Saturday, January 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25 (Sigmund Freud)

Freud, Sigmund
The Interpretation of Dreams


I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books. I paid six dollars for it, apparently. It has no dust jacket, hence the spine photo. It's actually quite small, almost a pocket-sized book.

I first decided to read Freud about ten years ago. On the heels of a painful break-up and still just a couple years out from my father's sudden death, I was feeling bleak and depressed and was looking for something to read that might either provide solace or help me wallow more profoundly my misery. I spent a whole summer reading two writers: Nietszche and Freud.

I can remember wandering west each day from my apartment in the Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo, crossing over Niagara Street and walking down past some housing projects to a pedestrian bridge over the I-190. The bridge empties out onto a series of sports fields that form part of a pleasant city park with a picturesque promenade fronting Lake Erie.

I would go to the gym in the morning, then eat some lunch and walk over to the park in the early afternoon to read on a bench among the seagulls and joggers and picnickers. I think the promenade must have been part of some kind of pier at some point, as there are several old moorings embedded in the concrete. I guess they could have been added later for kitsch value, but I have no idea.

A round, stone structure with a copper-colored roof rises out of the lake a few hundred yards from the shore, right near the point where the lake feeds into the Niagara River. At the time I had no idea what purpose the little round house served, but I used to like to stare at it as it glinted in the afternoon sun. I don't think I found much solace, but I did do a lot of wallowing. I probably found more comfort just sitting out in the sun each day staring at the water.

I've recently started reading this book again. My return to Freud was at least partly inspired by a BBC documentary I saw called "The Century of the Self." You can watch the whole thing on Google video if you are interested. It tells the story of how Edward Bernays, an American nephew of Freud who virtually invented the field of public relations by applying Freud's theory of the unconscious to the mass manipulation of the populace. It's an incredibly compelling and depressing story, especially when they bring it up to the near present to reveal how these same techniques are used in modern elections.

Anyhow, I re-read "Civilization and Its Discontents," which featured prominently in the BBC doc, first, then picked this one up. I am about a third of the way through. I've gotten a bit bogged down and haven't read it for a few weeks, but it has definitely been seeping in to my thinking.

I am interested in the concept of wish-fulfillment, especially as it applies to film. I have increasingly felt that one of the primary needs movies serve is as wish-fulfillments. Revenge films, fantasy films, romances – pretty much any genre you can think of – can be seen as enacted wish-fulfillments. Hollywood's genius has always been that it is aware of this and exploits it to the nth degree.

There's a part of me that feels that great films are the ones that are able to work against this fulfillment of the wish and function more like life -- where wishes more often than not go unfulfilled.

from The Interpretation of Dreams

III. THE DREAM AS WISH-FULFILLMENT


WHEN, after passing through a narrow defile, one suddenly reaches a height beyond which the ways part and a rich prospect lies outspread in different directions, it is well to stop for a moment and consider whither one shall turn next. We are in somewhat the same position after we have mastered this first interpretation of a dream. We find ourselves standing in the light of a sudden discovery. The dream is not comparable to the irregular sounds of a musical instrument, which, instead of being played by the hand of a musician, is struck by some external force; the dream is not meaningless, not absurd, does not presuppose that one part of our store of ideas is dormant while another part begins to awake. It is a perfectly valid psychic phenomenon, actually a wish-fulfilment; it may be enrolled in the continuity of the intelligible psychic activities of the waking state; it is built up by a highly complicated intellectual activity. But at the very moment when we are about to rejoice in this discovery a host of problems besets us. If the dream, as this theory defines it, represents a fulfilled wish, what is the cause of the striking and unfamiliar manner in which this fulfilment is expressed? What transformation has occurred in our dream-thoughts before the manifest dream, as we remember it on waking, shapes itself out of them? How has this transformation taken place? Whence comes the material that is worked up into the dream? What causes many of the peculiarities which are to be observed in our dream-thoughts; for example, how is it that they are able to contradict one another? Is the dream capable of teaching us something new concerning our internal psychic processes and can its content correct opinions which we have held during the day? I suggest that for the present all these problems be laid aside, and that a single path be pursued. We have found that the dream represents a wish as fulfilled. Our next purpose should be to ascertain whether this is a general characteristic of dreams, or whether it is only the accidental content of the particular dream (the dream about Irma's injection) with which we have begun our analysis; for even if we conclude that every dream has a meaning and psychic value, we must nevertheless allow for the possibility that this meaning may not be the same in every dream. The first dream which we have considered was the fulfilment of a wish; another may turn out to be the realization of an apprehension; a third may have a reflection as its content; a fourth may simply reproduce a reminiscence. Are there, then dreams other than wish-dreams; or are there none but wish-dreams?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 24 (Charles Freeman)

Freeman, Charles
Egypt, Greece and Rome
Civilizations of the Ancient
Mediterranean

No idea where I purchased this. I bought it as a primer for some of the historical reading I was pursuing on my oral exam reading list in graduate school. I have a compulsion sometimes to start at the beginning with everything. I can imagine my thought process went something like this: I am about to read Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, etc. for my oral exams, but I don't feel confident in my knowledge of classical history, so I I'll read a fat, wide-ranging, general history in the hope it will help me create a mental image of the period. It usually accomplishes this; however, I generally forget all of the specifics as soon as I have finished reading about them. Such is the case with this book. I remember the timeline I created in my head, but few of the details. Alas.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 23 (Stephen Fredman)


Poet's Prose
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Fredman, Stephen
Poet's Prose


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course in graduate school.

