Friday, December 31, 2004

Been playing Rockstar's newest Grand Theft Auto game, in the gloom and sag and sop of dark, dour Ithaca. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with the story line and its sociopolitical critique, or lack thereof; while it's certainly a much more epic and sprawling game than Vice City, there are fewer poignant moments, fewer trenchant satires and more unexamined and unironized digital cliches. I was interested in this game as a take on the competing cultures of California--gangbangers, hippies, mafiosi, right-wing freaks, etc.--not unlike Pynchon's. And I think it's right that they triangularize LA, SF and Las Vegas, even if the latter isn't technically in California (San Andreas). But there's a curiously moralizing quality to the story (perhaps a bone thrown to Rockstar's critics, a post 9-11 internalized censor): part of the story involves Craig Johnson's attempt to clean up his neighborhood of crack dealers, and there is a lot of attention given to CJ's refusal of proferred drugs. Of course, at the same time, one can check one's stats and see the thousands killed (many innocent), the billions of property damage created, etc. Despite his occasional homilies, CJ's still a violent force equal to capitalism itself. The two impulses, rampant and unfettered sadism and an overlay of platitudinous cliche, don't mix well. I admired the fearlessness of Vice City, the way it gave free play to the basest, most bestial of impulses, and allowed for their exploration while at the same time engaging in a subtle commentary on these impulses' relationship to racism, sexism, global capitalism and various psychological and cultural trends.

Of course I might be expecting too much from this game (a videogame as object of analysis?), since LA in the early 90's forms the spatiotemporal center of Toward a Pornography of the Sublime and I'm hoping to write a videogame section for the book, and maybe teach this game at some point. I do find it interesting that smack in the middle of the game map, equidistant from the three cities, there's a tangle of roads and canyons called The Panopticon. I also like the paranoid hippy character The Truth, who entreats CJ to sneak into the top-secret army base and steal "the black project." But the end result of this episode is intellectually disappointing, even if it's neuromuscularly exciting. Maybe I'll have more to say later.

Unbelievable that the death toll keeps rising in Indonesia and elsewhere (believable, sadly, that personal contribution's have topped the US government's). I truly hope that epidemics and starvation can be avoided, and I pray that the governments and NGO's involved make the right choices and that chance and nature cooperate.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Gonna' put on some Erik Satie and write, perhaps, one of those word-machines we call poems.

Philadelphia was cold and beautiful, a labyrinth of wind and history, and I felt a bit awkward waiting for my interview and wandering the center city in my suit. Sad that I'm so broke I couldn't afford to register for the convention; I would have liked to attend the panel on C.D. Wright. I was a bit disappointed that the city didn't seem flooded by literary scholars; I expected to be mobbed by like-minded, like-dressed doppelgangers. I expected to be able to look at people and say, ah, clearly a Marxist--you can tell by the expensive cut of her suit.

I must admit that I like the way I look in a tie, uncomfortable and asphyxiating as they are. It's strange that this fashion has persisted; women don't wear girdles or corsets. And yet, year after year men don these pseudo-phalli from which they may be conveniently and quickly hanged.

No surprise that our government is miserly in the face of disaster, and our president on vacation. Perhaps W is a bit jealous; for a moment or two, he's in second place for most dangerous force on the planet. Don't worry, Georgie--you'll doubtless ruin more lives in 2005. No one will hasten us toward the end of days quicker than you, pal.

An exhausting day, but as I said, the interview went well. About as well as it could. My colleague gave me an incredibly thorough list of potential questions, some of them very tough, and I came equipped with a number of talking-points. Nice people, good people; I think I'd be happy there, although it is a 3-3 teaching load. If anyone ever wants to see these questions, just send me an e-mail. I'd be glad to share them.

Karl and I have been talking over a screenplay on Berryman. I think the damn thing would practically write itself. Open with a long shot of an ambulance pulling away from the rainy, manicured grounds of a mental insitution: topiary trees in the desperate, frozen gestures of half-spoken lyric. Cut to Berryman (played by Al Pacino?) in the back of the ambulance, bearded and jittery, bumping along and reading over his typed lecture notes. Shot of ambulance on the highway, crossing the bridge from which he would throw himself. Entering the University. Berryman is helped out of the ambulance. There's a bit of rain on the camera-lens. Berryman is shaky and almost falls. Enters the hall, passes a few colleagues. In front of the class, gathers himself, opens his dossier, and the elegant, eloquent half-ruined folds of this most beautiful of minds begin to spill forth. Yes, dialogue is hard.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Black Box: Poems without Authors

I've got a job interview at the MLA on Monday, and they want some ideas for things I might do with their creative writing program. Following is a proposal for a literary magazine I could run from Pacific Lutheran University. Anybody who is interested in collaborating on this project should write me

Prospectus for Black Box: Poems without Authors

Presently, American poetry is experiencing a kind of renaissance, fueled, like the American poetic modernism of the ‘twenties or ‘thirties, by small literary journals or web-based magazines, the publishing costs of which continue to fall. Many of these print dazzling, hyper-inventive poems by a continuous wavefront of emerging and established poets; and yet, at the same time these journals often suggest to the wide-minded reader a fragmented and cliquish literary world. Journals which publish poets with different aesthetics and poetics become scarcer and more beleaguered each year—even as the number of journals which claim, fallaciously, to confound such easy categories and build bridges grows. While there is indubitably a real value to journals and editors with a distinctive vision—to publications which choose to champion a particular kind of writer otherwise ignored, to do one thing and do it well—it is also perhaps the case that a good deal of excellent poetry does not get read by certain people by dint of the publication in which it does or does not appear. Whereas ten or twenty years ago, the oft-brandished terms “avant-garde,” “experimental,” “traditional” and “mainstream” signified the relationship of a David to a Goliath, this is no longer the case. In the words of poet Joshua Corey, the margins have become their own center, just as “mainstream” poets—called such by virtue of their more traditional approaches—think of themselves as increasingly marginalized. This occurs even as fascinating writers trouble such easy categories, and as savvier critics temper the ad hominem discourses which allow for them.

