Neulich bei Spon

“Mich regt auf, dass die Medien schon wieder nach neuen Spielern schreien”, sagt er. “Dabei sind die alten noch nicht mal bezahlt. Toni und Ribéry werden vier Jahre lang abgeschrieben. Jedes Jahr 25 Millionen, so funktioniert das in der Wirtschaft.”


Longlist has been announced

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold
Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry
The Secret Scripture
John Berger
From A to X
Michelle de Kretser
The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh
Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant
The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif
A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher
The Northern Clemency
Joseph O’Neill
Salman Rushdie
The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith
Child 44
Steve Toltz
A Fraction of the Whole

Color me thingie. I’m happy. Some heavyweights, some more unknown novels and even a thriller. I will now read my way down that list. Have read one already and ordered Netherland which is supposed to be superb. And no Carey!!!

Surfing Academics, again

Something occurred to me in respect to this.

Funny thing. Much of this is written in a rebellious spirit, practically ‘against’ academia, to show ’em. Fuck yeah. Rogue surfer dude is as good as the fucking academics.

But the thing is, by extracting that guy from academia, defining an academic not by conpetence or even occupation, inasmuch as the man studied, did his phd, attended fucking professional conferences and spoke there. They concur with the worst idiots in academia that it has to be your career, you have to make money (and thereby hangs a tale) off of it in order for it to count. So these poor deluded people are doing exactly the opposite of what they set out to do. Instead of being ‘unruly’ they reproduce the exact power structures that the people they oppose represent, they copy the rules, word by word. Instead of shaking anything up or thinking outside the box, they sit squat in the middle of said box, staring at the walls, thinking about the walls, writing about the walls.

It happens to us all, happened to me too. When (not if) it becomes a habit to me, too, please please shoot me before I make more of a fool of myself as I’m making anyway.

(yes, I know, this was obvious and I should have said it before but I’m kinda slow and somewhat drunk)

Academics Cannot Surf

I recently remarked on identity politics on this blog. This is another case.

Apparently, it’s fine to headline an article Has A Surfer/Snowboarder Who Lives In A Van Rewritten Physics?, or “SURFER DUDE STUNS PHYSICISTS WITH THEORY OF EVERYTHING” or “COULD THE NEXT EINSTEIN BE A SURFER DUDE?” or surf’s theory of everything, even if you talk about a guy who is “40 years old and possess[es] a Ph.D. in theoretical physics”, who “posted an academic paper called “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” to arxiv.org, a site for scientists that’s maintained by Cornell University” and who “began presenting his theory at conferences last year, and many well-regarded physicists found it interesting, even plausible”.

But nooo. He’s a surfer dude.

Let me tell you something. If I continue working odd jobs as I do now, never find my way into an academic career, but work on complex theories of literary criticism daily, for 15 years, attend professional conferences and publish my results in an academic paper, and you call me a “surfer dude” (or something like it), I will bloody your nose.

That said, the article linked above is an engrossing read and highly recommended.

Critics and Djs

Sancho’s Panza is mad

“The way things are … the critic tends to act exactly like a disc jockey. The DJ’s success, just like the new critics’, depends on his capacity for tuning in to the dance floor’s occupants, whose appetites, tastes, and level of excitement or euphoria he must divine, stimulate and encourage.”

It’s more necessary than ever for there to be critics who illuminate ideas and change opinions, rather than pander to the dance floor. A DJ is a DJ, a critic has the obligation to go against the grain, if that’s the way the gut goes.

Which is not totally off the mark, but in the comments is a nice emendation

that’s a bit of an insult to what the best DJs can do. […] In the best situations, the catharsis of the dance floor is that it’s a two-way relationship between DJ and dance floor.

And I can think of several DJs in college radio (when that meant something) who changed my tastes and my life. DJs can be cultural critics as much as anyone else.

That said, there is something about the description that sounds right. I think of it closer to the DJ in Clearchannel-era radio or the wedding DJ.

Why Dr. Who is so fuckin’ awesome

Oh the nights I’ve spent watching the Doctor hurtle through time and space. I was never quite sure how to explain what makes that series so awesome. Here are a few bits from an i09 interview with the wonderful Steven Moffat which go a long way towards explaining that

It’s aimed at kids and adults. And why should anyone care about this? If you watch it, then it’s for you. It shouldn’t matter. I mean the specific thing about it being a children’s program, is that it follows the imperatives and narrative rules and the joy of children’s fiction


It’s naughty… It’s all fear. death and screaming women. It’s innocent people being melted in the first 5 minutes of every episode. […] We’re very happy they watch it [but] every single one of them would enjoy it more if they watched it with an eight-year-old.

