Wednesday, April 30, 2003
I've been thinking about justifications for war. And the larger philosophical question of justification in general. No doubt it is a feature of my personality that the problem of justification seems more central to me that the various (& very real) political issues surrounding the recent war. I don't think poetry is any one thing, but one thing that poetry is, is an investigation of motive. If there is a universal quality of poetry, it is that poetry makes its rhetorical motives available to the reader; by doing so, poetry can also sometimes illuminate the public use of language. Poetry in this view is exemplary, not in the high-cultural sense of approved usage, but in the critical sense of language as self-interrogation. (Self? The personal self, yes; but also the "self" of language.) Aside: One of the failures of much recent poetics & criticism is lack of attention to the public qualities of poetic language. I want to advance the argument that part of the value of poetic language is its power to refract public discourse in such a way that its motives are revealed. There are other things poetry can do, but a poet's interest in the problem of justification is going to hone in on this particular use of poetic language.
On Sunday I posted a note in response to a Paul Berman review in the NY Times of a book by conservative academic Jean Bethke Elshtain. It was just a quick reaction. Today I heard Elshtain on NPR's Talk of the Nation, though, & my first reaction was to wonder what it must feel like to be an apologist for the likes of that bloated & diseased amphibian Richard Perle. The man sweats poisons. Elshtain appeared to be arguing that the recent war against Iraq was justified by a long tradition of just war theory, but she spoke as if recent revelations about the Bush Administration's public proclamations during the lead-up to the war had not yet reached the precincts of her ivory tower. Had I been able to address her, I would have wanted to ask the professor whether a war could be considered just that had been justified to the American public on the basis of a calculated series of lies. One of the most interesting exchanges occurred when a caller asked specifically about the requirements for just wars launched by a democratic nation. Professor Elshtain blithely followed her ideological script, replying that dictatorships could not launch just wars. Even the moderator could not let this statement go without question, remarking that any nation has a right of self-defense. Elshtain replied that dictatorships usually don't mind their own business & thus can rarely be passive victims of aggression & so entitled to the cover of just war doctrine.
Listening to the radio program, I immediately thought of two counter examples, though I'm sure there are more. Legitimate arguments proceed through the presentations of facts & arguments that tie the facts together; responses present counterfactuals & attempt to reshape understanding by reinterpreting the situation in terms of the new constellation of facts. I'm trying to get at the basic relationship between language & the world here & what I object to in the current political discourse as exemplified by Professor Elshtain's treatment of just war doctrine is the obscuring of that relationship. Poetry, I am arguing, keeps the relationship tight & thus honest. Counter examples from recent Vietnamese history: In 1979 China launched a war against Vietnam in retaliation for Vietnam's actions against the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia [scroll down]. The Vietnamese beat back the Chinese attack in what anyone would have to mark as a justified war. The second example is the preemptive Vietnamese attack on Cambodia in order to protect Vietnamese territory, but also--& this is crucial--to stop the genocide going on in Cambodia. Elshtain appears to be staking a claim for American intervention based on our unique virtue, but we are not as a nation uniquely virtuous: I take it as fundamental that no nation is uniquely virtuous & that even repressive regiems can act for humane ends. We would have intervened in Rwanda . . . One of Professor Elshtain's fundamental assumptions is given the lie by these actual historical counterfactuals. Poetry, I would like to think, is like journalism in that it has to pay attention to the world itself. Perhaps poetry is more interested in the language & journalism in the facts, but this is a matter of tendency & focus, not a fundamental difference. I'd argue, with Stevens, that poetry is a reflection of reality that allows us to re-perceive the world to our critical advantage.
Poetry should stand up to the pieties of the dominate discourse in politics, but poetry must also be self-policing, catching itself in its own comfortable lies. Style doesn't matter, school doesn't matter--each poem can be judged on this essentially philosophical basis: does it investigate the world's particulars while investigating itself as part of the world? Poetry is mostly powerless, but the clarity it can sometimes provide can perhaps deflect & transform the murderous powers of ideologically driven political programs such as those endorsed by Professor Elshtain. Poetry, at its best, can help us to avoid the complete disintegration of imagination represented by current American militarism.
To justify any act on the basis of a known lie would seem to undercut the very idea of justification. It's not that poetry can't lie, only that poetry is the one use of language that can sometimes expose lies, even its own lies.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:36 PM.
Each day is a child
who dies behind a wall
turning its face to the wall's
before its ghost that rises
from the grave demanding
Not from eternity
but from a bitter land
it comes, fleeing as if from bullets
through the town, the public
squares, the houses of the poor.
From the desert it comes,
and on its face is the hunger
of pigeons and parching flowers.
Jonathan Mayhew writes: "Pound's triad of terms [phanopoeia, logopoeia, melopoeia] implies (for me at least) that one can measure these aspects of poetry quantitatively. This is useful: we can measure how much emphasis the poet has placed on these factors without even asking ourselves how well he or she has done. For example, there could be a very visual poem that ends up being very bad, but we still notice that the poet has tried to include lots of imagery. Ultimately, however, the judgment has to be qualitative. // What I have a problem with is poetry that doesn't seem to offer much of anything in those three basic dimensions. I think of William Stafford: the poet without qualities. (Substitute the name you prefer if you object to my dislike of Stafford, which is almost pathological.)" Mark Strand.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:36 AM.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Muddy Waters: April 4, 1915 - April 30, 1983. Got my mojo workin' . . . I'm watching a concert from I think 1975 on the BET Jazz Channel--an amazing exhibition of quiet intensity. Muddy is old & taking everything at about 3/4 tempo, but the band is at once sympathetic & impatient, pushing the beat forward. Muddy perches placidly in front of the mic, wearing a purple shirt under a vest, playing & singing quietly, occasionally glancing back at the band. "I'm a king bee, I want you to be my queen, you know we can make honey . . . the world ain't never seen."
Charles Pierce on Muddy Waters (from yesterday's Altercation): I saw him a couple of months before he passed, and he couldn’t stand up very well. He sang from a stool — and, when he got to the choruses of “Mannish Boy” — “I’m a FULL-GROWN man!” Indeed — the heavens shook. If you want a true primer, don’t go to the obvious stuff. Find a Chess CD called “Folk Singer,” and listen to “My Home is in the Delta,” with a very young Buddy Guy on second guitar. You can hear the great river of the country’s counter-narrative echoing like something deep in the rocks. You should also listen to your own heart. You will be amazed at what it’s telling you. There is vast, wonderful hope there. We all need more of that."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:36 PM.
Poetry & the popular imagination: Slate Magazine asks six poetry power brokers to select a war poem. The selections are, shall we say, conservative. That first stanza of "In the Time of the Breaking of Nations," though, hits me like a (very quiet) brick. Mike Snider remarked recently on the choices of the Poetry Month jury at Poetry Daily--no modernism, no free verse. We now, apparently, have returned culturally to the McKinley presidency. And then we have the routine declaration of the death of poetry, which amounts in this case an admission of a personal failure of imagination. (Bruce Wexler is a ghost writer.)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:09 PM.
