Monday, December 29, 2008

On Poetics

After some reflection, I have to conclude that not every exciting experience that occurs to us is suitable for poetic treatment. Some things are just beyond words to describe. I don't look at the process of writing very romantically, more so in the utilitarian sense. What right do I have to take the reader's time? some writer asked that of his own work. In the 90s I recall learning about 'switching off the inner editor' because we were supposed to break through religious conditioning into our authentic voices and so on. But since the occurrence of certain events which shall remain unpublicized, I switch the editor on more than I once did. Consequently I seem to get very little done, but I'm not displeased with myself.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

caveat emporium

Noticed I've had some exotic readers.
I hope there's no author that feels maligned in any way by something I've written. I'm not vain enough to consider that what I write in my interest is also necessarily in the interest of the public, the blog is more for me than everyone 'out there' in other words.

And I do like the rhetorical flair, because much of the world, and writing, is boring to me - boring levels hi - though I don't wish to reveal the intentions behind everything written, I retain the right to be mysterious.

In general, the dog's bark is worse than the bite.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Review: Things on Which I've Stumbled

Peter Cole's Things on Which I've Stumbled presents to the reader explorations of spiritual activity in the state in which this activity normally occupies the believer, which is of an individual learning how to embrace their own attributes of confusion and ambiguity. Reading these poems one not imagines in the author a sense of guilt, or penitence necessarily, instead something more akin to reverence. Cole is a spiritual man, and takes his spirituality seriously. Yet the concepts he presents are universal; you can sit with these poems. They do not reveal “answers” but possibly hope to point to useful questions for seekers, and to life lived deeper than any question can ask for if it's asking for the floor on which all the table-legs are standing.

This work is an examination of the gaps of mystery that open up in the quest for a spiritual life, which the poet reminds us are useful to remember for their tension as well as their enjoyment. He personally writes from the nation of Israel, his life enmeshed in a region of the world that a media-saturated Western mind may have come to associate with dogmatism and all those really, really certain guys whose beliefs make the news. Cole is not as interested in these people, but more in his own relationship to God and how the vicissitudes of attempting to forge that relationship impact his other relationships, his work in poetics, and to the community in which he lives.

The poems keep a low profile and stay on the page, nestled. Most words are delicately put, contemplative - it's not a book that puts you at the edge of your seat, but you'll be glad. What is it that gives rise? What is meant by being? Cole asks. Styles vary: free verse, Sufi translations, rhymes that walk up to you slowly that you don't quite see until they say hello; then in part IV of the book there is a snapshot prose juxtaposed with the longer poem: “What Has Been Prepared”, which appears to be an investigation of judgments, ceremony-gone-wrong, distractions, aggravations. But are the distractions things that should be listened to more closely? Cole leaves all the doors open and suggests that they were either open already, or that there are no doors at all, just visions, movements, patterns, ornaments. These externals may become foci for study as a priority over personal motivations.

In his interview with Ben Lerner in BOMB magazine, Peter Cole had this to say about this piece:

... the subject is a kind of moral outrage in the face of destruction and desecration—of Palestinian society and culture, of (humanistic) Judaism, and of the land itself. “Anger management raised to the level of art” is how one poet-friend has characterized it. Sound and form are enlisted there, and listened to there, to help me make sense of a truly outrageous situation...

Total interview is available at this link:

There is a rich sestina on Palestine that uses the words Palestine, pain, hills, green, guests and land. There are poems looking into the results of applying words such as then and always to epiphanic moments, and what do these words mean for us? Such questions are at times valuable, since it can be deduced that the English language by itself may contribute to limitations in political or spiritual discourse. Cole is also an acclaimed translator, and ponders on the nagging effect of an asterisk and why he needs to physically return to “spiritual” locations at all.

And occasionally there is a dart thrown at the political body, such as “Israel Is”:

Israel is he, or she
who wrestles with God, call him what you will

not some goon (with a rabbi and gun)
in a pre-fab home on a biblical hill.

Succinct, and can apply in more places than Israel alone. Israel - derived from yisreh – he wrestles, and El (God) as it is noted by the poet on page 99.

The Notes on Bewilderment show the unanswered prayers, the prayers never sent, the soul twisted in on itself. These are Anti-Psalms where glory doesn't arrive, but humor sometimes does:


He wanted to know how love was rewarded:
True love. That's easy, the lover replied.
the prize for that great desire comprises
the absence of any distinction between
the pain and pleasure one is accorded.

“Things on Which I've Stumbled” is the centerpiece poem in which Cole accounts a series of investigations and misunderstandings alongside a depiction of someone digging through archives, and some places that may be considered “garbage”, in search of beautiful clothing or jewelry – memories also as jewelry, friendship also as clothing. It's a highly personal piece yet no rectifying thought lingers except near the end, where he asks a philosophical question that has caused him to stumble before– tell me what man the end notes he relates how the poem was composed of scraps from 11th and 12th century poets he discovered at Cambridge, kept in the geniza at Cairo. (A geniza, the notes tell us, is a store-room for Hebrew texts that are too worn to be read)

There is a bookend in the presentation – the two poems at the beginning and end have a more declarative certainty while grasping the meat of the book like two hands embracing a friend by the shoulders. The first piece is “Interpretation on Lines by Isaac the Blind,” who reveals himself to be quite the seer -endnotes tell us he was a 13th century kabbalist. Then there's the final poem, “The Ghazal of What Hurt,” which gives us an image of a person, previously injured, walking with utter health in a familiar street with acquaintances. They don't have roller-coasters in Jerusalem, so a jaunt like this may be one of the more joyous experiences one could have in public there. It shines.

Here is a piece I liked that used the word their effectively (who-? not sure what's going on, but it's lovely), also noting the repeated 'd' sounds that stop at a kind of period – at any rate – then the use of the 's' and the unexpected rhyme then opens into a wider space. The writer here does, as he often does in this work, easily move from the internal to the external.

And So the Skin...

And so their pounded hearts
were worn -
like a badge
or talisman that canceled
almost all their blindness-

creation's linkage depending
on a drive itself
derived from a kind of kindness
or desperation, the sense that one's
at any rate

the space for time-

water has it, flowing
(even from a faucet...)
and here the black swan glides across it

as the sunlight's suddenly on my back,
and now the skin along it's warmer,
which lets me walk by the river...

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I like this idea. Re-reading some things that have appeared on Ron Silliman's train of knowledge.

Sounds like it resonates with my experience of the last few years. Life post-2003 that is. Yes, there was life after entertainment. can forget. Except that I'm not learning a foreign language currently, for shame.

The term "trickster" is a difficulty, but I am curious about the books.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


EDIT: well I think this guy's rendition is cool. Whenever I've heard this piece the last 40 seconds are always varied, the pianist's personality seems to emerge at the end for some reason.

Monday, November 3, 2008

this is never finished

Fascinating latest entry in the journal - Eyelight - by Richard Taylor of NZ

subjects covered include: Strindberg, the Maoris, bears, creatures of the sea, the Gettsyburg Address, Ashbery

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

I'll go ahead and add some commentary to this tambien:

I love the direction of this, the choices they made with the angles, the music, the shadows. It works even if you watch it with the sound off or don't know Spanish. Having the antagonists - the mice - have no lines adds a good tension. When you're watching this at age 8 and see that ghost coming through the window it puts a chill through your bones. And the stock horror motif of one character being in the know and yet powerless to communicate is used for great comic effect. Classic LT.

