Chris at ITnotices something over at Digby's place that I noticed too. In fact, I've been thinking about this abstraction, this distancing oneself from the grit & stuff of actually living. I hope to pull something in the way of a little essay together in the next couple of days. Sand. It will begin with sand & the air filters of internal combustion engines.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:09 PM.
Jesus lite: "We should all heed the universal call to like your neighbor just like you like to be liked yourself." (George W. Bush, quoted in the Financial Times, January 14, 2000) [via fait accompli]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:18 PM.
Another American diplomat resigns over Bush foreign policy: "I have served my country for almost thirty years in the some of the most isolated and dangerous parts of the world. I want to continue to serve America. However, I do not believe in the policies of this Administration and cannot defend or implement them. It is with heavy heart that I must end my service to America and therefore resign due to the Administration’s policies." [signed] Mary A. Wright, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. [via Ineluctable Maps]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:05 PM.
Sunday, March 30, 2003
A while back I mused that the Visual Thesaurus technology might be applied to blog relationships. It looks like Blogstreet has created such a tool. I'm going to be giving this thing a workout over the next few days, but at first glance it looks to be an excellent visual display of information.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:53 PM.
What was the rush to take this little compound? To "establish" the "link" between Saddam & international terrorism. All along, this war has been about establishing a master-narrative linking Iraq & Al Qaeda despite the lack of empirical evidence. The battlefield decision to take the Ansar al-Islam camp appears to be motivated by the need to advance the narrative. One kind of political power seeks to control the narrative & thus the perception of reality; another kind--the sort I can sign on to--seeks to discover the nature of reality & respond to it. This seems like a fundamental distinction & it can probably be found in Locke or Rousseau, but you couldn't prove it by me.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:17 PM.
Dr. Carlo Urbani is my kind of hero. The battlefield may elicit courage, but it rarely if ever leads to heroism of the kind Dr. Urbani displayed in his all-too-short life.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:01 PM.
Tim Hardy likes reading & writing. This makes me happy. Probably because I'm a poet, I'd much rather have a few thoughtful readers than Insty's hordes of link-rats.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:38 AM.
Saturday, March 29, 2003
Saturday. Baked bread. Watched golf on television. Roasted a chicken with wine & mushrooms. Felt numb. Felt afraid for my nation. Went through the motions, all the while having the sense that history was taking an ominous turn, that the men in charge of my government were oddly detached from reality, in the grip of ideas that moved them to act out personal & political fantasies with tanks & aircraft & soldiers. As a citizen, I feel detached from these actions--alienated--but also responsible. It's my government, after all. Somehow, this war is being waged with my consent & this fact is driving me crazy. As I've said before, I think there are legitimate uses of military force, but this war is not one of them. This war has been undertaken either out of ignorance & the failure of imagination, or out of naked, hypocritical, plutocratic self-interest. I'm not sure, but I think the slang usage of the verb to waste, meaning to kill, comes out of the Vietnam war. (Even if it's earlier than that, it gained currency in the 1970s as a piece of military slang that entered the wider culture.) During the Vietnam War Americans came to see the wastefulness of an unnecessary, ideological war carried on far longer than conscionable for domestic political purposes: that sense of waste--wasted lives, wasted wealth, wasted credibility--again seems overwhelming. I oscillate between ennui & anger. I fear there will be hell to pay.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:25 PM.
Our local public radio station played some bloated, Romantic arrangement of a Bach overture this morning after the news. (Five US soldiers killed in a suicide attack at a checkpoint.) What a relief it was to lie in bed sipping coffee with Corole & talking about just how & why this version of the piece was completely wrong (downright humorous percussion, for one) instead of thinking about the war. It's only a week, but it already feels like a very long war.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:47 AM.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Sonnet: Epistemophilia for my students
They are drawn
The clock speaks about time
& is devestated by change
but things will get better before bed.
Sun saturates a concrete wall.
The teacher is silent
while his students write.
"How do you know
it's a sonnet?"
one asked. "Because
fourteen lies quietly in our minds,"
he says. "And because the title says it is."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 12:32 PM.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
The psychology of the oppressed & exploited. There's a news report tonight out of Basra that the first relief shipments of food & water had reached the city, where they had been greeted by crowds of people struggling to get some of the valuable commodities all the while chanting, "With our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam." What are we to make of this, sitting far away with our Western cultural traditions of objectivity & rational choice? Hell, I don't know, but there certainly seems to be plenty of precedent for people fighting for hopeless causes, or even defending the rule of tyrants. With the the failure of military imagination becoming obvious on the battlefield, the administration's wider cultural unimaginativeness is more clearly revealed as well. There are actual dangers in oversimplification. There are acute dangers in being unable to see beyond your own worldview.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:09 PM.
Old memes die hard. This one has been rattling around the culture since the end of the Vietnam War: "'If it weren't for the liberal press, we might have taken Baghdad last time,' said the sergeant."
