American culture is dynamic & creative & there is a jazz club in Hanoi where you can hear good music. In particular this skinny kid on electric bass with the most amazing fingers you have ever seen. It's not that Iraq isn't dangerous, it is that our own government is out of control & running headlong toward self-destruction. Opposing this coming war has more chance of keeping us safe & the world in balance than supporting a crazed adventure.
Later: I'm not picking on HG. It's just that we've been talking about this off & on & because I trust him.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:40 PM.
Oh, & then HG responds to Jordan on poetic identity & the blog. For way too long I wanted to be a Poet in the mid-century sense. Who could blame me, I'd grown up reading Pound & Eliot, Berryman & Lowell, Sexton & Plath, Roethke & Hugo. I was a student of Hugo, Wagoner, Strand, McPherson, Justice & Bell (Now there's a law firm!) & I stand here in public to acknowledge all that I got from them, which was a considerable education in poetry. Such an odd thing in itself in late 20th century America. A luxury of a rich nation. Throughout it all, a kid from the aspirant post WWII West Coast working class, I managed most of the time to hang onto my amazement at my own good fortune. Which is no doubt all that kept me from being completely insufferable. That, & what I can only call a sensual relationship to language. Sometime about age six I figured out that the way you said something could change the world, deflect an affect. Such an insight can slide easily toward the lie & I became a master liar. Poetry, though, once I began to take it seriously, somehow managed to teach me that the greater power is truth. This all sounds very portentous, but you must imagine it taking place in one small fearful consciousness trying to protect itself. There are ways in which language can test reality . . .
I was raised on the false poetry of Christian fundamentalism. How do I--a radical pluralist & pragmatist--know it is false? Because it fails the test of language. But that's a digression I'm not going to pursue right now. I wanted to be a Famous Poet & if I'm completely honest I have to admit I wouldn't mind a bit more recognition for my work. I got the new APR today & didn't read the poems first, but all the advertisements for Summer conferences, wondering why in the world poet X or Y had a gig while I labored in obscurity. (I've had my work in APR I have an MFA from Iowa, ferchrisakes.) All the while understanding that poetry had already vaulted me into the middle class so why should I complain? I've traveled the world on the rewards of poetry: Europe & North Africa when I was a youngster, Vietnam in the last few years. Like Henry Gould, I'm not the sort of poet who is likely to become fashionable & I suppose obscurity--as long as it's not too obscure--is a blessing bestowed by fate. Increasingly, I'm attracted to the Vietnamese notion of the scholar who withdraws to his riverbank to avoid court intrigues, who grows some vegetables & writes poems. Perhaps he teaches a few promising children the classics.
The Associated Writing Programs Conference is taking place in Baltimore this weekend. Except for a couple of years when I've been abroad, I've gone to the conference for the last twenty years. I served on AWP's Board of Directors. I got a letter earlier this week inviting me to the VIP lounge--a suite in the conference hotel reserved for the elite--if I came to the conference, but I'm at home this weekend. I spent my university travel allowance on going to the American Literary Translators Conference earlier in the year. Translation, I think, finally taught me poetic humility & a kind of happiness. Working on a text in Vietnamese, my ambition is transformed & purified & though I distrust notions of purity & essence translation brings me back to the workings of language, which is where I began.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:02 PM.
Recently I've disagreed with Henry Gould about the coming war, but even there I had the sense that I was responding to an intelligent conscience; now, reading his framing of current poetries, I have that sense you get sometimes of having someone else write your thoughts before you do.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:48 PM.
Because of my own upbringing I have a particular interest in fundamentalist Christianity, especially the ways in which it uses language & myth. At AlterNet, Paul S. Boyer has written a useful assessment of the current play of fundamentalism & politics: "Academics do need to pay more attention to the role of religious belief in American public life, not only in the past, but also today. Without close attention to the prophetic scenario embraced by millions of American citizens, the current political climate in the United States cannot be fully understood."
What fascinates me is the way that fundamentalists of all stripes literalize metaphor--& do so after carefully choosing which metaphors to unparse. Irony here being that the metaphors must surely be chosen for denaturing precisely because they resonate. Another interesting thing that Boyer points out is that the premillennialists tend to be anti-corporate, anti-internationalist, anti-UN etc.--much like some of the anarchist & leftist anti-globalization activistswho are anti-World Bank & IMF with whom the fundamentalists would want little to do.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:58 AM.
The Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University, where my wife is Assistant Director, is putting on a show of Tom Tomorrow cartoons. Next week I'm going to have dinner with the man himself. I'm passing up Vigo Mortensen tonight--just can't get into that whole movie star thing. I certainly don't begrudge him his success, but horning in on poetry makes me a little nervous. Probably just a turf issue. Ever since the Mortensen show was announced, Carole has had people calling & emailing her begging for tickets to the events involving him. My favorite was a caterer who offered her fifty dozen cookies for twenty tickets.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:25 AM.
You know, I just can't get my head around this. The only way I can begin to explain this sort of behavior by supposedly rational people is that the country is under the influence of a runaway reaction of fear. The psychic reactor is glowing orange & we approach meltdown. MWO makes the connection to John Ashcroft's Christian fundamentalism & having grown up with the likes of the AG I can certainly attest to their high level of fear, but I also think there is something even more fundamental going on here: You give ordinary people uniforms & guns & an excuse to throw their weight around this is what you get. In the US we have usually managed to have social devices--education, religion, democracy--that put limits on this sort of behavior, but under the current administration those limits are being removed, as if we can't afford such niceties. I keep wanting to reassure myself: We're better than this, we know better, we'll come to our senses . . . but I begin to lose faith when I read about this kind of behavior by my fellow citizens.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:41 AM.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Meta/blog: It's not that I've been taking a break from blogging, though I don't usually go more than a couple of days without a post: it's just that I've been bored with the sort of stuff I've been posting. I realize that the who blogging universe began with a critical moment--a singularity--when a number of tech-savvy folk began creating lists of links with comments & putting them up for all to read. I read & admire a number of these bloggers. (Boingboing & Everything Burns are among my favorites. Oh, & Jerry Kindall.) But I'm not really very good at this sort of thing. If this space has any value for me, it's that I can work out political & poetical ideas in a context that allows a lot of freedom but demands a certain amount of care. Anyway, there are already enough blogs collecting interesting links. What I really want to do is focus on poetry & language, but when I read the poetry blogs I despair of ever beginning to respond in a way that honors the nuances of difference between aesthetic & theoretical positions. I've been reading & writing poetry & occasionally writing about poetry for thirty years & I feel more ignorant of the art than the day I began. Beginners know everything. In any case, there will be a turn hereabouts toward the literary without attempting to slice that off from the political. Can't be done, even if I wanted to. Maybe it's just the long cold winter & the frozen pipes.