"Humans = Shit"

Interessante Wortwahl bei Casula

Was lernen wir also aus diesem faulen Handel? Dass Israel gut daran täte, bei nächster sich bietender Gelegenheit die heute hämisch grinsende Visage Nasrallahs in den Staub zu drücken – und die seiner Horden gleich mit. Und in Gaza genauso verfahren muss, wenn Gilad Shalit etwas zustößt: den Augiasstall komplett ausmisten.

Ich gebs ja zu. Ich mag Slipknot auch.

Deutsche Scheiße

Faire und sachliche Darstellung* Deutschlands auf einem blog.

On the drive from the airport to your home they started complaining (it seems that Germans really like to complain all the time). “The American Airline (which was American Airlines) is not as good as their “Lufthansa”, “the food on the flight was so awful”, “the people at the airport have been impolite”, “the streets are not as good as in Germany” and on and on and on.. Every time I became somewhat critical of the German “culture” or their past they attacked America! I brought up the Holocaust and they said: “Hitler created jobs and your President George W. Bush is worse than Hitler!” I did not even dignify this with a response. One one point I just stopped the car and got out for a minute. The complete visit was almost unbearable until Sunday, when I had to throw them out!

Und dann noch dieses Bild, typisch für eine typische deutsche Straße (The true face of Germany. Syringe and broken glass covered with feces). Verschiedene Darstellungen hier, hier, und hier runden das Bild ab. Darf ich bitte die folgende Bitte unterstützen und -schreiben

Let your representative know that it might be necessary to attack Germany in the near future and also demand that Germany has to be kicked out of the UN and NATO.

* schade finde ich nur, daß die satirische Natur der Seite leider viele gute Ansätze kaputt macht. Sehr ärgerlich. Die haben ja literally recht. Aber gut. Man nimmt was man kriegt.


Zwicky @ the Language Log is tired of the same ol’ sexism masquerading as science. This time it’s about the New Scientist cover story:

Oh, spit! Here we go again, with reports of previous studies of anatomical and neurological differences (critiqued in a long series of postings here) interpreted as establishing categorical differences between the sexes and so echoing “common knowledge” in a crude way. I haven’t the heart to reflect on yet another chapter in this story.

"Senile Selbstbefriedigung": Kertész über Kunst

Der wunderbare Imre Kertész:

Wäre es das, was die Literaten “Begabung” nennen? Ich glaube kaum. Mit keiner meiner Taten, Worte, Äußerungen habe ich je ein Zeichen irgendeiner Begabung oder Originalität gegeben – allenfalls damit, daß ich am Leben blieb. Ich habe mich nicht in erfundene Geschichten hineingeträumt; ich mußte nicht einmal etwas mit dem anzufangen, was mir widerfuhr. Die erlösende Stimme der Berufung drank kein einziges Mal an mein Ohr, die Summe meiner Erfahrungen konnte nur meine Überflüssigkeit bestätigen, nie meine Wichtigkeit. Das erlösende Wort war mir nicht zu eigen; Vollkommenheit hat mich nicht interessiert, und auch nicht Schönheit, von der ich nicht einmal weiß, was das ist. Den Gedanken an Ruhm halte ich für senile Selbstbefriedigung, den an Unsterblichkeit einfach für lächerlich.

– Imre Kertész, Fiasko (trans. György Buda)



Die deutsche Ausgabe allerdings basiert auf der englischen Übertragung und ist also das Resultat einer doppelten Übersetzung. Beide Male habe der Text etwas verloren, beim ersten Mal das “Düstere” und die “existenzielle Angst” des indischen Originals, beim zweiten Mal ein paar “kulturspezifische Nuancen”, die in der englischen Übertragung wohl noch mitschwangen. Wenner stört das alles nicht sehr, da sich die Übersetzung von Ursula Gräfe “wunderbarer” als die englische Grundlage lese, und die Rezensentin fühlt sich bei den geglätteten Sätzen und dem “gehobenen” Ton an Novalis und seinen Heinrich von Ofterdingen erinnert.

Kein Wunder, daß deutsche Übersetzungen so furchtbar sind, wenn das der Anspruch ist. Wort- und Kulturkannibalismus. Die Pest. Bah.


Love this Song (16) – "Yeah I hope I never get sober"

Mountain Goats, NO Children

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow
I hope it bleeds all day long
Our friends say it’s darkest before the sun rises
We’re pretty sure they’re all wrong
I hope it stays dark forever
I hope the worst isn’t over
And I hope you blink before I do
Yeah I hope I never get sober
And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can’t find one good thing to say
And I’d hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You’d stay the hell out of my way
I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

Confusing Canucks

Interesting account of a weird exchange. Apparently the estate of Ms. Bishop doesn’t grant requests very easily. This is their major objection:

Please note that this request has been denied by our editorial board as Ms. Bishop is considered an American poet and including her work in an all-Canadian anthology may cause some confusion.