Old memes take root in this peculiar kind of American ignorance: " . . . A few miles from the bridge to the south lie the ruins of the ancient city of Ur, founded 8,000 years ago, the birth place of Abraham and a flourishing metropolis at a time when the inhabitants of north-west Europe were still walking round in animal skins. // Sgt Sprague, from White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia, passed it on his way north, but he never knew it was there. // 'I've been all the way through this desert from Basra to here and I ain't seen one shopping mall or fast food restaurant,' he said. 'These people got nothing. Even in a little town like ours of twenty five hundred people you got a McDonald's at one end and a Hardee's at the other'." [The Guardian Unlimited]
Afterthought: Like Brooke Biggs, I have a problem with all this Support Our Troops rhetoric. I'm a teacher--I wish all those ignorant boys like Sgt. Sprague a long life in which they might take advantage of the opportunities American society offers for self-improvement & education. Then maybe they wouldn't be so willing to put their bodies on the line for geo-political abstractions dreamed up by guys who have never served in combat. (I realize that education isn't a cure-all: Richard Perle & Paul Wolfowitz & even GWB are "educated." I'm thinking of all those guys who came home from WWII & went to college on the GI Bill & provided the smarts for the post-war economic boom.) After-afterthought: The vast majority of soldiers who came home from Vietnam did the same thing. It's time to get rid of the myth of the damaged Vietnam vet.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:20 PM.
People like Gen. Barry McCaffrey (ret) & Joseph Galloway, author of We Were Soldiers Once, And Young, are saying now that Rumsfeld & Bush forced the military to attack with insufficient force. How much of this, I wonder, has had to do with wanting to disprove the Powell Doctrine? Powell, a black general who fought in Vietnam, had learned the dangers of ideological war, so it was necessary for the ideologues to marginalize him & discredit his military doctrine of overwhelming force. Galloway was on Fresh Air today & he was scathing in his assessment of the Rumsfeld-Perle-Wolfowitz axis. Look, if this war were necessary--if any sort of case could have been made for it, at least I would be able to see the death & sacrafice as justified. I'm not a pacifist. But this war, like Vietnam, is driven by ideology & excuted as if the cities, people & local realities are nothing but abstractions. Interestingly, in his remarks today, Galloway explicitly compared Rumsfeld to Robert McNamara.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:54 AM.
Yesterday, with the newest American war bogged down in a blinding sandstorm, I went to my morning creative writing class & taught my students how to write a sonnet. A perverse exercise, really. But the sonnet, with its measured syllables & its ladder of rhymes, seemed lake a safe & enclosed space in which to play. It also offers pedagogical advantages: you can introduce a lot of terminology & several important concepts about poetic form just using this one exercise: accentual syllabic meter, line length, stanza forms, rhyme schemes. It's like an introductory drawing class doing a still life in charcoal.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:19 AM.
Monday, March 24, 2003
So all I've been able to do is sit at the computer & read the war news. I poke at the language: targets serviced, weapons introduced, coalition--but it's like pricking soap bubbles with a pin. So today I bought myself a little notebook as a reward for getting paid for an article--you know, the kind of notebook you write in with a pencil, not a computer--& I'm going to try to write down something in it ever day about . . . I don't know . . . the weather or trees or why the dogs bark at odd times without apparent reason. I haven't actually put anything in there yet, but I've already begun to think of it as a little anchor to keep me from going completely adrift on electronic seas.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:25 PM.
Failures of imagination: Though I am committed to the gentler uses of the imagination, it is clear that war, as a human activity, also makes use of imagination. A few sentences from the New York Times this morning provide a negative example: "The Apaches [helicopters] use a powerful radar, called the Longbow, that directs their Hellfire missiles. But the Apaches are suddenly coming under attack from relatively low-technology weaponry. Saddam Hussein 'is fighting an asymmetrical warfare', said Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakly, assistant commander of the 101st Division. 'This is not tank on tank fighting'." The general appears to be lacking in imagination; unfortunately, the Iraqis seem to have picked up a lesson from the Viet Cong circa 1963. General Harkins in Saigon was astonished when five of his helicopters were shot down by disciplined, concentrated small arms fire at the Battle of Ap Bac & though he declared the battle a victory, it was a decisive defeat. The first hundred pages or Neil Sheehan's A Bright, Shining Lie deal with this battle & the military culture that failed to learn from it.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:59 AM.
Wit can cut through cant: ""You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, The Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the US of arrogance, and Germany doesn't want to go to war." [Dave Paulsen via Sandhill Tech]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:23 AM.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
An admiral was just quoted on CNN as saying that "Twenty-eight targets were serviced." I weep for the language.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:07 PM.
Vietnamese government condemns US invasion of Iraq. Not surprising, given the history of Vietnam, but I can tell you from direct experience (I was living in Hanoi during the bombing of Belgrade) that the Vietnamese people, who, despite everything, genuinely admire America & distrust their own leaders, feel the same way as their government on this. Sovereignty is of paramount importance to post-colonial nations. Notice that the Vietnamese statement does not defend Saddam, focusing on the US government's actions.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:26 AM.
Saturday, March 22, 2003
HG writes: "I spoke bluntly in post of yesterday, supporting Blair & Bush, partly out of perverse desire to affront the anti-war poets. // The war motives are murky; the aggression is plain; the conspiracy theories are everywhere (Cheney, oil, Vietnam-era warmongering, US hegemonic ambitions). But the anti-war factions suppress two elements: 1) the world's prior complicity with both Saddam tyranny and sanctions suffering; 2) the fact that the Bush War on Terror is, in part, a PROTEST against the conditions which allowed 9/11 to happen, and a global effort to change those conditions."
The Happy Tutor writes: "As marketers, PR hacks, as Cluetrain types, and Gonzo Marketers, as literary critics, poets, teachers, and writers of sermons, we are artists in the same media as those who write these phrases for President Bush. The public sways in the wind of rhetoric like sheaves of wheat. "Armies of Compassion," "Shock and Awe," "Iraqi Freedom," "Free Market," "Thousand points of light" -- for these abuses of the poetic gift, Dante invented Hell, where the perjuror burns for eternity, face down in boiling acid. It begins with the lies we accept from our own mouth."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:37 AM.
