Saturday, November 21, 2020

Marginalia, a poem by Karen Chamisso

Like everybody else, I live among my marginalia.
The orange peels, the leftover lentil stew, goes in the trash,
I presume. I let the maid take care of it.
There are drawers full of photos, although I
Am a blur in them all, as though some thumb came down
and pressed and turned viciously in the emulsion.
There’s no end of it, until there’s the it, which must be tossed
Into the furnace or the coffin
And the marginalia is cleared away, testimonials all.
I will let the undertakers take care of it.
I presume they know how to do that kind of thing.
-Karen Chamisso

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Against Craft

 Tennyson, famously, was averse to the word "scissors". Something about the s-es. I don't know if Tennyson had a lisp. When I was a child of six or so, I did. Scissors would be a treachery. My own aversion is for the word "craft". How I hate to hear "craft" applied to writing! The "craft" of the story, poem, whatever. It repulses me, with its overtones of some genteel, antiquated hobby. Engineering, that would be alright, I suppose. Art, design, plumbing, all of that, which puts writing where it should be, in the world where people build, repair, create fixes, mob up, make spaghetti, help their kids with homework, and are alternately illuminated and tired. Craft comes from the early modern guild economy, the fierce nostalgia for which has fed the fascism and reaction of the 20th and 21st century. (Even though I should add that guild organizations, from doctors to profs, have endured to our day with more vigor than unions. Alas.)

So where did it come from, this blight of "craft"? I suspect it came by way of the conservative modernists, the agrarians, the Tates and Ransoms, who viewed modern society as a blight in contrast to the organic societies of the pre-bellum South, i.e. societies held together by slavery. As opposed to the Russian formalists, who were seeking a vocabulary of devices and machinery, in line with their sympathy for socialism and the stripping away of superstition, the conservative modernists wanted a vocabulary that would make supplant the radicalism of, say, the futurist with the dark port wine views of a Spengler, moaning for an aristocracy.
In spite of this, "craft" did, to an extent, democratize literary culture. That culture was overwhelmingly masculinist, and I feel that it is turning. Put that in the balance with the trivialization effected by craft, the mini-industry that has sprung up around it, the mystification of the culture producer's position in the system of media and entertainment. Everything that I value in literary culture is anti-craft. Sloppiness, guesses, rants, jibes, reportage, stories told while waiting in line, raps while drinking in the park, emails, tweets, porno fan fic- these are the forms I want to go back to.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

the stub principle: there has never been a Truth era

We are not living in a post-Truth era, for the simple reason that we have never, ever lived in a Truth era.

We are living in the era of data availability. For instance, I don’t know whether it has quite been realized in the social sciences that when archives and libraries throw unimaginable masses of texts – books, newspapers magazines - on line, and subject them to the search engine, we have a very interesting means of catching the way histories have been written – and have overwritten troubling details. I’ve been working on a non-fiction/fiction story about the assassination of Dmitri Navachine, a minor figure, cut down in 1937 in Paris. And I’m seeing how from the get go the assassination was lied about, Navachine was lied about, specific parts of the whole scene were taled and re-taled like some chromosomal code gone awry, with mutations galore, and how this seeped into almost every historical account of the 30s in France written by historians, many of them Anglophones. Navachine is supposed to be part of a series of the minor lives of the Cold War – I’ve already written about X, a real figure whose murder was solved, but never prosecuted. Navachine is a variation on this theme. The one and only certainty I go by is the stub principle. Stub was the word introduced by William Gibson to designate alternative time tracks – pasts that don’t converge on one canonical past. The reviewers all reference multi-universe theory and what have you, when they could just reference our common past, our twentieth century past, where stubs proliferate. The thirties were an intense time – a low decade, as Auden put it – as compared to, say, the fifties. Or so it might seem looking back. But once you dive into the huge datapile that the internet has made available, you find out that it is stubs all the way down.

I suppose the hope is that at some point, the violence leaks out: that the I – you relationship is re-established. In Lucretian terms, ultimately love rules the universe. I think that is in fact a better account than one that relies on the truth. The truth is a cold thing, as cold as a clue, while love is an organic thing, and warmth is not just its milieu but its essence. We can’t live in a truth era, ever; we can’t suppress the stub principle. The dream should not be everybody agreeing on one canonical version of the world, but rather, a polis in which the citizen is taught to sublimate the violence inherent to their stub – to live in it with the appropriate humor.
IMO, as the kids text.

what is this poem selling


What is this poem selling?

For the plausible, the uncle looking man

On the You Tube channel is definitive:

It is by selling that we die and live


All things we see above us

And the terror in which we are dressed

Is to sell something to someone

And so on. I was impressed


By this cosmic vision. When God made the earth

And it was good – it was to sell

And even the devil is a pr man

Marketing property in hell.


Well well well. Everything is sales,

 And always be closing, you hear?

This poem is selling an irony

While I’m shedding a tear in my beer.


O O, I can’t argue with the uncle looking man

But suspect selling everything’s a bad bad plan.

- Karen Chamisso






olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...