7/19/05 - Outside Berkeley Espresso, a man walks by pushing a shopping cart filled with a garbage bag of cans and various other possessions. The back of his T-shirt reads: "T.E.A.M.: Together Everyone Achieves More."

Visual irony, hey! It's cheaper even than ideology. But the trouble is, I'm not sure what the irony here is. I guess it's my aristocratic university-student blinkers. More more more soon.

Less ambiguous message from a better cafe: the new Sufjan Stevens record sounds pretty damned good in here, although it might seem tragically overwrought if i brought it home and played it in my cool, dim, understated room which now SPORTS A BOOKSHELF. I'm sorry: it "sports a bookshelf." I have to stop using capital letters. Every time I talk so loud in person, I feel irritating. 10% of my book collection sits upon it, give or take -- but, also, this beautiful woman has to stop walking past my table and making me feel awful. That's right, right, you leave now -- you and your Ph.D. and your many published works and your car; er, I'm sorry, I meant -- but, also, my family confirms that I still have all the Borges in Spanish, Kafka in German, and Gravity's Rainbow, hidden in a box all this time. Will no one produce my old novels?

7/17/05 - Every day I WRITE THOUSANDS OF WORDS OF PROSE is a day I do not post anything here, although I want to say a few things -- maybe a lot of things -- about this post at the really excellent blog of an acquaintance from the old days. It's been in my head for the last few days -- the "aristocratic impulse" and "low-cost poverty tourism." But this may have to wait until I'm done writing, and all that.
7/15/05 - Every day I get up at 5 a.m. to get out of the house & to work in a timely fashion is a day I do not post anything here. Well, today excepted.
7/12/05 - Honestly, all that business posted yesterday: I had no intention of writing it when I sat down; I was going to write about the coffee.

ENVOI FROM DOWNTOWN: if I see one more woman in any print medium of any physical proportion frolicking in her underclothes, I shall begin to gibber.

Went to a bookstore, out of the desire I periodically have to wander among books -- this one was A Clean Well-Lighted Place... for Books, on Van Ness near the notion of the opera. Wonderful dangerous series out of Duke: readers in Latin American studies by country (scroll to bottom). I resisted. I resisted everything, in fact, although I thumbed through a book on Good and Evil by an ex-Buddhist monk (that is, he's not a monk, but he's still Buddhist, I think); a cheap edition of Peirce which duplicates my own preposterously-unread copy -- this is the sort of thing I like and need -- a Phaidon book of Louise Bourgeois, one of these modern artists I always worry that I like because it's solidly reactionary stuff -- reaction is often creepy, and Bourgeois is certainly that.


Anyway, the good-and-evil book made me gloomy and I figured odds were poor that it could change my life for the better. What's up with self-help books, really? It was then that I noticed the greeting cards: one card, with a hand-drawn flower and a handwriting font, assured me that I may not make a difference in the world at large but I certainly made a difference to that card. Why, thank you, little scrap: you make a difference too. Do I need a whole book to tell me that I'm all right? Will more than one sentence help?

The history shelves are decidedly less tonic -- it's amazing to me how much history publishing is a matter of the colonizers writing about the colonized, the colonized writing to the ex-colonizers, globetrotters of means and genial arrogance writing about everything like they jus' don't care. I'm happy to blame supply and demand -- people likely to read a lot of history books are either "the history buffs" -- your dad, your uncle, your maiden aunt, who love David McCullough and all wars and little vindications -- or people who get their ideas from Noam Chomsky and AK Press. (Separate, degenerate category for consumers of microhistories and "how a small Western nation belongs at the center of the world, in addition to providing some of your genes.") I feel that everyone should read a lot of history books; I have not been particularly good at doing this myself, but it's meant a lot to me when I have. But they have largely been written by Anglophone specialists -- academics, journalists, stodgy types -- and if there is a market for history books in translation it doesn't seem to have penetrated most booksellers I know, which seems crazy: why should knowledge stop at national, or linguistic, boundaries? I won't pretend disingenuously not to know why people read literature but not history in translation -- spoonfuls of treacle help the moral arguments go down, about dictatorship or privation or oppression or whatever. But it seems that most countries are getting their own parochial view of the outside world, that there isn't a lot of transfer on a substantial level. All of this only just now occurred to me, so if it sounds half-baked, it is.

Why, you ask me, have you still not read anything by Luisa Valenzuela? I don't know. Why have I not read every book ever written? Without exaggeration, why have I not read more than ten books in my life? Where are you now, little greeting card? How shall I proceed?

7/11/05 - Updated Bersani screed below; I think I moderated it adequately, but if you find any awful bits, please let me know. I ought to put comments on this site but it might take some work; maybe it's time to make a livejournal mirror or something.

This might be the book that finally convinces me to check out Julian Barnes: it looks terrific.

Yesterday, after after after after myriad impossible wonders, after a year in the Bay Area bringing the sharpest memories of my former homes into relief and legible form, I sat before my computer here and had a terrible epiphany: I need to write -- that is the thing I need to do with my life.

Some of you might have seen that coming months ago, or years ago, or when I was born or whenever. I have spent my whole life hoping it wouldn't come down to that. I learned very early, and very profoundly, that you can hardly find another trade in which success is so unlikely. But it is certain that I will spend the rest of my life as I have spent nearly all of it so far, writing extensively in whatever spare time I find and making sacrifices of money and professional advancement and so forth in its name, because it means that much to me just to do it. If I'm going to do all that, insisting that it isn't my real work or my vocation seems perverse, and I no longer see any benefit deriving from the disavowal. If I am going to write novels, they may as well be the best novels I can write, if not the best novels anyone can write. I am going to write novels.

This is awful.