A cold spring, rain slowly turning the snow to muddy slush. The US State Department has issued travel warnings to American around the world. I take this personally since I like to travel. In fact, if more Americans could travel to the "third world" (outside of tourist enclaves) it would be much harder to stir up the kind of xenophobia we're currently seeing & upon which the administration is counting in order to keep the country blind & compliant. What does it say about us that our government is willing to make the world unsafe for American travelers? Colin Powell has asked the Congress for billions of dollars in order to turn American embassies into fortresses, notes Edward Peck, the former chief-of-mission in Baghdad under the Reagan administration, who also just said on NPR that people around the world don't resent the US for our freedom, "They resent us for our policies." [January NPR interview with Edward Peck by Scott Simon.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:44 AM.
I'm just trying to get a few things straight here this morning, the day after "A-Day." First, there is no "coalition." This is an American war. Second, speaking of "A-Day," I found myself cackling helplessly as General Tommy Franks Explained The Meanings of that term along with those of "S-Day" (special forces "introduced"), "G-Day" (ground forces) & so on. (The bland abstraction of the word introduced is designed of course to draw a cover over the reality of war.) It sounded like a bunch of twelve-year-olds playing war in the back yard. Let's see, Third, I sincerely hope that our weapons are as accurate & well-aimed as is being claimed, but the war won't really begin until American units approach Baghdad. I guess that will be "B-Day." Finally, this war was unnecessary & the ends it seeks to accomplish could have been achieved by patient & imgainative diplomacy including the credible threat of force; now that it has begun, though, I hope our forces prevail quickly. To my way of thinking, the US administration has failed one moral test; their next opportunity will come once the shooting stops, when two problems will have to be solved: the rebuilding of Iraq & the global reprecussions of the war. The rebuilding of Iraq will be easy compared to the rebuilding of international agreements & alliances--assuming the Bush administration wants to rebuild them, which I doubt.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:33 AM.
Friday, March 21, 2003
I love Jeanne D'Arc for her passionately informed reason. Her fine essay captures the thin intellect & even thinner imagination of those now controlling the American government. Really, it is as if a virus ate those portions of Richard Perle's brain responsible for . . . I was going to say empathy, but it goes much farther than that. Perle & Wolfowitz & Rumsfeld & Bush all lack what a psychologist would call affect--a basic orientation toward the feelings & thoughts of other people. They are, however, completely sane: They know what is going on around them. They just don't give a shit for others. Therefore, the are responsible for their acts in ways those disconnected from reality are not. After all, they have access to the raw data while the rest of us have to construct something like a political reality out of the scraps & filtered & "embedded" information we have access to through media. The message is the media.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:38 PM.
I've been thinking about Hanoi today, not surprisingly, given the new war my county is prosecuting. In particular, I am remembering an upstairs room in a house in a southern part of the city. I was sitting with the scholar Huu Ngoc in his study. We talked a little about poetry--Ong Ngoc has a particular affection for several 19th century French poets about whom I had to admit my ignorance--so, after a brief discussion in English & Vietnamese of Gerard de Nerval, we turned to Walt Whitman. After a bit of talk about Whitman's optimism, Ong Ngoc paused to pour tea & I remarked on the beauty of the garden below his study window. "We had to rebuild all this after the Christmas bombing," he said. "We were always optimistic." Ong Ngoc was a revolutionary who had fought the French despite bad eyesight, who had lived in the northern mountains & taught illiterate cadres how to read & write their own language.
As I've made clear in this space, I don't equate Saddam's brutal regime with the Vietnamese revolution, which had massive popular support & was anti-colonial to the core; but today with the bombs falling I remember Huu Ngoc's garden rebuilt on the rubble of an American war. I remember, too, the image of a human hand hanging like a piece of fruit in a tree the artist Tran Luong told us about after dinner one night here in the North Country. Where it is finally spring. He was on his way home from school when the bombs began to fall. Hanoi is a city of trees & is filled with optimists.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:54 PM.
Good account here of the way myths evolve & how we learn to lie to ourselves, especially about war. It appears, in any case, that we as a people continue to relive the traumas of our defeat in Vietnam by recycling stories from that conflict. I have had students who were not born during the Vietnam war tell me earnestly that their fathers or uncles were spit on when they returned from duty in Southeast Asia. You can't prove a negative, of course, but there just isn't any evidence this happened. Which is not the same as saying that we as a nation treated returning veterans well--we didn't, but mostly through neglect. As a county, we wanted very badly to forget the whole thing. And now, out of that forgetfulness, arises a myth built on memories of events that did not happen. That they did not happen, it seems, does not keep them from entering reality. And that's the power & the danger of myth-making.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 1:36 PM.
Wow. A reporter just asked Donald Rumsfeld whether there wasn't a risk that the citizens of Baghdad might not react the way the citizens of Hanoi did thirty years ago, by hardening their resolve. Rumsfeld replied that, "For one thing, they [the citizens of Baghdad] are an oppressed people." The suppressed comparative would be that the citizens of Hanoi were not. I happen to agree with this, but it reverses more than half a century of right-wing rhetoric about "communism." Perhaps this is only of historical interest, but as a student of Vietnam, I find it astonishing.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 11:01 AM.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
I wake at two in the morning after turbulent, incoherent dreams & go downstairs for a glass of water. It is a cold spring, slow in coming. Though the sun was warm today the wind was cold. Snow still covers the ground & sheets of ice buckle on the river. A truck rumbles over the bridge down river & the terrier sleeping on the couch wakes & growls, but then turns around, scrapes a bit of blanket toward her with a paw & settles back into whatever dreams she dreams. Not only have I been sleeping badly, I wake lately with my right hand griping a twisted bit of blanket so hard my arm aches all the way to the shoulder. I lie in bed looking out into the night. The surface of the river glints with the headlights of cars coming down out of the mountains. I am glad I can lie in bed & watch the river, but my head feels light & I know that after I do fall asleep, I will wake to a muttering, insistent sound from the radio that is called the news, but from which I feel completely disconnected. I hear the terrier trot up the stairs, her nails clicking on the hardwood: she stands beside the bed until I lift her onto my chest & pull the blanket over her. Her regular breathing will finally lull me into sleep. I wake feeling as if I have been beaten. My life is lucky beyond measure.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:40 PM.
