Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 4.1

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Barnes, Julian

Apparently I liked something about Julian Barnes, because I also read this, his first novel. It is a sort of British baby-boomer coming of age tale about two friends who aspire to be artists. One becomes one, the other does not, gets a job, moves to the suburbs. Everyone is unhappy. They made a movie about it starring Emily Watson and, I think, Christian Bale, which wasn't terrible. I think I may also have read another book by Barnes, Before She Met Me, which is no longer in my library (where are all the books I have lost, sold, given away?). Barnes' books all have a certain amount of superficial pleasure to them, but none have really stayed with me. I remember also reading Martin Amis at the time and having the same feeling. Funny, brilliant in its way, forgettable.

It begins:

There is no rule against carrying binoculars in the National Gallery.

On this particular Wednesday afternoon in the summer of 1963, Toni had the notebook and I had the glasses. So far, it had been a productive visit. There had been the young nun in the men's spectacles who smiled sentimentally at the Arnolfini Wedding, and then, after a few moments, frowned and made a disapproving cluck. There had been the anoraked girl hiker, so transfixed by the Crivelli altarpiece that we simply stood on either side of her and noted the subtlest parting of the lips, the faintest tautening of skin across the cheekbones and the brow ("Spot anything on the temple your side?" "Zero" -- so Toni wrote down Temple twitch; LHS only). And there had been the man in the chalk-stripe suit, hair precisely parted an inch above his right ear, who twitched and squirmed in front of a small Monet landscape. He puffed out hi cheeks, leaned back slowly on his heels, and exhaled like a discreet balloon.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 4

Flaubert's Parrot
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Barnes, Julian
Flaubert's Par

I read this in college. I don't remember anything except looking up the word "boules" from the first sentence in my French/English dictionary. In case you are wondering:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Boules (French IPA: [bul]) is a collective name for games played with metal balls.

Two of the most played boule games are pétanque and boule lyonnaise. The aim of the game is to get large, heavy, balls as close to the small, 'jack'. It is very popular especially in France where it may often be seen played in any open space in villages and towns. It is also referred to as 'Bowls'.

Anyhow, I recall this being a bit snarky and also a bit of a disappointment. I'd recommend reading Flaubert instead.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 3

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Barnes, Djuna

Richard Deming gave me this book when we read together in New Haven last fall. I am embarrassed to say I hadn't read it before and still have not. I plan to, though. Honest. Not having read this book is also making me uncomfortably aware of how overwhelmingly male my library is.

I blame my parents.

Someone marked a single passage in the book (was it Richard Deming? or some other anonymous previous reader?). It's on page 37:

Such a woman is the infected carrier of the past: before her the structure of our head and jaws ache -- we feel that we could eat her, she who is eaten death returning, for only then do we put our face close to the blood on the lips of our forefathers.

In the margins, the anonymous reader has written: "Cannibal? Vampire?"

The mystery lives on.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 2

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ballard, J.G.
Crash/A Novel

A newish book, which I believe Jonathan Skinner recommended to me when he was teaching a science fiction class a few years ago. I had seen the Cronenberg film of this novel years before, but had never got around to reading it. Probably just as well, as I had forgotten most of it by the time I did get to it, so made no fruitless comparisons, other than to say I liked them both.

This is one of those novels that leaves a kind of stain on your consciousness long after you've read it, both because of the quality of the writing and because of the disturbing content of the narrative. For instance:

Vaughn died yesterday in his last car-crash. During our friendship he had rehearsed his death in many crashes, but this was his only true accident. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, his car jumped the rails of the London Airport flyover and plunged through the roof of a bus filed with airline passengers. The crushed bodies of the package tourists, like a haemorrhage of the sun, still lay across the vinyl seats when I pushed my way through the police engineers an hour later. Holding the arm of her chauffeur, the film actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Vaughn had dreamed of dying for so many months, stood alone under the revolving ambulance lights. As I knelt over Vaughn's body she placed a glove over her throat.

Could she see, in Vaughn's posture, the formula of the death which he had devised for her?

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 1

Bachelard, Gaston
The Poetics of Space

Another grad school purchase, though I am pretty sure I bought it on my own, rather than for a class. I have a memory of really wanting to like this book. Of wanting to have a profound experience in the reading of it. Sadly, I have no memory of having had such an experience. My underlinings indicate that I never read beyond the first chapter. And glancing over it again, I find parts of this book pretty laughable. For instance, his complaint about horizontal homes (which don't fit neatly into his scheme):

Home has become mere horizontality. The different rooms that compose living quarters jammed into one floor all lack one of the fundamental principles for distinguishing and classifying the values of intimacy.

Quelle horreur! Not all houses are are like old French houses! How are we to understand them if they don't have a garret (for daydreaming) and a basement (for a subconscious)? This is the kind of book that will really get you off if you imagine poetry as a tidy little thing that never changes and can be talked about like an old French house. Otherwise -- reader, move on.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Aimless Reading: The Reference Books, Part 4

Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

I stole this, too. And from Catholic missionaries in Ecuador no less! I know I am going to hell for this one. But who really needs a dictionary this big when they are doing missionary work in Ecuador? Answer: me. But I am the only one -- so I took it. So there. They have Jesus, I have the Dictionary.

