Monday, January 23, 2012
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Before leaving for India, I packed up (almost) all of my books. We were leaving for 3 weeks, & the 19 year old sister of a friend was to stay in our apt to watch over the cats (& do godknows what else) while we were gone, & then we were expecting in the days after our return to be moving to Oakland. The new apt fell thru tho, so we're staying put until we find another, obviously, which I'm ok with -- it's heart-wrenching to leave the City, which is the City of my birth & upbringing, etc., but, needing to move after 4 years in our spot, we just can't afford it anymore -- except that now all my books (many of them not yet read) are in boxes & I can't rationalize unpacking them all again until we do move, so until then I've got only the aforementioned Kenner and Benjamin's Arcades Project, which I've been plugging away at for some time with great joy. Luckily, if I'm not feeling one or the other of these on any given day, I've also got a whole bookstore above my head, so I guess I'll be ok.
1. _______, by: _______ (_______ 2011)
In 2011 I went to see _______ read. It was fun. I enjoyed _______'s reading a lot! I bought _______'s book but when I read it I didn't like it at all! I couldn't even finish it. I think _______ tricked me with _______'s cuteness. I don't think I would have bought _______'s book if _______ wasn't so cute. Then again maybe I should take another look at _______'s book. _______ is very cute after all.
2. _______, by: _______ (_______ 2011)
I read a wonderful book released in 2011 called _______ by _______. I had been enjoying _______'s work for quite a long time; so when I moved to the bay area in late 2010, I was very happy to learn that _______ also lived in the bay area! I went to one of _______'s readings and I talked to _______. _______ was very happy to meet a fan and we agreed that we definitely had to meet up sometime. In 2011, after I read _______'s new book, I asked _______ when indeed would be a good time to meet up. Tentative plans were made. After a few days _______ sent me a facebook message saying: I noticed you read _______ and that you listed _______ on goodreads but you didn't give _______ any stars. Please give _______ 5 stars.
I explained to _______: I loved your book but quantifying how much I like books in terms of stars is not something I want to do. You should notice that I didn't give any books any stars on goodreads.
_______ then sent me a message that said: I worked very hard on _______ and you know it deserves 5 stars!
Then I sent _______ a message saying: I don't want to give books stars but I do sometimes write little reviews of books I like on goodreads and I'd be happy to do that.
So I wrote a little review. And _______ contacted me the day after I wrote the review. We met up and talked about poetry and I showed _______ some of my poems. _______ had very kind and helpful things to say.
3. Parallel Stories, Peter Nadas (Farrar, Straus and Groix 2011)
The hungarian Peter Nadas wrote two novels that are both in my top 20 favorite books ever. Easily. These books are the novels "The End of A Family Story" and "A Book of Memories." They are amazing. Read them. They are the kind of books that give you tingly feelings all over your body on every page. In every sentence.
When I heard that Nadas had written a 1,133 page novel called Parallel Stories, I knew I had to read it. I knew I had to read it in Austin, Minnesota; where my family usually convenes yearly at xmas time at my grandpa's house.
My mother gave me Parallel Stories for xmas. I didn't like it. It was really confusing and too much of it was too boring. Nadas' other books were also confusing but they were way more stylistically interesting. And they weren't boring at all. I gave up after page 156. What makes this even more depressing is that Nadas worked on Parallel Stories for eighteen years.