Crossing the Line
A windswept gallery. With its telephones
down and the jiggery-pokery
of Quantel disolving in the monitors.
Two rival commanders
are dining by candle-
light on medallions of young peccary.
Like synchronized dolphins,
hand each a napkin
torn from the script of a seven-part series
based on the Mabinogion.
Where Pryderi's gifts of hounds and horses
turn out to have been fungus.
[Paul Muldoon, from Poems 1968-1998]
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
“Tonight, for better or worse, America is at war. Tonight, every American, regardless of party, devoutly supports the safety and success of our men and women in the field. Those of us who, over the past 6 months, have expressed deep concerns about this President’s management of the crisis, mistreatment of our allies and misconstruction of international law, have never been in doubt about the evil of Saddam Hussein or the necessity of removing his weapons of mass destruction.
"Those Americans who opposed our going to war with Iraq, who wanted the United Nations to remove those weapons without war, need not apologize for giving voice to their conscience, last year, this year or next year. In a country devoted to the freedom of debate and dissent, it is every citizen’s patriotic duty to speak out, even as we wish our troops well and pray for their safe return. Congressman Abraham Lincoln did this in criticizing the Mexican War of 1846, as did Senator Robert F. Kennedy in calling the war in Vietnam 'unsuitable, immoral and intolerable.'
"This is not Iraq, where doubters and dissenters are punished or silenced --this is the United States of America. We need to support our young people as they are sent to war by the President, and I have no doubt that American military power will prevail. But to ensure that our post-war policies are constructive and humane, based on enduring principles of peace and justice, concerned Americans should continue to speak out; and I intend to do so.”
[Howard Dean via MyDD]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:17 AM.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
I've been reading poetry blogs today, off & on, as I worked around the house & they have been making me irritable in the same way reading APR makes me irritable. I dislike the feeling & consider my reaction a sign of moral weakness & philosophical narrowness. Here is what I propose: Gresham's Law does not apply to poetry: one kind of poetry does not drive out other kinds. My idea is rooted in philosophical pluralism--the doctrine that no single view of reality provides an adequate description of the world. Such a view does not require the reader to give up making judgements, but it does suggest that the qualities to be judged are not those having to do with style. What I'm looking for is a metacriticism that judges poetry pragmatically, on its relations to & within the wider world.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:20 PM.
Self-parody is always the most effective kind. This is, well, devestating. When I first saw this poem I thought it might be from Gabe Gudding's new book--Gabe is our poet of stinks--but I checked & it isn't there. I still can't shake the idea that it's a put-on, along with the Poets for the War website.
All those smelly liberals
Dancing in the park
For Saddam, Satan
And Karl Marx
They hate their country
They hate their God
If you offer them steak
Then they ask for cod
They'll never be happy
Til we all speak Iraqi
And all our kids
Smoke wacky baccy
Goes to show, I suppose, that the culture has reached the point where irony, satire & even sarcasm & invective have come unmoored & are replaced by the free-floating anxiety of indeterminate meaning. In other words, I can't tell any longer what the fuck is going on. Later: Rhyming God w/ cod is a stroke of comic genius beyond the ken of mortals the likes of me.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 11:06 AM.
GWB said last night that a "coalition" would "liberate" Iraq. In fact, he said "broad coalition." It would be laughable if it weren't so cynical. He also spun out the narrative that Iraq "might" . . . "in the future" give WMDs to "terrorists," begging the question of alternatives & telling the truth that lies. America / we had a lovely language. / We would not listen. [James Wright, "Ars Poetica: Some Recent Criticism," from Two Citizens]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:12 AM.
Monday, March 17, 2003
From the last undeclared, ideologically motivated, preemptive war: Pictures of the Battle of Hue & of an American B-52 rusting in a Hanoi neighborhood. I make no predictions; I pray that my fears are unfounded; but even if the war "goes well" & is over quickly, will the US take the responsibility to rebuild the country? Iraq is not Vietnam: in Vietnam, the US opposed a popular revolutionary nationalist movement whereas Iraqis will no doubt be relieved to be quit of Saddam. That relief, of course, need not translate into strewing flowers at the feet of advancing American armies. History & culture suggest that will not occur. Eric Alterman catches my mood today. I am as depressed about my country's withdrawal from international conventions & agreements as I am about the war itself: our arrogance will break us, the way it did in Vietnam--that's the common thread.
Well, the war seems to have finally come. The miserable dance of death begins. The New American Empire snacks on Iraq. Halliburton grows more bloated, Bechtel saddles up . . . A devestating failure of imagination.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:23 AM.
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Blogger appears to be fucked tonight: I've lost two posts. Hey, Ev, Hey Google, I am paying for this service: Signed, a Blogger Pro & Blogspot 100 user.
Microsoft VBScript runtime error '800a000d'
Type mismatch: 'session(...)'