Sometimes in poetry I can get at a messy, broken & yet somehow coherent sense of the world; when I turn to prose, especially prose about poetry (which for me is the primary art), I seem to lose my balance. I find myself believing contridictory things. Perhaps I can work toward making this a space for coherent contradictions. Tensions. Today I had a long conversation with a couple of students about what makes a particular text "literary" & while I was able to offer them an honest critique of the Matthew Arnold "eternal veraties" view of poetry, I was only able to offer conjectures about the ways in which we name texts of particular sorts. I lean toward the Russian Formalist idea that the texts we call literature, or treat as literary, are "overdetermined." My students are in the sciences, so I suggested the metaphor of a supersaturated liquid, which they picked up on immediately.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:07 PM.
More on the personal in American poetry: Actually, I have complained in recent years of the merely personal quality of many of the poems I see in the literary journals. I am equally repelled by poems that assume the reader will be interested in the stuff of the poet's life & by poems that offer no sense of the poet's perspective. I am beginning to suspect that I am an unreconstructed High Modernist. Part of that supersaturation of the literary text is its placement within--dare I speak the word?--tradition. (At least I didn't capitalize it. I want to pick up on this post over at Cahiers de Corey about the personal & the sentimental--I too came out of that Northwest School, before scurrying away to Iowa, from where I wrote (long ago now) to a friend who had sent me her poems, "'No ideas but in things' does not mean no ideas at all, for christ's sake!" I was young & brash & full of myself, but that would still be the beginning of my critique of Raymond Carver's poetry. Were I going to offer a critique, which I'm not. But I am interested in Roethke--I was an undergrad at UW just after he died--& even more interested in the ways poets like Berryman & Plath & Lowell bent the language around their pain.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:54 AM.
Friday, February 21, 2003
Idiots. The solipsism of these nutcases is a perfect match for the solipsism of the Bush administration. Symmetry prevails. How to break the symmetry?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:37 PM.
I just can't let go of the personal in poetry. I realize this makes me a retrograde troll among the current cognoscenti, but I can't help myself. In fact, I have been thinking lately about John Berryman & Anne Sexton. Of course poetry participates in the discourse of its historical moment & of course it is constrained by the structures of language; but language (Wittgenstein) is a house we all erect together. The critique of naturalism offered by Langpo is salutary, but not conclusive. I hereby declare the founding of the poetic school of reflective naturalism, which holds that the world & its beings are a right subject for poetry, in all their complexity. Manifesto to follow.
Dan Erlich may be at fault. He emailed me recently asking about confessional poets & I'm sorry to say I've not yet responded. I don't respond because I have too much to say. Dan. Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell & the rest of them minor & major constitute my literary family, with the benign presence of William Carlos Williams presiding over the whole shindig. Uncle Ez's fireside chats are in there somewhere too, alas. Obviously, I'm a hopeless case. The betrayal of this tradition by the New Formalist right-wing pigs dismays me more than I can say. The definition of alienation for American poets is driven home by the fact that Billy Collins is Laureate & Dana Gioia head of the NEA. The suburban aesthetic prevails as we head off to war.
It's a sign of the times that Silliman's Blog seems to have spawned twenty-five child-blogs in the last few months while I've been hip to the technology for two years without gathering any disciples. But then I've been writing mostly about politics & my life by the river. I am suspicious of perspectives that put poetry in the foreground. Call me Wendell Fucking Berry.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:28 PM.
Bush opens new front in Southeast Asia: Next thing you know they'll be calling them advisors. Mama, don't let you babies grow up to be soldiers . . . this is gonna be a long mothafucker.
Maybe someone should send Sec Def Rumsfeld One Very Hot Day or A Bright, Shining Lie or A Rumor of War. Not that it would do any good. Americans don't even bother to be quiet anymore: "The deployment culminates months of planning and coordination between Adm. Thomas Fargo, the commander of American forces in the Pacific, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and top Philippine officials, including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Mr. Rumsfeld briefed President Bush on the operation last week, Pentagon officials said. // 'The Philippines have a terrorist problem, and we have offered our assistance,' a senior Pentagon official said. 'Over time, that assistance takes different shapes and forms. The Philippines have invited us to expand our role with them'."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:48 PM.
From the well nourished moon: "One more thought on Jim after my "voluminous" I'm afraid to read the whole thing myself post of yesterday. Jim as Wendell Berry's mad farmer: "Be like the fox/who makes more tracks than necessary,/some in the wrong direction." Yes, I know. Crazy like a fox -- a little tired. But I have an attachment to Berry's Mad Farmer Liberation Front poem just as I do to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", namely b/c my 7th grade geometry teacher used to read it aloud to us once a month. In this simple way, the Geometry teacher (and geometry turned out to be so beautiful!) kicked my English teacher's ass. I guess that wasn't so hard. This was a separatist religious school, Baptist, class size approximately 7, curriculum from Bob Jones. So you see why I harbor fondness for this revolutionary of an instructor. Theorems! Poetry! and More Theorems!"
I went to one o0f those schools too & I was also saved by Prufrock, though I had to discover him on my own in a local bookstore. The owner of that store became my first intellectual mentor & I bless her.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:17 PM.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Make a kit, but whatever you do, don't think. Just. Don't. Think. About. What. Your. Government. Is. Doing. Shush, quiet now, just go to sleep, you kit is ready. Not only is poetry not supposed to be political, in this administration, policy is not supposed to be political. And we know from GWB & Ms. Rice that hundreds of thousands of Americans making a political statement by going out into the streets is just simply Not. Going. To. Make. Any. Difference. Do you have that, children, do you understand? Why don't you go make another kit. There. That's a good child.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:55 PM.
I really wish this movie would make it up to my little burg in the northern reaches of New York. I was living in Hanoi when they were shooting parts of it, but the main reason I want to see it is that Greene's novel is a flawlwss work of political art.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:02 PM.
