Sunday, February 26, 2006

Louisville Trilogy

Louisville 20th Century Literature and Culture Conference, post-game re-cap.

I. old friends i had the pleasure of catching up with:

- Ben Shockey, from UC Santa Barbara (and UMaine)
- Brian Peters, Champlain Regional College (and the SCT)
- Tony Brinkley and Sara Speidel, University of Maine

thanks for helping me remember that there is also friendship in what we do

II. i feel smarter. i had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Andrew Schroeder, from UWisconsin, Oshkosh, who gave a great paper on the critical history of democratic media activism and theory. I really enjoyed the paper, and the ensuing discussion after we had presented was lively and interesting. i was glad that we were able to contribute to a panel that inspired such thought. also, saw Andrew in the elevator at the hotel with his adorable baby daughter; as you all may know, i'm a huge fan of babies. well done, Andrew.

more generally, it felt satisfying and stimulating to be a part of the larger conversation. although very tired, i feel newly invigorated and excited to do work. this can only be a good thing. thanks, Louisville.

III. some suggestions to my peers in the field:

- can we stop talking about "the patriarchy" and "the binary opposition" and "the gaze" yet? the co-opting and institutionalization of these kind of terms, indicative as they are of a really limited kind of academic identity (and academically conceived identity), causes me to cringe at their use.

for real: the "the" moment - indeed, the "moment" moment - is over. let's stop invoking the "the" as some kind of indicator of critical distance that we can use to gain supposed "authority." i feel like this strategy might be leading to our irrelevance, and i don't much like the thought. i'll try if you will.

- enough with the following: "transforming gender," "matter" as a noun/verb pun, "the economy of whatever," "speaking of" as pun, "(post) (ex) (en) (inter) - 'the' parenthesis." the list could go on.

may i suggest a title made up entirely of pretentious neologisms: "Hypermodern Survival and the Postphotographic Surface" ?

you know you love it....

- lastly, can we all agree to not write about "Fight Club" anymore ? the book, the movie, the concept : old, boring, done. excuse me, but you're stepping on my degree. i mean, whatever made anyone think that a Brad Pitt movie was worthy of theoretical investigation - let alone ten years' worth of theoretical investigation - is beyond me. in any of its manifestations, "Fight Club" does not, nor has it ever had, anything interesting to say about commodity culture, homosexuality/homosociality, violence, revolution, "capitalism and schizophrenia," or anything "postmodern."

the movie used one Pixies song really well, and that is the only thing about this cultural phenomenon that was ever even remotely compelling.

so can we stop talking about it now?

that goes for class discussion as well.

wow, i feel better. carry on.


dear small, pink sock:

please come back. your mate misses you, and i miss you too. you were always one of my favorites (and no, i don't say that to *all* the socks; for example: itchy sock with snowflake pattern, stay gone. see if i care).

where could you be ? i eagerly await our re-acquaintance.

praying for your safe return,


Monday, February 20, 2006


5 words:
Special. Two. Hour. Wife. Swap.

And one happy, happy me.

Happy Birthday...


my Dad turns 60 (er, 46) today. this is a picture of him in one of his favorite places.

please join me in wishing "happy birthday" to one very cool guy.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Dear Adorno;
I have been reading Deleuze and Guattari all morning. How am I supposed to make the transition to my assigned reading in _Aesthetic Theory_? I am totally afraid that my head is going to explode.

-- Am I a Monad or a Rhizome in Detroit

Dear AIaMoaRiD-
Not to worry. Nothing is going to explode. But this is a tough one. You might want to consider my critique of psychoanalysis, wherein I propose the inadequacy of "pleasure principle"-like scenarios, in which "the negative element is held to be nothing more than the mark of that process of repression that obviously goes into the artwork." So this is how, you know,

"The psychologism of aesthetic interpretation easily agrees with the philistine view of the artwork as harmoniously quieting antagonisms, a dream image of a better life, unconcerned with the misery from which this image is wrested."

Yawn. Underdetermined psycholanalytical interest renders art totally boring. Can I suggest disinterestedness as a dialectical position from which the enervation of art may emerge as a kind of Bersanian ironic distancing?

"For disinterestedness immanently reproduces - and transforms - interest. In the false world all [greek word] is false. For the sake of happiness, happiness is renounced. It is thus that desire survives in art."

