|The Patient Etherized
Q: Et tu, Jonathan? A: Read. Read some more. Buy Red Bull.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006 With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.
-- Thomas Pynchon
This description is from Pynchon's summary of his new novel, though there is some controversy over whether or not he actually wrote it for Amazon. posted by Jon | 8:38:00 PM
Sunday, July 23, 2006 Sweaty and Thoughtful
Just came back from my first run in a long time. I ran down to the India Point area, which goes along the river which divides Fox Point from East Providence. For the first part of the run I went through a big construction site where they're relocating I-195 in Big Dig fashion (meaning they're building a tunnel). Behind this huge mess -- girders, concrete cisterns, and enormous metal pipes lying on the dirt -- is the India Point park, which is a sliver of a park in an area that must once have been wharves. You can still see a factory across the water with three looming smokestacks, as well as a few low-slung, rusty-white, water towers.
Some people still come there to fish. I also noticed a few Portuguese or Brazilian men in their 40s and 50s who just sit on the benches and stare straight ahead. I wasn't sure if they were looking at the water or over it -- when literally twenty yards behind them is the massive construction site with its hills of upturned earth and scattered debris. Of course, the water itself doesn't seem to provide a view that could be called picturesque either, so I have no idea why they go there, when they could just as easily go to a nicer park. It also occurred to me that once the highway is moved, they will probably be forced to move somewhere else, since the property prices will go up and a lot of new development will happen in the area, so if they do have any emotional investment to the place they may not be able to come back anyway. posted by Jon | 3:41:00 PM
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 So in the last few months I've done a fair bit, all of which is of course too long to go into detail here, but I think I should take out the ol' blogging hammer again and get to doing some work, mainly because I haven't been very productive (in terms of reading consistently without getting tired) for the past few days (though I have been cooking more, which leads me to believe that there is an inverse correlation between the quality of my work and the healthiness of my eating).
Whew...there went the world's longest sentence, replete with lots of relative clauses and maybe a few kayaks and arapaimas floating downstream as well.
Speaking of arapaimas, I'm planning a trip to Brazil in late August and early September that should be exciting. Right now the plan is to go to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Based on what I've read about the two ultramodern, ultrahip and/or touristy cities, it seems like I'll probably have some sort of Lost in Translation experience like when Bill Murray goes out to the karaoke bar in Tokyo.
I just began reading Origin of the Species as part of my effort to get better acquainted with this posthumanist discourse on the definitions of the animal and the human. I figured I'd read Darwin since I didn't really think much of what I've read so far of the Cary Wolfe edited collection, Zootologies.
The goal of this reading is to edit my Jewett paper by around August 1st, though so far I don't think I've read much that can really add to the paper, as I've read a bunch of novels (Melville's Pierre and The Confidence Man, among others) and a little bit of theory.
But perhaps writing more consistently can help me get over my mid-summer malaise. So here's to work, and working for fun. posted by Jon | 12:47:00 PM
Sunday, March 05, 2006 Boo!
Off to Paris and Chamonix in a few weeks. I have a new idea for updating my blog, though my general laziness/busy-ness this semester seems to be conspiring against me writing entries.
Rather than writing about words I've read or things I've done (both fine activities), maybe I'll think about how a good novel would begin. What would be a contemporary novel beginning that is both new and in keeping with the general trajectory of writing.
But we'll see. posted by Jon | 10:44:00 AM
Monday, January 23, 2006 "I could not accept the academic idea that the purpose of music was communication, because I noticed that when I conscientiously wrote something sad, people and critics were often apt to laugh. I determined to give up composition unless I could find a better reason for doing it than communication. I found this answer from Gira Sarabhai, an Indian singer and tabla player: The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences. I also found in the writings of Ananda K. Coomaraswammy that the responsibility of the artist is to imitate nature in her manner of operation. I became less disturbed and went back to work."
-- John Cage posted by Jon | 3:41:00 PM
If my paper were a third down conversion rate, and I were an NFL team, I'd definitely be ranked dead last in efficiency for this damn Jane Austen/Walter Scott paper. Granted, I have 9 pages done (err...roughly done), but I haven't even finished a section well.