Aimless Reading: The Reference Books, Part 3

Lighter, J.E.
Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang
Vol I, A-g, Vol 2, H-O

I know, I know, half of the set is missing. But it's not my fault -- it never appeared, which is very unfortunate, because this is a tremendous reference work. According to Wikipedia, the story of it's non-publication and proposed future publication are as follows:

The Historical Dictionary of American Slang, often abbreviated HDAS, is the most comprehensive and thoroughly researched dictionary of American slang and the only American slang dictionary prepared entirely on historical principles. The first two volumes, Volume 1, A - G (1994), and Volume 2, H - O (1997), were published by Random House, and the work then was known as the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, sometimes abbreviated as RHHDAS. Both volumes used the same ISBN, ISBN 0-394-54427-7; the paperback editions are ISBN 978-0394544274 for Volume 1 and ISBN 978-0679434641 for Volume 2. Random House decided to discontinue publication, but Oxford University Press announced in 2003 that it would publish the two remaining volumes. Volume 3, P - S [Part 1] is expected to be published in February 2008, ISBN 978-0195174182, and Volume 4, S [Part 2] - Z, is expected to be published in 2009. HDAS is notable for its use of historical principles, the dictionary approach exemplified by the Oxford English Dictionary. Each entry includes representative quotations, including the earliest quotation using the word. HDAS is edited by Dr. Jonathan E. Lighter, of the University of Tennessee.

Oxford promises to the contrary, the later two volumes have yet to be published, and I probably won't be able to afford them when they are. I plucked these two off the sale table at work -- and I didn't even pay for them! (Do you think I am going to hell?)

Here's the entry for "eye-fuck":

v. to gaze or stare at lecherously; (hence, esp. Mil.) to stare at.--usu. considered vulgar.


Aimless Reading: The Reference Books, Part 2

German Verb Drills
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Henschel, Astrid
German Verb Drill

Is it me, or is their something vaguely terrifying and clearly intimidating about the cover of this book? Anyhow, when I was working on my first book of poems, I was reading a lot of Paul Celan. I found that I wanted to read him in German. I bought this book and a German-English dictionary. Life interrupted. End of story.

Ich sage     -- I say, I am saying, I do say

Du sagst
or                -- you say, you are saying, you do say
Sie Sagen

er                    he says, he is saying, he does say
sie                   she says, she is saying, she does say
es       sagt -- it says, it is saying, it does say
man               one says, one is saying, one does say

wir sagen -- we say, we are saying, we do say

ihr sagt
or                -- you say, you are saying, you do say
Sie sagen

sie sagen   -- they say, they are saying, they do say

Said, and done.

Aimless Reading: The Reference Books, Part 1

Hansen, Hardy and Quinn, Gerald M
Greek, An Intensive Course

I decided to teach myself Greek ten years ago. I learned the Greek alphabet, which has come in handy now and again, but that was it.

Here's part of a drill (transliterated by me):

1. anthropos
2. Agamemnon
3. dramata
4. biblion
5. barbaros
6. graphike
7. Demosthenes
8. epistole
9. Hektor
11. Helene
12. Dzoe
13. Elektra
14. Helios
15. Herakles
16. Theatron
17. Theos
18. Historia

What a great list! I only had to look at the alphabet gloss once: because I forgot that H = E and also that 'H = he. Makes me want to try to learn greek all over again.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The A's
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Section: The A's

Number of titles: 54
Number of authors: 32

Next up, the B's!

But first, I will present some selected reference books, which are not shelved in any order, but which are within in easy reach of the author.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 32.2

Ayrala, Ricardo Rojas
Caligramas: a espinazos locos de amor

Another book by Sr. Ayrala. It's possible I did not meet the author and that I was given the book by Daniel Muxica, the editor of this series. Muxica is a writer and editor in Buenos Aires who I met in Havana in 2001. I'll have more on him when I get to the M's.

Anyhow, this book appears to be a heavily literary and very playful. It begins with 5 prologues by different writers (they may have been written by the author himself, in the voice of the other writers). The ook is divided into 39 cantos, each of them the dividing the page into two. The first half, at the top of each page utilizes fonts and spacings of various weights and widths. In the middle of each page is a small illustration marking the divid between parts, most of which look to be of some indigenous origin (I would guess Mayan, but am no expert in this). The second half of each canto, occupying the bottom part of the page, uses one font size and standard spacing. Skimming through, they appear almost to be a kind of call and response -- similar to Spicer's Lorca poems. But I can't be sure, as I haven't really spent any time with this book.

The book ends with a glossary, as well as a couple of commentaries on the reading of the text, written by the author.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 32

Miniaturas Quilmes
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ayrala, Ricardo Rojas
Miniaturas Quilmes

I believe this book was given to me by the author in Havana in 2001. I haven't read it and am having difficulty remembering Sr. Ayrala.  I looked at photos of him on the internet, but I am sad to say I don't remember him. It is a book of prose poems in Spanish.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 31

Ayhan, Ece
The Blind Car Black
& Orthodoxies
(Trans. from Turkish
by Murat Nemet-Nejat)

Last year in the weeks following Orhan Pamuk's visit to Buffalo, I had the pleasure to bring a whole group of Turkish poets to Buffalo to read (read about their visit here), along with poet and translator Murat Nemet-Nejat, a turkish writer who lives in the states. After they left, we all traded books and Murat gave me this book of translations of the poet Ece Ayhan (who was not part of the group of visiting poets.) It's comprised of two short books of prose poems.

Here's the title poem for the first book:

The Blind Cat Black

An absent-minded tightrope walker comes. From the sea of late hours. Blows out a lamp. Lies down next to my weeping side, for the sake of the prophet. A blind woman downstairs. Family. She raves in a language I don't know. On her chest a heavy butterfly, broken drawers in it. My Aunt Sadness drinks alcohol in the attic, embroiders. Expelled from schools. A blind cat passes in the black street. In its sack a child just dead. His wings don't fit, too big. The Old Hawker Cries. A pirate ship. Has entered the port.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30.6

Auster, Paul
The Book Of Illusions

Alas, another unread book. I think Jonathan Welch gave me this one, too. Anyhow, lest we end our fruitful time with Mr. A on a dull note, I share an anecdote.

When Auster was in Buffalo in 2005, I spent the better part of three days driving he and his wife, Siri Hustvedt, around from book signing to reading to dinner to film screening to lecture to Niagara Falls and so on. Prior to a book signing at a B & N in the suburbs, the three of us were sitting outside the store until the signing began, chatting, smoking, enjoying the sunlight, etc. 