Juan Goytisolo: The Blind Rider

Blind Rider is a book that punishes too hasty readers. Not in the way that actually ‘understanding’ the book becomes a problem, or, Finnegan’s Wake-like, an impossibility. You can plow hastily through the book and feel you understood everything. Blind Rider is a strange novel, very well written (as far as you can see this through the usual haze of translation), but strangely not quotable.

At the center of it is a man who has lost his wife and is struggling with the way he perceives life, and more specifically, reality, religion and love. It is composed of small chapters, that often move from wonderfully observed particular to general observation, within generally three pages. There are differently structured chapters, of course, it’s not a strictly composed novel, as far as I see it.

Many passages are shockingly vapid, empty, cliché, they are good imitations of bad ‘philosophical’ literature, reminiscent of what Bernhard attacked so brilliantly as ‘writers of aphorisms’ in Der Untergeher. There is obviously a shallowness even in the passages that detail his loss. Taken chapter by chapter, not reading the whole novel, I’d say these are bad chapters, probably part of a bad book. Again, much of this is language, phrasing, things that could be due to whatever bee crept under this translator’s (Thomas Brovot) bonnet.

So, what do I mean by saying it punishes the hasty reader? Maybe I am, as usual, talking about my fat and bearded self. I came to this book with high expectations. One could call me a connoisseur of bleakness and by all accounts this book promised to be a trove of bleakness. And it started off so well, too. And I dug in, swallowing the book in big hungry gulps. I was, however, soon disappointed, because there is an abyss of abysmal writing to bleakness. Because of the surplus of strong emotion that seems, to the mediocre bleak writer, perfectly communicable by words and phrases treading well known paths, this sort of word, phrase or image (in pietry more often than not heavily indebted to Trakl) recurs time and again and becomes wearisome. All this may well be ‘heart-felt’ or ‘authentic’, but these are hardly literary terms and thus have no place in a defense of this book.

So I started to move along at a more and more sluggish pace, disappointment being the trouser around my ankles keeping me from running faster through the pages of this thin book. As the discourses with God cropped up, in line with a certain popular kind of cheap pseudo-theodicy, I wasn’t even more disappointed, I couldn’t be, as it appeared to be, to me, just more of the same uninspired dirge. Yes I noticed many literary references, mostly to Tolstoy’s prose, the Kreuzer Sonata, Hadschi Murat, War&Peace, Anna Karenina (how could I not have noticed) but it appeared to be, for me, just an undemanding way of putting meat on the bones of this skeleton of a narrative.

How could I have been so mistaken! This occurred to me within an hour of finishing the book. Something wasn’t right about my impressions but, off the cuff, I wasn’t able to tell what the problem was, exactly. So I reread the novel, and, as I said: boy was I wrong about it!

A hint of how this novel works surfaces in the dense web of explicit and implicit literary references. The careful structure (not strict but still careful) assures that nothing in it feels haphazard, incidental. Reading more than five mini-chapters in a row you immediately lose whatever thought of mediocrity one may have, the mind at work is obviously a brilliant one. The question of one’s ontological status (“do I exist?”), the web of literary reference, and the aforementioned insipidness of some of the remarks, which border on caricatures of so-called philosophical discourse.

The point to this, I guess, is, what does it matter? Theoretical discourse is exposed as disposable here. What does it matter, the narrator thinks, I feel, and grimly, blackly, sometimes blackly humorous, presents these cliché puppets of such discourses. A fellow student told me last week that he considered theory to be a nice exercise for idle brains but not much use in day-to-day life. And what happened to the narrator before the novel sets in has shown this to be true, to him.

There is a loss at the heart of this novel, which borders on being a poem, so well is it composed, so few words are incidental, a loss that has caused the narrator to lose faith. Not faith in God, faith in everything, language, reality, God. This book is an effort to resurrect his faith by trying to cope with the disability this loss of faith can be to a writer. If you don’t believe in the power of words to create anew, why not use the truism that, to you, everything has become? He uses art to spin off it the feelings he isn’t able to describe adequately, my knowledge of Tolstoy has allowed for strong insights into the protagonist which were, I believe, hidden within these references, as other insights are hidden within the formulaic formulations.

In the final chapters the writing gets better as the protagonists reality merges more and more with discourse and art, and is all subsumed by it, his loss has been taken up by art and language and transformed into Nothing. Bleakness? Yep, it’s about bleakness all right, and it’s a deeper, more fundamental bleakness than most writers manage to express, because it’s not expressible. This tiny novel is like a vampire, feeding off all sorts of sources, and it’s a brilliant spectacle watching it do it’s work. ISBN


I’m very much looking forward to seeing the fruits of this call for papers.

If you’re a student of postmodern poetics or psycholinguistics, I post this note to save you some trouble, and to ask for a favor.