I remember seeing Stephen Fredman give a talk at the "Poetry of the 40's" conference in Orono, ME in 2004. I think he gave one of the first talks of the weekend. He began by exhorting his colleagues at the conference to not READ their papers, but rather to speak extemporaneously from their notes in order to give the conversations going on a more, well, conversational feel. He was essentially saying, hey, just because this is an academic conference doesn't mean we aren't performing and it is no excuse to give dull presentations. He gave it a pretty good go himself, but, sadly, few others heeded his advice.

from Poet's Prose

This book is an attempt to elucidate a type of writing, poet's prose, that, for various reasons, has thus far escaped attention in English. IN speaking of a relatively non-generic form, one cannot rely upon accumulated critical assumptions; thus I take a variety of vantage points in discussing the subject. The term "poet's prose" is a response to the terminological nightmare surrounding nonversified poetry. The more common "prose poem" is unsatisfactory for two reasons: It is an oxymoron aimed at defamiliarizing lyric poetry, and it remains redolent with the atmospheric sentiment of French Symbolism. "Poet's prose" escapes the oxymoron and is proposed as a more encompassing term to cover all (not only lyric) poetry written in sentences and without versification. The term is descriptive instead of normative; it applies to works that are conceived of and read as extensions of poetry rather than as contributions to one of the existing prose genres.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 22 (James Frazer)


The Golden Bough
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Frazer, James
The Golden Bough


Purchased at the now-defunct Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount bookstore. I bought this simply to have around as a reference. I've never read the whole thing. I read parts of it in college, along with Jesse L. Weston's From Ritual to Romance. I was probably writing a paper on "The Wasteland," which mentions both by name in the footnotes. I remember reading Weston in the basement of the Fordham University library and I seem to remember having a hard time locating the Frazer. The library was old and outdated and I think they only had the 12-volume unabridged version, which I had no intention of reading. I think I skimmed through a few sections I thought were relevant before putting it back on the shelf.

from The Golden Bough

The custom of killing the god has now been proved to have been practised by peoples in the hunting, pastoral, and agricultural stages of society, and the various reasons for observing it have been explained. One aspect of the custom still remains to be noticed. The accumulated misfortunes and sins of the whole people are sometimes laid upon the dying god, who is supposed to bear them away for ever, leaving the people innocent and happy. The notion that we can transfer our guilt and pains and griefs to some other being who will bear them in our stead is familiar to the savage mind. It arises from a very obvious confusion between the physical and the mental. Because it is possible to transfer a load of wood, stones, or what not, from our own back to the back of another, the savage fancies that it is equally possible to transfer the burden of his pains and sins and sorrows to another, who will suffer them in his stead. Upon this idea he acts, and the result is an endless number of often very unamiable devices for putting off upon some one else the trouble which a man shrinks from bearing himself.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 21 (Harry G. Frankfurt)


On Bullshit
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Frankfurt, Harry G.
On Bullshit


I want to say I got this as a review copy, and I think I may have. But I am feeling this strange kind of embarrassment about owning this book.

I am pretty sure I did not buy it, but I may have requested a review copy; the cause of my embarrassment being that I must have actually wanted to read it; this is compounded further by the fact that I actually did read it.

On Bullshit is a rather silly book, probably on some level intended as such by its author, an emeritus philosophy professor at Princeton, about Americans' willingness, nay, sheer joy, at being deceived, and our complicity in the culture of deception we have created.

It's all written down in a very cool Aristotelian tone that begins with the definition of the term and is followed by the delineation of a multi-part argument leading to a conclusion. It's not funny; it's just kind of dull. I guess I must have liked the title.

I wish there were enough money around to publish compact little poetry books in hardcover likes this one. I like the format very much.

from On Bullshit

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.

In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 20 (Graham Foust)


Necessary Stranger
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Foust, Graham
Necessary Stranger


Flood Editions sent this review copy to me.

Graham and I arrived in Buffalo the same year, 1997. He worked at Rust Belt Books, first at its original location on Lexington Avenue, and then at its current location on Allen St. When I lived in Allentown, alone, I used to get bored and lonely and wander over to the store to talk to Graham or to Brian Lampkin, the owner.

He lived in an apartment in a big old house on Richmond Avenue with Tracy, his girlfriend at the time. I remember going to parties there. They had these groovy orange chairs. That stood near a window overlooking the driveway.

Later, Roberto Tejada also had an apartment there. For whatever reason I always say to Lori when we walk past the house that that was where Graham and Roberto used to live. Lori always says, You say that every time you walk past this house. Do I? I always ask.

from Necessary Stranger

1984

Look at the sky, go
back inside. Cocaine
makes its way to Wisconsin.

The TV's thick with burial, hilarious
with seed, and while the moon,
my mind, and the real world stay home,

I will walk walk
walk unskilled around
a new year's clumsy gallows.

Anything's impossible. I'm not
you. Here's to music
to be in the movies to.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19.6 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
"Society Must Be Defended"


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I have a recollection of first seeing this book at Doug Manson's apartment in Buffalo. I am pretty sure, though not certain, it was in his last apartment on Livingston St., where he lived up until the time he moved to New York last year.

The apartment was on the second floor of a two-family house owned by the mother-in-law of artist Julian Montague (who designed my last book, btw). We actually nearly bought the house two doors down until we realized it had some issues that, though mostly minor, we weren't prepared to deal with.

Anyhow, after walking up the stairs at Doug's place, you found yourself in a little foyer with a bedroom door to the right and then another doorway leading into a living room with a fireplace and a door leading to a porch. Through the living room there was a dining room with a bedroom off to the right, followed by a short hallway or passage leading to the third bedroom and the kitchen. I think the bathroom was in that little passageway.

