Thursday, May 29, 2008

Silliman's blog

The Language poet and scholar Ron Silliman has an interesting account of events of 1968 in his blog today. (edit: That is, May 29th)

I don't know much about the events of Mexico City, but the Prague Spring is something I've been researching, mostly from the somewhat dramatized biography of Havel, titled "Havel" by John Keane.

In 1968, the first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was Alexander Dubcek, a mild-mannered (too mild according to his critics) individual who sought to bring progressive reforms into the government.

These reforms had enough of a success to draw the attention of leaders in Moscow, who later brought Dubcek to Moscow for rounds of intimidation; he was not much later rudely expelled.

After Dubcek was expelled, the young Vaclav Havel became convinced that long-term moral resistance to the regime was necessary. But there is an event beforehand that stuck with me in my research - a moment in the early summer of the "Prague Spring" when Havel and several other young artists have the opportunity to meet with Dubcek on a veranda (the exact Czech term for that escapes me) overlooking the town square...people are cheerful and optimistic, umbrellas are being opened to protect from the sun, lemonade is being served, and Havel is wearing sunglasses, practicing an ancient arab technique of dialogue/debate called Ketman.

This is very similar to what Stephen Colbert does today. In ketman you take a position which appears to be mocking your true position, thus avoiding being tagged at your true position. So, pre-emptive self-mockery in order to avoid true mockery.

Although you wonder who was the witness to this scene the way Keane describes it, (perhaps the whole thing was a bit of theater in the mind of the biographer) we have Havel smirking and saying things like "all of us agree that socialism is here to stay", followed by Dubcek, looking drawn and tired in a suit and tie, not looking at Havel directly, but unfooled by the tactic, replying in a flat tone:"do you really think so?"

Havel says: "the Party looks out for us, that's why I believe in socialism!"
"Do you really think so?" asks Dubcek, not smiling. "Maybe you only think so because you are young and successful, but there are many people in Prague alone who are dissatisfied."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carlos Edmundo de Ory

Much reading these past few days. A lot has happened in the last twenty years or so of theory/poetry/life. So today, this is a poem from a writer I am much enjoying, the Spanish poet Carlos Edmundo de Ory, translated by Steven J. Stewart. This appeared, along with some of his other poems, in the New Orleans Review, vol 30 #1. (published by Loyola University)

I obtained this book while on a trip to New Orleans in 2004, almost exactly one year before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city. This particular poem intrigues me because unlike many of his other poems, the meaning of this one is unclear to me.

"I Advise you to Sleep"

I Advise you to sleep when you can't
to go to mass in a dream
to pay all your debts on horseback
to knock on a door and have it be opened
to play with a typewriter on the floor of your room

If the drugs for your insomnia can't get you to sleep
go out on your balcony at midnight
and watch the soldiers coming home from the war
or a woman carrying a flower pot
or four penitents from Seville

I warn you that it's the same
whether you sleep or not
whether you dream or smoke
if when you light a match
you burn the darkness
and the flame speaks to you

Tell your pillow that you are a lord
a lord a lord
don't let it think
you forgot how to sleep as it well knows.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Science and Art are not Oppositional

according to Johnathan Gottschall, in his recent article in the Boston Globe. Why can't scientific rigors be applied to literary theory?

I agree with what he's saying, much more than I disagree. Reminds me of John Brockman's 3rd Culture. An effort to get creative and technical schools to speak to each other.

Brockman also built his theory on the work of C.P. Snow. It's not clear to me Prof. Gottschall's opinion of this trend.

It may sound too demanding to obtain this depth of sophistication in one's critique (isn't a grad program, in any field, rigorous enough?) but I don't see why there can't be schools that emphasize these approaches, in the same way there are schools that have postcolonialist, post-structuralist, etc approaches.

Actually, I have a view as to why, as I mentioned in an email sent today to the Professor, and that is that there is lacking a comprehensive theory-of-technology that could sell administrators on the benefits of adopting the kind of scientific rigor Prof. Gottschall is advocating. Technophiles are still trying to figure this out themselves, duking it out in IP court or having the ongoing Lawrence Lessig v. Lars Ulrich debate (creative commons v. natural rights, or thereabouts) Then, there are the technophobes, who fear technology and the free-thinkin world of literature equally. Maybe a comprehensive approach to technology/science as a boon for literary critique can begin with ideas on how to handle the ideas of those people. But, maybe this is just my ugly 3rd head of populism rearing itself once again.

I'm going to side with Lars Ulrich for today, and mention that I saw this originally mentioned on Ron Silliman's blog
which is linked from my friend, Greg Severance

EDIT: The Professor responds 5/14:

Hi Doug, thanks so much for your response. I'm getting clobbered on the blogs, pretty much, so it's nice to get a largely positive reaction. Your work sounds very interesting.

"A few things that may assist your study - the media theory professor Douglas Kellner of UCLA has mentioned that the world of graduate theory has a bias against certain forms of reason, I think this was in his essay on Rorty, but I can provide you with the link if you are interested."

I think he's right.

Writing in much haste....