Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Emotion Porn

This is the last post from Cold Lake. With the spring semester over, I left Duluth to spend the summer in Minneapolis. The reading continues at Deer Spirit.
...melodramatic weepie is the genre that seems to endlessly repeat our melancholic sense of the loss of origins -- impossibly hoping to return to an earlier state which is perhaps most fundamentally represented by the body of the mother.
-Linda Williams, "Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess" (1991)

Outrun My Gun

Robert's got a quick hand
He'll look around the room
He won't tell you his plan
He's got a rolled cigarette hanging out his mouth 
He's a cowboy kid
Yeah, he found a six-shooter gun
In his dad's closet hidden in a box of fun things
And I don't even know what
But he's coming for you, yeah, he's coming for you

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, outrun my gun
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, faster than my bullet
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, outrun my gun
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, faster than my bullet

Daddy works a long day
He be coming home late, yeah, he's coming home late
And he's bringing me a surprise
Because dinner's in the kitchen and it's packed in ice
I've waited for a long time
Yeah, the slight of my hand is now a quick pull trigger
I reason with my cigarette
And say your hair's on fire
You must have lost your wits, yeah.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cruel Science

It is an unanswered question how specific the cries of the human neonate may be, although some mothers are confident they can distinguish different types of cries from their infants.

One method of answering such a question would be to record a sample of the cries of a neonate during its first week. Then, at moments when the infant was not crying, subject it to a distributed series of playbacks of its past cries, and record the fresh crying which the infant emitted in response to hearing itself cry. The infant should cry to the sound of its own cry, since the cry is a quite contagious response. One could then examine the degree of correlation between each cry which was used as a stimulus and the contagious response to that cry. If the neonate does emit distinctively different cries, then it should respond differentially to its own distinctive cries; therefore the variance between pairs of cries should exceed that within pairs of cries. To our knowledge such a test method has not yet been employed.(7-8)
Frings and Jumber tape-recorded the distress cries of a starling which it uttered when caught. They then played this at high volume over a loudspeaker in a town where there were many starlings. The effect was to drive the starlings away permanently.

There are also distress cries of birds which have exactly the opposite effect on the parent bird who hears them. In species of birds in which the mother does no feeding, the cries of the infant birds bring the mother and prevent their getting lost.

The extraordinary specificity of such responses was shown in a study by Bruckner who found that the domestic hen responds only to the sound of the distress call of the chick. When he fastened a chick to a peg behind a screen, the mother would come to its rescue when she heard the chick crying. But when he put the chick under a glass dome so that the mother cuold see it struggling but could not hear its distress cry, she was entirely indifferent.(15-16)
-Silvan Tomkins, Affect, Imagery, Consciousness

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sick Rose

By William Blake 1757–1827(code from the Poetry Foundation)

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sex Sentence

"...impure Ganimeds, Hermaphrodits, Neronists, Messalinists, Dodecomechanists, Capricians, Inventors of newe, or revivers of old leacheries, and the whole brood of venerous libertines, that know no reason but appetite, no Lawe but Luste, no humanitie, but villanye, noe divinity but Atheisme.”
-Gabriel Harvey, 1593, on the bad company kept by satirist Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)
...But good, my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven
Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.
-Ophelia to Laertes, Hamlet I. iii, 49–4)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Affect explosion

...The characters are into emotional laceration for fun. They are verbal, articulate, self-absorbed, selfish, egotistical, cold and fascinating. They've never felt an emotion they couldn't laugh at.

..."Margot at the Wedding" may not be based on Noah Baumbach's own family, but it demonstrates a way of looking at families he must have learned somewhere. Both of his parents were writers and, to one degree or another, film critics; I recall Gene Siskel telling a friend at dinner that film critics eventually became critical of everything: For example, "your tie is hideous." In revenge, the friend went to Marshall Field's and asked to buy their ugliest tie. Two salesclerks helped him in a spirited debate to select the tie that qualified. My friend wore it the next time they met. Siskel identified the brand of the tie correctly and said: "If you like that tie, it shows you have better taste than 99 percent of men."

So it goes with the family in this movie. All of its members are engaged in a mutual process of shooting one another down.
-Roger Ebert

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Said on Theory

Theory, in short, can never be complete, just as one's interest in everyday life is never exhausted by simulacra,models, or theoretical abstracts of it. Of course one derives pleasure from actually making evidence fit or work in a theoretical scheme, and of course it is ridiculously foolish to argue that "the facts" or "the great texts" do not require any theoretical framework or methodology to be appreciated or read properly. No reading is neutral or innocent, and by the same token every text and every reader is to some extent the product of a theoretical standpoint, however implicit or unconscious such a standpoint may be. I am arguing, however, that we distinguish theory from critical consciousness by saying that the latter is a sort of spatial sense, a sort of measuring faculty for locating or situating theory, and this means that theory has to be grasped in the place and time out of which it emerges as part of that time, working in and for it,responding to it; then, consequently, that first place can be measured against subsequent places where the theory turns up for use. The critical consciousness is awareness of the differences between situations, awareness too of the fact that no system or theory exhausts the situation out of which it emerges or to which it is transported.
It may seem an abrupt conclusion to reach, but the kinds of theory I have been discussing can quite easily become cultural dogma. Appropriated to schools or institutions, they quickly acquire the status of authority within a cultural group, guild or affiliative family. Though of course they are to be distinguished from grosser forms of cultural dogma like racism and nationalism, they are insidious in that their original provenance -- their history of adversarial, oppositional derivation -- dulls the critical consciousness, convincing it that a once insurgent theory is still insurgent, lively, responsive to history. Left to its own specialists and acolytes, so to speak, theory tends to have walls erected around itself, but this does not mean that critics should either ignore theory or look despairingly around for newer varieties. To measure the distance between theory then and now, there and here, to record the encounter of theory with resistances to it, to move skeptically in the broader political world where such things as the humanities or the great classics ought to be seen as small provinces of the human venture, to map the territory covered by all the techniques of dessimination, communication, and interpretation, to preserve some modest (perhaps shrinking) belief in noncoercive human community: if these are not imperatives, they do at least seem to be attractive alternatives. And what is critical consciousness at bottom if not an unstoppable predilection for alternatives?
Edward Said, "Traveling Theory"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Never sleep...