That year in Minnesota the temperature was about 40 degrees whereas most years I go there around that time it's around 10 degrees. I probably only had three conversations with my grandpa during the weeklong visit but in one of them he said he supported what the occupations were doing and that the wars were mistakes. My mother said it's great that he said that but if he really believes what he's saying he probably won't vote for a republican in the next election again like he's probably going to do. My cousin came for one day and the whole family played taboo which was so much fun! I met my cousin's boyfriend; they've been together for almost five years but I still hadn't met him yet. He was great. He laughed at my jokes and he was pretty funny himself and gentle too. He works as an emergency medic. My family often makes lots of sexual jokes and innuendos. It's really awkward but also hilarious. I'm really glad I like my cousin's boyfriend so much. Hanging out with my family was even more fun than usual. I went for a lot of walks with my mom and then some stuff became a lot clearer to me. I'm glad I gave up on Nadas and didn't use all my time reading some confusing boring book. I feel like, five years ago, I would have mostly ignored my family to read the book.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Deliberate confusion between books is one of reading’s intensest pleasures, for me. I enjoy it when excellent books send you racing to read other books that they seem to have interleaved within them. This was exactly the case with Catherine Meng’s Tonight’s The Night, which I’d read earlier in the year. Tonight’s The Night eponymously quotes one of my favorite albums of all time, Neil Young’s master channeling of the panicky feelings one is exposed to in the adult, pre-dawn hours of the morning. It’s a last-call record. & Meng’s book uses the same spare methods of recording, while pointing to how the songs form variations of one another. They mutate. Like other serious & seriously satisfying books of poems (see, for example, the last one in this list), it uses repetition & variation at a frequency where the music begins to generate itself. There’s a hum. So I started reading that, & the mighty explosion, like shrapnel, really, of quotes—from Wittgenstein, D.H. Lawrence, Beckett, Neil Young, & many others—which kicks off the book veered me off in the direction of Watt by Samuel Beckett. I hadn’t read it & unlike The Long Goodbye I knew I hadn’t. You want stories about where & how the books got read so I won’t waste space trumpeting what a mind-blowing masterpiece Watt is, we all know what a genius Beckett was. Instead I’ll tell when I was reading the gruesomely funny section toward the end of the novel, where the magistrates (they’re characters in a kind of exponentially embedded frame-tale) keep turning to one another, trying to catch one anothers’ eye, thereby to decide their own verdicts & beliefs (Beckett catalogues each useless movement with his neatest Stein-like precision) I was eating sushi at a kind of a beat up sushi joint by a strip mall. Drinking a two dollar large Asahi for their happy hour special & laughing aloud at the table by myself.
So then I went back to Tonight’s The Night, glad it had recommended me Watt & I remember reading Tonight’s The Night glad for its tough web of books & music, all pretty dark & rigorous (Beckett & Neil Young, also Glen Gould’s Goldberg variations are a massive presence). & the days were getting longer & I was reading other good books of poems during that time of the year—Micah Ballard’s Waifs & Strays, Free Cell by Anselm Berrigan, Julian Brolaski’s Gowanus Atropolis—so I sat with Tonight’s The Night & that song too in my head as I read it, I remember one long afternoon of spring light at the bar that used to be called Sadie’s, a can of Tecate, digging lines like these:
.....................................This is to say a thief sleeps soundly.
.....................................This is to say there is only one melody, the rest
.....................................are borrowed. Occasionally one will return
.....................................& burn down the barn.
I read Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer in the fall, I finished it right when the protests were really starting to heat up & actually carried it downtown with me one afternoon to check out a march. It was probably late September & on the bus I read the section of Agamben’s book where he is likening the sovereign’s right to decide with legal definitions of “death.” The term has a history of definitions, and the point is that the state can decide—most significantly, the state can determine when to make exceptions— about whether a particular subject is dead. I looked around in light of this thinking & was impressed by the fact of all these bodies marching around to protest the calculus of greed which global sovereignties work so hard to protect. Lots of soft pink fleshy bodies shouting & marching to protest that shit.
& finally The Crystal Text by Clark Coolidge. I became so fascinated by this book that I began to research crystals. Here are a few facts about them:
- a-Quartz is the most common mineral on Earth
- Many crystals are piezoelectric: they emit an electric charge under pressure
- Crystals naturally occur in the human brain. In 2002, calcite crystal was found to make up part of the composition of the pineal gland (third eye). Bataille was interested in the pineal gland; it secretes serotonin.
- Certain crystals are biogenic. Calcite is formed biogenically, out of the compressed lenses of the eyes of trilobytes.
- Crystals rotate the plane of polarized light
I started to feel like I myself were a crystal, weirdly both reading & speaking. Reading the Coolidge book & “saying” stop Keystone XL. & then it became clear to me, in our current absurd situation, the sign I was holding could say any number of different things & still retain fidelity to my awareness of the nihilistic way humans have come to inhabit the earth. My awareness which is so sharply felt & so nauseatingly diffuse. “MORE LAWLESSNESS, LESS BUSINESS!,” “REINSTATE GLASS-STEAGALL,” “END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD” or just a drawing of a salmon, a photo of the Pacific Trash Vortex, or this line from The Crystal Text: “FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION.” You need books like The Crystal Text to show single filaments of thought are useless. As Coolidge puts it: “this useless activity is at the core of the work.”