Wireless update: Last week we installed a D-Link wireless base station. Carole's new Powerbook logged onto the new system without a hitch, but my Dell needed to have the Novell software that allows me to connect at school uninstalled before the wireless system would work. After that, it worked fine, but I didn't like the little USB-tethered antenna that came with the D-Link system--I didn't feel really wireless carrying that little tail around with me. (They give you a little velcro pad to stick it onto the laptop, but I refused to countenance such a kludge solution.) So I went to my local Radio Shack & picked up a little Linksys network card for the laptop. Works perfectly. In fact, it finds the base station much more quickly when I turn on the computer. Now my only complaint is battery life, but I just ordered a second battery, so even that will soon be less of a problem. I'm looking forward to blogging from our little patch of woods by the river this summer.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:47 PM.
Monday, April 28, 2003
Vietnam is the first country to have successfully contained its SARS outbreak, according to the WHO. This is good news for me, since I travel to VN pretty often & have friends in Hanoi. It also demonstrates, I think, that organization & pragmatism & transparency can effectively combat this kind of public health challenge. And it speaks volumes about the cultural differences between Vietnam & China. Despite sharing a system of one-party government, Vietnam's & China's revolutions have taken very different courses. From the beginning, Ho Chi Minh emphasized education & public health as grassroots efforts & this has paid off in terms of social cohesion in the face of public health emergencies in the past. Over the last fifteen years, too, VN has taken an increasingly pragmatic approach to dealings with the outside world. China, much more powerful, has had the "luxury" of turning inward & covering over incompetence & corruption. I'm far from being an authority on this subject, but the different reactions to SARS in VN & China do speak to broader cultural differences.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:14 PM.
Sunday, April 27, 2003
"'If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything', Santorum said in an interview published on Monday by the Associated Press."
One can admire the logical consistency of the Senator's position. Bear with me--there's actually a great insight about the nature of sexuality here, though the Senator has it inside out. The problem with the logical consistency in this case is its divorce from historical, legal & political reality, but the insight that lit up the Senator's cortex is that once you admit that sex is a pleasure removed from strictly biological processes, then anything goes. (Once you admit that sex is "socially constructed," which Santorum does, implicitly, by rationalizing his homophobia as a defense of marriage, that most socially constructed & variable human institution.) Even "man on dog," to use the solon's memorable language. Freedom is dangerous, Santorum is right in this, but he leaps to the wrong conclusion & his leap is motivated by the fear of sex as pleasure & the desire to impose state control over private behavior. It is a fear that generates all kind of emotional & thus political static, spinning fantasies of fecund welfare queens & hipster sex dens that bear no relation to reality, but rev up social anxieties & the fear of freedom. The philosophical problem is how, once sex is admitted to be pleasurable, does one prevent this from becoming a license for abuse. The answer is simple, really & mostly straightforward in practice. The key is consent. In any reasonable sense of the word consent, animals cannot consent to sex with humans; spouses married illegally & secretly cannot consent to the arrangement; children cannot consent to sex with parents; children cannot in most cases consent to sex with adults; but adults of the same gender can easily & naturally consent to sex with each other. But the Senator is right, once the state sanctions gay sexual pleasure, all sorts of freedoms might blossom. And that would be intolerable to men like Senator Santorum. Pleasure is dangerous to power. Poetry is pleasure.
Update: Jordan at Equanimity asks a good question: "Is it [Santorum's indignation at sexual liberty] so much fear of pleasure as a general wish not to let anybody else have anything at all, unless it can be taxed and otherwise proven not to be at the expense of the powers that be?" If you drive a car, I'll tax the street. / If you talke a walk, I'll tax your feet / 'Cause I'm the Taxman, I'm the Taxman . . . [George Harrison] I do think that's part of it, but I think there is also a fear of the anarchy of pleasure. Thus the need for control & ownership? A bit later: are these just two sides of the same leaf? Because one fears pleasure, one seeks to control its expression, especially in others?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:52 PM.
Saturday, April 26, 2003
I read Vietnamese (slowly), but not Spanish, so I can't read Heriberto Yepez blogging anymore. Let's start a movement to bring back the Tijuana Bible of Poetics. If Mr. Yepez is willing to write in Vietnamese, that would be cool with me, but I suspect most of you would prefer English, khong? I'm from San Diego originally & I live now near the Canadian border. We need all the cross border talk we can manufacture right now, friends. Blogs come & go, but I was really sorry to see this one go.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:23 PM.
The always-incendiaryAmerican Samizdat now has a clean new design. I think I'll begin putting my political postings over there, with just a link at Reading & Writing, where the gentler arts will prevail.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:16 PM.
I've been reading Jeff Ward's This Public Address for a long, long time, so why didn't I add it to my blogroll? Just stupid, I guess. (I think I believed it was already there.) Anyway, it's there now.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:58 AM.
Insult & Invective
Don't know if the following come up to the standards of John Dryden, who wrote, "How easy it is to call rogue and villain, and that wittily! But how hard to make a man appear a fool, a blockhead, or a knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms . . . There is . . . a vast difference between the slovenly butchering of a man and the fineness of a stroke that separates the head from the body, and leaves it standing in place." [para. 95] They're pretty good, though. The Armitage remark probably falls more under the heading of butchery in Dryden's scheme, but Pierce's treatment, from which this is only a small quotation, has all the "fineness" you could want by way of artistry.
Stepping on a Newt: "The newspaper USA Today quoted Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as saying: 'It's clear that Mr. Gingrich is off his meds (medications) and out of therapy'." [via Beyond Corporate]
Eviscerating a Newt by Charles Pierce: "Remember the heady days of ’94, before Bill Clinton outmaneuvered Newtie until he left Congress wearing a barrel? Newtie — who has yet to learn that a string of adjectives is not an argument — was a towering intellectual figure on the landscape. He, of course, became this during his days as a historian at Western Georgia University And Auto Parts Emporium, where you can find the History Department because there’s a really OLD Desoto up on blocks out front. (He himself apparently considered himself, “definer of the rules of civilization,” a dreamy exercise not unlike all those 13-year old girls who scrawl, “Mrs. Brad Pitt” across their notebooks.) Read some of the stuff — especially in the newsweeklies. It’s hilarious, I tell you." [via Alterman]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:34 AM.
Stephanie Young has additional thoughts on "that SUV poem" that I really like: "I keep hearing the repeated line from the SUV poem: 'nobody knows but me' as connected to the refrain from the spiritual "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen" --but that's followed by 'nobody knows but Jesus'. Still, the two are very close. That 'nobody knows but me', if it does actually call up a spiritual, makes the commercial even sicker--you can have at the frontier and grieve its loss, the general loss of open space, in the voice of somebody else's historical moment, all at the same time! Car branding is sick to begin with, all those American Indian tribal names. Cherokee, a jeep. They should return to the list generated by Marianne Moore. 'The Resilient Bullet', indeed!"
The substitution of me for Jesus is the perfect example of our American gnosticism. (Hey, Stephanie, what's up with yer permalinks?)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:43 AM.
