Commentaries - June 2010

"too feverish...almost hysterical"

From Irving Howe's negative review of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man:

Though immensely gifted, Ellison is not a finished craftsman. The tempo of his book is too feverish, and at times almost hysterical. Too often he tries to overwhelm the reader; but when he should be doing something other then overwhelm, when he should be persuading or suggesting or simply telling, he forces and tears. Because the book is written in the first person singular, Ellison cannot establish ironic distance between his hero and himself, or between the matured "I" telling the story and the "I" who is its victim. And because the experience is so apocalyptic and magnified, it absorbs and then dissolves the hero; every minor character comes through brilliantly, but the seeing "I" is seldom seen.

Published in The Nation May 10, 1952. Here's the whole review.

Justin McDaniel, a member of the faculty here at Penn, has created a virtual archive of Thai Buddhist materials. It's called The Thai Digital Monastery and the web site is lovely--and shows the potential of this project as a virtual archive of far-off materials. We at PennSound will consult with Justin; they are, in a sense, sister projects, with a similar sort of archival motive.

1. Al Filreis, "Sounds at an Impasse," Wallace Stevens Journal, special sound issue edited by Natalie Gerber, Spring 2009, pp. 16-23. [link]

2. Al Filreis, "Kinetic Is as Kinetic Does: On the Institutionalization of Digital Poetry," in New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories, ed. Adelaide Morris and Thomas Swiss (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), pp. 123-140.

3. Al Filreis, "Some Remarks on the Institutionalization of E-Poetries," NC1 (Spring/Summer 2002), pp. 84-88; part of "New Media Literature: A Roundtable Discussion on Aesthetics, Audiences, and Histories."

4. Al Filreis, "Modernist Pedagogy at the End of the Lecture," in Teaching Modernist Poetry, eds. Nicky Marsh & Peter Middleton (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). [link]

Below is a small transcribed piece of a "Close Listening" conversation with Wystan Curnow, conducted by Charles Bernstein. The full recording is of course available on PennSound. The full transcript will eventually be published in Jacket2; it has been prepared by the remarkable Michael Nardone.

- -

Now you have been interested in network connections trans-national or global, to some degree that was so commonplace as a way of understanding the visual arts. So, going back to my original question of location, thinking of New Zealand as one point in this global set of crossing points and so on, where do you locate your self on the globe in that respect? What are some of the currents, visual and verbal, that go through you, where you are?

Well, first of all, I mean, let’s go back one step, and I sense that, I think that one reaction to going back to England or attachment to home was the idea of establishing something unique and of a particular place. So there was a type of isolationist, or a discovery of a New Zealand identity, a New Zealand literature.

Which would also be marked by features of the place itself.

That’s right.

The boundedness by water, the particular fauna and flora.

And the way in which as society developed, it grew out of those things in particular, rather than things that were elsewhere. That’s in some way a resistance to the global, a resistance to networks. Essentially, I’m of a generation that is more impressed with the limitations and the delusions of such a strategy, and wishes to expand the networks and make more of them. I think as you yourself indicated that somewhere in the 1970s, a considerable change occurred in terms of the influence particularly of American culture in New Zealand, but just at the popular culture level, but in the arts and in poetry.

But one of the things I wanted to say about the network thing is that whatever other sources you are talking about, one looks at sources in a different way than has occurred in the past. It’s a matter of relationships, and the negotiation of spaces between rather than a here and a there.

So networkers, in my view, understood that way.

I’m of course thinking of the particular show that you did of maps and the kind of global networking show. I wanted to ask you that question as you know, but—

I mean for me, the border network began with the States. Then it’s extended to Europe, I would say, in the 1980s. Europe was a discovery for me. I’d never been there before.

In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no "two evils" exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say....

[H]ow does Stevenson differ from Eisenhower? He uses better English than Dulles, thank God! He has a sly humor, where Eisenhower has none. Beyond this, Stevenson stands on the race question in the South not far from where his godfather Adlai stood sixty-three years ago, which reconciles him to the South. He has no clear policy on war or preparation for war; on water and flood control; on reduction of taxation; on the welfare state....

I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright ghost writers? Again, why? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?

--W.E.B. Du Bois, October 20, 1956 in the Nation magazine