Also, the scene at 3:40 is similar to the first murder scene from North by Northwest, released by rival studio MGM in 1959, 5 years later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zizek at Powell's in Oregon

part 1 of 10, the rest of this is available adjacent to the clip that's here.


minute 6: we live in a post-ideological era - no. Ideology matters more than ever. This would be like being in a relationship and someone says "now that we love each other, we don't have to discuss our feelings any more."
min. 8: Culture Wars emphasize tolerance, and we have to move beyond a discussion of tolerance. Agreed. Wouldn't it be great if all we had to debate was whether you could wear a pro-abortion pin to work? But we can't, and that's why ideology matters.
Min 10: Catastrophe is natural in nature - no it isn't, not even from our (human)point of view. The type of catastrophe one is subjected to depends on where one is living. Ecological crisis on a global scale is real.
min 15: We are a part of nature and therefore can't step back and critique our own behavior within it. First part yes. But weren't native American cultures critical of our treatment of nature from the beginning? This bit about legitimizing fetishes is disturbing. Can't a corporate interest say that their shareholders have a fetish for profit and so thereby legitimize what they do? "Fetish" is just an excuse.
min 19: but Hegel is wrong.
min 22: Ideology =Brutality? No, brutality does not need ideology to operate, only opportunity. Ideology can be used later as an excuse to hide the true mechanism of power in operation, which I think was a point Foucault made somewhere.? Or was it Chomsky? Actually they both agreed on that did they not?
min 25: That's not the message of the film as I see it. See below
min 30: Does the chicken know? This is interesting. Kind of reminds me of Ginsberg's later poem: "Birdbrain" *birdbrain rules the world!* Ginsberg wrote.
min 38: I wish he would talk more of this, the Yugoslav situation. But I wonder with his preoccupation with fetishes if he is trying to tell Western listeners that Yugoslavia was made a fetish of the West after communism's collapse? As in there was some powerful interest that agreed to let the country destroy itself while it/we/US stood by and watched with a reluctant but guilty pleasure. Is that what he thinks?
min 47: I'm a leftist fascist, privately. Gee are you sure? You kind of just told everyone. Does ideology matter now then?
min 56: back to porno. Why is he requiring civility and manners out of something that never delivered it in the first place? Moving along..
min 1:01: Nothing is forbidden: Karadzic. I'm glad he mentions this because that's a good motto for the power-hungry. Now I don't see a necessary connection between socialism and the rise of nationalism as Metternich suggested, instead I see a connection between the collapse of the social contract and the rise of nihilistic ideas, aggressive nationalism among them. But when the punk rockers of the UK said "nothing is forbidden" in 1978, full-scale war didn't break out because the UK does not define the nation-hood through ethnicity, but through belief in the abstract values of what it is to be British, and there are many of those values. Oh and the social contract held together, -ideas such as, if you got beef, form a band instead of smashing your neighbor's face- which the Balkan region of the world did/does not endorse to a similar extent. In that part of the world nationality was/is defined by ethnicity and or religion more so than the artificial, put-upon distinction of "being Yugoslav." This has been mentioned many times by journalists just doing their job and I don't know how Z. managed to miss it. Actually, maybe it can be imagined, because he has a personal stake in what he's discussing. But his efforts to use that personal stake as persuasive leverage undermine his overall arguments that appear elsewhere about transcending personal stake for the sake of a collective benefit.

min 1:06: They Live. Well the glasses to be put on are the ideology. Or you can choose to not put on glasses/take the blue pill etc. and that is an ideology also.
min 1:15: Torture. Yes it's disturbing that this even has to be discussed. Here is where Agamben matters.
min 1:42: The enemy! Don't forget who the enemy is! Wow that's real constructive.

Am I taking this guy too seriously? I think what's needed is an american continental philosophy. Why let all these Europeans continue to narrate our psychic existence? Its like he wants to float an abstraction that allows us to "be American" while at the same time declare that America is guilty of aggression and militarism, but yknow it's kind of a joke because we're fetishy, and the Zeez is fetishy with us. So maybe he wants to make fetish into an addendum to our own social contract. This way he won't scream at the West like much of Yugoslavia did when the country fell apart and NATO stood by for too long while atrocities occurred. Does the West have an excuse? Perhaps we're just a culture of sexually experimenting teenage girls and the Zeez instead of barking at that in a Poundian manner wants to supplement it philosophically.

My admiration for Zizek has come to an end.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Returno-Tech" a dark rockabilly fantasy

This time I'm directing in the Vaudeville Festival; this play was written by a local author. The ghost really is in the machine as an inventor brings a strange device to the studio of a local Home Shopping Channel. A slapstick, this play features a theme of invigorating human ceremony over the cold pall of technology, and then what happens after. We throw in some choreography and sound effects where possible. And the pigs fly.

I selected this play for its utter lack of depth. The curtain rises at 8pm on October 24th and 25th.

Six other plays feature on the nights of Friday and Saturday along with this one. Tickets are still available at their box office. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Boy Who Liked Me - a play

This Friday and Saturday the North Park Vaudeville of San Diego will be producing a play that I wrote, The Boy Who Liked Me, along with 6 other short plays of various genre in conjunction with their annual North Park Playwright Festival.

The festival began last weekend and runs through the 25th of October. Mostly there are comedies showing but also some relationship stories and political drama. This piece is a comedy kind of along the lines of Sixteen Candles, but a little more mature in theme. With this I wanted to stretch myself to try to tell a story from a female perspective. Also, since I've usually directed my own writing for the stage, I'm looking forward to seeing someone else interpret my work.

Ticket information is available on their website, which I have linked on this blog in one of these nifty little columns to the right there. Come out and support local theatre!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Poets Against War

Ah, yes, I was in that too. Not in the shortened collection that came later, but I sent in a poem among the 22,000. Basically I was trying to write a Rage Against the Machine song, or at least enough lyrics to inspire one. I don't think you can find it by searching, you'd have to ask them directly. I've read it so many times it has no more effect, especially since the war happened anyway. If I had known how nasty the war was going to get I would have edited some things, there are references to Clinton bombing Sudan, Yugoslavia. So I made it anti-war in general and not just targeting Republicans, which in my opinion after 2004 got to be just too easy.

War sucks. What's happened is the entertainment industry, not "the media", has become the 4th branch of government, this is why people couldn't think critically about ejecting Bush. But maybe bloggers can take it back. I feel ok talking from both sides because I have a degree in "the media."

Best anti-war song ever, this one:

Gonna lay down my burden (lay down)
down by the riverside (down by)
down by the riverside (down by)
down by the riverside
gonna lay down my burden (lay down)
down by the riverside
ain't gonna study war. no. more - yes indeed hmhmh hmhmhm

Friday, September 19, 2008

85 billion needed to continue blogging!

I suppose all of you are wondering why I've called you here today. Recent ennervations, permutations, palpitations and cosmosymphonic cyberlacerations have compelled the cyborg CEOs of this company, James Artorius Theobald Heavenski and the mysterious techno-guru known only as SeaPlumber - some of you may have cc'd him in an email recently - to scale back our Caribbean operations and dissolve the Turks & Caicos Limited Liability Company, and it was ever after dissolved and forthwith nonoutstanding, and amen. You may notice however that the tax islands and shell companies remain. More on that later.

What else can I say except - funds are needed! The latest Wall Street perturbations have purged the irresponsible, the badly-dressed and the prematurely balding, leaving you, me, the temp office girls Randi and Sandi, and our Bangalore tech support staff Pradeep and Maturi - I'll try to get them on speaker - in charge of roughly 450 million dollars of rapidly plummeting assets. All our hedge-funds are now hedges, and our assets are grass. Well great-grandpa when he started this company in 1782, always used to say 'you can't sail a paper boat to the Taj Mahal.' You know what dammit he was right.

I see that some of you have already skipped over the softer drugs and have gone right to the lawn darts and the croquet as a way to cope, I don't blame you at all, but I don't wish to see such activities interfere with the normal operations of this company which as of this week include re-alignment of competitive advantages, maximizing gains and minimizing losses, subliminal product placement - this is all in your employee handbooks, which I really do hope you consult because I had Randi and Sandi make a special trip to Kinko's just to print them out on the lam-ey paper. What? Lam-ay? Lam-eh. Whatever. Its a kind of a beige. Please consult those guides anyway in between your sales calls, everything I'm referring to right now is on page 17, page 17 and following, just go past the graphics. That's all changed as of Friday anyway.

The Seaplumber has dived deep - he's outside of cell phone range in other words, we don't know yet when he will return with his aura of bathyspheric wisdom to inspire us all. What I'm wondering is who will now get the coffee going in the morning, the Irish roast that I love so much. I'll just have to do it myself I guess. How is 7-11 doing? How is Starbucks doing? Sometimes I get it at Peet's because I like their free bean giveaways. We should do something like that-! a bean giveaway in Central Park, I'll get on it.

