The Man’s Book

From the flap of this odd find:

The Man’s Book. (…) Action, suspense and thrills are the essential qualities of all the stories which are selected, from the pick of all the publisher’s lists, by an all-male editorial board who know the kind of tough, hard-hitting reading that men prefer. By its policy of providing vigorous, virile reading of high quality, in fine bindings at low cost the MAN’S BOOK SERIES has deservedly become the outstanding publishing triumph of recent years.

I haven’t started reading the book yet, because after this introduction, what else can the book be but a letdown? DSC_1130


From the history of Fanta on wikipedia

Fanta originated when it became illegal to import Coca-Cola concentrate into Nazi Germany during World War II due to a trade embargo. To circumvent this, Max Keith, the man in charge of Coca-Cola Deutschland during the Second World War, decided to create a new product for the German market, using only ingredients available in Germany at the time, including whey and pomace – the “leftovers of leftovers”, as Keith later recalled. The name was the result of a brief brainstorming session, which started with Keith exhorting his team to “use their imagination” (“Fantasie” in German), to which one of his salesmen, Joe Knipp, immediately retorted “Fanta!”

Astérix, Obélix and Neurosurgery

An actual study in the peer-reviewed Acta Neurochirurgica, called “Traumatic brain injuries in illustrated literature: experience from a series of over 700 head injuries in the Asterix comic books”. Click here for the paper. Cracked me up.

This is the summary

The goal of the present study was to analyze the epidemiology and specific risk factors of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the Asterix illustrated comic books. Among the illustrated literature, TBI is a predominating injury pattern.
A retrospective analysis of TBI in all 34 Asterix comic books was performed by examining the initial neurological status and signs of TBI. Clinical data were correlated to information regarding the trauma mechanism, the sociocultural background of victims and offenders, and the circumstances of the traumata, to identify specific risk factors.
Seven hundred and four TBIs were identified. The majority of persons involved were adult and male. The major cause of trauma was assault (98.8%). Traumata were classified to be severe in over 50% (GCS 3–8). Different neurological deficits and signs of basal skull fractures were identified. Although over half of head-injury victims had a severe initial impairment of consciousness, no case of death or permanent neurological deficit was found. The largest group of head-injured characters was constituted by Romans (63.9%), while Gauls caused nearly 90% of the TBIs. A helmet had been worn by 70.5% of victims but had been lost in the vast majority of cases (87.7%). In 83% of cases, TBIs were caused under the influence of a doping agent called “the magic potion”.
Although over half of patients had an initially severe impairment of consciousness after TBI, no permanent deficit could be found. Roman nationality, hypoglossal paresis, lost helmet, and ingestion of the magic potion were significantly correlated with severe initial impairment of consciousness (p ≤ 0.05).


Just stolen from Mark Frauenfelder’s twitter: “The Backfire Effect” on

The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.

The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.


Geoffrey Munro at the University of California and Peter Ditto at Kent State University concocted a series of fake scientific studies in 1997. One set of studies said homosexuality was probably a mental illness. The other set suggested homosexuality was normal and natural. They then separated subjects into two groups; one group said they believed homosexuality was a mental illness and one did not. Each group then read the fake studies full of pretend facts and figures suggesting their worldview was wrong. On either side of the issue, after reading studies which did not support their beliefs, most people didn’t report an epiphany, a realization they’ve been wrong all these years. Instead, they said the issue was something science couldn’t understand. When asked about other topics later on, like spanking or astrology, these same people said they no longer trusted research to determine the truth. Rather than shed their belief and face facts, they rejected science altogether.


From the Guardian:

And besides, really,” [A.C. Grayling] adds with a withering little laugh, “how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don’t collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It’s like sleeping furiously.”

No, silly. It’s like militant non-smokers. That‘s what it comes down to, and that is the whole problem (well, part of it, anyway). Oh, I’m tired already. Let’s move on.

People of the book?

A depressing survey done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

want some examples? Lookee here:

¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

How is it that adherents of religions based on reading and thinking in a time of low illiteracy rates, know so little about their own faith?

