Category Archives for Absurdities
Embarking on Ammons
Among my birthday presents, arriving through the mail as I am between homes and houses, was the enormous two volume edition of A.R. Ammons complete poems. The astonishment, first, that it exists. His name had slipped to the back rows, the less than notables, the – if not forgotten ones, then the ones, whose names start to slip our mind. Transcendentalism in American poetry, wasn’t there this guy, what was his name again…? And beyond this astonishment, a small surprise at the size of this, his hefty, large oeuvre, coming, of course, with a preface by Helen Vendler, who else, maybe this is mainly for her, maybe she lost track too, as books somehow started to accrue.
How do I read Ammons? We’ll see – I own some Ammons and have read all of that, but it is dwarfed by the reality of his output, the voluminous lack of restraint of a poetic masculinity that I am not sad to see leaving the stage. I will likely find the books I know and adore, and see what comes before and after, how much context and words and air surrounds the Ammons I know. I have gone straight to some of my favorite Ammons and already, I have changed while Ammons hasn’t, he hasn’t even left the protective awning of Helen Vendler’s critical support. In “Garbage,” Ammons derides an unnamed female poet, citing her words: “if I’m in / touch […] then I’ve got an edge: what / the hell kind of talk is that,” offering instead a calculated ethics of writing and rewriting, echoing the praxis of poets like Lowell, of whom his friend Kathleen Spivac remarked: “I’ve never […] seen a poet rewrite his poems so much.”
Looking at these volumes, over 900 pages each, at first I wondered whether this might not be the right poet for our searching, environmentally sensitive times, particularly poems like “Garbage” – but Ammons is difficult, he uses his voice not always to shine a light – often he uses it to hear himself proclaim. His Homeric gestures in “Tape for the New Year,” written to the background noise of drums and an imagined chorus, have echoes in the self-importance of some male Beat poets; they, too, are difficult to read today.
Reading my way through Ammons’s poetry is a daunting task, but the work’s voice, and the poet’s awareness of form and material, of the warp and woof of textures and melodies, is worth persevering, I think.
So one year ago, not exactly one year, but more or less, God don’t start counting the days, ok it was early May 2018, 9th, or 10th, I don’t know – anyway, Scottish musician Scott Hutchison died a year ago by his own hand, or by his own volition anyway, he was found, after people looked for him for a while, floating in the River Forth, the latter being a river near/in Stirling, Scotland, and he was found there, dead, after a well documented struggle with depression, his band’s fifth album having come out recently, anyway, so they were doing a tenth anniversary tour of their album The Midnight Organ, and song #13 on that album is called Floating in the Forth, and is about suicide, let me quote it: “And fully clothed, I float away / (I’ll float away) / Down the Forth, into the sea / I think I’ll save suicide for another day” (oh yeah that worked out a-ok), I mean, if you’re thinking I used the word “floating” in describing his suicide because of the song, you’re not wrong, you know, but what else was I going to say: he was found drowned, puffed up, buoyant, drifting, bobbing, I mean of course I am going to say “floating” – it is the most fitting word here given the musical antecedent and this is always creepy, right, like an announcement, then again, ten years is a long time for an announcement, so maybe the anniversary tour was a reminder, sometimes we really don’t need reminders of our worst instincts, and anyway so I was looking at my first collection of poetry, because, you know, I don’t write poems like that any more really, I’m working on distance and structure more, but there is a lot of very direct unvarnished depression in my first book and I was looking at it and wondering whether if something happens to me and I am the miscreant who had done the happening, whether someone could look at the book and think, huh, lookit this poem this sounds a lot like what happened and what would it mean I mean I don’t think i am that person any more, but maybe at the end of the day that person is like Schwartz’s heavy bear who walks with me and I will never get rid of them and then some day, someone will look at the book and say, huh, will you look at this, he predicted it, I mean what if I suicide Nostradamus, you know.
Here is a picture of me reading in late May on my trip to Boston. This is Cambridge at the “Poetry Readings at Outpost 186” series of readings with Andrew Singer’s art all around me. Picture by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright. Among the texts I read was a brand new poem about my grandfather who has died in June.
On finding Frank Bidart
I had some collection by Frank Bidart on my shelf for what felt like almost a decade before I even looked at it. It was In the Western Night. I do not remember why or when I bought it. One night, desperate to find words to tide me over to the next day, I took it off the shelf. I was 23 and alone, marooned in a life I had not chosen and a body that had just appeared around me. Frank Bidart spoke of bodies, of fathers, of the unreality of one’s own face in the mirrors. In a new poem, Bidart speaks of learning American history from a Lowell poem. In these earlier Bidart poems that I found on my shelf, the Bostonian stateliness of Lowell is made to up a life that has more doubts, an a fuller body to deal with. There is no scaffolding in Bidart’s poems – it is Bidart’s breath, his rhythmic heart that pushes everything into its place. 25 years old, living in the ruins of an old, collapsed country, I touched these words and marveled. I found Bidart. And with every new book I found him again. In the more recent poems, even more of the scaffolding falls away, lines survive on the strength of Bidart’s invocation of an unsentimental sentimentality, an exploration of the body around one’s body, of the words in plain, exalted speech. Many years later, I sit in a crumbling apartment, in Germany’s former capital, touching the ruins of my lives with the words I have, exalted, plain. And still, when I am desperate to find words, I reach for Bidart on my shelf.
A note on Death
I have been working on fiction/memoir relating to my family – there are a lot of stories to be told, a lot of paths to followed. Most of my immediate family, two generations, one generation back, are some form of immigrant. But my grandfather is currently dying as I type this and everything is stopping in its tracks. I cannot properly explain what a loss this loss of my grandfather would be – would, mind you. He’s had an incredible life so far, and I’m visiting him across the country tomorrow, today, that is, later today, I suppose.
Death is strange. As a weird man who has been obsessed with death, largely my own death, but also that of others since childhood, a man who visits cemeteries, and is largely alone in this – it is not accompanied by a real fascination, or a gothic habit. It’s just – death.
But this is different. Today – yesterday, I suppose, I mean, dates get blurry when you write at night – my father, who lives far away from me, apparently locked himself in a room to cry after he had a phone conversation with my grandfather. I myself was stuck in a different room for an hour, similarly struggling. The image of my father in his bedroom, not able or willing to communicate with his family, bereft, even though nobody has died yet, feels like the fingers of death on our lives, a moment that we will all remember, even those, like me, who have not been there. Something has broken in him, in us, and there’s a feeling that it has also infected our memories.
How far back does death reach? Already, I find it difficult to call upon memories of my grandfather that are not touched by death, memories of my own life. At every important turn in my life, he was there, usually quiet, grumbling. A broad man of small stature who worked hard for everything in his life, who worked hard to survive. And my father, a much taller man, in his room, this moment which I have not witnessed myself, it pulsates in my imagination. I have not been able to shake it.
