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Archive for June 2009

games for two played by one

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I confess that when I was a kid I was into Dungeons and Dragons. * Actually, really, the whole TSR line of games, and even some extra-TSR sets. Twilight 2000 was my last and longest and greatest love in this line.

In fact, I was something of a preternaturally precocious D&D expert, dragging my mother to the local bookshop to buy me a rulebook or module a week when I was, ahem, in the first and second grade. I actually remember one time the bookshop guy telling my mother that there was no way that I could want these things at my age, and half-refusing to sell them to me and her. I can’t remember how she responded, but I’m sure I got my book.

Anyway, problem was there was no one to play these things with. I was a bit early with them, so my friends were out of the question. (Seriously, this is not a story about my titanic genius. I was way smarter as a kid than I am as an adult. That’s what years of sports related concussions and long-term substance abuse – all of the legal varieties! – will do for you! Sad really! So that is absolutely not the point – you’ll see….) Plus, due to a sick mother and the fact that I was an only-child in the deracinated NJ suburbs, I spent lots and lots of time entertaining myself in my bedroom.

And so… I learned to play the games by myself. Which is, of course, if you know anything about RPGs, impossible. The basic setup, for the uninitiated, goes like this. Let’s presume that there are four players. Three of the players will be characters, and the other one will be what is called the dungeon master, or DM for short. The DM controls the scenario, she or he sets the backdrop, the scenarios that are encountered by the characters. You are in a small room with doors on three sides. Through the door on the left, you hear a low cackling. There is a box of tinder on the floor. The players who are characters make decisions about what to do within the scenarios devised by the DM. I choose to take the tinderbox and open the door on the right. There is a third element, that adds contingency to the whole show – the dice. Both the dungeon master and the characters, at different times, roll. The former does it to add an element of chance to the story that he or she is telling (if I roll five or higher, an ogre will bound from the door on the left….), and the latter use the dice to determine the outcome of chancy actions, such as fighting. (I need to roll a four or better to kill the goblin with my mace…)

I hope it’s apparent why it’s impossible to play these things by yourself – the person who is responsible for the suspenseful story is also, at the same time, the characters who are at the whim of suspense. You know what’s behind the door on the left while at the same time, for the game to work, you can’t know what’s behind the door at the left. It’s hard for me to remember how much I actually played these games, rather than simply reading through the modules (premade scenarios) and developing and equipping characters…. Probably not all that much. But the amazing thing is that whole swaths of my young life were given over to such fruitless and seemingly unfun endeavors.

That said…. What a strange but perfectly appropriate preparation for a life of reading, writing about, and writing for myself a bit of fiction. What better materialization of the strange psychological state that one has to enter into in order to write narratives – knowing, but not knowing, what’s behind the door, what awaits the character if she does A, B, or C. I am just now starting to think that everything I am interested in, deeply interested in, about fiction probably had its start with these games for two or more played by only one back in my bedroom. The intense mandate to generate the unexpected, combined with the sheer impossibility of actually making something happen that really is unexpected, as well as the bizarre god-like stature of the author, who, during the modern period, would do anything, would commit to any sophism about impersonality, in order for the game to go on the way it was intended – both of these things are vividly analogous to what I was doing when I was filling out character-sheets and rolling twenty-sided dice on a card table while sitting on my boyhood bed.

One does wonder, however, whether another path toward some other sort of fiction isn’t hidden behind the branches of my childhood loneliness. A collaborative sort of fiction, that puts the emphasis not on the dice, that old standby of the lazy avant-garde, but on the presence at the table of other people, people who are able and permitted to make their own decisions about what happens next. Both of the people that I am reading at the moment – Flaubert and Ballard – in their ways describe the writing of fiction as a sort of experiment, as a process bent on testing hypotheses and presuppositions. Perhaps a new type of fiction, a fiction aggregate not only thematically but also at the site of production, would benefit from the lessons that I learned back there, trying to make myself believe that I didn’t know what I knew right from the start, because I had read the book cover to cover before we even started to write it.

* Since there is a natural line on continuity and causality between D&D play and gothic dress, I just thought I might mention: had a conversation last week in which I asserted, as was confirmed in my assertion, that the most unthinkable thought in the world is the thought that pictures me as a goth. It is not, in fact, that I don’t like goths or ex-goths. It is simply an unthinkable thought. Probably has a lot to do with the fact that I was during my formative years a catholic school jock, though a reflective or even overly-reflective one, hellbent on getting off the field to smoke pot and write poetry (and escape my father’s menacingly disappointed gaze). I will, perhaps, say more about this in a later post.

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 30, 2009 at 12:09 am

Posted in aggregate, fiction

too much too soon

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Too much branding going on lately in our neck of the internet! Just saying! The bubble era, sure, taught all of us lots of tricks about hype without substance, ads perhaps with products but catastropically without a business plan. Or…. it’s like we’re trying to replay English Department 1999, which I can assure you wasn’t all that fun or useful and certainly not sustainable let alone scalable the first time around. Better work before the guerilla-marketting, the spray-painted logos, the placard spots above urinals! Let the world do the naming!

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June 29, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Posted in blogs

monday is the truth of monday

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IT says that the truth of Sundays is Monday… but from the looks of things the truth, in turn, of Monday is getting not much done and in coffeehouses up and down Tottenham Court Road.