What we have to ask of our blogging viewers, that is, everyone who has viewed this company profile since its inception, to contribute 23 million dollars apiece to help us abet, abut, about, walk-about the federal bailout, we have to match what they're doing, like a 401k, pound for pound, if you know what I mean. I know its not a lot for you. We know that you are all a bunch of hip and relevant beings who are worth a million in prizes. Well folks its time to cash yourselves in! Remember its not about what you sell anymore, it's about what you buy! that's great, I think we can make a bumper sticker out of that. I'm getting palpitations just thinking about it. The phone lines are open, or yknow you can just make out a check to Skyplumber Enterprises, doing business as skyplumber llc, apc, atv, blt.

Our address is 0987 Wall St, #300 Manhattan NY 04504.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

checking in with Denise Levertov

"Journeyings", by Denise Levertov

Majestic insects buzz through the sky
bearing us pompously from love to love,
grief to grief,
motes in the gaze of that unblinking eye.

Our threads of life are sewn into dark cloth,
a sleeve that hangs down over
a sinister wrist. All of us.
It must be Time whose pale fingers
dangle beneath the hem...

Solemn filaments, our journeyings
wind through the overcast.


Not to say too much toward this sublime piece out of The Freeing of the Dust (1975), but a few things: it is a fantasy at a time when fantasy is not really big, as a genre, (unless you consider Zeppelin) but the "unblinking eye" does provoke me to ask: whose eye? A question which we must approach individually, since I can't say there is here a clear Tolkein reference. Elements of the Gothic; then, is "Time" here maternal -?, because of the "dangle"-ing, not paternal as we often see it presented, an interesting reversal of the image of Father Time. Somehow I imagine a woman's hand being depicted here, but wonder why it has to be "sinister?"

Why do I imagine this depiction? Because in another poem of hers, The Soothsayer, there is a similar sequence:

My daughters, the old woman says,
the weaver of fictions, tapestries
from which she pulls only a single thread each day, ...(etc)

Great use of ellipsis in the first piece. A poem that succeeds by not trying too hard, for one thing.
But could my interpretation regarding the femininity of the hand be off? I make an easy association from one poem to the other as I read the language presented, but of course I cannot know the mind of the master poet Denise Levertov, and why she made her creative choices. Is it her mother's hand, or her grandmother's, maybe it is the archetypal Hand of Destiny, as in the saying "destiny had a hand in it."


Whether or not its a man's hand or a woman's hand might be a fun thing to argue about over darts, but now I make a grander presumption, which is that the person I'm throwing darts with would actually enjoy poetry. Indeed the hand itself does not technically appear in the poem, there is only a wrist, sleeve and fingers visible- I create the image I need out of the surrounding details, which I think is what poetry can help us do. Well, it's not a big stretch for this particular poem, but for me the image of the hand lingers, even though I never really get a good look at it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

n plus one magazine

This stirs some thoughts as I ruminate on 9/11.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A party

Wanted to note that I had a very enjoyable time at a party this Sunday, hosted by Mark Wallace
and Lorraine Graham. Also at this event: Michael Davidson the UCSD professor and co-author of Leningrad. Jerome Rothenberg was there, and his wife. Also Rae Armentrout - who doesn't have a blog to my knowledge but this link may suffice just to identify her, and her -friend? Chuck.

How great to meet so many professional writers and teachers. Some of whom have blogs out here, others do not. Sorry if I left anyone out who would like to be mentioned - I just don't know where your blog is. I was glad for the conversation, and the beer, and the hummus, and to meet as well the enterprising parrot Lester.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


check out coverage of the DNC at Scholars and Rogues

Monday, August 25, 2008


Since this book has already been reviewed in several places, I'm going to dispense a bit with the bio that accompanies it in these reviews, which is also available on the website.

A few things about genre, instead: this is an adventure novel, one could even call it an epic. It's been described as "sprawling", "swashbuckling", "picaresque" and it is being made into a movie starring Johnny Depp, set for release in 2009.

In Wikipedia they declare the novel to be written in "roman a clef" which in following their wiki-link reveals:
"A roman à clef or roman à clé (French for "novel with a key") is a novel describing real-life behind a façade of fiction. The 'key' is usually a famous figure or, in some cases, the author."

This falls in with a lot of these "sorta" genres that lie somewhere between fact and fiction such as creative nonfiction, gonzo journalism, picaresque, mock-umentary and so on. Perhaps it would be appropriate to construct a gradient scale of these with the arrow of Truth, showcasing Percentage Of respective to the story, pointing to examples, although I'm not sure who would be interested.

When it comes to this novel, one can conclude this, regardless of genre: If this story is even 20 % true then the author is lucky to be alive. Bombay is portrayed as a city of glittering malevolence, as a city where you would not want to be overly-assertive, abandoned or lost, yet the main character, an Australian fugitive named Linbaba by his porter (a name that in the Marathi language sounds like Dick Hero) is all three of these yet manages to survive by his wits, by his fists, by the hospitality of the Indian people, and sometimes he just gets lucky.

At first I wanted to say "this is Batman in India", then I thought he's trying to make India the new Temporary Autonomous Zone, which would explain Johnny Depp's interest, but then I realized that this is not a story that knew it was a story at the time, its a story of a man who has lost it all and is merely surviving by surrendering his will and his identity into the Indian culture, "total immersion" except there's no tour guide to yank you back from the abyss with a hook, no reality-tv cameraman to switch off his dv-cam and say 'let's take a fiver!"

We see up close and personal a slummy, gritty India and, later, Afghanistan in the early-to-mid 80s, with all of the rampant diseases, soulless mercenaries and wild, roving animals you would expect. Roberts, though he admires Durrell, does not have a style that much compares, except for the subject matter. His style is more journalistic. This happened, then this happened, then this, punctuated with sufficient, if not elegantly-worded, description of people and places, and also slowed in the skull-cracking action by philosophical asides and ruminations on ethics. The tale is so gripping and multifaceted one hardly notices a flaw. I recalled the effect of reading Sidney Sheldon as similar.

As much of Lin's struggle is concerned with mere survival and reacting to whatever crisis the Indian people bring to him, it at times becomes confusing to the reader what he is striving for exactly. His motive is hidden from others, and often from himself. He chases elements of comfort, friendship and freedom as if the desired were an algebraic X at the end of a long, intricate equation. He only seems to awaken into what he wants at the result of a physical intrusion of someone else, which leaves question marks for the reader, but one has to consider that this is a normal reaction of a man under extreme stress. At one point at around the beginning of part 4, we wonder if the success of a relationship desired will be enough for him, but he walks out of this to keep a promise to someone little better than an acquaintance, and there is a lag in the tale at this point.

This is made up, however by the sudden deaths of some main characters, one of whom appears later in a highly unpredictable, and touching, twist, and an odyssey into the mountains of Afghanistan with his Afghan organized-crime partners. This part of the book was the best, because the description really puts you there, and it highlighted a lot of the themes that had been developing over the course of the novel: friendship, loyalty, religion, trust, forgiveness, and the philosophical motivations for fighting, not just this war against what was the USSR at the time, but fighting anything.

These are troublesome themes for Lin throughout the story because he finds himself in a fight about once every two weeks, including episodes of being tortured in a gnarly postcolonial jail. But the book is so large, 900 pages, though it reads fast, that it far makes up for the gruesomeness of street business with the heart and warmth of the Indian people, (that is, the non-mafia people) who are portrayed as friendly, responsible and charming. Since Lin has much of the street-brawling ability, he is often "hired" for protective purposes, but he does spend a good portion of time in Bombay in the medical "clinic" of a slum, assisting the infirm and unfortunate. Lin attempts to have heart, and so does the book, mostly once the climactic war scenes are concluded - one especially excellent lingers, where a muj and friend of Lin's who had at one time been schooled in New York drops his gun after killing a man, has a moment of insight and walks off into the snow muttering the Koran. Men at their edge, giving everything they got, up against horrible odds, and its real. Or that is, it's roman a clef real.