Somehow, we got to telling ethnic jokes. Auster told me a joke about his own clan (the Jews) and I responded by telling him one about my own (the Irish). It was then that we all had what I can only describe as a Paul Auster moment, only in real life. I started telling the joke, which has to do with an Irishman who always orders three beers at a time. I got about 1/3 of the way through when suddenly Auster's eyes widened and he looked at Siri with what I can only describe as a combination of excitement and dread. The two began nodding at one another, half-smiling, half-terrified. 

Suddenly, Auster turned to me and said, "Does this joke end with the punch line: I quit drinking?" 

"Yes," I said. 

Then, in a curious, yet slightly suspicious tone, he asked, "Where did you hear that joke?" 

I said I didn't know but that I'd been telling it for years. 

Then, with rising dread, "Do many people know this joke? Have people you told it to known the punch line before?" 

"Not usually," I said. "I have always thought of it as my own." 

Looking somewhat relieved, he said, "Siri's father told me that joke, only without the Irish slant. I have never heard anyone else tell that joke before, and I was worried because I put it into my next book!"

The way he lit up at the discovery of a coincidence made it feel for a moment as if we were three characters in one of his novels.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30.5

Auster, Paul
Tales from the Scriptorium

This is an unread galley I was given by Jonathan Welch, proprietor of Talking Leaves...Books, Buffalo's finest independent bookstore.

Random quotation from a random page:

By now, Mr. Blank has read all he can stomach, and he is not the least bit amused.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30.4

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Auster, Paul

This is the last book of Paul Auster's that I actually read (I also read In The Country of Last Things, which I once loaned to a girlfriend, who never returned it, natch). I think I stopped reading fiction for close to 10 years beginning in 1996 or 7, reading almost exclusively poetry and philosophy until 2006 or 7, when I got the fiction bug again.

My memory of the story is pretty vague, but I am pretty sure I stole this off the shelf of an editor at Hyperion Books, where I worked as a temp for 6 months in 1996.

(Do you think I am going to hell?)

It begins:

Six days ago, a man blew himself up by the side of a rode in northern Wisconsin. There were no witnesses, but it appears that he was sitting on the grass next to his parked car when the bomb he was building accidentally went off. According to the forensic reports that have just been published, the man was killed instantly. His body burst into dozens of small pieces, and fragments of his corpse were found as far as fifty feet away from the site of the explosion. As of today (July 4, 1990), no one seems to have any idea who the dead man was.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30.3

Moon Palace
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Auster, Paul
Moon Palace

On November 21, 1996, at around 7 a.m., the phone rang in my apartment at 235 East 4th St. in New York. It was my mother calling from Virginia. My father had not woken up from the surgery he'd had the previous afternoon to clear a blocked carotid artery. I'd better catch the first train home, I was told. I packed a bag, called Amtrak and walked over to the F station at Houston and 1st. At Penn Station I had to wait an hour before the next train departed for DC. Trying to not think about the fact that my father was going to die, I decided to purchase a book. I entered a bookstore, headed straight to the fiction section, and purchased Moon Palace.

I read for three straight hours on the train, and then for another on the orange line to Vienna. That's as far as I got in Auster's novel. I never went back to finish, not wanting to be reminded of the dread I was feeling on the train. It turned out my father had had a stroke after the operation intended to prevent a stroke. He died the next day, November 22. I recall my mother asking across the kitchen table if November 22 wasn't also the anniversary of the JFK assassination. I said it was. She nodded her head and said, I thought so.

I was never sure what that coincidence meant to her.

From Moon Palace

It was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young back then, but I did not believe there would ever be a future. I wanted to live dangerously, to push myself as far as I could go, and then see what happened to me when I got there. As it turned out, I nearly did not make it. Little by little, I saw my money dwindle to zero; I lost my apartment; I wound up living in the streets. If not for a girl named Kitty Wu, I probably would have starved to death. I had met her by chance only a short time before, but eventually I cam t see that chance as a form of readiness, a way of saving myself through the minds of others. That was the first part. From then on, strange things happened to me. I took the job with the old man in the wheelchair. I found out who my father was. I walked across the desert from Utah to California. That was a long time ago, of course, but I remember those days well, I remember them as the beginning of my life.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30.2

Auster, Paul
The New York Trliogy
"City of Glass"
"The Locked Room"

I don't remember buying this book, though I am sure I did so in the mid-nineties in NYC. This is Auster's first published fiction effort, three novellas that bring into being all the literary characteristics one might call "Austeresque": character doubling, mixing fiction with overtly autobiographical fact, using the detective novel as a narrative device, etc.

It opens with "City of Glass," but my favorite is "Ghosts," which begins thusly:

First of all there is Blue. Later there is White, and then there is Black, and before the beginning there is Brown. Brown broke him in, Brown taught him the ropes, and when Brown grew old, Blue took over. That is how it begins. The place is New York, the time is the present, and neither one will ever change. Blue goes to his office every day and sits at his desk, waiting for something to happen. For a long time nothing does, and then a man named White walks through the door, and that is how it begins.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30.1

Auster, Paul
The Music of Chance

Probably my favorite novel by Paul Auster (as opposed to my favorite book), I bought this copy at Libri Mundi in Quito, Ecaudor, which was the only place I knew of in the city to buy good books in English -- new ones anyway. My recollection of the store is that most of the English imports were actually imported from England, and that they were very expensive. This particular paperback cost 40,150 sucres, which in 1994 was 16 dollars, a lot of money for a volunteer working with the poorest of the poor. But hey, it's Paul Auster.

I know what you are thinking -- why weren't you spending your year abroad reading only in that language? I have no good answer to that question other than to say it was really hard. We had to teach 12 hours a day in Spanish, so coming home to read in English at the end of each day was a bit of a respite, as was watching 7-8 hours in a row of Seinfeld on VHS on a saturday.