It's the birthday of Nelson Algren (1909) (books by this author). Born Nelson Algren Abraham to working-class parents in Detroit, he grew up in Chicago's immigrant neighborhoods. He wrote his first story, "So Help Me," during the Great Depression, while he was working at a gas station in Texas. His life — and work — changed dramatically after he was caught stealing a typewriter and spent five months in jail. His later novels and stories would feature the down-and-out, the loser, and the reject. He became known as a writer of Chicago; he wrote: "If a writer could write the truth about one Chicago street, that would be a good life's work."

In A Walk on the Wild Side (1956), set in the world of pimps and prostitutes in New Orleans, Algren gives his three rules for life: "Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own." The novel is, in many ways, about the contempt of a nation for its dispossessed, and in it he wrote: "When we get more houses than we can live in, more cars than we can ride in, more food than we can eat ourselves, the only way of getting richer is by cutting off those who don't have enough."

Nelson Algren, who said, "A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery."
--The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Weird Recipes: Sea Sludge Stew

Stew of Sea Cucumber and Hasma

补肾益精  润肺养阴  病后虚弱  肺痨咳嗽  吐血  盗汗  妇女性功能低下  更年期综合症  
2、水发海参切片,洗净,同蛤蟆油、姜、葱、香菇、调料一起放入锅内,加入上汤和鸡油,置武火上烧沸,再改用文火煲30分钟,调味即可。-- Xinshipu.com

“Some people call hasma frog fat, others call it frog ovaries, still others refer to it as frog cream or frog oil. All are wrong as hasma is moist, has many hormones, and a high lipid content, but really it is a combination of fat and part of the reproductive area.” -- Flavor and Fortune
Even if it wasn’t what I would actively have desired to eat half an hour after getting out of bed, it was wonderful – the fresh springiness of the sea cucumbers; the tender, transparent gelatinousness of xue ha, the delicate broth, the freshness of the coriander. -- Fuchsia Dunlop

I write. I write you.

I write. I write you. Daily. From here. If I am not writing, I am thinking about writing. I am composing. Recording movements. You are here and I raise the voice. Particle bits of sound and noise gathered pick up lint, dust. They might scatter and become invisible. Speech morsels. Broken chips of stones. Not hollow not empty. They think that you are one and the same direction addressed. The vast ambiant sound hiss between the invisible line distance that this line connects the void and space surrounding entering and exiting.

They have not questioned. It is all the same to them. It follows directions. Not yet. They have not learned the route of instruction. To surpass overtake the hidden even beyond destination. Destination.

I have the documents. Documents, proof, evidence, photograph, signature. One day you raise the right hand and you are American. They give you an American Pass port. The United States of America. Somewhere someone has taken my identity and replaced it with their photograph. The other one. Their signature their seals. Their own image. And you learn the executive branch the legislative branch and the third. Justice. Judicial branch. It makes the difference. The rest is past.

You return and you are not one of them, they treat you with indifference. All the time you understand what they are saying. But the papers give you away. Every ten feet. They ask your identity. THey comment upon your inability or ability to speak. Whether you are telling the truth or not about your nationality.

They say you look other than you say. As if you didn't know who you were. You say who you are but you begin to doubt. They search you. They, the anonymous variety of uniforms, each division, strata, classification, any set of miscellaneous properly uni formed. They have the right, no matter what rank, however low their function they have the authority. Their authority sewn into the stitches of their costume. Every ten feet they demand to know who and what you are, who is represented. The eyes gather towards the appropriate proof. Towards the face then again to the papers, when did you leave the country why did you leave this country why are you returning to the country.

You see the color the hue the same you see the shape the form the same you see the unchangeable and the unchanged the same you smell filtered edited through progress and westernization the same you see the numerals and innumerables bonding overlaid the same, speech, the same. You see the will, you see the breath, you see the out of breath and out of will but you still see the will. Will and will only espouse this land this sky this time this people. You are one same particle. You leave you come back to the shell left empty all this time. To claim to reclaim, the space. Into the mouth the wound the entry is reverse and back each organ artery gland pace element, implanted, housed skin upon skin, membrane, vessel, waters, dams, ducts, canals, bridges.