There are so many characters of Indian or Afghan descent that one has difficulty distinctly picturing them all, in the habit a reader often has of forming a mental image of a character in a book based on someone they know or have met. Somehow I was nearly able to do it, until about page 800 or so - have I known that many Indians or Pakistanis? Yes I guess I have.

Johnny Depp is set to play this character in the film for 2009, and while he did succeed as the introverted bohemian pirate Jack Sparrow, and teenage girls in drama clubs everywhere rejoiced upon the sequels, I can't imagine him in this role, unless the script diverges wildly from the novel and much of the physicality is written out.

But without the physicality, there wouldn't be as much of a story, because Lin would already have been dead on page 200. It'll be interesting to see what they do. Roberts meanwhile will be back in Australia, spreading his message of "cosmophony" which appears to be derived from the philosophy of the Bombay mafia leader (but maybe not). Saatch aur Hamaat was the gang motto - Truth and Courage. Roberts may be done with "courage" at this point in life, but still persists on a path of truth, for what its worth. Shantaram means "man of peace," and Lin does live up to that moniker in a rather unexpected way.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Zizek pt III

Something I've been troubled about regarding the philosophy of Zizek - how can we be 'imminent' and yet socialist at the same time? In his answer to Levinas, Zizek invokes Spinoza and writes that our presence is not at the expense of the world, but a full acceptance of being part of the world, 'my assertion of the wider reality within which I can only thrive.'

But if we fully assert ourselves then how can we be socialist, when in socialism we agree to cap our efforts for a common good?

I imagine that Spinoza (1632-1677) matures as a writer immediately after the Thirty Years War concludes (1648) and this must be a time when people, recoiling from the war, are hushing up about religious dialogue and concluding that their existence is at the expense of others, hence must be curtailed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Moment Before

In theater, you can choose to direct with something in mind called The Moment Before. This was developed as a "guidepost" out of the experience of the casting director Michael Shurtleff.

In his book Audition, first published in 1978, wherein he explains his theory of the guideposts, he writes:

In the audition situation most actors come onstage to read for a role with very little moment before. The result is that it takes them most of the reading to get warmed up. By the time they are, they've lost the attention of the auditors. Never before does an actor need the moment before more desperately than in the audition situation. But an actor needs a fully developed moment before every time he steps onstage to start a scene. You've seen many of these performances where we say, "He wasn't so good at first, but after he got going he was fine." A good actor doesn't wait to get going; he comes on with it because he already had it going in the wings."

So Shurtleff wants to help an actor remember that before anything happens in a scene, something happens. What was it - go there, be that, do that, have those memories, play that action -crowd the guy - or whatever it was, center yourself on what came before the scene, now you're ready for the scene. (That is a gross abbreviation of his idea)

Not commenting on any of the other plays, because I didn't see any of them all the way through, in this weekend's drama I got to use this once for my own - when Eddie comes out onto the stage to talk about his invention. What happens the moment before he comes out? He gets stage fright. So what does he think of? His wife, his home, his pets, the weather, simple things. We translated these things into psychology and then into actions. And it went over well.

Let me back up to the GAP ads from August for a moment. Ignoring the first GAP ad for a second, and writing a bit about the second one. In advertising what we often recall, if we recall anything, is the label or brand of the product, and the essential function of the ad. We remember that its the GAP and that the function of the ad is to sell their pants and sweaters. If we're paying a little more attention, we can be impressed by the content of the ad, the cheery people -even if its a manufactured, "acted" cheeriness, or the choreography. And, we might even recall some college text we read about advertising, the medium is the message, and so on.

But, if we had any kind of liberal education whatsoever, we more likely remember something about corporate power. Maybe we read Chomsky or Adbusters, or we might have even done some research on our own as a journalist and discovered enough ethical question marks in the legacy of corporate business entities to warrant suspicion of any product or service produced by such an entity. We could, for example, default to a kind of rump dismissal of any message sent to us by such an entity, as offensive to our aesthetic sensibilities in the least. Or, we may wish to be pragmatic about it all, and act as though there's no real distinction between a corporate power and an independent one, other than how much money is in the respective bank accounts.

GAP ads are difficult to view in the non-pragmatic way, however, because they do not lack aesthetics! Looking at it over and over you have to admit there is an aesthetic quality to them.
Now if I want to say something about the advertisement, I need to go to the signs and the symbols within it, and the elements of production that allow the ad to exist. And what are those?

There is the subject within the ad, the model who dances. Ok, but if I go there my critical discourse may become locked in an issue of a body, and the beauty of that body. Does my listener/reader have that body, or do they not? Do they have some aspects of that body but not others? Is there a disagreement about the beauty of that body, statuesque v. rubenesque, too tall or too short, etc.?

There is the product, then. In the ads themselves, we often never get to see the product too closely, it is usually just suggested to us. But this can be a trouble spot also, because we might ask, even if we can discern what the product is, well, where's it made? How are their labor conditions? What is it made out of - are those all-natural products? And how do I know I can really afford it unless I walk into the GAP itself?

There are the results of the ad that allow someone to look at it statistically, objectively. Did it increase business, or did people contact the company to say they liked it or didn't like it? Did sales of the displayed items, khakis or whatever it was, go up? Likely though we as consumers would not be privileged to that information, so we can only declare how the ads themselves make us feel. Out of this kind of small-scale market sample, however, we can't much evaluate the quality of the ad from hearing of my point of view versus yours, assuming those are even oppositional views.

We can imagine that the postmodern extrapolation is an expression of a certain urban fantasy, not to say the fantasy is exactly false, there may be much that's true in it, but it appears as a kind of collective myth that assigns guilt or glory, or even neutrality, by association. (That is, if I understand the concept of postmodern fantasy correctly). Going to the first ad for a second, you can watch the skateboarders, hear the music, and imagine a technologically-sophisticated body moving the machinery and controls that's putting everything in motion, and that body, as you have just imagined it with me, is likely a caucasian body, isn't it? Or, I can hear the voice of the recording artist and see the dancers and recall a certain drumming session I witnessed, seen outdoors, elsewhere, and now -maybe-I have an image of an african-american body, do I not? I could say - well, so what? Its harmony! But is that a true harmony, or does this harmony only exist because of the magnanimous overlooking of the corporate entity known as the GAP, and their desire to offer their products as a racial solvent? Once again, arguments about the body, the city, and positions of subjects within certain fantasies that are set in motion by a powerful force can appear. (The point about "false social solvents" has been made before in studies on advertising) Fie on this approach.

We can then observe an eschatological choice offered, at least by the first ad. In the second one, the choice is clear - if you want to have a merry Christmas, you'll shop at the GAP, won't you? But in the first ad you can present yourself with the problem of how do I launch myself into space, and outfit my dominion with designer wear at the same time? We know its an advertisement, because no one wears pants like those when they're on a ramp. But the question presents itself not so much in 97 or 98, or whenever the ad came out, but in hindsight, since we know so often that the two goals are becoming mutually exclusive. Its like - how can I eat whatever I want, and never gain weight? Well, you can for thirty seconds if you're part of a GAP ad. The ad ends, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming, and its like you never ate anything! Or did you? Is there an uncomfortable narration about sacrifice that can walk through the back door of this approach -? yes it can.

When it comes to any media analysis, I'd like to simply drop-kick these rationalizations and consider The Moment Before, by itself. The Moment Before the ad is produced is where the energy is, creatively and otherwise. Once the ad is made, we can only look at it through one of these filters I mentioned above, see if it checks the boxes on our list of political correctness items, or dismiss it with a neo-marxist wave of the hand. "Bah! Corporate conformity!" etc.

In the moment before, there is a vast territory. We don't have to worry about being right, we only have to see what actually happens, from our own point of view. We have to be there in order to know the moment before, we can't download it. We may see conversations about what's for lunch, we may see the mind of the producer or the dancer or the casting director, we may just see the set and that's enough to tell us what's going on, if we seek reportage, or to inspire us, if we seek an aesthetic transmission.