You’re a writer, a poet, or a student of language. You realize that contemporary poetry and poetics bear at least *some* resemblance to the speech of people who are institutionalized. I consider our friends who are institutionalized a rich trove of linguistic treasure that is ripe for appreciation, meditation, and analysis, and the study of which lies within ethical boundaries to boot.

But good luck finding transcriptions of schizophrenic speech online, or in print media, for that matter. Human subjects guidelines posted by federal funding agencies virtually guarantee that the raw content of interest to you is *absolutely and irrevocably inaccessible*. Trust me. I have tried.

But based on my (limited) experience, you will find a trove of data in articles about aphasia. I have had limited success (akin to the Bush/Cheney administration’s limited success in Iraq and Afghanistan [and where the f*** is Osama Bin Laden, BTW??]) in finding transcriptions of aphasic speech in print media, at least. The data I have been able to find has *enriched* my understanding of contemporary writing.

I humbly issue a call for submissions of data, summaries, abstracts, links, purged emails, conference papers, audio recordings, or papers, from linguists, psycholinguists, students of poetics, psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists. What data can you share that demonstrates a robust link between contemporary poetry and the thought patterns of our friends who are institutionalized?

New American Poet Laureate

Simic’s successor is Kay Ryan. Here are some poems of hers and the following quote is from a NY Times article

“I so didn’t want to be a poet,” Ms. Ryan, 62, said in a phone interview from her home in Fairfax, Calif. […] But in the end “I couldn’t resist,” she said. “It was in a strange way taking over my mind. My mind was on its own finding things and rhyming things. I was getting diseased.”

Kommentar der Woche

Neulich beim Kulla in der Eckkneipe

warum nur müssen immer die hirnlosesten und faulsten, regressivsten spinner sich auslassen über die verwirklichung von vernünftigen gesellschaftlichen konzepten? während sie doch selber meistens schon mit dem managen eines legasthenischen internetblogs ihre schwierigkeiten haben.

Cartoons once again (2)

Washinton Post

If something satirical isn’t working for you, no matter how many times someone unpacks and analyzes it, the joke won’t suddenly become funny.

And if the satire isn’t carefully calibrated to a target audience, then it will almost assuredly be remembered for its offensiveness rather than its supposedly palliative effect on the body politic.

Cartoons once again (1)

How to respond to something like the recent New Yorker cartoon? Gawker has the answer:

Were you confused when you woke up Monday and some members of the elite were outraged about something and other members of the elite were not outraged? Internicene elitist warfare! Confusing! If you were like everyone on the internet, your reaction to that New Yorker cover satirizing the rumors about the Obamas went through five steps, from shock on Sunday to acceptance earlier this afternoon.

Read the whole thing here

Reader’s Dilemma

Stretch @ the Guardian blog on a familiar ‘problem’:

Whenever I discover a new author, it always starts so well. An enticing cover image, a seductive first line, some flirtatious opening pages. Before I know where I am, he’s found his way into my bed and is keeping me awake late into the night. But as with any relationship, it isn’t long before questions of commitment crop up. As someone with a frankly promiscuous attitude towards writers (I’ll try anyone once), I always find myself asking the same question: am I really expected to read everything they’ve written? […]

One fundamental problem remains – and not just laziness (although to be honest, that’s part of it). The truth is that bad novels sometimes happen to good novelists. Absolute consistency is the hallmark of very few writers, particularly the more prolific ones. Must we, as readers, suffer bad prose for the sake of loyalty?


Don’t mess with the Nudnik

i09 on Get Smart

But the original Get Smart comes from a time when Jewish identity, and Jewish humor, were tickled by a very different set of issues in the West. It was an era when Jews in the U.S. were still struggling to be seen as anything other than mouth-breathing nerds or commie spies. Maxwell Smart is a Jew from that era: He’s a total dork who struggles to be a super-agent. In fact, he’s not even openly a Jew, though every Jew who watched that show knew what was up. (Jewish pranksters Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created the show, and a ton of Jewish guys worked on it as writers.) What’s jarring about the movie remake is how little the writers tried to update the humor.

The new Get Smart film’s references to nudniks, and Alan Arkin’s hilarious hand-wavey schtick, seem retro because they are still the covert Jewish jokes of the 1960s. They are straight from an era when Hollywood Jews were closety about their ethnic backgrounds. Despite the fact that the Get Smart TV show featured a robot named Hymie and was packed with Yiddish references, you can bet that most of its audience had no idea they were giggling at Jewish humor. To update Get Smart for a new generation, the writers needed to make all that old-school covert Jewishness into something hilariously overt, or just get rid of it.