Composition of the body, taking into consideration from conception, the soil, seed, amount of light and water necessary, the geneology. Not a single word allowed to utter until the last station, they ask to check the baggage. You open your mouth half way. Near tears, nearly saying, I know you I know you, I have waited to see you for long this long. They check each article, question you on foreign articles, then dismiss you.
--Theresa Cha, Dictee

Sticky Songs

...during some songs, listeners never seemed to change the radio dial. Among DJs, these songs are known as “sticky.” Meyer had tracked hundreds of sticky songs over the years, trying to divine the principles that made them popular. His office was filled with charts and graphs plotting the characteristics of various sticky songs. Meyer was always looking for new ways to measure stickiness, and about the time “Hey Ya!” was released, he started experimenting with data from the tests that Arbitron was conducting to see if it provided any fresh insights.

Some of the stickiest songs at the time were sticky for obvious reasons—“Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé and “Señorita” by Justin Timberlake, for instance, had just been released and were already hugely popular, but those were great songs by established stars, so the stickiness made sense. Other songs, though, were sticky for reasons no one could really understand. For instance, when stations played “Breathe” by Blu Cantrell during the summer of 2003, almost no one changed the dial. The song is an eminently forgettable, beat-driven tune that DJs found so bland that most of them only played it reluctantly, they told music publications. But for some reason, whenever it came on the radio, people listened, even if, as pollsters later discovered, those same listeners said they didn’t like the song very much. Or consider “Here Without You” by 3 Doors Down, or almost any song by the group Maroon 5. Those bands are so featureless that critics and listeners created a new music category—“bath rock”—to describe their tepid sounds. Yet whenever they came on the radio, almost no one changed the station.

Then there were songs that listeners said they actively disliked, but were sticky nonetheless. Take Christina Aguilera or Celine Dion. In survey after survey, male listeners said they hated Celine Dion and couldn’t stand her songs. But whenever a Dion tune came on the radio, men stayed tuned in. Within the Los Angeles market, stations that regularly played Dion at the end of each hour—when the number of listeners was measured—could reliably boost their audience by as much as 3 percent, a huge figure in the radio world. Male listeners may have thought they disliked Dion, but when her songs played, they stayed glued.

--Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

Friday, March 30, 2012

I wandered


          I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
          That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
          When all at once I saw a crowd,
          A host, of golden daffodils;
          Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
          Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
          Continuous as the stars that shine
          And twinkle on the milky way,
          They stretched in never-ending line
          Along the margin of a bay:                                  10
          Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
          Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
          The waves beside them danced; but they
          Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
          A poet could not but be gay,
          In such a jocund company:
          I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
          What wealth the show to me had brought:
          For oft, when on my couch I lie
          In vacant or in pensive mood,                               20
          They flash upon that inward eye
          Which is the bliss of solitude;
          And then my heart with pleasure fills,
          And dances with the daffodils.
                                William Wordsworth, 1804; code from Bartleby.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Article to Memorize (Excerpts)

...In year one and every year thereafter, read the job ads in your field, and track the predominant and emerging emphases of the listed jobs. Ask yourself how you can incorporate those into your own project, directly or indirectly. You don't have to slavishly follow trends, but you have to be familiar with them and be prepared to relate your own work to them in some way.

Have a beautifully organized and professional CV starting in your first year and in every subsequent year. When I was a young assistant professor, a senior colleague told me that her philosophy was to add one line a month to her CV. Set that same goal for yourself. As a junior graduate student, you may or may not be able to maintain that pace, but keep it in the back of your mind, and keep your eye out for opportunities that add lines to your CV at a brisk pace.

Plan out a publishing trajectory to ensure that you have at least one sole-authored refereed journal article before you defend your dissertation.

Attend national conferences annually.

Applying for a wide range of grants is one of the best intellectual exercises in which you can engage.

Avoid like the plague offers of publication in edited collections, which is where good publications go to die. If you have a piece of work that can pass muster as a publication, make sure that it goes into a refereed journal, the best one you can reasonably manage.

Cultivate a letter writer who is not from your Ph.D.-granting institution.

Most people who prevail on the market need at least two years to do so.

Devote as much time as it takes to writing out brief—and I do mean brief—summaries of your dissertation research, teaching techniques and philosophy, and your future publication plans. Practice delivering those brief summaries until they become second nature.

Make your application materials absolutely flawless. Take your ego out of the process and ask everyone you know to ruthlessly critique your CV, letter, teaching statement, and research statement. Prioritize the advice you receive from young faculty members who have recently been on the market, and from senior professors who have recently chaired a search committee.
--Karen Kelsky, "Graduate School Is a Means to a Job" My favorite comment:
Isn't this just reinforcing the much criticized claim that "there are good jobs out there for good people"? While much of this advice is very useful, I bristle at it slightly because it seems to suggest that job seekers aren't getting jobs because they haven't figured out how to mold themselves into what the market supposedly wants--not because of major structural problems in the market itself. I have a hard time believing that there is some secret formula that ensures success in academia. I know people who got jobs after doing nearly everything this article recommends, but I also know others who did everything "right" and still came up empty handed. On the other hand, I certainly did not do everything Dr. Kelsky suggests to prepare for my own job search but was nevertheless one of the extraordinarily lucky few to get a tt job my first year on the market.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mad Men Seasons 1-2

Season one, final episode: best scene with sentimentality in recent TV; highlights to season 2.

The Last Emperor

Triad 三合会

One of the wealthiest magnates ensnared in the purges was Li Jun, a Chongqing real estate mogul. Like hundreds of other private business executives, he said during 16 hours of interviews this month, he became a target of police, government and military officials who framed him as a “black society” boss.

