In "Toy Boats" Carla Harryman argues that narrative is not something to believe in but something that is there. So we do things with it. In a way this was a rejoinder to all the anti-narrative posturing of her colleagues and contemporaries, but it is at the same time a piece written in the revolutionary-manifesto spirit of those who thus postured.
Here's the opening of "Toy Boats":
The enemies of narrative are those who believe in it and those who deny it. Both belief and denial throw existence into question. Narrative exists, and arguments either for or against it are false. Narrative is a ping-pong ball among blind spots when considered in the light of its advantages and defects.
Narrative holds within its boundaries both its advantages and defects. It can demonstrate its own development as it mutates throughout history. This is its great advantage. I.e., in accomplishing its mutability, it achieves an ongoing existence.
Narrative might be thought to be a character and its defects lie in his "potential to observe his own practice of making falsehoods." If this narrative is imitating anything, its intention is to convince the audience to enjoy the imitation, whatever its lack of truth or reasonableness.
"Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary. Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores. Self-published authors sneak their works into the “new releases” section, while personal trainers put their business cards into weight-loss books, and aspiring professional photographers make homemade cards — their Web site address included, of course — and covertly plant them into stationery-store racks."
The photo here shows, at a Whole Foods in New York, Jen Armstrong and Ryan Watkins-Hughes stocking a shelf with cans carrying art-infused labels.
Somewhat related is the droplift project.
In today's "Science Times" section of the Times there's a long story about the ecocide end of the genocide spectrum - and about other ways in which societies have historically led to their own demise. Reading along, the piece seems innocuous, another collage of curious is-that-so? socio-biological factoids. But at heart it's an account of the reactions for, and mostly against, the Guns, Germs and Steel theses in Jared Diamond's best-selling book. A chart offered alongside the text shows that of five examples of societies that went extinct, all five "failed to solve social problems." And we are reminded that in a section of his book called "Collapse," Diamond argued that a "precipitating" cause of the genocide in Rwanda was Malthusian. The country had let its population outstrip its food supply. This is controversial stuff, to be sure.
Along the way we are reminded of "Yali's question" and fortunately get two opposing interpretations, that of Diamond and that of his detractors. Among the latter are anthropologists who have written a book length rejoinder all about "Yali's question."
Yali was a political leader of an ethnic group in Papua New Guinea, a people who had gotten used to the bounty of supplies delivered from the air by the Allies during World War II. In the immediate postwar years a cult arose among this people, a "cargo cult." They built ritualistic landing strips and control towers and wore faux headsets carved from wood, trying to summon back the packaged food, medicine and weapons that Yanks, Brits and Aussies had flown in during the early to mid-1940s. Yali asked Diamond this question: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" I urge readers to consult the Times for a good summary of Diamond's interpretation of Yali's question and of his critics', but I'll say here that everything depends on what you think Yali meant. That there could be a connection between understanding Yali's question and contending the alleged socio-biological causes of Hutus killing Tutsis is, to me, earth-shattering. I'm glad the counterargument against Diamond gets such play here. Quite a Christmas Day feature for the Times.
If fifteen conditions must or do exist that led to genocide, fourteen of them are matters of conscious political will combined with conscious political neglect or avoidance and conscious political failure of will (to negotitate, to compromise, to re-arrange borders, etc.). We focus on the fifteenth - the climatic, the evolutionary, the catastrophic [e.g. drought] - at the peril of letting social will and action (those taken and those we fail to take) off the hook.
Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had a plan to suspend the rules against illegal detention and arrest up to 12,000 Americans he suspected of being disloyal, according to a newly declassified document.
Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, less than two weeks after the Korean War began. But there is no evidence to suggest that President Truman or any subsequent president approved any part of Hoover's proposal to house suspect Americans in military and federal prisons.
For more, go here.
The year '07 brought us a "selected later poems" from John Ashbery, a gorgeously designed volume (a large pastel-color-surrounded lower case mod-yet-serif "a" on the jacket) called Notes from the Air. First thought about the subtitle: a person must be and feel really old to consent--not sure how readily John did--to the phrase "late poems," although at least it's not "last poems" (that's in truth for later). Nonetheless, it's accurate. In the sense Edward Said meant it, as he himself, toward the end, was a later-filled person, these poems have the style and rhetoric of later. Someone might or has already argued that poetically JA was always already an old guy. His Harvard poems seem the work of a 50 year old - e.g. "Some Trees" with its "as far this morning from the world as agreeing with it." But in these poems one hears the lateness and untight-lined-ness of Wallace Stevens' long poems of the late 1940s and early 50s, e.g. "The Auroras of Autumn" and "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven."
How far Stevens had come from "Sunday Morning" to an "Ordinary Evening"--the latter surely a weekday. (When you're old and still working, it matters less than it once did that you're writing your poem desperately on a Sunday, knowing Monday morning's "dirty light"** is coming along with other matters to which to attend. Tuesday will do just fine.)
The best example of the late Ashbery style in the new selected is toward the very end of a poem called "Tuesday Evening," Ashbery's version of an ordinary evening, to be sure. Here are some lines:
...And in a funny kind of way, the nifty
feeling of those years has returned. I can't explain it,
but perhaps it means that once you're over fifty
you're rid of a lot of decibels. You've got a tiger; so unchain it
and then see what explanations they give.
The thought does not end with the simple or easy unchaining of the tiger inside the sleepy-wakeful old poet. Things have quieted down, or you've successfully drawn away from the noise, and that's why the tiger--you'd think it'd be associated with the noise of early and mid-life wildness--can or will be liberated in you now. But then - well enough never left alone in Ashberyian rhetoric - we realize that once the tiger in you is free we are (yet again) waiting, waiting for something the arrival of which is not clear. Who is the "they" that will given the explanations? Not the tiger, which would be "it" or "he." Not the poet, the "I" who can't explain why old age brings back those earlier years, but a plural external authority or corrective agency. So the liberation of the wild inside - in the poem itself? - never gets realized in the poem, as there's always one more qualification before such freedom can ever be attained. Which is to say: never.
Yet one tries, and tries. And that's what the poems are, at this point. Gorgeous.
** See the very end of Stevens' "The Man with the Blue Guitar."