“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, October 15, 2016

That paper based ideology. On the thesis: Songs aren't poems or music.

It is interesting to me that so many writers who hate Dylan winning are talking about paper. The whole dispute about songs and poetry comes down, really, to the material substrate. But the idea that a song lyric written down doesn't work as poetry surely works two ways. I've heard a fair number of writers read their works, and rarely - in my experience, never - do the words work coming out of their mouths. Joyce who wanted in some ways to be a singer is great partly because the words work outside the paper. A song isn't a poem. The difference of the substrate is a real difference. You can sing certain poems, but in the singing, they become songs. That is only confusing if you ... well, if you have never read Grammatology, I'm tempted to say. Or if you have an idea that literature is defined by its material substrate. Now of course those writers who are so ardent about the paper test will protest that no, reading is somehow deeper, by which is meant that the paper substrate interfaces with the non-material mind substrate. Humanism is, when all is said and done, white magic. Myself, I think that this is bad metaphysics and a misunderstanding of the possibilities of literature. The art song has been around a long time: Brecht learned if from Karl Valentin in Munich cabarets. In France, it was Berenger under Louis Philippe - who Baudelaire hated - who mixed politics and song. Baudelaire, incidentally, is a key figure here, both pro and contra the fetish of paper.

 I sorta like the way Dylan's voice paved the way for the do it yourself era of voice. Again, though, this is nothing new - the popular song in 1830s France, or the voices in the Threepenny opera, were that same kinda raucous. Ca ira I guess is the mother of the raw song. I think that the distinction of song as a type of thing that is not poetry and not music is probably rooted in the raw voiced song. I wonder what Robert Burns sounded like? He was a great supporter of chopping the heads off kings. Was there a connection between the Jacobin sympathies (that his victorian fans bowdlerized) and the rawness of the sound he must have heard - since French revolutionary songs definitely penetrated the British isles? This interests me professionally, as a writer. I read the chapters of my novel to Antonia, or she reads them to me, because I am really interested in the sound, the sounds. I'm after sounds that I have heard in the street, in bars and restaurants and offices. Many of them I can write down, but I can't do myself. They won't come out of my mouth. This is the undervalued part of writing prose. The idea that you can simply read your stuff seems to point to this neglect rather than otherwise. Really you would have to bring a troupe with you. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Congrats Bob! Dylan's Dunciad

I am going to succumb to my temptation to make a lit crit point. Although I don't think Bob Dylan was reading Alexander Pope during what I consider to be his richest period - 1964-1968 - he was producing what I think of as an American dunciad. Instead of Fleet street, the mockery was aimed at the circle that was located between Andy Warhol's The Factory and Greenwich village. Alexander Pope was a master at catching a certain English conversational tone - something nosepent, with its fraudulent assumption of cultural supremecy - and collaging it into the most classical of English meters. He even makes it an object of one of his great lines, from Essay on Criticism: “A needless Alexandrine ends the song, / That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.” Dylan of course exists in a different environment, one that mixed the inheritors of the romantics - with their creed that all arts ideally merge in music - with the reality of pop and advertising, where all language becomes a caption to sell a product. When in Like a rolling stone the princess on the steeple says, finally, to the "mystery tramp" - do you want to make a deal. These songs are, on the surface, close to Warhol's product pieces - Brillo pads or Campbell soup - but they are supercharged with affect, instead of being cool and .affectless. It is just hard to make out what the affect is about - unlike Pope, Dylan doesn't have any vision of a classical order. He does, or at least Greil says he does, have a vision of a weird order - the order he finds all over the American songbook. The weird order transmutes all deals into moments of dread, I suppose you could say, since what is dealt comes down to who you are. The art of the deal eats the dealer. Or, as Hugh Kenner puts it in the counterfeiters, writing about Pope's rewriting the Dunciad as if a dunce had written it: "“’The Mighty Mother, and her Son who brings
The Smithfield Muses to the ear of Kings
I sing’
The bard stumbles into his kettledrums and falls headlong. A hideous cacaphony (brings – Kings – sings); a failure to assess the compatability of end-stopped lines with a system based on caesura; an insufficient breath, which terminates the opening period in mid-gesture: these Pope has imitated with the care a Lichtenstein bestows on comic book panels, or a Warhol on soup labels.”

Dylan got this not only from the american songbook, but, evidently, from Eliot. The wasteland is the easiest modernist masterpiece to read because Eliot, too, has a certain devastating talent for interrupting the elegy form with the banal conversational tag. It was what Berryman was doing in the sixties, too. If you have a taste for it, as I do, it is what you crave in poetry and in song. It is the hardest thing to do in the world, although it looks like the easiest.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

who's the rapist now? Donald, Bill and the Press

I've been thinking about the press and their disservice to the public this election year. Specifically, the odd torpor they showed in investigating or even being interested in Trump's pathological love iife. Many people have told me that Trump's Access Hollywood remarks are only one in a series of racist and sexist remarks, and are nothing special. For liberals, I think this is definitely true. But the republican party, and America, has long had a large population of conservatives who claim, at least, to find the character of their leaders as important as their policies. This constituency is served when the issue has to do with Democrats. From Gary Hart to Bill Clinton, the press was interested and investigative when it came to their sex lives. But when it came to Trump, until he was already a candidate and it was already October, they''ve been inert, disinterested, lazy and hopeless. For them, Trump speaking out against St. McCain was sin enough. But it would be too "low" to investigate, say, Trump and the Playboy culture.
Interesting this word "low". Cause what is low, what is tabloid, comes down to revealing things having to do with women. In the male world of politics, and make no mistake, this is patriarchy armed, a politicians "private life" is sacrosant - until it isn't. And even then it is considered low.
That's bullshit, of course. Politics infuses our sexual relationships. Especially if those relationships are combined with the power of money or position.
On the other side of this is another liberal maxim: Bill Clinton's private life has nothing to do with this election. It is simply sexism, making Hilary Clinton an appendage of her male partner.
Trumpites have a point that this is a way of getting over a problem. Do a thought experiment. What if Hilary Clinton was married to Donald Trump? Would one, as a liberal, think this was just not our business? Would we just be happy to see Donald Trump as the first man? I'd say this is bullshit. Bill Clinton ran very much on the platform that his wife would be an important part of his administration. In fact, she did admirable things then. She spoke out about feminism and human rights, she opposed the appalling bankruptcy bill, and she put her input into healthcare issues.
So, I think a voter has every right to consider Bill Clinton. Myself, Clinton's posse appalls me. I put that down as a definite negative. But I support HRC because there are more positives, as for instance her pledges about childcare, about the minimum wage, etc. I think she has been pushed to the left. I don't trust that she might turn to the right once she is in office, but I am hoping that the left is resurgent enough in the Dem party to give her no cover for that.
Everybody says this is the election from hell. And it is true, it is like being forcefed some awful combination of the Apprentice and the Aryan Nation power hour. But it is, to say the least, diagnostic.
Very.