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Archive for July 15th, 2008

belgium while it lasts

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I have to decide tonight so I can book a hotel room. Ghent or Antwerp? Anyone? Remember, I’ve got a kid, so I’m not going to be doing much, you know, clubbing or anything really at night other than drinking Belgian supermarket wine in my room (which is very exotic compared with the Tesco wine in my living room, right now and every night). Note, I’ve been to Bruges before, so that’s why it’s not on the list….

Ghent is as of now in the lead…

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July 15, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Posted in me

in particular

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Adam Thirwell on Les Misérables in the Guardian:

When the book was finished, Hugo tried – and failed – to write a preface. The preface would have begun like this: “This book has been composed from the inside out. The idea engenders the characters, the characters produce the drama, and this is, in effect, the law of art. By having the ideal, that is God, as the generator instead of the idea, we can see that it fulfils the same function as nature. Destiny and in particular life, time and in particular this century, man and in particular the people, God and in particular the world, this is what I have tried to include in this book; it is a sort of essay on the infinite.”

Those in particulars are interesting, aren’t they.

(via signandsight)

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July 15, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Posted in novel


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William James in his Psychology:

why, some day, walking in the street with our attention miles away from that quest, does the answer saunter into our mind as carelessly as if it had never been called for – suggested, possibly, by the flowers on the bonnet of the lady in front of us, or possibly by nothing that we can discover

Of course, we’ve known all this for awhile. The poets and fictionists did, and the “theorists” of the period in question. Benjamin, of course, is famous for it, and that’s why he’s one of the patron saints of blogism.

It has to be a generational issue, to some extent, the fact that we don’t take what we make on here all that seriously. That we haven’t framed a “movement” out of it, complete with marketing phrases and manifestos and the like, that we are so embarrassed when we navel-gaze a bit about what we’re doing that we immediately ward it off with a joke.

But it might have value. It at least, as dictated by the mandates of its form, sidesteps several of the worst problems faced by conventional work in the discipline or movement or school. There are ways, when you squint a bit, that it seems like the logical next step, the materialization of aims and desires and strategies employed or prospective, that have been percolating for a hundred years, a hundred and fifty years.

But we’re too embarrassed to think that way about it. And plus, we most of us negotiate with impulses that nudge or push in other directions. (Good time to link to this…..) But it’d be worth thinking about it. (God, see – the temptation, the reflex, is to write a 25 pp paper and send it to fucking Critical Inquiry. That right there is the problem…. What am I asking myself to do that I’m not doing already, right here and in this post?)

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July 15, 2008 at 10:20 am

Posted in blogs, distraction

the tailor of ulm

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Lucio Magri in the current New Left Review:

At one of the crowded meetings held in 1991 to decide whether or not to change the name of the Italian Communist Party, a comrade posed this question to Pietro Ingrao: ‘After everything that has happened and all that is now taking place, do you still believe the word “communist” can be used to describe the kind of large, democratic mass party that ours has been, and is, and which we want to renew so as to take it into government?’ Ingrao, who had already laid out in full the reasons for his dissent and proposed that an alternative course be taken, replied—not altogether in jest—with Brecht’s famous parable of the tailor of Ulm. This 16th-century German artisan had been obsessed by the idea of building a device that would allow men to fly. One day, convinced he had succeeded, he took his contraption to the Bishop and said: ‘Look, I can fly’. Challenged to prove it, the tailor launched himself into the air from the top of the church roof, and, naturally, ended up in smithereens on the paving stones below. And yet, Brecht’s poem suggests: a few centuries later men did indeed learn to fly.

I was thinking “The Tailor of Ulm” would make a bad name for a good blog, a good left group blog. I’m sniffing around for one of those, a name, by the way, so send suggestions but only if they’re really, really good. Anyway, it’s hard to knock pieces like Magri’s, as there is some value in taking ourselves yet again on a quick trip through the narrative of left high and left low and left nearly gone and landing back at “What is to be done?”

But… there is also a way, I think, that pieces like this one, that follow this same trajectory through the continued pertience of our line of thought and work but the “to be honest” poor prospects that anything presently existing could be harnessed into real work, these pieces performatively, reiteratively on some level enforce the stasis that they describe.We hear again that new histories of the immediate past, new theorizations and adaptations of the line need to be developed in tune with current conditions, we hear that there are valuable lessons in the past but that new work remains to be done to render them current, and so on. There is a way that space-filling, talking issuelessly through the gap, becomes tyrannical in itself. It has, this sort of piece, become a genre unto itself, and as such builds guiderails into the flow of ideas, has a determinative effect on future productions, comes to frame (more rigidly and effectively than one might expect – genres are very powerful) ever more constrictively the place where this ever-announced new growth would arrive. It is the fault of no one piece – this is not Magri’s problem – but en masse, these things enforce depression, tacitly instruct that the way to solve the problem is to name the problem again and again and again and again until, what, men learn to fly.

It feels like bad form to head in the “Whereof one cannot speak…” direction…. Ooof… just like that, with the Witty reference, it dawns on me I’ve written this post before. See? The nastiness of genres. They breed like the mice Magri mentions in the piece, Marx’s mice, the mice we can’t stop mentioning, anticipating, baiting… You see what happens when you duck again below the cabinets to check….

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July 15, 2008 at 9:45 am

paper control

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Edmund White in the NYRB on Marguerite Duras:

Duras never mentioned that she, too, had worked as a minor bureaucrat under the Occupation. When she was a young and aspiring but unpublished author, she accepted a position with the government organization that decided on a book-by-book basis whether a publisher would be given paper with which to produce a given title. Essentially, the service of “paper control” for which she worked from July 1942 to the end of 1944 was acting as a state censor. D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was withdrawn, as were titles by Freud, Zola, and Colette. Quantities of paper, however, were allotted to the publication of Goebbels’s memoirs, Paul Claudel’s Ode to Marshall Pétain, and the vilest anti-Semitic garbage of the period, The Ruins by Lucien Rebatet, who, as Jean Vallier writes, had “a sewer mouth that all by itself was able to dishonor an entire epoch.”

It was perhaps because Duras held this sensitive position that her own first novel, Les Impudents (which had been turned down by several publishers), was now accepted and received a glowing review from the brilliant collaborationist critic Ramon Fernandez (who also worked for the paper control service and whose wife Betty was Duras’s best friend). Duras at least was able to admit it years later:

If my first novel finally appeared …it was because I was part of a paper commission (it was during the war). It was bad….

To be sure, everyone not independently wealthy had to have a job, but her position as censor for the Nazi occupiers was certainly one that Duras was eager to forget. Nor did she want to remember that before the war she had worked in the publicity department representing France’s colony in Indochina during the late 1930s, especially at the 1937 International Exposition, the last great manifestation of French colonialism. Most of the French did not object to France having colonies at the time. But Duras, with her considerable powers to mythologize the past, knew how to invent a suitably leftist record for herself.

I’m not citing it to be mean to old MD, but rather because I’ve been thinking more and more about what it would mean to be properly equipped to write in this world, to write correctly, issues of transparency and complicity and making ends meet, and the day-job / night-job issue as well as the eerie conformity of the American liberal intelligensia, perhaps the sort of paper control that they practice upon others and themselves, and what it would mean to work in propitious or unpropitious times, unintended consequences, use as directed sort of issues…

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July 15, 2008 at 8:58 am