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Archive for February 2009

will kindle for kindling

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My household currently contains, digitially speaking anyway, three books that are in process, two of which are nearing completion, one just barely started. My household thus tries not to think and definitely not to talk about the current state of the publishing industry. Especially not right before bed.

But christ if the new NYRB doesn’t feel thin, the thinnest ever. No ads, no ads, for no new books. Oh me. And then there’s this happy little number in this week’s LRB:

The share price of the corporation I worked for had fallen more than 80 per cent in the previous 18 months. The CEO of Barnes and Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the US, had just announced that ‘never in all my years as a bookseller have I seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in, nothing even close.’

My boss ended our meeting with a reflection on the state of book publishing today. She said that two words sprung to mind: General Motors.


Peter Olson, until recently the chairman and CEO of Random House, wrote in Publishers Weekly last month: ‘While 2008 ended on a disappointing and even discouraging note for many in the book industry, the outlook for the new year is even bleaker. One-time adjustments by retailers and underlying shifts in the structure of the book industry will make 2009 the worst year for publishing in decades.’

Sure, it’s nothing to complain about compared to what tons and tons of people are facing or are about to face. But still, depressing. Trying to come up with a positive way to spin it. I guess it could be good for the, um, art not to worry about petty shit like selling this stuff or ever seeing it in print.

I tried! Now back to my real job: paper marking.

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February 25, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Posted in crisis, publishing

missing it tonite – cobble hill quiz

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Ah, well. Is something to work towards…We’re on it…

(I lived about 200 yards from the place where the photographer was standing, as the crow flies….)

Trivia time:

1) Can you identify a second movie theater, other than the obvious one, in this picture?

2) The bushes up the block and on the right are in front of what public edifice? (Bonus question: what did I, once a year, enter said edifice to do?)

3) Easy one: the name of the street in the picture? Which streets run parallel to the one pictured? (That’s a bit harder – it’s actually something of a trick question…)

4) If you walk forward from the perspective of this picture, then turn left at the next block, and then walk and walk and walk and walk and then jump a barbed-wire fence and walk a bit more, what geographical feature will you run into?

5) Directly across the street from the movie theater there is a store that sells hundreds of varieties of what?

6) If you walk foward up this street (ignoring changes in the name of the street) to its end you will run into what?

7) While on the walk in #6, how many bookstores will you pass and what are there names?

8 ) While on the walk, toward the end, what very famous pizzeria will you pass?

9) Walking forward on the street (in 2005 – OK that’s not fair – but I’m not absolutely sure what’s changed) how many Thai restaurants will you pass by the time you reach Atlantic Avenue?

10) Before you reach Atlantic Avenue you will pass Pacific Street (naturlich). What is the name of the store on the corner of Pacific and the pictured street where I used to buy the better part of my groceries?

Super Bonus Question 1: What nearby French themed restaurant / cafe has the best back garden to sit in on a sunny Sunday afternoon?

I just noticed the ugly shadow in the picture, but I think you’ll agree it’s best, at this point, that I don’t start over. Ah, but that was fun….

I like my current neighborhood, I do. But not, um, like this.

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February 25, 2009 at 1:24 am

Posted in nyc

paris review interview with sdb, then awp interview with… me

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Ouch, I find the following, which I’ve liften in-full from the blog Daily Routines (which you really should go look at – it’s a very interesting site), a little bit painful to read. It’s a fragment from a Paris Review interview of 1965 in which Simone de Beauvoir discusses her work habits.

People say that you have great self-discipline and that you never let a day go by without working. At what time do you start?

I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.

When do you see Sartre?

Every evening and often at lunchtime. I generally work at his place in the afternoon.

Doesn’t it bother you to go from one apartment to another?

No. Since I don’t write scholarly books, I take all my papers with me and it works out very well.

Do you plunge in immediately?

It depends to some extent on what I’m writing. If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections. Then I continue from there. In order to pick up the thread I have to read what I’ve done.

Do your writer friends have the same habits as you?

No, it’s quite a personal matter. Genet, for example, works quite differently. He puts in about twelve hours a day for six months when he’s working on something and when he has finished he can let six months go by without doing anything. As I said, I work every day except for two or three months of vacation when I travel and generally don’t work at all. I read very little during the year, and when I go away I take a big valise full of books, books that I don’t have time to read. But if the trip lasts a month or six weeks, I do feel uncomfortable, particularly if I’m between two books. I get bored if I don’t work.