It may not be literally necessary to be there, or even physically possible, maybe we can merely remember what someone tells us in conversation, but to be believed we should try to be there at the moment before the ad, or whatever it is that's moving our art, happens. There is so much more information, more tension, more romance, more possibility, in the moment before than in the detached, cerebral analysis of the moment after. All that narration - who cares? I want to hear about a day in the life of a dancer. I want to see the sweat on their brow, their humiliation when a higher-up dismisses them, or when they look across the aisle at someone in an equally noncreative blue sweater and think what's happening to my life? Everything that happens the moment before someone tells them to take their places and says "standby - lights ready, lights up."

The rote commands that get an actor to turn left or right on ice skates, pirouette etc, the directives of the production itself, those are necessary for choreography, but they are not as interesting for writers, at least not for me. By choosing to see a creative opening in the process of the production and not the product, the moment before the product itself is made, we not only give ourselves more freedom creatively but we may even notice a pivot or statement wherein something in the process itself is apparent to our critical boxes, and then so checked in our minds as such. I seldom notice such a thing in my own journeys, but there are people paid to notice these things. If my creative work is relayed after the fact of whatever moved me to write, I'm much stricter about what I write, because I understand this then to be an effort of journalism first -reportage on my experience- and expression second, in which case I ought to have something really groundswelling or distinct to say.

Ah the perils of idealism.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Border Disturbance (what I mean)

(a non-comprehensive example)

Gosh, their clothes are nice, but do I feel guilty shopping there? Is it just not indie enough?
Well those rich models, they suck. But, I have a body like that. I can boogie. Hm. I like that technological music, but the black man, he doesn't need all that technology to be cool, does he?
Launch myself into space, or outfit my benevolent local dominion?


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

As for Poets by Gary Snyder


As for poets
The Earth Poets
who write small poems
need help from no man.


The Air Poets
play out the swiftest gales
and sometimes loll in the eddies
poem after poem,
curling back on the same thrust.


At fifty below
Fuel oil won't flow
and propane stays in the tank.
Fire Poets
Burn at Absolute Zero
Fossil love pumped back up.


The first
Water Poet
stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
left millions of tiny
different tracks
criss-crossing through the mud.


With the Sun and the Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
No end to the sky -
but his poems,
like wild geese,
fly off the edge.


A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is empty
and it has no walls.
The poem is seen from all sides,
at once.

**at last I believe I have seen/met an example of each kind of poet :) I think GS is suggesting that mother nature provides the theory, although its not really a theory, but more like an influence, but there are these six different ways we can express that connection. This poem is from Turtle Island, 1974.**


I have a short play appearing in this October's 10-minute play fest, at the North Park Vaudeville in San Diego. It's a comedy called The Boy Who Liked Me, and its about high school "love." Also, I'm directing a farce there as well, on another night. Should be great. If you're in the area, check it out.
More later on the show, when things are a little further along.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Zone 9 - Critical Regionalism

all out of the Constructivist Moment, by Barrett Watten:

The discourses of the modern and postmodern call for a critical regionalism

briefly, Zone 8, Detroit..." remains a moment of negativity to the postmodern fantasy built in Los Angeles...(there is) the tradition in postmodern critical theory that has tended to universalize Los Angeles as the site for the postmodern..."

back to zone 9: "Herr's account of a critical regionalism thus would supplant the dissociation of the center/periphery model with a series of interlocking terms that would specify the position within an overarching modernity of specific cultural regions, employing a "methodology" etc..toward a reconciliation of the local and the global. She outlines several practical steps -

*pursue a negative dialectics that addresses cross-regional specificity
*imagine a comparative history/sociology
*scrutinize utopian views of the future
*study the location and interpretation of assemblages

A critical regionalism moves beyond the center/periphery model that distorts the perception of the border as negativity and threat; rather the border becomes an internal limit within an encompassing whole."

**my thoughts**
Critical regionalism - looks like a worthy project. But has anyone done this as far as southern California is concerned? To my knowledge there is only City of Quartz by Mike Davis, but if you add critique of the entertainment industry in now you have dozens of books, Unreality Industry, Amusing Ourselves to Death etc..

"Moving beyond the center/periphery model" because of border disturbance - yes his concern is with places like 8 Mile, or some of those exposed areas of new wilderness - the bushes, the rabbits etc., that exclaim a social failure or fracture. I'm not sure how "internal limit" can be made less threatening, Eminem (Rabbit) movies hardly cover the ground exposed. This connects me back to the point from Zone 8:

Detroit... remains a moment of negativity to the postmodern fantasy built in Los Angeles...(there is) the tradition in postmodern critical theory that has tended to universalize Los Angeles as the site for the postmodern...

In a discussion with a friend, the possibility that the postmodern fantasy simply converts arose. The reason for the conversion is border disturbance, agents or groups that act ambiguously within the decayed space and the "progressive" space, because they harmonize not quite with either one. The postmodern fantasy, therefore, converts from one region to another in order to cover up the disturbance at the border of the previous Fantastic location, to subdue the Other who emerges as an autonomous challenge to the Fantasy.

I'm wondering especially if Mr. Burke or Prof. Wallace would have a thought on that, though as usual comments are open to anyone.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recommended - Havana Style

The book is called Havana Style, by Christiane Reiter, edited by Angelika Taschen, published by Taschen Press. It is mostly vivid photography of Havana, Cuba, a place in the world that I have long been fascinated with. Not everything we read needs to knock our socks off with its progressiveness and grandeur. Sometimes you just need a good coffee-table book to help inspire conversation at a summer party.

A quote from the section "Interiors": ...the house is built of weathered boards. The doors and windows are low. In front of the altars blessed porcelain dishes shimmer in the humid heat, flanked by a SONY recorder and several Japanese ventilators."

That's about all the text you get in this book, everything else is photography. Here's a sampling of what you can expect to see: much of El Malecon, the tall double shotgun doors, vaulted ceilings, iron balconies weathered by hurricanes, ample coverage of the smooth, charming columns and stairs at the Casa La Guarida, those cozy little veteran cars from the 50s, impressive stacks of green bananas in transit, portraiture of family members, statesmen, Jesus. There are elaborate tile designs, chipping away over the decades, rocking chairs, pottery, and of course the occasional large-scale image of Che Guevara.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight - movie review

An enjoyable bit of entertainment. Worth seeing. A bit long. I was impressed with how chilling and forensic it was (more on that later) in comparison to the earlier films, and even Christian Bale's other performance in the role in Batman Begins. The direction was brisk and everyone seemed well-cast. What they did with Lt. Gordon was a surprise, and a very interesting choice.

The film gets by with a couple of "Hollywood" moments you just have to bat your eyes at such as the superfluous opening action sequence with the bit about vigilantism left unexplored; there was also a gun being snuck into court and the Joker's effortless dispatching of a mobster bodyguard (a magic trick, indeed). I only mention those because this film was trying so so hard to be realistic in that intimate-yet-simultaneously-obtuse way we have come to expect from reality-tv, COPS, and other current forensic-focused crime dramas.

There's been some debate about this film in comparison to the original 89 version. My answer to that echoes much others that are circulating - two different eras, two different films. In the late 80s Tim Burton's gothic/grotesque outlook on film was hot, he was the natural choice to direct, and that film has his distinct stamp in the way all his other films do. The leads were seasoned veterans of the screen, who brought great depth to the roles - the film effectively mixes loud and soft moments in the way the new films do not.

The sexual politics of the original left a bad taste in my mouth, something I wrote on before (maybe I'll re-post) but TDK did something with the female lead almost never done in mainstream movies. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Someone needed to cross that line at some point, but why here? The reasons are not compelling.

The other debate is Heath Ledger's performance in comparison to Jack Nicholson's.

While I haven't read the comics (and don't generally) my understanding of the character of the Joker was that it was some kind of theatrical stock character out of German Expressionism, that he was supposed to make you laugh and cringe at the same time, as in how can I the viewer find this funny when the guy is psycho? So the Joker JN played makes you uncomfortable on two levels, both visually and internally. TDK's Joker is simply a terrorist, and just inspires resentment. I found the "telling-you-my-plans" scenes quite tedious, even though they moved quickly. Recall the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - "when you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk!" But if talking in the interest of backstory is already minimized, all that's left for a director to do is have people shoot. And there's a lot of shooting in this movie.