My mother and father met in college; my mother was studying social work, my father English. They married and my mother got a job as a social worker with the county, and my father kicked around doing odd jobs like selling life insurance or electronics and started an M.A. he never finished, because he decided studying literature was not going to help him write it, and it was writing he wanted to do. My mother, who firmly believed (and still believes) that artists need to be supported in their work financially, and who loves her own non-artistic work, agreed to be the family breadwinner, and so it was. During much of my early childhood, until I was twelve, my mother worked and my father stayed home and cared for me and my sister and worked on primarily short stories, but one or two novels and a children's book which, as I mentioned somewhere below, he gave to me in serial form in my lunchbox. Our house was full of the Iowa Review and Pushcart Prize anthologies and the Best Short Stories of Year x and some magazine called The Writer which may or may not still be published. My father worked diligently and very, very slowly on his short stories and once a year, or every couple years or so, sent them out to magazines, a harrowing experience that almost always resulted in rejection. There were occasional complaints about money, but he found free-lance editing work and I knew his stories were good, I thought, just as I knew my stories would be good when I grew up and did the same thing, which it was always clear that I would do, which I never ever wanted to talk about with anyone because it was equally clear that it was an impossible job and no one would publish them and eventually, like my father, I would have to give it up and find a real job.

When I was 12 my father gave it up and found a real job teaching English to high school students -- actually a ten-year process, but it commenced when I was twelve. This was, ironically, the year he actually got a story published in a small midwestern review, but it was old news by then. I think I took the whole thing hard. I thought we were in this awful trade together, for the long haul; on family trips my mother would look at me staring out the car window with my eyes glazed over and, after I responded in monotones to a series of questions, would say: "you're working on a story, aren't you?" I don't think it's genetic, but if there was a point at which I made the critical part of the decision to be a writer -- to start writing and not stop -- it was before my memory really begins.

And for the same reason -- we balk at the notion that the child is father to the man -- I always thought something else would come along, I thought my fate would become clear to me as it does to people who didn't decide things that early. I thought I could have a public life and a private life and keep them separate, but it is far too much work to do that, as I have come to realize now that the years slip away and I am nearly as old as my parents were when they conceived me. I've spent the last year half in crisis, for various reasons (plenty of them, I hope, biochemical), wondering if this life is worth living at all, if what I do has any meaning or force behind it. The things I do with meaning and force behind them -- writing, critique, une vie integre -- are what there is to do; there's no answer beyond it. I can cower before the challenge of practicality, but I can't hide from the question; the answer has always been given.

7/8/05 - I've hit a wall. I have hit a wall, but I can't see it, so I keep hitting it.

This is where I lay out the row of quotation marks, to cleverly indicate that I have nothing to say but feel the need to talk. But I remember this situation being much, much worse than it is now, and I think I'd better try to say something. The sky over south Berkeley is bright blue and beautiful; a tree near to me in south Berkeley is bright green and equally beautiful. I am going to have to work so hard next year that my knuckles bleed. I have to find the wall and take it down; I must swing the rumored wrecking ball with all my strength. DID YOU KNOW

that the view as the bus heads into Treasure Island of the east and north and south Bay and the city has many messages for you? They include:


So, every day, in the midst of it all, here I am, and at least half the time I am even capable of scintillating discussion of various things.

7/7/05 - The bombings in London have left me nauseated, and I wasn't sure it was appropriate to post this long-form response to a book of lit crit I didn't like, but I wrote it before the news came in and I don't think anyone is checking this site for daily moral guidance. If you are, let me know and I'll tell you what to think about terror! In the meantime, a book I didn't like.

In my sometime capacity as metameat's fact-checking cuz, I decided to see for myself what Leo Bersani had to say about Ulysses and "heteronormativity" before I began spewing banalities about the state of literary studies. I'm not in grad school yet and I wasn't a particularly patient or rigorous undergrad, but in less than two months I will be formally expected to follow certain protocols of respectful, measured, substantial debate and discourse, and even as a last hurrah I didn't really feel like writing ad nauseam about a topic I really don't get, placing some straw-man anti-modernist player-hater in the path of my ambivalent vindication of the Recent Canon. So in place of the straw man, Bersani, who I'm pretty sure is not unique in his line of attack, his methods, his targets, etc. I feel comfortable using the "attack/targets" language here, moreover, because he begins the book in question, The Culture of Redemption, by calling it "a frankly polemical study of claims made in the modern period for the authoritative, even redemptive, virtues of literature;" he's not interested "in a thorough, and thoroughly scholarly, tracing of the genealogy of the culture of redemption," and he "confesses" to practicing "a kind of moral criticism," other sorts having left him cold.

In any case the essay on Ulysses is called "Against Ulysses," and I couldn't find much talk in it about "Penelope" or heteronormativity, or gender -- he's mostly interested in the novel's "encyclopedic" character and demonstrating that the whole book is a ruse for a sneakily reactionary, father-centered worldview. Oh, and lest I leave you in suspense, my conclusion: the essay is garbage. I gave it a fair chance. I read it. I didn't read the whole book because my time is worth some quantity of money, but I read enough to realize that he means it: the man is against Ulysses.

But let me back up: in earlier chapters, we see Proust through the lens of Melanie Klein and the theory of sublimation, we learn that writing pretty things won't erase past crimes (more reference to psychoanalysis, the anal character etc.), and with regard to "literature and history" we are informed that Bataille's Le Bleu du ciel has "the courage to leave us with the wholly undeveloped -- but possibly precious -- suggestion that spasmodic irony may be the beginning of political and cultural realism." (I didn't bother to see what he did to the other subject of that discussion, Andre Malraux -- if you need Andre Malraux to make Bataille look good...)

According to my progressively sketchier notes, he points scored against Ulysses are as follows:

  • the novel's "innovative power" does not lie "in a questioning or breakdown of traditional novelistic assumptions about personality." There are characters in the book; they are pretty solid characters; you get to know them fairly well. I think this is where the case for heteronormativity belongs, if it's anywhere, but for the most part he seems to shake his finger in the direction of the "common people" (Flann O'Brien's "plain people of Ireland" spring to mind) and note their uncritical attachment to "Poldy and Molly."
  • the novel hypnotizes certain narratologists "obsessed" with point-of-view questions, but this is all beside the point for Bersani, because the constantly shifting narrative voices constitute a "strategic centering of the narrator's authority."
  • Joyce really wants to tell you how you ought to read this book! He's got a pretty clear idea of how you ought to read this book: formal schemata and everything! This evinces "dependence on a community of comprehension;" it's not an open work, so there are more authority problems.
  • something I did not transcribe about it being the most devoted novel ever to the authority of the father. Another argument I didn't transcribe and wasn't completely able to follow suggesting that Joyce was effectively chewing up Dublin and spitting it out to transcend the anxiety of historical influence, which is apparently a bad thing to do.
  • "Even in writing 'against Ulysses,'" Bersani concludes, "we can only feel a great sadness in leaving it -- to stop working on Ulysses is like a fall from grace." I don't know where to begin with that. I suppose the crux of the problem with this book, and perhaps with this mode of criticism in general, is the use of the "we" when he means "I;" call it the collective fallacy? The psychoanalytic framework seems chosen to bolster arguments stemming from this fallacy: because this is how "we" all develop, with our Oedipal conflicts and anal temperaments, it is reasonable to talk about how "we" read books -- whereas it is unreasonable for an author to try even suggestively, with fiction, to wield that "we" albeit ironically. But where's the irony in this awful final sentence? Are we to pity the critic, weakened by sorrow in his battle with Ulysses? Is it some kind of tragedy that "we" can't derive a new sociohistoricopolitical ethics from this novel?