Doug had books piled everywhere. He's one of the more compulsive book-buyers I know. In fact, I think it was he that turned me on to the now-defunct NIagara Falls outlet mall bookstore that used to sell the Library of America editions for nine dollars. This habit made it difficult for Doug to move to New York, as he would have no place to store most of his books when he arrived. Just before he left, he held a book/estate sale that seemed to last for weeks. I don't know how much he actually sold, but I guess he got rid of enough to move to New York.

I think I saw this book at his apartment, but it may have been at the previous apartment, where he lived with his ex-girlfriend. I remember I went out and bought it and read it and then promptly forgot it. I have no recollection of its contents.

Ergo–

I'll skip the excerpt this morning -- off to work!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19.5 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
The History of Sexuality,
Volume Two


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I have yet to read this volume. Not sure why -- probably bought it in grad school but had ten other books to read at the same time. I am about halfway through volume one again, so maybe this time I'll just read on through to the end. Or maybe I won't.

I had a dream last night that someone published to Facebook a whole series of photographs of Foucault and other University at Buffalo faculty members during the year (or semester or whatever it was) he taught there in the 70's. I didn't recognize any of the professors, even though I knew who they were. Foucault, oddly, was not at the center of any of these photos. He sat in a chair in the second row of three, slightly to the left. All I could see was his head. He had a big smile on his face. I remember thinking I liked his glasses but that he had an ugly smile. There was some anxiety in the dream b/c the publication of the photos to FB had been falsely attributed to me.

Time's short this morning, so we'll just cut right to the excerpt.

from The History of Sexuality, Volume Two

How does a man enjoy his pleasure "as he ought"? To what principles does he refer in order to moderate, limit, regulate that activity? What sort of validity might these principles have that would enable a man to justify his having to obey them? Or, in other words, what is the mode of subjection that is implied in this moral problematization of sexual conduct?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19.4 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
The History of Sexuality,
Volume 1


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am in danger of violating my rule to not start re-reading books as I attempt to catalog them. In fact, I think I am in flagrant violation at the moment. I am currently reading The Brothers Karamazov, which I previously catalogued; I am also re-reading The Interpretation of Dreams, which I will catalog in the coming weeks; and, having glanced at the incredible introduction to this book, I began reading it again this morning. I suspect I will continue with all three. So much for rules.

Of this book I can say this morning that I am experiencing the exact same thing I did the first time I read it, some 10 years ago -- that is, I find myself so completely engrossed that I could read the whole thing in one sitting. I am pretty sure I did that the first time I read it. I don't think I read the second volume, and I don't even own the third, but the first one is some of the most compelling analysis I have ever read.

Just reading the first few pages again, I am struck at how tricky Foucault's arguments are. To characterize his thought as revolutionary – in the sense of arguing toward revolutionary action in the streets – is as dangerous as it is to see it as an apolitical analysis of power that ultimately upholds the structures it seeks to examine by providing a historical description thereof which could ultimately be used to justify that power.

Sentence to sentence, I find myself entertaining both views, while getting the feeling that Foucault himself is more than equally aware of these dangers and is already ten steps ahead of me.

That said, I have always suspected that Foucault intends to describe rather than to prescribe, and that his analysis ultimately seeks to become a kind of science of discourse, one whose rigor knows no political bounds. His work has not often been read as such, for the most part, I suspect, because its (revolutionary) analyses came of age during a period of revolutionary upheaval and so it seemed natural to read him in that context.

Foucault's knack for overturning any kind of accepted meaning – progressive, capitalistic, psychoanalytic, Marxist or otherwise – in the search for truth is revolutionary. What the nature of that revolution is is still up for debate. I remember asking a professor once if Foucault had at any point enunciated some kind of ethical imperative to revolutionary action. No, she said, he stops short, which is one of his failings. I wonder if it is.

from The History of Sexuality, Volume 1

But there may be another reason that makes it so gratifying for us to define the relationship between sex and power in terms of repression: something that one might call the speaker's benefit. If sex is repressed, that is, condemned to prohibition, nonexistence, and silence, then the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberate transgression. A person who holds forth in such language places himself to a certain extent outside the reach of power; he upsets established law; he somehow anticipates the coming freedom. This explains the solemnity with which one speaks of sex nowadays. When they had to allude to it, the first demographers and psychiatrists of the nineteenth century thought it advisable to excused themselves for asking their readers to dwell on matters so trivial and base. But for decades now, we have found it difficult to speak on the subject without striking a different pose: we are conscious of defying established power, our tone of voice shows that we know we are being subversive, and we ardently conjure away the present and appeal to the future, whose day will be hastened by the contribution we believe we are making.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19.3 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
The Archaeology of Knowledge


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think I bought this to read for my oral exams in graduate school. It was definitely on the theory reading list I did with Rodolphe Gasché. Once a month or so I would visit him his office, the shelves of which were lined with philosophy books in German and French, to discuss the books of theory and philosophy I had read.

My recollection was that Foucault was not all that interesting to him. I don't recall ever having a thorough discussion of his work or of being asked about him on the exam. My clearest memory is of discussing Adorno's Negative Dialectics. We once spent a whole meeting on that book, at the end of which he asked me, "How are you going to use Adorno?"

I proceeded to spend the next several minutes explaining various ways in which I might integrate Adorno into my dissertation, until he stopped me and said, "I meant, How are you going to use him in your poetry?" He seemed to have an instinctive sense that for me it was poetry that mattered and that my heart really wasn't in my critical work.

It was a shock as both an undergraduate and graduate student to discover how many professors of English literature seemed to hate writers and creative writing. I suspect the ratio of failed creative writers to English professors is quite high, which would account for some of this. But the naive young student in me is still perplexed that people who profess to love literature to the extent that they dedicate their lives to teaching it would so de-value the practice of creative writing among their students. While I could understand that they didn't have time to read one's writing or to evaluate it, I could never understand their unwillingness to recognize anything other than standard academic writing as a legitimate intellectual response to literature.

