Thursday, September 16, 2021

The platform review rides again! Stephen Marche at Lithub

 My old buddy Chris Hudson pointed out this article on Lithub by Stephen Marche, and I went and found that very 00s thing, the platform Review! The Platform review takes a tour d'horizon of, usually, fiction and tells you why the current scene sucks, It used to be the specialty of James Wood when he was at the unlamented TNR under Leon Wieseltier, the biggest poseur since Norman Podhoretz. You know, Leon? who also considered himself a chaser of women, usually the ones working at the TNR, which meant he was cancelled for a microsecond and then has come back with some well funded mag called Liberties, as in the liberty to chase your hot intern around your desk, or grope her at the bar after impressing her with who you know. Liberties will no doubt sponsor platform reviews, but I wonder if, this time around, the bait will find fishes.

James Wood made way for Dale Peck, whose platform reviews turned up the volume and were way more reactionary than James Wood's - so appropriate for the age of the Global war on tater-totism - or was that terrorism? My fave, in the series of platform reviews, was Zadie Smith's review in the NYRB of novels by Joseph O'Neill and Tom McCarthy called, fingerpointingly, two paths for the novel. Zadie Smith had been attacked, if that is the word, as a hysterical realist - a word that came out of James Wood's platform review of I think Delillo.
When I was a reviewer, I never had a chance to deliver a platform review. I sorta sigh for what could have been, even though I don't really have a view of what the novel should be. I do have a view as to what a minimansion should be, or a sports car, but not the novel. I do have a view, even , about what the platform review should be, and Stephen Marche's, try as it may, is too diffuse and too unfooted in any historical sense of literature to do. Much as I dislike Wood's taste in contemporary novels, I grant him a large background. But Marche is the kind of guy who evidently has never heard of Hemingway posing in liquor advertisements, or Lillian Hellman donning a mink for a mink advertisement, and so he thinks he's found the symbol of the age in poor Amanda Gorman, the woman who read the poem at Biden's inaugural:
"Amanda Gorman, after her reading at the inauguration of Joe Biden dressed in a magnificent Prada yellow coat, caused Google searches for “yellow coat” to increase 1,328 percent. She signed a modeling contract with IMG shortly after. The first thing a young poet needs to be heard today is not mastery of language nor the calling of a muse. It’s a look."
The calling of a muse - a muse, just you know one of them, maybe they prank call you, maybe its sextexting - and the idea that poets are so sunk in the lyric they don't have time to master the look (tell that to Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Robert Lowell, Jean Cocteau, Alan Ginsburg, etc. - there are very few modern poets who have not practiced a pose, found the right combination of clothing and hair and intensity to make a look. Which is not a criticism, simply a sociological banality) is a crock. I will say for Groman that she was alive at the stand, more than you can say for Robert Frost (another poet who decided to adopt the cranky farmer look) at JFK's inauguration - nor is her poem the sort of lousy bullshit that Ted Hughes used to pull out of his ass to celebrate the royalty when he was "Poet Laureate" of England.
Gorman, though, is necessary - even though she is a poet - to produce Marche's hook, which is that we've moved from hysterical realism to pose prose. Which of course leads us to posers, but Marche doesn't quite go there.
I do give Marche points for not so obviously chopping away with a dull blade, which was Dale Peck's forte. The fall from Wood to Peck was steep - a sort of hysterical reviewing gone overdrive. Of Marche's target, Sally Rooney, I have read one novel, and I liked it, although not enough to remember it and defend it. I don't think it is any more indicative of our "contemporaneity than Anna Burns Milkman, which had that bad magic vibe I love in a novel, plus the orality - much like James Kelman's How late it was...
I wonder if the platform-review is gonna make a comeback? I guess only time and Twitter will tell.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

she reached out - a poem



With her blood in the water short silk slip

- her sleeping giant eyes -

Isn’t she the cutest knock on your door

Since you made it to the big girls club?


She’s knuckled down on the finish line

-         This is a transition period – stuff happens!

“ It was the wrong issue before the war,

and it's the wrong issue now,”


Sez the man with the plan.

He cannot see her as he veers into oncoming

- this daughter of Night - who from her rape

Bore that scar Helen.  