I've done a good job staying calm, though I think my method of staying calm is to just do things I enjoy. Hence I've played lots of Madden, watched bad movies, downloaded music. Unfortunately, I haven't been in the mood to write and read and I don't have the exam pressure to make me do the work.
I've been listening and relistening to the Neutral Milk Hotel album, which has to be the best music I've heard in a long time. I only wish that Easynews would post their other albums, as well as some of the other Elephant Six bands. I've also been listening to the Beach Boys too, after watching a documentary on Brian Wilson and the making of SMiLE which was pretty good, not to mention a good portrait of someone you would expect more to be your depressed suburban neighbour than an icon of pop music.
I'm purposefully procrastinating until I see the highlights from Kobe's 81 point game. It's too bad that it had to occur on the same day as the relatively mundane AFC and NFC championship games (not that they are usually close anyway); otherwise it would have received a lot more press coverage. I like how he's now averaging 45.5 pts per game for the New Year. But, no, Kobe cares about winning of course: "For me, uh, it's about the W."
The highlights didn't really confirm anything for me, except that the Raptors were playing no defense. There was some good passing, some bad defense, and a lot of shots by the Black Mamba.
To the Maddenmobile. posted by Jon | 1:23:00 AM
Thursday, January 19, 2006 Goals,
without urgency, sometimes don't happen, especially when it involves me waking up at 8:15am. I was trying to get a headstart on my paper on the role of landscape in Northanger Abbey and Waverley, which I want to finish in a couple of days (let's just say that doesn't look like it's happening right now since I only have two pages out of twenty). The basic problem is trying to talk about how many different things are going on with the protagonists in the novels, and how their very inexperience in the world and misplaced expectations for it due to their education (limited to "improper" reading) are somehow conducive to their final successes in gaining a spouse and a fortune. Then, especially for Austen, there is the additional problem of talking about how these authors use earlier languages of the novel -- of sentimentalism and the gothic, for example -- to create their own novels.
So I guess I'm using the bloggy blog to lubricate my writing skills now, just like back in the day. Ah the benefits of getting up late. And getting showered and leaving
Listening to: Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane over the Sea posted by Jon | 10:58:00 AM
Monday, January 09, 2006 L'Avventura
I just finished watching L'Avventura and have to say that Monica Vitti is ridiculously hot. Yup, that was my first reaction. The movie was a good movie -- and I'm not being redundant here, I think, for it seemed to be about the way a person can become diminished in a replaceable society and in a landscape full of permanence being eroded by impermanence.
"Tell me you love me." "I love you." "Again." "I don't love you." (This picture is from a later movie, and that is not the costar. I'm feeling a bit like the guy who speaks the lines, Sandro, I guess.)
I'm annoyed that I haven't been getting much done lately. I have to go get my car inspected tomorrow and I have to get a copy of my license, which I lost. But I've been waking up incredibly late ever since I got home from New York and I haven'been reading much since the day before Christmas when I finished the F.O. Matthiessen-Russell Cheney letters. The irritation also comes from not being in my own apartment and not having a routine each day, i.e. going to and from the library. The irritation also comes from sources I don't want to talk about in my blog -- so much for me starting a blog where I could be completely honest.
So tomorrow I'm leaving for Providence to get ready for a new term, for three new classes (Literature and Photography, Theory of the Novel, and Space, Place, and Imagination). I've got 16 days until the next semester begins, and in the meantime I have to write a paper on landscape in Northhanger Abbey and Waverley. This will probably be accomplished between cups of coffee (I now drink coffee) and much bitching, perhaps even writing as Thoreau, when he says:
"Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we sat and whittled them, trying our knives, and admiring the clear yellowish grain of the pumpkin pine.""
Except I'll be whittling my dried up pieces of shit-thoughts on a topic I've written about one too many times, the relation between the individual and the environment, between the subject and the object, and the thing and the person. I don't think I can write about landscape without my language disappearing into metaphor, unlike Thoreau's sentence. But we'll see if I can make a shanty-shack nonetheless.