The predominant mode of engagement here for me was disbelief. I have heard all these tall tales about literary critics who think writers are charlatans and the better they write, the worse they are -- there's no reason to believe anyone actually says this, that anyone who has devoted his life to the study of literature would argue that it is Awful Stuff. But this book...

I will say that I think polemics can be beneficial in academia and elsewhere, but they should always be written in a baroque tone of high disdain and not masquerade as scholarly work -- they should be fun to read, cool, slightly Nietzschean, never choking on their authors' investment in the institutions under attack. I don't think many scholarly polemics follow that model at all. This one is neither fish nor fowl, too doctrinaire to be iconoclastic and too packed with sweeping rhetoric to be professional (not the correct word, but it's late and I can't find a better one).

I hesitate to damn his thesis completely because I didn't read the book -- I'm perfectly willing to believe that the Ulysses essay was the low point, but it kept me from bothering with the rest. Neither my stalwart friend nor his interlocutor should give Bersani-on-Ulysses another thought, anyway -- there must easily be fifty better books on Joyce to hit first (including The Years of Bloom, which I tried to read whilst I was working for these fine people). As far as that thesis goes, though: is it a dangerous, destructive, delimiting, dysfunctional proposition to hold that art can be redemptive? Its possible roles are limited: it can be a gadfly, a tool, an ironic and ambiguous performance of various things. As a cultural institution of redemption, as an allegorical system, an amplifier for slipshod fantasies and ill-conceived shorthand for meaningful personal struggles, it's possible that art does some damage, but you'll never pin it down concretely. So what good is the polemic, if it never can go any further? Again, Bersani grounds his argument in psychoanalysis, as effective an application of psychoanalysis to real people's lives and problems as is administering vitamins through the soles of your shoes. Don't deceive yourselves, he seems to say, we are still in hell, though art may build a heaven in the flames. But this deception can't be sustained by anyone for long -- we're all equally burnt -- so why write volumes on the danger of literature? The danger to whom? There is indeed a world out there, and we do owe it something more than being "against Ulysses."

7/5/05 - I just had the fun experience of looking for various books, and failing to find any of them, for two hours. Not in my room, alas, but in the world. My room is not the world. The converse, however...

Here's what I need:

Hell. I will never answer that question until I can put a goose egg at the end. The non-goose-egg answer, right now, has finally come down to Berkeley and San Francisco being closer. Closer! Berkeley and San Francisco are not far. We could drain the Bay and fold Oakland up, and that might do something, but I need the goose egg. The golden null. Here is food, for I know I must eat, although I wish too this were not so. Food got from the world, the consuming polis -- somehow there's shame in that, that I beg even at the high end, that I cannot or do not provide. I exemplify precisely none of the virtues, at present, that will nonetheless not heal the polis. I have no home, I will never get home, Aristotle would write me off.

Also, this ass-kissing PR bullshit makes me never want to ride BART again. I know this has never been a union town, to put it mildly, but ugh. "We sincerely apologize. Sincerely, BART." I have done what I can to suppress that grumbling radical tendency (borne of living in the places I've lived?), because it has never made me any friends and gave me a lot of crummy nights and didn't uplift anyone -- I was reasonably happy to see it go -- but so help me God, I don't want to waft off to progressive fairyland out here, believing the delicious organic wine and nice fair trade handbags and academic radicalism are keeping me in touch with the people somehow. (All right -- I've never had organic wine, I only get handbags as gifts, and about Homi Bhabha I shall be silent, but I think the point stands.)

Well, the chili has done me good, even if you don't see its evidence here. Now to haul my Telecommutin' Laptop and my Sorry Online Whinin' Laptop jointly home, wherever that is.

7/4/05 - The revelation of the stranger at Le Zinc, obviously, was that he didn't think much of MacIntyre at all. Well, I finished After Virtue, having diligently waited to see if he thought there was any way to reach a moral consensus in our society, and there right at the end was the line "There is no way to reach a moral consensus in our society." Damn it! "But," he continues, in paraphrasis, "I have the best theory so far of how we might possibly reach one in some society."

The book doesn't come close to being anything more than a suggestion, and he acknowledges as much -- I haven't heard anything about the follow-up volume, and his name didn't come up much in my philosophical circles, for what I assume are the obvious reasons. I want to write something more considered and thorough than the usual treatment here, but coming home after yet another weekend away has left me pretty disheartened: if I don't spend any time at home, when I get home all I have time to do is clean and rearrange things and be stupefied by the amount of stuff I own, why I own it, what I ought to do with it all -- I'm always getting reacquainted before it's time to run off again for some engagement or another -- and thus nowhere I've lived this year, or last year, has come to seem in any way like "home." They're just rented rooms. I think about real estate and weep.

Now my housemates/hosts are watching TV and I realize that my objection to TV is not even as complex as "there's nothing on" or "I hate commercials" or "I think it brainwashes people" -- I am just badly noise averse. Rarely listen to the radio either. In fact I don't play CDs at home particularly often; I value silence and stillness to a remarkable extent. I'm not sure why this is, but it's kept me from having the slightest idea of what's hip on the Cartoon Network these days. I guess it means I'm harder to bore than the average -- but you probably guessed that by now.

7/2/05 - Die neue Gluecklichkeit (mit Miranda und einige Mitfühlender:

Slept in, got up, walked down 24th St. in search of breakfast eggs: I miss Nora's in Palo Alto, where you could bring your laptop and sit as long as you wanted and have excellent coffee and good pastries and anything else you desired, no crowd, no b.s. beyond the Smooth Jazz on the stereo & risk of missing yr train. This is probably why I chose Le Zinc, for its Frenchness and calm -- I sat down, pulled out my copy of After Virtue, ordered the eggs florentine, all good. Then the man two seats down leaned over and asked what I was reading.

