Saturday, September 21, 2002

symbolize this
There's an interview with Net.Artist Eryk Salvaggio over on Alienated. Eryk strikes me as an interesting enough guy, although I'll admit I'm more than a bit wary of phrases like "I've always found that the less time you spend with poetry the better it comes out." Salvaggio's memorial piece on 9/11, however, caught my attention. It's basically a loop of Those Images we all know so well, filtered through the names of the people who were killed in the towers. And okay, if you're going to dwell in those images, who am I to argue with that approach to it? But I can't say I agree with this rationale:

"There is an idea that these loops of the disaster served to instantly desensitize ourselves from the images, and to see the tapes as abstract symbols. When I started seeing images of people leaping from the towers in magazines and newspapers, it left me feeling like we had missed the real essence of what had happened, that these lives had become images, tape loops, and symbols."

Erik, then, is aiming for what we might call a more "genuine" emotional response to these images. There's a problem, though. How is his own, filtered image supposed to resist this insidious process of becoming a tape loop, a "symbol"? The process he's describing is interpretation, and the human brain does it as a matter of course, no matter how much we complain about the messy results or how many times we admonish it to do otherwise. So, how are the names of the victims to give us a more complete understanding of their lives than the image of them plummeting to their deaths? How can they, in any practical sense, be anything but symbols to hundreds of millions of people who never knew them and never will? Salvaggio says he thinks we missed the "real essence" of what happened, but the point here is that there is no "real essence" to be had. There's a horrific event to which people from around the world have brought their own perspectives, and which various people have tried to deal with and/or exploit in various ways.

The fact is, there are far worse things than becoming a "symbol." The victims of 9/11 died horrible, tragic deaths, and now even more horrible things are being contemplated (superficially) in their name -- but they, at least, will be visible to history for a long time to come. How many of the Sudanese (probably in the high thousands) who've died as a result of the El Shifa tragedy are even on the radar of public discourse? How many Afghans?

I also disagree that what happened with those images was necessarily "desensitization." If anything, it was the reverse -- I think it's fair to say that most of us onlookers became extremely "sensitized" to those images, and especially to their fearful implications for our own safety. The immediacy of those images is arguably the only thing that has kept the Bush Administration afloat. And they know it. And they know how politically useful those images are to their agenda. More on that later.

Friday, September 20, 2002

the more things change
In today's blog, Ron Silliman notes that:

"If the history of poetry is ultimately a history of change, any model of such a history would account not only for the movement of poetry, the elaboration of new devices and forms, the perpetual redefinition of literature itself, but also for the capacity of all forms to carry onward from whatever point they become socially established as viable. For forms linger indefinitely."

The question this spawns / spins off for me is precisely why forms linger indefinitely -- because it seems to me that they linger for much different reasons in a modern Western society than they would in another context.

I'm not sure I would make this a question just about the history of "poetry" (as elusive to define as "art") but more generally about the history of poetics, of the underlying aesthetic, economic, sociopolitical goals of any form of written or spoken expression. But limiting ourselves to the orbits of what we're used to thinking of as "poetry": ritualized imitation of Ginsberg by North American poets today is a much different beast from the ritualized repetition of forms in, say, the traditional societies that spawned strong "bardic" traditions (in Ireland or Scotland, for example, where those traditions are now only a faint echo, or in West Africa where they're still going). But why and how is it different? It occurs to me I haven't thought much about this, and that some thinking needs to be done.
but, on the other hand...
How sad it is that a reminder that military aggression is a bad idea isn't coming from the opposition party in the States. But at least there are a few still willing to say it.
the good guys at work
Some of the greatest historical moments of Western nations came from denying their worst impulses: having the courage to denounce racism (or at least to accede to the demands of those who denounced it), renounce aggressive warfare, stand behind freedoms (not an abstract capital-f "Freedom," but actual freedoms), and choose the genuine virtue of humanitarianism over the vicious "virtue" of chauvinistic patriotism.