Well, I seem to have gone through an entire set of moods in the space of writing this entry -- I suppose writing is as therapeutic now for me as it was when I first set about writing a blog. My new hobbies should include blogging and downloading music. Oh wait, it already includes the second one. My hobbies should also include writing a coherent blog entry on a topic at some point in the future, a topic non-literary and personally invested. My coherence has suffered since I've started writing again, possibly due to the dwindling audience :-) Oh yeah, don't forget how academics sucks all humor and fun out of life! I think in earnest all the damn time now, and not in an Ernest Goes to Jail sort of way, let alone The Importance of Being Earnest. Ah Jim Varney, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Well, it is 2006 and I'm old. I've only got limited time to decide what I want to do with next year. But I shan't stress out too much. Instead I'll go and read a bit of AR.
Listening to: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah...
On my BRAND NEW SOUNDDOCK. Yippee! Yes, yes, thank you for playing The Price is Right. We'll see Jon later to spin the wheel for a chance to play for the grand showcase. posted by Jon | 1:41:00 AM
Friday, January 06, 2006 Cabin Fever
I feel restless and annoyed all the time and I'm not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with this general malaise of a cold hanging over me. All I know is that I'm perpetually dissatisfied without feeling depressed. And though I'm not depressed I feel scared about the future for the first time perhaps ever -- the few times I've felt depressed in the past I didn't think at all about the future. This kind of trepidation isn't specific, of course, but just a general sense of dread.
Shit, I sound like McKenzie's Harley or Scott's Waverley, characters overly concerned with how they experience the world. Time to go into the real world and perform a deed. Ergon over logos... posted by Jon | 3:23:00 PM
Thursday, January 05, 2006 To Think is To Act
While thinking about changing the purpose of this blog, I came across this motto, which was the header for Emerson's journals. I had just finished a collection of letters between F.O. Matthiessen and his partner, Russell Cheney, and one of the things that editor mentioned in the introduction was how the letters helped Matthiessen develop a writing style that would later be seen in American Renaissance.
More than anything else, I think this blog is where I work out my thoughts about life, which, in the case of English, tend to intersect with the more circumscribed world of academic thought. I want a philosophy that allows me to make interpretations, and I can't always use the space of an essay to work out fine points about the relations between form, language, and matter, which seem to me the three big categories that are important to understand for literature -- and for anything else. So when an academic essay casually poo-poos "metaphors of growth" and "biology" I want to use this triumvirate to understand what's going on.
Even in this post I'm getting bogged down in talking about what I read. It's pretty noticeable that what I've been doing has been thrown by the wayside. I need to talk about events in my life, to use the blog as a record as much as a soundboard. Sometimes, however, working out a philosophy gets in the way of telling narratives about what happened (i.e. New Year's or relationships or anything else).
But I'm feeling sick and need to blog more when my head is clear. A week in New York will do that to oneself, I guess. posted by Jon | 2:02:00 PM
Monday, December 19, 2005 Library Fatigue
I've been spending 10-12 hours a day in the library and the Hay rare books library for the past two weeks. That and a combination of lack of nourishment are slowly draining my stamina to the point where I'll be very happy for a break.
I did sleep a lot last night though -- from 12-9 -- which made up for the two hours I got on Saturday (when I hadn't yet received an extension on my paper and therefore had to act as if the paper were due today).
I've been immersing myself in Poe trivia, such as his involvement with copyright law campaigning and plagiarism attacks on Longfellow, so blogging is a nice little break from work. It seems that my method of blogging is usually as a form of relief from writing academically -- either in preparation to write or in cooldown from writing. This writing isn't about straining my mind to think of a good argument; it's more of an emission of sorts, finding its way to a nowhere place unintended for any readership. And the interesting thing is that it still requires some effort, but that this effort is still therapeutic, perhaps more so than when I lie down full-length on my couch and pull my hideous neon yellow fleece blanket over me, pour an ounce-sized glass of my Dalmore scotch, and turn on HBO OnDemand and watch whatever's available.