He eventually lost control of his $711 million conglomerate and fled the country, branded a fugitive. Before his escape, he said, he endured three months of beatings, torture and relentless pressure to implicate others in nonexistent crimes.

He said his tormentors sought to confiscate his assets and extract a confession that could help frame rivals of Mr. Bo’s powerful ally in the military, Gen. Zhang Haiyang, now the political commissar of China’s nuclear forces.

Li Jun buttressed his account with photos taken at a secret detention facility and with binders of legal documents signed by military and police officials. A scholar of Chinese politics at Columbia University, Andrew Nathan, authenticated five documents supporting his claims of innocence.

Li Jun’s troubles began within a year after Mr. Bo’s appointment. A subsidiary of his company won a $50 million public bid for a hilly tract of land outside Chongqing. The seller was one of China’s five regional military commands, he said, led at the time by General Zhang.

In December 2009, under orders signed by the police chief, Mr. Wang, Li Jun was detained on suspicion of more than a dozen crimes, including organizing prostitution, usury, contract fraud, bid-rigging and bribery. He was bound to a “tiger bench,” a medieval-style iron seat with a straight back and a grooved bottom, and was kicked, pummeled and berated for 40 straight hours. At that point, he said, “I just wanted to die.”

A top military interrogator presented Li Jun with a list of more than 20 military officers, apparently rivals of Mr. Bo’s ally General Zhang, and accused him of bribing 2 of them to win the bid on the tract of land. “Don’t you see?” he said his interrogator finally told him. “Bo Xilai and Political Commissar Zhang are friends who grew up together. You are being framed. ”

Li Jun said he refused to confess. Finally, in March 2010, he was released and cleared of wrongdoing after paying the military command a $6.1 million fine. But after a police prostitution sting against a club he owned that October, he received a tip that he would be rearrested, and fled the country.

Thirty-one relatives and colleagues have since been jailed. His wife served a one-year sentence for aiding his flight. His elder brother was sentenced to 18 years in prison, his nephew 13 years. He had transferred ownership of his company to them in an attempt to shield it.

“It’s just like some new kind of Cultural Revolution,” he said. “Chongqing strikes down the landlords, redistributes the land and slaps a bad name on your head, ‘triad,’ from which you can never be freed.”
-"Crime Crackdown Adds to Scandal Surrounding Former Chinese Official," by SHARON LaFRANIERE and JONATHAN ANSFIELD, The New York Times

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fielding's Classicism

Fielding's attempt to cater to three audiences indicates that he anticipated more than a single response to his fiction. Readers who shared his knowledge of the classics would probably recognize the misuse of classical references as one signature of a given character and could identify with the narrator of Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, or Amelia, appreciating the way he skillfully exploits allusions to ancient literature. Readers with only a smattering of Latin might initially identify with characters who rely heavily on Latin tags because that level of learning would most closely match their own, but they would be entrapped, because Fielding often links faulty learning and dubious morals. Fielding's least educated audience, who could be annoyed at untranslated quotations or would simply skip the classical references altogether, might misread characters who misuse classics -- as have some modern critics. Such readers might be blinded to characters' positive attributes by their hostile reaction to classical allusions and quotations; without other clues to personality, such an audience would probably rely more heavily on the narrator for guidance, thereby reinforcing his authority.
One cannot deny that Fielding reacted to the works of Defoe and Richardson -- and to those of a host of other eighteenth-century writers -- and that he drew on genres such as romance and spiritual autobiography, which also influenced others. As Watt has demonstrated, however, Defoe and Richardson entirely rejected the relevance of classical tradition because of its supposed immorality. Unlike them, Fielding drewon the classics in developing his conception of the novel as a form and used classical authority extensively in his criticism and his discussions of morality. When he openly acknowledges his debt to ancient literature, he self-consciously distances himself from Defoe and Richardson and associates himself with others who drew from the classical tradition. By identifying his fiction with classical forms, Fielding calls attention to the differences between his "literary" novels and those of his contemporaries, and he establishes a legitimate genealogy based on another tradition.
-Nancy Mace, Henry Fielding's Novels and the Classical Tradition (1996)

Glance at Muir, The Structure of the Novel

The dramatic figure is the opposite of the man of habit; he is the permanent exception. He breaks habit, or has it broken for him; he discovers the truth about himself, or in other words develops. He dramatises his real nature, where the flat character dramatises his second nature, or at best something in him which has been real but is so no longer. The utterance of the dramatic figure is therefore actually true, the utterance of the character symptomatic or symbolical.
A few instances will make clearer what is really a very obvious point. Here is the first:
MICHAEL HENCHARD’S WILL “That Elizabeth-Jane […] be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.
“& that I be not bury’d in consecrated ground.
“& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.
“& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
“& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.
“& that no flours be planted on my grave,
“& that no man remember me.
“To this I put my name.
Here are the others:
'And eggs,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'even they have their moral. See how they come and go! Every pleasure is transitory. We can't even eat, long. If we indulge in harmless fluids, we get the dropsy; if in exciting liquids, we get drunk. What a soothing reflection is that!'
As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.
Cape Breton an island ! wonderful ! — show it me in the map. So it is, sure enough. My dear sir, you always bring us good news. I must go and tell the King that Cape Breton is an island.
The last quotation is from history, the others are from fiction. The difference between the first and the rest is, in any case, striking enough. Michael Henchard speaks from the heart, the others speak from their habitual selves; and the reader is quite well aware of it.
-Edwin Muir, The Structure of the Novel, 1928