I was reading Crash on the way in on the bus and Underground and enjoying it so much, actually, that I gave myself another 20 pp space of time at Starbucks. I was glad to leave, though, as I hit my page allocation just as I

  1. vaguely started to worry about the plate-glass window right behind me, what it would be like to pick it out of my scalp and cheeks and limbs and (jesus) genitals if something were to knock or blast it in on me. I didn’t find the thought as sexy as the characters in the novel do, weirdos.
  2. decided that the mother and daughter who had chosen of all the available tables in the nearly empty outlet the one located right next to mine were in fact a team of bag-thieves. They run rampant, the bag thieves, in London Starbucks. Half-tantalized by the idea of looking distracted and trying to get them to make a swipe at it (see my $2000 laptop coquettishly poking its flank out of my bag in the pic?) and then catching them, and half-realizing that if they were thieves worth their salt they could probably still nail me even though I was on to them, I left and went to the office.

Which is a shame, as Starbucks is airconditioned which, amazingly, is actually helpful here in London today. And even more a shame because, as per the general rule of department life in the summer, someone came and knocked on my door and asked me to take care of something that took me the better part of an hour or two. At least it had something to do with Ballard, what I was asked to do.

But it seemed clear that the best course of action was to get out of there before the rota fortunae of departmental work turned my way again. The upstairs of EAT is quite nice, my new favourite. Actually ate lunch complete with an apple for those who are keeping track of my health and well-being. The music is pretty nice too – a heavy-rotation of Macy Gray/Lauren Hill tossed with songs that I remember or want to remember listening to on the radio in the backyard in Hillsdale, NJ when I was 5 or 6 or 7 or 8. Hottown, summahinthecity, back of my neck feelindirty and gritty. Though it does make me feel I should change the station to listen to Rags pitch his no-hitter against the Sox while eating a Ballpark Frank or something. Distracting thought!

Where is summer but New Jersey, a longwalk away from the GWB if you could walk there? What is that boy, whose first novel was a drug-store purchased compy of 1984, doing typing in the shadow of the Ministry of Love? Why doesn’t he get the picture and type a bit faster and not in html? And why did he think buying a 3G stick for his laptop would help matters on Mondays and the rest of the days of the week?

Work on your book, fool! Just because it’s hot and you’re alone doesn’t license reverie and posting!

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June 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Posted in london, new jersey

sunday in “the spiritual home of britain’s left-wing intelligentsia”

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I’m not sure exactly why I’m driven to record my familal jaunts, my Sundays, in bland photoessays on here. The one I wrote two weeks ago worked out pretty well, so whatever, I’ll keep doing it and see what happens.

We had no plans when we woke up this morning. Today is my sleep-late day and I actually made it to 9 AM, which is rare. I’m headed into old man territory, very suddenly, with my sleep patterns. For my entire adult life, I’ve gone to bed only begrudgingly before 2 AM, and while work often mandated an early rise, if permitted I’d sleep fairly late. All of a sudden, in the last few months, I’m down before midnight and up before the alarm rings, generally no later than 7 AM.

We had no plans. It suddenly strikes me that Sunday afternoons, and what you do with them, might be read in the same way that one reads a dream. Left to one’s own devices, without the pressures of work (even if the mandate to mind children remains) one’s leisure choices form patterns that sometimes are only discernable after the fact, and sometime not really discernable at all.

I don’t really know why I woke with a strong desire to go to Islington, to Upper Street to be exact. We’d passed through on the bus a few months ago, and it’s not all that far from our house. And we’ve been around Angel for various reasons (me for Kinofist what seems like a long, long time ago and both of us together to buy couches when we moved into our place). But never to Upper Street. It’d take changing buses at Finsbury Park to get there, but buses are easier than the Underground, as we are always a large and heavily encumbered party-of-four at this point.

At the busstop near my house, we couldn’t take the first bus that came by, as there were already two strollers onboard. Another nine minutes. So I walked away to have a cigarette. When I returned my wife was having “the smoking talk” with my oldest. Ah me. Bet you my remaining days of nicotene-tint are few and getting fewer all the time. It’s just what happens, isn’t it… I suppose it’s for the best.

Ah there we are. Upper Street. There’s a farmers market on Sundays behind Islington Town Hall, but we didn’t want to keep the produce all day in the heat, so we bought nothing but pastries. The place was loaded with Americans – another woman with her own set of two kids was dropping her purchases into a Trader Joe’s bag, which made us chuckle – fucking Californians! Our own bag comes from a co-op in the rust-belt city where we lived before all this – and almost certainly marks us as academics in the Expat staring contests that occur constantly in neighborhood like this one.

A few minutes later my wife and the kids ducked into a children’s store and I had a cigarette out on the street, and took the photo that appears above. A second later, I turned to the right, and saw….. this:

Mexican food! In London! I’ve had it exactly once in the more than 1.5 years I’ve been here. It simply doesn’t exist as a food category here – there’s like a total of eight places in the entire city, and generally if you look one up and head there you find that it’s closed for one reason or another. I bounded back to the wife, who was coming out of the shop, wildly pointing toward, yes, that! And yelling, yes, yes I will, yes we will eat there! Yes! But she reminded me, though, that it was only 10:45 AM, so a little early for burritos. And plus, “tex-mex” is an ill-omen, and doubleplus (or doubleminus), good Mexican restaurants don’t ever serve tapas too. (Look closely at the sign). WTF? Yeah, Mexico is not in Spain, hmmm… I conceded she had a point, at least about the tapas part, and so we moved on.