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I’ve examined four print translations, all of which, if they say anything, say more or less the same thing. Except for Brandon Brown’s version, which eschews theatrical illusion in order to begin with: “1-184 / SUNDRY PROLOGUES EXPLAINING / AMONG OTHER THINGS / THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR / BETWEEN THE GREEKS AND / THE PERSIANS; ITS CONDUCT, / STATUS, AND PROLEGOMENIC PREDICTIONS FOR THE FUTURE”.
One is struck immediately by Brown’s approach. It’s reminiscent of Brecht’s Epic Theatre, in that Brecht always wanted the audience to be aware that it was watching a play.
The chorus speaks. I’ll use Robert Auletta’s translation, published during the first Gulf War by Sun & Moon, because it too has ambitions above and beyond moving a text from one language/culture to another (“In this modern version … Robert Auletta shifts the action of the play from Persia to a modern-day Iraq, and like Aeschylus, asks Americans to question and challenge their views of our recently defeated enemies.”)
the Persian Council
left here to guard
the sacred documents of our country,
while all our forces
have gone to war in Greece.
It is a strange time,
this early morning
of both hope and fear,
with rumors running wild,
and the heart pounding
with terror and joy. …
This is very similar to the other versions I’ve examined. Brown’s chorus does a radically different thing:
to fight with Persians. I meant to
fight with Greeks. No, I meant to say
t’s been a few years since we went
to fight with Greeks, since we’re Persians.
If this is confusing, it’s be-
cause I’m saying this to you in
Greek. In fact, we’re Greeks, because we’re
speaking Greek. But isn’t it as
if we were Persians, making this
speech about fighting with Greeks? All
the more rich I’d venture since we’re
making the speech in Greek. That’s what
Persians do after all in The
Persians. Speak in Greek ‘bout fighting
with Greeks, or rather against them.
Beside the Epic Theatre proscenium-breaking, the most important thing to note, I think, is that these Persians are aware of and enacting their own defeat and enslavement from the very first lines. Everyone in Aeschylus’ audience knew the Persian defeat to be the case. Yet, as is evident from the lines from Auletta’s version above, the audience was still allowed the frisson of pretending that neither they nor the Persians knew that. However much Aeschylus “humanized the enemy” (Peter Green, intro to Auletta’s version), he still, and other translations still, begin the play as if the Persians are still free. Brown does not allow his readers, or audience, or his Persians, even one moment of that luxury.
“Hi, my name is John, I am 14 years old and hate the Tories, and this book exploded my political consciousness, now a brick through a window is never enough, I want to reawaken the dead.”
Both quotes are from the back cover of the book. My name is John, too, and I’ll be 61 by the time this is published, and I too hate what little John hates, and I too know that brick through a window feeling, and I too know it’s never enough, and I too want to reawaken the dead, at least in Walter Benjamin’s weak messianic sense. Whatever you do, don’t laugh. Or, go ahead, but first think twice.
Even Wikipedia gets it: “The commons were traditionally defined as the elements of the environment—forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land—that are shared, used and enjoyed by all.
Today, the commons are also understood within a cultural sphere. These commons include literature, music, arts, design, film, video, television, radio, information, software and sites of heritage. The commons can also include public goods such as public space, public education, health and the infrastructure that allows our society to function (such as electricity or water delivery systems). There also exists the ‘life commons’, e.g. the human genome.
Peter Barnes describes commons as a set of assets that have two characteristics: they’re all gifts, and they’re all shared. A shared gift is one we receive as members of [the human] community, as opposed to individually. Examples of such gifts include air, water, ecosystems, languages, music, holidays, money, law, mathematics, parks and the Internet.
[JBR: I’d add food and shelter to the list …]
There are a number of important aspects that can be used to describe true commons. The first is that the commons cannot be commodified—and if they are—they cease to be commons. The second aspect is that unlike private property, the commons is inclusive rather than exclusive — its nature is to share ownership as widely, rather than as narrowly, as possible. The third aspect is that the assets in commons are meant to be preserved regardless of their return of capital. Just as we receive them as shared gifts, so we have a duty to pass them on to future generations in at least the same condition as we received them. If we can add to their value, so much the better, but at a minimum we must not degrade them, and we certainly have no right to destroy them.”