I quite literally, a week or so ago, made a promise to myself and those directly affected by my demeanor, that I would never again complain about not having enough time to work. A few things had dawned on me at once:

  1. It might well be true, that I “don’t have enough time to work,”  it isn’t likely to change any time soon so I might as well get used to the situation.
  2. I don’t have time to work because the academic term is on and I will be able to work properly during the summer.
  3. I spend, at some points, as much time complaining about work time as I do actually working.
  4. The time when I am working is negatively affected by a general and pervading frustration about worktime, leading me to, say, have an hour to work and not use it appropriately because “I won’t get anything done during a single hour and besides, there’s no real work time anyway so I might as well not start.”

So, I’m definitely not complaining right now, as that would be breaking an important promise. But still, SDB’s routine does sound rather utopian, doesn’t it? How about the four hour break in the middle of the day for friend seeing? And the “two to three months” of vacation when, since she’s gotten so much written during the intervening period, she doesn’t write all all but reads “a big valise” worth of books?

Mmm… Anyway, I know I shouldn’t complain. I’m going to spend tomorrow writing a book review, as Wednesday is “research day,” when it can be (i.e. when I’m not teaching graduate seminars or undergoing grueling administrative endurance tests….) as there’s no undergraduate teaching on those days. But that stuff from SDB is something – I’ve changed my mind, it’d be incredibly nice not to work in a job sort of way.

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February 24, 2009 at 10:35 pm

what is the cost of me in boiling cups of tea?

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Relatedly, I was in a someone’s office the other day making up some collaborative document or other, when there was a bit of information we needed from the internet. He turned to his computer, then hesitate, and then said to me, “You know the amount of energy it takes to google something, right? I am trying not to if the information is otherwise at hand.” Oh, right, this must be what he was talking about. At the moment, though, the statement, the possibility that the statement was true and that life itself and research and thought was about to crystalize into a permanently chaining thermodynamic equation of inefficiency and guilt made things flicker even more vertiginously than a few moments before.

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February 24, 2009 at 7:31 am

Posted in distraction

the impoverishment of experience

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From a grimly funny post at Socialism and/or barbarism, this is from Adorno’s Negative Dialectics:

This law is however not one of thinking, but real. Whoever submits to dialectical discipline, must unquestionably pay with the bitter sacrifice of the qualitative polyvalence of experience. The impoverishment of experience through dialectics, which infuriates mainstream opinion, proves itself however to be entirely appropriate to the abstract monotony of the administered world. What is painful about it is the pain of such, raised to a concept.

Having woken early by dream jolt, and having read this passage again, I wondered just now what Adorno’s dreamlife was like, given the not unfamiliar pattern of feeling (or non-feeling) described above. I had no idea that the following existed when I asked Google my question of the morning, but at the low price of ₤6.75 (second-hand, shipping included) I’ll find out in a few days. The publisher’s webpage promises that “Brothel scenes, torture and executions figure prominently.”

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February 24, 2009 at 7:28 am

Posted in adorno

i am a crisis of capitalism, i am the epic fail, i will keep my mbp

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still life with macbook pro, gerhard richter should clip and paint this, especially since I tastefully removed the K-1664 can before I took the shot

This is meant to be, I guess, dialectically related to the previous post. I would have slammed them together, but the thetical numbers didn’t look good with all of the pictures in the way:

The aura of my Macbook Pro has changed since the start of the economic crisis. The machine used to look like the latest iteration of an unceasing chain of ever-better machines, proceding from the ancient IBM Thinkpad I took with me to college (didn’t even have an ethernet slot, so I was off the internet just when the fun was starting) through some junky and less junky Dell desktops and laptops purchased through my grad school’s arrangement with the company, toward my first Powerbook and a MacBook force-gifted to my wife when I decided I needed more umpf, to this baby that I’m typing on right now and then beyond, to the thinner, better battery-life devices that I’d have next, that I’d be buying right about now. The general plan had been to keep them until there’s a year or so left on the extended warranty, buy a new fancy new cutting edge device, and then sell the old one carrying the remaining cover on eBay. But I’d sometimes even jump the gun on that plan, if the getting was good.

Gradually, over the last several months, something has slipped. I’ve started viewing my MBP not as an evolutionary space-holder, simply waiting for it’s faster, better descendent to come along and take it’s place on my kitchen table, but rather as a long-term tool, something that I’ll keep around until it dies. I’ll last past the end of the warranty; I’ll pay to have it fixed. It’s hard drive is maxed out and I spent a large section of the night deleting old duplicate photographs to make more room. (We loved you Mr. Pepys, 2003-2004 RIP, but twenty pictures of you licking your sister and hiding in an empty cereal box and gurgling at birds through the window in Brooklyn are probably all that we can carry with us into the future, given the fact I’ve only got 400 MB of space left!) Obviously it won’t be my computer for life, these things are engineered to be that, but it feels that way for now – which is a new and historically symptomatic way for me to feel, all things considered.