Writing. Speaking. Feck.

It is one of the most frustrating elements in my life: when I write of books, I can pull off quite a decent job. Sometimes, anyway. I have an idea where I’m going, I may contradict myself, I may be getting overly mad or enthusiastic, I may waffle poetic, but it works, doesn’t it? Why, then, when I talk, do I sound like an angry hairy confused half-wit. Just this past Monday, the Bookbabblers and I interviewed the great young writer Joshua Cohen. I asked him to come, prepared not one, two or three, but five pages of questions and remarks and sounded like a vaguely drunk confused old man, not quite there, but too hopped up on drink not to talk now and then. Or in a discussion about Auster on Bookbabble, where I let fellow debaters get away with amazingly nonsensical arguments. Or when I explain poetry to fellow students. Next Monday, I might have an opportunity to speak to Mr. Charles Altieri. I will prepare, think about it, and when I’m there next week, I’ll look and sound like a confused homeless person expounding on UFOs and government conspiracies. Feck. Gobshite. Anyway. Back to my writing.

The other Pirates

The defense in The Pirate Bay trial lost in the first instance.

All four defendants were accused of ‘assisting in making copyright content available’. Peter Sunde: Guilty. Fredrik Neij: Guilty. Gottfrid Svartholm: Guilty. Carl Lundström: Guilty. The four receive 1 year in jail each and fines totaling $3,620,000.

While only a few weeks ago, it seems like an eternity since the trial of The Pirate Bay Four ended and the court retired to consider its verdict. The prosecution claimed that the four defendants were ‘assisting in making copyright content available’ and demanded millions of dollars in damages. The defense did not agree, and all pleaded not guilty – backed up by the inimitable King Kong defense.

Appeals forthcoming. Press conference here. Pitchfork here. Some gloating at the NYT here. And here’s Cory Doctorow’s take.


James Merrill’s work contains many places; we have, in the past pages, mentioned a few of them. I could well have picked other poems, those I picked, however, offered enough diversity, in terms of publishing date, length and content, that the findings cannot be blamed on a cluster of any of those factors. They could indeed be blamed on selective choosing of poems yet I am confident that as the paper progressed my findings became more and more evident and plausible since I would argue that the general approach works for every poem of place in Merrill’s work. We also discussed how these places are portrayed or used in the poetry; from our discussion we developed, step by step, an understanding of the mechanism and developed our own terms to describe that mechanism.

In this conclusion we will take a final look at that mechanism and its range and limits. The first thing to notice is that we multiplied the number of places since we claimed that memories and dreams are treated in the poetry as if they were separate places. This is in no way a proposition about some actual place or something comparable. This proposition is only concerned with the workings of the poetry, where memory is, indeed, a sort of place, as is dream. There is one major difference between these sort of virtual places and actual places: With actual places we discussed the possibility of them being home or a home, we graded them on a scale from very far away from home, such as Japan in the “Prose of Departure”, to very close to home, such as New York. Memories and dreams are left out, since one cannot live in dreams or memories, much as one would like to do it.

Memories are places constructed by the remembering mind, which recollects a few salient objects. The same applies to dreams. This is rather similar to writing, which makes it especially important in a poet such as James Merrill. Merrill is a poet of detail: an abundance of puns, rhymes, meter, as well as countless allusions and numerous details are defining properties of his writing. The mechanism which creates the memory and dream places is thus one that is at the heart of James Merrill’s poetry. This is the first meaning of the title of the thesis. The second, and arguably more important one is concerned with ‘real’ places. We put “real” in inverted commas not because we adhere to a skepticist postmodern idea of reality, but because we found out quickly that real places and the cultural layer through which we perceive them, are virtually indistinguishable.

The speaker of Merrill’s poems casts this cultural layer over his descriptions, it is like tinted glass, without knowledge of the exact colors in the glass. The indistinguishable quality is mostly derived from selection and cannot be checked afterwards. Objects, persons and events that have fallen by the wayside are irretrievable, since our undertaking here is literary criticism and not biography. All we have, to cite that old chestnut, is the text, which presents the preselected, preformed version of reality. The cultural layer, insofar as it can be gleaned from the text, is not only a hindrance. It is also a key to understanding the speaker since it speaks volumes about his background. The important thing here is to step away from calling the cultural layer, as I have admittedly just done, a hindrance. Instead it is a special way of framing places.