I had a dream last night that all the objects in the world were inhabited by little ghosts. It was a good idea to get to know them.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:17 PM.
Monday, February 17, 2003
A really interesting piece in the NY Times this morning about running down Al Qaeda operatives in Europe. It has struck me many times since 9/11 that this sort of police work is far more likely to make me & my fellow citizens safe than, say, invading Iraq. Maybe the FBI & CIA are working these veins, but with secret tribunals & all, we may never know. Wouldn't it be better, from a democratic point of view, to hold public trials when & if we catch those who mean to do us harm? Wouldn't the texture & feel of our society be better by bringing things out into the light? That appears to be what the Germans are doing. Oh, I forgot, the Germans are now our enemies.
Later: What I'm getting at here is the idea that an open society is better than a closed society, more supportive of individual initiative & creativity; it's axiomatic that knowing more is better than knowing less. I realize that states--any institution, really--must sometimes act with discretion; but shouldn't that discretion be motivated by concern for individuals? A National Security State of the sort now being organized by John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Donald Rumsfeld & GWB has only its own interests in mind, or those of a small group, an oligarchy. [NB: Ridge is clearly the runt of this litter, a useful idiot.] If I had any faith that this government was the least bit interested in the long-term welfare of ordinary Americans like me, I could be persuaded that military action was necessary to remove Saddam; unfortunately, perhaps, I cannot assent to be governed by this illegitimate cabal. This might seem to be splitting ethical hairs, picking ethical nits; but in fact it has everything to do with the current political situation: The budget that Bush just sent to Congress contains no line item for rebuilding Afghanistan. Not a farthing, not a pfennig, not a red cent.That's commitment, that's follow through, that's support for the wretched of the earth. These guys really don't give a flying fuck.
My objection to the coming war has less to do with Saddam than it does with the current resident of the White House & his handlers. Bush's motives are adolescent fantasy; the motives of his handlers can be seen for what they are in the pronouncements from neocon thinktanks over the last 15 years. I do find it amusing in a dark sort of way, though, that right-wingers who supported juntas & death squads in Latin America in recent decades have now become such staunch advocates of human rights. Forgive me if I note that I detect the rotten smell of hypocrisy.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:54 AM.
Not happy with the way I tried last night to explain the way poetry is embedded in the social world. It's not that poetry has to be about the social world, but that a picture of poetry as separated from the communal lives of human beings leads to a poetry that is denatured, decorative. The attempt to hold poetry up as something pure & "above" politics leads nowhere.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:02 AM.
Sunday, February 16, 2003
Poetry has to be about more than the artful arrangement of words. I like the decorative arts, but poetry is not a decorative art, not at its best. The material poetry shapes is language & language if fundamental to human consciousness. But neither language nor consciousness are stand-alone individual qualities--both are erected & maintained through social activity. Ergo: Poetry has got to deal with the social lives of human beings, which includes (but is not limited to) the political. The idea that poetry could be non-political, in the sense that Laura Bush meant in her statement canceling her poetry soiree is nonsense, an illusion of false consciousness convenient to the flattened sensibilities that sustain suburban American self-satisfaction. Whitman & Dickinson & Hughes both all lay at the extreme edge of Christian America; their alienation is my alienation. Mrs. Bush's statement that "There is nothing political about American literature" is so profoundly wrong as to sugest a kind of cultural psychosis.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:09 PM.
No More Mister Nice Blog gets it exactly right. Go Jacques! The president of France once worked for Hojos & Budweiser. The guy should be given honorary American citizenship. He also knows more about our basic values & culture than George W. Bush. It's not that Bush doesn't know European culture--he doesn't actually have any deep sense of American culture.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:05 PM.
Plumbing update: Pipe is still frozen. Seems almost normal now. Well, it's supposed to warm up starting tomorrow. It's a mark of how cold it's been that an hour ago I went out to get some wood for the stove in a wool sweater over a light shirt, gloves & cap--but no jacket. It was up to zero & felt positively balmy.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:15 AM.
Saturday, February 15, 2003
Still without water, line still frozen. Carole is visiting friends in another state this weekend, so I've been able to set up a kind of minimalist survival mode. I melt snow for water to flush the toilet & drive over to the VFD where there's an artesian well to fill my beer brewing buckets with drinking water. I've got a heat lamp on the soil over the frozen pipe & a ceramic heater in the cellar blowing on the intake from that side. Still, it's going to be -30 tonight & I don't expect the pipe to open up until Tuesday or Wednesday when the forecast is for temperatures in the high 20s & low 30s. I'm stiff & bone-tired from crawling around on the frozen ground around the well. Angie & Andy have offered their shower, so tomorrow afternoon I'll go over there & get cleaned up. Ah, country living!
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:24 PM.
HG continues his discussion of the coming war. I share some of his reservations, but think he's wrong about two things: 1) His seemingly unconscious elision of Saddam & Al Qaeda, & 2) his characterization of the broad movement against this war at this time as advocating "peace at any price." I read a lot of left-leaning political commentary & no one--I repeat no one--that I have read advocates "peace at any price." I think that Americans are a lot smarter than that. Most of the people I know who are opposed to this war at this time understand that Saddam is a monster & many of us are not opposed to working to bring about his downfall. But many if not all of us also feel very strongly that the current US government lacks the moral standing to pursue such a war. As much as I deplore Saddam, I have the very strong sense that the current run-up to war has been premeditated, even before this president came to power. There is a foreign policy cabal that has been itching for empire since the end of the Nixon administration. The first Bush administration pursued this agenda but within an Establishment belief system; the current administration has replaced the Cold War realism of the father with the Christian fundamentalist eschatology of the son. (Having grown up among people with these beliefs, I tremble for my nation.)
As for going to war against Iraq, Hell, even an unreconstructed right-wing hack like Robert Novak said tonight on CNN's Capitol Gang that preemptive war sets an extremely dangerous precedent, especially when we don't have any credible evidence that Saddam has WMD, let alone that he is connected to Al Qaeda. And even more especially when the US acts unilaterally. American values are under attack by radical Islam, represented by Al Qaeda. I'd like to see my government pursuing the agents of this threat with aggressive policework & intelligence operations. Unfortunately, this legitimate defense of American values has been hijacked for a neocon project to execute a Pax Americana. Pardon me if I don't sign up. Empires crush poets. Ask Ovid.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 1:25 PM.
