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Showing posts from June 4, 2023

Nathaniel Mackay's oppositional nostalgia, and mine

  The poet Nathaniel Mackay wrote a brilliant, manifesto-like   essay in 1987 entitled “Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol” that begins, as most American poetic manifestos do not begin, with a consideration of anthropological fact. Mackay begins with the belief about sound and music – bird music, wind music – of the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea. Kaluli myth – rather like Greek myth – locates the origin of music in the moment in which a human being is transformed into a bird. Philomela of course has left her mark on modern poetry – jug jug to dirty ears/so rudely forced. In the Kaluli case, a boy and his sister are catching crayfish. The boy begs some of the crayfish from his sister. She refuses. He puts a crayfish over his nose, which becomes a red beak. Then he spouts wings and flies away as a muni bird. Rather like the Grimm’s tale, the Juniper Bush, in which the soul of a murdered boy becomes a bird that sings an accusatory song, the muni bird’s song goes: "Your crayfish you d

The reference landscape and the big fire

  It is hard to keep hold of an emergency feeling when the urgency is sliced and diced by the news cycle. We know that the past twenty years have been crucial. We know that once, in the old days at the end of the Cold War, we – we meaning the developed economies of the world – actually acted to prevent the ozone hole from eating us up. And we know since, we have done squat as we watch through our windows, on our nature specials, on our vacations, the world as we know it undergo what fire historian Stephen Pyne calls “the spectacle of unremitting loss.” As the atmosphere emergency drifts South and West, the focus turns to the usual trivia. Well, naturally. Still, a good time to read Pyne’s essay in Aeon .   An excerpt: “I see the world through a pyric prism. In the reforging of Earth, I see fires, especially those burning fossil fuels, as a cause. I see fires, mutating into megafires, as a consequence – and fires everywhere as a catalyst. The Anthropocene is, for me, a Pyrocene, a

Cain's papers

  Few writers have seen their best sentences become their death sentences. Morris Markey, though, was one of those few. Lawrence Morris Markey. He is best known, if known at all, as an early New Yorker writer. He wrote novels too – about Dixie. His wife was related to Margaret Mitchell, but he married her before the latter became the author of Gone With The Wind. That must have peeved him – he’d been the one to leave Atlanta behind and make it in New York and the big time. The big time dwindled in Hollywood, in Holiday Magazine, in writing radio spots. As well, while Mitchell went in for 19th century prose, Markey’s reporting on murders, vagabands and riff raff was very much Neue Sachlichkeit, the American version. Markey is associated with two engrossing articles about murders, some of which are still recycled for the mystery and the podcastery in them. One was the murder of Starr Faithfull, whose body was tossed up on the shore of Long Beach, Long Island on June 8, 1931. The ot

Lead dogs: Kriegszittern and the post-war

  Kafka being an expert on work related accidents was called upon, in World War I, to use his talents in Prague’s Temporary Psychiatric Hospital for shell shocked soldiers. He wrote a publicity sheet for the Hospital that rather disconcerts his biographer, Reiner Stach.   Far from Kafka the response of the Dadaists, which was to spit on the war. Instead, this is how the sheet begins: “Fellow Countrymen!   The World War, in which all human misery is concentrated, is also a war of nerves, more so than ay previous war. And in this war of nerves, all too many suffer defeat. Just as the intensive operation of machinery during the last few decades’ peacetime jeopardized, far more than ever before, the nervous system of those so employed, giving rise to nervous disturbances and disorders, the enormous increase in the mechanical aspect of contemporary warfare has caused the most serious risks and suffering for the nerves of our fighting men.”   This is written for a good purpose, because r

Beggars and billionaires

  T he beggar and the billionaire bookend neoliberal culture. During the era of the social democratic exception, from the mid forties to roughly the eighties, homelessness – and vagabondage – fell considerably. Not that this was an unmitigated good – from the mental asylum to the housing project, coercion, violence, despair and underfunding were endemic. But the effect of state cuts to welfare and to the general withdrawal of the state from housing, mental health care, and retirement funding had effects that were seen throughout the developed economies.   In Les gens de rien: l’histoire de la grande pauvreté dans le France du XXe siecle, Andre Guesclen traces the decline of vagabondage and homelessness during the thirty glorious years and their return at the end of the century. The same story was told, in 1991, by Joel Blau in The Visible Poor. The visible poor, an excellent title. I have a media knowledge of billionaires. How could I not. They populate telenovelas, like Succession