I was going to say something in the previous entry about "appropriate meters," but then thought better of it. I may believe in certain forms of authenticity, but I'm no essentialist, after all. So, meters can be appropriate, mostly in they way they influence tone, but only within a particular context of use. So when one reads a poem, say, about the death of civilians in war in a triple meter, there is, to the experience reader, a sense of cognitive dissonance, or unintentional humor. Of course, the naive reader will be unaware of this "wrong" metrical choice. Is such a reader wrong? Only insofar as they are playing a game without knowing the rules of the game, the context of use. But by virtue of attempting a metrical poem, the author of such a poem is attempting to borrow some of the authority of the metrical tradition without a clear sense of the way(s) in which that tradition has been employed. No one would have trouble recognizing this phenomenon is a pop song that made inappropriate use of a blues riff, but with poetry we are sometimes hesitant to be critical of such misuse."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:30 AM.
Tim Yu suggests that the aesthetic provenance & genealogy of "Nobody Knows But Me" [the SUV Poem] is not Marianne Moore, but Dr. Seuss. I agree. The meter is a give-away here. But I wasn't really saying that the poem itself derives--however distantly--from Moore, only that the commercial use of it "put me in mind of" Moore's brief association with Ford. But despite the science fiction connection, I don't think that O'Leary's poem is "more allusive than it might appear." Less allusive, I'd say. We're all familiar with the post-modern truism that text is text, but to admit the truth of the truism cannot mean that we abandon the responsibility of judgement--it merely shifts the ground of judgement away from aesthetics & toward . . . ethics? That's at leas one possible direction, though in the spirit of pluralism & pragmatism I don't insist on it. What I'm thinking is that we can move the judgement of poetry out of the realm of aesthetics & into the wider human concerns of conduct. We still won't be grounded, but the shifting sand beneath our feet (to invoke the old hymn*) will extend, perhaps, a bit further out & down. The difference between the O'Leary poem & the Dr. Seuss is that the good doctor is self-ironizing whereas the O'Leary poem lacks the doubled vision of irony. In fact, it's solipsism attempts to drain irony out of the listener / reader. Irony doesn't sell SUVs. Wherever you are, you're in the cab of that big honkin' automobile & no amount of post-modern romancing of the text can avoid this use of the poem. And what I was trying to get at previously is that the poem lends itself to such use with its flabby thought & language. (Often, reading student poems, I begin to write "Cliche" in the margin, but then realize, no, it's not a cliche, it's something else--it's a proto-cliche, a piece of language born dead. That's how I respond to the SUV poem.)
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
Friday, April 25, 2003
When I said I'd be blogging from bed the other day, I didn't mean sick bed, but shortly after writing that I came down with some flu-like crud or food poisening. Better today, but if I owe you email or (students) a response to a draft, check back over the weekend.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:38 AM.
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
I'm wireless. Next thing you know I'll be blogging from bed.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:49 AM.
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Stephanie Young at the estimable Well Nourished Moon has a brief discussion [April 22.2003: permalinks not working] of an article that evaluates the poetic qualities of that "SUV Poem" now being used as advertising by one of the major American car makers, I forget which. Anyway, the discussion puts me in mind of the time Ford hired Marianne Moore to suggest names for the automobile that would ultimately become the Edsel. There is an amusing collection of letters between Moore & the folks at Ford in the old Marianne Moore Reader. My favorite among Moore's suggestions is The Resilient Bullet:
Anyway, the poem in question is by Patrick O'Leary & goes:
Nobody Knows it but Me
There's a place that I travel
When I want to roam
And nobody knows it but me.
The roads don't go there
And the signs stay home
And nobody knows it but me.
It's far far away
And way way afar
It's over the moon and the sea
And wherever you're going
that's wherever you are
And nobody knows it but me.
Now, as I read her, Stephanie is focusing more on the article in the Oregonian & its shortcomings than on the poem, which is a piece of bathetic nonsense in loose trimeter with a self-indulgent rhyme scheme (xab / xab / xcb / xcb). There are eight rhyming words in the poem & three of them are me. Though I can't find the Oregonian article on line, I agree with Stephanie--in so far as her description is accurate--that its praise of poetry is the kind of praise we can do without. My objections to the poem are not based on its provenance, though, but on its twee use of language & its (very American & very lazy) solipsism. The rhetoric of the poem turns inward in every stanza--I would need the combined analytical resources of Kenneth Burke & the acid wit of H.L. Mencken to do justice to the silliness of this poem, but I don't need to resort to casting aspersions on science fiction writers or even advertising executives. (I teach a course that includes a good deal of science fiction.) Within the rhetorical context of the commercial, the poem evokes a self-congratulatory bathos that invites the reader to identify with a sort of 19th century adventure-story view of the world while driving an SUV: the lie it tells is that you can have an authentic experience by buying a forty thousand dollar automobile. (Actually, you can have an authentic experience buying a forty thousand dollar automobile--just not the one on offer in the commercial.)
I guess I object to the poem itself more than the commercial, though. Which may just mean I'm old-fashioned enough to believe in some forms of authenticity, but that's a subject for tomorrow or next week.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:43 PM.
Monday, April 21, 2003
Earlier today I was sitting at my desk & heard a loud thunk against the house. I went downstairs & looked out the big window into the yard. Two male Downy Woodpeckers had apparently chased each other into a collision with the window & one--presumably the less stunned--was beating the crap out of the other with his beak while the stunned one shrieked. It took me about twenty seconds to figure out what was going on. When I went out in the yard the unstunned bird flew away, but the beaten one was lying on the grass, wings spread. I picked him up squawking & very much alive, strong but bony. He screeched but didn't try to peck me. His left eye was closed, but he wasn't bloodied. I put him in a five gallon plastic bucket with a scrap of old carpeting in the bottom & put some wire mesh over the top, then left him in the shed & called my friend Angie, a biologist, who told me he probably just needed a rest. I checked on him a couple of times--alert, but still sitting on the bottom of the bucket. After about four hours I went out to check on the bird & he was clinging to the carpet pushed up against the side of the bucket in full woodpecker posture. I took the bucket out in the yard, took the top off & he flew up strongly into the big spruce.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:26 PM.
It won't come as any surprise to people who stop by this address from time to time that I usually agree with Eric Alterman, but today I really agree with him: "Well, the democracy part was always a pipe dream. The State Department admitted as much in a report before the war began. Some Neocons may have been sincere in their hopes, and I know Paul Berman, for instance, is. But it was never going to happen for a million unfortunate and intractable reasons. One of these, unfortunately, is that the people conducting the war were never terribly interested in it in the first place. // If the Bush Administration had cared enough even to pretend, for instance, they would not have appointed retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, an outspoken ally of the Israeli far-right and veteran of the military-industrial complex, to oversee the reconstruction office. Nor would they have attempted to set up the indicted embezzler and 40-year Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi as the nation’s key power broker, if not dictator/president. Nor would they be setting themselves up to control Iraqi bases in order to scare the bejeebus out of the neighboring Arab nations. Nor would they be protecting the oil ministry while inviting looters — with their absence — to destroy the priceless and irreplaceable heritage of the Iraqi nation. Next thing you know, Franklin Graham will be appointed U.S. Ambassador."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:01 PM.