Me: Moral philosophy.

He: Yes, but what is it? (I showed him.) Ah. I met Alasdair MacIntyre several decades ago. Do you get a sense of his voice from this book?

Me: Of what he's driving at? I'm deliberately trying to filter it out and take each claim on its own merits.

He: That's probably smart. Have you read Paul Ricoeur?

Me: Alas, no.

He: Try that.

More exchange: are-you-a-professor, no-I'm-a-student, what-do-you-do, when-do-you-finish, etc. Back and forth on the Germans: he likes Broch and Mann, he's never read Musil ("the great unknown"). I asked him if he teaches.

He: No, I'm a writer. I mean, everyone is a writer, but I actually make a living at it. A modest living.

I smiled, acutely aware of the continuing deafness in my left ear (it's been a week on this thing -- what the hell? It's probably going to snap open again at the worst possible time and scare me to death, but for now I have had a pleasant floaty sense of being underwater. Floating underwater? Never mind). Didn't ask for his name, didn't ask if he came often to Le Zinc, didn't follow up -- I'm shy -- but I do enjoy the competitive side of those conversations more than almost anything, the drawing of momentary battle lines, the quick changes, the improv. I walked up 24th street grinning, up to the closing sale for the Italian designer-clothes shop where I found a charming flouncy black dress for $10 (!), for those rare evenings when I'm compelled to dress in female drag. Up that street between Church and Sanchez, whatever it is, to the top of the hill on 22nd, I looked out over the sungilt hills, shining blue and gold, and for a moment I felt as beautiful as the city -- awesome, awesome city! I wished for all my friends at my side, that I might show them all everything I've found here, with a sweep of my hand taking in the hills of the East Bay and Marin and the glittering water, etc.

--> 7/1/05 - Critique of the everyday web journal. Ideology must be dragged out by the tail like a rat, etc. We and our ferrets: we'll find it. Our mongeese. Pounce!

I could do nothing but repeat L's stories here: a little cat caught hawks and laid them at her door in south Georgia. Even with this huntress in the house, Diana, she abjures meat and tells of mythic protein bars of the South flavored not with fake caramel but salt and peppers. Peppers! English, she says, is the most beautiful language -- not the latinate words but the old Anglo-Saxon words -- maybe you don't understand. But I do: they fit in the damndest slots.

I have to write. Passed on pinon incense: for my new place, when the new place is mine -- but pine smells like heaven, evergreen.

This morning, on NPR: all the troops in Iraq are making tremendous sacrifices for our country, for the war effort. What sacrifices have you made lately for the war effort?

Man on street: I don't drive as much.

What sacrifices have I made? I consider. I thought faith in the democratic process, any hope of the nation's continued financial solvency, expecting a single damned thing to be done about global warming in this country, meaningful political discourse, [...]

You get the picture. Apparently that's not enough -- we ought to be collecting cans. I wonder exactly how many news stories can be got out of two themes: The War On Terror Is Not Vietnam, and The War On Terror Is Not World War II. Surely no one would cling to these ideas tightly were they not reinforced by negation.

6/29/05 - Sorry if the page was down briefly; directory reconfigurations afoot, I had no time online, etc. The upstairs neighbors finally got wise and password-protected their network, so all I could do last night was read Ulysses.

At work a terrible thing is happening: my co-worker is convincing me that I need to visit Brazil. She left early to catch the football match between Brazil and Argentina and should come to work happy; for my part, I'm glad that you can kick some soccer ass even if your name is Kaka.

There also turns out to be an Oktoberfest in Brazil. The main event in Blumenau is huge and filled with tourists, but if you don't care for crowds you can venture over to "Brusque" and "Joinville." Yes: "Joinville, Brazil." And here is a short history of Americana, near Sao Paulo. "The religious cults were also conducted by American priests; in 1895, a Presbiterian Church was founded in the village." (Peculiarly, all the ad links I see on the page concern grief, end-of-life issues and "feeling utterly helpless.") My co-worker also swears that it's easy to get by as a vegetarian in Brazil, at least in Rio, and her descriptions of the country.... oh... I don't know Portuguese, however, and I also don't have the sense God gave a newt (Br. Port. = "anza")* when it comes to not trying to pick up new languages.

* False. I hope.

6/27/05 - Options for blog entries these days seem to hover around three themes:

- how (yes, really) political discourse in this country is fucked, and a few relatively fresh observations about the effects

- a litany of dissatisfaction culminating in some dire pronouncement or other

- reviews of books and movies

These are all murder to write, for diverse reasons. I don't extemporize very well on topics of general interest, and I can never contain option (b) within manageable levels of woe. ("Blah blah blah buses don't come blah blah blah Postal Service on cafe stereo blah blah blah all hope dies but it limps along for a record fucking time really blah blah taking the blog down again; fuck you all." Etc.)

Someone took the movie meme bait, to my surprise and joy, but this is a question I would much rather see other people answer -- to the first question, how many films I see in a typical year, I'd have to say that a) I've never had a typical year, and b) I don't think that number has ever broken 20. (This isn't quite as shameful as the year when the only album I bought was Sigur Ros' Agaetis Byrjun. At least I think it was the only album -- the Wire album came out before their 2000 tour, right? Or was that 2001?)

But fair's fair. Last film seen at home -- well, at pseudo-home: The Aviator, reviewed below.

At a theater: Kontroll. Pontificate about the uniquely Eastern European character of this, or about "emerging cinema," and I will at least race you through the Budapest subway tunnels and make you yell "I hate mitteleuropaeische hipster crap!" the whole time, after which you will have to read Arthur Phillips' fine novel Prague OUT LOUD where I can't hear you.

Last seen and hated: I have to say, it's incredible that I don't remember. I hate with relish and vigor. The sole crummy answer I can give to this is that I couldn't sit through Animal Crackers, for whatever reason, but that's unsatisfying somehow. Well, Cold Mountain's pretty lousy, but I think I've done that one justice.

I know I should see: more than 20 films a year. I don't know that I could cut this list off at a hundred. But to throw a name out, I guess, The Rules of the Game.