I, personally, know that there is a certain insidious voice within me (one that I vigorously combat) which prejudges and categorizes poets based upon the flimsiest of prepossesions, and disallows for the possibility of excellence within a poem of a certain style I deem either reactionarily mainstream or self-consciously experimental, even as I am often wonderfully surprised by how much I like a writer of the former or latter stripe. I like to imagine that were I to read these poems blindly—without looking at the name of the author or his/her list of accomplishments and publications—I could have a much more pure and unmediated contact with the poem. In fact, when I read for Seneca Review I make it a point to look at an author’s cover letter only after I’ve read the poems, as I don’t trust my biases.

Black Box, then, would publish poems without attribution, and without the standard contributor’s note. Perhaps we would have a cheat sheet—enrypted, somehow— for those who simply must know who wrote what (or what wrote whom). Perhaps, also, we could have an edifying contest in which readers were asked to try and match poems with particular true or fictitious biographical data. Which poet has been divorced once and married three times? Which one plays the clarinet? Which one lives in DUMBO, Brooklyn? Which one was the shooter on the grassy knoll? We would encourage pseudonymous submissions and collaborative poetry, as well as found poetry, or poetry that was imaginatively attributed (say to a dead person). In this way, we might better champion the work of emerging writers, giving them the opportunity to be read with as much care as one would read the work of a well-known poet. It would also allow already established writers to write a different kind of poem without offending their fans. Paradoxically, even as the magazine extinguishes the cult of the personality, it would allow for poets to write a confessional and autobiographical poem under the cover of pseudonymity or anonymity.

In theater, black box designates a bare, quadrilinear and unmarked ground from which the highest number of spatial combinations may arise. In aviation, a black box records the instrument and voice data from a plane so that, in the unfortunate event of an accident, investigators might reconstruct what happened. It is something one hopes need never be opened. Perhaps, by way of analogy, the black box might be where we would keep the names of the authors and their biographical data. Perhaps we will manage to avoid the perilous analogy between such a plane and the state of the United States, given its current bearings.

Depending on funding, the magazine could either be a print journal or web-based magazine. Were it a print journal (my preference), and were sufficient funding available, the actual artifact could be a black cube in which a square journal nested. We might collaborate with bookmakers and artists to produce a collectible objet d’art.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Atrocity Exhibition

Of wind, the most of lost. Of slhivering—the
Buckled windows widowed how
the shliver of spirit hauled from its wan

I repeat: of wind no wonderment as helpless.
I need a reader, someone to weed
the leaderless cursor of its burst patrimony.

Our heroine, our heroin, whose ravished
imbroglio of hair trawls a scowl
where the prow, Presidential,

Loverless curvature: the reversed charges pimp and plump
and plop down fifty a pop: raw dog.

People do, horrorible, things to them self which are each other.

From cashpoint to whiplash, fluffing the glossily
fragrant pages of Vanity Fair.
We sign dumbly, without subtitles, smeared with screech and brakelight.
There’s a verb in her brassiere.
My son is one. You’re one too.

A portrait is hung, a man is hanged.
Thick with falsetto coyotes with methlab and roulette,
a slave salve, a valvéd, rifted delve.

The letters of the Hol­­_ywood sign
lift off two by two. You’re one too.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Self-Portrait as Burning, Trivial Disciple
Self-Portrait as Burning, Trivial Disciple

Saturday, December 18, 2004

First Post

Welcome to my blog or blob or slog or slag heap, whoever you are. Consider this an Alcatraz of the Imagination.

Strange to write on this empty stage, audienceless and yet utterly exposed. A kind of glass-bottomed journal, a one-way mirror.

Can anyone tell me how many links it would take to get from here to the CIA's website? Is there some kind of game-theory principle operating here? Six degrees of separation: six synapses from me to the farthest you? Already I can feel the informatic electrodes being attached to my grammars.

Come and play. Answer the following letter, in character or out of character:

Dear Friend Who Maketh My Enemies Friends--

I read your poems and am again, barely. No longer must I sleep in the leaking precincts of the Carport du Thomas Pynchon. There are other ways from this crevasse and crepuscule, down and in, as you say, with succint circumlocution and too many titles. Ever since the debugging of graduate school it seems I have mistaken the front door for a closet!

I've been squinting at some books other than yours. Blowhard Bloom, with his macho and trope, who seems wonderfully useful in places, when he remembers us: "the meaning of a poem can only be a poem--a poem not itself." Lacan, too, who is not so opaque as he originally seemed to me--especially when he draws pictures (I like pictures) of a tree growing over the doors ladlylike and gentlemanly of the washclosets.

I take my battlestation in the dictionary, between bagatelle and bigamy. Come find me.