So yesterday was holding the ashes in 3,000 degrees of Iraq, this heritage being erased. Why? Who set ablaze. And the library, then the Nation to the Nation of Mecca, who started the Americans did nothing. All over the Americans did nothing. All over the destroyed? So yesterday was set these fires? For what insane purpose is this Year Zero; with the looters, Arabia, demands for troops, reports on pilgrims, all in delicate hand-written history, I found a file blowing in my handwritten Arabia, and attacks on pilgrims, all in delicate handwritten history. But for Iraq were turned to ashes in the burning of books of Islamic law from a boy of Iraq were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. The National Archives of Baghdad. I saw the looters, the Ministry of Korans at the theft of came the looters, then the burning of books. First camels and attacks on the courts of Arabia, and the looters. One of Archaeology on Saturday and Archives a priceless treasure of Arabic script . . . [text derived from a report by Robert Fisk]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:49 AM.
Yesterday, after a rainy morning, the sky cleared & the temperature got up into the high sixties. First really warm day of spring & as I was working out in the yard lopping back maple & ash suckers, I heard the first peepers of the year. Today, Easter, is warm & breezy. Friends are coming over to eat a big ham I brined in Coke & kosher salt. I'm basting it with a glaze of Coke, lime juice, brown sugar & hot peppers. Though I grew up among Christians, the symbolism of Easter never really got through to me very clearly--my people were more emotionally drawn to the crucifixion. The whole resurrection & rebirth of the year symbolism left them cold. Now, no longer a Christian, I'm still happy for an occasion to cook a meal for friends & celebrating the return of warm weather feels right, too, especially after the coldest winter in twenty-four years.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:31 AM.
Saturday, April 19, 2003
I haven't written about the destruction of Iraqi antiquities. The scale of the loss seemed simply too great to triangulate, but I spent a blazing hot morning several years ago walking through the partially restored imperial citadel in Hue, Vietnam & then took a boat trip out to a series of tombs & temples along the Perfume river. I have a personal as well as an intellectual sense of what war can do to architecture & artifacts.
But I have also wanted to think through the difference between the loss of a human life, or a human hand or eye, & the loss of an irreplaceable manuscript or object. There is a moral imperative against unnatural human death; otherwise, we wouldn't resort so easily to the word tragedy, even when it is not technically correct, to describe the artificial cutting off of a human life, whether by gunshot on an American street or by shrapnel in a Baghdad neighborhood. Is there a similar moral imperative that applies to books & works or art? I think there is. We ask, "How could anyone do this?" And the only answer is that people are capable of becoming beasts. Hobbs' great contribution to Western philosophy was to reconceive human beings, not as inferior angels but as superior beasts. A view that explains a great deal about everyday human behaviors like looting & burning. But Hobbs' view also implies that being a superior animal requires effort. As my fundamentalist family members would say, it is all too easy to "backslide" into sin. I don't see it that way, but it's a useful metaphor; I think, with Freud & Darwin that what we revert to under certain circumstances, is the "primal horde," in which strength & cunning always trump mildness & innocence. Only the slow & tenuous realization that cooperation makes for greater security & comfort leads human beings to band together, build villages & then cities & then to fill those cities with cooperative works of art, science & religion of the sort recently destroyed in Baghdad. No work of art is the creation of a single intellect; every scientific breakthrough is a collective achievement. We feel sick when we see the looted museum & burned-out library because the stolen & destroyed objects are . . . I can't think of anything but cliches . . . part of us . . . our common heritage . . . the record of our imagination. [The Memory Hole has archived a number of press reports about the destruction; more links via Cursor: BBC, Yahoo News, Crimes of War Project.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:36 PM.
Three Short Poems of Invective
Your mouth bites you
Your nails scratch you
No longer yours, your wife
No longer yours, your brother
The soul of his foot bitten by an angry snake
I Am Rowing
I am rowing
I am rowing
I am rowing against your life
I am rowing
I split into countless rowers
To row more strongly against you
Hate Without Style
If all those patriots
who are sending Quadafy
their garbage in the mail
are so tough, why
don't they put it in a samsonite
and deliver it?
Invisible Adjunct should be a must-read blog for anybody who teaches college, especially in the Humanities. Those on the fringes of an instution very often have the clearest understanding of it. At least that's what this full professor thinks.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:50 AM.
Friday, April 18, 2003
My wife, who was a French major as an undergrad, would like everyone to know that she bought a pair of shoes today manufactured in France.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:41 PM.
Though in One Time
Though in one time
Occur such unlike incidents
As my quickening of substance
And yours or yours,
Close questioning of our prompt elements
Baffling replies the baffled shrug.
Yet continue the comparison of names
And signs, searching of eyes,
Hands and the blurred records.
A same bewilderment of mind
Marries our proximate occasions,
Yet perhaps no more tokens
Than a colliding of the rapt--
Of zealous purposes
That for impatience
Left their sealed messages behind.
Then I think these are not lame excuses,
I think we are not much disgraced
In these our second reasons,
In these our new credentials,
By which we justify encounter
With a bewildering accuracy.
Russell Smith in The Globe & Mail: "The worst culprit was also the one with the most embedded reporters and the most exciting live footage, and so it was, sadly, the one that I watched all the time: CNN, the voice of Centcom. CNN was more irritating than the gleefully patriotic Fox News channel because CNN has a pretense of objectivity. It pretends to be run by journalists. And yet it dutifully uses all the language chosen by the special forces of media relations at the Pentagon: It describes newly occupied portions of Iraq as being "liberated"; it describes anti-Saddam rebels as "freedom fighters" (whereas the guerrillas fighting the invading forces using classic partisan tactics engaged in "terrorism"); it describes the exploding of Iraqi soldiers in their bunkers as "softening up"; it describes slaughtered Iraqi units as being "degraded"; some announcers have even repeated the egregious Pentagon neologism "attrited" (to mean "we are slowly killing as many of them as we can"). I don't know if I'm more offended by the insidiousness of this euphemism or by the absurdity of its grammar." [via Media Whores Online]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:06 AM.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
The Better Rhetor on Bush's authoritarian rhetoric. I think that a return to the study of rhetoric, the art of civic discourse, might be a way forward for both poetry & politics. Rhetoric is both an analytical procedure & a synthetic one. Perhaps as we learn to see the motives of Bush's language we can learn to mend our own. Cynicism will not do, even oppositional poetics politics will not do. A while back Henry Gould wrote about the failure of cynicism & I want to underline his remarks here because they echo my own. HG has also offered a critique of the way Language poets have framed American poetry in terms of opposition to a mainstream, thus creating the sort of unstable pairing that is ripe for a classical deconstructive treatment. I'm beginning to see connections.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:20 PM.
What is your version, raking hay, reading law
In turret, transferring documenta?
What is the origin of miscellany, misdemeanor;
from whence doggerel?
Whose profile in margin
where small animals lie, toad, minnow, book of Saints, olives.