The few professors I had like Rodolphe Gasché (I can count them on one hand), who encouraged and seemed to truly value creativity in an academic context were rare, precious, and crucial to my development as a writer.

from The Archaeology of Knowledge

This book was written simply in order to overcome certain preliminary difficulties. I know as well as anyone how 'thankless' is the task that I undertook some ten years ago. I know how irritating it can be to treat discourses in terms not of the gentle, silent, intimate consciousness that is expressed in them, but of an obscure set of anonymous rules. How unpleasant it is to reveal the limitations and necessities of a practice where one is used to seeing, in all its pure transparency, the expression of genius and freedom. How provocative it is to treat as a set of transformations this history of discourses which, until now, has been animated by the reassuring metaphors of life or the intentional continuity of the lived. How unbearable it is, in view of how much of himself everyone wishes to put, thinks he is putting of 'himself' into his own discourse. when he speaks, how unbearable it is to cut, analyze, combine, rearrange all these texts that have now returned from silence, without ever the transfigured face of the author appearing...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19.2 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
Language, Counter-
Memory, Practice


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books, I think, for a class in graduate school. I have a vague memory of having been given a xerox copy of "What is an Author?" and deciding it would be better to read it in book form. I think I did that a lot when I was living on student loans. I guess I just like buying books and reading from them. I figure I probably spend a lot less money on books than I ever did on drinking, smoking and getting high, so I am still ahead of the game, financially speaking.

I think the essay I like most out of this book, though, is "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History?" in which Foucault begins to lay out a description of his genealogical method, which examines discursive practices and their formation absent the notion of linear progression and with close attention to the context in which this practices were able to arise.

A manifesto of sorts. I like reading manifestos.

from, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History

History becomes' effective' to the degree that it introduces discontinuity into our very being – as it divides out emotions, dramatizes our instincts, multiplies our body and sets it against itself. 'Effective' history deprives the self of the reassuring stability of life and nature, and it will not permit itself to be transported by a voiceless obstinacy toward a millenial ending. It will uproot its traditional foundations and relentlessly disrupt it pretended continuity. This is because knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19.1 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
The Order of Things
An Archaeology of
The Human Sciences


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am not sure whether it says more about my habits of memory or about Michel Foucault's metaphors that I remember almost exclusively some image from the introductory chapters of his books, while forgetting most of the rest. As I flip through The Order Of Things, my graduate school underlinings indicate that I read it all the way through. However, what I remember most is a painting described in the first chapter, "Las Meninas," a 1656 work by Diego Diego Velázquez. My memory of reading this chapter has less to do with the content or the argument than it does with the fact that this edition of the book does not contain a reproduction. I was not familiar with the painting when I read it, so my mind remembers trying to construct in my mind an image of the painting based on Foucault's description.

I eventually gave up and found a reproduction of it on the internet. Interesting, though, that what I remember is neither the image nor the argument, but the struggle to re-construct the image based on the text. All reading is like this, I suppose, which is why the images we do construct are so much stronger than those we are presented, as when we see a film adaptation of a novel and say to ourselves, "That is not at all as I pictured it."

from Las Meninas

What is there, then, we ask as last, in that place which is completely inaccessible because it is exterior to the picture, yet is prescribed by the lines of its composition? What is the spectacle, what are the faces that are reflected first of all in the depths of the Infanta's eyes, then in the courtiers' and the painter's, and finally in the distant glow of the mirror? But the question immediately becomes a double one: the face reflected in the mirror is also the face that is contemplating it; what all the figures in the picture are looking at are the two figures to whose eyes they too present a scene to be observed. The entire picture is looking out at a scene for which it is itself a scene. A condition of pure reciprocity manifested by the observing and observed mirror, the two stages of which are uncoupled at the two lower corners of the picture: on the left the canvas and its back to us, by means of which the exterior point is made into pure spectacle; to the right the dog lying on the floor, the only element in the picture that is neither look at anything or moving, because it is not intended, with its deep reliefs and the light playing on its silky hair, to be anything but an object to be seen.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
Discipline & Punish
The Birth of the Prison

I think I must have first heard of Foucault from my college friend, J. I think I have mentioned him before. He finished his undergraduate studies a year before the rest of us and went straight into the graduate program at Fordham. He was the only person I knew in college with an interest in critical theory, and his passion for it made it seem quite interesting.

I remember one night meeting another graduate student there named P. J. had spoken of P. often, but we had never met before that night. This was probably early 1992. The presidential campaign was in full swing and it wasn't at all clear that Bush would lose. I am not sure Clinton was yet even the nominee. Anyhow, it all seemed pretty bleak to us. In the midst of a rambling conversation we began to joke about presidential assassinations.

This quickly turned into a discussion about whether or not, in the abstract, it would be possible to assassinate a president without sacrificing yourself (or your freedom). We concluded it would not be possible. I have a vague recollection of J. talking about Foucault and the Panopticon that night and that P. and I thought that was really cool, even though we had no idea what he was talking about.

As the evening wore on, P. revealed that he was planning to leave graduate school, that he couldn't stand the sanctimoniousness of the other grad students, etc. J. began to tease him about this -- I can't remember what he said, but it got P. a bit pissed. Eventually he became very angry at J. for having embarrassed him in front of a stranger, i.e., me, and that he could no longer bear to hang out with us that night. After a several minutes of angry recriminations, he stormed out of the apartment and into the night.