Three films I love:

This is always the hard part. Can I make 'em all Hungarian? Okay.

Werckmeister Harmonies, Bela Tarr, as everyone knows who knows me: saw it at Chicago film festival, shook Tarr's hand, exalted and transformed enough to sit, I kid you not, through seven and a half hours of Satantango without having eaten a thing all day, which was exalting and transformative in quite a different way.

Land of Angels, Gyorgy Revesz. Based on a novel by Lajos Kassak, crown prince of the magyar avant-garde (the Eight, the Activists, I don't remember), one of these tense films about an uprising from which no obvious change derives. Magnificent. But you'll have to take my word for it, unless New York comes through -- New York occasionally does come through. I don't know if it's truly worth ordering from the linked site, even if you can -- my taste... well, you know how my taste works. If you don't, it works along the following rule of thumb: "you will hate what I like."

The Red and the White, Miklos Jancso. King of the wide-angle shot. My ex and viewing companion loathed this film: "Here's The Red and the White: 'Go over there. Take your shirt off. Go over there. Take your shirt off.'" Bah. It's sublime. Jancso's sometime wife Marta Meszaros was also a filmmaker and made an endearing feminist (well, for Hungary) flick called "The Girl," which isn't in this league, quite, but I liked it quite a bit and it was a very welcome corrective to the crushing gender bias of the Eastern European avant-garde... oh no... now I have to chase myself through the Budapest subway tunnels chanting, and I was hoping the site wouldn't get like that again.

Successors? I have to think about this; I want to see people who make films, or are deeply invested in film as a medium, reply, but I need to consider this. Tomorrow.

Furthermore: Oh my god I finished a book finally: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Now I'm halfway through After Virtue, which I started and should have finished five years ago -- it might have spared me some anguish.

6/26/05 - Scenes from the Mountain Goats show:

Bottom of the Hill is a phenomenally awesome performance space in cool blue Potrero Hill, where your author is pretending not to look for apartments (a good reason to be given soon). The show begins at 10. Sarah Dougher opens. Author has panic attack and leaves venue briefly, comes back to hear last 20 seconds of favorite Sarah Dougher song, to be followed by zero other favorite Sarah Dougher songs. Well then.

Next up: "the Double" "from New York." Author, to companion: "Uh-oh. They look like a cross between [terrible opening band from show in January] and [terrible opening band from show in May]." Predictive power of observation proves uncanny. The world makes it far too easy for companion and author to be grumpy sometimes, and they try to resent it.

Mountain Goats appear at midnight. Crowd instantly begins shrieking song titles. There's a lot of "No Children!!" but also a lot of "T-shirt Sonnnngggg!", which Darnielle studiously ignores. Finally he says, "Okay. I know you want to hear the T-shirt song, but you can't, because I know you all got something over your peer-to-peer networks called 'T-Shirt Song' which just wasn't a song -- it was an ad lib, and it can't happen again." Guy in audience, without breaking stride: "'T-Shirt Ad Lib!!!!'"

The set is great, but too short and surprisingly light on tracks from the new record. (I think they did three from "We Shall All Be Healed," still my favorite.) The Double's drummer gamely shows up for pinch-hitting on "Palmcorder Yajna" and redeems his band a little. First encore: Terror Song. Crowd roils. They close with a very moving "Lion's Teeth" and disappear; howls follow. "NO CHILDREN!!!!" Second encore ("Okay, I'm going to play one more song, and then I'm going to go home and go to bed and you're going to go home and go to bed"): "No Children." In a roomful of people screaming the chorus I start to worry about the state of our souls.

Turns out, as always, that I should have been worrying about the buses instead. Let it be said that we got home safely and nothing bad happened. Let it also be said that a neighborhood in which reliance on Muni buses is de rigueur is a neighborhood of cool blue sunny hilly heartbreak, no matter how lovely. Fear, desire, desire, fear, and the philosophy thesis I meant to write my sophomore year: "Why Don't The Buses Come?"

Why don't the buses come to Potrero Hill? These routes are its only friends; the Metro eschews it, the highways embrace it; it grows to towering heights devouring bicycles and knees. It must be replete with telecommuters and artists, who drive the rents up. West lies the Mission, and reason. But the quiet studio over the 101 I visited in May has haunted me for weeks.

6/21/05 - Right, so, we saw Spoon and they played Wire's "Lowdown" as an encore, and a certain member of my party became very giddy. They seemed like good guys, endearingly stoked to be playing two sold-out shows at the Fillmore -- at the show's end the bass player told them to turn up the house lights, as many as they could, and held up a video camera as we held up our hands, "for posterity."

The Clientele opened. At some point I became nostalgic for my copy of Submarine Bells, and the set dragged on interminably past that point.

How did I get through the day-after? Cappuccino, coffee, pseudoephedrine, my friends -- that's how. "Mr. Your On Fire Mr." fought "I Turned My Camera On" for supremacy in my head. Big week: Mountain Goats Friday, Bottom of the Hill. Hill Hill Hill. At work we love Ultralingua, which tells me a "potrero" is a paddock, a pasture for colts, or a tender of colts. Not romantic or sweeping, really, but just how do you get to be "a tender of colts"? What do you do? Oh, you know, I take care of the baby horses. That's not anyone's job. Spanish, you lie.

6/20/05 - I don't know if I can wrap up my full review of The Aviator, but I can, by request, tell you what I think of Leonardo DiCaprio:

I like him. I'm not saying he can act, but he is remarkably consistent, which is a rare quality. Because I'm neither an actor nor a connoisseur of movie stars, I've never felt able to judge acting in cinema (or in theatre; I know enough to say that the woman who played Catherine in the performance of "Proof" I saw was a flaming disaster, but I'd only sound like an idiot if I tried to tell you what makes a performance any good -- though I'm sure screaming all your lines is a uniformly bad tactic). The idea with Hollywood mostly seems to be to show attractive people in flattering lights and give them some moderate acting challenges, or construct an interesting show around them, which is fine. DiCaprio knows how to do roughly three things: look cocky, look petulant, or pursue some task intently. You know he's never going to deviate from any of them, so it's like watching an ingenious small system of pulleys and levers fail amusingly to move large objects and succeed shakily in moving small ones: it confirms one's assumptions about the physical world. I'm sure if someone went through DiCaprio's oeuvre and replaced him, in every picture, with a giant rubber duck, none of the films would suffer much, but that's what makes him great.