Yes, desire. And you know, I'm sorry about the gap left by the untranslated Greek word. I think this contributes to my paratactical style, where, according to my translator, Robert Hullot-Kentor:

"Every transition must be a transition in the object itself if it is not to unhinge the text. Thus the text is deprived of a major technique for building on what has been, or of explicitly organizing itself toward what will be, developed elsewhere; and it cannot take the sting out of repetition by acknowledging it. Instead, Adorno is constantly compelled to start anew saying what has already been said. The text produces a need for repetition that is its innermost antagonist. Thus Adorno throughout repeatedly restates major motifs: that the artwork is a monad, that it is a social microcosm, that society is most intensely active in an artwork where it is most remote from society."

I guess you could say that my text "falls back on itself." But no matter what you have read prior to _Aesthetic Theory_, you ought to keep this idea of transition in mind. I promise you it will help keep your head in one piece.

Thanks for writing. By the way, some guy named Jonathan called. He wanted me to remind you that you also have a lot of reading to do for his class, and you might want to, like, get on that.


(see pages 8, 12,13, and xvii for more)


"From the Garden of Theodor Adorno":

"the fragment is that part of the totality of the work that opposes totality."

(found: somewhere on the internet)


You have questions. Adorno has answers.

Dear Adorno;
What's up with the vexed relationship between pedagogical theory and its practical application ? I mean, the more progressive composition theory I study, the harder it is for me to actually teach freshman comp. Is this situation inherently problematic or is it just me?

-- A Little Nostalgic for the Days of the Five Paragraph Essay

Dear A Little;
Please, call me Weisengrund. First of all, quit it with the nostalgia. I assure you, it won't get you where you need to go. But do consider this:

"Valid [composition] today is polarized into, on the one hand, an unassuaged and inconsolable expressivity that rejects every last trace of conciliation and becomes autonomous construction; and, on the other, the expressionlessness of construction that expresses the dawning powerlessness of expression."

That is to say that within the university, I think that the revolution wished by composition theory cannot possibly find praxis. Its political means are fetishized as ends, thereby disguising that the process takes place within oppressive labor relations determined, ultimately, by a kind of bourgeois solipsism. Remember:

"The violence done to the material imitates the violence that issued from the material and that endures in its resistance to form. The subjective domination of the act of forming is not imposed on irrelevant materials but is read out of them...."

I'm with Walter on this; the crisis of composition instruction may be partially assuaged by avant-garde documentary studies, to the extent that documentary studies likewise experiences these violences and takes part in the bringing about of the crisis.

Hope this helps!

(p.s. the quotations are from pages 43 and 50 of my text _Aesthetic Theory_)

Saturday, February 18, 2006


i think my (temporary) cat is trying to tell me something.

she's systematically disassmbeling a stack of books on my desk.

her methodology:

sits or lies on "The Transmission of Affect." Try not to be so literal, Lulu.

earlier i was startled out of my reading by the sound of a book sliding off the stack and hitting the desk: Shklovsky.

just now, "Style and Difference" met the same fate.

a John Asbery volume teeters precariously on the edge, nudged ever closer by a small orange paw. Lulu, where is this going?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

77 (not a bad vintage)

Shashi (may I call you Shashidar?):

non-performative, with my best boy and my best bunny:

78 (not so much)


take that!

proud of my friend, who is a great poet and who walks me to my car in the scary garage > asshole-ry

79 (a number i've always been fond of)

From Joelsin:

An excerpt from "Authored in Conversation: Tubingen 2005"

"Everyone pays their own bill—all go Dutch in Deutschland. The euro coins have made it so that servers carry a black leather pouch with a huge pocket for loose change and slots for bills—10% is the tip, or round up to the nearest bill; all prices are set this way: € 9,40, say for dinner.

The superstructure is the _expression of the infrastructure […] the collective, from the first, expresses the condition of its life. These find their _expression in the dream and their interpretation in the waking (PW 392).

I tip—awake—around 20% the whole time I’m there.

Windows are outside of the frame; ashtray and lighter on the sill outside; they were often left open, even in the winter.

One friend of mine burned nothing but books. […] Wooden buildings were dismantled and burned. Big buildings devoured small ones (Shklovsky, Knight’s Move 13).

Bad pop music—that plays on a turntable—made in the seventies by the Germans under the influence of Giorgio Moroder, but none of it that good, is coming back.