Places in James Merrill’s poetry are a conglomerate of different factors. Roughly speaking they consist of real place plus the speaker’s perception of the place. We already noted that this perception is affected by what we called the cultural layer. This is, however, but half the story. In our discussion of poems like “The Thousand and Second Night” as well as “An Urban Convalescence”, we pointed to a second factor: the speaker’s body. Between the body of Merrill’s travelers and the place they visit strange relationships develop. The sickness of a city may translate into a immobilizing sickness of the speaker and the speaker’s convalescence may find a mirror in the city’s parallel process of convalescence. Again, the caveat: this is not about actual causality, but about the inner workings of Merrill’s poems. And there we find that the speakers, while perceiving places cerebrally through the cultural layer, also often perceive them viscerally, via their bodies. This dependence upon bodily travel is remarkable and noteworthy in as literary and abstract, even, a poetical language as Merrill’s. If we recall our chapter on Sandover, we find that the visceral, bodily kind of perception is also the one most directly involved in receiving the spirits at the Ouija board, where the reception takes place in the “RED CELLS”.

Thus, to iterate, places in Merrill’s poetry are real places plus the culturally or bodily mediated experience of them. This leads to a few points of interest which, due to length and focus of this thesis, we have not been able to address, yet are sure could and should be addressed at length in later studies of Merrill and his work. The first is the question of performativity. Merrill, as has been pointed out almost ad nauseam in secondary literature creates rooms within his poetry (cf. for instance Lundquist). They are not places in our understanding of the word, not if we want to keep the word meaningful and not a catch-all term. However, I did mention how close the process of mentally creating a place and the process of creating a poem is, especially since all we have is the created poem, which mimicks the mental process. Recollection is a gesture, a function of Merrill’s poetry. Performativity also, however, refers to questions of identity, which, whether it touches upon questions of gender or sexual preference, is highly interesting as a topic in Merrill’s poetry. Secondary literature on Merrill has focused too much on direct intentionality, which we owe to the fact that the leading scholars on Merrill, Kalstone, McClatchy and Yenser, have all been friends with the poet, and their understanding of the poet has developed in key with their communication with him, so that the two elements have become inseparable, which is, as I mentioned in the introduction the reason why I used so few secondary sources to argue my readings of the poems.

This leads us to the next large issue that I have not been able to touch upon yet which
seems to be a fecund issue to explore in more detail: language and communication. First the actual language used in the poems: James Merrill’s poetry is written in American English, sometimes it contains, for example, pieces of French, when expressing aspects of his speaker’s cultural layer, and sometimes it contains pieces of, for example, Greek, when focusing upon the local cultural layer. The second aspect is the way that language is molded in poems like Sandover: the spirits often deviate from common usage. Questions are turned into “?s”, for example, divinely inspired work is called “V work” and for a while, Mirabell prefaces each metaphor with a bracketed ‘m’. Also, the orthography is sloppy. This is so interesting because it raises questions of voice and questions about the boundary between the written and the spoken word. After all, Sandover is a dialogue, only one side never utters an audible word. Instead it makes a cup move upon a wooden board, letter by letter. This is remarkable. What seems like quick, effortless dialogue has been dictated letter by letter. Even if done at the utmost speed, taking such a dictation must take quite a while.

The last large issue is connected to the two already raised: unquestionably Merrill writes from a position of privilege. How is this reflected in his work? Secondary literature tends to either attack him for inhuman arrogance in Sandover or snobbish ignorance in his other work, or it completely exonerates him. I have yet to see either position cogently argued. Both positions are usually written like preachings to the choir. Here, again, much of the focus would rest upon Sandover, where a complex web of discourses about authority, racism, power, identity, has been woven, and people misrepresent it usually.