The first and last time I remember seeing my father cry was when his grandfather died. We all stood at his grave, my father cried, I couldn’t cry. I pinched myself – there must be a way to cry, but nothing happened. My father cried, standing in the cold on the slighly hilly cemetery in the little East German village. I stood there, pretending to cry, ashamed of failing some protocol. This time is different. i have been intermittently crying for two weeks. Maybe I am becoming a warped version of my father. Maybe that is what death does.
Portrait with cat
Marie Kondo Lite
At least in my corner of Twitter, the new Marie Kondo netflix show has caused ripples of upset – less about the suggestions regarding cleaning your apartment she makes, and more about how those suggestions apply to books. To a bookish person, the basic mantra – hold up something and see if it sparks joy, if not, chuck it out – can apply to pillows or knick-knacks (though even there there is resistance), but surely not to books. As Ron Charles notes in his exasperated complaint about Marie Kondo’s show and book(s), she says holding it up does not include reading from that book, because that might muddle your opinion. I mean, God forbid that reading a few sentences might spark joy that seeing a cover might not. Strictly speaking, I share that upset opinion, and my apartment, with all of its walls lined with books, bears witness to that. Similarly, I also understand the other side of this, given that I know that romantic partners may have had a hard time accepting the vast sea of books. Certainly, my decision to hold on to a lot of books is indulging a personal sense of memory, loss, words, a very personal sense of comfort and a quiet sense of pleasure. It ties into other personal habits that are difficult to square with partners, like my penchant for nighttime writing and constant reading.
That said, everything changes eventually. This past year, due to space issues, I had to cull some books. This week, among many others, I got rid of a book I have owned for almost exactly two decades – for some reason, I bought Thomas Lehr’s bildungsroman Nabokovs Katze when it came out in 1999 and have kept it around until today. I carried it from apartment to apartment, from one corner of Germany to another one and finally to Bonn, where I have lived too long already. So this week, I took the book from where it was on my shelf, I looked at it, and considered why I own the book – the answer is: because I own it. Back when I read it for the first time, I disliked the book, and the one time I reread it since, I liked it even less. As a reader, I never had a ton of patience for these flat autofictional titles where some masculine erotic fantasy is offered as a lazy masturbatory replacement for introspection. And I have less patience for this nonsense today. There’s a well regarded Spanish writer that an acquaintance of mine translated into French that I tried real hard to appreciate, but this writing, particularly with a connection to cinematic knowledge or background, is so common, and boring and dull, and I don’t need that kind of thing in my life. What makes it worse, Lehr is stylistically dull dull dull despite inexplicable critical praise for his style. So out it goes.
This is my Marie Kondo rule adaptation:
- Did I like it?
- If not, is it interesting?
- If not, is the book as an object worth keeping (rare/beautiful book?)?
- If not, is the book worth keeping as a memory support?
- Is it part of some collection?
In the case of Thomas Lehr’s voluminous meditation on a masturbatory boyhood and lazy cinema references, the answer to all of these is no. The only reason I own this specific book is because I have owned it for two decades. Which is no longer acceptable given the danger of being crushed by my own books. I own too many books to keep one on the shelves that fits none of these categories. Bye bye.
Last time I was in Paris I went to (and recommended on the blog) a bunch of bookshops. This time I wasn’t there for a conference so I had time to visit more, but I would only recommend three of them. They are from left to right (click to enlarge): the Librairie Vendredi at the top of rue des Martyrs, Le Monte-en-l’air, nestled between a church and the busy rue Ménilmontant, as well as the queer-themed Les Mots à la Buche, just around the corner from tourism hotspot rue des Rosiers. At the bottom, all the books I bought, minus one that I cannot currently locate.
Happy New Year
The past year was not ideal, at least for me, but let’s hope for a better new year. It began at the riverbank of the Seine, in Quai d’Orléans, fitting, since I’ve been writing about Bishop for about seven years now. In the weeks and months to come I need to work on getting more of my writing and reading published somehow, I mean for what it’s worth I do a lot of it. Thank you readers who have stuck around for indeed sticking around.
So I’m in Paris for a few days around New Year’s – though I haven’t actually figured out what to do ON New Years – and I arrived today. I’m a bit under the weather, a burgeoning cold, exhaustion, depression, everything somehow caused me to stay inside for much of the day – the first thing I did once I did leave the apartment was to go to a bookshop. I have a list of bookshops in Paris I find intriguing (and last time I visited, I went to a bunch), and I somehow can’t stay away. I can’t stop buying, sorting, reading books – and bookshops are more than just a conduit for this addiction. They are powerfully rich places – when I visited Poland and Finland this year, I went into several well reviewed bookshops, although they did not stock books in languages I can readily read or even understand. I’ve expressed my admiration for booksellers before, but it bears repeating: I love bookshops and I cannot stay away.
For the first time in what feels like forever, I will be having a holiday-holiday, and not just a handful of days wrapped around a conference. I will be spending a few days in Tallinn next week – and afterwards a few days in Helsinki. Anything you can recommend me in the way of spending my time in Tallinn? Or things to read? I am currently reading Sofi Oksanan in preparation for the trip. Tipps? Suggestions? What is essential to eat?
On Selfies and Poems
I sent a couple of poems away to a competition two days ago and it makes you wonder as you look at the pile of poems that you’ve amassed since your last book: is this really you? Can’t you do this better? Didn’t you write something last week that you liked better that you think works better that is smarter more lyrical more worth pouring into poetry but then you look at that and it already congealed into strangeness and it feels like a selfie you took last week where you have too many chins and awkward hair and didn’t your face look better – I mean I take a load of selfies for various reasons and you know those jokes and sketches where a guy in the mirror mirrors all your movement, tricking you into believing they are real and meanwhile you look at the screen saying: oh, that guy looks nothing like the guy in the mirror, nothing! but you look at your selfie and you scream that guy looks nothing like me and for fuck’s sake this isn’t even Heraclitus, this is just embarrassing to be honest and you know what’s embarrassing? These poems, and you don’t know who to show them to for triage because you don’t want to be embarrassed in front of people you genuinely respect so you sit on the floor in a pile of poems and your weird face looks up at you from every angle, bald spot here, strange torso here and so on and on until you go blind and dissipate nec corpus remanet
Cockroaches and Books
So I have a lot of books in this apartment of mine, they are sprouting like a malignant plant and God knows there are many, many unread one – it’s not just a museum of The Things I Have Read, I keep buying books like a meth addict. And sometimes there are whole writers whose work I have surreptitiously acquired in bits and pieces but never gotten around to read. I don’t know how long I will have to wait to shuffle off my mortal coil but while I am forced to stick around, I keep digging into these shelves, adding things, replacing things, reading, reading, reading. I have no real prejudice when it comes to genre, though I obviously have strong opinions when it comes to quality. My books are in three languages, the three I read most easily, German, English and French, though I have a small brace of Russian books here. As I type that last sentence, I am left to wonder whether I have written this prose piece before, whether I have forgotten that I wrote it, whether my life or my memory of it which, ultimately, is the same thing, have folded in on each other again. My memory is notoriously bad. I write about books here so as not to forget. Between the ages of 14 and 25 I had read Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” more than 6 times, as somehow, the previous readings had left no permanent imprint in my brain – and I was delighted again, every time. Sometimes I have a memory of some text or voice and it sits in some recess of my brain like an angry, cornered rat, attacking my present thinking. That is another reason to keep all these books around; I can get up and pick books off the shelves until I find the text whose ghostly memory haunted whatever I was presently reading. But primarily, these books are not about the present or the past – they are about the folds of future possibilities. These malignant plants that have taken over all the walls in this apartment and some of the floors and night stands and window sills they are the texts and books that I might read in whatever time I have left remaining. So I write and write and write, a poem or an essay per day and I read from these books, these walls of paper and how could I ever switch to ebooks: my life is here, printed and bound and sorted onto shelves. It cannot be deleted with a push of a button and neither can I. Like a cockroach, i stick around.