The clash between word and gesture […] “Take your places” (Shklovsky 102-6).

A rigorous distinction between historical responsibility and societal guilt: “we [the current German generation, currently being voiced by Johanna, who gave me a room for free] don’t want anymore to hear about the ‘poor Jews.’ Often I see menorahs in windows—it is Johanna who tells me these folks probably aren’t Jewish, only succumbing to guilt.

[I]f the existence of violence outside the law, as pure immediate violence, is assured, this furnishes the proof that revolutionary violence, the highest manifestation of unalloyed violence by man, is possible, and by what means (Benjamin, Reflections 300).

The strasse—‘little street,’ both narrow and short.

The city became a book in my hands (Benjamin, Selected Writings 477).

The longestrasse—‘long, short street.’

The thing splits into its reflections and opposites (Shklovsky 74)."

(I'll publish more if he'll let me).


Shashidar, this is in part what you requested. I'll try to formulate more thoughts specifically regarding the film sometime soon.


As many of you know, one of my interests is the documentary narrative. I plan to focus on some aspect of avant-garde documentary in my larger project. Last night I finally watched the much-lauded, Oscar-winning “Born Into Brothels.” The children who make up this film are beautiful and gifted and have been born into vile circumstances that will most certainly kill them. The photographs they took, after being given cameras by the film’s director, were both stunning and heartbreaking. The vividly colored scenes of prostitutes screaming profanities at each other and beating these children made me claustrophobic and nauseous. This part of the movie “worked.”

The problem? I think this part of the movie was incidental. That is, it only served to support the director’s desire to portray herself as “savior.” The film, in its entirety, invited viewers to read the children’s manipulated preciousness as a reflection of the director. So I hated the movie. Zana Briski should be ashamed of herself. I went to bed considering how I would re-make “Born Into Brothels.” And now, as usual, I am hatching a new documentary project in my mind.

The Point.

How do I read the Passengen-Werk ?

It is first necessary to conceive of Benjamin’s work simultaneously as a body and as a non-totality. One does not have to “know Benjamin” to do so, although I think it helps. The individual passages in the Arcades Project form what Cohen might call an “uncanny lineage,” to be differentiated from a genealogical lineage by their position as dialectical images. Cohen writes of Nadja: “Breton’s narrator associates his uncanny sensations with contemporary aspects of the site where the obscure past persists in disfigured form” (98). Many of the fragments either came out of or made up Benjamin’s “other” works, which turn out, then, not to be so “other.” But is it necessary to know this in order to read the Passengen? It seems like the uncanny lineage of the work is not only outward-pointing; it is also contained within each fragment. For example, in “Convolute J: Baudelaire”: “The Lesbians – a painting by Courbet.” (240). This fragment is not rendered meaningless to a reader unfamiliar with Benjamin’s work on Baudelaire or unfamiliar with Baudelaire’s fascination with lesbians. Even if completely decontextualized, the fragment can’t be effectively decontextualized because it is a dialectical image. As such, the dialectical image is both a site and a moment, because as a text, it takes place in a lived reality that is also the text. Writes Buck-Morss: “To read reality like a text is to recognize their difference,” to which I would add, so that the reader may experience a kind of productive dialectical disorientation (SBM 240).

So far, this is a lot of jargon. Buck-Morss asks: “ Why is the Arcades project not merely an arbitrary, aesthetic representation of the nineteenth century, a political allegory that appropriates theological themes for Marxist ends?” (ibid.) I would argue that the recognition of the difference between reality and text led to Benjamin’s “uncanny” joining of the two – again, counterintuitive in much the same way that I argued in my previous post – by “superimposing” them, as Buck-Morss writes, “with the result that the project’s fragments are bewilderingly overdetermined” (SBM 53). Instead of using history as a frame that would relieve much of the pressure of overdetermination laid upon the fragments, Benjamin uses overdetermination to “bring the immense forces of ‘atmosphere’ concealed in these things to the point of explosion” (Reflections 182; see previous post). Buck-Morss explains Benjamin’s method like this: “In the Passengen-Werk Benjamin was committed to a graphic, concrete representation of truth, in which historical images made visible the philosophical ideas. In them, history cut through the core of truth without providing a totalizing frame. Benjamin understood these ideas as ‘discontinuous.’ As a result, the same conceptual elements appear in several images, in such varying configurations that their meanings cannot be fixed in the abstract. Similarly, the images themselves cannot be strung together into a coherent, non-contradictory picture of the whole” (SBM 55). Or, as Benjamin quotes Adorno in “Convolute I: The Interior, the Trace”: “The ordering of things in the dwelling-space is called ‘arrangement.’ Historically illusory objects are arranged in it as the semblance of unchangeable nature” (220).