Local Academic Politics: I haven't written about this because things have been very much in play at my university: New President (though he's the former Provost); curricular ferment in my own department, with progressives & conservatives pretty much blocking real change & a general lack of local leadership; and now the merger of the School of Science & the School of Liberal Arts. Historically, Liberal Arts at Clarkson began as part of a School of Arts & Sciences, but more than twenty years ago (before my time) was split off & given a largely service role teaching a freshman Humanities / Writing course called Great Ideas. Most of the people currently in Liberal Arts have taught that course as 2/3 of their load for many years, though the course has evolved from a rigidly proscribed list of books & themes to a pretty much anything goes collection of texts & attitudes toward them (ranging from the reverential to the oppositional). Last year I served on a committee to renovate this course & while our proposal has generated some change & will have some use going forward, the course, Great Ideas, remains a hodgepodge. And now I am on the committee that is charged by the incoming prez with overseeing the return to a unified School of Arts & Sciences. I was enthusiastic about last year's assignment to re-do our freshman course, but then frustrated by the way the energy we expended was dissipated over the course of this year. Educational institutions--maybe all institutions--can be intellectual heat sinks. And I have thought for several years that the way forward for me & my colleagues is to merge with the School of Science. It is the best strategy for shedding our second-class status at what is basically a technological university. But second-class status can be attractive in terms of security; some folks would rather avoid risk than chance failure. Several years ago, when I had the temerity to talk with the Dean of the School of Science (now moved on) about such a merger--despite the fact that I was a lowly associate professor with no power--some of my colleagues engaged in a whispering campaign about my intentions the memory of which can still occasionally make me angry.
Last week the "merger committee" had its first meeting--four representatives from each school--& we discovered a shared enthusiasm for the possibilities of a merger. For both students & faculty. We're already a pretty interdisciplinary institution & it is in that direction our future identity & distinction lies. Today this committee will present an outline of procedures to the Liberal Arts faculty that keeps many current structures in place & puts in motion a search for a dean of the new combined school. For some reason I dread this meeting, fearing that personal anxieties will defeat institutional change. Also, I have been nominated to serve as Interim Associate Dean, though I am not alone in that distinction & I didn't seek the nomination. No doubt a few of my colleagues will believe that my support for a merger is founded on a desire for personal advancement.
I suppose all this can be read as confirmation of people's worst vision of academia & I will concede there is some truth to the worst vision. In the case of my institution, though, there remains a core of idealism & a belief in serving students. It is possible to reasonably assert that academic institutions drain away energy & creativity, but I would suggest--based on twenty-five years' experience--that there is a counter force, a cosmological constant, that maintains an outward push toward new & hopeful configurations. So, while universities & colleges are inextricably knotted into the social fabric & so perhaps always compromised to some extent, at their best they act like poetry, reviving ideas & language flattened or ignored by the dominant political & economic forms of social life in late-capitalist America.
Update: In an act of astonishing, if weirdly inverted, imagination, three of my colleagues managed to turn a generous offer from the incoming president to hold everybody's budget harmless for three years into some nefarious conspiracy to screw us out of tenure-track lines. Well, that idea was floated by one particular colleague. Another equated the incoming president's rationale for combining the schools to save money & position the institution for a big fundraising effort as the sort of "financial emergency" that might be used to rescind the three-year guarantee. This notion was derived from a presentation that noted that our budget for the coming year--unlike those of Stanford & hundreds of other schools--was increasing. Some emergency. The majority of my colleagues seem neutral to positive about the coming changes, however.
Duemer's theory of institutional life: Some minority of every unit will be timorous & will resist change; another minority will be optimistic & imaginative, perhaps excessively. The others are up for grabs in any given situation. The optimists usually are those who already have a successful individual career & so feel free to pursue institutional goals.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:14 AM.
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
HG writes about poetry & politics: "Equanimity [link not in original]. Whereas many of the poets seem to feel their job is to express their political position these days. . . aren't a lot of these positions sort of like cultural habits? I mean you're on the "left" or the "right" since you were in diapers, you express "where you come from" etc. Parochialism. What if the job instead is to penetrate into a complex reality, without taking sides so much as to illuminate the dynamics? Not only a political reality but a purely poetic reality at the same time. I feel like a lot of the easy rhetoric actually does a disservice to poetry, all these poets against the war, it's like celebrities against the war, riding on something that doesn't belong to them. Not that their not citizens : it's that they take their ART for granted, their artist status. Meanwhile poetry has gone off somewhere else."
This had me going for a minute. I was about to utter a mea culpa! & return to the fields of posey. It's spring, after all, & I've been planting seeds in old egg cartons & putting them in south-facing windows. But then I thought about the soil in which poems grow--language--& it occurred to me that most of my political posts are attacks on the lie as a conscious rhetorical strategy. And if I have any authority to speak on such matters--at least it's the only authority I will claim--it is derived from thirty years of reading & writing poetry. That's how I come to the language of poetry politics. So, speaking for myself alone, I have not put my art aside, but like a cabinet maker called upon to build a house, I have put my (sometimes inadequate) tools to use in doing the job at hand.
(See, I told you I was a poet: look at how I sling them metaphors around in self-defense!)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:45 PM.
Delusional retired general to administer Iraq: "By getting out of Iraq fast, the general said, the United States can avoid repeating past mistakes. "We're notorious for telling people what to do," he said. An example? "Start with Vietnam and the strategic hamlet concept." // General Garner served two tours in Vietnam, first in 1967-68 as an infantry adviser in the central highlands, and as a district senior adviser in 1971-72 in the strategic hamlet program, which involved relocating Vietnamese in remote villages into areas heavily defended by American forces, he said. Over all, he said, the war in Vietnam was a failure because the United States had the "wrong military objective." // "It took too long," he said. "We should have taken the war north instead of waiting in the south. Just like here. If President Bush had been president, we would have won." [emphasis added]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:52 AM.
Monday, April 14, 2003
I have two questions about this map. What is it a map of? Who does it belong to? The map is not the territory (Gregory Bateson). The usefulness of the map is that it can demonstrate "the pattern that connects." The map, also, is a human artifact embedded in the world; it does not stand outside the world. Maps require reading, like poetry. The question of ownership runs perpendicular to these questions. It is important not to confuse ownership of the map with ownership of that which is mapped; ownership implies a relationship of control, power. If you can read my DNA, how does that change the social relations between us?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:25 PM.
"[The Pentagon brass] haven't a clue as to what's going on,'' said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst and Iraq expert at the National Defense University. "They don't have plans for a transition in place, they don't know where the money is going to come from, they don't have any organization. And they just don't know anything about Iraq." [ Robert Dreyfuss in The American Prospect] Can you spell V-i-e-t-n-a-m? Not the facts on the ground, which are completely different, but the toxic combination of arrogance & ignorance which is, in its way, a weapon of mass destruction. Later: They have lots of maps, but perhaps not the right maps. All the hightech gizmos orbiting the planet seem not to guarantee an accurate reading of what is Iraq. The Hubble telescope can tell us more about the depths of time & space than spy satellites can tell us about the reality that is Iraq, not to mention the crude mappings filtered through political allegiance & ideological commitments. Choosing what to map could itself be mapped, but that way lies the madness of endlessly recursive mappings. Infinities are not much use to finite beings.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:42 PM.