Howard Owens once again demonstrates his ability to skim my writing in order to mischaracterize it. He attempts to convict me of believing in the moral equivalence of Saddam & Bush & he is almost right because I think both leaders came to power illegitimately. But his headline, which says I think that freedom & democracy are evil, is simply idiotic. My whole objection to Bush is that he imperils my freedom & the democracy which I so fervently believe in. I shall now begin a magisterial silence in response to all further attacks from Mr. Owens--Oh, & also from his succubus Vinman Vato, who seems to have a Jones for academics (see the comments to this & earlier posts re: Professor Duemer). Just trying to make a living, Guv.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:45 AM.
Friday, February 14, 2003
Anybody who has spent more than five minutes reading this weblog will know that I am a member of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party," to borrow a phrase from the late Paul Wellstone. I've decided to put my money where my blog is & I encourage like-minded leftists to do the same. For the good of the nation, we have got to throw the crazy assholes now running the country out of office, so I have signed up to give $25 / month to elect Democrats in 2004. Think about it this way: I put away a chunk of my income every month to provide for my retirement, but that isn't going to mean squat if the current crop of radicals stays in power, so this is an insurance surcharge for my future. I honestly believe the Bush oligarchs think in terms of nobles & serfs. You know who the serfs are.
Skimble says: "The United States is a country, not a country club. But Roger Kimball is just a caddie on the manicured fairway of Laura Bush's stunted cultural imagination."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:20 PM.
Remaining calm. It's twenty below outside & this morning the pump for our well wouldn't fully pressurize our system. Just sat there hovering at 20psi when it should be 44. Resetting it didn't work. This has happened a couple of times in the past when the pressure gauge itself became clogged, so I went upstairs & grabbed a wrench to pull it off & clean it out. As I was yanking on it the PVC pipe leading from the pump to the house system broke, spraying forty gallons of water all over the cellar. So much for working on that article this morning. I got things stabilized & came upstairs & made a pot of coffee with some of the water still left in the system. I'm drinking the second cup now, very strong & black.
And there's no point doing a plumbing job on an empty stomach so I've just made some sausage & eggs for breakfast. Oh, & I seem to be blogging about the situation in my cellar. [A real-time blog of a plumbing repair--wonder if that's an internet first.] I'm fortunate, the general store up on the highway will have the stuff I need to fix the broken pipe, then we'll see if I was right about the gauge. This will all take most of the morning. Keeps the mind off my country's headlong rush into a stupid war.
Well, got the pressure gauge was sure enough full of rusty gunk. Now that's cleaned out I'm going to have to run up to the store for pipe cement & PVC L-fittings so I can make the repair. Did I mention that I had bread dough proofing over night that had to be dealt with this morning? At some point along the way I shaped it into loaves & it's now doing its final rise before the oven. At least I won't go hungry.
Everything is cleaned out & put back together now & I'm just waiting for the cement to dry on the repair I made to the broken pipe. The oven is heating & when the bread goes in I will go down & try to pressurize the system. I'm hopeful that it will work, but if it doesn't it's going to be a real headache because I'm not going to be able to get anyone to work outside on the well itself until it warms up. The wellhead is under a trapdoor in the deck which is under about three feet of snow & ice at the moment. I really don't think it's the well, though; all the symptoms point to a mucked up pressure gauge. We'll see.
Well. Got everything back together & turned on the pump. System wouldn't pressurize. Dinked around & tried a couple of things that didn't work, then came upstairs & called the plumber. At least I won't have to pay to have him fix the pipe I broke, since that's already repaired. But there's a point at which doing more--especially since I've already gone as far as my knowledge will take me--is far more likely to do greater harm than good. Maybe it's the electrical contacts in the pressure switch, about which I know zip. I'm just hoping there's a secret technique for reestablishing the siphon pressure that has let the water in the pipe drain back into the well. A plumber, presumably, will know the proper incantation.
Line from the well into the house is frozen. I've spent the last 90 minutes crawling around under the deck hooking up a pipe heating coil & a little ceramic heater blowing on the wellhead. I'm going to give that an hour to work then try the pump again, which the plumber says is fine. In fact, I paid the plumber $40 for that information--a little steep, but it allows me to eleminate several possibilities & concentrate on what needs to be fixed, so maybe not such a bad deal after all.
Well, still no water in the house. I've got the heat coil & ceramic heater running in the well housing under the deck. No results after two hours, so I'm guessing it may take all night. Before I go to bed I'll try again, then turn off the heater & cover the well with a space blanket.
Not a particularly good night to be trying to unfreeze a feedline from the well. I'm writing this at 9:00 pm & it's already -20 with a clear sky. It could easily hit -30 tonight. The woodstove is roaring & the house is warm, we just don't have any water except the stuff I bought in bottles today. Penny & Angel have been sweethearts, as befits today's patron saint. I've devised a little space blanket hood over the well & continue to blast away with two heat sources. We'll sleep well & if the line isn't thawed by morning I'll go out to the local diner for breakfast, then figure out what to do next.
Thursday, February 13, 2003
Eric Alterman: "The most hostile words you can utter on right-wing talk-radio are 'I don’t know.' They all — and I mean all — think it’s a trick."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:19 PM.
A "material breach" of sanity: Iraq's missiles can fly 190 kilometers rather than the allowed 150 & this, according to Tony Blair, is a good enough reason to go to war. Meanwhile the Anglo Alliance remains positively nonchalant about North Korean missiles that can reach (at least) California. ("Fuck California," says Karl Rove, "they voted for Gore.") One definition of a bully is someone who avoids a real fight in favor of one he thinks he can win.
National Weather Service Burlington VT: "Bitterly Cold Wind Chill Readings Can Be Expected Tonight Across The North Country. A Cold Front Has Moved Across The Region And In Its Wake Another Surge Of Arctic Air Will Push Into Northern New York And Vermont Tonight. Meanwhile. Temperatures Across The Saint Lawrence Valley And Northern Adirondacks Will Fall To 20 To 30 Degrees Below Zero By Thursday Morning. These Bitterly Cold Temperatures Combined With Northwest Winds At 10 To 20 Mph With Some Higher Gusts This Evening Will Create Wind Chill Readings Between 30 And 40 Degrees Below Zero."