Traduttore Traditore (2)


You wouldn’t think you could get sued over a Bible translation, but one Bradley LaShawn Fowler has filed lawsuits against two publishers demanding a total of $70 million in damages. He claims that their versions of the Bible, which condemn homosexuality, violate his rights as a homosexual man.

In Kölle Am Ring

Was für ein Saftladen. Nicht nur wendet sich zuerst die Kölner CDU gegen einen Ratsbeschluß, die Bevölkerungsmehrheit und die Vernunft, indem sie einen bereits beschlossenen und abgenickten Moscheebau behindert, jetzt gibt es ein ganz ähnliches Schmierentheater um das geplante jüdische Museum. Liza schreibt

Die Reaktionen auf den Siegerentwurf fielen durchweg positiv aus, auch bei den Stadtoberen. „Dankbar und froh“ war etwa Oberbürgermeister Fritz Schramma, dass „an dem historischen Platz, wie es ihn in dieser Konstellation nördlich der Alpen kein zweites Mal gibt“, eine Lösung gefunden wurde. Auch Kulturdezernent Georg Quander („mir fällt mit der Entscheidung ein Stein vom Herzen“) und Städtebaudezernent Bernd Streitberger („genial, eine fast poetische Architektur“) zeigten sich sehr zufrieden. Es schien, als seien alle Hürden überwunden, zumal der Förderverein zuversichtlich war, die Frage der Finanzierung – laut Schramma „eine schwierige Aufgabe, aber eine lösbare“ – schnell und erfolgreich zu klären. […]

Doch nur wenige Tage nach der Entscheidung wollten die politischen Verantwortungsträger Kölns plötzlich nichts mehr von ihrem ursprünglichen Urteil wissen. „Der Entwurf stellt einen Riesenkomplex dar, der so hoch ist wie das Rathaus“, klagte der Oberbürgermeister nun im Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.


Latest Craze

This was writ in the Independent

Islamophobia – defined in 1997 by the landmark report from the Runnymede Trust as ‘an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination’ – can be encountered in the best circles: among our most famous novelists, among newspaper columnists, and in the Church of England.

“Its appeal is wide-ranging. ‘I am an Islamophobe’, the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee wrote in The Independent nearly 10 years ago. ‘Islamophobia?’ the Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle asks rhetorically in the title of a recent speech, ‘Count me in’. Imagine Liddle declaring: ‘Anti-Semitism? Count me in’, or Toynbee claiming she was ‘an anti-Semite and proud of it’.

“Anti-Semitism is recognised as an evil, noxious creed, and its adherents are barred from mainstream society and respectable organs of opinion. Not so Islamophobia. (via)

Yes, not all assumptions here are good, but following the online bile of some bigots I know makes me somewhat stop caring for smaller details.

Freude am Rechtsstaat (II)

subwave erzählt

die wohnung eines redakteurs des freien senderkombinats (fsk) wird aufgrund haarsträubenender konstrukte durchsucht. obwohl die vorwürfe nicht im entferntesten die arbeit von fsk tangieren werden die auf den beschlagnahmten pcs befindlichen daten des fsk-magazins “transmitter” von den ermittelnden behörden nicht herausgegeben – bis heute – trotz vielfältigster hinweise auf die strafrechtliche irrelevanz der daten und die wichtigkeit dieser für die produktion des transmitters.


Freude am Rechtsstaat (I)

Spon schreibt

Ein Kriminalhauptkommissar legt schriftlich nieder, dass auch Robert Nwannas Verlobte Nicole mit auf dem Revier sei, das Wort “Verlobte” schreibt der Beamte in Anführungsstrichen. Und ergänzt: “Dabei war auch ein circa anderthalb Jahre altes weibliches Kleinkind, augenscheinlich eine Mulattin.”

Guter Deutscher, oder: von Splittern und Balken

Aus einer amazon.de Kundenrezension eines sehr kurzen Reiseführers namens The Xenophobe’s Guide to Germans

Ich hatte mir zuerst den “Xenophobe’s Guide to Swedes” gekauft und fand diesen, genauso wie mein schwedischer Freund, sehr amüsant und größtenteils auch zutreffend. Derartig “ermutigt” habe ich dann dieses Buch erworben und kann eigentlich nur sagen, daß ich sehr enttäuscht bin.
Die beiden Autoren ergehen sich fast ausschließlich in Stereotypen und veralteten Vorurteilen. Man möchte sie wirklich fragen, in was für einer Grotte sie die letzten 100 Jahre verschlafen haben.


