Monday, January 30, 2006
Since everything has already been written.
I ask, why not just have a place where I can look at it all? A bookstore for myself.
It has to be just for me because, thing is, working at a bookstore made me hate the world. Except for my fellow bookclerks, who also hated the world. Bookstores breed a race of curmudgeons -- good bookstores anyway. You know you're in a good bookstore when the staff treats you like shit. Now when you go into Borders or Barnes & Noble and the staff is helpful and friendly you know they don't know fuck-all about books. They might as well be selling cans of tuna. See, they have't been disappointed. Good booksellers are very disappointed in humanity. They are sad that what they love have become just like cans of tuna: products to be stacked and shifted.
And anyway, I just want an excuse to get discounts on all the books I want to buy (my Amazon wishlist has over 300 titles). Like this book by Charity Scribner. I need this book.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
I was reading the Dec/Jan issue of Bookforum and came across a review of a nature book called _Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild_. Some of the descriptions reminded me of a friend's recent encounter with a red-tailed hawk in his backyard. As he said: "It was *right there*." It seems the hawk was so absorbed in its task -- fluffing up its feather to hide and protect its prey -- he was able to get some pretty close-up photos. Here are two examples. You can sort of see the prey beneath his (hers?) magnificent claws. From what I know red-tails are fairly aggressive and fearless, but I am not totally sure about that.
But back to the book review: I sometimes really enjoy nature writing, but its rarely done well. In my 5-year stint working at Borders I shelved the nature and travel writing section for quite a while, so I read quite a bit in those genres. In my experience the books tend to be of two types: unduly sentimental (Annie Dillard when she's bad for example), or all-too-hilariously anecdotal (Tim Cahill, who is funny, but after a while it's like," ok, stop already; no one's travel/nature experiences are this funny). The author reviewed in the Bookforum piece, Ellen Meloy, sounds more tolerable than most. I liked the review's focus on her relationship to nature in terms of a visual/cognitive/imaginative relation. For example:
"You can spend a lot of time looking directly at a bighorn in the rocks before you actually see it. The temptation is to dilate on the moment of recognition, to somehow account for the enormous spiritual weight of that sudden presence. That is the modern nature writer's habitual posture -- waiting to exhale -- which is why, as Ellen once wrote, 'a great deal of nature writing sounds like a cross between a chloroform stupor and a high mass.' But the ram in the rocks is not so breathless. He is not struck by his own scarcity."
The reviewer, Verlyn Klinkenborg, describes Meloy's relationship to nature as hinging on the incommensurablity of this shift in perspective: the nature watcher is forced outward, only to encounter this indifference, what Klinkenborg calls a "monumental indifference."
The review ends with a quote from Meloy: "Sometimes the sheep are completely boring. Sometimes their animation moves me beyond words. Our 'companionship' closes the distance. I am here to learn something. I will need this knowledge. Time is running out."
This all reminds me that I must watch Herzog's movie "Grizzly Man" tonight, which a friend lent me some days ago. It's his documentary about a mentally unstable man who spent his life tracking and living in close proximity to , you guessed it, Grizzly bears. He eventually died a "grizzly"death in both senses of the term. Herzog's take on nature fascinates me. For him, it's fraught with danger and totally menacing. Nature writers should be forced to watch his documentary "My Best Fiend" -- which is mainly about his crazy relatonship with Klaus Kinsksi and the filming of "Fitzcarraldo and "Aguirre the Wrath of God," but has some great pronouncements about nature and filming in the Amazon. Herzog is so over the top. I love it.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Part of my Smithson project should include (will include) not just a connection to Arendt's protrayal of Eichmann and the traumatic relationship to war in aesthetics, but also the eyewitness accounts of the aftermath of the firebombing of Germany's cities. The quote below, from an article in The Nation that discusses Hans Erich Nossack's book The End (well worth reading) really struck me as resonating with my project's themes (I've highlighted the areas I found most compelling) :
Following the popular success of Sebald's and Friedrich's works, German publishers have printed (or reprinted) a number of accounts by contemporary witnesses, some of which have now been translated into English. One of the most striking is by Hans Erich Nossack, whose book The End describes in spare, unsentimental prose the firebombing of Hamburg in July 1943. Written a few months after the event, this "report" was published after the war in Germany and hovered at the margin of public memory there; it appeared in English translation for the first time last year in a somber, even funereal, edition, the text framed by blackened pages front and back. Nossack's account owes its existence to his good fortune in having left Hamburg three days before the bombing for a summer cabin located some ten miles south of the city. From that vantage point--close enough to see the "flying fortresses" overhead and the huge fire on the horizon but far enough away to be out of physical danger--he experienced the destruction of his home as a spectator. "I was spared the fate of playing a role in it. I don't know why," he writes. Nossack then traveled into the bombed-out city--a modern-day Dante descending into the realm of the dead--to interview thousands of survivors who were so traumatized and confused they could barely speak or register emotion: "Those who were known to have experienced unimaginably frightful hours, who had run through fire with their clothes burning, stumbling over charred corpses...why didn't they cry and lament? And why this indifferent tone of voice when they spoke of what they had left behind, this dispassionate manner of talking, as if telling about a terrible event from prehistoric times?"