But the powers-that-be just say: Fuck that shit. So I can’t help but read THE COMMONS in light of the Occupy movement. Which, in a way, has a very simple message: Let’s Just Take It All Back.
The poem begins with the first bit of an old song, “The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies.” It’s got an interesting recent history, which kind of sums the whole thing in a nutshell. According to The Annotated Bob Dylan, “This is a line from a very old folk song that has many variations. It probably originated in the British Isles.” It was appropriated by Dylan for reuse in his “High Water (for Charlie Patton)” (Love and Theft, 2001), which is fine; old lines from old songs are there for re-use. But Dylan’s re-use of old material is controversial. He has a long-term habit of releasing versions of old songs and copping all the credit. Of enclosing the commons. Thus, when I read the first few lines of Bonney’s poem,
she warbles as she flies
The cuckoo is a
- BANG -
he was a big freak:
I can’t help but hear the bang as—well, obviously as a gunshot that kills the poor old bird—and also as a bang that kills the commons (I can’t claim that anyone but me would hear “he was a big freak” as a reference to Dylan, and to his famous line, now redirected as in a mirror, “How does it feel to be such a freak?” … but I’ve always resented his taking credit for stuff he didn’t write, just as I resent Goldman-Sachs for taking money they didn’t earn).
(Bonney credits Clarence Ashley’s version, by the way).
my possession. I step from
the bus into a sequencing
tool that is moist and
carries the scent of quince.
I carry a bag with
severed heads. I keep the
eel alive until ready to
skin. In my view, this
tradition of documentary and the
idea of a native culture
waiting-to-be revealed stand
as companion myths. If I
could prevent entropy from rusting
the gears of the neo-
machinery, I could contact my
familiars of another wavelength. I’m
going to get a glass
of whiskey now; would you
care for a glass of
absinthe? In my mind’s
eye it is more like
one of those strobe photographs
in which each increment of
the jumper’s act registers on
the single image. I cut
off my bird to spite
my face. I’m sorry, but
I was born with a
towel on my head, which
“excited the cherries”. For this
reason, I have found it
necessary to rewrite Lautréamont’s famous
trope in the following way:
“Butter on the knife. Water
table. Itch of the coccyx.
Deer fetus wine of China.”
I feel bound to state
the obvious warning: Cthulhu is
not to be approached lightly …
Hyperstition strikes me as a
most intriguing coinage … We thought
we were making it up,
but all the time the
Nma were telling us what
to write. He was pulling
me along on an immaculate
silver table, larger than a
serving tray, I thought, sheet
over me then, white linen,
and their faces soothing, shapes
of words and eyes I
couldn’t identify. I assume that
we grant that Art, Love,
Politics, and Science are affections.
Whether there are more affections,
etc. I am not debating.
Rather, I wish to understand
how they topologically relate to
the body α as it
is paired in α1 x
α2 x α3 x α4.
What I’m trying to text
is unreduced to its molecules,
dark matter acronymically textured into
temperate understanding; money talks, dear,
and the silence is deafening –
or heartening – or – but, at
some point, wouldn’t it serve
us to consider other foundational
questions, like why “unicorn hardcore
softporn abortion e-cards” is
a rather succinct and accurate
description of contemporary consciousness in
the developed world in the
early 21st century, an immersive
media environment in which we
can “stay warm on a
cold night” of the “Ka
kaaaawwwwwwwKakaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww” 1 Star
2 Stars 3 Stars 4
Stars 5 Stars … (5.00 out
of 5); … patty melts and
corn dogs and shrimp wiggle …
bloody earlobes and other appendages
litter the aisle ….. the baby’s
still breathing .. maybe .. standing in
for the epidemic … in the
era of the global polka-
dotted lobster flu .. ....like the
aging white man of the
popular saying … Still, he worried
about …the fact that the
goat had …a beard, and
he secretly consulted …an oracle
in a neighboring country, …who
assured him that only a
…bearded spirit could seriously threaten
his rule … And if you’re not well,
let’s face it … “Kakaaaawwwwwww
Kakaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww” … up close you