/blog_form.pyra, line 20
Saturday, March 15, 2003
As far as I'm concerned, Turbulent Velvet has the final word on the recent discussion regarding life inside & outside of the academy. And we have Dorothea to thank for TV's posting of what began life as an email. Thanks to both of you.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:19 AM.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
I've got lots books to read--philosophy, poetry, theory--so what am I absorbed in? Gilligan's Wake by Tom Carson. If I were writing a blurb, I'd start with "This novel is a compelling postmodern romp through the tail end of the 20th century . . . "
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:32 PM.
Last night I dreamed I was a witness at the execution in the electric chair of three young men, two of whom I knew. (Maybe my childhood friends, brothers O. & A.) Actually, I couldn't watch & went & sat in a stairwell until it was over. Afterward, I saw George H.W. Bush in the "audience" or perhaps it was a congregation. I confronted him. "You're a murderer," I said. He began one of his famously incoherent replies. The dream faded & went elsewhere after that, but I woke up a little later angry that that son of a bitch had gotten into my dreamlife. I blame his son, the boy-genius of suppressed anger. Maybe I was the third one they killed.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:19 PM.
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
In today's New York Times Senator John McCain writes,"Critics argue that the military destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime would be, in a word, unjust. This opposition has coalesced around a set of principles of "just war" — principles that they feel would be violated if the United States used force against Iraq." McCain is responding to former President Carter's Op Ed in which he lays out the moral case against this war as it is currently shaping up.
Senator McCain is something of an expert in the area of unjust wars, having been shot down over Hanoi on October 26, 1967 while flying his 19th sortie over Vietnam. Vietnam as historical & psychological complex is the precursor of Iraq II, make no mistake. We are still acting out our national trauma. All these self-loathing neocon functionaries are trying to go back in time & change history. The "realists" exhibit a psychotic failure of realism.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:13 PM.
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
The academic life:Teaching & the other academic activities are a form of work. For me, an enjoyable form of work. In modern societies individual work is always embedded in a larger context of institutions & traditions. And those institutions change. Since universities were invented they have been part of wider systems of power & despite this "academics" have managed to do good & sometimes important work. It's true that the petty politics of the workplace have often corrupted the institutions & individuals that compose universities, but this is true of banks & governments as well. As I've said before, if there is an ivory tower, it's just one more building in the city. Presumably, all honest citizens, whether they are professors or painters understand the duties of their jobs. And they will also have made choices about what sorts of jobs suit them. Well & good. Most of the anger at academia--which, I concede, has serious issues to confront--is the result of what might be called golden age bias: the idea that things were better, more honest, more pure, back in some imagined past. (The New Formalist poets, led by Dana Gioia (the new head of the NEA), have been making this error for fifteen years. They also denounce academia.) Do you imagine that the professors at the University of Paris in Descartes' day were immune from economic & social forces? Do you know the origins of the hoods on academic gowns? They were designed so that students could toss coins into them as the professor left the lecture hall. Talk about being a tuition-driven institution!
Now, once we have agreed that the university is one social structure among many, I would be happy to engage in a discussion about how to make the university function more effectively as a center for the nurturing of critique, analysis & intuition. [link to Caveat Lector, where this discussion began.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:48 PM.
Monday, March 10, 2003
The Xanax Cowboy: "The president wants to avenge his father, and please his base by changing the historical ellipsis on the Persian Gulf war to a period. Donald Rumsfeld wants to exorcise the post-Vietnam focus on American imperfections and limitations. Dick Cheney wants to establish America's primacy as the sole superpower. Richard Perle wants to liberate Iraq and remove a mortal threat to Israel. After Desert Storm, Paul Wolfowitz posited that containment is a relic, and that America must aggressively pre-empt nuclear threats." [Maureen Dowd]
I think Dowd nails it except for the Oedipal psychology. Bush junior doesn't want to avenge his dad, he wants to supercede him. Take a look at this account of a speech 41 delivered recently. That "avenge my daddy" stuff is transparent Freudian defense mechanism--What Junior really wants to do is surpass his father. And gain the respect of his notoriously bitchy mother? Unfortunately for the rest of us, he is a stupid boy in thrall to a bunch of neocon ideologues who are taking advantage of his cupidity for their own purposes. Dynastically, this is a lot more interesting than "vengence," though it's hard right now to stand back & look at this as drama.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:44 PM.
Yammering youth:HG writes what I've been thinking:
"Henry's Two-Step Program for Escaping the Cardboard Box of Poepastry Clubhouse:
1. Literary Absolute
Henry's Explanation of Two-Step Program:
I've been reading Donna Tartt's novel The Little Friend. She worked on it ten years & created a world.
I wrote about "metaform" on this blog around 1/23-1/24 or so. Instead of talking to each other so much like a pack of barhound weasels, why not think about the aspects of world & society, the different languages or discourses, which a poet is able to reflect intelligently & curiously in their work? What real or imagined wholenesses of a world are they able to bring to bear & bring to music? That, along with perfect pitch, seems like a useful measure of value, if you have to even think about it. As far as the valueless - making lists of what you don't like - how anal can you get?
This is a little lecture to the younger set. After this I'm not talking to you. I'm interested in the unknown reader, not you louts. Behold Donna Tartt, & be afraid. She might turn her cool & creepy & cultured & satirical measuring rod on you someday."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:34 AM.
Sunday, March 09, 2003
I've been wondering how Senator John McCain feels about our treatment of Al Qaeda prisoners. As far as I know, he is the only American elected official to have been subjected to the sort of treatment now being meted out to suspects in the so-called War on Terrorism.