J. and I sort of laughed it off as a product of the alcohol and went roaming around the streets of Soho and the West village until all hours of the morn. The night made a big impression on me, as I recall, and I think I even went home and wrote a poem about it, which I thought really captured the importance of the evening. Funny, the outcome of all of that is that I became quite good friends with P. (we are still friends to this day), while my friendship with J. went through years of ups and downs and ins and outs, but has slowly faded, except for the occasional visit or email.

I don't think I read Foucault until several years later, and Discipline and Punish was, to be sure, the first book of his I read. I remember being totally captivated (good Catholic that I was raised) by Foucault's positing of the existence of a soul, albeit one that, far from being trapped in a physical body, is an external entity, created by the institutional powers-that-be, in which the body itself is trapped. Quite a clever fellow, that Foucault.

I think I bought this copy Talking Leaves Books.

from Discipline and Punish

It would be wrong to say that the soul is an illusion, or an ideological effect. On the contrary, it exists, it has a reality, it is produced permanently around, on, within the body by the functioning of a power that is exercised on those punished -- and in a more general way, on those one supervises, trains and corrects, over madmen, children at home and at school, the colonized, over those who are stuck at a machine and supervised for the rest of their lives. This is the historical reality of the soul, which, unlike the soul represented in Christian theology, is not born in sin and subject to punishment, but is born rather out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraint. This real, non-corporal soul is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power. On this reality-reference, various concepts have been constructed and domains of analysis carved out: psyche, subjectivity, personality, consciousness,etc.; on it have been built scientific techniques and discourses, and the moral claims of humanism. Bot let there be no misunderstanding: it is not that a real man, the object of knowledge, philosophical reflection or technical intervention, has been substituted for the soul, the illusion of the theologians. The man described for us, whom we are invited to free, is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself. A 'soul' inhabits him and brings him into existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body. The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 18.1 (Sesshu Foster)


Atomik Aztex
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Foster, Sesshu
Atomik Aztex


Sent by City Lights as a review copy. I think when Sesshu came to read in Buffalo this book was not quite out. I remember getting a .pdf to read for an interview I did with him (see sidebar for a link to an excerpt of the review on the City Lights Website), and that I didn't get a copy of the actual book until a few weeks after he left. It's about a fictional world in which the Aztec end up defeating the Spanish and colonizing Europe while the ghosts of Aztec warriors end up working in a contemporary slaughterhouse in L.A. It's a wild ride!

(I was recently watching a great Mexican sci-fi film -- "Sleepdealer" -- which had some interesting parallels to Foster's book. Also worth checking out.)

from Atomik Aztex

I am Zenzontli, Keeper of the House of Darkness of the Aztex and I am not getting fucked in the head and I think I like it. Okay sometimes I'm not sure. But my so-called visions are better than aspirin and cheaper.

Perhaps you are familiar with some worlds, stupider realities amongst alternate universes offered by the ever expanding-omniverse, in which the Aztek civilization was 'destroyed.' That's a possibility. I mean that's what Europians thot. They planned genocide, wipe out our civilization, build catherdrals on TOP of our pyramidz, bah, hump our women, not just out women but the Tlaxkalans, the Mixteks, the Zapoteks, the Chichimeks, the Utes, the Triki, the Kahuilla, the Shoshone, the Maidu, the Klickitat, the Mandan, the Chumash, the Yaqui, the Huicholes, the Meskwaki, the Guarani, the Seminoles, endless peoples...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 18 (Sesshu Foster)

Foster, Sesshu
City Terrace Field Manual


Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

On one of his visits to town, I brought Ammiel Alcalay to Rust Belt Books, Buffalo's great used book store. Ammiel is basically a walking encyclopedia, so it was a ball following him around the store, watching as he pulled one book after another off the shelf, asking me had I read it, then telling me what a great book it was.

By the time we were done, he had gathered a stack of books two feet high that he had to have shipped back to Brooklyn! When we were in the poetry section, he pulled City Terrace Field Manual off the shelf and asked if I had ever read it. I said no, that in fact I had never heard of Sesshu Foster. "Great book," he said, "I can't believe this is just sitting on the shelf." So, I bought it. I think I contacted Sesshu within a month to see if I could get him to come to Buffalo, which he did the following fall.

When I bring visitors to Buffalo, I take them on one of three tours -- The Niagara Falls tour, the Buffalo Architectural Sites Tour, and my personal favorite, The Entropy Tour. The Entropy Tour takes the viewer through the blighted, surreal cityscape of which much of Buffalo is comprised. It begins with a drive south on the 5, over the skyway, where we pass the hockey arena at roof level on our left and Lake Erie below us on the right. We take the exit for the Tifft nature preserve and drive up to the turnaround that takes you under the 5 and back in the direction from which you came.

At the turnaround stands an old grain elevator. It sits on a little outcropping of land in Lake Erie. There used to be a huge, rusting ship docked next to it -- the two of them together, ship and elevator, made a stunning picture. For some reason, they removed the ship, thus diminishing the sublimity of the Entropy Tour and the city itself.

Following the turnaround, we pass by the nature preserve and into the Old First Ward. Just before crossing the bridge into the ward, we see on our right the great ruined city of grain elevators that once fueled Buffalo's economic rise. We usually pause on the little bridge the crosses the Buffalo river into the Old First Ward to admire the view of the elevators that rise on the banks.

Passing quickly the cute little worker's cottages on Louisiana St., we find ourselves in the middle of several city housing projects. For irony's sake, I usually make a quick left on Perry back toward the hockey arena to show the visitor the corner at which the projects meet up with the high-end lofts and the half-built casino. It's kind of funny, and kind of sad.

Turning north we drive to William and turn right, where we pass by the anomalous suburban homes built right into the decaying cityscape, as if to let everyone know that we are embarrassed by our decadent urban lifestyles and that it is only a matter of time before the rest of the city is leveled in favor of an all-encompassing suburb of vinyl-sided homes with two car garages and neat little lawns.