I am sort of accepting “truth” as an unproblematic term here. I shouldn’t, but I have other work to do.

The Point, Two.

Or, What is It About the Arcades Project, Anyway?

To start, Cohen on Breton points toward my fledgling conception of avant-garde documentary media: “With the introduction of an objective dimension into the subject, the possibility exists that the boundary between subject and object will crumble in the direction of contingency rather than recuperation” (MC 67). Huh. This in mind, look at how Breton problematizes the “standard documentary photograph” by introducing within it the difference of reality and text in the same way that Benjamin produces the logic of the Passengen-Werk: “While in a standard documentary photo Breton’s portrait would illustrate the sentence [ “I envy…”] to which it is juxtaposed, Breton constructs this sentence in such a way that he problematizes establishing a one-to-one correspondence between photograph and the textual passage whose extraliterary existence it documents” (MC 69). In so doing, Breton superimposes, rather than juxtaposes, reality and text in an “uncanny,” “bewilderingly overdetermined” way.

Benjamin’s overdetermined fragments, the superimposed images of dialectic at a standstill, are then “juxtaposed” according to the “modern-day rhythm” of film: “The tendency in this work is to banish ‘development’ from the image of history down to the last detail, and to represent Becoming in sensation and in tradition through dialectical dismemberment, as a constellation of Being” (SBM 250). To which I would add, “what?” I do think that this speaks to the logic of materialist historiography as a rejection of a one-to-one correspondence between text and reality in favor of a conception of both on intersecting axes of lived duration. But I could be wrong.

I will let Susan Buck-Morss sum up for me. The following passage is where I find the beginning of my own project’s intersection with the Arcades project: “Was it possible, despite capitalist form, to subvert these cultural apparatuses from within? The effect of technology on both work and leisure in the modern metropolis had been to shatter experience into fragments, and journalistic style reflected the fragmentation. Could montage as the formal principle of the new technology be used to recreate an experiential world so that it provided a coherence of vision necessary for philosophical reflection? And more, could the metropolis of consumption, the high-ground of bourgeois-capitalist culture, be transformed from a world of mystifying enchantment into one of both metaphysical and political illumination?” And to Buck-Morss’s questions, I would answer: yes, yes, and yes. But in a way that Benjamin himself might anticipate, this is, in large part, still waiting to be completed; likewise it is a much more complicated project than filming oneself giving cameras to the children of prostitutes. I don’t cast myself, in this configuration, as the savior of documentary, nor do I cast Benjamin there. It’s just that I have this feeling that the relationship between the fragments and the body – of whatever kind – is still productively uncanny.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Benjamin in love

For today:

I had arrived in Riga to visit a woman friend. Her house, the town, the language were unfamiliar to me. Nobody was expecting me; no one knew me. For two hours I walked the streets in solitude. Never again have I seen them so. From every gate a flame darted; each cornerstone sprayed sparks, and every streetcar came toward me like a fire engine. For she might have stepped out of the gateway, around the corner, been sitting in the streetcar. But of the two of us, I had to be, at any price, the first to see the other. For had she touched me with the match of her eyes, I would have gone up like a powder keg."


"The only way of knowing a person is to love that person without hope."

Saturday, February 11, 2006


the guilt is finally too much.
i need to confess:

i don't really care about the Olympics. at all. and i'm not sorry.

(also, i really like blink 182. i am hoping you're all so enraged at my ambivalence toward the Olympics that you'll let this one slide by)


A propos: "Jesus Christ This Is Long"

File also under: "Graduate School is Not Easy."

“If the smoke from the tip of my cigarette and the ink from the nib of my pen flowed with equal ease, I should be in the Arcadia of my dissertation.”