I went by the infamous Hanoi Hilton, now a museum, every day for ten months on my way to work in Hanoi in 2000-2001. It's a grim place, though an apartment block for foreigners with a shopping mall on the first floor has now been errected beside it. I have no doubt that conditions inside during the war were brutal. The New York Times reporter is being circumspect, but my reading of this piece suggests only that we are now somewhat more hygenic in our treatment of prisoners of war than were the North Vietnamese. I'm having a hard time finding much of a moral difference.
Saturday, March 08, 2003
A working definition of fundamentalism: Karen Armstrong's take on religion has previously struck me as conventional, if liberal; but here she provides us with a good basic view of fundamentalism across religious practices. In the two years since George Bush assumed the presidency, I've gone back & forth between believing he is a sincere Christian fundamentalist or that he uses Christian doctrines to rationalize his political beliefs & ambitions. Nicholas Kristof was recently slapped around in the left-blogosphere for an egregiously stupid column in which he appears to argue (it's hard to tell) that the American media ought to be more sympathetic to creationism & the belief that Satan is the root cause of criminal behavior. Which seem a little like arguing that journalists check their critical intelligence at the door. Which is what most of them have done in covering the religious beliefs of George Bush. Because a belief is held sincerely does not exempt it from critique. Sincerity can be a fine thing& even admirable in & of itself, but it does not assure the truth of a proposition: Say, that "the jury is still out" on Darwinian evolution: "President Bush has said that he doesn't believe in evolution (he thinks the jury is still out). President Ronald Reagan felt the same way, and such views are typically American. A new Gallup poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe in creationism, and only 28 percent in evolution (most of the rest aren't sure or lean toward creationism). According to recent Gallup Tuesday briefings, Americans are more than twice as likely to believe in the devil (68 percent) as in evolution." Have any journalists investigated the president's scientific qualifications or even his layman's analysis of evolution? Personally, I am not comforted that the president & half my countrymen sincerely believe nonsense. And that they believe nonsense in almost every case without having bothered themselves to look into the matter. As Harold Bloom points out in The American Religion, The US is no longer a Christian nation, but a Gnostic one, in which everyone is entitled to his opinion. That is, in which every cockamamie notion anyone wants to float is deemed deserving of intellectual respectability.
Later: The view (above) seems incoherent, made up of various doctrines & a kind of folk belief that "things happen for a purpose." I don't know if this is a particularly American belief, though I hear it from my students all the time as a sort of conventional metaphysics. That's why I teach the Book of Job to my freshmen every fall. And while the idea that there is a purpose behind not only history but the events of individual lives can offer solace in times of danger or disappointment, there is another side to the doctrine: that one's individual actions & decisions are part of some larger scheme, which usually cannot be seen fully. The belief that "things happen for a purpose" can evolve into the belief that one's decisions are sanctioned by the larger drama you are playing out. Christian fundamentalism, with its teleological view of history, has been particularly prone to this idea & the current president of the United States apparently believes that he has been chosen by his God to eradicate evil from the world. In this GWB participates in a fairly recent & entirely American development in Christian theology.
I don't share the president's view of history as the working out of God's "purpose." I take the existential view that we are each responsible for our own actions & that history is not so much a drama as it is nature, around which human beings construct various narratives, some more plausable & intellectually consistent than others.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:52 PM.
James P. Pinkerton worked for Reagan & for George H.W. Bush. He writes that the War Party currently in control of the government has no interest in more than half a century of international conventions that, however rickety, have so far kept the world from imploding into a singularity composed of nuclear waste & our own sour rhetoric. Well, that's not what he says, it's what I say about what he says. Anyway, when members of the Establishment like Pinkerton begin to come unglued, the rest of us might just might want to pay attention. (Pinkerton, by the way, is affiliated with an outfit new to me, the New America Foundation, which seems to be sponsoring some interesting journalism.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:10 PM.
Friday, March 07, 2003
Religious certainty is always troubling, at least to me, but it is especially troubling when used as a rationale for political decisions. There have been several accounts of GWB's religious convictions in the press recently & I'm going to try to pull some of those pieces together & make sense of them. In so far as one can make sense of such a primitive & violent mythology.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:36 PM.
Jim Capozzola is running for Senate. No, really. I can't vote for him because I live in New York, but I'll send him a few bucks. You should too.
Thursday, March 06, 2003
I couldn't bear to watch the press conference. There's nothing so dangerous as a C student who believes he has a mandate from Jesus to drop bombs. But I did flip on CNN just now & it is crystal clear that we are going to war. I don't know if it will be a long war, but it will not be a good war. And even if the Iraq phase is relatively brief, it is likely to be only the first Crusade. How many were there? Two hundred years worth.
Left off of earlier Notes to self: The freaky fundamentalist doctrines that are driving a technologically advanced nation toward a Medieval vision of Armageddon.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:11 PM.
Notes to self: 1) the academic life; 2) more about Dave's True Story & Cole Porter; 3) the nonsense of making Nixionian lists of who is in & who is out; 4) the oppositional stance in American poetics (& how it distorts what it opposes); 5) not that some of what it opposes is not worth opposing; 6) the personal voice in American poetry & the ballad tradition; 7) why we don't have to be abstract to escape or at least evade commodification, or why Hayden Carruth will outlast Charles Bernstein; 8) a critique of the locker room boy talk among the recent MFAs, or notes from an old man with gray hair & three books & a (modestly) influential editorial position (c.v. available upon request) . . . van van [Vietnamese for etc].