A glance at Lukacs

This book was composed during the winter of 1936-7...the book pins exaggerated, indeed false, hopes on the independent liberation movement of the German people, on the Spanish revolution, etc...What I had in mind was a theoretical examination of the interaction between the historical spirit and the great genres of literature which portray the totality of history -- and then only as this applied to bourgeois literature; the change wrought by socialist realism lay outside the scope of my study...
...the fact that the historical novels which make the most noise today are those which accomodate a purely belletrist treatment of life to the latest fashions cannot affect the foundations of the artistic form...
Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, Preface to the English edition, 1960.
...the historical novel of our day, despite the great talent of its best exponents, still suffers in many respects from the remnants of the harmful and still not entirely vanquished legacy of bourgeois decadence...its different problems of form are but artistic reflections of these social-historical transformations.
Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, Forward, 1937.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Lin Daiyu of America?

Rhetorical Selves


When his wife had fallen asleep, he began reflecting on how cold and indifferent he felt now at the thought of possibly meeting Tang Xiaofu again. If he really did meet her, it would be just the same. That was because the self, which had loved her a long year ago, had long since died. The selves which had loved her, which had been afraid of Su Wenwan, and which had been seduced by Miss Bao, had all died one after another. He had buried some of his dead selves in his memory, erected a monument to them, and occasionally paid them homage, such as by a moment of feeling for Tang Xiaofu. Others seemed to have died by the wayside and been left there to rot and decompose or be devoured by birds and beasts – but never to be completely obliterated such as the self which had bought the diploma from the Irishman.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reader Gone Wild

昔有讀湯臨川《牡丹亭》死者,近時聞一癡女子以讀《紅樓夢》而死。 初,女子從其兄案頭搜得《紅樓夢》,廢寢食讀之。讀至佳處,往往輟卷冥想,繼之以淚。復自前讀之,反覆數十百遍,卒未嘗終卷,乃病矣。父 母覺之,急取書付火。女子乃呼曰:「奈何焚寶玉,黛玉?」自是笑啼失 常,言語無倫次,夢寐之間未嘗不呼寶玉也。延巫醫雜治,百弗效。一夕 瞪視牀頭燈,連語曰:「寶玉寶玉在此耶!」遂飲泣而瞑。

In the past, there was a girl who read Tang Xianzu’s Mudan ting and died; recently I’ve heard of a girl who was a fool for love, and who died because she read Honglou meng. In the beginning, the girl looked for Honglou meng on her brother’s desk, and finding it, neglected to eat and sleep as she read it. When she had read up to a delectable part (佳處), she would always rest the book and let her mind wander (輟卷冥想), and end by bursting into tears (繼之以淚). She began reading from the beginning again and again, leafing through it thousands of times; in the end she never once finished reading the novel before she grew ill. Her parents became aware of this and quickly took the book and burned it. The girl then cried, “How could you burn Baoyu and Daiyu?” From this time on she began laughing and crying in an unusual manner. Her words were no longer coherent, and she called for Baoyu continuously in her dreams. [The parents] invited witch healers and doctors who tried various cures, but a hundred cures had no effect. One night she stared at the lamp by the end of the bed and said repeatedly, "Baoyu! Baoyu has arrived!" Then she choked back her tears and died.
--anecdote from Yue Jun’s 樂鈞 (1766-1814) Er shi lu 耳食錄 (Record of Hearsay), printed in 1821. Translation by Sophie Volpp in her article "Wu Lanzheng’s Jiang Heng Qiu," Journal of Theater Studies (July 2011)

Aristotle's Poetics

"Conspectus" of the Poetics by Stephen Halliwell (Aristotle's Poetics, 1986):
Chs. 1-3 MIMESIS
Ch. 1
The media of poetic mimesis: language, rhythm and music
Ch. 2
The object of poetic mimesis: men in action, ethically differentiated according to genre
Ch. 3
The modes of poetic mimesis: narrative, dramatic enactment, or an alternation of the two

Ch. 4
Natural causes of poetry: mimetic instinct, and the pleasure of  learning from mimetic objects
Chs. 4-5
Literary history and teleology: Homer the pioneer of tragedy and comedy
Chs. 6-22 TRAGEDY
Ch. 6
Definition; the six parts of tragedy, and their relative importance
Chs. 7-14
Plot-structure (muthos)
Coherence and unity
Poetic universality (the distinction between poetry and history)
Simple and complex plots
Elements of the complex plot: reversal (peripeteia) and recognition (anagnorisis)
The quantitative units of tragedy
The finest tragedy: hamartia and two approaches to the ideal
Ch. 15
Characterization (ethos)
Ch. 16
Recognition: a typology
Chs. 17-18
Miscellaneous precepts and observations
Chs. 19-22
Lexis: the fundamentals of language and style
Chs. 23-6 EPIC
Ch. 23
Unity of epic plot-structure: tragic principles applied to epic
Ch. 24
Differences between epic and tragedy
Ch. 25
Poetic ‘problems’ and their solutions: moral and fictional licence allowed to the poet
Ch. 26
Comparison of epic and tragedy: the latter’s superiority

...Aristotle is either unwilling or unable to offer an analysis of the element of most importance after plot, namely character, to match his study in plot-structure in scale or clarity...
--Stephen Halliwell

Thursday, March 15, 2012


GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (Thanks Bartleby.com)

there's a certain slant...