My memory for details is somewhat vague, but I remember a man has a gambling debt and that he is held prisoner by another man or some men to whom he owes money, and then he builds a wall. The image of him building the wall has always stayed with me. There's something very sisyphean about the man and his fate. I also remember renting the movie when I got back to New York, and how disappointing it was.


It begins:

For one whole year he did nothing but drive, traveling back and forth across America as he waited for the money to run out. He hadn't expected it to go on that long, but one thing kept leading to another, and by the time Nashe understood what was happening to him, he was past the point of wanting it to end. Three days into the thirteenth month, he met up with the kid who called himself Jackpot. It was one of those random, accidental encounters that seem to materialize out of thin air -- a twig that breaks off in the wind and suddenly lands at your feet. Had it occurred at any other moment, it is doubtful that Nashe would have opened his mouth. But because he had already given up, because he figured there was nothing to lose anymore, he saw the stranger as a reprieve, as a last chance to do something for himself before it was too late. And just like that, he went ahead and did it. Without the slightest tremor of fear, Nashe closed his eyes and jumped.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30

Auster, Paul
The Invention of Solitude

One of my all-time favorite books, The Invention of Solitude is Paul Auster's memoir/meditation on fatherhood and death. It also marks the end of his career as a poet and the beginning of his career as a novelist. I first heard of Paul Auster on a visit to Paris in May 1993. I had befriended a painter there who was also an avid reader and who recommended this book to me. When I returned, I thought I was carrying back news to NYC news of some undiscovered American writer only appreciated by the French. Turns out I was about the only person in the city who had not read Auster.

This is definitely not the first copy of the book I purchased, despite its somewhat worn condition. Several times when recommending this book to others I have given them my only copy. This is at least my third.

Even though the book is less than 200 pages long, I have always read it slowly, pausing after nearly every paragraph to think about what I had just read, to savor the language and the richness of his thought. My own father died prematurely 3 years after I first read this book, and having read it, I somehow felt like I had been to a rehearsal of that event.

I took my love of this book to true extremes when, in 2004, I chose it for Just Buffalo's "If All Of Buffalo Read The Same Book" program, and tried to get everyone in the Buffalo to read it. I think I got a couple of thousand people to read it, anyhow. More importantly, I got to hang out with Paul Auster and his wife, writer Siri Hustvedt, for the better part of three days. To say it was the thrill of a lifetime is an understatement.

Here's the opening paragraph which, IMHP, is one of the great opening paragraphs in literature:

One day there is life. A man, for example, in the best of health, not even old, with no history of illness. Everything is as it was, as it will always be. He goes from one day to the next, minding his own business, dreaming only of the life that lies before him. And then, suddenly, it happens there is death. A man lets out a little sigh, he slumps down in his chair, and it is death. The suddenness of it leaves no room for thought, gives the mind no chance to seek out a word that might comfort it. We are left with nothing but death, the irreducible fact of our own mortality. Death after a long illness we can accept with resignation. Even accidental death we can ascribe to fate. But for a man to die of no apparent cause, for a man to die simply because he is a man, brings us so close to the invisible boundary between life and death that we no longer know which side we are on. Life becomes death, and it as if this death has owned this life all along. Death without warning. Which is to say: life stops. And it can stop at any moment.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 29 (Though it should be Part 12)

Alfonso, Carlos Augusto
La oración de letrán

This is the first, and I am sure not the last, book that was shelved out of order. It's proper place should have been between Charles Alexander and Kazim Ali. Noted.

Carlos Alfonso was a name that seemed to have an aura around it in Cuba. In fact, I think there were actually two Carlos Alfonsos. I am not sure which one this is, but I am pretty sure this is the one with the aura. I also have a memory of his reading that is very confused. Either: he read and I saw him read and did not meet him and heard that it was very rare for him to read. Or: he did not read and I heard he was supposed to have read and that it was very rare for him to read.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 28

Augustine, St.
The Confessions

I stole this from my mother. Do you think I am going to hell? I never read it? Do you think I am going to hell? I don't believe in God. Do you think I am going to hell? I am not ashamed to have a body? Do you think I am going to hell? I am not averse to pleasure. Do you think I am going to hell?


I bought, er, stole this because I read a passage of it that is in the Philosophical Investigations that I liked -- it's about the acquisition and use of language -- but I never got around to reading the whole thing. Do you think...

Anyhow, here is that passage:

When they (my elders) named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples; the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of the voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 27

Audobon, John James
Writings and Drawings

Ok, I admit: I bought this one for the pictures and because it was in the bargain bin at the outlet mall. I've never read it and probably never will.

So, here's a quick passage and an extra picture for good measure:

Purple Grakle or Common
Quiscalis versicolor, Vielle.

I could not think of any better bode of representing these birds than that which I have adopted, as it exhibits them in the exercise of their nefarious propensities. Look at them: The male, as if full of delight at the sight of the havoc which he has already committed on the tender, juicy, unripe corn on which he stands, has swelled his throat, and is calling in exultation to his companions to come and assist him in demolishing it. The female has fed herself, and is about to fly off with a well-loaded bill to her hungry and expectant brood, that, from the nest, look on their plundering parents, joyously anticipating the pleasures of which they ere long shall be allowed to participate. See how torn the husk is from the ear, and how nearly devoured the grains of corn already are! This is the tithe our Blackbirds take from out planters and farmers; but it was so appointed, and such is the will of the beneficent creator.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 26.1

Auden, W.H.
Selected Poems

A few years ago, I wanted to go back and read Auden to see if there was something there for me. When I did, I discovered that my copy from way back when was a mess of someone else's underlinings, so I sold it to the used book store and bought this new, expanded version. I didn't find what I was looking for. I admire his metrical abilities, but I find the majority of the poems difficult to enter into. However, when I can enter in, they are spot on. This famous one, for instance, seems all too apt for today:

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 26

The Dyer's Hand
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Auden, W.H.
The Dyer's Hand

This copy of The Dyer's Hand definitely dates to my undergraduate days. I think it was purchased for a graduate level course I took on modernist poetry: one of those classes where you go read an essay by a poet, then go read the poems and try to figure out how the clearly articulated ideas of the essay are embodied in the confused musical mess of the poem. Which, of course, misses the point of both.