She may toss quotes from Sartre
Or dig for Inca in Peru
She may recite some Buddhist chant
Still she hasn't got a clue
Line from a student story today: "He was fed up with history." Oh, yeah--especially literary history. Though plain old history is beginning to be a drag too.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:16 PM.
AKMA & some other faculty of U Blog have been talking about communities & they way they articulate their beliefs. Their discussion bears importantly on the discussion over this way (begun by Dorothea) about academic politics & the destruction of the psyche. I think it was Jung who noticed that the shadow engenders a body of light & a body of light engenders a shadow: these overlapping discussions strike me as shadows & light.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:02 PM.
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Tom Tomorrow blogs: "I'll be at St. Lawrence University on Friday to give a talk, in conjunction with an exhibition of my work currently on display through April 5 in the Richard Brush gallery. Between the current site headaches and that trip, I doubt if I'll have too much more for you here this week, but the links page is functional again, and there are many fine bloggers there for you to peruse in the meantime."
And I will be introducing Mr. Tomorrow at four o'clock Friday afternoon before his talk. Yay me. If you have suggestions for things I should say in my introduction, email me.
Tuesday, March 04, 2003
If this is what happens, GWB will be reelected in 2004 & the New Age of Empire will commence. Saddam's demise will not be mourned; if civilian casualties are kept to a minimum, many American liberals will swing toward the administration's view of the world & Europe will be marginalized; a long war will begin--a war of empire that will finish off the American democratic experiment.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:20 PM.
Here is why I quit all the poetry listservs I was on more than a year ago: "For one, no matter how much people try to keep fresh blood flowing in, eventually any virtual community gets senescent. Eventually everyone knows what everyone else thinks, and the more you know about how some people think, the less you want to talk to them. Even in the case of the people you really like and find interesting, you eventually run out of old things to talk about and find yourself sitting and waiting for some new event or issue to hash out with them. At that point, no matter how determined everyone is to avoid it, metathrash is going to start happening, for the same reason that animals kept in cages that are too small start picking at their own scabs: just because it provides some momentary amusement. // Also, strong injunctions to civility, coupled with the asynchronous kinds of dialogues that most virtual communities rely on, ultimately have had some really constraining effects on my own writing. I find myself thinking too much in polite little dialogic chunks. Strong moderation or self-imposed civility seems for a while to take care of the worst trolls, flamers and ‘energy creatures’, but in the longer haul, it’s almost like a Darwinian form of natural selection that leads to much more skilled forms of passive-aggressive behavior, creating a better but no less frustrating class of troll or time-waster." [from Timothy Burke at Easily Distracted]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:59 PM.
Blog fantasy tool: Maybe now that Ev & his crew have gotten Google to back their technology they could come up with something like this for weblogs. I would be eternally grateful. The thesaurus tracks connections of various classes; it would be useful to be able to trace the shapes of conversations among bloggers on a particular subject. The dictionary the thesaurus draws upon, of course, is more or less static, while a blog argument (in the broadest sense of that word, meaning an idea tested & developed) is born, evolves & then fades into a kind of informational twilight.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:22 PM.
Monday, March 03, 2003
My friends are gone and my hair is grey.
I ache in the places where I used to play.
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on.
I'm just paying my rent every day in the tower of song.
I said to Hank Williams, "How lonely does it get?"
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet,
but I hear him coughing all night long,
a hundred floors above me in the tower of song.
I was born like this, I had no choice.
I was born with the gift of a golden voice,
and twenty-seven angels from the great beyond,
they tied me to this table right here in the tower of song.
[Leonard Cohen, "Tower of Song"]
Yesterday I wanted to show that there is no "ivory tower," except in our imaginations & that the disappointment among many academics is the result of the conflict between the ideal & the real. It's also, I think, the source of much of the hostility toward academia among my fellow citizens. From time to time I get communications suggesting that I am "only an academic" & that I don't know anything about "the real world." Well, I'm here to tell you that I live in the real world. I've worked in factories & restaurants & colleges & at bottom they all have been ways of positioning myself in some larger world. Which is another way of saying that the university is just one more institution among other institutions. Every institution, of course, ought to be subject to critique & I'm not here to "defend" academics & academia so much as to suggest that the terms of the critique need to be revised.
Dorothea wants to understand the power of the university to turn people into drones, but all institutions have this power. Think of the thousands of government bureaucrats playing solitaire on their computers all day & who go home exhausted & sleep badly from not working. All right, that's the excuse, but what is to be done? From the limited perspective of my nearly twenty-five years of teaching in colleges & universities, if I were king of the world, I would make certain that teaching & scholarship were treated equally in tenure & promotion decisions. This would require a change in culture from campus to campus & that change would need to begin with a recognition that the primary purpose of even the most exalted Ivy is to educate young people so that they become effective citizens. It's not that research is unimportant, it's crucial to the mission; but research that is undertaken without this larger social goal in mind ought not to take place on the university campus. The university is but one institution among many, but like all institutions it has a role to play in society. So, there is no tour d'ivoire, but there is a tower tour de chanson.
If you find yourself in a place where you cannot sing--even if it is not your fault--you owe it to yourself & to the rest of us to find a place where you can sing. Or, minimally, work to change the place you are so that you can sing. (I say this with the full understanding--& it gives force to my argument--that a great many people in the world can only make the smallest changes. Poverty, political oppression, discriminations of all kinds, even self-imposed desires for status or respect, hem people round & drain away our spirit, turn us into drones. I'm an existentialist at heart: I can accept the power of institutions to fuck people up, but ultimately each human being has to come to terms with his or her place beneath the cold, hard sky glittering with stars.