There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.
-Emily Dickinson

Ice Girl II

You know, I languish in captivity,
Praying to the Lord for death.
But I remember, to the point of pain,
Tver's barren, meager earth.

The crane on the decrepit well,
Over it, boiling, the clouds,
In the field a creaking little gate,
And the smell of wheat, and weariness.

And those pale expanses,
Where even the voice of the wind is weak,
And the condemning way
Those quiet, sunburnt peasant women look at me.
--Anna Akhmatova, August 1913. From Rosary. Translated by Judith Hemschmeyer.

Ice Girl

The heart's memory of the sun grows faint.
The grass is yellower.
A few early snowflakes blow in the wind,
Barely, barely.

The narrow canals have stopped flowing --
The water is chilling.
Nothing will ever happen here --
Oh, never!

The willow spreads its transparent fan
Against the empty sky.
Perhaps I should not have become
Your wife.

This heart's memory of the sun grows faint.
What's this? Darkness?
It could be! ... One night brings winter's first
Hard freeze.
--Anna Akhmatova, January 30, 1911. From Evening. Translated by Judith Hemschemeyer


We would allow the champions of poetry -- men who do not practise the art themselves, but are lovers of it -- to offer a prose defence on its behalf, showing that poetry is a source not only of pleasure, but also of benefit to communities and to the life of man. And we shall listen graciously.
--Plato, Republic, book 10


Consistency in the short run he may have lacked, but stamina and consistency in the long run he surely possessed. Raffish on occasion, unpredictably rebellious in everything, an Aeolian harp to the breezes of modernism, he was also endowed with the same patient watchfulness, tempered with self-distrust, that marked the great Victorians.
--R. W. Flint on William Carlos Williams

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Kraken

The Kraken
Alfred, Lord Tennyson 
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;

Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


If the novel is a closed and private form in the sense that both the story and the subject end with the end of the text, defining that auto-referential self-sufficiency that is the basis of formalist reading practices, the testimonio exhibits by contrast what René Jara calls a “public intimacy” (intimidad pública) in which the boundary between public and private spheres of life essential in all forms of bourgeois culture and law is transgressed. The narrator in testimonio is a real person who constitutes living and acting in a real social history that also continues. Testimonio can never in this sense create the illusion of that textual in-itselfness that has been the basis of literary formalism, nor can it be adequately analyzed in these terms. It is, to use Umberto Eco’s slogan, an “open work” that implies the importance of and power of literature as a form of social action, but also its radical insufficiency.
In principle, testimonio appears therefore as an extraliterary or even antiliterary form of discourse. That paradoxically, is precisely the basis of both its aesthetic and its political appeal...If the picaresque novel was the pseudoautobiography of a lower-class individual (thus inverting a "learned" humanist form into a pseudopopular one), we might observe in recent literature (1) novels that are in fact pseudo-testimonios, inverting a form that grows out of subaltern experience into one that is middlebrow (an example might be the Mexican novel Las aventuras, desaventuras y sueños de Adonis García: El vampiro de la Colonia Roma, by Luis Zapata, which purports to be the testimonio of a homosexual prostitute...(3) a series of ambiguous forms located between the novel and testimonio as such (for example, Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero or the very intriguing novel/memoir of the Cultural Revolution, Yang Jiang’s A Cadre School Life, which is a testimonio rendered in the mold of a narrative of classical Chinese literature).
--John Beverly, Testimonio: On the Politics of Truth

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some new worlds

The world hasn't ended, but the world as we know it has -- even if we don't quite know it yet. We imagine we still live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they're not. It's a different place. A different planet. It needs a new name. Eaarth; Or Monnde, or Tierrre, Errde, . It still looks familiar enough -- we're still the third rock out from the sun, still three-quarters water. Gravity still pertains; we're still earthlike. But it's odd enough to constantly remind us how profoundly we've altered the only place we've ever known. I am aware, of course, that the earth changes constantly, and that occasionally it changes wildly, as when an asteroid strikes or an ice age relaxes its grip. This is one of those rare moments, the start of a change far larger and more thorough going than anything we read in the records of man, on a par with the biggest dangers we can read in the records of rock and ice.
--Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
1Q84—that’s what I’ll call this new world, Aomame decided.

Q is for “question mark.” A world that bears a question.

Aomame nodded to herself as she walked along.

