Sunday, February 18, 2007

How Henry James would have hated hypertext

Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so. He is in the perpetual predicament that the continuity of things is the whole matter, for him, of comedy and tragedy; that this continuity is never, by the space of an instant or an inch, broken, and that, to do anything at all, he has at once intensely to consult and intensely to ignore it. All of which will perhaps pass but for a supersubtle way of pointing the plain moral that a young embroiderer of the canvas of life soon began to work in terror, fairly, of the vast expanse of that surface, of the boundless number of its distinct perforations for the needle, and of the tendency inherent in his many-coloured flowers and figures to cover and consume as many as possible of the little holes. The development of the flower, of the figure, involved thus an immense counting of holes and a careful selection among them. That would have been, it seemed to him, a brave enough process, were it not the very nature of the holes so to invite, to solicit, to persuade, to practise positively a thousand lures and deceites. The prime effect of so sustained a system, so prepared a surface, is to lead on and on; while the fascination of following resides, b y the same token, in the presumability somewhere of a convenient, of a visibly-appointed stopping-place. Art would be easy indeed if, by a fond power disposed to "patronise" it, such conveniencews, such simplifications, had been provided. We have, as the case stands, to invent and establish them, to arrive at them by a difficult, dire process of selection and comparison, of surrender and sacrifice. The very meaning of expertness is acquired courage to brace one's self for the cruel crisis from the moment one sees it grimly loom.

-The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces; 1934

As opposed to Joyce and Proust, esp. see also Philip Rahv, Image and Idea, 1949.

no kidding

“Irvine is not exactly the center of the world,” Kamuf said, so the family requested duplicate archives to assure wider scholarly access to the philosopher’s work.

mere visibility's limits

A nice, probing survey of recently renewed debates over vegetarianism, by Nikil Saval:
A history of modern Western vegetarianism, originally published in England, has just arrived on this shore. The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to the Present is better served by its British subtitle—Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India, since the book tells its story largely through the biographies of its major exponents (Sir Francis Bacon; Percy Shelley; Gandhi, among others), most of whom “discovered”—usually through direct experience or travel accounts—the vegetarian philosophies and communities of India, and in turn, attempted to refashion the meat-eating West. In a fascinating account of the roundabout process of this discovery, Stuart explains how Gandhi, who was by education and acculturation a Western man, discovered the vegetarianism of India through a reading of Thoreau (who had immersed himself in Indian philosophy nearly a century before).

The book has quickly become a leaping-off point for forces of seemingly enlightened reaction questioning the moral and ecological coherence of ethical vegetarianism—strikingly, in magazines (The Nation, Salon, and The New Yorker) more or less sympathetic to leftist politics [...] The idea is that, given a keen and full vision of such a place, sheer mass revulsion would either make us all vegetarians, or would cause us to rise in unified revolt against our own murderous industries. Similar arguments have been made regarding other mass-produced items: clothes, illicit drugs, pornographic films.

But is full disclosure of the means of production ever a sufficient incitement for such a “bloodless” revolution? Though slaughterhouses still do not have glass walls, we have more information now than ever before, which is to say, a generous measure of transparency has already been achieved. Yet many people who have never passed through an abattoir are vegetarian, and many more who have are not. (A Harris poll in 2003 found that 4 to 10 percent of the American population calls itself “vegetarian”; 2.8 percent specify that they never eat red meat, poultry, or fish/seafood, up from 2.3 percent in 2000.) In the face of cruelty, human animals are known to forget what they see. We depend on this forgetfulness. The information gathered about the word- and speech-defying cruelty of the factory farms becomes voluminous, and the number of vegetarians apparently increases, but, statistically, so does the amount of global total meat consumption. Urbanization stimulates both vegetarianism and more meat-eating. Which is to say, the renunciation of meat is not always the result of the availability of facts, or our nearness to the process. [...]

What The Bloodless Revolution makes clear is that vegetarianism has often been spurred by the appearance of an alternative society, which produced the imaginative capability necessary for people to work to transform their own societies. In this sense, ethical vegetarianism has trouble succeeding as a material argument; it works better as an imaginative answer to an irrational system. [...]