But here’s the kicker. This Desperados, object of my gleeful pleading, is located on the site of the former Granita Restaurant, where the “Granita Pact” between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was supposedly sealed in 1994. According to wikipedia:

According to several authors, Gordon Brown agreed not to stand in the Labour Party leadership election, effectively giving Blair a clear run, and letting him lead the Labour Party in the 1997 general election. In return, Brown would be allowed wide powers over domestic policy. This was apparently confirmed by a copy of a note published in The Guardian in June 2003. The note mentions Blair’s commitment to a “fairness agenda” consisting of “social justice, employment opportunities and skills” under a Labour government.

Further, according to the Guardian, if we had gone in, we might have gotten to sit at the very table, preserved as it was, where this deal that in the long-run seems to have wrecked the Labour Party, perhaps permanently, was hashed out. I hope, when (if!) my wife reads this post, she realizes that my world-historical radar is very much in operation, even if it is oddly connected with my melted cheese radar system, and that she should always listen and willingly concede to my choices in lunchtime restaurantage!

(Hmmm… now I’m wondering if any world-historical events took place at the site of the Fuddruckers on Rt.1 right by the turnoff for the NJ Turnpike… I used to make my wife take me there for birthday dinners during grad school, because of the melted cheese machine. They should dig for Jimmy Hoffa in the parking lot!)

There is a Waterstones bookshop in Islington. I have to admit, I like going to a decent Waterstones better than the crappy little store in my neighborhood. On the front table, we saw this:

My wife made the same mistake that I did when I first saw this one. We had a long and lovely talk last night about aggregate fiction, and she lifted it from the table thinking…. But nope, no. If it were Twenty People, Two Years we’d be in business. But as it is, no not aggregate – just sentimental romantic trope. Pooh. I bought the first volume of Ballard’s Complete Short Stories and Ian Sinclair’s London Orbital.

I won’t have time to read either anytime soon, but I buy books when I am happy. And I was happy today. We ate lunch at Pizza Express. Soon, I will have eaten at all 400 or so PE outlets. During lunch, I goofed with my older daughter and discussed with my wife the strange fact that in London, people eat at chain restaurants all the time, while in NYC it would be considered quite gauche to eat at chain places. That is to say, there exists here a whole category of middle to upper-middle level restaurants that basically dominate the sub-really-fancy spectrum of eating, while in America it’s hard not to think TGIFridays when you see the same place in more than a single neighborhood. My pet theory about this divergence is that hip American cities have been populated with refugees from the suburbs (comme moi) who grew up eating and lower-middle to upper-middle tier chains on the side of highways. (For the record, Fuddruckers is distinctly sub-lower-middle, just in case you’re tempted to try….) and thus run away from them en-masse when they acquire the West Elm accoutred urban pad of their dreams. I imagine that labour issues are significant too – these fucking chains are rather merciless over here, and there’s not the endless supply of undocumented Latin Americans to shuffle the plates and make the salads.

Weird. There’s a mall in Islington. I like its name: The N1 Mall. Maybe everything should be named after its postcode – far more generic, rational, clean. (Big huge post coming soon, in the hopper, on city names, station names, predicated by an act of barbarity back in Brooklyn.) My youngest decided to poop voluminously, voluminously enough to make it through the clothes. Back with the first one, wouldn’t we have panicked… But we’re veteran parents now and so we just pulled over and took care of business right there in the stroller. Much, much nicer the second time around, I have to say. But malls never look right in the UK – or really anywhere but America. Why is this? Ah, because it’s nicer over here and they simply don’t belong.

How much nicer? This much nicer….

From what I can tell, it’s a co-op-ized former estate built on the site of a V-1 bomb attack during WWII. Islington took quite a lot of bomb damage during the war, and this is the reason why Caledonian Road, for instance, is basically a several mile long block of public or ex-public housing estates. This one (I think it’s now known as the Half Moon Crescent Co-op, though I’m not exactly sure…) is bucolic and lovely, and I sort of wish that I lived there…. But BoBos like us settle where the schools are good, where the Ofsted ratings top 90… And so we are where we are. Which is good, which is fine…

You can see the very top of my wife’s head in the picture, by the way….

We had two sleeping children by the time we boarded the bus on Caledonian Road for the trip back home. We stopped somewhere and looked at a copy of the Times whle they slept, especially the cover article about Michael Jackson’s nanny:

She confided: “When Paris had her birthday this April, I wanted to buy balloons, things, to make a happy birthday. There was no money in the house. I had to put everything on my personal credit card. I brought people to clean the house. The room of the kids needed to be cleaned. But they weren’t paid.”

Revealed within her account of their love-hate relationship was Jackson’s everyday life as a father and drug addict. Grace told me of pumping out his stomach after he took too many drugs and of how dirty and unkempt he became towards the end. Her stories of his attitude to the children shocked me.