Selfie from San Francisco
When what you do has to do with writing and thinking and translating and writing, having a temporary mental breakdown means all your work comes to a stop. I am writing again this month, but I have no idea how to reply to a lot of emails from people I solicited last year, or friends who gave me opportunities or look at my list of places to send abstracts or poems or short stories, God knows I write a little of everything somehow.
This is not to complain although it may read like it. But as I am sitting here at my computer, looking at drafts and notebooks, the devastation of two fallow months is enormous, and translates into setbacks, and possibly other fallow months down the line. And I have lived with this for so many years, losing a week here, a month there, and it has cut deep gashes into my CV and you can’t explain this to people. If I can’t write I can’t write. I can push myself here and there, but there’s a limit.
And then I sit here, balding, tired, on a cold March night, with a cat on my lap, a weird writer-translator version of Dr. No, I guess, picking up the pieces, writing a new draft here, a new poem there. And this is how it goes. And this is why I have this blog. I don’t put a lot of work into these reviews but they help clear the mud from my brain sometimes. It is very helpful and I am grateful for every single person who reads this blog, making me feel slightly less alone in this cave of books and manuscripts and cat toys and empty coffee cups.
modoc. n. One of the several small dummies set up to be knocked over by baseballs at a carnival tent; hence, a stupid person.
mohosca. n. Muscle; energy used in work.
mojo. n. Any narcotic.
mokers, the. n. Despondency; dejection; the blues.
mokus. n., adj. 1. Drunk. 2. Liquor.
molasses. n. A good-looking used automobile displayed to attract customers to a used-car lot.
moldy fig. 1. A prude; a pedant; one whose views or tastes are old-fashioned. 2. Specif., a person who prefers traditional jazz to the progressive forms.
The Pocket Dictionary of American Slang. Eds. Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner. Pocket, 1967.
A brief personal note on Bachmann’s “Malina”
Last Christmas I visited Vienna for the first time in my life – an overwhelming experience. And a brief one. I visited for slightly less than 24 hours, a flu-stained night in the Weißgerber district inclusive. I went through a long checklist of places, cramming them all into my tight schedule, including multiple bookshops and food places. Through all this, however, I evaded one specific place, despite being rather close to it at numerous times: I did not visit the Ungargasse, the street immortalized in Ingeborg Bachmann’s novel Malina. That novel’s protagonist lived in Ungargasse 6, while Ivan, her lover, lived in Ungargasse 9, across the street. Bachmann herself never actually lived there, but she did live in the immediately adjacent Beatrixgasse.
I feel it’s hard to explain how important that novel is for me as a person. I mean, I have strong emotional attachments to a number of Austrian writers, like Josef Winkler, Hertha Kräftner, and I adore and admire the complete work of Ingeborg Bachmann, of which I own pretty much everything that’s ever been published, plus letters and the occasional secondary work. But for some reason, since high school, Malina has exerted a special kind of pull on me (I think the only German-language prose writer who has close to the same effect on me is Uwe Johnson). I considered at some point writing a review or essay about the novel, but I think it’s entirely impossible for me.
Malina is a difficult book, and critics like to point to supposed weaknesses, to strangenesses of structure and plot, to odd remarks; it’s a complex book that eludes easy classification. It’s also a book that readers have tried to simplify by reading it for autobiographical notes and import.
I have been rereading a new book on Bachmann by Ina Hartwig this past week, called Wer war Ingeborg Bachmann? Its publication right on the heels of the first two volumes of the new collected edition of Bachmann’s work, edited by Hans Höller, underlines a currently resurgent interest in Bachmann’s life. This new edition of Bachmann’s work is radically focused on Bachmann’s personal life – last year also saw the first volume of Uwe Johnson’s collected works being published. The editors of that edition started with Johnson’s first published novel (Johnson’s first written novel, Ingrid Babendererde, a complicated manuscript, isn’t slated for publication until much later). Höller does not begin with Bachmann’s first published poetry, or her early radio plays, or her earliest published prose. It starts with her last unpublished and unfinished novel, and a collection of her notes she took in/for therapy. There’s nothing that’s more personal than the latter, and her unpublished, and unfinished prose often reads like an open wound, dealing with loss, violence, sexuality and patriarchy. Höller makes his interest and focus known. He also specifically mentions, teasingly, that he will be publishing the Bachmann/Frisch letters, an almost mythical set of texts about a failed relationship which is detailed in only one longer text, Max Frisch’s novel Montauk.
There’s an unpleasant whiff to Höller’s project. It’s not new, this prurient interest in Bachmann. In a fantastic 1997 book-length essay, Ingeborg Bachmann und die literarische öffentlichkeit, Klaus Amann already details the distasteful nature of this interest, and how it harms Bachmann’s work. And to be clear – I am not innocent in this: I have read all her published letters cover to cover. I have read Höller’s two Bachmann books cover to cover and assembled a wealth of notes on them. I will read everything i can get my hands on.
But reading Ina Hartwig’s book, I found striking how it keeps circling back to the three late novels, the published Malina, and the unpublished Buch Franza and Fanny Goldmann. How it tries to read her life from these clues, and takes details of her life to “elucidate” details from the novel. Hartwig’s book has other oddities (the book is completely permeated by a bizarre obsession with Bachmann’s looks, to the point that she asked multiple interviewees whether they thought Bachmann colored her hair), but as a reader of Malina for all my adult, and most of my teenage life, Hartwig’s fleecing of Malina for clues was…unpleasant, I guess. And not from an ethical point of view. But it seemed to be based on a profound misreading of Bachmann’s text, which is vibrant with ambiguity and significance. It’s a strange spectacle to watch a book one cares so much about be so shallowly treated.