Ledger went beyond the writer's demands and gave the performance of his life, something maybe lost to the overall production, but not to the audience. This is the kind of thing the young Michael Caine got famous for doing, and it's too bad we won't see any more films with Heath Ledger. However since the Joker of TDK is so one-dimensional in this regard, I have to give the edge to Nicholson for the more complex portrayal.

More on the one-dimensionality - this is perhaps the wrong term. It would be better to think of Heath Ledger's Joker as super-dimensional, since he seems to have a ubiquitous presence in nearly every scene, as if he's also getting around town in a million-dollar road coaster himself. No, its better than that, because with a bomb always previously-planted, with henchmen getting mowed down in one scene and somehow quickly replaced in the next, with a sheer command of whatever technology he's using to intimidate the multitude, this Joker takes on a transubstantiated, immanent quality of Evil not too unlike the Christian account of Satan himself.

But, the somewhat absurdist aspect of the 89 Joker paved the way for the more cartoonish villains to follow. So, Heath Ledger's Joker gets points for closing the door on the cartoons and tv series regalia once and for all, moving the villainy in a potentially more compatible direction, that is, compatible for the times we live in. In comparison, the 89 film does bask in its retro 40s production design a little too obviously (Axis Chemical?), so today it seems dated in more ways than one. I smile at that anyway, though, because I love the fashion of the era.

Where is the bat cave? We see instead a kind of bat-vault, chilling and dry like in the James Bond franchise, which possibly at this point the creators of the Batman films may be eyeing as cinematic competition. Why eye it - they already blew the competition away in opening weekend.

The film, like much entertainment of this decade, one could notice, wants to make the claim that criminal behavior needs no rational explanation for what it does, therefore don't bother looking for an explanation. Just kick their butts as soon as you possibly can. While it is true that some people 'just want to watch the world burn' as butler Alfred notes, there's still always a twisted logic behind what they do. Knowing this logic and motivation may not indeed help you in a fight, but some foreknowledge is better than none. Instead, the filmmakers substitute forensics for psychology, and although they do it with panache, question marks about motivations are merely snowed over with enough action and bullet-riddled minor characters to keep you distracted.

If we didn't have to know backhistory for the Joker, why did the filmmakers give it to us in the character of Two-Face? It could be so that they could set up the plot machinery that leads to the ending, which I found to be excellent, not just in tying up the loose ends of the film, but in suggesting a more satisfying 3rd installment to come.

But the film in the end is not about the Joker, or even Batman, its about ethical choices in life or death situations. It moves into provoking a discussion about what's involved in such decisions in a way that doesn't talk down to the audience. This alone makes the movie worth seeing.

What this film was missing were the bats! The bats are a mysterious, primal force that disturbed and motivated Bruce Wayne in both the 89 version and in Batman Begins. Instead, the Joker became that force in this film, flitting easily from one scene to the next, like a giant vampire bat, as if the batcave has become our entire waking world. No need to descend into a Borgesian cellar, the filmmakers seem to be claiming, when there is already plenty of horror right in front of us. With the world already bats, no need to look for a cave.

But, people get tattoos of primal forces, not robo-cops, which is often how Christian Bale's character comes across in this film. What bugs me is imagining that after watching this film, people who are a little emotionally disheveled may get a tattoo of the Joker instead. And, they may say 'well, its for Heath.." but then you'll wonder.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fascinating essay on Borges

from a scholar and teacher:

And, excerpts: a talk called ‘My prose’, Borges referred to the Aleph as the transformation of the scholastic idea of eternity as an instant, into its spatial equivalent: ‘I had read in the theologians that eternity is not the sum of yesterday, today and tomorrow, but an instant, an infinite instant, in which all our yesterdays are assembled as Shakespeare in Macbeth says, all the present and all the incalculable future or futures. I said to myself: if somebody has prodigiously imagined an instant that embraces and enciphers the sum of time, why not do the same with that modest category called space? … Well, I simply applied to space that idea about eternity’...

‘In that unbounded moment, I saw millions of delightful and horrible acts; none amazed me so much as the fac. that all occupied the same point, without superposition or transparency’. Can an instant be gigantic?...

...Carlos Argentino’s rhetoric and vision resemble a cross between the neoclassical and the twentieth century, he sees ‘all the places of the world, seen from every angle’, that is to say, he sees the whole earth from a cubist perspective -in cubism the object is broken up, disarticulated, presented from all its possible angles. ‘Borges’ sees instead an omnitopia of ubiquity, simultaneity, doubling, simulation, a vision that speaks about different formal inflections of space, whilst positing the infinite, rather than the world, as the ultimate spatial cipher.

Specular space, a space that multiplies spaces, a mirror that becomes infinite things, thereby already multiplying the infinite space of the Aleph and generating part of the real by its simulation, is the first thing ‘Borges’ describes as seeing in the Aleph...

my thoughts:

**this is very interesting creatively for me, because I have been reading Borges, and what Ive lately been interested in poetically are moments , and how much can be gained by seeing everything possible in one moment, not from many angles alone, but from many times, many places, many identities. In dreams a face can substitute for a word spoken, and we sometimes are both the subject and the object being acted upon, or acting upon others. This can be psychically troubling because in dreams we are usually helpless, and in conscious life we strive to maintain control. But in creative life the striving to maintain control interferes with inspiration, so our creative work winds up literal or didactic. Even a certain striving for irrationality can become another agency for Control. We end up policing our thoughts before they even get out the gate.

Earlier, I wrote:

white moth in the tall city
..tall city no walls
no walls, all mirrors...

Sometimes our subject can be horrifying - when we look at a surgical chair it may seem just a necessary place to be for us if we need surgery, but it could have been something quite horrifying to someone else, some other time and place.

I believe to enable these "mirrors," for lack of a better term, the somewhat alchemical property of the Aleph, is an act of generosity, plurality..whereas often in letters, or culture generally, we hear a singular voice or point of view coming toward us from one direction - a one-way street. I can listen to Robert Anton Wilson and try to understand that everyone's in their own "reality tunnel", although this presupposes that I need to consider every point of view worth listening to, when I don't. (And you don't either, probably) Although I agree with his point about how we can be trapped in linguistic constructs, for example 'tunneling' might imply boundaries and limits, in the same way plumbing implies pipes, but it does depend on what we're tunneling into, doesn't it?

We can form a collective and all harmonize on similar notes, we can be a big band. Or we can imagine that the Orchestra is Already in the Room, even if there's no one else there. For me this is the essential creative impulse, and we don't have to think any further on it in order to create, because something in the environment itself will tell us to pay attention to it.**

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Zeez

The Zeez, a contemporary philosopher I admire, always gives you something to chew on, allow me:

In 1968 Paris, one of the best-known graffiti messages on the city’s walls was “Structures do not walk on the streets!” In other words, the massive student and workers demonstrations of ‘68 could not be explained in the terms of structuralism, as determined by the structural changes in society, as in Saussurean structuralism. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s response was that this, precisely, is what happened in ‘68: structures did descend onto the streets. The visible explosive events on the streets were, ultimately, the result of a structural imbalance.

There are good reasons for Lacan’s skeptical view. As French scholars Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello noted in 1999’s The New Spirit of Capitalism, from the ’70s onward, a new form of capitalism emerged.

Capitalism abandoned the hierarchical Fordist structure of the production process — which, named after auto maker Henry Ford, enforced a hierarchical and centralized chain of command — and developed a network-based form of organization that accounted for employee initiative and autonomy in the workplace. As a result, we get networks with a multitude of participants, organizing work in teams or by projects, intent on customer satisfaction and public welfare, or worrying about ecology.

In this way, capitalism usurped the left’s rhetoric of worker self-management, turning it from an anti-capitalist slogan to a capitalist one. It was Socialism that was conservative, hierarchic and administrative.

**mm not exactly..what is meant by a network? Is Zizek reading notes of the Rand corporation in the hopes that he'll re-appropriate the language back from the power structure?**

The anti-capitalist protests of the ’60s supplemented the traditional critique of socioeconomic exploitation with a new cultural critique: alienation of everyday life, commodification of consumption, inauthenticity of a mass society in which we “wear masks” and suffer sexual and other oppressions.