Confession: I have been fortunate in my life in many ways. After a passionate but destructive first marriage, I married a person I love & respect more each passing day; after being a mediocre student as a kid, I found myself invigorated by poetry & had teachers who nurtured my passion; after crappy teaching jobs in my early thirties, I landed in a decent position & received tenure the year after I turned forty. And so on. Last year was promoted to the rank of Professor. But I am a Humanist at a "technological university." My students are smart, but I don't have majors or grad students & so I wind up teaching very basic stuff most of the time. I suppose I could be bitter about this & there are days when explaining image, metaphor, meter etc. in the simplest possible language does become a drag; but I have tried to see myself as a citizen taking responsibility for himself. I have also continued to be a poet regardless of my academic position or duties. I'd be a poet today--I fervently believe--had I gotten some other sort of job out of college. I don't know, maybe all I am describing is "survivorship bias," but the university has allowed me to pursue my interests & at the same time connect with larger issues & problems. I have been able to follow Saint Beuve's injunction & not cut myself off from the world or affairs. Why would I want to? Next year, it looks as if I'll be taking students to Vietnam--Engineering students!--to work on "assistive technologies" for the disabled. At the same time, I'll keep working on the language & translating poetry.
Finally, I will concede that many state university systems--once beacons of democracy--have been reduced to the status of struggling bureaucracies who's single mission is to stay in business. This is an issue that American society has conspired to ignore, but that's a subject for another day. (I don't think that Jonathan Delacour would disagrre.) Update: Mamamusings has more. A lot of people have weighed in on this & I intend to go round the blogs tomorrow & try to construct something like a map. The subject interests me for obvious reasons & I'm not at all peeved at Dorothea for raising it. In fact, I think if academics are to fulfil their social function they will need to address exactly the sorts of questions D. raises. More tomorrow.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:35 PM.
Sunday, March 02, 2003
The false poetry of fundamentalism: Terry Eagleton breaks it down:
"There are two things desirable for fighting fundamentalists. The first is not to be one yourself. The US government's war on the movement is somewhat compromised by the fact that it is run by scripture-spouting fanatics for whom the sanctity of human life ends at the moment of birth. This is rather like using the British National party to run ex-Nazis to earth, or hiring Henry Kissinger to investigate mass murder, as George Bush recently did by nominating him to inquire into the background to September 11. Fundamentalists of the Texan stripe are not best placed to hunt down the Taliban variety." [via Double Reflection]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:13 PM.
We have water. 17 days we've been melting snow to flush the toilet & carrying 5 gallon buckets from the spring across the river for drinking water. Showering at school. Ironically, we've had broadband internet through the whole experience. I think I'd miss the internet connection more than I've missed the water, though I'm really going to enjoy a hot shower a bit later tonight.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:45 PM.
Short answer:There is no Ivory Tower (though there may, indeed, be a Tower of Song). The phrase itself appears to be a product of the late industrial revolution & the rise of market capitalism. The OED attributes its first use, in French, to Saint-Beuve. The first time the phrase shows up in English is 1911, but as a translation of Bergson. Bergson writes that "Each member of society must be attentive to his social surroundings . . . he must avoid shutting himself up in his own peculiar character as a philosopher in his ivory tower." It's not until 1916 that we have a citation in English, from Henry James' unfinished novel of the same name: "Doesn't living in an ivory tower just mean the most distinguished retirement?" And at least in the OED I don't find a citation that explicitly connects the phrase to the university until 1940, when we find H.G. Wells writing, "We want a Minister of Education who can . . . electrify and rejuvenate old dons, or put them away in ivory towers , and stimulate the younger ones." Reading through the citations that follow, the gist of the trope of the ivory tower is: those who inhabit such towers, who pursue arts for art's sake or scholarship for the pleasure of scholarship, are detached from workaday "reality." Usually, but not always, the connotation is vaguely negative, but since the phrase is mostly used by academics & artists themselves, there is also a kind of longing inscribed in the use of this trope.
Why is this history important? Because it locates a cluster of attitudes in time--the notion of the ivory tower only becomes important as the actual thing is disappearing from Anglo-American societies. British universities in the 18th & 19th centuries may have provided ivory towers for a small number of scholars, but by the beginning of the 20th century universities, especially in the United States, had moved away from Greek & Latin & toward the modern European languages & English. It was considered a radical move when the poet Longfellow translated Dante's Divine Comedy. Such languages were simply more valuable than the classics. They were & are the languages of the sciences & of technology. First German, then English. But the truth is, even if the ivory tower lingered in the Ivy League & in Oxford & Cambridge until the middle of the last century, no such thing now exists. Every university in the world--with the possible exception of small fundamentalist Christian bible colleges in the American south & midwest--is part of a complex of organizations that include governmental, political, military & economic institutions. Before we can have any meaningful discussion about the role of individuals in contemporary universities, we must acknowledge this historical fait accompli. The ivory tower was torn down for good more than fifty years ago, though its shadow lingers on.
It is that shadow, I think, that makes us all crazy. Many academics operate within a fantasy of the ivory tower, as if it still existed, & as a result are forced to deal on a daily basis with the difference between belief & reality. This creates a lot of cognitive dissonance & neurotic behavior as an attempt to compensate. Maybe it's because my first teaching jobs out of grad school were exploitive, low-status, part-time gigs in support of a bunch of guys who had gotten jobs in the 60s when state systems were expanding exponentially to meet the educational demands of the the Baby Boom that I have had very few illusions about the nature of an academic career. [More tomorrow]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:43 AM.