Commentaries - May 2010

short film about Second Life

Some innovative IT colleagues of mine here at Penn have made a short film about our use of the virtual world "Second Life" here. They interviewed me for it, but I'm not nearly the most lucid proponent of experimenting in SL. Watch for others.

Creeley on prosody and pacing

Back in 2000 I interviewed Robert Creeley in front of a live audience of eighty people or so at the Writers House. The recording (video and audio both) of the interview has long been available, but recently Michael Nardone has begun to draft a transcription. Note that it’s not by any means finalized yet. Toward the beginning of the discussion Creeley brought out a small laptop which had loaded in it a software program called “Libretto.” It was a primitive version of the much better voice transcription programs or voice recognition programs now available. In this early version a rudimentary avatar would speak a piece of text fed into it. Creeley was experimenting with prosody and wanted to dehumanize (for instance) the ballad stanza, to hear the words performed without subjectivity — as a machine would sound them. In this part of the transcript we find Creeley struggling a bit with the machine. Once it works, we hear the ballad (but it is by now unrecognizable so we’ve left out the verse itself in the transcript) and then Creeley discusses. (Here is a link to the audio segment transcribed.)

It will come. I still have to get the appropriate file. I just took two verses from actually a very — it doesn’t use the syncopation quite at all very much, but I am also interested in pacing, what the intervals apparent are. Again, as I say this voice is in no way expressive or interpretive. I was visiting in a pleasant school, masters school, in just Dobb’s Ferry in New York and one pleasant teacher there, a Chinese American, said “Sounds just like my uncle.” So here we go.

Wait a minute.



Wait a minute I’m sorry. Let’s start again.

In the room, if Aaron does some —

Let me just stop this. Abort.

I haven’t got the speaker turned on.

I’m an old man. I’m totally confused.

He’s an old man with a libretto playing a voice synthesizer.

Be that as it may.

new recordings

My own PennSound page is being updated with recent recordings--interviews, introductions and discussions. Soon I hope to add the recording of the talk on Henry Rago and the Chicago Poetry scene 1955-60, delivered in Chicago in mid-April.

Cynthia Ozick

'Not all Holocaust art is authentic.'

Some weeks ago Cynthia Ozick published a short essay in Newsweek bearing the brash subtitle “Not all Holocaust art is authentic. In fact, much of it is fraudulent.” While I don’t agree with all her judgments here, I like the gist — the hardness, the high standard, the fussiness about the problem of representing the holocaust. Here is a link to the whole piece. And here is a telling excerpt:

Consider a handful of movies that profess to render the Holocaust. Life Is Beautiful, a naive, well-intentioned, preposterous, painfully absurd, and ignorant lie. Inglourious Basterds, a defamation, a canard — what Frederic Raphael, writing in Commentary, calls “doing the Jews a favor by showing that they, too, given the chance, coulda/woulda behaved like mindless monsters,” even as he compares it to Jew Süss, the notorious Goebbels film. The Reader, like the novel it derives from, no better than Nazi porn, and drawn from the self-serving notion that the then most literate and cultivated nation in Europe may be exculpated from mass murder by the claim of illiteracy. As for Schindler’s List, its most honest moment, after its parade of fake-looking victims, comes at the very close of the film, and in documentary mode, when the living survivors appear on screen.

So where can the truth be found? In Anne Frank’s diary? Yes, but the diary, intended as a report, as a document, can tell only a partial and preliminary truth, since the remarkable child was writing in a shelter — precarious, threatened, and temporary; nevertheless a protected space. Anne Frank did not, could not, record the atrocity she endured while tormented by lice, clothed in a rag, and dying of typhus in Bergen-Belsen. For what we call “truth” we must go into the bottom-most interior of that hell. And as Primo Levi admonishes, only the dead went down to the Nazi hell’s lowest rung.

Along the way, Ozick reserves high praise for Paul Celan’s great poem “Todesfuge” (“Death is a master out of Germany”); Elie Wiesel’s outcry in Night; Dan Pagis’s stunted, smothered lyric; Primo Levi’s sober taxonomy of brutishness. I admire these judgments (excepting that for Night — a case where I out-Ozick Ozick in deeming it too novelistic, too narratively facile).

H.D.'s desk

Lately I've been reading the blog of the Beinecke Library, called "Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities." I took special note of a recent gift made to the Beinecke: H.D.'s writing desk. Its provenance seems significant, but no one knows for sure. H.D. biographer Barbara Guest: "Said to be Christina Rosetti’s, it may originally have belonged to Empress Eugenie, who spent several years in exile in England. Bryher bought the desk for H. D. at the estate sale of Violet Hunt” (Herself Defined, 56). In the photo of the desk, in its new place in New Haven, we see a portrait H.D.'s friend and literary executor (and longtime Yale English faculty member) Norman Holmes Pearson.