I have been having an email discussion over the past few days with my friend Sian about a film she made 15 or so years ago and which I just showed my 1020 class. It’s a short, experimental documentary (surprise!) about…ummm… well so, okay, it really can’t be conceived of as a totality (but it won several awards, including an Emmy, so it was somehow institutionally legitimated). I showed it to my class in hopes that both the themes and the construction would help us make some connections between telling stories with words and telling stories with images. The film is constructed, Sian says, like a coiled spring, which I am still having difficulty with; it tells the story of how children use fairy tales to build their world (“for a child, the whole world is home”) , and then as we grow up, slowly “awakening” from this ability (in order to have some concept of history and contextualization), the fairy tale as “home” seems to disappear, only to reappear fragmented in a collection of urban artifacts, which we then engage with in a variety of ways. I guess that the structure of the film follows this submerging and reemerging of “home”; the oft repeated soundtrack intones : “This is the key to the kingdom. In the kingdom there is a city. In the city there is a town. In the town there is a street. In the street there is a lane. In the lane there lies a house. In the house there is a room. In the room there is a bed. On the bed there is a basket. A basket of flowers.” And back out again.

Part of my comments to her were that the film seems to rush at me like a soft but insistent wind from down a long passageway. And for some reason, the almost imperceptible tinkling of glass, or chimes, or something, is the same sound I hear when I read the Passengen. Well, Sian doesn’t know from Benjamin, so she found this kind of unhelpful. Still, I think that this must somehow connect to what Kristine had to say about a) the significance of childhood to Benjamin and b) some kind of non-textual, non-visual understandings of his work. Obviously, the soft but insistent wind speaks to the beating of the wings of the angel of history down the glass covered passages of the Arcades. But that’s just me. But, at the same time,exactly, that’s just me, standing there (which I actually have, once or twice – but it’s not entirely necessary). So what does this have to do with anything?

I’m glad you asked. This brings me to the part that should have been my post last week, to which I have given the working title:

“What is It about Benjamin, Anyway?”

Last week in class, I started with this quote from “One Way Street”: “And in the denaturing of things -– a denaturing with which, emulating human decay, they punish humanity – the country itself conspires. It gnaws at us like the things, and the German Spring that never comes is only one of countless related phenomena of decomposing German nature. Here one lives as if the weight of the column of air that everyone supports had suddenly, against all laws, in these regions become perceptible” (454).I guess there are (at least) two things here. One, why Germany? Let’s go with the obvious, shall we? It was Benjamin’s childhood home, the location of his earliest “fairy tales.” I had tried, in class, to address the question (posed not altogether well in Pym’s “Benjamin at the Border”) of how we might explain the lack of exteriority that Pym claims led Benjamin to NOT escape the Nazis when he could/should have. Now I don’t know about this. But, secondly, I want to suggest that the “becoming perceptible” (and I mean that in the least Groszian way possible – at this point) of the weight if a column of air IN GERMANY points to a configuration that is a suggestion of how to read Benjamin. That is, exteriority has to be conceived of as an exteriority to the body, upon which, in Benjamin’s case, was materially and historically located in Germany (even when it was also in Paris or in Moscow) but, in the sense of the dialectic of location that Buck-Morss explains so well, could not be completely separated from the movement of Benjamin’s own body through different locations in his history.

Hence the importance of “One Way Street.” Not because it exists in a genealogy, but because it makes explicit the lived dialectic that produces Benjamin’s work. So my terming it a “baby Arcades Project” was both totally wrong and productively not wrong. As Buck-Morss notes, Benjamin meant for the Passengen to contain a “fiendish intensification” of the “profane motifs” in “One Way Street” (SBM 20). Intensification, to me, points back toward the kind of resplendent echo that ties bodily, lived experiences to theoretical work not so much allegorically – which would, then, lead to a “One Way Street” begat “Arcades” kind of genealogy – but, rather, as – yes – a kind of spring. So perhaps when I said “baby Arcades,” I ought to have said something about childhood? And perhaps B’s works can, and should be read in part aurally, as resonations of each other? And that they are somehow likewise coiled like a spring? Buck-Morss helpfully points out that “Benjamin’s interpretations of literary texts have been described critically as only allegories for his own lived experiences. The matter may well be the reverse, that Benjamin perceived his own life emblematically, as an allegory for social reality, and sensed keenly that no individual could live a resolved or affirmative existence in a social world that was neither” (SBM 31-32). I would add to that, could not produce a narrative of that world that was resolved or total.