This form of writing is my rolling pin for any kinks I have to work out. Maybe it's some sort of Freudian repetition as a key to therapy -- the repetition of typing or producing something.
What made me think about what my blogging means was the beginning of this piece, in which I detailed relatively boring bits of my days as a way to work my way into the act of writing, into a topic itself. This is the kind of material that the novelist or poet writes in the beginning of the day and then cuts out later. It's the excess, which is paradoxically that which comes first. It's the unrefined material.
In other news, I have a tuna melt waiting on the table in front of me, but I'm in the grad computer room and am not sure if I'm going to offend people by eating a big tuna melt in front of them. But here goes... posted by Jon | 6:05:00 PM
Friday, December 16, 2005 Art-Singing and Heart-Singing in Edgar A. Poe's Broadway Journal
The title seems vaguely familiar, even if you've never read it before. It only contained a glint of interest today while I was browsing through the Broadway Journal from 1845 in the Hay Library with the purpose of looking at Edgar Allen Poe's criticism and more obscure tales. So it was surprising when I then read a style that contained a certain exultancy -- the signature was certainly more familiar: Walter Whitman. Still not Walt, still ten years away from the first version of Leaves of Grass.
This was not his first published piece -- that came seven years ago in an obscure paper, the Hempstead Inquirer, with his first essay being published two years later, in 1840. But for me, it had that spark of newness when you see an author in a new light. This is Poe the New York poet-publisher (sort of like a player-manager, eh?) publishing Whitman, not some transcendentalist.
If and when I get around to a better reading of Whitman's works, I'll probably have to revise the narrative I've carried around in my head since high school, which expressly places his poetry above the works he published for the Eagle-Tribune and other publications in New York. As one of the most self-fashioned of literary personae, Whitman needs to be paid close attention to.
Despite doing some solid work for four hours in the Hay, today was a bit of a waste. My computer was not working properly and I got mildly sick after eating bad Chinese food. I've basically come up with a preliminary point in which to analyze Poe, and I also think that I understand the obsession with locating Poe within the canon, an ongoing problem for the past sixty years. Without sounding too Bloomian, I think I'm going to write about how Poe distrusts the reputation that writers like Cooper and Paulding have earned, according to him, merely because of their status as "early American writers." Like his narrator in the "Oval Portrait," Poe seeks to kill this past, perhaps through the creation of his own art. The issue of nationalism is a fraught one for him mainly because of his relation to tradition. What his relation to being American is during his own time is an even harder thing to decipher.
With Poe, you also run into the problem of form. He's not a novelist, not primarily a poet: rather, I would even say that he's as much a critic as he is a short story writer. Most of his pieces are two pages long, or even shorter "editorial miscellanies" or "fifty short suggestions." The Library of America collection of his Essays and Reviews contains over 1,000 items, which is probably more than any other American writer collected in the series. Poe becomes an arbiter of culture in the 1840s of New York, though his desire to make his own taste dominate his environment is evident. He does not seem to compromise his literary philosophy at all, in fact using it to generate publicity, as with the Boston Lyceum controversy following the reading of his poem, "Al-Araaf."
Now back to reading. posted by Jon | 12:53:00 AM
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
High water risin',
the shacks are slidin' down
Folks lose their possessions - folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook it - broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, "You're dancin' with whom they tell you to
Or you don't dance at all."
It's tough out there
High water everywhere
-- Bob Dylan, "High Water (For Charley Patton)"
Granted, these lyrics would have been more appropriate right after Katrina, but Bob Dylan is in the news these days, so this is somewhat relevant. These lines may seem prophetic to some, but I'm sure Dylan was thinking about an actual past and the floods of the Mississippi. He may have even read a few historical accounts of the 1920s floods, or maybe he was just thinking about Twain's Life on the Mississippi.
Movies recently have been flush with images of Biblical images to cleanse the corruption of our current times: witness (and testify!) P.T. Anderson's Magnolia and Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow. Of course Emmerich's film is probably more reflective of a crude liberal humanist critique that attacks the Bush administration on environmental and foreign policy (remember the Mexicans! and Titans). But Dylan's evocation of an apocalyptic flood is firmly rooted in an actual "vernacular" music culture, a real geography, and sequence of history.
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff,
"I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don't care."
High Water everywhere
These lines are even more predictive of current events. But what are we doing except reading our own times into a song written, even if only, five years ago? Dylan here is collapsing distinctions between God and science with the local history of Highway 61 and the Blues tradition. He is inverting the language of the flood with its attendant cleansing and showing how the very things he loves, singers of love and death like Dock Boggs, Charlie Patton, and Blind Willie McTell, are going to be washed away by the coming flood.
The reason to keep coming back to this song -- it's a song I wrote about in class for Louis Renza -- is that it does offer the possibility of rebirth. Rebirth can come in the form of the transmission of the songs. The old folk song of the "cuckoo bird" finds a place in Dylan's song, albeit in condensed, uncited form,
It's times like these that I do want to become a Dylanesque figure, and also times like these that I understand why some academics end up affecting a Dylan-like persona. I think this feeling may be somewhat connected with nostalgia for a movement, for an ability to connect to people in some new way. Certainly the idea of a resistance movement is very appealing to some academics, and it might be possible, and not even unfair, to charge them with some desire more than simply the ideals of equality of capital. Of course then the question would be: can some of the manifestations of modernity be separated from those of capitalism? Or perhaps, to rephrase the idea, modernity's reach goes beyond that of capitalism.
This is close to the answer for Heidegger, or at least it might be a reason why he doesn't ever mention capitalism (the idea for this blog entry came as a way to clear my mind of my paper on Heidegger and Lacan for my theory class). Heidegger believes that science and technology structure the way in which we understand language and things as available to use. I suppose I would need to read Hegel to see how Heidegger and Marx read him differently. Phenomenology of the Spirit is sitting on top of my bookshelf, after all, thanks to the affordability of alibris and abebooks.
The problem I find with writing about philosophers and psychoanalysts is how to relate their very provocative ideas back to literature. Clearly there is much more at work in a text than a simple transference or sublimation of ideas into the clothing of literature. An overly philosophical method of writing criticism cannot help but disenchant the literary text. Perhaps this is unavoidable. But then it gets very complicated trying to talk about both the constructedness of our own emotional responses to literature and the ideas at work and the use of certain formal elements in the text.
But ennui is capturing me and I don't feel like finishing a train of thought. I don't mind the fragments since I'm in between papers right now. I slept from 6pm-12:45am so I should try to get back to bed at some point. Maybe I'll give Stace a wakeup call to surprise her. In the meantime I shall read in bed like a fine little monkey.
Listening: The Shins, "New Slang"
Being: An Insomniac
To: Kelly posted by Jon | 1:41:00 AM
Monday, December 12, 2005 Like the Phoenix...
...this blog needs to rise from the ashes of Arizona -- a little Seinfeld for you there.
But seriously, this blog needs to be resuscitated, especially as a way of updating about my perceptions of the first semester of grad school.
I've been spending far too much time in the library (essentially for the past five weeks, but mainly the past five days) working on what amounts to a philosophy paper on Heidegger and Lacan and the relationship between things and language.
It used to be that I would blog as a way of getting myself prepped for writing, and though I've almost finished this paper (18 pages done, about two to go), I think it might be a good method to start again. I've still got two more papers to write, one for my American Creoles class and another for Institutions of the English Novel, which I will be forced to do over break.
Brown's a lot different than Dartmouth, to the point that I understand where some of the stereotypes come from (I understand that Dartmouth is relatively more conservative and straight-laced, and my impressions of long-haired, hippie-ish students confirm my stereotypes of Brown). I somewhat miss the intensity of the quarter system, and I'm not sure that the semester system, for all of its increased time and ability to read more, can make me feel as pressured to do work. I probably do more work now but I think you come out of school with a different sense of timing and responsibility when you've been on a quarter system at a difficult school.
No one has heard of pong, or if they have, they think of Beirut. My idea of building a pong table early in the semester vanished into cold weather and the reading of American history and Heidegger in my spare time -- such is life when you want to learn about both the roots of American literature and the roots of French poststructuralist thought (of which, though not usually noted, Heidegger is absolutely central, to the point where some poststructuralism is rendered nearly derivative). Social life on campus isn't bad, and there's a good group of people willing to go out to the Grad Center Bar a couple of nights of the week. If Dartmouth is a beer school, Brown undergrads are most certainly enamored with the weed, which must be a native Rhode Island plant or something.
Classes have been good, though it wasn't as much the leap up into intellectual discussion as I expected. Not as many people talk in class as I thought they would -- usually three-four main participants no matter the total number of students -- which I think is the reason that the level of discussion is not as elevated as I would like it. It's hard to elevate when you don't talk, and I know that there are some smart, albeit silent, students out there.
* * * * *
Being in Singapore and Paris was very good for my preparation for grad school in that way, as it made me much more self-disciplined and gave me very good work habits and stamina. It also made me cultivate a certain insecurity about my lack of knowledge and as to what I should know in order to become a good professor. That this insecurity in some sense superceded the reality of grad students (who aren't all completely motivated, who don't do all the work all the time) is not important: as long as I maintain my version of what I want to be, I think I'll be alright. That I used to force myself to read 200 pages a day when I was in Singapore and RA-ing is funny, since I'm not required to read as much for grad school, or not as difficult material at least.
My department is good, with all the benefits and detractions of a small department (more attention, fewer course options). I'm taking an independent study on the theory of the novel next semester (Armstrong), as well as a course on literature and photography, and most likely a third course at Harvard on the 19th century literary imagination (the old school course of transcendentalists, albeit in a "greener" context since it's with Larry Buell).
From department to apartment: I have a wonderful apartment on the second floor of a 1790s house on Benefit Street, right across from the Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization (aka across from the Marxists, but that's another matter since I don't go there ever). Two rooms and a kitchen in between; I U-Hauled all my furniture down from Boston so I didn't have to buy anything, which was nice. It's decorated with all the posters I've collected in the last ten years, with a Thai silk hanging, Laotian Rothko look-alike hanging from Luang Prabang, a Rodin watercolor of a Cambodian dancer, my Frederick Douglass as an old bitter man poster (from the Birmingham Civil Rights Center), and numerous older posters that have seen the test of time. Right now the place is a mess, since I have about 100 library books checked out and have been away too much to clean up the place, but it usually is a wonderful place to sit around, though I haven't worked well in it quite yet. I even brought my grandfather's 1970s-era barcalounger.
Life has been an interesting blend of grad student frugality (I've learned how to cook!), interspersed with lavish trips to New York to visit my girlfriend -- lavish because I've been inevitably going out drinking with Justin and Chris et al. at least one of those nights. It's hard to avoid spending money in New York, but I do appreciate the Kerouacized-bourgeois late nights drinking til 4 and eating chicken rice from the Pakistani stall on 53rd and 6th or going to John's for pizza on Bleecker and MacDougal -- or perhaps eating the following day post-church Sunday in Harlem at Charles Southern Style Kitchen's buffet while large, well-dressed black men with well-polished, gold-tipped shoes bring their families out.
But that's what time in the south will do for you -- make you crave some good food, though I'm still waiting on finding good ribs (like Fat Matt's in Atlanta )and tex-mex (like Papasitos in Houston) in New York. Food has become a sort of fetish for me, which is surprising since I never used to care about that kind of thing, passing it off as impermanent unlike objects. Maybe I've become decadent in old age, who knows. Or maybe it's just grad-schoolification.
But that's enough for now. I dislike reading extremely long posts myself, so I really should break this up somehow. [EDIT] there's my best effort.
LISTENING TO: Hanayo, Joe Le Taxi: ain't nothing better than a geisha-turned-avant-garde pop-trance singer. Garden State has a great soundtrack also, but, then again, it is practically a remake of The Graduate, so I would hope it would. posted by Jon | 10:40:00 AM