Like it or not, I’m here now, in the year 1Q84. The 1984 that I knew no longer exists. It’s 1Q84 now. The air has changed, the scene has changed. I have to adapt to this world-with-a-question-mark as soon as I can. Like an animal released into a new forest. In order to protect myself and survive, I have to learn the rules of this place and adapt myself to them.
--Haruki Marukami, 1Q84

Monday, March 5, 2012

Poetics means image systems

Film is a magnificent medium for the poet's soul, once the screenwriter understands the nature of story poetics and its workings within a film. 
Poetic does not mean pretty. Decorative images of the kind that send audiences out of disappointing films muttering "but it's beautifully photographed" are not poetic. The Sheltering Sky: its human content is aridity, a desperate meaninglessness -- what was once called an existential crisis, and the novel's desert setting was metaphor for the barrenness of the protagonists' lives. The film, however, glowed with the postcard glamour of a tourist agency travelogue, and little or nothing of the suffering at its heart could be felt. Pretty pictures are appropriate if the subject is pretty: The Sound of Music
Rather, poetic means an enhanced expressivity. Wheter a story's content is beautiful or grotesque, spiritual or profane, quietistic or violent, pastoral or urban, epic or intimate, it wants full expression. A good story well told, well directed and acted, and perhaps a good film. All that plus an enrichment and deepening of the work's expressivity through its poetics, and perhaps a great film.
To begin with, as audience in the ritual of story, we react to every image, visual or auditory, symbolically. We instinctively sense that each object has been selected to mean more than itself and so we add a connotation to every denotation. When an automobile pulls into a shot, our reaction is not a neutral thought such as "vehicle"; we give it a connotation. We think, "Huh. Mercedes...rich. Or "Lamborghini....foolishly rich." "Rusted-out Volkswagen...artist." "Harley-Davidson...dangerous." "Red Trans-Am...problems with sexual identity." The storyteller then builds on this natural inclination in the audience.
The first step in turning a well-told story into a poetic work is to exclude 90 percent of reality. The vast majority of objects in the world have the wrong connotations for any specific film. So the spectrum of possible imagery must be sharply narrowed to those objects with appropriate implications.
In production, for example, if a director wants a vase added to a shot, this prompts an hour's discussion, and a critical one. What kind of vase? What period? What shape? Color? Ceramic, metal, wood? Are there flowers in it? What kind? Where located? Foreground? Mid-ground? Background? Upper left of the shot? Lower right? In or out of focus? Is it lit? Is it touched as a prop? Because this isn't just a vase, it's a highly charged, symbolic object resonating meaning to every other object in the shot and forward and backward through the film. Like all works of art, a film is a unity in which every object relates to every other image or object.
Limited to what's appropriate, the writer then empowers the film with an Image System, or systems, for there are often more than one.
An IMAGE SYSTEM is a strategy of motifs, a category of imagery embedded in the film that repeats in sight and sound from beginning to end with persistence and great variation, but with equally great subtlety, as a subliminal communication to increase the depth and complexity of aesthetic emotion.
"Category" means a subject drawn from the physical world that's broad enough to contain sufficient variety. For example, a dimension of nature -- animals, the seasons, light and dark -- or a dimension of human culture -- buildings, machines, art. This category must repeat because one or two isolated symbols have little effect. But the power of an organized return of images is immense, as variety and repetition drive the Image System to the seat of the audience's unconscious. Yet, and most important, a film's poetics must be handled with virtual invisibility and go consciously unrecognized.
An Image System is created one of two ways, via External or Internal Imagery. External Imagery takes a category that outside the film already has a symbolic meaning and brings it in to mean the same thing in the film it means outside the film: for example, to use the national flag -- a symbol of patriotism and love of country -- to mean patriotism, love of country. In Rocky IV, for example, after Rocky defeats the Russian boxer, he wraps himself in a massive American flag. Or to use a crucifix, a symbol of love of God and religious feelings, to mean love of God, religious feelings; a spider's web to mean entrapment; a teardrop to mean sadness. External Imagery, I must point out, is the hallmark of the student film.
Internal Imagery takes a category that outside the film may or may not have a symbolic meaning attached but brings it into the film to give it an entirely new meaning appropriate to this film and this film alone.
--Robert McKee, Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the Principles of Screenwriting

Friday, March 2, 2012


Ecrivez en francais:
  1. If you like this better, tell me so at once.
  2. The general remained only a little while in this place.
  3. If you did not speak so quickly, they would understand you better.
  4. The leaves have not fallen yet nor will they fall for some days.
  5. It will fit you pretty well.
  6. The people of this country are less happy than the people of yours.
  7. Come back on the fifteenth of next month, no sooner and no later.
  8. I met him downstairs by chance.
  9. Be industrious: the more one works, the better one succeeds.
  10. The harder the task, the more honorable the labor.
  11. The more a man praises himself, the less inclined are others to praise him.
  12. Go away more quietly next time.
--Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