Auden has never been hugely important to me, but I remember reading the essay, "The Poet & The City." Here's the first little bit:

It is astonishing how many young people of both sexes, when asked what they want to do in life, give neither a sensible answer like "I want to be a lawyer, an innkeeper, a farmer," nor a romantic answer like "I want to be an explorer, a racing motorist, a missionary, President of the United States." A surprisingly large number say, "I want to be a writer," and by writing they mean "creative" writing. Even if they say "I want to be a journalist," this is because they are under the illusion that in that profession they will be able to create; even if their genuine desire is to make money, they will select some highly paid subliterary pursuit like Advertising.

Among these would-be writers, the majority have no marked literary gift. This in itself is not surprising; a marked gift for any occupation is not very common. What is surprising us that such a high percentage of those without any marked talent for any profession should think of writing as the solution. One would have expected that a certain number would imagine they had a talent for medicine or engineering and so on, but this is not the case. In our age, if a young person is untalented, the odds are in favor of his imagining he wants to write.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 25

Atencio, Caridad
Los cursos imantados

Another book I picked up in Cuba. I haven't read it, nor do I have more than a faint recollection of meeting the author. According to her bio, Caridad Atencio was born in Havana in 1953, and this book was her fourth book of poems.

The literal translation of the title is something like "The Magnetized Courses." I am sure that isn't really getting at something, but I can't say what. According to the back of the book, Los cursos is "entirely dedicated to reflecting on the act of writing."

Here's a link to a translation of a poem with some other info on Caridad Atencio -- according to this, she was born in 1963, and according to another site, 1973.   

And that's all for now.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 24.4

Atwood, Margaret
Bluebeard's Egg


When my mother was very small, someone gave her a basket of baby chicks for easter. They all died.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 24.3

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Atwood, Margaret


I can't believe I am on this road again, twisting along past the lake where the white birches are dying, the disease is spreading up from the south, and I notice they now have seaplanes for hire. But this is still near the city limits; we didn't go through, it's swelled enough to have a bypass, that's success.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 24.2

The Robber Bride
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Atwood, Margaret
The Robber Bride


The story of Zenia ought to begin when Zenia began. It must have been some place long ago and distant in space, thinks Tony; someplace bruised, and very tangled. A european print, hand-tinted, ochre-coloured, with dusty sunlight and a lot of bushes in it -- bushes with thick leaves and ancient twisted roots, behind which, out of sight in the undergrowth and hinted at only by a boot protruding, or a slack hand, something ordinary but horrifying is taking place.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 24.1

Alias Grace
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Atwood, Margaret
Alias Grace


Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails' eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 24

Cat's Eye
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Atwood, Margaret
Cat's Eye

I haven't read any of the Margaret Atwood books I am about to post. They all belong to Lori, who read them in college.

First paragraph:

Time is not a line, but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 23.2

Ashbery, John
your name here (poems)

Bought this late book of Ashbery's at Malaprop's bookstore in Asheville, NC. My family rented a friend's childhood home on the outskirts of town and spent the holidays there in, I think, 2003. During the five days we spent there, 7 feet of snow fell on poor old Buffalo. When we drove back into town, the plowed snow banks were at least a foot higher than Lori's jeep.

Anyhow, here's the opening poem:

This Room

The room I entered was a dream of this room.
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.
The oval portrait
of a dog was me at an early age.

We had macaroni for lunch every day
except Sunday, when a small quail was induced
to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things?
You are not even here.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 23.1

Flow Chart
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ashbery, John
Flow Chart

Here's my brief description of driving John Ashbery around Buffalo in 2006, lifted from the Poetry Project Newsletter:

Our first night, we ate dinner at a little bistro. While waiting for a table, I noticed J.A. sipping his martini and mumbling something as he watched a TV set behind the bar. “Jeopardy” was on, and he wasn’t just talking to himself, he was answering the questions – all of them! Turns out he did a stint on a Chicago radio program as a whiz kid in the thirties. I took J.A. and partner David Kermani to the American falls, then on the Buffalo Entropy Tour and the Buffalo Architecture Tour. (Out of a nervous desire to impress, I actually bought and read a book on Buffalo architecture beforehand). J.A. asked if I knew of a particular street in Buffalo on which his uncle used to live and which he often visited as a boy. I told him it was now quite a dangerous neighborhood, which seemed to quell his desire to drive down memory lane. Unfortunately, it didn’t quell mine. I drove them through the desolate East Side streets, past the boarded up homes and shops, until we reached the street he’d known. As we turned the corner a (literal) gang of teenagers was standing in the street, blocking our passage. We took a collective deep breath, which we then collectively let out as they moved aside. At the reading, all the Buffaliterati and, I think, the whole Friday night gallery crowd at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, showed up. J.A. read to a full house and received a standing ovation. During the Q & A, one hostile questioner asked, “Do you want other people to understand your work or do you not give a shit about us?” to which J.A. replied, quoting Stein, “I write for myself and for strangers.”

Flow Chart opens:

Still in the published city but not yet
overtaken by a new form of despair, I ask
the diagram: is it the foretaste of pain
it might easily be? Or an emptiness
so sudden it leaves the girders
whanging in the absence of wind,
the sky milk-blue and astringent? We know life is so busy,
but a larger activity shrouds it, and this is something
we can never feel, except occasionally, in small signs
put up to warn us and as soon expunged, in part
or wholly.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 23

Ashbery, John
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

I have no recollection of the purchase of this book, but I have a memory of having read it forward and back. I once wrote a series of three sonnets composed by collaging together the first line of each poem in this book. Remarkably, it still read like a John Ashbery poem. I think I spent a lot of time putting that poem together, because reading the first lines of the poems now, I recall them all as my own! I can't believe John Ashbery stole all them from me. Geez.