Hard to know what to say to all that, and so we went home. It’s taken me over three hours to write this post, as my wife’s been upstairs working on a book proposal and I’ve been downstairs with the kids. One watched Cinderella for a bit, the other would sleep for 15 minute bursts only after 20 minutes of carrying her about.

I’m starting to think that I’d like to write a book someday, perhaps even someday soon, about Sundays. I certainly seem to have a lot to say about them. (Interesting to note that back at the founding of LS I was very against Long Sunday as a title – I favoured Por Ahora – maybe I’m slowing out of radicalism or something as I age, or slowing into another sort of radicalism, who knows…)

In his Politics of Time, Peter Osborne at one point quotes Benjamin’s One-Way Street:

In Nadja, Breton and Nadja are the lovers who convert everything that we have experienced on mournful railway journeys… on Godforsaken Sunday afternoons in the proletarian quarters of the great cities, in the first glance through the rain-blurred windows of a new apartment, into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense force of ‘atmosphere’ concealed in these things to the point of explosion.

I think it might just be my favorite snippet of critical prose that I’ve ever come across, even if I can’t decide for the life of me whether I agree with Benjamin here, with even the basic principles behind what he is saying. I go back and forth, and in a sense this oscillation, is an index of the rhythm of my entire intellectual life in all of its dimensions. And not just my intellectual life, but the whole burrito really.

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 28, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Posted in everyday, london, sunday


with 4 comments

Who knows how to handle it…. Christ, she is frightening – she is just what everyone says she is. And she will sneak in, one way or another. An unenlightened relative will send her, or there will be a fit in a toystore – this one came in a most roundabout, but also revelatory way. We let her go to the bakery to pick out her own birthday cake, and she selected the one that formed a giant dress with her in the middle.

You can’t prohibit, it only makes it worse. Those whose television-viewing was rationed or prohibited can’t stop watching shit, whereas I was literally parked in front of the set for hours at a time, it is never turned off in my parents’ house, and now I can barely stand to look at the thing. Other things were prohibited me, directly or indirectly, and if you only knew the problems that I have with them now.

You want to be vulgarly dialectical about it, you want to allow the complex relationship to things like socially-mandated norms of female beauty or (later) drugs or sex or ambition to form naturally. So you neither deny anything nor do you want to become the cool parent, the liberal parent, raising a monstrous child with no edges or real interests or ethics or properly curvaceous drives.

The festina lente temporality of parenting: at every moment, the need to have a firm grasp of a solid answer to the question What is a woman/man? There is an implicit demand, registered everyday, that you solve the unsolveable – how, for instance, the child is the mother of the woman. But at the same time, you know that you can’t rush the solution, as you have to get it right or right enough and besides it seems there’s no good way to learn it but by watching your kids grow up. The child is the mother of the man.

So true to the pattern, Barbie arrived, she is kept permanently nearly naked, and she is thrown violently a couple times a day. Apparently, all girls throw their Barbies.

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June 27, 2009 at 8:02 am

Posted in parenting

sequinedglove revolution

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CNN International is doing crossover pieces on Iran and Michael Jackson. Why not?

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June 26, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Posted in teevee

handke: “the impression of fiction”

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From Spurious:

Reflecting on his earlier fiction, Handke says:

These narratives and novels have no story. They are only daily occurrences brought into a new order. What is ‘story’ or ‘fiction’ is really always only the point of intersection between individual daily events. This is what produces the impression of fiction. And because of this I believe they are not traditional, but that the most unarranged daily occurrences are only brought into a new order, where they suddenly look like fiction. I never want to do anything else.

And he says this:

The more I immerse myself in an object, the more it approaches a written sign.

Handke has published 4 volumes of his journals, which he began to keep in the mid 70s. Was this amidst the general crisis to which he alludes at the beginning of My Year in No-Man’s Bay?

There was one time in my life when I experienced metamorphosis. Up to that point, it had only been a word to me….

Very early on, while at the famous Group 47 meeting, he says:

Above all, it seems to me that the progress of literature consists of the gradual removal of all fictions.

Just ordered a stack of Handke, whom I’ve never read. There’s potentially productive semi-contradiction, I think, between the first quote of the series (in which fictionality seems to have been relocated from the work itself to the eye and mind of the reader – thus the impression of fiction) and the last one. Which fictions, exactly, is he out to remove?

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June 26, 2009 at 8:43 pm

flaubert vs. socialism

with 9 comments

A passage from one of Flaubert’s letters written during the composition of Madame Bovary, transcribed in Francis Steegmuller’s (quite wonderful, if a bit wacky) Flaubert and Madame Bovary: A Double Portrait:

