Commentaries

what's here worth seeing?

If you're fed up with antiquity, and feel that even the automobiles are antiques, and that religion alone remains an entirely new religion, which is to say it remains as simple as an airport hangar, then get thee to Paris and look at this spot under the chestnut trees, backed by the walls of the old monastery, surrounded by children at play. MORE>>>

proof of concept

"The guy who invented the wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius."--Sid Caesar

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In response to this, Tim Carmody wrote: "Who am I to argue with Sid Caesar? But as William Carlos Williams knew, the wheelbarrow is a pretty genius invention. Sometimes one wheel is enough."

To which I repled: "The flaw in Sid's thinking is in the assumption of the precise number of wheels that take a concept beyond its invention. (He was such an automobile-age sachem.) But the thought about thinking is still good to me: Invention is a thing done to a concept."

To which, in turn, Tim responds as follows:

I agree. I'm also reminded of Pound's quote of Leger quoting Hegel in the ABC of Reading: "Man should be prouder of having invented the hammer and nail than of having created masterpieces of imitation." Then Pound goes on to quote Spinoza: "The intellectual love of a thing consists in understanding its perfections." And to write: "You don't sleep on a hammer or lawn-mower, you don't drive nails with a mattress. Why should people go on applying the SAME critical standards to writings as different in purpose and effect as a lawn mower and a sofa cushion?" Given that Pound refers to the latter kind of writing as an "REPOSE, dope, opiates, mental beds," and later attacks Shakespeare for having "upholstered" language, Pound does seem to be positioning himself on the hammer/lawnmower end of the spectrum. [LINK]. The Pound/Williams generation didn't just say "no ideas but in things" -- they really did seem to try to use things to think.

green party(ing) & the language of excess

Today's Times features an article about the pressures brought to bear on these mostly ridiculous big-time party designers - "event planners" who sometimes take six months to create a gathering. One of these folks, David Stark, might rightly be called a conceptual event designer (in the sense of "conceptual artist," although as I verily write this parenthesis I realize it will seem a stretch, but bear with me...).

Stark's latest work, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s awards gala, was meant to be Green & enviro-friendly and avant-garde at once. Giving into decadence in one sense, creating green ironies in another, and possibly mocking the tuxes and little black dresses prancing below trash topiaries and shredded-paper chandeliers in yet a third. Stark created indeed giant faux-natural shapes - many florid archaisms fashioned from trash. "It was the language of excess," says the Times "— those topiaries recalled the gardens of Versailles — expressed in the material of frugality."

The shredded paper of which these biomorphs were made included 12 years of Stark's own tax returns. Excess means the extra stuff you throw away (or now: make available for recycling), and it also means too much.

(Maybe, as a result of this success, Stark's tax return this year will need to have a few extra addenda. I wonder, if we demand to have his tax returns made public, if it will be part of the art. I rather think so.) MORE...

origins of McCarthyism (the word)

Recently I was asked about the precise origins of the word "McCarthyism." The correct answer to the question is that for a while (perhaps five or six years) the term was used by some as a term of commendation--a positive as well as, of course, for many if not most, a negative. Soon I remembered that Richard Rovere (in his book Senator Joe McCarthy) wrote a nice passage on this topic:

Barely a month after [the] Wheeling [West Virginia speech in which the junior senator from Wisconsin claimed to know about several hundred communists in the State Department], "McCarthyism" was coined by Herbert Block, the cartoonist who signs himself "Herblock" in the Washington Post. The word was an oath at first--a synonym for the hatefulness of baseless defamation, or mudslinging. (In the Herblock cartoon, "McCarthyism" was crudely lettered on a barrel of mud, which teetered on a tower of ten buckets of the stuff.) Later it became, for some, an affirmation. The term survives both as oath and as affirmation not very usefully as either, one is bound to say and has far broader applications than at first. Now it is evocative of an almost undifferetiated evil to a large number of Americans and of a positive good to a somewhat smaller number. To the one, whatever is illiberal, repressive, reactionary, obscurantist, anti-intellectual, totalitarian, or merely swinish will for some time to come be McCarthyism, while to the other it means nothing more or less than a militant patriotism. "To many Americans, McCarthyism is Americanism," Fulton Lewis, Jr., a radio commentator and the official McCarthyite muezzin, said. Once the word caught on, McCarthy himself became intrigued with it. "McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled," he told a Wisconsin audience in 1952, and, sure enough, there was the eponym, with his hairy arms bare to the biceps. That year he published a book of snippets from his speeches and his testimony before committees, and it bore the modest title of McCarthyism: The Fight for America. There is injustice as well as imprecision in both meanings; if patriotism can hardly be reduced to tracking down Marxists in the pastry kitchens of the Pentagon or the bindery of the Government Printing Office, neither is the late Senator's surname to be placed at the center of all the constellations of political unrighteousness. He was not, for example, totalitarian in any significant sense, or even reactionary. These terms apply mainly to the social and economic order, and the social and economic order didn't interest him in the slightest. If he was anything at all in the realm of ideas, principles, doctrines, he was a species of nihilist; he was an essentially destructive force, a revolutionist without any revolutionary vision, a rebel without a cause.

For more, have a look at my 1950s site.

flarfists fly flag

This week's "Poetry off the Shelf" podcast, produced by Curtis Fox for the Poetry Foundation, features Flarf poetry. The best way to get this podcast series is to go to the alt.NPR podcast series page: here. The piece is well edited and jabs both pro and con.

We at PennSound did a podcast on Flarf, featuring excerpts from a Flarffest (or is that Flarfest?) held at the Kelly Writers House. Listen to that.