Friday, May 26, 2006

Literary study between the S-Word and the H-Word.

"To some people...the success that [narratology] has achieved is distressing. What irritates them is its 'soulless' and sometimes mindless technicalness and its pretension to the role of 'pilot science' in literary studies.... If (I say if) every form of knowledge can be situated between the two poles symbolized by rigorous mechanics and that blend of empiricism and speculation represented by philately, we can no doubt observe that literary studies today oscillate between the philately of interpretive criticism and the mechanics of narratology..."
Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse Revisted

On the other hand...

"When studying physics we are not asked to investigate the biographies of all the discicples of Newton who showed interest in science, but who failed to make any discovery. Neither are their unrewarded gropings, passions, laundry bills, or erotic experiences thrust onto the hurried students or consider germane to the subject."
Ezra Pound, How to Read

Pound was writing in 1931, Genette more than 50 years later in 1983. But it's interesting to see that by 2006, we're still oscillating between historicizing and scientificizing our literatures.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Want to know what I really love?

A Tomato Sandwich...

Which is why I'd like to announce my hearty support for artist Kelly Cameron who painted "Tomato Sandwich" (2002; acrylic on canvesette, 9x12).

Here's the website:
The Most Important Meal of the Day

I was feeling a little down yesterday, so I treated myself to breakfast at a local diner. The important detail is this: I went to breakfast to cheer myself up. When I got there I had to sit next to the only other people in the whole place — a pair of older women having a not-so-quiet conversation that flowed exactly as follows:

1. Roger's son's recent suicide.
2. Other people they knew who'd committed suicide (in the following order):
.......a. teens
.......b. adults
.......c. Hemingways
.......d. those who tried suicide but failed/backed off.
3. Linda's daughter is living with a real piece of work
.......a. he's an alcoholic
.......b. he beats her
.......c. he's generally good for nothing
.......d. they're too young anyway
.......e. Linda doesn't know what to do
4. Paul is nearing the end
.......a. they don't expect him to see the 4th of July
.......b. hopefully it will come quick and peaceful-like
5. This toast is burnt.
6. What a lovely day!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

My wife thinks she isn't clever or creative enough to have her own blog, but this is what she does when she wants a snow-day.
A friend borrowed the following from Jacket magazine. It's a "Proustian" questionaire put together by Sophie Calle and Grégoire Bouillier, and was translated from French by Bill Berkson. I've filled it out with my own not-so-clever, not-so-high-minded answers. The original questionaire can be found at

When did you last die?

-- Stupid question.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

-- Sometimes I have to pee.

What became of your childhood dreams?

-- Well, they say that the arrival of “grunge” signaled the death of “metal.” Thus the possibility of becoming a really kick-ass heavy-metal guitarist was utterly defeated for me in the early 1990s. And I was so close too!

What sets you apart from from everyone else?

-- That I noticed the word “from” appears twice in this question evidently sets me apart from the person who filled out the questionnaire before me. (Go back and check. I'll wait.)

What is missing from your life?

Do you think that everyone can be an artist?

-- Sure. I think everyone can “do” art. I think the term “artist” tends to get overused, but mostly as it relates the question of what counts as “art.” I do not think that pop musicians are artists. And I don’t mean to deride what it is they do, but to my mind, “artists” are not guided by market research, publicity managers, and business plans. Nevertheless one cannot deny that there is something of the artistic going on in even pop music. To my mind, pop singer is to artist what president is to government—an important/public part to be sure, but only one constituent element of a much larger, constructive whole. That said, I do not discount the possibility that anyone, even a pop singer, can be artistic and can, as I say, “do art.”

Where do you come from?

-- New Jersey

Do you find your lot an enviable one?

-- For some, sure.

What have you given up?

-- Trying.

What do you do with your money?

-- The usual. Rent. Groceries. Utilities.

What household task gives you the most trouble?

-- Separating the wheat from the chaff.

What are your favorite pleasures?
-- Swedish Fish and Newman's Own Pineapple Salsa.

What would you like to receive for your birthday?

-- Undivided and thoughtful attention to what I am saying—to
whatever I’m saying.

Cite three living artists whom you detest.

-- Another stupid question.

What do you stick up for?

-- The little guy.

What are you capable of refusing?

-- It’s hard to say really. I seem to have a very addictive personality. I tend to get attached to things easily. But I don’t get addicted to really bad things like drugs and alcohol. Instead I find my addicted to things like video games, television shows, drugs, and alcohol.

What is the most fragile part of your body?

-- Nice try! I ain’t tellin’. Fool me once…

What has love made you capable of doing?

-- Clean the litter box.

What do other people reproach you for?

-- Parking on the grass. Apparently it's a crime punishable by a fine of $50 damn dollars!

What does art do for you?

-- Ask not what art… you see where I’m going with this, right?

Write your epitaph.

-- "I want to be very clear about this: I
never wanted to die in the first place."

In what form would you like to return?

-- Left-handed
The War Against Cliché.

The following is an exchange I overheard between a pretty, young grocery-cashier and the guy in line ahead of me.

Him: I'm sorry, all I've got are singles.
Her: No problem. It's all money. It all spends the same.
Him. Ain't that the truth.

On the walk home, I just couldn't get these words out of my head. What did they mean? What the hell did these people think they were saying to each other? Are we really losing the war against mindless clichés? I have no problem with the first, say, nine words. In fact, I don't even mind her stupid phrase "it all spends the same" -- which is silly, clichéd, and also untrue. (Ever try to buy a pack of gum with $100 bill? I wonder if anyone's ever bought an SUV with singles. Maybe strippers do, I don't know.) But one must choose one's battles, and I guess I don't really mind "it all spends the same." Whatever.

What I absolutely could not stomach was "ain't that the truth!" - to me this was pushing the conversation way too far over the edge. What does this even mean? What a stupid thing to say! Furthermore, his inflection made not only the sentence but the whole exchange all the more ridiculous. Ain't that the truth. It sounded as if he didn't actually believe his words to be a mindless cliché. Instead it seemed like he was voicing a carefully considered thought:
Hey, you know you're right. In this era of late-capitalism, despite our increasing dependency on credit cards, debit cards, and other means of electronic funds transfer, and despite the fact that this is one of the few remaining grocery stores that still allows locals to 'run a tab' - despite all that, this here money really does all spend the same. Ain't that the truth.

My overall point is that we're losing the war on cliché and inane statements like these. And I don't like it.

The coda to the story is this:
When it was my turn in line, I noticed the cashier had more than the usual number of shirt-buttons undone. You could totally see her bra.

At that point all I could say was "working hard, or hardly working?"

She giggled politely.

This is me at Soapstone Mountain a few months ago.
I've decided to start a blog.

I don't pretend that I've got something important or unique to say--but that doesn't seem to be a prerequiste for this sort of thing anyway.

So, here goes.