I am turning toward a kind of aesthetic mysticism…. When there is no encouragement to be derived from one’s fellows, when the exterior world is disgusting, enervating, corruptive, and brutalizing, honest and sensitive people are forced to seek somewhere within themselves a more suitable place to live. If society continues on its present path I believe we shall see the return of such mystics as have existed in all the dark ages of the world. The soul, unable to overflow, will be concentrated in itself. The time is not far off when we shall see the return of world-sicknesses – beliefs in the Last Day, expectation of a Messiah, etc. But all this enthusiasm will be ignorant of its own nature, and, the age being what it is, can have no theological foundation: what will be its basis? Some will seek it in the flesh, others in the ancient religions, others in art; humanity, like the Jewish tribes in the desert, will adore all kinds of idols. We were born a little too early: in twenty-five years the points of intersection of these quests will provide superb subjects for masters. Then prose (prose especially, the youngest form) will be able to play a magnificent humanitarian symphony. Books like the Satyricon and the Golden Ass will be written once more, containing on the intellectual plane all the lush excesses which those books have on the sensual. That is what all the socialists in the world have not been willing to see, with their eternal materialistic preachings. They have denied pain, they have blasphemed three-quarters of modern poetry, the blood of Christ that quickens within us. If the feeling of human insufficiency, of the nothingness of life, were to perish (the logical consequence of their hypothesis), we should be more stupid than the birds… Perhaps beauty will become a feeling useless to humanity, and art something half-way between algebra and music.

Steegmuller doesn’t indicate (part of the wackiness of the book…), but I think this is from 1852 or so. Since part of the subtext (and, really, it will remain only subtext, samizdat) of my book is to transform Flaubert into the father of a (subtextually – my my I’m careful!) socialist literary modernism in a slightly roundabout but perhaps longrun fruitful way, passages like these are, um, problematic to say the least.

But despite Flaubert’s anti-humanism, that is to say real misanthropy (he’s not kidding with the stuff at the top of the quote), there’s a way that this passage from a letter self-deconstructs in the long run and in view of the novel that he was writing at the same time. No one is more preoccupied and convinced by the already present stupidity that comes of modernity than Flaubert. And the Satyricon and Golden Ass‘s intellectualization of sensual pleasure is just what he’s in the process of purging in his narrative work, work that is getting him over the hubristic collapse of Saint Antoine. And most importantly the algebraicifcation of art is something that other letters from the period suggest he believes that he himself is up to: “When literature achieves the accuracy of an exact science, that’s something!”

This isn’t the heart of my argument; this is only the dressing. The heart of the argument perhaps goes something like this: that modernism (and proto-modernism such as Flaubert’s) attempted to write (or even just think) a literature that wasn’t dependent upon the event, and that in attempting to write or to think such a thing, these modernists  (inadvertently, unconsciously, or not…) implicitly criticized the revolutionary event as itself a construct fully consummate with the temporality of life under capitalism. Even more complicated than how this happen is why this happened, and that is what I am tapping away, coffeehouse by coffeehouse, at now.

Ooooof. Poor W. Benjamin, caught in the messianically-inflected anxiety of influence trap vis a vis Flaubert. (Check the indicies… There’s the plagiarized passage from Lukács in “The Storyteller,” but look out for other references in the Collected Works. But do you really think he wasn’t worried about Flaubert, given his other interests?)

I may, in the course of everything else to do and under the influence of fast-typers, queue up a quick thing on Flaubert and socialism in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, you’ll none of you see that if I do. Fucking pseudoblog!

(Special to Pollian: did you see the bit about “half-way between algebra and music”? That’s not bad for you and your thing, eh? There’s a lot for you in Flaubert’s letters, I think. Was praising somewhat enviously your thing, btw, to a friend today….)

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 23, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Posted in benjamin, flaubert


with 2 comments

Hmmm…. they’ve never used the R word before. But they did tonight.

Uh oh.

Expatriation leaves one oddly, frighteningly exposed. Getting laid off, ordinarily, doesn’t mean a plane ticket for less than 2 weeks hence, your kids out of school, barely time to say goodbye to friends, and everything you do daily done no more. Getting laid off, ordinarily, is bad enough.

Obviously, any anxiety or actual outcome has nothing on this situation.

Must. Write. Book. Sad to be thinking that way, the “let them kill the other guy first” sort of way. Fucking world!

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June 22, 2009 at 10:34 pm

dear readers in london…

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… ah I bet you thought I was gonna ask you all out for a drink! Maybe soon. But for now: does anyone have a USB DVD reader that I could borrow for a day? I want to put the Mac OS on my currently-Linux eee, and it seems to be best and easiest done via DVD. It’s a sellout move, I know, and anti-utopian, but my research is currently dependent upon rapid window-flicking around four Mac-only programs: DevonThink, Circus Ponies Notebook, MacJournal, and (ugh) MS Word. I know I could just buy one, but this would be a single use affair, so it seems silly to drop lots of cash on it.

I would pick up and drop off promptly, unless your work / pleasure makes you pass through central London which would make a handover easy. In compensation / as a token of gratitude, I offer two or more beverages of your choice  or admission to the MA course on modernism that I teach on. It’s your call!

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June 22, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

more on kpunk

with 31 comments

Look, I understand that some people’s projects are so scaldingly pertinent that they are as it were under a sort of quasi-divine mandate to break the rules of, well, rational discourse, conversation, critique and response…

But everyone who’s been blogging for a bit knows what sort of bullshit it is to respond to someone’s post without attribution – without a link or even an unlinked mention of the post or blogger that you’re responding to. Not only is it disrespectful, but it leaves the responded to party in a weird position of not knowing what to respond to or whether to respond in the first place. It’s the internet equivalent of the sucker punch in a crowd, and it’s the sort of thing people do when they want to lash out but they’re scared of the consequences of doing so.