Clearly Scorsese wanted with this to make a Big Picture, after no one but me enjoyed Gangs of New York, and made the obvious and deadly choice of patterning it on Citizen Kane. Well, DiCaprio is not Orson Welles -- I thought he gave a fine performance in Gangs of NY as a frightened, outmatched kid, for whom three facial expressions are more than adequate -- but they didn't even bother to age him in this production, for one thing -- In 1947 he looks just as he did in 1927, which can't be consistent with reality. Scorsese also adopts a stylized palette, probably more impressive on the big screen than at home, which only adds to the slick unreality of the production: the story of a life told in tropes and symbols. It looks great, of course. For that matter it didn't much shake my conviction that he's one of the few directors justifying the existence of ridiculously expensive, aesthetically superfluous films (Spielberg is another, but the list is short). But the whole thing clearly builds towards the last scene, in which DiCaprio intones, in the throes of an OCD/Tourette's fit: "the way of the future... the way of the future..." I badly wanted it to be as profound as he meant it to be -- I could half see it, but half ain't enough.

I think my problem is that I'm still and always a sucker for ambitious failures done in good faith -- if you're going to be a misanthrope and a cynic, you'd better be fucking good, but if you really are a dreamer, if you want to make a great rock album or recreate the golden age of cinema or write lyric poetry, you've got more heart than I, and I salute you -- I'm stuck somewhere between Jaques and the Tin Man, chopping down Arcady in despair.

6/19/05 - Under my given name I am still "ungoogl-able," it appears, but I have total hegemony as the avatar of the Yellow-Billed Magpie. This is probably not good: if any schoolchildren in Santa Barbara happen across this website in their search for biology report fodder, they'll all find out about Zeitgeist, and when it comes time to put my heart on the scales I will pay for that.

Incidentally, does anyone know how June came to be 2/3rds finished? This is totally unacceptable. I haven't got anything done, I'm starting school in two months, rumor has it that I'm not immortal yet, and I'm getting sleepy. Back, tide!

6/17/05 - Feeling all right? We can fix that.
6/16/05 - lauren says she's read the worst book ever? Well, maybe, but once again (cf. 12/21), I'm pretty terrified of the idea that anything might beat out Zeitgeist -- seriously. If worse books than that can get published, I am going right back to the kiosk-in-the-park plan and binding my own work in clean, soft, hateful organic linen. Fuckin' Zeitgeist.

Oh, man, this is totally Coldplay on the stereo -- everything converges. LUNCH OVER.

6/15/05 - Today was not a good day. It's immensely comforting to think that, five years hence, I won't remember why, and I'm hoping the same is true in five hours. Judging the worthiness of any life in this state of mind is just garbage.

I get to change. I have to, of course, but I also -- it's the best gift anyone could give me, even five more hours of living, just to see what happens next --

like, some calcium might come along. I almost managed to buy some yogurt and chocolate, prophylaxis and naive undying hope, but at the last minute I looked at the counter and at my wallet and thought: is this really what I'm reduced to? I walked up Divisadero scowling: something was meant to happen, I am sure, other than my catching the wrong train and the wrong bus and ending up at the wrong cafe at the wrong time at the wrong point in the pay cycle with the headphones tangled in ridiculously baroque knots -- I should have read something or written something or sat in a park looking at the flowers, but I read the stilted dialogue I had written in this maddening short story so close to being, I feel, good, and asked myself if I'd ever heard people talk that way and remembered when I was young and noble and naive I wrote as close as I could to observation, which is what everyone who is any good at all does. Also some hacks, I'll grant you that -- but nothing good is inferential.

I harbor a secret hope that writing major academic papers will alchemically improve my fiction, and an even more secret hope that the reverse will somehow be true.

Damn it, it still feels weird and terrible to post about my writing. I really don't know how the incipient ambition colliding with the impossibly high standards is going to work out in the end, that is, I don't know if I can summon enough bravado to show anyone any of it without collapsing in remorse and humiliation as soon as the hapless readers politely point out that the story doesn't have much of an ending, the main character is not entirely believable or sympathetic, the love scene in the middle is stilted although the alienation and argument both work exceedingly well, they're not really sure what the point was, and they find that plant imagery (which I hadn't noticed) flawed yet enticing -- in other words, many things that have been said about fiction since time immemorial but which still feel, to me, like completely damning indictments of my lack of virtue and character and reason enough to quickly and noisily give the whole business up.

Oh, hey! It's nearly Bloomsday.

My god, I am tired.

6/14/05 - Calcium and Vitamin D might help alleviate PMS symptoms. I think "everyone" knew this already -- I've noticed coffee, which vexes calcium uptake somehow, makes things rather worse -- but if you appreciate confirmation from oddly-designed studies, there you go. Other things that help: chocolate, nice weather, not having a damn thing to do, drinking plenty of water, running, recording an album, no bike gear problems, no computer performance problems, painting, prayer/meditation, dance, yoga, and not keeping a journal, most of which was demonstrated in a single longitudinal study charting, in a departure from orthodoxy, the systematic omission of nearly all of them. You know what they say: "it can't hurt to try."


It grows late. I need an extension on the weekend. I found an inexplicable, horrible list of comp lit program rankings in which half the schools I figured I could stand to attend showed up near the bottom, bested by sites in North Carolina and Illinois -- decided if it's really such a crapshoot, I might as well go to the University of Pleasant Cafes Near Dog-Eared Books in the Mission for five years*. Maybe the best thing is to run some sort of regression with the best Spanish lit programs, the best German lit programs, and (maybe) the best philosophy programs, and of course come out with Stanford, Yale, Princeton and Harvard at the top and be no further ahead really. Five years in North Carolina? I don't think I could do it, and I'm sure no one I know could do it.

I couldn't figure out how the frightening list was generated, however, or what it was supposed to measure. I tried searching the ACLA site for a better list and came up empty-handed (no surprise, I guess), although I did find the BEST CONFERENCE EVER: scroll down to October 2005.