How come they capitalize everything? Does that make it easier for radio announcers to read?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:39 PM.
Poetry & freedom: Is poetry--or can it be--a "discourse of freedom"? I have told my students that in order to write poems that they must be "ruthless" with themselves & with the world. For me, this injunction implies honesty, if not purity. Not necessarily the confessional sort of honesty (though I don't rule that out), not even honesty without irony; but a refusal to use the poem to cover one's ass: aesthetically, ethically, politically, & etc.
Thinking more about HG's idea of a mediating discourse. I've been talking to some of my students the last couple of weeks about Kenneth Burke's notion that a writer / speaker must establish an "identification" with a reader / hearer; Burke calls this consubstantiality & it is fundamental to his rhetoric. We got to thinking that, in this way of thinking, the writer invites a reader into a "rhetorical space" in which there are enough shared assumptions that communication can take place. (This is our language, not Burke's) When we meet tomorrow afternoon I may go so far as to suggest that the writer & the reader jointly call this space into existence. To what extent can this space be opened across the boundaries of culture & history?
Update: I'm not sure what contrast HG is drawing between my reasons for opposing the new war & those "measured & sensible" reasons offered by Ron Silliman. Are mine extreme & irrational? As HG himself notes, there is little hope of establishing the sort of dialogue he has suggested from a war footing. Beyond that, I have been thinking that the language on both sides of the conflict has been strangled & left for dead. Who will take the responsibility of the Samaritan in the parable & nurse our languages back to health? For me, even if I could be convinced that a war was necessary, I would be very reluctant--more than reluctant--to endorse the lies of both sides by giving my consent to violence. Perhaps, though, this is merely a moral luxury I don't have. But even if I drop this abstract argument against the coming war, I'm left thinking that a war--especially a unilateral war--will only make things worse: more terrorism, more instability, more repression at home.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:11 AM.
I want to respond briefly to Henry Gould & say thanks for his tentative, even shy, suggestions about a mediating discourse between between the American drive for absolute hegemony & the theocratic drive to ground all human actions in the divine. HG suggests that "Freedom, democracy, or popular sovereignty might, MIGHT, be the social force which is capable of limiting the utopian/dystopian/utilitarian extremism of the US administration's dream of hegemony; it MIGHT also be the social force which provides a contemporary analogue to the 'separation of church & state', which the Islamic world has not experienced in the same way the West has." I find this an appealing notion, though I have no idea how it might be put into practice. The comparison my be facile, but in my travels in Southeast Asia I have noticed that people living under authoritarian governments are almost tidally attracted to the American version of personal liberty & political freedom. It seems reasonable to think that people in the Middle East might be drawn to the same ideas, despite the conditioning of a religious ideology. (Important to note here that the discourse of freedom as conducted in the West is far from value-neutral or non-ideological.)
I see two problems here, maybe three: The first is a paradox--the current American government has a great deal in common with its theocratic enemies; in certain ways, what we are witnessing is a war, not between freedom & fundamentalism but a war between competing fundamentalisms & such a conflict is, I think, probably irresolvable except through violence. Somebody is going to have to give up their beliefs. The second problem is that ordinary people abroad--to generalize wildly--are likely to admire American-style freedom while fully understanding that such freedom easily slides over into license. So whatever discourse of freedom we might attempt to construct would need to emphasize what HG calls "popular sovereignty" over ideology & that means that freedom would look different in different places around the world--something that international business (which we haven't discussed) will see as an impediment to the "freedom" of globalization.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:44 AM.
Josh Marshall in his Talking Points Memo on the Bushies' foreign policy: "Which of our alliances and security organizations are going to be left when these guys are through?"
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:47 AM.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Further comments from HG this morning, meditating on his own meditation. He is "wavering," he says. Put off mostly--I'm guessing--by the tone of moral certainty on exhibit in the statements of some poets. I think HG oversimplifies the poetic response to this war & to this administration. Here's the poem I contributed to Sam Hamill's Poets Against The War effort:
The Language of Poetry
An educated man, Ngo Dinh Diem
believed in the power of words
to make a difference in the world
of things. So in a poetic gesture
he renamed the dangerous provinces
west of his capital, calling them
Hua Nghia, a literary cliche that means
"deepening righteousness." He called
the district center Khiem Cuong,
"modest but vigorous," replacing
the old name Bau Trai, "round farm."
In the summer of 1963 the word was
becoming flesh. The president meant
to deceive the spirits of the air & earth
who have lived long in that place,
but they were not fooled, even by poetry.
This poem comes out of my study of the last big American war & hardly engages in the sort of sloganeering HG rightly despises. I chose this poem from my last book because it is about the language of war & because the poem is actually quite optimistic. My motive was to maintain negative capability. There is a serious question, though, that we ought to be asking ourselves: When does negative capability--the ability to be in "doubts & uncertainties" collapse into mere indecision & moral dithering?
Monday, February 10, 2003
St. Martin's Press can relax, I'm not a loser: Back in 1996 my colleague Jim Simmerman & I edited a little anthology of poetry about dogs, Dog Music, for St. Martin's. They gave us a $6,000 advance, which we used to purchase permissions & then distributed the remainder among the contributors, who were given the option of passing on their checks to animal shelters in Potsdam NY & Flagstaff AZ, our hometowns. Every year since then, in January or early February, I get a statement from our agent showing that the book has not yet made back its advance. Until today. Today I got a statement with a check for $52, my half of the year's royalties less the agent's 15%. We are talking high finance here, no? And speaking of words about dogs, I wrote the text for this lovely collection of photographs by Nancy LeVine, A Dog's Book of Truths. It has already sold out its first two printings & we're working on a sequel, about old dogs.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:16 PM.