Merrill is, however, a writer easily misrepresented. The complexity of his work, both on the level of allusions, on the formal level and on the plain level of content assures that even a thorough study will pass some points by. By concentrating on a series of close readings I hope to have found a way to cope with the issue as good as possible. My intent was to demonstrate how places, be it cities or countries, are represented in James Merrill’s poetry and to argue that places are central to that poetry. The mechanics we uncovered/invented are useful instruments to tackle all poems by Merrill, because the tension between self and the environment, which is debated time and again in the poetry, is Merrill’s constant theme. Merrill’s is a poetry of places: it is a poetry about places, where the reader is transported all around the world. And it is a poetry where places play a formative role. Merrill’s speakers all have bodies, they are somewhere, they have had corporeal experience. If this sounds trite, please reconsider: Merrill uses, like few other poems of his caliber, his speaker’s bodies as a constant way of grounding them, while developing one of the most conceptually daring poetries of his time. His ability to reconcile these two extremes rests on his treatment of places.

Just dumb

Well. Yesterday I was poking fun at Nigel Beale’s absurd idea of how to read literature and art. This is from the first post of his on this topic.

Based on what we have here, what I know of Proust’s life , and my experience reading Holmes and Coleridge, Marchand and Byron, Ellmann and Joyce, Steegmuller and Flaubert, for example, I’m with Sainte-Beuve. Knowing about Coleridge’s life struggles, his politics, his relationship with women (and I’m relying on the accuracy of Holmes’ research), knowing Coleridge this way, enriched my experience of his work, influenced the way I understood it, and increased my appreciation and enjoyment of it. The text remains the same. Its intrinsic aesthetic qualities remain the same, what changes is my reception of them. Because of the biographical information additional layers of interpretation open themselves up to me. Because of the new tenderness I feel for the man, my reading is more sympathetic. Biography obviously doesn’t replace close reading, it augments it.

Well. If you look at yesterday’s post, you’ll notice that actually, in his case, as in most cases, it may open layers of interpretation, but it closes many many more. In my reading experience as a reader of literature and as a reader of literary criticism, inclusion of biographical facts almost always leads to a narrow interpretation.

I hold that the critic is free to consider biographical material for inspiration. But it can never, ever, turn up later as a way of argument. Beale doesn’t understand this crucial division, as is visible in his own abysmally poor remarks, for instance on Picasso. Moreover, such a biographical reading should never be mixed up with a marxist reading, such as Lucien Goldmann’s take on Racine and Pascal in Le Dieu Caché (which is fraught with errors of its own, but that’s a different story). I think I sorted the two out somewhat in this essay.

Biography, in short, doesn’t augment close reading, instead it hampers it. Thousands of essays done this way are ample proof of this, pick up any one of it, I have never read one that wasn’t frustrating, after all was said and done. If you want an example: Gwiazda’s book on Merrill and Auden is exasperatingly bad, not because the author’s such an idiot, but because you can see how the author’s bothered by the weights imposed on him by the biographical details, so much indeed, that the whole book reads like a bizarre experiment in bad literary criticism.

It’s a whole other kettle of fish, of course, when you are reading for fun. I have, personally, read dozens of biographies, I am currently aswim in the wonderful letters of Schwartz and his publisher Laughlin. When literary criticism is not concerned, it’s different. Then, often, it’s also less about the texts as texts, instead, the texts are part of the biography, even as the biography can never be part of the texts.

Nigel Beale, it appears, is a twat.

Warning! Drinking may cause absurd theories!

Well, well. Susan Jacoby, who wrote a book on the pride many Americans (let me assure you, many Germans do so, too. I can provide several really hilarious links if you’d like some) take in being and staying ignorant (although she kinda does not listen to her own advice). Interestingly, some posts lately on the Log talked about an amazingly brazen book on linguistics. The book’s called The Secret History of the English Language and its claims are preposterous, no, beyond preposterous, and they seem to be based on that little helper of American (hell, german, too) ignorance: so-called common sense. Sketching briefly (anything in a 199 page language HISTORY will, of necessity, be brief) the accepted history of the English language, apparently he then dismisses it as implausible and proceeds to claim that in fact, English developed into French, which developed into Provençal, which developed into Italian. And then the log quoted a bit of the most outrageous claim of them all: that Italian merchants then invented Latin.