- Karen Chamisso

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Interessant, na? cool thoughts in a cool shade


Friedrich Schlegel as a young dude was adept at netting the words that were in the air – and a lot of them were in the 1790s. Thus, in his essay on Greek poetry, he netted the word “interessant” – interesting. In Kant’s critique of judgment, the aesthetic realm was distinguished from the practical realm by its dis-interest. It was not interested in money, science or ethics, in itself. Schlegel took this to be a description of art in its “objective” state. Being a German romantic, he connected German philosophy to Greek culture – an often repeated move – and contrasted the objective art of the Greeks, an art that was natural and close to pure aesthetics, with the interested art of the moderns. That we label Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles Oedipus the King both tragedies is, for Schlegel, an error in the universal inventory – Sophocles being objective, and Shakespeare introducing the “interested” element.

The interesting – and self-interest – are, for Schlegel, hallmarks of the modern.

According to the OED, the etymology of the word ‘interest’ is mysterious. Until the sixteenth century, interest was spelled interess in English. It seems to have come from inter-esse, between being. Isn ‘t that the doxic object in its (non) essence?  It meant a claim on, a share in – what you give is what you take, potlatch rules. But the old French was interet, and it meant loss, or damage. Somehow, the “t” made its perilous way across the channel and stuck itself to interess. Which of course still meant share, claim, and contained economic meanings that would pacify Shylock – but it also broadened out to mean being curious about. Is curiosity a harm? Does the evil eye drill a hole in your soul? Or is the object or person or event claiming you? Or you, it?

Kant in the Critique of Judgement cut bait and decided that the aesthetic, at least, could not be reduced to the useful. The beautiful is without interest – although, with Kant, that moment of disinterestedness gives a satisfaction.Friedrich Schlegel, in his study of Greek Poetry, has his own sense of Kant’s beauty – beauty is not, to read Schlegel one way, for the moderns, precisely because it does not damage, it does not claim. It is an ancient ideal. The modern ideal is the interesting. Schlegel was 22 at the time he wrote his essay. He was in Dresden. It was the year of retraction – 1794-1795 in France. Schlegel was on that point in the arc of his career where he was tending rightward. He ended up, of course, as an old Metternich propagandist.

Yet in spotting the interesting as the fundamental modernist aesthetic mode, he was definitely on to something. It is one of those aesthetic modes fated to be continually jinxed by philosophy, which can’t get over its Greek fixation oneauty. Recently, Sianne Ngai has been stirring things up by reflecting on marginalized aesthetic categories, like cuteness, zaniness or the interesting. In her chapter from her book about these aesthetic categories, the interesting gets dubbed the “merely interesting”. Ngai, too, goes to Schlegel for the codification of the interesting in the long game of contrasting the subjective modern to the objective classical. Schlegel, however, shows that the logic of the interesting – as opposed to the interest-ed, is stymied by the in-betweeness – the inevitable projection – of the subject. The interesting, to use McLuhan’s contrast, is cool, while the interested is hot.

In the English and American culture of the nineteenth century, the interesting had little standing. Interesting never fell from the lips of a critic like Hazlitt, or Ruskin, or Arnold, who were uncomfortable with the implication – at its most radical – that there was no room, here, for judgment. That is, the interesting seemed merely interesting, with that mereness making for a degree zero of judgment. The Victorians were nothing if not judgers.

In the revolt against the Victorians, the interesting returns to represent, mysteriously, an aesthetic attitude, something I associate with Stein and Duchamp.

As lan Mieszkowski underscores in Labors of

Imagination, the interesting for Schlegel is thus ultimately a matter of comparison based not on kind but on degree. "Since all magnitudes can be multiplied into infinity," Schlegel writes, "Even that which is most interesting could be more interesting .... All quanta are infinitely progressive" (35,72). There is thus a sense, as Schlegel's fellow Athenaeum contributor

Navalis notes, in which what is Most interesting is the 'presentation of an object in series-(series of variations, modifications, etc.).” Ngai, 122.

Schlegel’s idea here derives in part from the opposition to what he took to be the source of Greek objectivity – the search for the perfect. If we see the perfect as the contrary of the interesting, we get close to why it is such a modern – modernist – aesthetic mode, and why it is dogged by its own generated opposite – the boring.


Ngai’s chapter follows Schlegel in defining the aesthetic mode from the side of the spectator, the aesthetic consumer, rather than the producer. However, once we grant the interesting a right to its place in the aesthetic domain, we are granting it a place in the whole set of motivations that come together in creation – motivations that may well overwhelm the divide between producer and consumer.


Which is where I will leave this note.






The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...