Reaching the Ashbery section of my bookshelf, I realize they I don't actually own any of the Ashbery books that were most important to me -- The Double Dream of Spring, Rivers and Mountains, The Tennis Court Oath, Three Poems. At the time I was reading all of his books I lived in NYC, had almost no money, and borrowed most of my books from libraries.

I remember the library cover of The Double Dream of Spring and that a friend of mine showed me the painting by Di Chirico after which the book was titled and told me that that painting was the key into Ashbery's work -- i.e., the painting within the painting within the painting as a mode of composition for his poetry. It made a lot of sense at the time and did provide one way into the rich world of these poems.

Having had the chance to meet and spend some time with the man himself, I think it is equally true that his poems are accurate representations of a curious, gentle mind that is part trivia encyclopedia (he was on a children's quiz show as a lad and can still answer every question on Jeopardy), part visual aesthete, part pop-culture maven, and part bon vivant.

Just trying to describe the work reminds me of how rich it is.

Speaking of first lines, and of poems within poems, the title of the first poem in the book, "As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat" is also the first line of the poem. It is also the first line of a poem by Andrew Marvell called "Tom May's Death."

The Marvell begins:

As one put drunk into the Packet-boat,
Tom May was hurry'd hence and did not know't.
But was amaz'd on the Elysian side,
And with an Eye uncertain, gazing wide,
Could not determine in what place he was,
For whence in Stevens ally Trees or Grass.

The Ashbery begins:

As One Put Drunk Into the Packet-Boat

I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free.
Elsewhere we are as sitting in a place where sunlight
Filters down, a little at a time,
Waiting for someone to come. Harsh words are spoken,
As the Sun yellows the green of the maple tree...

"Only some were immortal and free" is one of the most ambiguous phrases I have ever read. End stop.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 22.1

Arrufat, Antón
La Huella en la Arena
(antología poética)

This is Arrufat's selected poems, published in Buenos Aires and edited by Daniel Muxica, a prolific Argentine editor, publisher and writer who was also at the the conference in 2001.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 22

Arrufat, Antón
El Viejo Carpintero

Antón Arrufat is a playwright and poet I met in Havana. Being a lifelong resident of that city, he served as a great guide when we visited. He has a remarkable history: having left Cuba to live in the states in the late 50's, he returned after the revolution and became one of the more well-known playwrights in the country. 

In the late 60's or early 70's, he wrote a play that satirized Marxism-Leninism. The play irked the censors and was banned, and has not to this day been performed. He then went through a period in which he was basically unable to stage his plays or publish his books. Instead, he shelved books in a library for 14 years. Rather than leave the country, he stayed, suffering further persecution in the 80's for his homosexuality, when he lost his job as editor of Casa de las America's for publishing a poem with homosexual content. By the time we had a arrived, he had been "rehabilitated" and had the year before been awarded the National Literature Prize.

Here's a quick translation of the short poem that begins the book:

In The Mosaic of a Table

Just now, as you lean,
the humidity of the glass
makes the grout transparent:
cheers, traveler:
we see one another for an instant

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 21

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Aroche, Rito Ramón

Rito was another younger poet I met in Cuba, and another, like Carlos Aguilera, whose work is strikingly experimental, made out of a combination of intense intellectual work and a love of wordplay.

Most of the avant-garde seems to have come into their own by reading at the rooftop apartment of Reína Mara Rodríguez. It was she that put together the conference we attended in Havana. We didn't get to go to a reading in her apartment, but we did get to go to a couple of great parties.

His work is very difficult to translate, so here is a video of him reading, instead of a passage from the book:

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 20

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Arnold, Elizabeth

Another exquisitely designed title from Flood editions. I think I received this as a review copy when it came out. I didn't get a chance to review it, unfortunately. For some reason the title keeps making me think of one of my favorite scenes from the Sopranos. Jennifer Melfi, Tony's therapist, has been raped and is trying to work out her anger in therapy sessions with Peter Bogdanovich. She tells him she is thinking of asking Tony to have the man who raped her killed, thus violating not only the law, but all kinds of professional ethics and so forth, to which her therapist replies, "But, Jennifer -- Civilization."

Here's the opening passage:

It's alive in us, what you thought, what you made
happen in the mind, o precarious ones,

threading your life into us from the other end of time

Friday, December 19, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 19.2 (Hellenic Interlude 1.3)

Nicomachean Ethics
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Nocomachean Ethics

In case you were wondering whence the word "Nicomachean":

Nicomachean Ethics (sometimes spelled "Nichomachean"), or Ta Ethika, is a work by Aristotle on virtue and moral character which plays a prominent role in defining Aristotelian ethics. It consists of ten books based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum and were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus. (Wikipedia, natch). 

I think Nicomachus was also the name of Aristotle's father.

On the inner flap there is some kind of very grammatically confused schema that I must of have written down in class. I suspect it has something to do with Aristotle's "Golden Mean," though you'd never know from my notes:

Courage -- Fear & Confidence
Self-control -- Pleasure & Pain -- Self-indulgence (insensitive)
Generosity -- Extravagance & Stinginess
Magnificence -- Gaudiness -- Niggardliness (large scale)
High-mindedness -- Vanity -- Small-mindedness
Gentleness -- Short-tempered & pathetic
Truthfulness -- Boastfulness -- Self-deprecation
Witty -- buffoonery -- boorishness
Friendliness -- obsequiousness (flattery) & grouchiness
Bashfulness -- shamelessness -- shamefulness
Righteous Indignation -- envy & spite

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 19.1 (Hellenic Interlude 1.2)

The Politics
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Politic

I now remember the name of my political philosophy professor from college -- Dr. Mary Nichols. I found her faculty page at Baylor, where she now teaches. I am sure I read this for her class on Greek Political Thought, along with the next book on my shelf, The Nicomachean Ethics. I mostly remember discussing Aristotle's argument against the kind of collectivization of the polis outlined in Plato's Republic. Here's a passage I underlined in class which seems to have been underlined to remind me of Dr. Nichols argument that collectivities were contrary to human nature:

For there are two things above all which make human beings cherish and feel affection, what is one's own and what is dear; and neither of these can be available to those who govern themselves in this way.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 19 (Hellenic Interlude 1.1)

The Rhetoric and The Poetics

Can you tell I was educated by the Jesuits?

I am sure I also bought this in college, but I think I may have done so to read it on my own, thinking it might teach me something useful about writing poetry. It didn't, but it does have some useful ideas for thinking about poetry and poetics in the abstract. I imagine an orator might also find something useful in the rhetoric.

Here's a passage from The Poetics:

From what we have said it will be seen that the poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary. The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse -- you might put the work of Herodotus into verse, and it would still be a species of history; it consists really in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars.

It's interesting that as late as Aristotle there is still some question about the distinction to be made between a historian and a poet, the two positions having at one time had a similar purpose, that is, to transmit the heroic deeds of the past from one generation to the next, utilizing rhyme as a kind of mnemonic to do so (were poets the original ISA's?).

It's hard to say, not reading Greek, exactly what Aristotle's position would be towards the function of poetry (or art, for that matter) in the modern era. He does seem to suggest that poetry looks toward the possible, i.e., the future or the new, which would be a very-avant-garde argument. On the other hand, he may not be suggesting the future so much as some kind of static concept of the universal -- that is, that what is probable and/or necessary is essentially unchanging, regardless of historical context. My nose tells me his position is closer to the latter.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 18 (Hellenic Interlude 1)

The Complete Plays

This book surely dates to my undergraduate days at Fordham. A lot of my classical reading came, oddly enough, from taking courses in political philosophy with an extraordinarily conservative woman, whose name, Mary something, is on the tip of my tongue. Despite her politics, she was an excellent undergraduate teacher, and her fluency in Greek made her an extremely useful resource for classical reading.

Anyhow, her courses were unique in that we would compare say, the values of a republican society with those of a capitalist one by reading Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice. In the case of Aristophanes, we read Lysistrata as a means to enter into a conversation about Feminism, which she absolutely despised. Most of the contemporary readings in feminism she presented were the most radical, like Shulamith Firestone, and thus the easiest to poke holes in or make fun of. Nonetheless, she pointed us in the direction of some really interesting contemporary reading, even if the only way to think about it objectively was outside classroom discussions.

I read all of the plays in here at some point. I think 'Clouds' is a hilarious satire of the "ivory tower." Here's a snippet:

The machine swings in SOCRATES in a basket.

Socrates! my little Socrates!

SOCRATES loftily
Mortal, what do you want with me?

First, what are you doing up there? Tell me, I beseech you.

I am traversing the air and contemplating the sun.

Thus it's not on the solid ground, but from the height of this basket, that you slight the gods, if indeed....

I have to suspend my brain and mingle the subtle essence of my mind with this air, which is of the like nature, in order clearly to penetrate the things of heaven. I should have discovered nothing, had I remained on the ground to consider from below the things that are above; for the earth by its force attracts the sap of the mind to itself. It's just the same with the watercress.

What? Does the mind attract the sap of the watercress? Ah! my dear little Socrates, come down to me! I have come to ask you for lessons.

SOCRATES descending
And for what lessons?

I want to learn how to speak. I have borrowed money, and my merciless creditors do not leave me a moment's peace; all my goods are at stake.

And how was it you did not see that you were getting so much into debt?

My ruin has been the madness for horses, a most rapacious evil; but teach me one of your two methods of reasoning, the one whose object is not to repay anything, and, may the gods bear witness, that I am ready to pay any fee you may name.

By which gods will you swear? To begin with, the gods are not a coin current with us.

But what do you swear by then? By the iron money of Byzantium?

Do you really wish to know the truth of celestial matters?

Why, yes, if it's possible.

....and to converse with the clouds, who are our genii?

Without a doubt.

Then be seated on this sacred couch.

STREPSIADES sitting down
I am seated.

Now take this chaplet.

Why a chaplet? Alas! Socrates, would you sacrifice me, like Athamas?

No, these are the rites of initiation.

And what is it I am to gain?

You will become a thorough rattle-pate, a hardened old stager, the fine flour of the talkers....But come, keep quiet.

By Zeus! That's no lie! Soon I shall be nothing but wheat-flour, if you powder me in that fashion.

Silence, old man, give heed to the prayers.

In an hierophantic tone

Oh! most mighty king, the boundless air, that keepest the earth suspended in space, thou bright Aether and ye venerable goddesses, the Clouds, who carry in your loins the thunder and the lightning, arise, ye sovereign powers and manifest yourselves in the celestial spheres to the eyes of your sage.

Not yet! Wait a bit, till I fold my mantle double, so as not to get wet. And to think that I did not even bring my travelling cap! What a misfortune!

SOCRATES ignoring this

Come, oh! Clouds, whom I adore, come and show yourselves to this man, whether you be resting on the sacred summits of Olympus, crowned with hoar-frost, or tarrying in the gardens of Ocean, your father, forming sacred choruses with the Nymphs; whether you be gathering the waves of the Nile in golden vases or dwelling in the Maeotic marsh or on the snowy rocks of Mimas, hearken to my prayer and accept my offering. May these sacrifices be pleasing to you.

Amidst rumblings of thunder the CHORUS OF CLOUDS appears.

CHORUS singing

Eternal Clouds, let us appear; let us arise from the roaring depths of Ocean, our father; let us fly towards the lofty mountains, spread our damp wings over their forest-laden summits, whence we will dominate the distant valleys, the harvest fed by the sacred earth, the murmur of the divine streams and the resounding waves of the sea, which the unwearying orb lights up with its glittering beams. But let us shake off the rainy fogs, which hide our immortal beauty and sweep the earth from afar with our gaze.