And maybe it’s just me. I cannot explain why I was so terrified to go to Ungargasse. Maybe because I am not convinced that the street I know from the book is there. That it’s visitable. It’s a strange book. And clearly I cannot write cogently about it.
For what it’s worth…
…here is Deborah Smith in her own words in the LARB, published yesterday. Look, I started to annotate the thing in my head (because, I mean, oh man), but ultimately, I found I’ve spent too much energy on this already, particularly with this improvised rant. Smith’s essay speaks for itself. I’m tired.
On being grouchy about #Translation and Han Kang
This is a short note regarding, once again, after this post, the Han Kang / Deborah Smith debate. I’m writing this directly into the CMS so excuse any infelicities or oddities beyond the usual.
I do not necessarily wish to re-open the discussion about translation. I’ve had many frustrating, mind-numbing discussions with people on the topic. I’ve heard all kinds of terrible arguments. The most recent text about it, a poetically written article in le New Yorker, is interesting in that it doesn’t really try to defend the indefensible, despite praising, overall, the way Smith and Han Kang deal with translation.
The author in the New Yorker, Jiayang Fan, says at some point, “This isn’t what’s normally meant by translation.” – and she’s right. And for all I care the debate can end here. That is not what we mean when we say translation. And Han Kang’s English books, seeing as they can indeed best be described as a “collaborative work,” should have Deborah Smith’s name on the cover. I have no problems with invasive translations if they are marked as such. Look. I have two volumes of translations by Paul Celan on the shelf. They are some of my most cherished books. Celan was a linguistic marvel. BUT all of the poems read as if they had been written or edited by Celan. They are, to a very large extent, Celan poems, not poems by Mandelstam. It’s not subtle: I have two slim German volumes of Ungaretti’s poems here, one with Celan’s renditions, one with Bachmann’s. You can immediately point out which are Celan’s. It’s incredibly clear and obvious.
Look, for someone of little talent and skill like me who speaks too few languages, who travels little, lives in the country he grew up in etc., translations are necessary and at the same time a matter of trust. I trust you, translator, to render for me the work of a writer who I cannot read in his own words. And sometimes this involves overlooking some obvious issues. I adore Megan McDowell’s translations. And not because she’s such a transcendent translator: most of my adoration stems from the fact that the books she picked for translation are so good. I can see the original shine through in weird spots, but that’s fine. I trust Megan McDowell to give me the book as best she can. That’s “what’s normally meant by translation.”
Jiayan Fan, in her New Yorker article, also says “the latitude of Robert Lowell’s poetic “imitations” comes to mind.” – and that’s entirely accurate. I have written about that book of Lowell’s, and smarter people than me have pointed to its many many issues. Among the problems is that sometimes, Lowell was just re-mixing older translations. Sometimes he would translate texts from languages he didn’t speak in the first place. That is, indeed, not “what’s normally meant by translation.” And I admire Lowell’s Imitations. I think it’s one of his best books. However, none of these translations should be given to someone interested in, Say, Osip Mandelstam.
Earlier in the same article, the author dismisses Charse Yun’s careful criticism by saying that the things he notes are peripheral. They are not “the questions at the heart of Han’s work.” – Indeed, the debate about Deborah Smith’s translations goes to the heart of what we believe literature is. If we think literature is a message, some deeper content that can be paraphrased any which way, where the actual shape and color of the prose is merely incidental, then yes, maybe these are good translations. But if we think literature is made of words and words matter, then, fuck no. All translations are imperfect in some way, and to be honest, I don’t entirely believe in the translatability of poetry in the strict sense at all. But translators – we, or let’s say, I, trust them with doing their best to do this.
The article by Jiayan Fan suggests that, eh, the actual words on the page – not so important. What counts are the deeper questions and issues. The “greater fidelity” to what Han Kang has to say, not the measly detail of how she says it. It’s not an uncommon attitude. I have seen very popular short stories praised recently that were horrifically written as prose, but praised as “well written” – a statement that, upon reflection, referred to structure and the verisimilitude of the events depicted. But I, personally, don’t share that attitude. I don’t understand how anyone interested in literature can share that attitude, but I accept that I may be in the minority here. That is, I think, the basic difference and the bottom line here. That is why discussions on the topic have been so frustrating for me. I can accept that many people disagree.
And that would be all I have to say about the New Yorker article and the situation overall, but I have two remarks to add. Bug-bears if you will. One is every single review that discusses Han Kang’s “style” in English. I don’t care whether you believe the words matter (and thus we get Deborah Smith’s intense distortion of Kang) or whether you think the “deeper questions” matter (and thus we get “a greater fidelity” (to quote Smith)). Let’s be clear: under no circumstances are you getting Han Kang’s style or an approximation of it. The difference between the two positions doesn’t touch this question. The facts as raised by Charse Yun are clear. The difference between me and the millions of fans and defenders of the Kang/Smith collaborations is that they think it’s irrelevant. If you claim you’re getting Han Kang’s style you’re wrong.
The same goes for the idea that maybe Deborah Smith is a better translator in her newer books, less invasive, producing more of “what’s usually meant by translation.” This should be incredibly easy to test. Charse Yun makes clear claims: “Han’s sentences are spare and quiet, sometimes ending in fragments. In contrast, Smith uses a high, formal style with lyrical flourishes. As one critic noted, the translation has a “nineteenth-century ring” to it, reminiscent of Chekhov.” Look at the new translations. Has the style of the books changed? Is it more sparse now? Are the lyrical flourishes gone? I looked at the more recent translations and the answer is: no. And that should be immediately clear to any reader. I am honestly baffled by this suggestion of her maybe having changed her ways. It’s testable. There’s no need to throw up your hands and say “maybe!” GOOD LORD.
I’m sorry if this ran a bit long. Forgive me. This is not a theoretical essay, though I may have a draft of one lying around somewhere (focusing more on this aspect). This is just me sitting here being a bit upset. The best book on translation I have personally read, by the way, makes a case for translation as inspired deviance. I am not per se critical of that position. I guess I am writing as someone depending on that trust, that unspoken contract between me and the translator.
25 Favorite 2017 Albums
I don’t usually make this list, but last year I was listening to a much more diverse list of albums than in previous years, and apart from discovering the work of artists like Lisa LeBlanc, Oxmo Pucchino and Alain Bashung, and listening to an indecent amount of Sondheim musicals, I was also listening to a fair variety of music that came out in the same year. The list below isn’t of course some kind of firm canon. Xiu Xiu’s new album could have been on the list, John Moreland, Colter Wall and the Secret Sisters all published excellent country albums last year. Big Thief’s Masterpiece was, indeed, a masterpiece. Neil Young’s latest archival release Hitchhiker was pleasant and enjoyable. There’s a new German band called Faber, whose album Sei ein Faber im Wind scratches an itch I have. I mean, this list could have looked different. I have not listened to the new Björk album; it should probably be on here. So there’s something transient to this list. Nevertheless, I kept fiddling with it over the past hour and have now settled on its current shape. I like this. This is what I liked last year.