Falls jemand aus Bonn zufällig hier mitliest: Samstag ist große Nazidemo und Gegendemo. Ausführlicher steht das hier:

Es steht zu vermuten, dass am 12. Juli eine große Anzahl Nazis aus dem gesamten Bundesgebiet anreist, um an der Demonstration rund um die BPjM teilzunehmen in dem Glauben, sie hätten an dem Tag einen enspannten Aufenthalt in Bonn. Um das zu verhindern und den Nazis zu zeigen, dass sie unerwünscht sind rufen verschiedene Organisationen zur AKTION auf. Unter dem Motto, “Kein Fußbreit den Faschisten! Friedlich und entschlossen den Naziaufmarsch verhindern” werden neben Vertretern der Bonner Parteien, wie FDP, Bünsnis90/die Grünen, SPD, auch Organisationen wie die Antifa Bonn/Rhein-Sieg, Bonner Synagogengemeinde, Caritas und andere anwesend sein. Es wäre das richtige Zeichen, wenn möglichst viele zusammen kommen würden und bei der Gegendemonstration anwesend sind. Ihr seid dabei? Klasse! Die Demonstration startet am 12. Juli um 08:00 Uhr vor dem DGB-Haus Bonn, Endenicher Straße 127.

Thomas M. Disch RIP

From the last interview with one of the great masters of English-language SF

I mean, I never know what my divine powers are going to do often, until they’ve done it.

This comes via i09 and here’s a bit of what they wrote

I have been alternating between sadness and screaming FUCK! really loudly for the past 24 hours since hearing that brilliant, angry writer Thomas M. Disch killed himself on July 4. He was the author of some of the creepiest, most amazing SF-themed social satires I have ever read. […] It’s clear from his work that Disch had become mournful and fascinated with the afterlife (if still in a satirical way). Disch’s partner Charles had been very ill before he died, and that sickness wiped out his savings and Disch’s. Before he committed suicide, Disch had been struggling with his landlord to remain in his rent-controlled apartment, which the landlord claimed he couldn’t keep because it was in his dead partner’s name. Thomas M. Disch, you will be missed.

Ain’t that true. 😦

On hopes, disappointments and surprises: recent books by Günter Grass and Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie and Günter Grass, two of my favorite living writers, have both published new books recently. Both writers have a mixed track record of late. Rushdie took a downward turn with The Ground Beneath Her Feet and hit literary rock bottom with the astonishingly bad Fury. He regained some ground since, with the mixed but good Shalimar the Clown. It wasn’t all good, in retrospect there were many problems with it but I for one heaved a big sigh of relief upon reading it. Especially the Kashmir passages were among his very best work, and in the WWII passages I felt he was slowly getting the hang of writing about the west without descending into self-parody.

Grass has started his bad years with Mein Jahrhundert (My Century), which showcased why he shouldn’t write more short prose, but wasn’t as excruciatingly bad as the poetry he published in the following years. Novemberland and Letzte Tänze were bad. Very bad. Embarrassingly bad. Lord knows, Grass was one of the best German post-WWII poets when he started his career, I’d still recommend his debut volume of poetry, Die Vorzüge der Windhühner to anyone who cares for poetry and my opinion. I can’t really explain what happened. He also published a novel that read like a bad parody of himself, Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk).

So I awaited both writers’ new books with hopes and fears. With Grass, admittedly, the hope was solely based on my love for his older work and wasn’t strong enough to make me pay for the hardcover. When I finally bought the paperback of Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Peeling the Onion) I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, some irritating ticks, too much talk of Grass’ penis and too much of a hurry marred the book, but it cohered wonderfully, was a great read and contained much of what I loved and love in Grass’ work. A shifty memoirist, he slips in and out of truth, offers interpretations for his own work by claiming real life counterparts to some of his most famous creatures, including the precocious son of an acquaintance of his, who walks into the living room with his tin drum. Grass relates of his talks with a friend in the army, who was to become Pope Benedikt XVI, he does a good job of discussing Germany’s dark past without providing excuses (but also without being really open about it, more on this soon) and his writing often shines as it did in the old days. It’s the old baroque Grass again, who lays it on too thickly but it feels rarely forced. An inspired book.

Not so The Enchantress of Florence. Well. There are two ways of looking at the book. They are not compatible, but they are both true. According to one it’s easily his best work since The Moor’s last Sigh. No matter how you look at it, it’s not as good as Moor or the Verses, or Shame, or Children, or indeed Haroun, but it bests the rest of his novels. There is some glorious writing and there are few writers out there who can do as much justice to the sumptuousness of the setting of the novel as Rushdie can. Without even having to indulge in long descriptions, it’s there, in his prose. He needs few words to paint a whole, finely detailed, rich world. Days after finishing the Enchantress I had vivid visions of Florence. It made me pull Mandragola and The Prince off shelves and reread them.

There are many strange and great characters, often pained with broad brushstrokes that left an intricate pattern in the novel. The story is straightforward enough told with an enormous pace, actually, but without ever seeming hurried. He seems to have regained his talent for telling a rich story in few words, something which has amazed me ever since Shame (which, at the time, I picked up reluctantly, as any thin book, but which, in retrospect, seems like that house in Danielewski’s House of Leaves, it’s bigger inside than outside.)