This little fantasy quickly gives way to the reality of Buffalo's East Side, where whole blocks have been demolished, whole others need to be, and where one wonders what holds the buildings still standing up. We take William about as far east as we can without leaving the city, make a slight left on Memorial, where the jewel in the entropy crown, Buffalo's Central Terminal, rises out of the fields. While much has been done to preserve this ruin from total decay, it still hovers over the neighborhood like a vast and lonely ghost.

The Entropy Tour concludes with a drive down one of the many formerly grand avenues leading back downtown. I usually take Broadway, as that still has enough life left to give one the sense of past and present awkwardly mingled that defines life in the Queen City.

Which is all a bit of a roundabout way of saying that I took Sesshu on this tour when he visited. City Terrace Field Manual performs a similar kind of exploration, mapping the life of this East LA neighborhood that is not only not on any tour routes, but isn't even incorporated into the city itself.

from City Terrace Field Manual

I saw their bodies steaming, lying on the avenue. The motorcycle was crammed up under the car. Their bodies were unmoving and gray under the streetlights, and I could not see what they were looking at. I had not seen that before. The bodies were steaming on the ground. People were coming out onto the street to look at them. The people were not shining like the car dealerships. I kept going, driving down skid row at midnight, looking for my brother.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 17 (Merry Fortune)

Fortune, Merry
Ghosts by Albert Ayler,
Ghosts by Albert Ayler


Given to me as a review copy by Dan Machlin, publisher of Futurepoem. I owe to the title of this book the discovery of Albert Ayler's music. I think they came out with a massive compilation of his work soon after the publication of this book. I listened to bits and pieces of it on the internet before taking the plunge into the whole thing. It's some of the wildest, most off-the-hook jazz around. I can't listen to it for long stretches of time because it starts to make my nervous system jangle, but in small, 30 minute doses, it's great stuff.

from Ghosts by Albert Ayler, Ghosts by Albert Ayler

#3 Give All The Roses

Give all the roses to the one who shakes the least
All the pretty roses to the one who doesn't shake
All the garden's roses to the one standing still
Flowing roses to the one who doesn't move

All the river roses to the who moves the least
The last of the roses to the one standing still
All the river roses of your heart, your heart, your heart
All the shredded roses to the one standing still

All the pretty roses to the one who doesn't move
All the pretty roses to the one who doesn't move

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 16 (E.M. Forster)


A Passage to India
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Forster, E.M.
A Passage to India


I think I bought this for a course I took in college. My memory is that we never got around to reading it in class. I didn't return the book. Neither did I read it, sad to say. I did see the movie, however, which is pictured on the cover. Ah, someday.

I had a strange dream just before I woke this morning. A friend of mine called me up to tell me that another friend, a youngish poet, was dead. He said "___ is dead!." I didn't understand at first; he repeated it. "___ is dead!." I woke with a start.

I have been reading Freud's Interpretation of Dreams lately, which has led me to start trying to instantly trace the connections of the dream to the events of the day before, then to tie those to childhood memories, and finally to try to uncover the wish-fulfillment at the heart of the dream.

So....

Yesterday, another friend wrote to tell me he'd nearly died from a blood-clot in his leg in October. I hadn't heard from him in a while, so it was a bit of a surprise. I assume that the dream-death is also connected to my father's sudden death from a stroke a decade or so ago. (I am also reading the Brothers Karamazov, which must figure in here somewhere).

As to the dead poet, well, I was just talking about him yesterday. I think his death signifies a kind of professional jealousy about some of the attention he's gotten of late. I suppose his dream-death would create an opportunity for me to step into his place, which must be the fulfillment of the wish. Or, maybe he is a stand-in for my father-- I am the oldest, and his sudden death opened up the same 'opportunity.'

Dreams are so petty.

from A Passage to India

A Marabar cave had been horrid as far as Mrs Moore was concerned, for she had nearly fainted in it, and had some difficulty in preventing herself from saying so as soon as she got into the air again. It was natural enough: she had always suffered from faintness, and the cave had become too full, because all their retinue followed them. Crammed with villagers and servants, the circular chamber began to smell. She lost Aziz and Adela in the dark, didn’t know who touched her, couldn’t breathe, and some vile naked thing struck her face and settled on her mouth like a pad. She tried to regain the entrance tunnel, but an influx of villagers swept her back. She hit her head. For an instant she went mad, hitting and gasping like a fanatic. For not only did the crush and stench alarm her; there was also a terrifying echo.

Professor Godbole had never mentioned an echo; it never impressed him, perhaps. There are some exquisite echoes in India; there is the the whisper round the dome at Bijapur; there are the long, solid sentences that voyage through the air at Mandu, and return unbroken to their creator. The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. ‘Boum’ is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or ‘bou-oum’, or ‘ou-boum’ -utterly dull. Hope, politeness, the blowing of a nose, the squeak of a boot, all produce ‘boum’. Even the striking of a match starts a little worm coiling, which is too small to complete a circle, but is eternally watchful. And if several people talk at once an overlapping howling noise begins, echoes generate echoes, and the cave is stuffed with a snake composed of small snakes, which writhe independently.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 15 (Ford Madox Ford)


The Good Soldier
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ford, Ford Madox
The Good Soldier

Purchased in college at the Fordham University Bookstore.