Henry Gould has been thinking about the coming of war. I don't know HG personally, just some of his work & his off-the-cuff comments on Poetryetc. In both his poetry & his emails HG can stand you up straight by virtue of looking at something common in a surprising way. HG has more negative capability, even, than Keats. But I think he may be exhibiting a bit too much of this Keatsian virtue in his thinking about the war that now appears inevitable. Seen in isolation, the war can be construed as a reasonable response to a real threat, even if that threat is not related directly to the catastrophe of 9/11. As awful as war always is, I felt that the American retaliation against the Taliban was justified. Time will tell whether our government has the moral fiber to stick it in the countryside as well as in Kabul. I have, some say, an obsession with Vietnam, both the country & the war. I've said before & I repeat here that the relevance of Vietnam to the current business is not because one is analogous to the other. That's not the case. The relevance of Vietnam to the Bush administration's plans for Iraq is America's stance in the world. In the second half of the 20th century the United States developed an ideology that presupposed dominance while at the same time spinning the fantasy of local self-determination. I could quote endlessly from Chapter 2 of The Quiet American, in which the young American Pyle assures the cynical old Brit Fowler that Americans are not colonialists & don't behave like the French but just want democracy & capitalism for everybody, but let that go. I don't doubt that the Islamic fundamentalists present an actual threat, but given the current state of the world--as seen from this small, cold corner--the government of my own country is more dangerous to me than all the Islamic terrorists in Karachi. I believe that a case could be made, in the abstract, for war; but not by this administration--probably not by this government. What we have, now, in the US, is something I wouldn't have imagined possible: a rogue state bent on working its will to power, even when that requires is to go outside the flow of history. Today our Secretary of Defense took a significant step in splitting the US off from Europe. The Bush administration is illegitimate both technically & ethically & is not capable of waging a just war. Which is not to say that the enemy is any more morally justified.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:11 PM.
Sunday, February 09, 2003
As an English Major thirty years ago I was taught the art of close reading by Professors Frank & Dunlop at the University of Washington in Seattle. Here's a recent photo of Professor Dunlop, one of my intellectual heroes. It's been more than twenty years since I've seen him:
We were talking mostly about poems, but the skills learned in the literature classroom are transferable. As another resident of Seattle demonstrates: RonK takes apart Colin Powell's recent UN performance as if it were "The Wasteland." Wait a minute--it is the wasteland. The philosopher & critic Kenneth Burke breaks down the rhetoric of any act of language--such as a speech at the UN or a poem--into act, scene, agent, agency & purpose; each of these parts of a dramatic performance can be assigned a motive. It is a powerful rhetorical technique, this "pentad" (see Burke'sA Rhetoric of Motives & The Philosophy of Literary Form) & I hope to apply it here in coming days, though I make no promise of systematic analysis--others are more qualified. I'll be looking at the poetics & rhetoric of war language. As usual, just thinking out loud in all kinds of weather.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:46 PM.
Saturday night dinner report: regular readers will have become used to my occasional descriptions of our ad hoc Saturday night dinners with our friends Andy & Angie. Another stupendous feast occurred last night. To begin at the end, Carole made Alton Brown's chocolate mousse, which, flavored with coffee & rum & served with fresh strawberries, was spectacular. I boned & broiled a chicken, finishing it with some bread crumbs mixed with parmesan & garlic. We served the chicken with a green salad & stuffed eggplant supplied by our pals. Some good red wine--a cabernet & an old vine zinfandel--completed the meal.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:37 AM.
This is good news for my university. I helped interview the three finalists & even though Tony was the inside candidate, I went into the process with an open mind. I concluded--as did everyone else at the university--that Tony was the right guy for the job. Congratulations, Dr. Tony Collins.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:14 AM.
Saturday, February 08, 2003
Well, if the left & the right can't get together to stop the coming authoritarian oligarchy, then we really are screwed. We'll see in 2004, but I am very close to losing my faith in electoral politics. I am afraid that future historians of the empire will conclude that Bill Clinton was the last honestly elected president of the United States & that elections thereafter became rigged "reality" television programming.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:06 AM.
How am I supposed to help my students develop sound academic values when governments behave like students in Freshman English? Arguments, even arguments for war, are matters, not of debate & the thoughtful construction of linked ideas, but quick cut & paste jobs & fancy multimedia shows. [Uggabugga chimes in.] Update: Here is the background & evidence.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:51 AM.
Friday, February 07, 2003
Creation "science" is bunk & any professor is perfectly within his rights to write or not write recommendations for students who ask him. I have declined to write letters for students about whom I had doubts. Dr. Dini has merely made his standards publicly available. It's certainly not surprising, given the degraded times in which we live, that AG John Ashcroft, whose beliefs are not far removed from those of a medieval mullah, should be investigating this perfectly ordinary bit of academic procedure. I teach a class every other year called Imagining Science & on the first day I tell the students that, while I am perfectly willing to grant a diversity of religious beliefs, for the purposes of this class we will assume that evolution by natural selection, as broadly understood by the scientific community, is true. I have not yet been presented with the practical choice Dr. Dini has responded to--I teach in a Humanities department & am not usually called upon to warrant the scientific credentials of my students. I might find it necessary, though, to mention the fact in a letter of recommendation--even for a non-scientific position--that a particular student rejects a fundamental body of scientific knowledge. Or I might give the student a choice of a letter that mentions this fact or no letter at all. In any case, I don't make hard & fast distinctions between the sciences & the arts & it seems to me that anyone who has read Darwin & considered some of the recent controversies about evolution & who then asserts that "creation science" should replace that body of knowledge is a defective intellectual. I would not recommend a defective intellectual for graduate school in Sociology, let alone medical school. A person who has accepted creationist doctrine has made a choice not to participate in the intellectual life of his or her culture. They have dropped out as surely as any sixties hippie. The student who has brought the suit, a Mr. Spradling, says that there is no way he would take Dr. Dini's class because it would deny his faith as a Christian. Fine, he's made a choice. I can respect that. Isn't it ironic how the religious right has adopted the politics of victimization they so roundly denounce in others? (Where did Jesus say that being a Christian was supposed to be easy?) Choices entail consequences. Surely, even John Ashcroft & Mr. Spradling would assent to that proposition.
Okay, I was ready to blame Bush for anything bad that happened as soon as he was installed. I admit my bias. But even folks who voted for the guy, the light must be beginning to dawn. If a unilateral war against Iraq (Well, I hear Latvia has signed on to go up against the Axis of Evil with us) hasn't shaken the faith of the faithful, perhaps the stock market will bring them to their senses.
I couldn't have said it better myself. I was going to post something about the insufferable Camille Paglia, interviewed today in Salon. Lucky for me, Jim Capozzola got there first & said what I would have said, except with more wit & in fewer words.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 1:04 PM.