1Q84 Foods

Cooking was not a chore for Tengo. He always used it as a time to think -- about everyday problems, about math problems, about his writing, or about metaphysical propositions.
"Does this mean we’re going pretty far from the city?”
“What were you just doing,” she asked, ignoring his question.  
“Making dinner.”  
“Making what.”  
“Nothing special, just cooking for myself. Grilling a dried mackerel and grating a daikon radish. Making a miso soup with littlenecks and green onions to eat with tofu. Dousing cucumber slices and wakame seaweed with vinegar. Ending up with rice and nappa pickles. That’s all”  
“Sounds good.”  
“I wonder. Nothing special. Pretty much what I eat all the time,” Tengo said.
Fuka-Eri stared straight at Tengo again for a time. She seemed to be having some kind of thoughts about intercourse. What she was actually thinking about, no one could say.  
“Hungry?” Tengo asked.  
Fuka-Eri nodded. “I have hardly eaten anything since this morning"
“I’ll make dinner,” Tengo said. He himself had hardly eaten anything since the morning, and he was feeling hungry. Also, he could not think of anything to do for the moment aside from making dinner. Tengo washed the rice, put it in the cooker, and turned on the switch. He used the time until the rice was ready to make miso soup with wakame seaweed and green onions, grill a sun-dried mackerel, take some tofu out of the refrigerator and flavor it with ginger, grate a chunk of daikon radish, and reheat some leftover boiled vegetables. To go with the rice, he set out some pickled turnip slices and a few pickled plums. With Tengo moving his big body around inside it, the little kitchen looked especially small. It did not bother him, though. He was long used to making do with what he had there.  
Sorry, but these simple things are all I can make,” Tengo said.  
Fuka-Eri studied Tengo’s skillful kitchen work in great detail. With apparent fascination, she scrutinized the results of that work neatly arranged on the table and said, “You know how to cook.”  
“I’ve been living alone for a long time. I prepare my meals alone as quickly as possible and I eat alone as quickly as possible. It’s become a habit.”  
“Do you always eat alone.”  
“Pretty much. It’s very unusual for me to sit down to a meal like this with somebody. I used to eat lunch here once a week with the woman we were talking about. But, come to think of it, I haven’t eaten dinner with anybody for a very long time.”  
“Are you nervous.”  
Tengo shook his head. “No, not especially. It’s just dinner. It does seem a little strange, though"
Either I’m funny or the world’s funny, I don’t know which. The bottle and lid don’t fit. It could be the bottle’s fault or the lid’s fault. In either case, there’s no denying that the fit is bad. Aomame opened her refrigerator and examined its contents. She hadn’t been shopping for some days, so there wasn’t much to see. She took out a ripe papaya, cut it in two, and ate it with a spoon. Next she took out three cucumbers, washed them, and ate them with mayonnaise, taking the time to chew slowly. Then she drank a glass of soy milk. That was her entire dinner. It was a simple meal, but ideal for preventing constipation. Constipation was one of the things she hated most in the world, on par with despicable men who commit domestic violence and narrow-minded religious fundamentalists.
Tengo chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsley, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. Spreading a paper towel, he laid the shrimp out in neat rows, like troops in formation. When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame.
I wish I could meet Aomame right now, Tengo started thinking again. Even if she turned out to be disappointed in him or he was a little disappointed in her, he didn’t care. He wanted to see her in any case. All he wanted was to find out what kind of life she had led since then, what kind of place she was in now, what kinds of things gave her joy, and what kinds of things made her sad.
Thus began Tengo’s days at the cat town beside the sea. He would get up early, take a walk along the shore, watch the fishing boats go in and out of the harbor, then return to the inn for breakfast. Breakfast was exactly the same every day -- dried horse mackerel and fried eggs, a quartered tomato, seasoned dried seaweed, miso soup with shijimi clams, and rice -- but for some reason it tasted wonderful every morning. After breakfast he would sit at a small desk and write. He hadn’t written in some time and found the act of writing with his fountain pen enjoyable.
--Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Jazz Opinion

As I say, I’d listened to a bit of jazz here and there—not a great deal. I think I used to like the early Stan Kenton records and things like that. And one day a friend of mine played me a record of Garner playing The Way You Look Tonight. I was just bowled off my feet by it—I’d never heard anything like it before. There’s something so complete and rounded in his playing that it struck me immediately I heard it. In fact, he is, and will probably continue to be, one of the most complete of all pianists. And ever after that I chased Garner records all over the place, and spent hours and hours trying to play like him— copying his style quite slavishly, because I just feel, as I felt then, that his sense of time is so unique and so extraordinary that it was a very good basis to start from. It’s more extraordinary than, say, somebody like Fats Waller, or even Art Tatum. Somehow, Garner has a special time conception that is all his own.
--Dudley Moore
When Miles Davis died, Rolling Stone put out a big article looking back at his work, and I kept dodging them - I told them, 'I don't like Miles Davis. I don't think you want to ask me questions'. And the guy was like, 'No, I think we should. That's even better'. So I said if it's going to be smooth I'd rather listen to Chet Baker, if it's going to be funky I'd rather listen to Sly Stone. He does a bunch of things all of which I think are done better by somebody else. They printed it, and people wanted me dead.
--James Murphy of LCD Sound System

Vanity Fair

The defects in the book according to the taste of to-day are obvious enough. Artist as he is in details Thackeray lacks the power or the will to make his novel as a whole a work of art. We do not like to have the author poke his head out from the pages every little while and moralize over his characters; we grow tired of the frequent comparisons of life to a pantomime; we find the characters Pitt Crawley, George, Amelia, Dobbin exaggerated, out of drawing, distorted. Thackeray does not hold a mirror up to life; he holds up a warped and twisted reflector that gives the life it reflects a half comic, half satirical aspect. Thackeray's admirers are many and devoted, but for most readers he is too much occupied with the superficial relations of life, with social distinctions, with the envy and vulgarity of those below and the snobbishness and vulgarity of those above. Greater men, such as Shakespeare or Tolstoi, do not find their attention drawn to such matters, they find their interest in experiences, emotions, passions, of a kind more deeply human, they delineate men and women as more occupied with the larger matters of life, love, work, discipline, excellence and so forth, and less concerned with the meaner failings of ill-adjusted social classes.

And yet despite these defects ‘Vanity Fair’ is a novel that represents some manifestations of human society, with remarkable truth...

-Henry Dwight Sedgwick III on Vanity Fair, The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)