The transparency as inspiration argument, on the other hand, derives much of its character from nineteenth-century literary realism, the technique of supplying information in the form of fictional narrative to expose what daily life conceals. In France, for example, writers like Flaubert and the Goncourt brothers pioneered a style of flinging facts at the supposedly contented bourgeoisie, clueing them in to what really goes on. Their primary imagery was gastrointestinal in content. “I would not like to die before having emptied a few more buckets of shit on my fellow men,” wrote Flaubert. [...] But realism is merely a bundle of varied techniques for representation, and when aimed at reform, the result is never automatic or predictable. With The Jungle, Upton Sinclair wanted socialism. What he and the country got were public health reforms in response to unhealthy meat-packing conditions.

Sinclair had little interest in ethical vegetarianism (he gave up meat for a time to cure nervous dyspepsia). But I know of vegetarians who turned away from meat-eating after reading The Jungle. This has less to do with the transparency of the meat production process and more with how the promiscuous means of novels and other arts, regardless of the goals of any individual work, can give us the knowledge we need: in this case, a sense of what animals are and their place. My own turn to vegetarianism came not from reading reports or watching slaughterhouse cameras, but from the distinctly different, but no less unsettling experience of reading J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello. It contains no slaughterhouse scenes, and Coetzee makes no arguments for vegetarianism in the book. Rather, for part of the book, his character Elizabeth Costello lectures on the cruelty of our food system, within the fictional scenario of an academic conference. Some of her arguments about the lives of animals are interesting; many of them are unoriginal, even poor. Her comparison of factory farms to the Nazi concentration camps has struck readers as hysterical and unfair (so much so that many writers, including Michael Pollan, have quoted Costello’s words as mirroring the beliefs of Coetzee, largely to discredit him).

But it is the shakiness of Costello’s position, buffered by a heavy reliance on allegorical storytelling (as in Coetzee’s previous novels), that remind one how vegetarianism is less a solidly consistent ethics than a capability. As with the vegetarians in The Bloodless Revolution, Costello makes clear that vegetarianism has come to her through her attribution of an allegorical story to creatures that withhold evidence of it, and from her ability to know about the cruelty done to these creatures without needing to see it happen. This is a kind of knowledge that has nothing to do with visibility.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"a book of memory...nothing to read"

A belated update to this old Long Sunday post: Jonathan Jones begs to differ. Not sure that I agree (via sdm, yabt).

Saturday, February 03, 2007

a poetry plug

From Gary Sullivan's afterword to Fait Accompli by Nick Piombino (courtesy of wood s lot):
Miraculously, Nick Piombino, who launched fait accompli early in 2003, has managed to stay out of nearly every poetry blogwar to date. This is not, I would argue, because he has less of a stake in any of the arguments that have come up - he cares about poetry and the social world in which it operates as passionately and deeply as anyone else. His neutrality, the seeming neutrality of fait accompli, has more to do, I believe, with his relationship to time.

Whereas most of us - even those of us with decades of poetryworld "history"- tend to focus our blogs on the immediate present of the poetry world - often as shaped and limited by present online participation by others - Nick, from the outset, has consciouly and constantly used his blog as a form of dialogue and exchange with the past, present and future - that of his personal life, of his poetics, of poetry and poetics generally, and of politics and the larger social realm.

Friday, February 02, 2007

will copy-edit, proofread, fact check for your money


I am currently offering my services as a copy-editor/proofreader to anyone who may be out there, and in need. Naturally if yours is a subject I know anything about (and perhaps even if not), then the critique (only if desired) is included free of charge. However the point of this exercise is getting paid for which, given my current financial straights, I will read and edit nearly anything.

Donations are of course welcome (email for an address, or there's a paypal button on the side if you like paying petty fees to large corporations). As for references, these guys think I do an excellent job, as did Lars Spurious. I have also been known to translate a little bit from French and Spanish, and to help people with their business or "personal statements." Grand stuff.

In between jobs these first months of the new year, with extortionate vet bills for adopted dogs to pay, this legitimately humble blog is broke. In light of which, truly any spare change one may feel like spontaneously tipping would be deeply appreciated. Thanks again.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

hard time of year


parrhesia watch

"He's not in public office. Can we imagine Clinton, or McCain, or Obama, or Hagel, or any other fine public seat warmers talking like this? Why is it so hard for them to say it? Could it be that if this were said, the office holder saying it would actually have to do something -- hold hearings, move to impeach, etc.? [...] Any aspirant declared or undeclared that fails to voice what Gore is saying is a coward, repugnant to common sense and, in the current environment, unelectable."


quoting Waggish

quoting Hume...