On the other hand, Nossack has lost all of his belongings and become a refugee overnight, not just because the house he lived in no longer stands but because he has lost his relation to a lived past: the sight of St. Catherine's tower glimpsed each time he looked up from his desk, the recordings of Handel and Palestrina he played at Christmas, the diaries recording twenty-five years of his inner life as a writer. He is confronted not with a damaged city but with the absence of every familiar landmark--not devastated streets and buildings but crude paths winding over hills of rubble. People huddle together like animals, cook food over open campfires, wander aimlessly in search of basic necessities without thought for the larger political and historical context. In the blink of an eye his world has metamorphosed into a Kafkaesque landscape that is terrifyingly unfamiliar, abstract, almost timeless: "Nothing in our surroundings recalled what we had lost...it was something else, foreign, impossible."
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Let me reticulate
These are haikus (sort of) by my very clever and charming friend Dan Tower (husband of Colleen). They make me laugh.
The way Jagger danced
makes me think he had rickets
I love Polish food
my passport to Hamtramck
pour me a vodka
Dirty sweaty boys
let them change in my office
their clothes wet from snow
Monday, January 16, 2006
Saturday, January 14, 2006
"But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a countrys inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery and drunkeness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by every one. All the kings, excpet the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills the most people receives the highest rewards" (237 Book 2).
"A thought that had long since and often occured to him during his military activities -- the idea that there is not and cannot be any science of war, and that therefore there can be no such thing as a military genius -- now appeared to him an obvious truth. 'What theory and science is possible about a matter the conditions and circumstances of which are unknown and cannot be defined, especially when the strength of the acting forces cannot be ascertained? No one was or is able to foresee in what condition our enemy's armies will be in a day's time, and no one can gauge the force of this or that detachment. Sometimes -- when there is not a coward at the front to shout "We are cut off!" and start running, but a brave and jolly lad who shouts "Hurrah!" -- a detachment of five thousand is worth thirty thousand as at Schon Grabern, while at times fifty thousand run from eight thousand, as at Austerlitz. What science can there be in a matter in which, as in all practical matters, nothing can be defined and everything depends on innumerable conditions, the significance of which is determined at a particular moment which arrives no one knows when?" (56 book 2).
The flesh and war:
"As he crossed the dam Prince Andrew smelt the ooze and freshness of the pond. He longed to get into that water however dirty it might be, and he glanced round at the pool from whence came sounds of shrieks and laughter. The small, muddy, green pond had risen visibly more than a foot, flooding the dam, because it was full of the naked white bodies of soldiers with brick-red hands, necks and faces, who were splashing about in it. All this naked white human flesh, laughing and shrieking, floundering about in that dirty pool like carp stuffed in a watering can, and the suggestion of merriment in that floundering mass rendered it especially pathetic....
Everywhere on the bank, on the dam and in the pond, there was healthy, white, muscular flesh. The officer, Timokhin, with his little red nose, standing on the dam wiping himself with a towel, felt confused at seeing the prince, but made up his mind to address him nevertheless.
'It's very nice, your excellency! Wouldn't you like to?' said he.
'It's dirty,' replied Prince Andrew making a grimace.
'We'll clear it out for you in a minute,' said Timokhin, and, still undressed, ran off to clear the men out of the pond.
'The prince wants to bathe.'
'What prince, ours?' said many voices, and the men were in such haste to clear out that the prince could hardly stop them. He decided he would rather souse himself with water in the barn.
'Flesh, bodies, cannon-fodder!' he thought, and he looked at his own naked body and shuddered, not from cold but from a sence of disgust and horror he did not himself understand, aroused by the sight of that immense number of bodies splashing about in the dirty pond" (144, 145 Book 2).
This quote may not seem to have muh to do with war, but the description is Tolstoy's conception of the Russian people/sensibility, exemplified in the figure of the peasant-soldier Platon Karataev. I think it comments on Pelevin's Post-Soviet sensibility and the concept of collective feeling, particularly when it comes to language, as well as Virno's concpet of the general intellect:
"Sometimes Pierre, struck by the meaning of his words, would ask him to repeat them, but Platon could never recall what he had said a moment before, just as he could never repeat to Pierre the words of his favorite song: Native, and birch-tree, and my heart is sick
occurred in it, but when spoken and not sung, no meaning could be gotten out of it. He did not, and could not, understand the meaning of words apart from their context. Every word and action of his was the manifestation of an activity unknown to him, which was his life. But his life, as he regarded it, had no meaning as a separate thing. It had meaning only as a part of a whole of which he was always conscious. His words and actions flowed from him as evenly, inevitably and spontaneously, as fragrance exhales from a flower.He could not understand the value or significance of any deed taken separately" (504, 505 Book 2).
Now go read Mushin-sho for a great summary/explication of our recent class discussion on contingency, warfare, and the multitude.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Last night my lovely friend Colleen suggested we do karaoke sometime soon at this hipster bar in Detroit called The Comet. I'm *not* a karaoke person, so she was attempting to cajole me by suggesting songs we could perform that might sway me. She suggested *Total Eclipse of the Heart, which reminded me of one of the greatest performances I have ever seen -- Kiki & Herb's. Now I know a few others have performed this -- it's a karaoke staple I believe -- but none can even dare approach this incredible version. You can listen to it here . And big thanks to our professor Dana Seitler for showing the video of it in our Queer theory seminar last year. Truly amazing.