(Before anyone responds that not linking to your interlocutors is some sort of exercise in performative “facelessness,” let’s be clear that Mark is happy to link to those who agree with them… Facelessness simply isn’t the point.)

Anyway, so Mark wrote a response… to something. Whether to me or someone else or some paranoid fantasy of a generic group of antagonists, we’ll never know unless he tells us. We can only guess. He’s already done this once, in a post who’s addressee was obvious even to the uninitiated. Again, it’s an uncourageous tactic from a guy who likes to lecture his interlocutors on what is and isn’t acceptably punk in these conversations. And this from someone who’s constantly lecturing all of us about our failures to exhibit a set of refutable claims for which we can be held accountable!

I’m not even sure whether this bears addressing at this point, and for a few reasons. First of all, Mark’s just now said that he’s not really interested in hearing critiques of his argument, er, project. For the record, I can’t distinguish at this point between the Troll and the Grey Vampire, so I’m lumping them both together. My suspicion is that both simply mean “haters,” “those who disagree with Mark.”

I would agree that [Trolls] pose a threat to themselves, but in some ways they are more toxic to those with projects than the trolls. It’s quite easy to identify and distance oneself from a troll: once you’ve established they are a troll, sever all contact with them and – this is imperative – don’t read anything they write. This requires a little discipline, but not much, and after a while you’ll completely forget the upset they caused. For what is usually a very short period, trolls cause a great deal of incendiary, fruitless antagonism, but it seldom leaves much of a lasting trace. The final victory over them is achieved by simply persisting in the pursuit of a project, refusing to allow yourself to be ensnared in the self-doubts and impotent autocritique that disables them and which they seek to transmit to you.

Hmmm…. Again, I understand that we’re supposed to sign on against rational conversation, but doesn’t this seem like the sort of thing you would say when you’re not so much resolute in your ideas, single-mindedly committed to your project, but rather scared shitless that someone’s found a hole or holes, someone is asking questions that you simply don’t have the guts or brains or honesty to answer? I mean, if you’re commitment is as solid and vivid as Mark claims his is, surely you can allow yourself to read the responses of others without suffering some sort of debilitating panic attack….

Here he is, again, on the Grey Vampire:

The debilitating effects of the Grey Vampire are often much harder to identify and combat. They are ‘friendly’, they seem to be positive, they make their points respectfully – what’s to dislike? Ultimately, though, their stance is precisely the same as the Troll – they are profoundly suspicious of commitments and projects, except that their anti-productivity comes out as sunny scepticism instead of outright aggression. One of their favourite tactics is the devil’s advocate appeal to what someone else, not them, might think. Might not things be seen in another way? (This would be completely different if they were making a point that they were prepared to subjectively identify with: then we could get somewhere, then there would be an actual difference of positions, instead of one position confronting an infinite series of movable obstacles and promissory notes.) Another tactic – particularly effective at wasting time and energy this one – is the claim that all they want is a few clarifications, as if they are just on the brink of being persuaded, when in fact the real aim is to lure you into the swamp of sceptical inertia and mild depression in which they languish.

Grey Vampires are not a standing reserve because – this is the awful tragedy, the terrible revelation that eventually strikes you about them – they will never be mobilised. Like the Troll, their alibi – to themselves as much as to others (and to the big Other) – is that they are always about to do something major – their scepticism, equivocation and vacillation is just a temporary phase, soon to be set aside. But the Grey Vampire never has much of a sense of urgency. That’s partly because they don’t feel that they have to justify themselves to the world (sometimes there is a class dimension here – the GVs tend to have an implacable core of inner confidence which is the birthright of the dominant classes). They worry about their vacillating drift, but not too much. They have doubts, but – sadly in many ways – those doubts will never harden into a breakdown, any kind of subjective destitution.

The fact of the matter is that there are no conversational slots to fit into other than fawning agreement apparently. Respectful criticism is in fact disrespectful passive-aggressiveness, but disrespectful criticism won’t even be countenanced. Just as with the anti-humanism he’s taken up, it seems to me to be a case of someone who’s read a bit of philosophy and theory but simply doesn’t understand the subtlety of the claims advanced therein – or has allowed himself to get carried away by them such that they shut down thought rather than advancing it. “Anti-humanism” isn’t a fantasy of the annihilation of the human, just as materially-minded discourse critique isn’t aimed at the terminal disruption of discourse altogether. The analysis of social structures and their deformative effect upon discourse isn’t meant to be employed as a sort of defensive wall, an affirmative action programme for the bad ideas of the (self-positioned) abject. Anyone who disagrees with Mark disagrees because they are the over-confident agents of power and class. Sorry, though. Whatever the social dynamics at play, it could be that your ideas are simply wrong.