Of course, this reaction is entirely knee-jerk and over-ambient. I haven’t lost money in this thing (well, my TIAA-CREF account has been shredded, but there were only like $8000 in there anyway. My only investment strategy was to bet against my better instincts…. It’s like putting money down against your hometown team in the Superbowl – either way you win, sorta…. I’ll just work until I die, I suppose….) and I could still afford to keep up my stupid mac-loyalty and pre-obsolescent replacement plan if I really wanted to. *

So the question of the previous post remains: what would it take to turn my silly performance of austerity, emblematic of the behavior patterns that are leading the Italian restaurants to ply you with free booze, into something that could actually reap left-benefit. I watch myself in these things because I am normal enough, in some important ways, to work as my own canary in the c.m.

* I know. I bought the eee. But the eee is not a computer, it is a secondary device. And it cost one-sixth of what I’d pay if I were to upgrade the MBP. The point holds, I think. Unless it doesn’t.

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February 24, 2009 at 12:05 am

Posted in me, simplicity

the drama of austerity

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The Guardian last week on the rising demand for garden allotments in the UK:

The trust’s director general, Fiona Reynolds, said the scheme tapped into a mood in which, as a result of the recession, people’s priorities were changing from materialism towards “real” things such as spending time with family, and homegrown food.

Reynolds said: “There’s something in the air. More and more people want to grow their own fruit and vegetables. This isn’t just about saving money – it’s really satisfying to sow seeds and harvest the fruit and veg of your labour. By creating new growing spaces the National Trust can help people to start growing for the first time.”

Not long ago in the New York Times, on Japan and its falling consumer demand:

Younger people are feeling the brunt of that shift. Some 48 percent of workers age 24 or younger are temps. These workers, who came of age during a tough job market, tend to shun conspicuous consumption.

They tend to be uninterested in cars; a survey last year by the business daily Nikkei found that only 25 percent of Japanese men in their 20s wanted a car, down from 48 percent in 2000, contributing to the slump in sales.

Young Japanese women even seem to be losing their once- insatiable thirst for foreign fashion. Louis Vuitton, for example, reported a 10 percent drop in its sales in Japan in 2008.

“I’m not interested in big spending,” says Risa Masaki, 20, a college student in Tokyo and a neighbor of the Takigasakis. “I just want a humble life.”

The papers love this sort of story, which fits all sorts of long-established storylines. Among many other reasons: anxious self-imposed austerity is a more comforting emplotment of demand destruction than other contenders. Not having much choice in the matter,  a large fraction of humanity already eats the food that they grow themselves everyday without it being really newsworthy, and people not buying fancy clothes and cars happens all the time in a not quite narrativizable way. *

But still there’s something to this. Just something that’s not all that useful in its present form. I do happen to think that there probably is a hard-wired way that humans react to bad economic news. Whether the “wiring” actually happens on a neuro-psychological level or on the level of cultural precedent and morés, it doesn’t really matter. But likely there’s something in us that wants to eat a bit less when it looks like the eating might not be so great once this years harvest returns are processed, or because the droughts dried up all the crops – something that carries through to mute the reptile mind when we read that Citigroup is about to be nationalized or the like.

But it’s not all that useful an impulse, when repeatedly captured and characterized according to the plotlines on display above. What it would be useful to do, if we were to invest ourselves in small little counter-ideological projects, would be to attempt to turn the representation of these stories away from the endorsement of some sort of self-hating, self-lacerating fantasy of austere living (we should eat cabbage stew because we’ve been bad consumers!) toward a useful reevaluation of cultural priorities that might lead to a more useful long term result than the sort of thing that happens in individual households, at the grocery store, and in the garden plot. If the citizenry feels nauseously hung-over from the mode and speed and pitch of life during the bubble and its aftermath, it would be better encouraged to contemplate better, wider answers to such a malaise than neo-christian martyrdom by-storebrand purchases.

Zeitgeisty mass-reactions are real, harnessable. They are generally harnessed in service of the worst or the useless. This happens not simply because there are nefarious, implicit conspiracies to drive them in this direction. Sometimes there are, sometimes there aren’t, generally it’s way more complicated than that. I think this issue is one that people on our send tend to over-simplify and under-read. But there are opportunities for engagement and intervention and tide-turning, we we to think about what we’re doing and maybe work from a common starting place and toward a common if open end.

* Another little find, not yet processed, in re aggregate fiction, by the way.

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February 23, 2009 at 11:32 pm