However, there are, once we invoke the masterpieces of this great writer, some respects in which The Enchantress somewhat short. It’s never as moving, as warm, as his earlier work. People move past you and even though their characterization is superb, the book is still cold. With a writer of Rushdie’s abilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had recognized his strengths and crafted a better novel, to the best of his abilities. Unlike Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Peeling the Onion) this is most certainly not an inspired book, no sir. It’s a supremely well crafted book, but there’s something missing at the heart of it all, although I admit that Rushdie’s language does carry a certain warmth, the warmth of a room hung with thick, rich carpets, in the midst of summer, in a household lonely with cruelty. The child alone in his room basks in the heat, but still shivers, from a different kind of cold.

And this is where we turn to the second point I alluded to before. Rushdie was never a good thinker. Take a peek into one of his volumes of essays and you’ll see what I mean. The best parts of them are inspiring, even thought provoking, but less like real philosophy and more like (at times) good aphorisms. Not that they are aphorisms. If that is confusing, it’s all you’re going to get. Well. Back to Rushdie being a second- or third-rate thinker.

It shows in the new novel which cites and sometimes paraphrases contemporary discussions of that infamous idea of the “Clash of Cultures” and of religion and fundamentalism. Tired, all too well known witticisms, bad arguments that pose in the novel as novel (excuse the pun) ideas, and brilliant and/or daring ones at that. How could Rushdie have read period pieces (it is to be assumed he has read all or most of Macchiavelli’s work, including the luminous work that is the Discourses on Livy) and assumed that his cut&paste method of transplanting weak contemporary arguments into that setting could work at all?

Hence my comparison to Fury. Both are, in their own ways, failed novels of ideas, in both cases because Rushdie hasn’t many good ideas, in the philosophical sense, of his own. It’s not just because Rushdie is channeling the Football Hooligans of Rational Thought, although he is, and it’s not a nice thing to behold. No, this novel immediately takes a nosedive anytime he engages in anything philosophical. It recovers quickly, but I have been known to shout angrily from time to time while reading it. I’m not sure I want to reread it. I’ll try to just remember the great parts and look forward to the new novel, which is, hopefully, emptier of philosophy and fuller of awesome (yes, I use awesome as a noun). ISBN


Poser @ the language log notes an interesting omission

On June 24, 1826 Thomas Jefferson wrote, in a letter to Roger C. Weightman:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.

Yesterday, in an Independence Day speech at Monticello, President Bush quoted Jefferson’s letter as follows:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be — to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all — the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.

Fun with Etymology

This @ the language log is hilarious

Adrian Morgan pointed out to me a Usenet comment in which someone says of some course of action that it “can hardly be a sane policy for anyone who is not evincing signs of heading distinctly dagenham”. In this context dagenham is apparently to be taken as a synonym for “insane”, by a rather devious etymological route. Dagenham is a town in Essex, England. On the District Line of the London Underground, Dagenham is three stops beyond the town of Barking (after Barking are Upney, Becontree, Dagenham Heathway, and Dagenham East). To be barking mad is to be crazy; and being dagenham is therefore being three steps beyond barking.

Bernhard lesen lernen

Bei tabula rasa ein ausgezeichneter Kurzessay über die Schwierigkeit, etwas über Bernhard zu sagen (ich habe dazu hier meinen Senf abgegeben). Herr Majistral löst das Problem, indem er über seine Erfahrung mit Bernhard spricht:

Lorsque j’ai lu « Corrections », frappé par l’étrangeté de la prose, j’ai un peu perdu mon sens de l’orientation. Fasciné, mais de l’extérieur. Plusieurs livres plus tard, j’ai été fort surpris lorsque je me suis mis à lire « Le naufragé » : la phrase bernhardienne est devenue une musique que j’ai intégrée. Dès la première page, je me suis laissé emporter, j’ai été absorbé comme rarement par cette écriture si étrange. Je n’ai certainement pas apprivoisé Bernahrd, mais je l’ai assimilé, sans m’en rendre compte, comme s’il s’agissait d’un membre de la famille ou d’un vieil ami que vous revoyez après une longue absence et que vous réalisez, étonné mais pas stupéfait, que tout se met en place immédiatement, que c’est comme s’il n était pas parti, qu’il n’y a qu’à se laisser aller, se laisser emporter par une conversation que même le temps éloignés l’un de l’autre n’a su interrompre.