Saturday, April 12, 2003
"But unlike you Professor, I know who to blame." I guess that's my problem. Matthew Alan Heminger, whom I've never heard from (or of) before, writes in an email: "I have no objection to living in an imperialist America. It beats the hell out of the alternative. And a Pax Americana sure seems more palatable than a world of endless debates, internecine warfare, genocide, and totalitarian regimes bent on becoming the next nuclear and WMD power. // As to the Middle East peace process...what makes you think that what is happening in Iraq will throw up any more roadblocks in the road to peaceful coexistence there? The Palestinians are as bankrupt and leaderless a group of refugees as has ever been. They are welcome nowhere and paid lip service by despotic Middle Eastern regimes merely to quiet the unruly mobs of sympathizers that reside in their own nations. Surely you don't expect the Israelis to jeapordize [sic] the fragile peace they have earned at the point of a sword time and time again, to placate people whose self avowed goal is the extermination of the nation of Israel. [ . . . ] The UN is and always has been a joke. The UN's inaction in time of crisis has meant that the United States has had to go it alone or create coalitions of agreeable nations in North Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, and now in Iraq. Will we do so again in Syria, in Iran, in North Korea? I hope not. I am no fan of bloodshed. I ache to see the crippled Iraqi children, the fatherless future martyrs, the ruined nation that once was Iraq. // But unlike you Professor, I know who to blame. I know who will answer for the crime someday if he hasn't already. When an oppressed people cannot throw off the shackles that bind them without help from an outside source than that help should be given them. This was never a war about oil. Iraq is hemmorhaging [sic] money faster than a public transit system in America. But Iraq is going to be given an opportunity to chose it's own destiny. Iraq will not be a pariah in the eyes of the international community anymore. Iraq will be disarmed and rebuilt much like Germany and Japan 50 years ago. // If the international community and the UN want to help so much the better. They did not do a damn thing to help when we asked them to so if I had my druthers they will take a back seat in the rebuilding but that is for the coalition and the Iraqi people to decide." [edited for length]
I'm not sure why I was chosen to receive this sermon, but it must have been prompted by my remarks earlier about the Bush administrations unilateralist foreign policy & the war in Iraq. But if I have any contribution to make to the war-discourse, it is to offer a sort of poetics of our political language. Anyway, I went back & read my posts about the war over the last several weeks & the very odd thing about this letter is that, with the exception of my statement that I don't want to be a citizen of an imperial power, it really does not argue with things I have actually said & it certainly doesn't recognize my sense that the problem with this war is not so much who it is against as who is prosecuting it. I never said, for instance, that this is "a war about oil," so that claim in this context is a red herring. When Mr. Heminger's letter does address my statements, it argues by assertion. Assertion as a mode of argument presumes certainty & certainty by definition collapses the argument of the opponent to abstraction & cliche. Cliche is the servant of certainty: initially it simplifies your opponent's argument, but it ends simplifying your own: beats the hell out of the alternative; what makes you think . . . ?; surely you don't expect . . . ? [the rhetorical question is itself a cliche.]; internecine warfare; lip service; peace they have earned at the point of a sword; unruly mobs; extermination of the nation of Israel; has had to go it alone; I ache to see; oppressed people; throw off the shackles that bind them; take a back seat to.
And then there are the merely astonishing statements: 1) "The UN's inaction in time of crisis has meant that the United States has had to go it alone or create coalitions of agreeable nations in North Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, and now in Iraq." The conflation of these conflicts depends on the sweeping generalization of myth, rather that the minute particulars of history. 2) "As to the Middle East peace process...what makes you think that what is happening in Iraq will throw up any more roadblocks in the road to peaceful coexistence there?" Roadblocks is another cliche, but nevermind. The issue here is not coexistence, but existence. 3) "They did not do a damn thing to help when we asked them to . . ." assumes that the role of the UN is to "help" the United States pursue its policies. 4) " . . . that is for the coalition and the Iraqi people to decide." Coalition is the most absurd little shit pellet of language to come out of this war & right now Richard Perle is working feverishly to install a corrupt oligarch in power in Iraq. We'll have to wait & see about what the people of Iraq decide, but the smug piety of this statement beggars the very notion of audacity. 5) "I ache to see the crippled Iraqi children, the fatherless future martyrs," in addition to being sentimental rubbish, appears to concede my belief that the war in Iraq will lead to more, not less, terrorism. 6) ". . . that help should be given them." This is a nice liberal idea, but can one advance a serious argument that it is the responsibility of the United States to assist militarily all oppressed people? Even if one could agree on the definition of "oppressed," such a foreign policy would bankrupt the nation in short order. Consider the economic effects of the Vietnam War, to take one example.
I'm glad Saddam is kaput, but I don't assume that his kaputitude will lead to a paradise for Iraq. The image of a democratic Iraq is the public projection of the myth that conceals the neoconservative logic of endless warfare. And then there is the role of American media to consider & its eager embrace of the language of endless warfare. And then there is the way religion & the police find each other so congenial in the new environment. So my objection to the Pax Americana is based on the notion that, no, it does not in fact "beat the hell out of the alternative"--it plunges the world into a needlessly dangerous state of instability; it makes a bully of my country & bullies have a way of getting what's coming to them.
To his credit my correspondent concludes his letter with the following nod to ambivalence: "We have a long tradition of intervention, some of it principled, much of it not. Have we always made the world a better place when we did intervene? No we have not. Have we made the world a better place this time? Yes, I think so. I hope so. Time will tell." Time will tell. I'd say most of our interventions--nice antiseptic word, that--have not, with a couple of exceptions (Bosnia, Kosovo) been notable for leading to the flowering of democracy. I expect to see a plutocrat with strong ties to the neocon cabal in the Department of Defense. Later:More; a Pakistani perspective; also, thanks to Blogorrhoea, I've just discovered this resource, The War in Context.
But then things get very weird. There is a postscript to the letter, as follows: "I haven't read much of your archives but why the crappy truck? [link not in original] It's such a NASCAR thing you'd think you were a Southern Dixiecrat who voted for Reagan in the 80's and is snugly in the Republican fold now..." Is this supposed to be an insult? Apparently, my correspondent lacks even the most rudimentary organ of irony. And there is as well a whiff of class snobbery in this little aside. My old bluetick hound Maude--may she rest in peace--is sitting in that truck. Both Maude & the truck have passed on to . . . wherever such beings go. Maude loved that truck & the photograph commemorates a whole nexus of affections, as anyone could see who had a soul.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:25 PM.
Friday, April 11, 2003
Little Eva, 1946-2003. Everybody's doin' the Locomotion. Update: I have a weakness for Motown girl groups. Also, looking around today, I discovered that Little Eva was discovered by Carole King & Gerry Goffin: she was their babysitter. Jeez, I would loved to have been that baby! (And, yes, I know Phil Spector is a crazy fuck with a gun obsession--I also revere Ezra Pound, what's it to ya?) High art / low art--hey, I'm a populist & a pragmatist. A shame we'll never hear Little Eva's take on "Hugh Selwyin Mauberly". And then there's the irony of this Little Eva to bring into the mix. Intertextuality, indeed.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
"No, Saddam alone is not Kurtz; he is merely a facet of his character. We are all Kurtz. Saddam is an aberration, a reflection of others, those who created him, armed him, supported him and steered him. They, their economies, technologies and social structures constitute a global insight into Conrad's vision of a mind plumbing the heart of darkness. Now, like the powers that colonised the jungles of the Congo and Southeast Asia, Hussein's puppeteers have returned to find and destroy him. Unlike Saddam Hussein or George Bush and their coterie of thugs, Kurtz was always brilliant, the sum of our dark selves. To Conrad's Marlow, he epitomised everything of which we are capable, "a 'universal genius'", 'an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows what else'." [Mike Golby, ftom a long post at Pagecount]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:24 PM.
