Sunday, December 18, 2005

The present-day composer refuses to die

Kool Keith interviews—read deeply (especially if you’re still trying to find a copy of the Grey Album or convince yourself that Kanye West is a genius).

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The budding grove of ambiguity

André Aciman, in a review of James Grieve’s translation of Proust’s A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, formerly known to English-language readers as Within a Budding Grove):
Should English resolve the ambiguities that were conveniently overlooked or left intentionally opaque in the original French?

One might be tempted to say “yes,” but no is the correct answer. An author says what he says in the very way he says it not necessarily because he is after the utmost clarity, or, for some mysterious reason not unrelated to what we call the creative process, because he wishes to see so far and no further, to see one thing without highlighting all of its ancillary, shadow meanings, but because the words he has selected in the order that he has selected them allow him to suggest things he does not wish to say or know how to come right out and say.

In short, what we call style may not only be the deployment of the fewest possible words for the sake of strategic clarity; but to use Stephen Greenblatt’s more recent coinage, style may also be a form of “strategic opacity.” An author fudges and cuts corners and wriggles in between impossible options and gets away with all manner of ambiguities and contradictions precisely because what he is after cannot be invoked otherwise, because he himself may not even see or wish to see beyond a certain threshold.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow was general

Snow was general all over Maine, and a snow day was declared early. We slept in, moved our cars in anticipation of the city-wide parking ban, and trudged downtown in the snow. Darkness and color were sketched Zen-like over an undifferentiated field, and we thrilled to see various supposedly snow-tough 4WD cars and trucks spin their wheels purchaseless as subcompacts putted along. Hilary worked in her studio, finishing “Live Free or Die,” a painting in which yoga girls float in a tie-dyed nightscape. I treated myself to a new Jay-Z CD. I also wrote a post for Long Sunday.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The party form

O braungebackne Siegessäule,
mit Winterzucker aus den Kindertagen.

O brown-baked Victory Column,
With winter sugar of childhood days.

—Walter Benjamin, epigraph to Berlin Childhood Around 1900
Let’s set aside the Victory Column for now—to me it primarily signifies regret, for, when I was in Berlin several years ago, I was ignorant of any relevant history, and if I did encounter the Column during my wanderings in the Tiergarten, it computed only in the most generic way—and let's look at something whose associations are more promising, the winter sugar: the snow-padded night-silence, the strange, expectant character of light on a morning after it has snowed, the ice-rainbow layers of cascading window frost-crystal patterns, icing made from confectionary sugar and lemon juice and swirled onto brown-baked gingerbread men in all manner of boots and buttons—there are two men left from my last batch—the promise of Turkish Delight from the Queen’s snowy Narnia, any unnamable background sparkles that shiver you when you are asked, Are you going to Araby? If you believe, minimally, in winter sugar, then go read John’s defense of Christmas as a secular holiday, a protean winter force whose sensuous content and solstitial timing and popular spirit and historical patchworkedness explode any reduction to particular religious themes, unless you’re willing to really change what you mean by religious themes.

John’s essay gives sense to the phrase “the party form,” which I borrow from the title of a recent Long Sunday post, in a second way as well. Those of you who still try to read LS will notice an important difference between John’s style of sense-making and the style dominant there. LS seems to me increasingly autistic in its mind-blindness; it proceeds as if the actual social world, in which people eat sausages and drink mulled wine at night-markets, does not exist; its store of forms of thought lacks the party form, the mode of cognition that allows us to make connections to people we know in life or imagination; it is the equivalent of a newspaper chess column that prints the moves without even giving you a picture of the men on the board. LS thinks in near-referentless proper nouns—“I want to continue the trend of bringing Benjamin into relation with Foucault, without reducing discussion to Agamben”—and it converts quasi-abstract nouns like “law,” “violence,” and “power” into sheer surfaces of sound, impossible to define with reference to anything the body knows. John’s style of writing—the party form—suggests, by contrast, that if we want to learn something about these topics, we ought to peek out into the world of people and think about, e.g., the ACLU, Bill O’Reilly’s anti-Semitism, or Emperor Aurelian’s calendrical sleight of hand.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Schuler vs. Schüler

1.) From Walter Benjamin, “Short Shadows (II)”
Secret Signs. A word of Schuler’s has been preserved for us. Every piece of knowledge, he said, contains a dash of nonsense, just as in ancient carpet patterns or ornamental friezes it was always possible to find somewhere or other a minute deviation from the regular pattern. In other words, what is decisive is not the progression from one piece of knowledge to the next, but the leap implicit in any one piece of knowledge. This is the inconspicuous mark of authenticity which distinguishes it from every kind of standard product that has been mass produced.
2.) Else Lasker-Schüler, “Ein alter Tibetteppich”
Deine Seele, die die meine liebet,
Ist verwirkt mit ihr im Teppichtibet.

Strahl in Strahl, verliebte Farben,
Sterne, die sich himmellang umwarben.

Unsere Füße ruhen auf der Kostbarkeit,

Süßer Lamasohn auf Moschuspflanzenthron,
Wie lange küßt dein Mund den meinen wohl
Und Wang die Wange buntgeknüpfte Zeiten schon?

As human beings we have created the monster of Economy/Capitalism

An excerpt from an essay I found today next to the library printer at the high school where I work:
This creation is known by everyone. People know that here is something called economy and capitalism. Some people are more aware of the monster like traits than others. People living in poverty are probably more aware of the monster. They are probably more aware of the monster because they live in poverty and their life isnt as nice as others. The more wealthy people are less concious of the monster because they have a nice life and they and they are living well.