Ein Professioneller

Lesenswerter Artikel bei Liza über den Professor für Sportgeschichte und Sportsoziologie an der Uni Göttingen, Arnd Krüger

Doch niemand stieß sich an diesem Interview, und so legte Krüger am 20. Juni nach, als er bei der Jahrestagung der Deutschen Vereinigung für Sportwissenschaft (DVS), Sektion Sportgeschichte, einen Vortrag mit dem Titel „Hebron und München. Wie vermitteln wir die Zeitgeschichte des Sports, ohne uns in den Fallstricken des Antisemitismus zu verhaspeln?“ hielt. „Die 1972 beim Olympiaattentat durch palästinensische Terroristen getöteten israelischen Athleten hätten von den mörderischen Plänen gewusst und seien freiwillig in den Tod gegangen – ‚um der Sache Israels als ganzer zu nutzen’“, fasste unter anderem die Süddeutsche Zeitung, die sich auf Teilnehmer der Tagung berief, Krügers Darstellungen zusammen. „Dieser spektakuläre Opfergang hätte die Schuld (und auch die Schulden) Deutschlands gegenüber dem Staat Israel verlängern sollen. Zudem konstruierte der Professor Zusammenhänge zwischen diesem angeblichen Opfergang sowie einem unterschiedlichen Körperverständnis, das in Israel herrsche. Im Vortrag hieß es, die Abtreibungsrate in Israel sei bis zu zehnmal höher als in anderen westlichen Industrienationen. Die jüdische Kultur versuche, Leben mit Behinderungen massiv zu verhindern.“


Nur der Wortwahl wegen erwähnt. Die CSU hat ein neues Gesetz auf den Weg gebracht und Papi ist stolz:

“Damit zeigen wir erneut, wer Marktführer im Bereich innere Sicherheit in Deutschland ist”, erklärte dagegen Bayerns Justizminister Joachim Herrmann (CSU) anlässlich der Einführung. Der Vorwurf, dass irgendein braver Bürger plötzlich von Online-Durchsuchungen betroffen sein könnte, sei absurd, sagte Herrmann. Im Gegenteil komme der Freistaat mit dem Gesetz der “verfassungsrechtlichen Schutzpflicht des Staates für seine Bürger” nach. Nach Auskunft des “Unabhängigen Landeszentrum für Datenschutz Schleswig-Holstein” gibt es derartig weitgehende Befugnisse in Europa nur in Zypern, Rumänien, Lettland und Spanien.

Where have all the standards gone…

Oh, well done, folks, well done. The James Merrill Writer-in-Residence Program apparently offered the job to a Mr. Pjotr Gwiazda, whose book I called “exasperatingly bad” (we will not even mention his poetry). Good thing then, that the man who, according to McClatchy, insisted on his biography being written not by a homosexual, is now commemorated by a fool who wrote a whole damn book about Merrill’s homosexuality, basing his whole flimsy argument on that fact, practically wiping his arse with the man’s poems in the process. Whatever he’s going to do in that quaint house, he’s not going to “complete a project of literary or academic merit”, going by his past ‘accomplishments’. Oh, James.

"the turban effect"

Mhm. This, as an addendum to my rant here.

A Muslim-style turban is perceived as a threat, according to a new study, even by people who don’t realize they hold the prejudice, dubbed “the turban effect” by researchers.

Research volunteers played a computer game that showed apartment balconies on which different figures appeared, some wearing Muslim-style turbans or hijabs and others bare-headed. They were told to shoot at the targets carrying guns and spare those who were unarmed, with points awarded accordingly.

People were much more likely to shoot Muslim-looking characters – men or women – even if they were carrying an innocent item instead of a weapon, the researchers found.

“Whether they’re holding a steel coffee mug or a gun, people are just more likely to shoot at someone who is wearing a turban,” says author Christian Unkelbach, a visiting scholar at Australia’s University of New South Wales. “Just putting on this piece of clothing changes people’s behaviour.”

Just, y’ know. Food for thought. Generally speaking, yes, I distrust studies like these, but because it fits my own argument, I’ma turn a blind eye on this. Liberal bias. Yessir.


Rise Against

From an old-ish piece by Eboo Patel

The message was clear – Muslims need to place themselves at the heart of what is happening here and now, to conceive of themselves as citizens who contribute to matters at the center of things, not people who pass through on the margins.

In other words, it is time for the narrative to shift. American Muslims can no longer see themselves as primarily an immigrant group. We have to see ourselves as a community indigenous to America, a contributing member of a pluralist society.

It is a story that has the added benefit of being true. A significant number of the African slaves brought to America’s shores were Muslim. (See Unity Productions excellent film A Prince Among Slaves). Approximately 25 % of the American Muslim community today is African American, not immigrant, and includes some (actually, most) of American Islam’s most prominent members – Congressman Keith Ellison, comedian Dave Chappelle, hip hop artist Mos Def, and former boxer Muhammad Ali. And the children of the immigrant generation are coming of age, taking our places in professional life, buying homes, raising our own children. We have no dreams of returning to India or Indonesia. We are American. And Muslim.