Here we see today's good guys carrying on the work of valuing diversity, supporting the principles of justice and non-aggression across the world, and generally making life better everywhere they go.

What a time to be alive. Really.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

yeah, looks like...
Here's a fascinating neocon spin on what to do if the Worst-Case Scenario happens and those evil bastards in the international community force peace down America's throat: make the peace look as much like war as possible. That way, you still get to play with your toys!
march of the lilliputians
A slightly different version of this post appears as a late addition to a debate over on MaxSpeak about whether Colin Powell's victory over the chickenhawks in pushing the faux multilateralism angle would really provide a significant obstacle to war. Max thinks no. Me, well:

I think the UN speech presented a tiny window of opportunity for countries that are perfectly aware of the madness of war -- especially this one -- but deeply wary of antagonizing the US if they can avoid it.

The fact is, the international community simply couldn't swallow bald-faced unilateralism. The domestic political costs for any world leader would have been too steep. But they're all too happy to take even the most grudging, insulting, fingers-crossed, backhanded gesture toward multilateralism and try to build it into a kind of Lilliputian net to trap the rampaging Gulliver of Bush&Co.

What's happening now is a high-stakes diplomatic race against time -- much of the world racing to contain neocon aggression, and the neocons racing to push Iraq into giving them the teensiest, eensiest casus belli. The response to Saddam's letter is a measure of just how much even countries like Russia, which stand to gain, don't want this war if it can be avoided.

As for Powell's role in all this, I think some go too far in presenting him as the "voice of reason" in the Bush administration. He only looks reasonable by comparison with the chickenhawk cabal -- not a difficult feat. The fact is that he cast his lot with the neocons, has lent his name to their cause and continues to do his best to serve them, for all that they treat him like a plantation houseboy. He'll do his utmost to make the deliberately thin veneer of multilateralism stick, to make this most frivolous of wars possible.

And it could well succeed. Apparently, even Joe Conason is willing to swallow the New Improved Multilateralism-Coated War Pill given the right set of circumstances. On the other hand, it's highly doubtful that the chickenhawk faction will be able to sit still and shut up long enough for that rare clever moment from Bush to work its magic. Their terror of the awful specter of peace is already showing.
the garden of aural delights
Crikey, but do these guys ever make amazing music.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

let the name-dropping commence
It wasn’t long ago, maybe just over a year, that I recall chatting with Steve McCaffery about the similarities between Derridean deconstruction and paraconsistent logic. Intriguingly, paraconsistency makes an appearance in Discontinued Meditations, a piece recently posted on NACIP. Now, Narcissistically, I find myself searching back through the Meditations for the resonances of paraconsistency. Of course, it’s an inherently impossible quest if I’m right, and some form of paraconsistency is indistinguishable from the challenge to classical logic mounted by deconstruction. On the other hand (deconstructively speaking) the quest loses nothing by admitting its impossibility.

At any rate, it’s an interesting search. The Meditations incarnate what I enjoy most about McCaffery’s work, that strange play between sweeping ambition and careful self-effacement filtered through sheer bewilderment at the possibilities of language. This is the kind of writing in which chaotic microcosms of syntactic motion coalesce into a larger order of dwelling, a well-wrought urn that’s been thrown to the floor and smashed into a thousand pieces.

In other words, I dig it.
masque of the beige death
Poor Delfin. I'm not going to say he's a misunderstood genius or anything -- far from it -- but one has to think the nasty reaction to this collection has at least something to do with its coming out at exactly the wrong historical moment. Like, after the Taliban on TV have wedded burqas with nasty political repression in the Western popular mind, and at a time when the world is taking a turn for the darker and using religious symbolism as kitsch is suddenly amusing to a lot fewer people.