This is an example of a perfectly fine book being ruined by education. All I remember is my professor telling us that the it had an "achronological" narrative structure and that Ford hung out with Pound and Joyce in Paris. (There was a photo to prove it.) It was very important that we remembered the phrase "achronological narrative structure." I still remember it. I don't remember the book. Anyhow, maybe I'll get to reading it again on my own someday -- it has a great opening paragraph:

THIS is the saddest story I have ever heard. We had known the Ashburnhams for nine seasons of the town of Nauheim with an extreme intimacy—or, rather, with an acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet as close as a good glove's with your hand. My wife and I knew Captain and Mrs. Ashburnham as well as it was possible to know anybody, and yet, in another sense, we knew nothing at all about them. This is, I believe, a state of things only possible with English people of whom, till to-day, when I sit down to puzzle out what I know of this sad affair, I knew nothing whatever. Six months ago I had never been to England, and, certainly, I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I had known the shallows.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 14 (Eric Foner)


Reconstruction
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Foner, Eric
Reconstruction
America's Unfinished
Revolution 1863-1877


I bought this three or four years ago at Talking Leaves Books, I think, or maybe online. I was on a Civil War jag at the time and had read several books on the subject. It seemed logical to read on about reconstruction in the wake of that. I never finished the book, though I remember enjoying it. My bookmark still rests between pages 244 & 245. How is this for irony? The bookmark was printed by the Buffalo News Book Club and is advertising the title of their book of the month in September 2006. The book is called Dear Senator: A Memoir of the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, by Essie Mae Washington-Williams. "In this emotional memoir, Williams breaks her decades-long silence about the identity of her father--the late Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. With candor and sensitivity, she describes how she came to accept the father who supported segregation while also having a child who is black."

from page 244 of Reconstruction:

In constitutional terms, the Civil Rights Bill represented the first attempt to give meaning to the Thirteenth Amendment, to define in legislative terms the essence of freedom. Again and again during the debate of Trumbull's bills, Congressmen spoke of the national government's responsibility to protect the "fundamental rights" of American citizens. But as to the precise content of these rights, uncertainty prevailed. To Radicals, equality before the law was an expansive doctrine embracing nearly every phase of public life. Moderates had in mind a narrower definition, focusing on those rights essential for blacks to enter the world of contract, to compete on equal terms as free laborer. The bill proposed, one congressman declared, "to secure to a poor, weak class of laborers the right to make contracts for their labor, the power to enforce the payment of their wages, and the means of holding and enjoying the proceeds of their toil." If states could deny blacks these rights, another Republican remarked, "then I demand to know, of what practical value is the amendment abolishing slavery?"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 13 (Gustave Flaubert)

Flaubert, Gustave
Sentimental Education


Purchased at Talking Leaves Books for a graduate seminar with Samuel R. Delany in 1998. I wrote a fairly detailed description of the course in an earlier post on Delaney, which you can read here.

It was a 5-week class literally bookended with readings of Sentimental Education. We read it to begin the class, then wrote a paper. We read one, possibly two things in the interim, and then read Sentimental Education a second time and wrote a second paper. I don't think I have ever read the same book twice in such a short span of time before, but it was a useful experience.

Having re-read The Great Gatsby over the past few days, I re-discovered the pleasure of returning to a book for a second or third or fourth time. I think it is especially useful when a certain period of time has elapsed between readings because it requires you to confront the images you constructed the first time your read and the ones that you have constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in your memory during the intervening years.

These images do not necessarily need to be reconciled to the text before you, but must be refashioned in response to the current reading. I noticed in the re-reading of Gatsby that my images of Gatsby's mansion and of the general landscape described in the book did not change much in the re-reading, but that my understanding of the characters changed a great deal. Their problems and struggles seem less remote to me now, less like people who's troubles pertain to a distant future in which I might one day encounter them and more like recognizable beings drawn from my own life's experience.

I am not sure I felt the same thing reading Flaubert twice in five weeks, but I do recall that reading it cold, without context, was very different than reading it a second time. Having read Marx's 18th Brumaire and various little historical tidbits about the revolutions of 1848 created a richer experience the second time around.

It also made me want to learn to read French, which, alas, I have yet to do.

For some reason, this grim passage stayed with me:

He shivered, seized with an icy melancholy, is if he had caught a glimpse of whole worlds of misery and despair, a charcoal stove beside a trestle-bed, and the corpses at the mortuary in their leather aprons, with the cold tap-water running over their hair.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 12.1 (F. Scott Fitzgerald)


The Last Tycoon
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
The Last Tycoon


I am not sure if this memory is true or not, but it is in fact a memory. I think I may have bought this in high school or pre-college (I took a year off before going to the first of three schools) when, having decided I wanted to read something (an unusual task at the time) and not knowing what to read, I went to the store and looked for books by the one or two authors I HAD read.

I knew that I liked Fitzgerald, so picked a random book that bore his name off the the bookstore shelf. Three pages in I decided I didn't like it as much as The Great Gatsby, put it down and left it to decay on my shelves for 20-odd years until this very moment, when it has re-appeared to serve a new, higher purpose, that of offering itself up for speculative psychological fodder on this here blog.

As I said, that may all be a sort of fiction .

I am certain that that is the story of several books in my library, but I am not sure which ones. I am not even sure if any of them are still IN the library! They are all in my memory.

At least, the form of the narrative I created for them is. I wonder what the story means? It seems to reach back into my childhood, when my mother used to tell me that I "never finish anything." For instance, when I took cornet lessons, my parents refused to buy me an instrument, renting me one instead until I proved I was 'serious' about playing. At what point I would be considered serious I never knew. I am not a trumpet player. Is that my fault?

I recall a mental state in which I was always trying to overcome the doubt I felt about my ability to "finish" the task at hand. I think I have grown out of that state, for the most part, but the form of the story in which I am at the center, not finishing some important task, remains.

The Last Tycoon is Fitzgerald's final, unfinished novel.

Hmmm....