Wednesday, February 05, 2003
Brad DeLong boils down Bush's proposed budget. Chilling, but not surprising, given the administration's determination to wreck Social Security & the rest of the safety net that has been constructed over the last sixty years. [Writing later] It's difficult for me to understand this drive to create a social-darwinist version of society that pits all against all. Haven't the greatest works of civilization(s) come out of cooperative efforts? Renaissance Florence--a cooperative effort however fractious--produced Dante & Fra Angelico & Petrarch & Machiavelli, along with many others. They called it a "commune," I think. Florence, actually, provides an interesting analogy. It's not like the city was a democracy, but the Medieval Florentines did discover ways--some better, some worse--to balance the rights of different social groups; that is, there was a Humanist recognition that all then members of the commune, as individuals & as groups, had claims upon the city. When we abandon this idea, as some conservatives apparently do, we descend into barbarism. Freud, in Civilization & its Discontents, constructs a little myth about the ways in which cooperation would have developed among human beings, by necessity [ch. iv]. I recommend it to my colleague Dr. Jim Ryan at the University of Western Ontario [linked above], though I doubt he will be interested in a decedent like old Sigmund, a cigar chomper if you know what I mean. (Aside: Isn't it interesting how our contemporary conservatives can love Israel so much while rejecting what we might call the Jewish/Liberal Tradition? Einstein & the Marx Brothers, along with Freud.) Anyway, I simply don't understand the failure to find sympathy for/with one's fellow beings.
Look, Jim Ryan & I are just professors at obscure universities in North America. Maybe we are emblematic. But yesterday he suggested I was pathologically angry. I'm not--I'm not one "wounded in anger," at least not any more, but one "wounded in love." Dr. Ryan writes on his weblog, "People who know me consider me peculiarly mild, even unflappable. But the truth is that inside I am horribly ill-tempered. I am an angry young man growing old. I am doomed to live the rest of my life with frequent fits of rage." And yet he suggested that I was filled with spite & ought to seek therapy. Actually, I think anger has a respectable place among the emotions, but that's an idea for another day. I'm certain, in any case, that we all project our worst fears about ourselves outward onto others. Which brings me back round to politics & the Bush administration, many of whose members are apparently so worried about their own potential for evil & shiftlessness that they see evil & shiftlessness everywhere, except in themselves. Freud also notes in C & D that it is possible to bind any number of people together in love as long as some remain outside so that we can direct our hatred against them [ch. v].
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:02 AM.
Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Threatening poetry: Heard a story on NPR tonight about this. The audio should be available tomorrow, but here's a print version (from the paper I used to deliver when I was 13).
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:00 PM.
I shoulda known better: Jim Ryan responds (again): "Joseph, you called me a racist on the grounds that I want to kill innocent people as God did in the Bible, when I didn't say anything remotely like that in the post. Now, that is special pleading. But when you show your wit by adverting to your command of mid-20th C. comic repertoire, I guess this substitute for engagement with my argument is supposed to suffice. // You're so full of spite that you can't even understand what you read or know when it's appropriate to apologize to strangers whom you've verbally attacked. Also, I saw what you wrote on your blog, all that gnashing of teeth about how you can "think circles around me". That's quite a debased thing to say for a man of your advanced years. // All this is considerable evidence that you have a personality disorder. You need to get help. I mean that in all sincerety and compassion. If there are highly unpleasant constants in your daily experience - feelings of rage, worthlessness, inability to connect with others - many of these can be alleviated in therapy. You don't have to live the rest of your life like this."
Old & mentally disturbed. Well, there's obviously no hope for me, so I'll just go on griping about the state of the world. Two notes: 1)The phrase, "bloodthirsty denizens of Jenin & Gaza" cannot be read except as a trope for all Palestinians; 2) the way in which I framed my statement about racism was carefully conditional. Who is it cannot read in this exchange?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:09 AM.
Monday, February 03, 2003
I've been scanning philosophy blogs this evening, thanks to the blogroll at philosophy dot com. Came across Philosoblog, written by Jim Ryan, who describes himself as "a philosophy professor, [who] wants to be a chemist in Charlottesville, Virginia." His most recent entry, which, I note, makes me feel as if I have contaminated my entire weblog by quoting, is as follows: "Whole groups can be held responsible for evil (or for good) done by only some of their members, whenever the action flows from he values shared by the group. Upholding a group's values is a way in which a member of a group counts as a supporter of evil (or good) done by another member in service to those values. The bloodthirsty denizens of Jenin and Gaza are somewhat responsible for killings they do not do. (I've blogged on a related issue before.) // Kekes argues that the trouble with (left-)liberalism is that it is inconsistent with these facts about collective responsibility, and also it likes to hold a group collectively responsible when these facts - necessary conditions - do not obtain. Liberalism attributes responsibility only to autonomous actions (actions done after full evaluation of the alternatives and in full understanding of their moral status and implications). But many cases of collective responsibility are cases in which many of the blameworthy (or praiseworthy) members of the group are not autonomous, but merely hateful (or merely kind). And liberals like to hold rich people or white men collective responsible for injustice caused by rich people or white men, even though those they hold collectively responsible have never shared the values of the wrong doers and have on the contrary fought to abolish those values. Collective responsibility is important to moral life. Not only does the concept of it elude liberalism, but also liberalism misapplies it. // Throughout the book, Kekes makes it clear that left-liberals have a tendency to ignore morally relevant properties of actions and characters and procede [sic] to judgment merely on the basis of gaps in wealth. This tendency is why I maintain that envy (or guilt in the face of envy) is a plausible explanation for someone's maintaining left-liberal values."
I feel like I had better go wash my hands. There. Better. Here is the comment I left on his site: "You write: "The bloodthirsty denizens of Jenin and Gaza are somewhat responsible for killings they do not do." Now, I'm not a philosopher, only a poor poet; but has it occurred to you that there is a huge freaking assumption in this sentence. An unexamined assumption? That you have no evidence that the totality of the residents of "Jenin & Gaza" are in fact "bloodthirsty"? Some, no doubt, are, but would you condemn the entire society? Have you read that very funny story in Genesis in which Abraham argues with God--really, it sounds like a Henny Youngman routine--about saving Sodom if there are x honest men living in the city? And this does not even address the cause--aren't you philosophers supposed to be interested in causes?--of the purported blood thirst. A rational moral system would want to inquire into the causes of the situation. Unless of course the philosopher was trying to smuggle a nasty & virulent racism into his /rational/ system. // Good luck with your chemistry career. You'll do less damage to students in the lab than in the philosophy classroom."