Okay, so, “One Way Street.” Fragments that imagine walking down a street, and in that street there is a lane, etc etc, and on that bed there lies a basket. A basket of flowers. Benjamin’s own reflections on German economics, on Paris, on criticism, are set alongside and are indeed inseparable from his longing for Asja Lacis. Why didn’t Benjamin leave Europe for Palestine or America? In large part, because of Asja Lacis. He did indeed refuse a kind of exteriority, but not the kind that Pym accuses him of refusing. And it was indeed a kind of extra-European exteriority that Benjamin refused, but again it was not, I believe, as Pym envisioned it. Benjamin may have refused a separation of his work from his lived, bodily experience as it took place – undeniably – in Europe. Buck-Morss: “The “liberation of vitality that he experienced as a philosopher , a writer, and a human being clearly was her doing, and for anyone who has known the creative intensity of the erotic and the political as a double awakening, wherein work and passion are not separate corners of life but fused intensely into one, the decisive significance of their relationship will come as no surprise” (SBM 21).

And this in fact seems counterintuitive to so much that I have learned about theory. In order to avoid allegorizing the lives of individual authors in their texts, maybe I have, to some extent, thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Because what about the lived experience of which that text was wholly and materially a part? Benjamin’s contribution to revisionist theories of the avant-garde may be just that, and may in turn be why – partly unconsciously – he is so wholly, bodily, completely a part of my project. Criticism, writes Benjamin in “OWS,” “is a matter of correct distancing. It was at home in a world where perspectives and prospects counted and where it was still possible to adopt a standpoint. Now things press too urgently on human society” (476). To this I would connect Benjamin’s work on the Surrealists, as well as to my own desire to figure a way to re-theorize avant-garde documentary media. “To turn the threatening future into a fulfilled ‘now,’” writes Benjamin, “is a work of bodily presence of mind” (483). And you know, now that you mention it, this sounds Queer to me (but that’s another intervention…still…); the Surrealists, according to Benjamin, “are the first to liquidate the sclerotic liberal-moral-humanistic ideal of freedom” (Reflections 189). He goes on to pretty much forecast my dissertation, and this is the (partial) answer to “What is It about Benjamin, Anyway?” : “Only when in technology body and image so interpenetrate that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation, and all bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, has reality transcended itself….For the moment, only the Surrealists have understood its present commands” (R 192).

Which brings me back to: what might this sound like? Maybe like the slight tinkling of wind rushing down the glass corridors of the Arcades. Maybe like the jangling Baroness’s “leafy limbswish.” Maybe like a chorus of children whispering “this is the key to the kingdom.” Probably not like “In tenement blocks, [where] there is a music of such deathly sad wantonness that one cannot believe it is intended for the player: it is music for the furnished rooms, where on Sundays someone sits amid thoughts that are soon garnished with these notes, like a bowl of overripe fruit with withered leaves” (“OWS” 469). (I have a friend who once very accurately likened the experience of clinical depression to “Williamsburg, Brooklyn on a Sunday afternoon in November, and you haven’t finished your homework.”) I have more to say next week, and in my presentation next month, about the “furnished rooms.” For now, I will end by offering what I think is a fundamentally aural, and wholly embodied, orientation in Benjamin’s criticism, his reflection – via his own body, and his desire for Asja Lacis – on Breton and Nadja: “…the lovers who convert everything that we have experienced on mournful railway journeys… on Godforsaken Sunday afternoons in the proletarian quarters of the great cities, in the first glance through the rain-blurred window of a new apartment, into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense forces of ‘atmosphere’ concealed in these things to the point of explosion. What form do you suppose a life would take that was determined at a decisive moment precisely by the street song last on everyone’s lips?” (R 182).

Friday, February 10, 2006


Today, as I was reading about the Arcades Project --

with the inimitable Roxanne sitting in my lap
in an enormous armchair and playing patty-cake

-- there's got to be something to that, I thought, right ?

(then spent some time looking for hair gel because R now has enough hair to make a mohawk - luckily for all involved, i didn't find any)

And Jacalyn, seeing as it had to have been a weird "Imitation of Life" moment on some level, it made me very happy to realize that those few minutes will always be a few minutes when two daughters weren't getting hurt by the world at all. I loved your post, by the way.


oh, students.

this is a part of a student response paper relating to an experimental film we watched in class. i hope that the writer has some idea how great this is, even with the grammatical errors. i haven't read such an example of really true, pure, voice from one of my students in a long time.

"Detroit is the city in which I grew up... A town is smaller than a city. The street identifies a smaller connection. I live between Puritan and Six Mile. This can really divide a person... There is a Six and a Seven Mile gang... I think of lane as the main street, which is Lawton. 16803 is the address to my yard. My bed is in my room, which is a representation of me. The flower is symbolic to a person. The flower brings out the characteristics of the bed. This is one way to recognize the home in which I live in."

"this is one way to recognize the home in which i live in [sic]" : makes me want to cry.

and not in the way that student papers USUALLY make me want to cry.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


dispatch from Detroit, Paris of the midwest:

also, i am working on what i think about the following:

1. flarf

2. my composition syllabus

3. the left margin and its relationship to genealogy and lyric

4. but wait. i really like lyric.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Sharon, to my hypothetical wayward student:

"Dropping this class is the only viable option; welcome to the desert of the real."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


one bad coat.

scene: gas station at the intersection of Woodward and Palmer, exterior, day. winter.

homeless man: "that is one baaaaad coat!"
me: "thank you."

(the coat in question is a brown tweed Comme des Garcons "deconstructed" trenchcoat which i received as a gift under what i now understand to be highly dubious circumstances. definitely worth more than anything else i currently or ever will own.)

homeless man: "no, that is one baaaaad coat. how long have you had it?"
me: "uh, a couple of years."
homeless man: (shaking head) "it's baaaaad, miss. real bad."

(initially pleased that this man and i shared a common love of fashion, i soon realized that to him, "deconstruction" as fashion looked pretty much the same as "really beat up." and so, in this situation, "baaaad" did not mean "cool." it meant "time to get a new coat.")

i short, somebody payed thousands of dollars for a jacket that a homeless man advised me to get rid of.
likewise, i'd be interested in his revisionist account of the avant-garde.

Monday, February 06, 2006


white noise:

first significant snow in Detroit so far this winter. i live at a fairly busy intersection and keep my shades down most of the time, but i have recently discovered that i have a pavlovian response to the following "snow sounds":

1. the thick sound of cold, dry wind blowing snow against my windows

2. the "beep beep beep" of a plow backing up

i find these sounds remarkably comforting, i think because when i was growing up in maine these were the sounds of "no school." if i heard snow blowing against my windows during the night, there was at least a 50% chance of getting, at rock bottom, a 90 minute delay. if i heard the plow backing up outside in the middle of the night, i was most certainly sleeping in.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Solid is the ceiling over my head:

"nor does the wild tempest rage the whole year long; for thee, too, trust me, there will be springtime yet."

- Lluis Marco i Dachs

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


i want to be:

lee miller by man ray


pay attention to this. very close attention.

Viktor Shklovsky, from "Knight's Move":

"Like air with raindrops, life is permeated with other lives, other worlds.
One wheel is turning and intersecting with another wheel. The machine is working in another machine.
This cannot be, yet it is. You know it yourself.
Twisted into another world, my wife lies there and sleeps, not knowing that I have committed an offense in a third world.

Our life is being woven on a strange loom. The threads in it crisscross.

When the fabric is taken from the loom, we see something strange: not the fabric and not something resembling a bridge and not something resembling an airplane, but a wheel working where there is already a wheel working at a different angle, like life, pierced by other lives, like air pierced by rain.

Perhaps our life itself is like rain piercing another life.

Solid is the ceiling over my head."

Shhhh... now you must say something in order to close the frame.

(photo: nick kilroy)


De-reifying documentary: the fotopis’ and “objectless art.”

‘Malevich’s use of the word "bespredmetnoe" here may be interpreted as a means to the deobjectification of aesthetics, that is, of art objects. This twist on the meaning of "bespredmetnyi" is facilitated by an ambiguity implicit in the word itself: Malevich slides from one sense of the root "predmet" – “representational subject matter” – to another – “a physical object.” Once Malevich made the transition from “subjectless” abstraction to “objectless” art, cinema…provided the conditions for what Adorno refers to as “de-reified activity…." “The artists …will also create a portrait of Lenin in the future,” which [Malevich] claimed “will convince the Leninist and he will accept it as a real fact….[The image] rises above the materialist plan of the action.”’ (181)

fotopis’ – a neologism, “photo-writing”; tactile, affective, laying hands on the document.

(From Tupitsyn, Margarita. “ After Vitebsk: El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich, 1924-1929.”)