The new capitalism triumphantly appropriated this anti-hierarchical rhetoric of ‘68, presenting itself as a successful libertarian revolt against the oppressive social organizations of corporate capitalism and “really existing” socialism. This new libertarian spirit is epitomized by dressed-down “cool” capitalists such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

What survived of the sexual liberation of the ’60s was the tolerant hedonism readily incorporated into our hegemonic ideology. Today, sexual enjoyment is not only permitted, it is ordained — individuals feel guilty if they are not able to enjoy it. The drive to radical forms of enjoyment (through sexual experiments and drugs or other trance-inducing means) arose at a precise political moment: when “the spirit of ‘68” had exhausted its political potential.

At this critical point in the mid-’70s, we witnessed a direct, brutal push-toward-the-Real, which assumed three main forms: first, the search for extreme forms of sexual enjoyment; second, the turn toward the Real of an inner experience (Oriental mysticism); and, finally, the rise of leftist political terrorism (Red Army Faction in Germany, Red Brigades in Italy, etc.).

**yes I agree with this, though I will declare it doesn't do any good to read it, you have to experience it organically for yourself or you don't get it, but market forces are constructed today so that you will nearly never experience the need to go there, and you'll suffer if you do, last paragraph especially**

Leftist political terror operated under the belief that, in an epoch in which the masses are totally immersed in capitalist ideological sleep, the standard critique of ideology is no longer operative. Only a resort to the raw Real of direct violence could awaken them.

What these three options share is the withdrawal from concrete socio-political engagement, and we feel the consequences of this withdrawal from engagement today.

Autumn 2005’s suburb riots in France saw thousands of cars burning and a major outburst of public violence. But what struck the eye was the absence of any positive utopian vision among protesters. If May ‘68 was a revolt with a utopian vision, the 2005 revolt was an outburst with no pretense to vision.

Here’s proof of the common aphorism that we live in a post-ideological era: The protesters in the Paris suburbs made no particular demands. There was only an insistence on recognition, based on a vague, non-articulated resentment.

The fact that there was no program in the burning of Paris suburbs tells us that we inhabit a universe in which, though it celebrates itself as a society of choice, the only option available to the enforced democratic consensus is the explosion of (self-)destructive violence.

**the illusion is that we live in a post-ideological era, and it was brought on by the radical Muslim attacks on Western targets, people, especially leftists and liberals, believe that belief is bad, therefore they cant stand up for anything or form any kind of cohesive opposition to the war machine. I know I wrote this two years ago, but the only way the left can win is when the right screws up so badly, it becomes apparent to even them (Bush)**

Recall here Lacan’s challenge to the protesting students in ‘68: “As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one.”

And we did get one — in the guise of the post-modern “permissive” master whose domination is all the stronger for being less visible.

**you see, Lacan's quote is used to justify the myth of post-ideologicalism, as in why advocate change cuz you're just gonna get hammered, so people who hear and believe that advocate behavior that's just as conservative as Fukuyama**

While many undoubtedly positive changes accompanied this passage — such as new freedoms and access to positions of power for women — one should nonetheless raise hard questions: Was this passage from one “spirit of capitalism” to another really all that happened in ‘68? Was all the drunken enthusiasm of freedom just a means to replacing one form of domination with another?

Things are not so simple. While ‘68 was gloriously appropriated by the dominant culture as an explosion of sexual freedom and anti-hierarchic creativity, France’s Nicholas Sarkozy said in his 2007 presidential campaign that his great task is to make France finally get over ‘68.

**yeah Gen-Xrs sometimes resent the older generation, because now they're retiring and their health care will cost more than ever. Add to that an influx of immigrants in many western countries and its like the people in their most productive years are in a bottleneck. Who needs ideology, they think, when you have to bust so much ass just to stay afloat and plan to retire? Which in my mind is a copout.**

So, what we have is “their” and “our” May ‘68. In today’s ideological memory, “our” basic idea of the May demonstrations — the link between students’ protests and workers’ strikes — is forgotten.

If we look at our predicament with the eyes of ‘68, we should remember that, at its core, ‘68 was a rejection of the liberal-capitalist system, a “NO” to the totality of it.

It is easy to make fun of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s notion of the “end of history,” of his claim that, in liberal capitalism, we found the best possible social system. But today, the majority is Fukuyamaist. Liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally found formula for the best of all possible worlds, all that is left to do is render it more just, tolerant, etc.

**quit quoting Lacan, and that would help. Because Lacanian approaches give us the illusion that change is a matter of psychological self-analysis, and not having anything to do with the exterior world or objects and structures within it. Better to have a master than burrow in a cybernetic fantasy forever - is the master too cruel? This is America, you can get a new one**

When Marco Cicala, an Italian journalist, recently used the word “capitalism” in an article for the Italian daily La Repubblica, his editor asked him if the use of this term was necessary and could he not replace it with a synonym like “economy”?

What better proof of capitalism’s triumph in the last three decades than the disappearance of the very term “capitalism”? So, again, the only true question today is: Do we endorse this naturalization of capitalism, or does today’s global capitalism contain contradictions strong enough to prevent its indefinite reproduction?

There are (at least) four such antagonisms: the looming threat of ecological catastrophe; the inappropriateness of private property rights for so-called “intellectual property”; the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, last but not least, new forms of apartheid, in the form of new walls and slums.

**ok sure, among those the least important one is intellectual property**

The first three antagonisms concern the domains of what political theorists Michael Hardt and Toni Negri call “commons” — the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act that should be resisted with violent means, if necessary (violence against private property, that is).

The commons of external nature are threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity) are threatened by technological interference; and the commons of culture — the socialized forms of “cognitive” capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc. — are privatized for profit. (If Bill Gates were to be allowed a monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have owned the software texture of our basic network of communication.)

**If Bill Gates makes you uncomfortable, you can always buy a mac or use linux. I've been a mac owner for 10 years, my godfather uses linux. we're never switching back**

We are gradually becoming aware of the destructive potential, up to the self-annihilation of humanity itself, that could be unleashed if the capitalist logic of enclosing these commons is allowed a free run.

Economist Nicholas Stern rightly characterized the climate crisis as “the greatest market failure in human history.”

There is an increasing awareness that we need global environmental citizenship, a political space to address climate change as a matter of common concern of all humanity.

One should give weight to the terms “global citizenship” and “common concern.” Doesn’t this desire to establish a global political organization and engagement that will neutralize and channel market forces mean that we are in need of a properly communist perspective? The need to protect the “commons” justifies the resuscitation of the notion of Communism: It enables us to see the ongoing “enclosure” of our commons as a process of proletarization of those who are thereby excluded from their own substance.

**ok, well, what about the dictatorship? always kind of a speed bump there on the road to the happy commons**

It is, however, only the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded that properly justifies the term Communism. In slums around the world, we are witnessing the fast growth of a population outside state control, living in conditions outside the law, in terrible need of minimal forms of self-organization. Although marginalized laborers, redundant civil servants and ex-peasants make up this population, they are not simply a redundant surplus: They are incorporated into the global economy, many working as informal wage workers or self-employed entrepreneurs, with no adequate health or social security coverage. (The main source of their rise is the inclusion of the Third World countries in the global economy, with cheap food imports from the First World countries ruining local agriculture.) These new slum dwellers are not an unfortunate accident, but a necessary product of the innermost logic of global capitalism.

Whoever lives in the favelas — or shanty towns — of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or in Shanghai, China, is not essentially different from someone who lives in the banlieues — or outskirts — of Paris or the ghettos of Chicago.

If the principal task of the 19th century’s emancipatory politics was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by politicizing the working class, and if the task of the 20th century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the 21st century is to politicize — organize and discipline — the “destructured masses” of slum-dwellers.

If we ignore this problem of the Excluded, all other antagonisms lose their subversive edge.