The thing is, I can halfway see where he's coming from. A woman in a veil, shroud, burqa, what-have-you really doesn't need to automatically signify a desire on the part of the designer to repress women. What made the burqa so awful in the hands of the Taliban wasn't the fact of the garment itself, but the context, the fact that it was forced on people. When it's a choice, a garment like that can just as easily be an indicator of prestige, an accessory to mystique. It's not for nothing that veiling is considered a source of power in Yoruba religious iconography and its various New World offshoots.

I'm less sympathetic to the use of crucifixes, though. Not because it offends me per se, but because the endless blasphemy vs. piety tug-of-war that goes on around Christian symbols in the art world (and its inbred cousin three times removed, the fashion world) is just fucking dull. "Golly, did I shock you with my shockingly insensitive use of your sacred imagery yet again? My goodness, I never would have thought..." Blasphemy, of course, only serves to reinforce the worst, most reactionary sorts of piety, prolonging the gruesome unlife of hoary systems of reference still blundering about like zombies in our world of nuclear weapons and lightning-fast internet connections, replicating themselves at alarming speed and with a destructiveness that we simply can't afford anymore. So thanks for yet another unoriginal stab at shallow, recycled pseudo-skepticism, but I'll pass.

Ranting aside, though, I'm more sympathetic than not to Delfin's attempt to do something genuinely, shockingly different, even if it was less than well received. Maybe part of this comes from my own love of the Magritte painting that inspired Delfin's collection, The Lovers, which is a truly arresting image. Next time, though, maybe he'll make some concessions to the pragmatic in pursuing his vision. Dude, models tripping and falling because they can't see? Not Good.
urges in your aryas
Last, but certainly not least, Arundhati Roy weighs in on the terrifying fascism infecting a government, and a country, on the continent that's the site of perhaps the world's most chilling military confrontation. Happy Tuesday!
meanwhile, back in the mountains
And while i'm ranting about various wars and wars-to-be, here's an interesting tidbit from Afghanistan. You know, that quick, decisive war that people across the American political spectrum were hailing as a "success," despite the fact that it dispersed al-Qaeda and made them harder to catch, exchanged a unified group of fundamentalist warlords for a lawless group of fundamentalist warlords, and thoroughly antagonized an Afghan populace that lost more civilians than died in 9/11?

Hey, I wonder if that Army Game comes with a "strafe wedding party" option?
duck and cover!
incidentally, here's a good summary of what the most credible member of the former UN weapons inspection team has been saying, just in case you think Saddam is going to nuke you tomorrow.
those cats were fast as lightning
Well, an unexpected problem has developed for the chickenhawk faction and their fellow-travellers in ths US. Saddam has apparently decided to call their bluff by swiftly and unconditionally acceding to the return of weapons inspectors (a lynchpin in the case about "Weapons of Mass Destruction"). A move I hadn't expected, and which could well presage an unconditional Iraqi capitulation to any forthcoming Security Council resolution.

That UN speech that American warmongers were desperately trying to spin as a "victory" for Dubya -- one commentator even likened it to a fabled kung fu move -- was, of course, a capitulation to the need for multilateral consensus and an admission, however grudging, of the possibility of a political solution. And as long as the political solution is possible, it turns out that some key members of the Security Council remain as implacably opposed to war as ever.

This presents a problem for Bush, who now faces the possible specter of a world of diplomats working hard together to solve the problem without war (all while making soothing noises about how he "galvanized the international community," of course). That would leave his administration impotently grumbling in the corner, all dressed up and no-one to invade, trying lamely to pretend that this was what they planned all along. Or, alternatively -- if Cheney gets hold of the puppet strings again -- invading as a nakedly hypocritical aggressor with no pretext and no cloak of UN legitimacy.

Not a pleasant corner to be in? Gee, maybe running your mouth about war before doing any intelligence assessments or diplomatic work is a bad idea, eh what?