- Perfume Genius – No Shape
- Arca – s/t
- Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
- Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
- Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
- Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
- Lorde – Melodrama
- Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
- Tyler the Creator – Flower Boy
- Sampha – Process
- Zugezogen Maskulin – Alle gegen Alle
- Migos – Culture
- Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
- Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
- CupcakKe – Queen Elizabitch
- Moses Sumney- Aromanticism
- The Mountain Goats – Goths
- Bedwetter – Volume 1
- Mark Eitzel – Hey, Mr. Ferryman
- Wiley – Godfather
- J. Hus – Common Sense
- Glassjaw – Material Control
- Playboi Carti – s/t
- Khalid – American Teen
I wish you all, those few who read this blog and those many who don’t, a merry Christmas. I hope you spend time with your loved ones, however you define that group for yourselves: family, friends, lovers or a combination thereof. This has been a very very difficult year for me, and I’m sure for some of you it hasn’t been easy either. I salute those of you who have had a lovely year and commiserate with those who have had a different one. I’ll probably be writing more about my year, and I will be offering an overview of this year’s reviews as well, but I am not necessarily in the mood to draw up lists and results and proclaim on The State Of The Marcel tonight. Instead I’m sitting here, in Bucharest, near the Dâmbovița river, in a cozy apartment, slightly lubricated by some gentle alcohol and some lovely food. I’m a bit more sentimental than I usually am, so this little paragraph is what you get. Like Blanche, I oftentimes rely on the kindness of strangers and I have had a lot of strangers who have been exceptionally kind to me. There’s Joe, whose work I greatly admire, who read and advised me about the most personal piece of writing I have ever published, a short piece that is part of a much longer manuscript of autobiographical fragments, lamentations and musings. There’s Nate, a magnificent writer, who has given me advice, help and more on publishing things, on making a little bit of money on the side with my skills that feel fundamentally unmonetizable. There’s Tristan who very kindly published my first piece of work this year. There are all the kind bloggers and Twitter users who have commented on or retweeted my work. And then there’s all the friends in my life, of whom I have more than I deserve or genuinely expected to have at this point in my life, not to mention my family or families. I had an emotionally absolutely miserable December, I didn’t send out any of the things I wrote, I read very little, and it wasn’t a great time overall, but today is a good opportunity to consider the gifts I have been given by all of you, strangers, friends and family alike. Thank you. Thank you everyone and Happy Holidays to you all.
über das ertrinken
ein flirren im hinterkopf und ein gefühl des ertrinkens unter der schädeldecke. irgendwas jährt sich immer und man geht klirrend zu bett. ich habe in den letzten zwölf jahren neben einem klumpen uranglas geschlafen und vielleich wächst mir deshalb ein zweites leben. man sitzt im november neben einem kaffee, einem knäckebrot und zwölf ungelesenen manuskripten. ich zähle: eins zwei drei usw. ich zähle auf deutsch sonst denke ich überraschend wenig auf deutsch oft denke ich auf english ich denke in sätzen, in satz- und gedichtanfängen vielmehr. manchmal rede ich auf russisch mit mir. ich kann keine filme über seeunglücke sehen. vor nichts habe ich soviel angst wie vor dem ertrinken und dann sitzt man im november hier und fühlt wie sich der schädel füllt und alles wegschwemmt alle sätze mit punkt komma usw. es bleibt nur ein flirren. ich sitze im ungefähr, und denke in keiner sprache. überhaupt, was denken. ich have angst vor dem tod. so weit ist es schon gekommen.
Sometimes I don’t write
when I remember there’s no point and the creases in my legs and my effluvious clothes and the years of carrying around this heavy body with me and thousands of poems I’ve written so fucking much can you believe that and I carry all of it with me and on me and at my age eventually I’ll get trouble with my knees that’s what my mother says and she should know. My grandmother visits the cemetery once a week, even though they removed my great grandfather’s grave, there’s a gap now, with freshly sown grass, though it is brown now, nothing grows in autumn except death. That isn’t a good phrase, I should strike it, but I carry that with me, with my body and my hair and the half-dozen fragmented languages in my head. Sometimes I don’t write and I step out of the house and walk until my knees hurt I live in a small city surrounded by wood and thousands of poems that I wrote at some point not to mention all the fucking short stories. Sometimes I stand in a park God knows there’s enough parks here and there’s a conspicuous gap between trees, you count them, one, two, three, four, and then nothing for a bit, and then you sort of have to start at one again. I didn’t use to think much of that, but my grandmother looks at a rectangle of grass once a week, and in that gap she sees her family buried, they have all been buried there for generations and she is the last to live in that village, she won’t be buried in the family crypt and I am sitting here with a black notebook like the fucking hipster I am and want to write, but sometimes I just don’t write because there’s no point. There are things to do, there must be things to do with my hands or my feet or some other part of this enormous odorous physical burden, but I don’t know what, so I write something, and often that is a poem and it adds to what I carry around with me even though there’s no point and really I shouldn’t write but then I settle into my folds and there’s a faint smell of soft rotting oranges even when it’s cold or when the rain swallows all odors, and I just write and revise and rewrite and eventually, I mean, can you fucking believe it?
On not writing poetry
A great deal of effort is invested in the act of not writing poetry. You write a line, and another one, and a third, slower one and you are alarmed by the sour unmusicality of the stanza, and the overall lack of skill. So you strike them all out, get up, and take a walk down the street. After five minutes you reach the local bakery that has closed three times in the past year but appear to still serve customers. The person at the counter wears a paisley skirt and a look of defeat. I start writing a poem in my head as I am waiting for my loaf of rye bread. This is a bad sign so I leave without my bread, running down the street, and back up the stairs to my apartment. I do the dishes, breaking one out of every five plates into exactly twelve pieces. I sit down and stare at the wall, carefully not writing poetry. The act of not writing poetry, when you have no talent for it, costs a great deal of effort.
The Box : a brief essay on suicide and depression
This is a brief essay about three to four years in my life that I have managed to put behind me, but will carry around with me at all times. I am haunted by a death I didn’t achieve and a future that slipped away in the meantime.
I live with a black Box of terror.
The full text is at ric journal: The Box : a brief essay on suicide and depression
“You do it…with your fist!”
On August 4, Amazon will drop a TV show that fits my personal sensibilities so exactly, it’s like it was made *specifically* with the intent to please me. I genuinely teared up in happiness as I watched it. There’s no shame in my game. This looks so amazing.
So what’s your poetry about?