Fortunately, there’s a much more reasonable explanation that meets all the facts: Latin is not a natural language. When written, Latin takes up approximately half the space of written Italian or written French (or written English, German, or any natural European language). Since Latin appears to have come into existence in the first half of the first millennium BC, which was the time when alphabets were first spreading through the Mediterranean basin, it seems a reasonable working hypothesis to assume that Latin was originally a shorthand compiled by Italian speakers for the purposes of written (confidential? commercial?) communication.

That’s very funny, but the book and its predecessor have been praised (see the first of the two log links above). Apparently making a bold claim in an “age of unreason”, based on so-called common sense, is enough to sway a significant portion of the public. If you are now sulky, here’s something funny to lighten your mood: Marc Liberman at the Log had this hypothesis to share:

My own hypothesis is that the whole thing was written over a drunken weekend, to win a bar bet:

Harper: It’s unbelievable, my friend. No one knows anything anymore. Not anything worth knowing.
Drinking buddy: Oh come now. The general level of education has never been higher.
Harper: Not among the so-called intellectual classes, the idiots that publish and
review and buy books. Why, I bet I could write a little tract arguing that French is historically derived from English, and not only get it published, but sell ten times more copies than your last laboriously-researched academic tome.
DB: French derived from English? You’re not serious. You might as well argue that Latin was derived from Italian. Everyone knows that’s impossible.
Harper: You don’t understand — no one knows anything, not anything that’ll stand up to an authoritative poke in an anti-authoritarian voice. Hell, give me a typical modern humanist, and I can make her believe that Latin was invented by Italian speakers as a form of commercial shorthand. Or at least make her accept the idea as an interesting hypothesis.
DB: Latin a shorthand form of Italian? A hundred pounds says no reputable publisher will put it out, unless you frame it as a burlesque.
Harper: Oh, it’ll be serious, believe me. You’re on for that hundred quid. And how about a side bet on how many copies I sell?

Election and Feminism IV (rant)

It’s not yet clear which prejudice will infect the presidential contest more — misogyny or racism.

Well. I have written on this topic thrice before. This is a difficult issue. Both the racial as well as the gender divide appear to be at work here and both blacks as well as women have repeatedly complained of expectations of loyalty to Obama/Clinton based on their gender/race. For those weirdos who think like that the situation of black women appeared to be particularly fascinating. CNN reports

Within minutes of posting a story on CNN’s homepage called “Gender or race: Black women voters face tough choices in South Carolina,” readers reacted quickly and angrily.
Readers want media to focus more on the candidates and how they feel about the issues not their gender or race.
Many took umbrage at the story’s suggestion that black women voters face “a unique, and most unexpected dilemma” about voting their race or their gender.
CNN received dozens of e-mails shortly after posting the story, which focuses largely on conversations about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that a CNN reporter observed at a hair salon in South Carolina whose customers are predominantly African-American.
An e-mailer named Tiffany responded sarcastically: “Duh, I’m a black woman and here I am at the voting booth. Duh, since I’m illiterate I’ll pull down the lever for someone. Hm… Well, he black so I may vote for him… oh wait she a woman I may vote for her… What Ise gon’ do? Oh lordy!”

For a while it appeared as if voters were divided along two tough lines of bigotry, so that, for instance, analysis seemed to show that whole ethnic or racial groups could be expected to vote for/against Obama because of his race and because of his race only. see for example this early February analysis:

Yesterday’s primary voting laid bare a profound racial and ethnic divide among Democratic voters, with African Americans overwhelmingly preferring Sen. Barack Obama and Latinos largely favoring Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In this discussion Bill Clinton’s infamous remarks fit squarely:

Clinton reminded reporters out of the blue that “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in ’84 and ’88. And he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama’s run a good campaign here. He’s run a good campaign everywhere.”