Now, if the UN resolutions are honoured, fine. Saddam's miserable regime survives, but more importantly, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis live who would otherwise be killed in an invasion, a generation or more of conflict and chaos is averted throughout the Middle East (and kept from probably spreading into Turkey, a key US ally), and time is bought for reformists and dissidents in Iraq to build a genuinely unified movement that has a chance of actually replacing the Baathists.

And who knows? Maybe some world leaders will turn up at Bush's door and say, "Remember that stirring speech you gave about backing up UN Security Council Resolutions? Well, how far does that commitment go?"
an albion moonlight serenade
The Journal of Albion Moonlight is a book that keeps drawing me back. Maybe not in a joyful, "gee, that was neat, I'd love to read it again" sense, but more in a Godfather III "just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in" sense.

The Journal is a trenchant Surrealist allegory written during the Second World War, and it presents a fascinating puzzle. It's a work that, well before theoretical concerns about the "death of the author" became fashionable in certain circles of poetry, set out to make the relationship between author and text problematic, unsettled, and difficult to pin down. Moreover, it achieved this not through careful distancing devices like Gertrude Stein's scientificity of language, but by using powerful emotive devices calculated to give the reader a sense that the author is engaged in an exploration of the nether regions of someone's psyche. Whether that psyche is his own, or meant to be generally that of Man (yes, specifically masculine Man, not humanity), or that of his nation generally is a question I'm always tempted to ask when I start into this book, and which I'm never able to answer when I finish it. More disquieting, the author I'm incurably tempted to project into this whole mess seems resolutely ambivalent about whether he likes or hates this hellhole.

So the Journal is never what you'd call a pleasant read. In fact, it actually qualifies as the first book of poetry ever to give me nightmares. (Okay, there was A Night Without Armor too, but for completely different reasons.) Nevertheless, it's an eternally fascinating read that reveals more layers every time I return. Digging out the pseudo-Biblical rhetoric and tropes that turn up regularly, holding them up to the light, examining them and wondering if they have any purchase on my own discourse (political, artistic, what have you) is still hugely rewarding. And, it being a wartime book, its passages of didactic rhetoric often seem chillingly relevant these days: "America's face is smiling. A new blood quickens her step; her mills and foundries are puring out black smoke in a frenzy of exultation--but do not be deceived; it is the false, painted bloom on the face of a corpse..." [p. 91] Genuinely horrifying stuff. And it should be.

Monday, September 16, 2002

just another manic...
I suppose I really shouldn't read these guys first thing in the morning. It makes for a depressing sort of day, especially after Dubya's address to the UN -- obviously delivered with a different hand up his back than Dick Cheney's -- seems to have been so effective in gathering support for a war that people across the political spectrum know is basically the excrement of chickenhawks.

Of course, the upcoming UN resolution is crafted to back Saddam into an impossible corner. UN weapons inspectors were yanked by the West after the Americans were caught using their team to conduct espionage -- so any return of inspectors would, one would expect, have to happen under conditions that they wouldn't try this again. Can the UN, under pressure from America, be counted on to take this into account? Don't bet on it.

It's nice that the US has made the transition to treating the international community and its institutions with grudging, teeth-gritted acceptance rather than bald-faced chauvinistic contempt. It's good to hear that Bush would like the UN to be relevant and to carry out its mission. It's not so good to hear that in Bush's world, UN Security Resolutions automatically carry a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis if they're not obeyed. And it's not so good to hear how selective his list of enforceable resolutions is. There's no mention, for example, of a certain thirty-five-year old resolution against a nuclear-armed state with its own history of aggressive warfare on flimsy pretexts, which has recently proposed treating three million people in its occupied territories as a "cancer" to be "amputated." Funny, that.

And of course, no new facts have emerged --- just ever-weaker-sounding protestation that Saddam might have nukes (but probably not), might plan to use them (trust us!), and (most transparently ridiculous of all, given his secular politics and long history of antipathy with fundamentalists) might be in league with al-Qaeda. Here's a taste of the world vision of the sort of people who believe in going to war on such weak excuses.