Commentaries

we're all in the big glass


This of course is Marcel Duchamp's "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)," 1915-23. The materials include oil, lead foil, lead wire and (say the people at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) "dust" also. All on (or in) two glass panels. A box of papers that are the drawn plans and other writings about the project, by Duchamp, is displayed nearby. (The box makes me think of Robert Granier's Sentences, and although I'm no expert on Sentences I have to guess that Grenier was in part thinking of and positively influenced by these sorts of boxes-of-papers-as-art projects Duchamp undertook.)

Bride Stripped is hard to photograph, even by good photographers (I am not that). I try to see it at least once a year at the PMA and always try my hand at snapshots. This time I didn't wait for people also looking at the work to move away and decided just to let them be part of the transparency. Without knowing this as a matter of fact, I'm certain that Duchamp would want them to be included in the view.

the poet as novelist

I just spent a wonderful two days with Robert Coover, visiting us as a Writers House Fellow, our first of three this spring (next up is Joan Didion). The reading Bob gave last night was riveting. He read all languagy stuff - prose-poems, really. Antic, thick with sound, featuring some of his many imitative American voices. I wanted him to do an encore of "The Fallguy's Faith," his brilliant 1.5-page piece about Humpty Dumpty, which reads like a gone-awry thesaurus of American idioms around falling and fallen. Fortunately Bob Coover came back this morning and I had the opportunity to interview him and moderate a discussion with others, both there at the House and about 35 people watching the live video stream. And I asked him to read the Humpty piece this morning. Here are your links:

[] our Coover page with links to video of the reading and the interview, and audio-only mp3's of both;

[] a few photographs from Coover's 3-hour session with the students in my Fellows seminar;

[] the text of Vince Levy's introduction to Coover at the Monday night reading.

[] photographs of the visit (by John Carroll)

don't be a Henny Penny about texting

I'm quoted in today's Washington Post - in a story about text messaging. The writer, Donna St. George, with whom I spoke the other day, is smart and nice, but let's face it: if the "story" was that these new forms of succinct writing were modestly or significantly beneficial, the Post would never run it. But Henny Pennyism runs amok when a new technology is so rapidly embraced by the young while parents and teachers are left somewhat behind. And maybe it's not specifically technology at all - but change of this sort generally. To be sure, Ms. St. George's article is full of moderate comments and no evidence even close to conclusive that any damage is being done. There's the usual anecdotal nightmare-scenario remark by an expert that the reading of Shakespeare might be interrupted by a message from some acronym-obsessed best friend, but, c'mon, in the 1930s the Shakespeare assignment would have been interrupted by the neighbor banging on the window with an urgent request to come out and play or the sneaking out from under the covers of the girly mag, or in the '70s by a quick listen, big headphones over the head, to a cut from the latest LP...or, in any era, by nose-picking, doodling, phone-calling, etc. If the interruption is the writing of more language, that in fact seems better to me, by far, than the time-honored proscrastinations of what we now call our golden ages of childhood. And why does high-culture Shakespeare always appear as the positive object of attention? (Well,because it makes the story about a skirmish in the culture wars. High = Shakespeare, low = texting. Stop the low, save the high! Cause, effect.) What makes inattention to one's homework new here? And what makes this kind of inattention (but really it's multiple attentiveness) ipso facto bad? Or inattention to anything one is ought to be doing? I suggest that those concerned about all this read John Ashbery's pre-internet poem, "The Instruction Manual." The speaker is doing exactly what he shouldn't be doing, and possibly he's multi-tasking with greater focus on the daydreamt Other. And he's writing as a brilliant means of avoiding responsibility. And what comes of that? Oh, imagination...art.

Lenny, Allen, Dustin

Yesterday Lawrence Schwartzwald photographed Dustin Hoffman on Madison Avenue reading Allen Ginsberg's selected interviews. Lawrence reminds me that Hoffman played Lenny Bruce and that in the famous Ginsberg-William Buckley Firing Line debate of September 1968 Lenny Bruce was discussed. The transcript of that encounter is on pp. 76-102 of the book, and presumably Lawrence asked Dustin to take a look at it here, so one of those circles gets turned all the way around in a single image. Click on the image above for a closer view.

Earlier I posted Lawrence's great shot of Patti Smith reading about Wallace Stevens.

(c) Lawrence Schwartzwald

the before took us right up to the after

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OlPEUyKKBA]"Preposition," by Sally Van Doren, from her book, Sex at Noon Taxes.