It’s all very strange. Mark and his friends take a rather ungrounded poke at Badiou, and when others respond, he writes a series of posts against people taking pokes at Great Thinkers like himself. He claims that academics are always locked up in the meta and passive-aggressive contentless argument, yet he responds to critique with a maddeningly complex meta-argument about discursive circumstances, never getting anywhere near the point at hand. He attacks the failure of nerve on the part of his critics, yet can’t even muster the chutzpah to throw a punch at any actual person. He positions himself as oppressed by class characterizations, but can’t respond with anything but vague ad hominems about the upbringing and confidence of his interlocutors. He seems to be caught in a trap of terminal performative contradiction. Above all else, he accuses everyone else of convictionless slickness – when it looks, with each post, more and more unlikely that there’s anything other than polish and PR behind the stuff he’s peddling…. If it’s not true, well, it’d be a good thing to stop with the brand defense and claims of unfair treatment and just explain what he’s talking about.

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June 20, 2009 at 11:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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Ah, all it takes, it seems, to make me start hating academia again is an evening of reading writing samples and letters of reference. What glib motherfuckers we become when we become something in this business! And how disjointed and wrong-footed writing about literature by the newer generation (that is to say, my generation) has become.

My god, I write good letters for my students. I will not stop doing this, even though the bar has just been dramatically lowered.

Advice to future job seekers: it is ostensibly “unethical,” but if you at all can, get someone with the key to the cabinet to check your dossier letters for you before they’re sent out. Jesus. I wish I could go on about this, but I really can’t. To be perfectly honest, someone – a very kind woman who was especially kind to me  – did this for me at some point early on. No problems with mine, but people can be dicks. Seriously. The business is hard enough without a unjustly toxic letter in your file.

I’ll reply to the new k-punk / poetix stuff once I get a second. I’ll even link to those that I talk about – how about that for class!  Looks unlikely, though, that it’ll be tomorrow as I’m booked all day (see above) and I’ve got friends in town tomorrow night. Sociality comes to Ads’s house! The wonders never cease! You have no idea how bad I feel that I’ve not got the weedwacker out to shave our 10X10 patch of grass.

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June 18, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Posted in academia

quick query and bonus best search term ever

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1) Who said the bit about the emergence of a new verse form always occassioning a revolution in consciousness? Can’t seem to remember, or gfind, trying to help someone out, etc…. I’m sure someone here knows….

2) Just found in my stats the best search term ever:

sopranos, using fuck as a conjunctive

Wha? Trying to imagine how… but… wha? Whoever’s looking for this, I like the way you think in a bunch of ways. Come and do a PhD with me!

I’m very glad google sent someone looking for that here!

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June 18, 2009 at 6:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

dysphoric about dysphoria

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Very grateful for the articulate explanation of militant dysphoria at Poetix today. I hope Dominic doesn’t mind if I post the pièce de non-jouissance, the final paragraph, here:

“Militant dysphoria”, or “politicised unpleasure”, is a name for the shift from experiencing dysphoria as a personal pathology (depression, anhedonia, guilt) to recognizing that the syntheses of experience that bind together all but the most rudimentary pleasures are part of a larger cybernetic network: personal “dysfunction” must be understood in the context of this system and its (naturalised) functions. The aim is not to reform the world so that one will at last be comfortable in it (what suits me wouldn’t suit you, just as what suits you doesn’t suit me), but to be able to suspend the verdict of pleasure where it serves reactionary political ends.

I’ll admit that there’s a sort of knuckleheaded temptation to answer this provocative arguments with just what it expects to be answered by… diagnosis, pathologization, and the like. After all, to be fair about this temptation, there are lots of people with major or minor, manic or minimal, physiological / psychological / social issues and pathologies that can in fact be treated and via all sorts of approaches. It is clear that some forms of therapeutic intervention are certainly aimed at simply taping up the broken worker and getting her or him back out on the the neoliberal, precarious, dehumanizing shopfloor. CBT, which is by far the dominant practice in the UK, aims at just that. (Though I will say that I’ve seen some serious and undeniable success stories with CBT and CBTesque therapy, and often practice a bit of auto-CBT on myself, as do we all, I’m sure… Still…)

But even if the embrace of one’s own dysphoria, let alone becoming militant about it, leaves me worried from the start for the above reasons, let’s not head down this line for now. And anyway, if much of the point is to see the social (or “cybernetic,” in Dominic’s term) matrix that informs one’s own individual negotiation with happiness and unhappiness, then I’m all for that. One of the weakest points of psychoanalysis (even in its softer versions – which happens to be my preferred therapetic approach) is its unstinting structural avoidance of the social and political. It’s written right into the basic models at play. Everything goes back to when you were a little kid, dealing with the dad and mum that made you and their treatment of you after they did, and the thing about families is that class differential really doesn’t exist in the family home, or only does on rare occassions. Things change when Billy leaves the house, and later becomes CEO of the company that employed Dad as a janitor, but during the first act, you are your parents’ class. When dealing with later issues, if they’re always belated, adult manifestations of the child’s problems, class / work / financial matters can only be deplaced meta-effects of the pre-social triangle of mommy/daddy/me. If you’re dissatisfied with your work, it’s because you had a tyrannous father who told you would fail etc.