If philosophy professors are allowed to use language this loosely without being stood up straight & smacked with a volume of Kant & then on of Keats, perhaps they should be required to study poetry. I can think circles around this guy with my left hemisphere tied behind my back. In related news & to get a bit of air, see this from Blogorrhoea. (Shit-for-brains--I like the elemental feel of that! After all, it's not shit that offends me, but the bile noted above. Nothing like a good shit for clear thinking.)
Update: Ryan replies (in his comments): "I was speaking about the bloodthirsty ones, the ones who share the bloodthirsty values. Maybe if you'd read the post with an interest in seeking the truth you'd know that. But you didn't. You just want to spout spite." But this doesn't answer my question about the Palestinians who are not "bloodthirsty." What, exactyly, is their responsibility? To oppose terrorists? To work peacefully against the occupation & destruction of their land? To love Israel & the United States? But the real incoherence of Ryan's view is that he wants to apply collective guilt to Palestinians while absolving, near as I can tell, Americans & Israelis: American liberals are wrong for feeling a sense of collective guilt, but reactionary Americans are right in saying that all Palestinians are "bloodthirsty" & therefore guilty whether they engage in violent acts or not.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:57 PM.
I've been reading my students' weblogs. My conclusion is that the function of a liberal education is to keep you from being narrow & self-satisfied functionaries of the state.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:12 PM.
"The lingering influence of our Puritan tradition has led to an almost pathological native suspicion of the arts. To this day, in the political arena, the most successful conservative strategy is to wave the flag; attack immigrants, radicals, and intellectuals; and denounce indecent and subversive art in order to preserve the virtue of the average American family. A substantial portion of the American population seems not to know or care that the perpetuation of a free art in a free society depends on the prerogative to offend certain sensibilities." [Stanley Kunitz interview; via wood s lot]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 1:46 PM.
Listening to the NASA press conference. I've seen a few comments around the internet that "this is not a tragedy," because, the thinking goes, the people who died did not possess all of the qualities of the heroes of a classical tragedy & that the event was not "fated." This is tendentious. In the first place, the claim itself is debatable. The crew were certainly courageous & intelligent & given the statistics of risk in such an endeavor, one could argue that the accident was in fact fated. NASA had run the numbers & everyone knew that a catastrophe was inevitable. They went ahead in the face of this inevitability--beneath the ideology of optimism lives a profound pessimism. But none of that is what makes this a tragedy. What makes it a tragedy is that it is a public event, in a weird way, a work of art like a cycle of plays by Sophocles presented 2500 years ago on a sunny day in Athens, all the citizens watching. Contemporary media give us the chorus of commentary & the dramatic action itself, endlessly replayed in a kind of dream-loop from which we must tear ourselves away; & in this drama we even hear the voices of ghosts. And that, I think, is what creates a tragedy: it is public. It involves spectacle, though the forms are variable over time. So there is some special value in the shared experience of a catastrophe that turn it into tragedy; at the same time, tragedy is supposed to do something for us: catharsis, yes, but also what Kenneth Burke calls the consubstantial. And if catharsis has any value beyond the personal, the merely psychological, it brings us to a public acknowledgment of our weakness in the face of reality; it brings us to understand that, while not all deaths are tragic, each life is holy. Heroes' lives are not more valuable than others; their function is to remind us of the value of each life.
And then there is this, which seems so true I imagine I have thought it myself.
Update:Mike Finley drops a note: "What distinguishes a tragedy is that it represents an unrecoverable loss -- a loss that brings everyone down, that can't be shrugged off. // All Denmark falls to Fortinbras because of Hamlet's obsessions. The Kennedy assassinations and Vietnam War destroyed a generation's hopefulness. The Holocaust and WWI wiped out entire generations. Rwanda, Bhopal, WTC were profoundly destructive to people's confidence. // I suppose what happened yesterday was 'tragic,' because the adjective has come to mean just 'very sad.' But it isn't quite a 'tragedy,' which as far as I can tell retains its original power, of an undismissable blow to an entire people."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:59 PM.
New template, modified from one I found at BlogSkins & designed by Dave. Thanks, Dave. Glad to see you're a Democrat. I changed colors & will be adding a few little bells & whistles. Oh, & the archives should reappear before long. I think the permalinks in them should still be fine, though. Update: archives work fine, but have the old template.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 1:54 PM.
Saturday, February 01, 2003
The space shuttle Columbia has broken up over Texas, the crew instantly incinerated. While any death is to be mourned, what focuses our fascination is the dramatic structure of a public event. Anonymous deaths in Afghanistan, in Israel, in the Palestinian Authority, are no less worthy of mourning, but they remain largely invisible, or selectively visible. The paradox is that every human life must be accorded the same value, but even when we recognize this ethical imperative, certain lives become caught up in public dramas--Oedipus or Astronaut. If the drama is to serve human ends, we should keep this paradox in mind.
Ron Silliman reads the work of two young emigre poets, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa [more] & Linh Dinh. I worked with some of Linh Dinh's friends in Hanoi a couple of years ago & I was a judge in a competition that awarded Dhompa a prize while she was still in graduate school. Silliman's appreciation reminds me that in a few weeks my friend Hoang Hung will be arriving from Hanoi to spend a week working on translations of his poems. Hung is the Vietnamese translator of Ginsberg & Apollinaire & he taught himself English, he says, by reading Whitman. He is one of the few older Vietnamese poets to champion Vietnam's younger, progressive (& still controversial), post-avant writers such as Phan Huyen Thu.
A few of Phan's poems along with several of Hoang's better-known poems are included in the selection I did for Poetry International 5. Hung recently translated the introduction I wrote for this selection into Vietnamese to be published in Lao Dong, one of Vietnam's large-circulation newspapers. (I am much better-known in Vietnam than in the US.) The post-avant is, by definition, international, obviously. Given my poetic geneology, I find myself surprised to be part of it, if indeed I am.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:12 AM.