I really hope this all becomes clearer when I get to school; I know I'm slightly ahead of myself here, but certain notions like "you would be much better off professionally going to UNC-Chapel Hill than to Berkeley" have an uncanny power to terrify me -- especially when the payoff is "a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse," which no matter what status the tenure track holds in academia would serve as proof to 99% of the people I have known in my life that I have completely, utterly failed.

* pure fiction, not a nickname -- but I bet we can get some seed money to start one. And I really don't love coffee that much; in fact I was about to delete all of this but figured the amusing turn of phrase would outlast my integrity, as always.

6/13/05 - My mom's in town through early Wednesday; today we celebrated her birthday, and life in general, by paying a visit to the Essig Museum of Entomology at Berkeley. Why, you say, I wish I'd thought of that when my mom was in town! --and perhaps you would have, had your great-grandfather been an avid lepidopterist and had his collection donated posthumously to the University. As it turns out they don't keep the collections intact, so we called my grandmother to get a decent set of species names (she remembered, reasonably well, quite a few) and walked through astounding waves of fumes to inspect a few sphinx moths which may or may not have been picked up by the man himself. Sphinx moths are lovely. So are Steller's jays, which had been regrettably scarce since my first visit to campus in 1/04, but a charming individual showed up to wish my mother many happy returns as we left the museum.

Now and then I remember that not everyone knows everything about corvids. That ought to change. The Steller's jay in this picture lives in Yosemite; it is the provincial bird of British Columbia; it goes where it knows best, everywhere West; when I die I will come back as one.

I have been virtuous beyond belief in omitting any mention of the amazing bike in my house, the fact that it is for sale, the rock-bottom asking price, that its frame geometry is almost identical to Guitar's, and so forth. I was doing pretty well for a week or so; then, last night, unable to sleep, I thrashed around and stared at the ceiling and thought, you know how everyone has the five amazing deals they passed on, and how they talk about them until they're 80? Where's the better bike you're expecting to find? Damn it! It's a Colnago; it weighs 18 pounds. I am half doomed. One of these days I'm sure it will roll through the door and jump in bed and lick my face or something, until I buy it. That's how these things tend to go. If I ever move in with someone selling an early-80s 190D for a song, I know I'll be completely fucked.

6/11/05 - Didn't mean for that to be all I posted yesterday, but I've been frantic, running all over & entertaining -- have now a brief period of time to myself, to charge the iPod and clean my bed off and distinguish black shirts from black cat (noise, if nothing else, is diagnostic).

All's well. All's hell. All's terrible, all's magnificent, the best ever, as bad as: this has been the story, the motif, of the last year.

I think, I can see the goal, just barely, and then I think, there aren't any goals, and if there are you can't see them.

What of these radiant days? What will last of them? You don't really ask that question, and if you do you certainly don't ask it in that breaking stentorian tone of voice. Come on, be serious. If "be less serious" is a better way to get there for you, do that.

So, I had a plan and it completely came to nothing, as you know: I moved out here to start preparing for med school, and I gave it up and quit the job that was supposed to help me in order to study literature instead. Consequential, certainly, as decisions go. It made sense. It still does, certainly, as decisions go. But a wild swing; I took months to get past the vertigo.

I briefly had a mildly balanced life, or so it felt: it was dull, but goddamn it, everything plodded along without collapsing. I never managed the controlled burn; I fell asleep as the prairie lit up around me, woke up and rolled like fury till I got to the edge, watched the whole thing go: at least I'm not cold, at least it's not cold here, at least I'm not cold here -- eventually it spends itself, and what remains? --

not in that tone of voice, not the damned lyric. YOU UNDERSTOOD ONCE -- NOW UNDERSTAND AGAIN. These dialectics, hedging yr bets -- YOU COULD SPEAK, YOU HAD A VOICE ONCE, FIND IT AGAIN. You cannot live otherwise.

6/10/05 - As of today, all boring discussion of coffee has moved.
6/9/05 - I was preparing for another vigorous round of vocational self-abasement when along came the book meme -- almost twice before breakfast -- so the bloodbath will be postponed. All right then. My books and I!

Total number of books I own: I counted them last summer and came up with about 550, after a ruthless library reduction to allow me to move -- there was a box at home I missed, and, er, I live in the Bay Area now so there have been a couple of purchases, one or two, since then. So certainly more than 600 altogether. This is the smallest number I've seen anyone post, although if you think it's laughably small, you're welcome and encouraged to help me move them all up a steep staircase this weekend. A more impressive figure: total number of bookcases, one. It's not very big. For a while a lot of books were migrating into my bed; we began calling it "The Bedleian Library."

Last bought: I think the last run was to the European bookstore in SF, where I got three things: Los cuadernos de Juan Rulfo (!! for a mint, but it was worth it), Musil's Die Schwaermer, and a recording of someone reading Elfriede Jelinek to improve my oral German comprehension, which is dirt-poor. (My comprehension, that is, not Jelinek or the recording -- I hear she's doing okay these days, actually. I've been having trouble with antecedents all night.) I believe I was also granted partial ownership of a copy of Goethe's Faust.

Last read, last finished: not sure what the distinction is here -- I'm in the middle of twenty things, but I think the last book I finished was Within a Budding Grove some time ago. I have more trouble finishing books than anyone I've ever met -- I don't know what it is that gets me to the end, other than a sense that I actually get the argument of the book completely, which is very rare. Lately moving and writing and working have monopolized my mental energies, though I've been proceeding slowly through Invisible Man and reading Stevie Davies' fine study of Emily Bronte, Emily Bronte: Heretic, for fun, oh and also just today Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, which I've been meaning to read for a while and which came with the house -- very flat cold technical prose, reads like notes to a book not written, but as a first novel trying to encapsulate an entire life, or world, I find her approach more congenial than the myriad elegiac, diffuse efforts by people in similar circumstances. I MIGHT FINISH IT. We'll see.

Five books that mean a lot to me:


Oh boy. Questions requiring the faculty of judgment rather than observation are usually out of bounds for me -- I can give little histories of my experience of a book or a record or a movie, but to conclude that it "means something to me," and to pick five that are somehow representative? I can try, but I'll take it all back in a matter of days. People seem to be throwing out childhood favorites, or books encountered at significant times. So, all right -- off the top of my head, and without belaboring the details, let's say:

  • Cynthia Voigt, A Solitary Blue
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
  • T.S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays
  • Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina
  • The book (which does not technically exist) of all of my father's short stories and the novel he wrote for me in page-long installments, each tucked into my lunch bag when I was 8. (More on this at some point.)