So whatever qualms I have about Dominic’s description as far as the first move – toward the comprehension of the generic nature of personal dysphoria – goes, I am definitely willing to shelve my concerns and keep listening. Where I become much less patient, however, is when we get a bit further down the road. First of all, while I am clearly no expert on Goth culture, and that seems to be an important thing to understand in order to understand, let alone buy into, Dominic’s claims, I would assert that I was a paid-up and duly dunked member of the original Gothic clan, that is to say, the Roman Catholic Church. Funny costumes – we got those. Fetishization of gore and all sorts of visualized morbidity – check. But above all else, militant dysphoria shares with Christianity the embrace of the refusal of “natural” pleasures, the prolongation under the banner of virtue of unhappiness, the investiment of unhappiness in the bank of uncertain and ill-defined futures. When I was told not to masturbate or mess around with girls, it wasn’t couched in the promise of more and better pleasure in the future. It was dysphoria for dysphoria’s sake – and as far as Dominic’s post takes the matter, that is what I see as the logic of his argument as well.

I’d even be so glib as to say that the conceptualization of militant dysphoria would only be possible in a place that’s long since left Christianity behind, where enough generations have come and gone since belief and all that comes of it was real that it is possible to forget how all of this worked. Or perhaps its just poor memory at play. For what Dominic is refounding (rather than simply founding) is a pseudo-Christianity dressed in the garb of a left politics without the political, that is to say without a pragmatics of possible change and resolution of the problems that the concept is meant to address. Sure, Christians are meant to get to heaven by embracing (or actively creating and then embracing) their refusal of pleasure. But heaven is as vague a place as the outcome of MD – both Christianity and militiant dysphoria are far more invested in the pathologization of pleasure in the present than the arrival of some sort of misty reward after the redemption.

I don’t want to belabor the point, but there’s a way that this endorsement and prolongation of the dysphoric resembles the temporal (il)logic of what has long been called the Protestant Work Ethic as well. Isn’t the trick of the PWE, too, the trick of deferral within a system that will systematically deprive you of the opportunity to reap what you’ve sowed? This brings me to my second, and perhaps more important, problem with the description. As Dominic says, “The aim is not to reform the world so that one will at last be comfortable in it (what suits me wouldn’t suit you, just as what suits you doesn’t suit me), but to be able to suspend the verdict of pleasure where it serves reactionary political ends.” This I really don’t understand. Perhaps there’s more to be said, but I’m just working with what’s in front of me.  But where does this dysphoria end? If the aim is not reform, such that the gothic disavowal can finally put an end to itself, and everyone can be just a littel bit or a lot happy – whether they want sex, whether they want to come, or not – then I’m not sure I see the point. Does reform, despite what Dominic says, slip in the backdoor at some stage in this process? Or do things end up in a dysphoric utopia? If the point of the deferral, perhaps infinite, of the partaking of pleasures is to bring about radical political change, presumably unto the betterment of the world, then at what point to the capes and sullen looks get beaten into jouissance, or even plain-old plaisir, of any sort?

If we’re killing the category of pleasure off altogether, then I’m not sure what game were ultimately playing. In fact, if that’s the game we’re in, perhaps there would be nothing better than to simply embrace the present, call for exactly more of the same dysphoria that we’ve allegedly already got. I’m sure it will get worse, all by itself and without our attention. Perhaps this is the point. But if this is what we’re after, then I’m not sure there’s any point in writing about it. It will happen whether we’re awake at the switch or fast asleep, either way. And either way, I’m afraid you can count me out of all of this.

One last thing – perhaps a bit guardianistal, but so what. I’d be really very nervous, if I were Dominic, about trotting this idea out in front of people whose dysphorias are less cerebral than material. If anhedonia is the baseline, sure. But I’d venture to guess that for 95 percent of the world’s population, and even a healthy minority of Britons, the idea of giving up the struggle to make things better, the idea of actively embracing a perverse and amorphous psychological blankness, would be, to say the least, something of a non-starter. This is politics for the relatively affluent only – and come on, we’re all relatively affluent – we eat, we don’t get rained on, here we even get free medical treatment and cheap or free education. Let your imagination roam free, and imagine what happens when you pitch this stuff to anyone who’d not a well-fed information worker….

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June 16, 2009 at 11:18 pm

what else, tonight?

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After you have finished an overdue article and come home, after the children are asleep and after you downloaded for the older one a new game for your iPhone, after you have heated up a Sainsburys pizza and picked the onions off, after you have written a friend who is suddenly in London and not written another one who will be soon, after you have listened with interest to your wife’s breakdown of a wildly successful misery memoir in which a friend (the one you haven’t written – she was your best female friend not long ago, and you were probably her best male friend before you moved and she moved, ah grad school!) figures as the inflictor of misery, after you have watched a terrible episode of Big Love and checked your blog stats, after you’ve realized that the Yankees aren’t playing tonight and the the Baader-Meinhof movie hasn’t finished downloading, after you waited for things that did not come and read some John Berger, what then?

You go to bed, of course. But before that, what? There is still tonight to be made a decision to send out some poetry, as you found some printed sheets from a few months back that are not bad. What else? A resolution to work at least as hard tomorrow as you did today and to be just as uncomplicated with yourself and with others as you were today and have been for a bit now. What else? You need still to have a recollection that when you were little you said your prayers at night, an Our Father and a Hail Mary at least, and then later ominously, the Act of Contrition was added to the playbill, and nothing (save perhaps booze) has taken the place of that. Perhaps you could take up last minute language study, perhaps you could learn Russian, perhaps there is an iPhone app.

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June 15, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized