Commentaries - November 2007

Oh, go see the Lawrence Weiner show at the Whitney before it closes February 10. It's the first major retrospective of his work in the U.S. Some of the pieces — small in scale, intensely conceptual, language-y and yet objects — date back to 1960 (he was just 18 and had, Kerouac-like, come across the country).

I've been hankering for a cogent rebuke of those in the media who are flailing away at the issue of whether people in this country illegally should be able to get drivers' licenses. Finally I heard it. It's Truthdig's Bob Scheer speaking on KCRW's weekly talkfest 'Left, Right & Center' about halfway through the show. Those with similar longing for substance over debate-flubbing style will want to listen by going to the Left, Right & Center episode site. You can also subscribe to the LR&C; podcast.

You can also listen to Bob Scheer's comment on undocumented workers here.

In the summer of '99 we did our first live interactive webcast. Bob Perelman, Shawn Walker, Kristen Gallagher and I gathered in the Arts Cafe of the Writers House and discussed William Carlos Williams' poem "To Elsie" for an hour and 35 minutes. Of course we made a recording of it, which is now available in RealVideo format, which is to say, can be played on any RealPlayer. (There are also excerpts in mp3 format.)

We took questions from friends around the world who were watching the live stream and wrote in by email.

For those who have the time, I think the discussion is an excellent introduction to the aesthetic and also cultural-anthropological complexities of that poem, which was originally published in Spring and All in 1923. Here's the text.

"He's a media-made technologically-supplemented Frankenstein. We dismiss him a as fraud, but we know in our hearts that his way is the way of the future...." MORE...

Look closely for the blur of the white stickball. See it? It's almost behind the ear of the batter, who is leaning creatively away so as to avoid being beaned. See it? Who threw that pitch? Did he mean harm? The catcher might provide evidence for answering this question. He's prepared to catch the ball way inside, almost as if he knew it was coming there.

This well-known photograph is one of Arthur Leipzig's documentary shots: a stickball game on a Lower East Side street, 1950. You've got old LES: the Jewish butcher, leaning on his store, watching the intense integrated street game, little to nothing in his shop window. Then too you have the two skippy fifties-style howdy-doody kids, presumably brother and sister, carefully crossing the street. And then that fabulously serious-cool game, a stickball contest: presumably two white guys vs. two black guys (so integrated but also not integrated), and the pitch coming in is so high and tight that one believes it is a brushback pitch (a "purpose pitch," aimed at the head) and thus one feels that the four players are cool-loose and happy with each other but also that there's a lot of nascent tension. "Cool-loose": check out the flexibility in the knees of the batter.

I happen to own the original print of this wonderful photo — and thus have the pleasure of seeing it every day. It always makes me think of one of those crucial transitional moments. There are three cultures here, all in one unstaged shot. I think we all see such scenes every day, but few of us can capture it.

For a little more about New York in the Fifties, go here.