A list of fifty would actually be easier -- maybe I'll try that next. Five other people: hell, I don't know. M.S., you certainly need to 'fess up; anyone else at right who hasn't done it is implicitly encouraged to contribute. It would rock the house if Ms. Lauren K. would testify, but odds are slim. Also: this has been done with music and books, as I have seen. How about film? I'd be very curious.

6/8/05 - While I consider the vexing book questions, one for Miranda: vivid dreams while listening to NPR. We were hanging out at the nice West Berkeley pad of a clever and erudite academic who was discoursing on something-or-other; I thought to say, "You know, you speak so well, you really ought to be on the radio -- the things you say are so polished that they almost sound scripted!" Then I wasn't sure if that was a backhanded compliment sure to throw me forever out of the guy's good graces, and I held my tongue. Later, I banged out the beginnings of a punk song on air guitar: "You wish the modern world would leave you alone! Well, that's all it's ever gonna do! That's what it's desiiiiiigned for!" I couldn't quite make it rhyme; I think there's a lesson here about reading Greil Marcus' liner notes while you're falling asleep. The last part of the dream was a Porsche ad: Porsches are very quiet inside, and none of the passengers smile, but they have nice shoes, and they dream about being outside the Porsche.
6/6/05 - And did you see "The Case Against Coldplay"? And this review of an odd novel about Schroedinger? Also: some time ago I discussed my lack of knowledge of hip-hop. This room I'm renting includes a small library of hip-hop CDs, so I should be able to get a quick, free education in the genre; I'll let you know how it goes.
6/5/05 - I want you all to know that I have been toying with updates, new formatting, long essays of various kinds, and I have not posted any of it because every single day I found myself writing about coffee.

I can't deal with it. It must be possible to be a more interesting person than that, even if it hasn't happened yet. The Moral Obligation to Be Interesting.

It may interest you to know that I finally moved to San Francisco yesterday. Sleater-Kinney were in town to greet me. Today's welcome mat was the "six block" journey to a little organic grocery on 19th and something, possibly Castro: this is in fact six blocks of city grid plus two vertical blocks of hill. My bike chain leapt off the gears in fright; I got out of breath walking. At the store I found twenty different brands of whey protein and that sort of thing -- I haven't, you know, "gone to the gym" in about two and a half years, but I know it's fairly popular among the locals and today it occurred to me that this was not just vanity but a matter of being able to make it to the grocery store, physically, without the aid of a car. I finally made it home, sans whey protein, feeling very virtuous for buying groceries at all -- I've been on a steady diet of restaurant food for the last week or so. At dinnertime I hacked off half a block of preseasoned tofu, grabbed a carrot and two slices of weird bread (no yeast, no wheat -- should I just admit that it's godawful?), and -- surely you at least want to hear that I spread some mustard or hummus on the bread, chopped up the tofu and carrot, and made a sandwich, yes? No sir, that would be "cooking," which I don't do. I ate the tofu, the carrot and the bread as God made them. There's probably something against that in the Bible; if there isn't, there ought to be. After this gourmet adventure my new housemates, as it were, invited me to have dinner with them; "thanks," I said miserably, "but I already ate." I went out to wash my plate, which had some crumbs and thoughts of tofu on it, and found that they were making salads out of my groceries. There's nothing wrong with that in theory, but I have been feeling awfully poor lately; maybe the whey protein would be cost-effective, appetizing as it is. Update: this is libel, or slander; I found the groceries in the fridge untouched. All carrots look alike; what can I say? Well, in any case the point is that I'm happy to share.

Part of me suspects that efforts to change one's life don't usually start out like this, but I guess it's always trial and error, no matter what -- the speed of discouragement for me is roughly the speed of thought. I think I'd do best to work on that one first. Also, anyone want some wheat-free, yeast-free bread? It's a little like sourdough, except not at all good.

Ah, sweet heaven, but the city is beautiful and the music lately has been absolutely stellar, and I have the world at my feet -- I can hardly tell you. I shouldn't even try; if I don't have the stars in my hair and the green light of permanence in my eyes when you see me next, remind me now and again that I'm only six blocks from it at any given point, give or take a bit of exertion -- even if I can't see it over the hill -- I can't forget.

5/25/05 - Quarterly Panic Day! There's one every quarter-year or so. Oh my God, but this site is a nonstop fucking chronicle of bad judgment. Well, I think this is it. Something needs to stop me, and I haven't had any volunteers lately, so I'll pull the plug myself. Thanks, again, for reading, if you got anything out of it. The archives, such as they are, are here.

The unsuspecting masses:


Google news
Die Zeit
more soon...

hey, who are you?

Still not sure. I write & edit for love and money; I begin a master's program, and turn 26, in late August. Further back, I haunted the Upper Midwest with my backpack and my bike, scowling at the masses & wishing I could uplift them. I'm unconvinced that the bike is really hampering war-over-oil efforts, and I certainly hope the U.S. never goes to war over the coffee supply -- I will look pretty poor then.

and who is this site's intended audience?

People who like it. Failing that, people who can forgive it. In practice, I've generally been assuming only my friends, one or two strangers, and idle ornithologists ever hit it. If you're my parents, this is not my website.

and the German at the top?

That there's from Paris, by Ingeborg Bachmann, which I suppose is one of my favorite poems -- simple, stark, tense, ambivalence squared, in four stanzas just about everything I've been trying to put in prose for the last five years. Well, no, that's exaggeration, but it feels that way sometimes. If you don't get it, don't despair -- you're probably better off in general.

reading ref. list

so far half Ulysses and one very bad essay about it
Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche ("assigned")
After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, after a weird illiterate phase
Within a Budding Grove, Marcel Proust
A Whistling Woman, Babel Tower, Still Life, The Virgin in the Garden, A.S. Byatt (roman fleuve)
Orientalism, Edward Said
The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro
Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapuscinski
In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, Christopher de Bellaigue
Our Votes, Our Guns, Martin Meredith
Jacob's Room, Virginia Woolf
The Waves, Virginia Woolf
Swann's Way, Marcel Proust
Seven Types of Ambiguity, Elliot Perlman. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.
other things, here & there. These were the easy ones to get through.