I was sitting at a booth at a book fair a few weeks ago, waiting for my reading slot to open up and a woman sidled up to me, looked at my pile of books, then at me, then thrust a finger at my face: what’s this then? What’s your poetry about? I don’t fucking know. Look, lady, I just wrote it. I can’t even tell you if it’s good, but i do know it’s a thing i do and I have competence at this thing. What’s this then? well it’s a lot of words, for one thing. Words I noted down, words I collected, some words I got from a dictionary, some words I got because I misread my handwriting and I liked the misread word better than the one I wrote. What’s this then? Well, I don’t know. My body is in there and the horror and squeamishness I have with it, the heavy bear that walks with me. In it there’s me as a man, me as a woman, me as a word, maybe there’s not me at all. My grandmother was supposed to be in there but maybe this book has tiny holes in it and things that I put in slipped out. I don’t think i can tell you what this poetry is about. Is it about the terror of losing my mother tongue, or about the time I almost died or the other time I almost died or that other time. Maybe there’s love in it, I don’t know, I read it aloud and it doesn’t look like any love I know. So what’s your poetry about? Is it about drugs or alcohol or loneliness, surely it’s about loneliness, because how can it not be, on the other hand look at all the words and they are right here with me and with you too, just look at the book, you can have it, for free, if you want, Miss, take it with you it needs a reader and a better one than me. Someone who knows what to answer when asked So, what’s this poetry about?
Plots of stories I’ve written or rewritten in the past year: a poem
A church burns, someone dies.
Sentient poop takes over, no lies.
A man with a prehensile tail
In love with a whale
becomes a refugee and then cries.
A flower blooms, a woman is sad.
A trip to Macedonia, a woman is mad.
A science fiction story
about poets and glory
someone dies, someone cries, and someone is glad.
I also have some drafts about suicide,
those stories never turn out quite right.
They live on
on this laptop, offline. Good night.
(I am not sorry)
Marcel Inhoff reading
Two videos reading poetry, two 3 minute clips from a longer reading.
My Personal Canon
Anthony (on Twitter as @timesflow) asked people on Twitter to talk about their personal canon – and since I am emotionally unwell today and can’t get anything done I decided to give this a stab. It’s hard, I love making lists as much as anyone and I admire a great many writers and novels, but I’m going to list the writers and books that 1) I would take with me if I had to move and get rid of 99% of my personal library or that I would immediately rebuy if my apartment burns to the ground and 2) had the biggest impact on me as a writer and reader. As a result this list skews more German and more towards older books, despite so many excellent books coming out recently. I’m also limiting myself to 20 fiction books, 20 nonfiction books and 20 poets because, I mean, you know. I’m also writing this in one sitting. I mean the list would probably look different tomorrow. Who knows. Finally, only one book per writer.
I have one exception: the following 15 writers I cannot possibly pick one book and skip all others. Their whole oeuvre is important to me, in different genres and across many volumes (paradigmatic here is probably Thomas Bernhard who is one of my favorite poets, playwrights and novelists and whose books in all three genres I’ve been reading since I was a teenager). Not on this particular list, but on lists lower, writers where I do place importance on their complete work, but whose complete work basically fits into one book (i.e. Emily Dickinson, Hertha Kräftner).
- Ingeborg Bachmann (Malina is the single novel by anyone. living or dead, that is most important to me)
- Herman Melville
- Uwe Johnson
- Paul Celan
- Iris Murdoch
- Sarah Kane
- Sam Beckett
- Thomas Bernhard
- Alfred Döblin
- Christa Wolf
- Heinrich v. Kleist
- Elfriede Jelinek
- Jean Rhys
- Heiner Müller
- Gustave Flaubert
- Gerald Murnane
- John Berryman
- Emily Dickinson
- Boris Pasternak
- Hilde Domin
- James Merrill
- Delmore Schwartz
- Hart Crane
- Sylvia Plath
- Peter Huchel
- Rose Ausländer
- Ted Hughes
- Elizabeth Bishop
- Philip Larkin
- Ezra Pound
- Christine Lavant
- Thomas Brasch
- John Ashbery
- James Wright
- Hans-Magnus Enzensberger
- Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
- William Gaddis, Recognitions
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov (narrowly didn’t make the list of 15 writers, because I dislike The Idiot)
- Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks
- Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day (really, would be on 15 writers list above, if not for my dislike of early prose and Lot 49)
- Don DeLillo, Libra
- Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans
- Proust, the whole Récherche, but particularly Le côté de Guermantes
- Irmtraud Morgner, Trobadora Beatriz
- Samuel R. Delany, Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand (should probably be on the 15 writers list above)
- Hans Henny Jahnn, Fluß ohne Ufer
- A.L. Kennedy, Everything You Need
- Henry James, Wings of the Dove
- Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
- Lawrence Norfolk, The Pope’s Rhinoceros
- Josef Winkler, Das wilde Kärnten
- Harold Brodkey, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode
- Patrick White, The Vivisector
- Robert Walser, Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet
- Hemingway, The Sun Als0 Rises
- Yukio Mishima, The Sea of Fertility
- E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
- Wilhelm Reich, Die Massenpsychologie des Faschismus
- Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen
- Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic
- Hannah Arendt, Vita Activa
- Thomas Browne, The Major Works
- Adorno/Horkheimer, Dialektik der Aufklärung
- Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity
- Louis Althusser et al., Lire Le Capital
- James Clifford, Routes
- Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man
- Wilhelm Dilthey, Der Aufbau der Geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften
- Emmanuel Lévinas, Totalité et Infini
- Michel Foucault, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique
- Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
- Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Soziologische Theorie der Erkenntnis
- Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History
- Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode
- Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Reader
Yes, it is I. In case you want to support my current reading/writing projects, you know what to do 😉
Happy New Year, Everyone
Have a great 2017 everyone. I’m listening to an Otis live records right now, drinking a lovely gin. Who knows how long I will be around, any of us really. Have a drink on me, on you and the new year.
Read poetry, write poetry, read books, punch a fascist, you know, you do you next year.
Is this a blog about books or about my adorable cat? I haven’t quite decided. Here’s the cat:
Now and then I upload more recent pictures of my desk. This is from March(?) last time it was really orderly. 🙂 If you read one of my reviews, this is where the *magic* happens.
About to write a review.
Bear with me. It’s 3:55 am where I live. [Edited: here it is]
Tournament of Books 2016 Winner?
I was a bit busy and forgot to check on the Tournament of Books. Here is my earlier post on it. So Villanova won March Madness and in the much more important Tournament of Books? Paul Beatty’s masterful novel The Sellout which I’ve read but haven’t gotten round to reviewing yet. So here is the link to the Finals matchup, which The Sellout won by a fairly wide margin.