**agreed, but communism requires some intellectual rigor, how can they get there? The destructured masses default to a kind of rump Hegelianism, or the religion becomes a chief informant to the politics, like in some places in the Muslim world - Guns n Religion!**

Ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development. Intellectual property turns into a complex legal challenge. Biogenetics becomes an ethical issue. Corporations — like Whole Foods and Starbucks — enjoy favor among liberals even though they engage in anti-union activities; they just sell products with a progressive spin.

**yes unions matter, but how is America going to model their importance to the rest of the world, when anyone who expects one is pegged as a whiner? "call the wah-mbulance" they say**

You buy coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value.

You drive a hybrid vehicle.

You buy from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to corporation’s standards).

In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting poverty and diseases, and NewCorp’s Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire.

In contrast to the classic image of proletarians who have “nothing to lose but their chains,” we are thus ALL in danger of losing ALL. The risk is that we will be reduced to abstract empty Cartesian subjects deprived of substantial content, dispossessed of symbolic substance, our genetic base manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment.

These triple threats to our being make all of us potential proletarians. And the only way to prevent actually becoming one is to act preventively.

The true legacy of ‘68 is best encapsulated in the formula Soyons realistes, demandons l’impossible! (Let’s be realists, demand the impossible.)

**I can't think of a better slogan to provoke the right-wing backlash of 'don't tax the end user'**

Today’s utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely. The only way to be realistic is to envision what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


was on another level

something for every writer, especially myself, to keep in mind

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


This week - reading plays.
An opportunity to direct in a local festival may soon present itself.
Also, I submitted a play to the festival. But, no one's picked it yet. (I have hope - its kind of coarse, but still charming) What I'd like to do is a comedy or light romance. Details will come, if things pan out. The producer was impressed with my promptbook from a previous play. A good sign.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

An article published

in Scholars and Rogues today, with generous editorial assistance. Probably my favorite collaborative webzine going.

A review of the media theory presented in The Anarchist in the Library. *link fixed*

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Recommended Book

Decided to include a 'recommended book' feature.

This first time it will be The Misread City, edited by Scott Timberg and Dana Gioia, 2003.

This book, as I mentioned below, was supposedly prompted by Dana Gioia's charge that California letters lacked critical support. What he and Mr. Timberg produced out of that imperative was this terrific series of essays on the literary life of the southland. From Raymond Chandler's treacherous allure of the hard-boiled detective to the expressionist poetry of Wanda Coleman to the narratives of the wild lifestyle of gay model John Rechy, there emerges from literary Los Angeles a bolder and more brilliant cultural panache, never lacking in neither conviction nor diversity, than what one would ever expect to get out of a Friday night at the movies.

Especially interesting is the piece "Surviving Apocalypse" by David Fein, a recently retired professor of English, who describes how subnarratives of looming Apocalypse pervade much creative work that comes out of southern California, literary, film, or otherwise; he goes on to tell us of the geographic, authentic, historical and media-manufactured reasons for this.

Here is a piece from a poem that appears in the collection, Shangri-La, by Suzanne Lummis:

New York, is it true
that in the rest of the world it is winter?

Our state is a mosaic of blue pools
even the Mojave, and the palm trees
line up straight to the Sierra Nevadas,
and the surf comes down slow like
Delirious laundry, even near Fresno

We're sorry we can't be reached
by plane or bus, sorry one can't pull
even the tiniest thing out of a dream
We're like the landscape inside
a plastic dome filled with water

But turn us over, then upright.
No snow falls.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

two poems that got my attention this week

The Danger of Writing Defiant Verse by Dorothy Parker

And now I have another lad!
No longer need you tell
How all my nights are slow and sad
For loving you too well.

His ways are not your wicked ways,
He's not the like of you.
He treads his path of reckoned days,
A sober man, and true.

They'll never see him in the town,
Another on his knee.
He'd cut his laden orchards down,
If that would pleasure me.

He'd give his blood to paint my lips
If I should wish them red.
He prays to touch my finger-tips
Or stroke my prideful head.

He never weaves a glinting lie,
Or brags the hearts he'll keep.
I have forgotten how to sigh-
Remembered how to sleep.

He's none to kiss away my mind-
A slower way is his.
Oh, Lord! On reading this, I find
A silly lot he is.

Phenomenal Woman - Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

the Dana Gioia correspondence

This is from May of last year, thought I'd revisit it, in case anyone from this new neighborhood would be interested in the topic. I followed the "Fallen Western Star" debate in the Bay Area when it came out, as usual I seemed to wind up with the less popular view that criticism matters. If there's any point we can take from the career of Dana Gioia, that would be it, I think. The other side argued that criticism was unnecessary, that one's success could be gauged by readership alone. Since Gioia made his point, hundreds of people went on to flame him, but one can notice that criticism has come back, if not in every magazine - and really, who has time to read them all? - then at least in the blogosphere.

What happened next is that I forgot about the issue for a couple of years, then noticed the collection of essays Fallen Western Star Wars, edited with a quasi-dialectical style by the very polite-in-person Jack Foley. I read this and then wrote a response as if the debate were still going. It had pretty much cooled by 02, and I wrote my essay in 05, then managed to send it off to him in 06 sometime. Here is his response, and I'm going to preface it all by saying that I see criticism today in much less either/or terms, but I never saw Gioia as the unyielding Pontiff of Criticism, nor some kind of party-pooper that everyone made him out to be.

"Dear Doug...

I am complimented that my essay, "Fallen Western Star" has interested you so much. You are right that this piece stirred up much discussion - pro and con- when it appeared...I found your response very intelligent and interesting. I have only two small disagreements. If you want to make an economic analysis of literary culture using the concepts of supply-side and demand-side, the Northeast Corridor dominates both the supply and demand side literary economies. It prints most of the books that supply literary culture (as well as supplying most of the jobs) and it generates demand through reviews and publicity. The importance I put on literary critics originates in my sense that they create and sustain the public discussion of the arts that forms both opinion and demand. People in the West often claim their independence from critical opinion, even as their behavior betrays their almost utter dependence on received opinion.

My other small disagreement is with your notion that I think the internet is a way of creating a new collective artistic culture. This is far from my opinion. I do think that the Internet now allows artists and intellectuals to communicate more quickly than at any other historical period, and that this situation had major cultural impacts. But the main point of my essay was that virtual reality is no substitute for local and regional culture. We continue to live in the physical universe, and where we live shapes how we write and think. On this point we agree.

In any event, I was delighted by your letter, and honored by the length and seriousness of your response.

Yours truly,

Dana Gioia

here is what I wrote on it last year -

So, I believe I'll take what he's said into consideration - I had not thought of demand-side at all in my construction of this, but I suppose it's still valid. On the point about internet culture, I don't think I was being clear. So, some work there. Of course, I was hoping he'd say he'd publish it -! but, I didn't ask for publication, only review.

and this year, I'll say this to it, and consider the debate pretty much over:

yes, demand-side is not only still valid, but it is still in many ways the law of the land. In some respects professionally, I have overlooked this. Many people don't think of 'punk' in economic terms, but I can imagine it as sufficiently so if I merely embody what would normally be a fashion or political gesture with an aura of self-sufficiency, which is not that far at all from what punk had to say originally, if you think about it. So, I don't view the lack of criticism on the west coast in comparison to the east coast as part of the Decline of Western Civilization - great movie - but of course the institutions here are newer than those in New York, and Criticism when it appears on the same level will likely be an entirely different animal.

I would say today that the landscape has changed, so that if criticism is truly what you're looking for, you're only a mouse-click away from a reliable opinion. But, one has to seek it out in their desire to improve their craft, if they have such a desire.

The other debate that went on in Bay Area over this topic was about whether we could call ourselves critics without a sufficient body of work already beneath us. Sometimes a guy would tell me that they didn't like Dana Gioia' s poetry, so why listen to his criticism? My thought is that those are different specialties in writing, and we can train ourselves to do either, or both.

In case anyone is still interested, links:

Some local critics did agree with his assessment of the critical scene, especially Scott Timberg of the Los Angeles Times, who was inspired enough to later co-edit The Misread City with D.G., published in 2003 by Red Hen Press. They were interested in what the new literary Los Angeles was all about, at a critical level. What did L.A. have to say in literature, after noir, after Bukowski, after Joan Didion and Bret Easton Ellis?