Though I haven't ever been on the screen I was brought up in pictures. Rudolph Valentino came to my fifth birthday party–or so I was told. I put this down only to indicate that even before the age of reason I was in a position to watch the wheels go round.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 12 (F. Scott Fitzgerald)


The Great Gatsby
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
The Great Gatsby


This is either my high school copy of the book or my brother's high school copy of the book. Or it is neither – but that is my best guess. I pulled it off the shelf yesterday to take the photo for the blog entry, opened the book, started reading and got about halfway through before I put it down. I think this will be the third time I've read it.

The first time was in high school. I keep thinking about high school as I look over my life from what I hope is its midpoint (judging by the males on my father's side of the family, I am 2/3 to 3/4 done at 41 -- here's hoping I've got my mother's genes!). Anyhow, when I look at the path I have chosen -- basically a life centered on writing, reading, and books -- I am amazed that things have turned out as they have.

In high school, I hated reading. I think I may have read five books in four years, if that. I absolutely could not sit still long enough to read anything. I smoked pot. I got drunk. I socialized. I played video games. I listened to music. I played sports a bit. I went to school. That was it. No interest in reading. None.

That said, this was one of the five (or fewer) books I did read.

The image of the narrative that I created in my head at 16 is a lot different than the image I am making now as I read it again. Some of it has to do with life experience, I suppose. I have since met people that resemble some the characters in the book. I have since seen homes with details similar to those described in the book. I have since seen plenty of films and so forth that depict the jazz age, so called, all of which conjure a world altogether different than the one the book conjured 25 years ago, when I had experienced none of these things.

What the book can no longer conjure is the same sense of wonder and awe at having discovered a pleasure that I had at that time only intermittently felt, pleasure being at the time the opposite of what I usually felt when I read. I usually felt anxiety and impatience bordering on physical suffering and could barely read two pages without having to go outside and climb a tree or run around the block or play basketball for several hours at a pop.

I think the second time I read it was in college -- I remember reading the whole thing in an afternoon and feeling very proud of myself for having done so. However, I remember more the experience of sitting down and reading the book that day than I do the content of the book itself.

Anyhow, I may sit down and read the rest again today. I am in a feverish reading state at the moment, unable to read one book at a time. I currently have five or six books started -- Gatsby, The Brothers Karamazov, The Interpretation of Dreams (second time around), Deleuze's book on Cinema (1), a book by Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail, and another novel by Javier Marias, who I have been reading in the original Spanish for the past six months or so (oddly, I was very good at Spanish in high school despite the fact that I never read and never studied and never did my homework).

The ironies continue to abound.

from The Great Gatsby

The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne, and during the course of her song she had decided, ineptly, that everything was very, very sad – she was not only singing, she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks – not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face, whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair and went off into a deep vinous sleep.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 11.3 (Robert Fitterman & Vanessa Place)

Fitterman, Robert
Place, Vanessa
Notes on Conceptualisms


I received this as a review copy from the publisher. A red stamp on the last page of the book that reads:

Dear Reader,
This is a review copy;
it is not for sale.
Thank you,
Ugly Duckling Presse

(I like the us of the semi-colon here. Who does that?) Next to the text on the stamp is a stick figure of what looks to be a duckling standing on very long legs. It is not ugly; it is quite strange.

I read through Notes on Conceptualisms when I first received it, but I haven't returned to give it a thorough reading. I didn't really feel like I understood how the concept of "allegory" was being used. Which isn't a criticism, just to say I need to read it again.

And I will. I swear.

from Notes on Conceptualisms

13. Glorious failure because among the crises catalogued by/in conceptual writing is a crisis in interiority.

A crisis in interiority is a crisis of perspective. In jettisoning the normative (or the normative of the normative), we are left with the contingent or relative normative, which is no real normative at all, and worse still, recapitulates the same problems (by default paying attention to something else) as the old normative normative. In other words, we reject the province of the monoptic (fixed) male subject heretofore a marker of success. This is the difference between Narcissus and Medusa. This is the difference between the barren and the baroque. This is the problem.

Note that the solution is not provided by the machina ex deus.

This brings us back to the meaning, and the possibility of possibility.

This is allegorical.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 11.2 (Robert Fitterman)


Metropolis XXX
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Fitterman, Robert
Metropolis XXX:
The Decline and Fall
of the Roman Empire

Again, not sure if I bought this or if it was given to me by the author. I think I bought it online. Anyway, Rob read here in 2005. There's a link over on the sidebar somewhere to an Article I wrote about Rob and this book, as well as an excerpt from the poem.

I remember Rob began his reading with the opening section of Metropolis 15. He read in a slow monotone, devoid of either passion or irony. I remember it startled the audience at Big Orbit Gallery because it is the kind of poem that would normally be read for kitschy ironic laughs, yet since Rob chose not to give the audience any indication about how they were supposed to read the poem, they sat in mostly stunned silence listening and waiting for a cue that never came. It was a pretty effective piece of performance art.

I remember the first thing Rob said when he entered our old house in Black Rock. You use to enter into what we used as a dining room -- A very large room with a staircase leading to the second floor and pocket doors dividing it from the living. Rob noticed the dining room set immediately and said, Ah, mid-century modern.

This was just at the moment before Kenny G. had fully articulated his concept of "conceptual" poetry in a way that resonated throughout the poetry world. Nonetheless I remember that several of the conversations I had with Rob about poetry and what he was trying to do in his work seemed, in hindsight at least, to be on the verge of articulating the phrase "conceptual poetry." It was soon thereafter that it, along with flarf, seemed to be on the tips of everybody's tongues.

Anyhow, here's the link to the article and excerpt:

http://artvoice.com/issues/v4n46/robert_fitterman