Here is the brackets of this year’s ToB again:
Fates and Furies
v. Bats of the Republic
judge: Maria Bustillos
judge: Brad Listi
The Turner House
v. Ban en Banlieue
judge: Miriam Tuliao
Our Souls at Night
v. The Whites
Judge: Syreeta McFadden
A Little Life
v. The New World
judge: Choire Sicha
The Book of Aron
v. The Tsar of Love and Techno
judge: Doree Shafrir
A Spool of Blue Thread
v. The Story of My Teeth
judge: Daniel Wallace
v. The Invaders
judge: Liz Lopatto
Brecht on Döblin
As a kind of followup post to this brief text (textlet?) I posted earlier, I wanted to share my translation of one of my favorite literary oddities. In 1941, at his 65th birthday party, Döblin told his guests of his recent conversion to Catholicism. Many famous writers, exiled like Döblin, attended the event. Bertold Brecht wrote a poem about what happened, called “Peinlicher Vorfall” – “Embarrassing Incident.” For those interested in it, here is the poem in my (awful) translation. I tried to make it scan a bit like the original but I’m not sure it worked. The long lines are there in the original, as well.
Bertold Brecht: Embarrassing Incident
When one of my most cherished deities celebrated his 10.000th birthday,
I came to honor him with all my friends and brightest students
And they danced and sung before him and recited verses.
The mood was emotional. The celebrations neared their end.
It was then that the celebrated deity stepped onto the artists’ stage
And declared with a booming voice
Right in front of my friends and students who were drenched in sweat
That he’d just had an epiphany and had henceforth
Become religious und he put on with unseemly haste
A moth-eaten priestling hat,
And then he kneeled lewdly and intoned,
Shamelessly, an impudent Church hymn, thus grievously insulting
The irreligious feelings of his audience, among whom were impressionable youths.
For the past three days
I have not dared to meet my friends and students
face to face, so great
was my shame.
Merry Christmas everyone
For all that I complain about translators. If you want to see how godawful my own translations are, I have an example. Over the past months I have translated bits and pieces from Alfred Corn’s excellent work here and there.
Here is my awful attempt to render one of his excellent recent poems in German. The poem is “All It Is” and you can compare my ridiculous version with the elegant original here. It’s a complex, lilting, subtle, masterful poem, and now read what I wrought. Two caveats, apart from the peasanty phrasing: 1) yes, I slightly changed the meaning in some places 2) yes, I am too in love with a consistent sound/tropescape, which leads to 1) and 3) no, that is maybe likely the best I can do. Poopyhead. Do I have a draft on my wordpress where I *literally* complain about someone else’s too loose translation of Goethe? Maybe. Will I post it? NOT LIKELY. So. Here it is. Laugh, be merry, and have pity on me.
Was es ist
Der biegsame Bogen
den die Baumwipfel beschreiben,
ungefähr bewegt vom durchströmenden Atem,
ein Ast zur linken,
einer zur rechten Seite schwankend.
Oder das geradlinige Anschwellen,
das einem Windstoß über die Auen folgt,
Heimat hunderttausender Schilfe.
Die Flur erwächst aus allem,
das uns zuvörderst war: aufeinander folgende
Ereignishorizonte vergangener Zeitalter,
ausgebracht durch unseren bedachten
Drang, ihr Äußeres zu heben,
leicht und frei,
zu dem, was unserer Anwesenheit gewahr wird –
zur Vollkommnung geatmet, eine Sphäre,
zu allem, das es ist.
Talking Trash: Religion + Scholarship
So as you can maybe tell, looking at my reviews this year I decided to just review a ton of things, just to write some non-academic things here and there, and sometimes I have no poems to write, nothing to add to the novel, and these days, I also run out of books, sometimes. I will still answer emails, so you are welcome to do that. That said, I decided I will now and then sit down to write a few hundred words on *something* – almost certainly connected to my PhD work. Who knows. Also, I am typing this straight into wordpress so Lord have Mercy on us all.
So the topic now is religion. My PhD topic concerns the role of religion in the work of three American poets. Part of the reason my work has taken so long is that I noticed early on, that this is an odd topic. For me, it seemed instantly interesting. All three poets, John Berryman, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, make heavy, informed, ind-depth use of the traditions of Christian writing. Not just poets (like all poets who grew of writerly age during the age of New Criticism, they appropriately revere George Herbert and GM Hopkins), but prose, theology even. This is not connected to faith. Central writers on Berryman have convincingly connected his faith to his mental issues, and at any point, it is hard to pin down Robert Lowell’s faith once he started writing poetry. Even his brief period of ardent Catholicism displays, as was most recently shown by Gelpi, strong strains of Puritan theology and thought. Elizabeth Bishop, meanwhile, was just an regular atheist. And yet, she was widely read in Christian theology, reading writers as diverse as Kierkegaard, St. Augustine and Henri-Frédéric Amiel. That last one is, if you don’t know him, a Swiss writer, poet and philosopher who’s mainly known today for writing long winded, very religious, very self-pitying journals. Journals that are frequently brilliant, but still. She carried around books by Teresa of Avila (I slightly overemphasize that in my thesis) and has read St. Ignatious of Loyola, who most of you mainly know through the Barthes book, I suppose.
Yet books on the three writers, especially on Bishop and Berryman were oddly silent on the issue. These writers were clearly, obviously influential on these poets and yet – nothing. For me, that was a great topic. Obvious + under-researched? Ripe for plucking, is what I say. Well, once my supervisor convinced me to not write on Sylvia Plath. That was Plan A, I’ll admit. So I did, and I presented my topic in conversations and seminars and at conferences – and something weird happened. People always assumed that I myself was religious. I’m not. I am an atheist, although the annoying people on the internet have so many distinctions on that that I should more properly refer to myself as a “atheist agnostic.” Let’s just go with atheist. I do use mysticism and religious references in my poetry (click here, you know you want to), but that’s it. For me, texts are texts, and I’m writing about one text influencing another text. That is not, however, how audiences and people I talk to felt about it. This is how I discovered why the topic is so under-researched. The few people who do work on it tend to be religious themselves. A handful of years ago (after I started work on my thesis), Tom Rogers wrote the *only* book on the topic (God of Rescue, Peter Lang, 2013). I wrote a review of it for a literary journal but I think it’s print only. It’s flawed but thorough and well argued. Tom Rogers, meanwhile, is pretty religious from what I know. And of the two (TWO) books on Bishop and religion, one sort of dismisses Bishop’s use of theology as always critical and satirical, and the other, by Cheryl Walker, which, again, draws on a rich background of research, is written by a religious writer.