No therethere. [This post has been entirely composed while sitting in front of my creative writing class. My students are doing an exercise: write a love poem to someone you dislike.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:01 AM.
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
I knew this guy was right way back when I voted for him: "Thanks to the most crudely partisan decision in the history of the Supreme Court, the nation has been given a President of painfully limited wisdom and compassion and lacking any sense of the nation's true greatness. Appearing to enjoy his role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces above all other functions of his office, and unchecked by a seemingly timid Congress, a compliant Supreme Court, a largely subservient press and a corrupt corporate plutocracy, George W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule." [George McGovern writing in The Nation]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:05 PM.
Where do we find these guys? As I noted a couple of days ago, the ghost of Ngo Dinh Diem is haunting the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Look, I'm happy that the Iraqis I see on CNN appear to be delighted to be free of Saddam. Who wouldn't be happy? Americans have a poor record regarding the sorts of nationalists we are willing to do business with, however. Diem, like Chalabi, had spent a lot of time in the West & had little internal political support when he was installed (via an election rigged by the CIA) as head of the South Vietnamese government. Yesterday Chalabi was inserted into Iraq with some of his partisans--I think they're known as the Perle Brigade. What is this American love of kleptocrats? Max Sawicky has the economic analysis.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:51 PM.
Note: I deleted the Norm Coleman post I put up here this morning. Decided I didn't like the tone & that I wasn't sure I was actually saying anything.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 11:31 AM.
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
"Where are the novelists and poets of the daily grind of the war, the people who call us to some deeper meditations about the meaning of it all, who bring us together in a contemplative pause where the lion lays down with the lamb and the warblogger sighs heavily in sympathetic unison with the critic of the war? Where is the general humility in the face of events vastly larger than ourselves, the reflective pause? // Why must every unwinding of the widening gyre be ripped back immediately to the hurly-burly of crudely diametric rhetorical combat? Why can’t Andrew Sullivan or James Lileks or Glenn Reynolds allow themselves the necessary luxury of moral ambiguity as well as empathy for the whole wide world and all the frightened people in it? Don't they have a single doubt or regret? Isn't anything messy or difficult in their world? Why does Patrick Nielsen Hayden get vaguely harrassed for feeling a moment of magic connection with a single American soldier as opposed to the generic abstraction of humanity as a whole? Why must antiwar bloggers drag every utterance and image coming from generals and politicans and soldiers through a brutalizing vivisection? Why is everything part of some media conspiracy? Where is the curiosity, and yes, the excitement, the pulse at the temples, the little heart-skipping trill of empathetic fear for men and women in harm’s way, all of them? Where is the simple fascination with the awesome technological and logistical scale of the war? // Why is everyone in such a rush to line up all the ducks in the world in a row?" [Timothy Burke at Easily Distracted]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 12:12 PM.
Sunday, April 06, 2003
My father is visiting. He's downstairs watching the war on CNN. He's 78 & a little deaf, so the volume is up. A story comes on that Bush is going to meet with Tony Blair about the future of Iraq. "Bush is going to Belfast!" my dad bellows in his best deaf-man's voice. Call me perverse, but this cartoon is what came instantly to mind. Tony Blair is headed to the vet to get "tutored."
Ha Ha Ha, Biff. Guess what?
After we go to the drug store and the post office,
I'm going to the vet's to get tutored!
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:21 PM.
"But according to US officials in Doha, elements of an embryonic new government will be established in the southern port of Umm Qasr, taken by coalition forces during the first days of the war. It will be installed by the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, under the former US army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, and answerable to the Pentagon." [Guardian Unlimited]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:16 AM.
Saturday, April 05, 2003
There is bitter irony in the fact that the first American woman killed in action in Iraq is a Native American, a Hopi Indian: Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, Tuba City, Arizona, 507th Maintenance Company. The human cost of this war begins to come into focus, but what has struck me today is the way the mainstream media now has the master narrative firmly in place & are working sentimental variations on it. I am trying to stay focused on the minute particulars. The master narrative is by definition a conglomeration of lies. Every time Wolf Blitzer presents a feed from the battle front, he concludes it with, "Thanks for that brilliant report," "Thanks for that amazing report," "Thanks for that astonishing report . . ." It is a rhetorical necessity to emphasize the truth when you are lying. A single bomb falling near the hotel where the journalists are housed merits repeated coverage on CNN: Among other things that is wrong with this story is that its authors consider--without a hint of self-awareness or irony--themselves to be important characters in the narrative. In a sense, of course, they are right: they provide the "feed" the rest of us live off. Naturally, good postmodernist that I am, I don't expect "objectivity." I'd settle for self-awareness. The feed consists of video clips & voiceovers framed by talking heads; anyone who watches the coverage for even a little while will notice that the video clips are routinely used to illustrate different "developments," thus loosening the relationship between narrative & reality. Maybe a loose relationship is all we have, but shouldn't the goal of perception be as close a relationship as possible? Here is the sense in which this is an information war: the Iraqi regime has been broadcasting laughable versions of the facts on the ground: that the Americans are a 100 kilometers from the city, that American troops at the airport have been routed, that Americans troops are not in the city (evan as the column of tanks rolls down Saddam Blvd.) . . . a crude attempt to control the story. And because of their overwhelming military force, American briefers need not engage in such gross distortions. No, the distortions of the invading power are free to pursue greater subtleties, to seek flights of poetic imagination in the service of empire. Jessica Lynch, who has suffered greatly & who is undoubtedly a brave soldier, is destined to become the heroine of one substory, one current in the river of the master narrative: I've been fascinated today to watch the media's fetishization of PFC Lynch's dogtags, which were discoverd in the home of a Baath Party functionary (who no doubt fetishized them too).
Checking the weather: This was the headline on my little weather pop-up program this morning: WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY TODAY UNTIL 11:33AM EST. That's a new level of precision. I expect the sun to come out at exactly 11:34. And it's a good thing too because I am sick to death of this long cold winter & so-far non-existent spring.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:45 AM.
Friday, April 04, 2003
If Congressmen didn't exist, we'd have to invent them in order to have a definition of sleeze. "You have offended the congressman." A remark worthy of the hired muscle is a Bogart film. Give a guy a staff & he becomes a moral idiot. And in the bureaucracy that has mostly replaced American democracy, everybody who is anybody has a staff.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:17 PM.
When Jeanne D'arc links you, you have been well & surely linked. Welcome to all you Body & Soul fans out there. Thanks for stopping by.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:48 AM.
Thursday, April 03, 2003
I am heartened by the apparent ease with which American armies appear to be hastening the demise of Saddam's regime. I hope for the best for Iraq. Nevertheless, I continue to believe a far less destructive course might have been set & been effective in the long run. Though I mourn the suffering of war, It's the long run that worries me. The administration has trashed the international order, & it looks as if the motive is to turn international relations into something like Texas state politics. I hope for the best for the US.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:50 PM.