This is of course as close to a slur as Clinton could allow himself to get. And everyone noticed the inappropriateness of this remark and of similar remarks, even Internet comedians mostly stayed away from that, unless the souce was downright hostile to Obama’s campaign. Putting down Obama because of his race wasn’t permissible.

However, it seemed easily permissible to riff on Hillary’s gender. Comparing her to Tracy Flick, for example, as in this collage, or discussing endlessly the degree to which Hillary Clinton is feminine enough and whether her tears have won her New Hampshire, and no, it’s not suddenly a better idea just because the Clintons embraced it themselves after winning. In case you’re interested, here‘s a piece that explains the difference between the polls and the surprising outcome.

If this post sounds confused, well, that’s because the whole issue has become really strange. On the one hand the racist hatred that tricks even pollsters and then, on the other hand, stuff like this:

In a webcast, prestidigitator Penn Jillette talks about a joke he has begun telling in his show. He thinks the thunderous reaction it gets from audiences shows that Hillary no longer has a shot.

The joke goes: “Obama is just creaming Hillary. You know, all these primaries, you know. And Hillary says it’s not fair, because they’re being held in February, and February is Black History Month. And unfortunately for Hillary, there’s no White Bitch Month.”

This last quote, as well as the quote at the beginning of this muddled post is taken from an insightful article by Maureen Dowd, which doesn’t answer that question though.

So. Where are we? To clear this up: no, I am not telling people to vote for the person who is most discriminated against. That’s absurd.

No, this is about the astonishing extent to which misogyny has become a part of our culture. Or (to turn again) is it about misogyny? To a certain extent, sure. Many of the journalistic instincts, how to ‘explain’ results best, are more or less sexist and insulting. Yet, as Stanley Fish has pointed out here and here, Hillary Clinton-hating contains elements of sexism but is an all-out attack on her person and that of her husband. So, isn’t it about sexism after all?

I am, again, not so sure. The fact that she has become such a widely hated person has to do with anti-Clintonianism that simmered still in the public. However, that does not explain the vehemence, the furor, which accompagnies these Anti-Clinton attacks these days. It just doesn’t. I say her gender is not the only but it is the central part of Hillary-bashing. And the worst thing about this is the fact that it is not recognized as offensive, especially compared with racism. Dowd relates an interesting anecdote:

Elaine Sirkis, 77, an Obama supporter, confided that she just isn’t sure she’s ready for a woman president. Betty Conway, 83, a Hillary supporter, confided that she just isn’t sure she’s ready for a black president.

As Conway walked away, Sirkis smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry,” she told Berman sweetly about her friend. “She’s a bigot.”

I am pretty sure that this situation is not reversible. Isn’t that sad? Misogyny is still normal, a smaller offence, good clean fun, as they say. Boys will be boys. Ah doesn’t it make you want to puke?

Legale Entführungen

Heute interessanter Artikel im SPON

Das amerikanische Recht erlaube die Entführung von Ausländern, solange diese von einem US-Gericht gesucht würden, sagte er laut einem Bericht der Zeitung “The Sunday Times”. Der oberste Gerichtshof der USA, der Supreme Court, habe das Kidnapping Gesuchter aus anderen Ländern ausdrücklich erlaubt.


Das Kidnappen von Verdächtigen ist allerdings keine neue Praxis, die erst nach den Anschlägen vom 11. September begann. Im April 1990 hatten US-Agenten den Arzt Humberto Alvarez Machain aus Mexiko entführt. Ihm wurde vorgeworfen, an der Folterung und Ermordung eines Agenten der US-Drogenbehörde DEA im Jahr 1985 beteiligt gewesen zu sein. Die Entführung in Cowboy-Manier war selbst in den USA umstritten – im Mexiko sorgte sie für Empörung. Diese wurde noch vergrößert durch ein Urteil des Obersten Gerichtshofs im Jahr 1992. Das Gericht stufte die Aktion als legal ein und bestätigte das Prinzip der “Exterritorialität” für amerikanische Agenten.

Über den Fall Tollman gibt es hier einen NYTimes Artikel und hier einen anderen.