The simple reason why people assume that I am religious is because those are the only people who work in my field and zero in on this topic. It absolutely confused me at the time, and I still have difficulties understanding why non-religious critics today don’t really engage with religious texts that influence literature. Bonnie Costello, who is a brilliant, brilliant critic, mentions a lot of the theological writers in throwaway remarks in her writings on Bishop; she would rankle at seeing anyone treat Hopkins or Moore or Stevens or any of the other ‘normal’ influences on Bishop with such brief remarks. Or, indeed, if someone had been this quick to dismiss an important theological text in analyzing Donne, Herbert or Hopkins. Yet, religious writers are different, somehow, as an influence on non-religious writing. It’s maddening. Just you go and find me cogent recent-ish essays on the influence of Catholicism and the Bible on Baudelaire. I found a bunch of things, but the only in-depth, excellent analyses are turn-of-the-century (last century, that is) French books. It’s not just Bishop and Berryman (Lowell is relatively well served, in part because of how explicit his early critics, from Tate to Ransom and Jarrell, made those influences. In my thesis, he serves to complete a picture, but the weight of the argument is in the chapters on Bishop and Berryman (and Schwartz)), it’s plenty of other writers, as well. Baudelaire, for one. And you know what makes it worse? That religious writers are frequently a bit nutty about it. Not Rogers, but Cheryl Walker, for example, has whole chapters where she tries to convince us that Bishop wasn’t really an atheist. That Bishop was really at least a tiny bit religious. This helps no one. It doesn’t help Bishop scholarship, it doesn’t help Walker’s argument, and it doesn’t help other scholars (ME) who try to write on the topic. We all get lumped in with the nutty kind of writer. Just yesterday I was reading a chapter on Anne Bradstreet, in a mid-1980s book on the Puritans. And it was full of “Our Lord”s and egregious amounts of judgments on faith in a book that was supposed to be all about textual analysis (and wasn’t actually bad at it!). Bill Barnwell, before the demise of Grantland, had a NFL column called “thank you for not coaching” – there should be something like this for religious scholars. Rogers does this well. Another great example is Alfred Corn’s big essay on Bishop which is informed by a religious background, incredibly insightful, and yet does not proselytize or assume its readers are (or should become) Christians themselves. For all the others: compartmentalize, please. You’re making all of us look bad.
It frustrates me endlessly. So in my thesis, when I started it many moons, 4 breakdowns and a hospital stay ago, I planned at first to just *show* the influence and explicating it. I had chapters outlined, say, on the structure of the Psalms and how the structure of Berryman’s late poetry corresponds to that. But I recognized that, if I don’t want this to read as exibit XVI in the ‘religious’ tradition of poetry scholarship, I had to sharpen the focus on what it is that this influence brought into view. And that’s, i found, (auto)biography. All three writers have struggled with personas, with writing about the/a self. And for all three writers, religious influences have helped them achieve it. Bishop has letters making that connection between autobiography and her reading of theology clear, with Berryman it’s implicit, and as I said, with Lowell, critics have pointed the way. This change meant I had to shift my research and change chapters and outlooks. I read a ton of books on auto/biography. I think my thesis is better this way, but the frustration remains. Also, I broadened my research so much that I now have unused outlines of papers on “Bishop and Brazil,” “Bishop and Gertrude Stein” etc etc. that do not intersect with my thesis at all.
Thank you for listening. There will be a review tomorrow-ish, maybe. If you want to support me, click here. My computer is dying a swift death, so any help is appreciated. If you want me to read poetry somewhere, write me. I’m probably free. 🙂
Svetlana Alexievich wins the 2015 Literature Nobel Prize!
Svetlana Alexievich wins the 2015 Literature Nobel Prize! Guys, let me have this one. This is the closest I ever came to getting it right. Did I wake up with a feeling Oates might win? Sure. Did none of my actual picks make it? Yeah. BUT LOOK AT THIS. I think we can agree I practically got it right. Also, I picked up 4 of her books from the library last weekend. HOW’s THAT FOR PRESCIENT. Meanwhile, if you want more than my desperate/sad gloating here’s a piece on Alexievich from last year’s New Yorker called “Nonfiction deserves a Nobel“, by Philip Gourevitch. Meanwhile, much as I was very happy about the award, the aftermath is starting to feel a bit like the aftermath of last year’s Nobel award. While last year, book journos were quick to proclaim the greatness of Modiano (I don’t agree), this year, they are wringing a kind of significance out of this award that I just don’t see. Gourevich and other reporters are understandably happy. But articles like Why Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Prize Is Good for Literature by Jonathon Sturgeon are unconvincing and bad. And I can see more of that to come.
Stalking Robert Walser
When I went to Switzerland for a reading (see here and here) I found out that the city my publisher is based in is not only the city that Der Gehülfe is based in but the Villa Abendstern, centrally featured in the novel, is still there and reasonably well preserved. Imagine my excitement. The two people on one of the pictures feature me and my publisher, not a bear mauling an innocent woman.
Das Toblersche Haus war überdies noch zweiteilig, es bestund aus einem Wohnhaus sowohl wie einem Geschäftshaus, und Josephs Pflicht und Schuldigkeit war, beide Sorten Hauser ergründen zu lernen.
Reading, Read, Read
I went to Switzerland this weekend and read my book. On the minus side, my main laptop is on the fritz again. Ah, the vicissitudes of life.
It wasn’t a bad day. I ate yummy food, watched a great TV show and spent the day with nice people. I also got lovely gifts. Three kinds of gifts in fact (oversharing?). So 1) I got lovely books: and 2) I got this T-Shirt but most importantly, I got this little fella:
So as announced here, here is my first collection of poetry. It’s genuinely beautifully designed. Click here for a peek at some poems. Here is a very kind review in Am Erker Nr. 71. Here is a review (pdf) of the collection by Wolfgang Ratz. Here is the publisher’s page where you can order the book, if you want. Or email the publisher directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Order it for a Uni library if you can do that. Again, I can’t do anything about the pricing, although I’m sort of hoping to find out eventually how to have it available through German bookstores. What is Prosopopeia?
This is poetry.
News, I guess.
So I will attempt to post reviews again. I am also finishing up both a translation of Uwe Kullnick‘s stories and my actual PhD, but I find writing reviews helps me clear my mind. So they are going to be, well, maybe not very good. I will try to sustain it for longer than I have managed before, and the signs are good, because I prewrote 4 reviews already, so even if I get another breakdown or get stuck in something else, there’s material that goes up. There might also be personal essays. I am sort of aiming for once every 4 days, but we’ll see. If you want to support me doing this, there’s a Paypal Button somewhere on this site. I think I moved it to the left side of the blog at the moment. If you have suggestions, comments, love letters or poems for me, you can leave them in the comments or send them to shigekuniblog [at] rocketmail [dot] de. It’s a snazzy address, I know. I am very proud. Despite the hedging earlier, I genuinely hope you like the reviews. They are not going to all be of the same length or kinds of books, but they are all going to be written by me. Whether that’s a threat or a boon is up for you to decide.
Thank you to all readers who have stuck around. Have a nice day. First review up early tomorrow morning. We’ll go from there.
Pictured below my Russian family. I am the blonde (yup) boy held up by the very tan old man, my step-grandfather who died some 12 years ago.
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?
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 youarenotsosmart.com.
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.
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?
“You keep using that word…”
I’m tempted to link this clip about three times a day in online discussions.
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.
Let’s hope Stewart gets this one sorted pretty quickly.
edit: apparently he did. It’s back to normal, and it was rather easy to do, too. and here I am all in a huffy. just ignore the red-cheeked fat kid in the corner. go on. nothing to see.
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.
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?
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.