Contempt & hatred: Mike Sanders informs me he has returned to blogging & picking up the passive-aggressive style he honed to perfection previously, writes: "Joe, Thanks for the reply. I will try to keep it short: My question was prompted by the definite changes in the confidence in your rightness and the contempt (and hatred) you express for those with opposing viewpoints. I was hoping you could provide some insight into what led to that process, but I will now admit that was naive. I sent it in an email as a private communication and was surprised that you posted it publicly, but I guess you feel all's fair in love and war. // I definitely do not hold that all views are equal and find it fascinating that you arrived at that erroneous conclusion. I attribute this to the adage "Bias blinds even the wise". If we are not willing to confront our own biases, all the intellect in the world will not save us from coming to wrong conclusions. (I do not exempt myself from this problem.) // I am very glad to see that you do not support a pull out of our troops and that you agree that the world and Iraq will be better off when Saddam is removed. // In terms of America's intent, it seems clear to me that the number one goal of this war was to eliminate Saddam's Husseins WMDs. The US tried to do this through the UN, but when it was clear that the UN would be ineffective in achieving this goal it felt that war was the only unfortunate option remaining. // Bringing Democracy to Iraq is a secondary goal, but certainly a noble one. I think you are incorrect when you say that the current administration does not care at all about democracy. // Regarding America's Imperialistic goals, if you mean a Pax America, I think we have to consider that as possibly the best hope of reducing or eliminating the state of war that the world is currently in. // I would agree that a consensus of nations would be the best way to achieve peace, but I have seen little evidence that the UN is the body to reach that consensus. // In terms of peace between the Palestinians and Israel, when the Palestinians and other nations give up there hope of destroying Israel there can be peace. And there is no evidence that they have given up that dream. And the Israelis won't be fooled again by empty words like those of Oslo. They took that chance then, and it led to thousands of deaths on both sides. They will not be foolish enough to take that risk again. // As far as Armies rolling into Iran, Syria and North Korea I personally hope that won't be necessary, but as long as those nations persist in their perennial state of war, it unfortunately remain a possibility. // Thanks for the reply. I don't expect you to change any of your opinions, but I am hoping you will at least hear what I am saying. Here's to hope.
PS - You have my permission to post this reply. (And I am blogging again)"
Okay, that's all the space he gets here. Back to the sin of self-confidence, which apparently amounts to contempt & hatred. It's fascinating to me how the American Right has adopted the doctrine of relativism & I want to think more about this & probably will write something. (I'm just an old conservative, I guess, with strong beliefs in stuff like democracy, freedom, free elections, separation of church & state. . .) Update: I don't believe that democracy requires that people be nice to each other, or suffer fools gladly.
Former blogger Mike Sanders emailed me this: "I know this question might come out the wrong way, but I have to ask it anyway. Do you really think you are so much smarter than most people or is that just the personna [sic] you have decided to adopt on your blog? When you started blogging you were more self-critical, but now you seem to have no doubt about your rightness. The reason I am asking is that I went through a similiar blogging period and it is sometimes easier to understand our own behaviour [sic] when we see it in others. By the way, let me ask you the same question I asked Doc: Do you really believe the best thing for the World would be for the US to pull out now and leave one of the cruelest dictatorships in modern times at the helm in Iraq, with all the cruel and innocent deaths that would follow in the wake of such a move."
I presume that he is referring to my post from earlier today on why so many Americans appear to support the current war. I don't know that I am "smarter than most people," but I can't help but think that my intelligence & education have equipped me to critique the dominant ideology of my time & place. If this assumption is unwarranted, all social & political criticism is drained of significance--not just mine, but anybody's. Though Mike Sanders could, I think, be fairly described as a social conservative, this position is a version of radical postmodern nihilism: all views are equal. I think such a view is equivalent to insanity. As for the specifically political question about the current war, I can answer unambiguously: I opposed the war not because I support Saddam, but because the motives of the current American administration are so dubious that I do not trust them to do the job they say they want to do--bringing democracy to Iraq. In fact, I don't believe the Bush administration gives a rat's ass for democracy. Certainly, they are doing everything in their power to undercut democracy here in the US. I believe that the Bush administration is in thrall to an anti-democratic, imperialist claque that wants to reverse more than half a century's international agreements, associations & alliances in favor of an ill-conceived Pax Americana. In response to the final question, all I can do is ask where Mike Sanders has found any statement of mine that the US should "pull out now"? Just this evening, watching the news with my wife, I remarked, "The faster this is over the better. The sooner Saddam is out of there the better. The sooner US troops can get out of there & let the UN & international community begin rebuilding Iraq, the better." I stand by those private remarks. They reflect my current thinking & do not contradict my opposition to the war before it began. I still believe the war is misconceived & will make my country less safe & the international community less stable. I believe it spells the death knell for peace between Israel & the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has exhibited nothing but contempt for the UN & international consensus & has shown little interest in an equitable peace in what we euphemistically call the Middle East Conflict. I do not want to be a citizen of an Imperial power. So, Mike Sanders, since you have presumed to question me, I ask: Do you want to be a citizen of an imperial power? Would you, like Richard Perle & Paul Wolfowitz & their pack of conservative enablers in the right-wing press, like to see American armies roll on into Syria & Iran? What about Asia? An invasion of North Korea? Where do you stand?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:22 PM.
"What else can a writer do who unabashedly lacks faith--either a received faith a more popular faith in psychoanalysis or history or some other desperate fantasy of the time? No, in the bar fight between the individual and the powers out of control, political and metaphysical, one arms oneself with ambivalence, indecision, and the resolute quest for discovery. And thus intellectual discourse, as opposed to ideological standoff, becomes possible." [Hayden Carruth, from the Preface to Suicides and Jazzers]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:41 AM.
Go ahead, call me an elitist: In response to a comment at The Left Coaster asking how so many Americans could support the Iraq War, I opined: One reason so many Americans support this war is that they live in a fog of half-formed opinion & special pleading that is a product of our media & political culture. It's true that there may be no final, single version of the Truth about this war, but there are better or worse descriptions of the reality. But getting to the clearer view is difficult: it requires reasonably good information & a willingness to work through that information critically. Most of my fellow citizens, however, absorb their ideas through the skin, passively. (The post modern version of Thoreau's "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.") That might not be so bad if the ideas were not so distant from reality. Our current political / media relationship reminds me of a couple of psychotics talking to each other on the ward, each in his own fantastical world. Woodward's recent hagiography of Bush is the perfect example. It's not that the two psychotics are in cahoots, it's just that any fantastical thing appears possible to them in their flattened state. It's a form of political post-modernism: one story is just as good as any other story; there are no bad stories.
Actually, this notion has been floating around in my mind since long before the war began. There was a brief discussion of it at Dan Erlich's blog Double Reflection I wish I had pursued. In any case, it's difficult not to arrive at some such conclusion when the nation's top general gets up in front of the press & makes statements that bear, shall we say, a tangential relationship to verifiable reality, demonstrating that he is either out of touch with said reality or a mendacious bastard. The newspapers & cable television networks then report the statement as authoritative. He's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--you don't get much more authoritative than that. To their credit, many news sources over the last week have been reporting on dissenting interpretations of the war effort, many of them made by current & former military officers. But you have to search for this stuff beneath the first layer of packaging. Which most folks are not up to: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things." [Walden, ch 1, paragraph 9]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:46 AM.