Oh, venerated goddesses, yes, you are answering my call!


Did you hear their voices mingling with the awful growling of the thunder?


Oh! adorable Clouds, I revere you and I too am going to let off my thunder, so greatly has your own affrighted me.

He farts.

Faith! whether permitted or not, I must, I must crap!


No scoffing; do not copy those damned comic poets.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 17

Winesburg, Ohio
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Anderson, Sherwood
Winesburg Ohio

I remember being blown away by the prologue of this book when I read it in college. It's called 'The Book of the Grotesque', and it serves as a manifesto of sorts for the rest of the stories in the book. Like most manifestos, it tends to choke the life out of any work it means to describe -- i.e., it asks us to read each story only as a manifestation of the truth it presumes to illumine within them. In this case, it is doubly ironic b/c the prologue itself is about the tendency for truth to be circumscribed, held onto, and how this in turn transforms the circumscribers themselves into what he calls 'grotesques.' I have no recollection of any of these stories, but I remain fond of the prologue. Reading it again, I can see all kinds of problems with what he is saying regarding both the nature of truth and the nature of human beings, but even so, I feel grateful to this book for having at some point in my life moved me with its worldview.

The Book of the Grotesque

THE WRITER, an old man with a white mustache, had some difficulty in getting into bed. The windows of the house in which he lived were high and he wanted to look at the trees when he awoke in the morning. A carpenter came to fix the bed so that it would be on a level with the window.

Quite a fuss was made about the matter. The carpenter, who had been a soldier in the Civil War, came into the writer’s room and sat down to talk of building a platform for the purpose of raising the bed. The writer had cigars lying about and the carpenter smoked.

For a time the two men talked of the raising of the bed and then they talked of other things. The soldier got on the subject of the war. The writer, in fact, led him to that subject. The carpenter had once been a prisoner in Andersonville prison and had lost a brother. The brother had died of starvation, and whenever the carpenter got upon that subject he cried. He, like the old writer, had a white mustache, and when he cried he puckered up his lips and the mustache bobbed up and down. The weeping old man with the cigar in his mouth was ludicrous. The plan the writer had for the raising of his bed was forgotten and later the carpenter did it in his own way and the writer, who was past sixty, had to help himself with a chair when he went to bed at night.

In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth. No, it wasn’t a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.

The old writer, like all of the people in the world, had got, during his long fife, a great many notions in his head. He had once been quite handsome and a number of women had been in love with him. And then, of course, he had known people, many people, known them in a peculiarly intimate way that was different from the way in which you and I know people. At least that is what the writer thought and the thought pleased him. Why quarrel with an old man concerning his thoughts?

In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.

You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.

For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.

At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:

That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

You can see for yourself how the old man, who had spent all of his life writing and was filled with words, would write hundreds of pages concerning this matter. The subject would become so big in his mind that he himself would be in danger of becoming a grotesque. He didn’t, I suppose, for the same reason that he never published the book. It was the young thing inside him that saved the old man.

Concerning the old carpenter who fixed the bed for the writer, I only mentioned him because he, like many of what are called very common people, became the nearest thing to what is understandable and lovable of all the grotesques in the writer’s book.

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 16

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Damon, Maria

mIEKAL aND, publisher of xexoxial editions, after having repeatedly humiliated me at SCRABULOUS (RIP) on Facebook, visited Buffalo in March for the annual Buffalo Small Press Book Fair which, for my money, is one of the best SPBF's around -- but I suppose I am biased -- anyhow, it was there that he gave me a copy of this collaboration between himself and Maria Damon.

Here's the opening poem:

A dark blue dress rises from
the cold frost field, apprehended
dimly. In a cold season of wakened
witchery, dark hands make
difference among its folds. Hope is
the same as grief. I am reminded
That I fashion my own openings by
the dreams that own me. There
are so many, how do I choose?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 15

Althusser, Louis
Lenin and Philosophy
And Other Essays

My markings would indicate that the only essay I read in this book was "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation." I've never been much of a Marxist, but this essay was very important to me at some point, helping me to form a view of the way organizations and organizational structures often function as extensions of the power of a ruling class. It's also pretty essential reading if you want to understand the arguments many of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets make about ideology and language. Charles Bernstein's various remarks on "Official Verse Culture" owe much of their philosophical grounding to Althusser's concept of the ISA.

I read this in grad school, but my memories of Althusser date back to my undergraduate and just-post-undergraduate years in New York. I think someone named their cat Althusser, and I think I once wrote a short story with a character named Althusser, even though I didn't really know who he was.

I also remember buying the last copy of this book at Talking Leaves Books and feeling very satisfied with myself that someone walked in just after me to buy it, only to discover none were left. It's the little victories in life that bring us pleasure.

Here's a section I underlined from the essay:

What do children learn at school? They go varying distances in their studies, but at any rate they learn to read, to write and to add -- i.e. a number of techniques, and a number of other things as well, including elements (which may be rudimentary or on the contrary thoroughgoing) of 'scientific' or 'literary culture', which are directly useful in the different jobs in production (one instruction for manual workers, another for technicians, a third for engineers, a final one for higher managment, etc.) Thus they learn 'know-how."

But besides these techniques and knowledges, and in learning them, children at school also learn the 'rules' of good behaviour, i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, accordng to the job he is 'destined' for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination, they also learn to 'speak proper French', to 'handle' the workers correctly, i.e. actually (for the future capitalists and their servants) to 'order them about properly', i.e. (ideally) to 'speak to them' in the right way, etc.

To put this more scientifically, I shall say that the reproduction of the labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class 'in words."

In other words, the school (but also other State institutions like the church, or other apparatuses like the Army) teaches 'know-how', but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or mastery of its 'practice.'