new media

The Disembodied Standpoint; or Why I Don't Take Certain Parts of the Leftwing Blogosphere Seriously and You Shouldn't Either

So I haven't been following #mooreandme closely, because as I've stated before I don't think twitter phenomena are things that really happen, but apparently there's been a dustup in certain quarters based on Sady Doyle's protest over Michael Moore posting bail for Julian Assange. There are a few points I would like to make about this whole crop of nonsense that to me underline my general larger refusal to take those certain quarters seriously.

Point 1: It is fundamentally unjust to draw conclusions about the criminality of a person's actions based on news reports.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

So gin tastes like pine needles. I've always thought this and wondered what the appeal was. I like my liquor to taste like liquor, not some weird watery piney furniture cleanser.

Still, my dad always has loved his Beefeaters, and I suppose that there are other folks who like gin just fine. It's not my cup of tea, but there are more pressing concerns than wondering about taste.

All of this to say that I think I've had Tanqueray two or three times in my life. And yet for some reason the internet has chosen to assault me with ads for Tanqueray gin two or three times an hour.

And what's been striking me as strange about this ad, and the other liquor ads I've been seeing lately, is that they seem to be bent not on selling a liquor but on selling a lifestyle. The lifestyle on display appears to be thirty to forty something gen exers still partying like they did in 1994 but now with more of the money and accoutrements of the upper middle class that they didn't have back then. It's an inherently shallow vision: guys in tailored sport coats and dress shirts without ties with four day growths of beard, girls in low backed dresses and pumps. Lots of wet asphalt and coarse voiced narrators talking about what people on screen are doing as if it's the coolest thing in the world. These are people who in the words of the Tanqueray narrator can "go to paris repeatedly and never see the eiffel tower, the mona lisa, or the arc de triumphe."

It bothers me because I am clearly the target market of this crap, and yes I recognize myself in the caricatures of people living the good life presented in these commercials as something that in broad contours resembles what I want out of my life. They want to sell me a more glamorous version of the lifestyle I already have. And I don't like it.

How Not To Write Corporate Communication: An Object Lesson In Obfuscation

So Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman has heard the Twitter-patter on his window of the rain of Facebook subscribers deleting their accounts in droves following an exercise in crappy journalism that it appears that The Consumerist has been backpedaling on for most of the day since I pointed out that they had overblown their reading of the new Facebook Terms of Service. Zuckerman, realizing once again what a fragile and delicate flower his social networking orchid is, has boldly marched forward into the fray and declared with all due gravitas and solemnity what the TOS actually means for a Facebook user.

Except, well, he didn't.

Adventures in Hyperreality: Live Suicide and Why It Doesn't Matter

So last night my Twitter account started pinging my phone with updates featuing the #chase hashtag. Apparently something was going on in Los Angeles involving a slow speed chase through north Hollywood. Curious to see what was going on, I signed in and started following the updates. A man in a white Bentley had been leading police around for 3 hours before stopping in front of a Toyota dealership. Local Fox and ABC affiliates had helicopters on the scene and Fox was streaming the actual unedited camera feed through it's website. Twitter en masse was enthralled with updates coming rapidly with the unfiltered immediate responses of the people watching. Eventually, the driver killed himself. The feeds went off. People went to bed. And now comes the analytical aftermath of what in my opinion amounts to a non event.

What's the Issue with Issue 1?

So a couple of guys named Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter have created a new poetry Journal called Issue 1. It's nearly 4000 pages long and is available in PDF form here. It's been creating quite a stir among certain poetry circles lately, mostly because a quick survey of the contributors shows it to be possibly the most significant collection of poets ever assembled. With work ranging from the likes of William Shakespeare, my own 13th Great Grandfather Geof Chaucer, to Contemporary figures like Ron Silliman and Susan Howe, to less widely known but still enormously talented poets like Anny Ballardini, Amy King, and, um, yours truly.

Now, of course, none of us actually wrote any of the pieces attributed to us in the book, but frankly i kind of wish I had written my three contributions. "A Cat of Countries" (page 1248):

A cat of countries

The sympathy of darkness
Singleness
Beardless and eternal
A room of countries
Of progress
Reluctance and fun
Firing beside a cat
Like a considerable sweeping
Feeling love

"Whole as a passage" (page 2646):

Whole as a passage
Into a swept whisper a fascinating trader
   arrived
The passages mumbled
Those were whole
A rapid rib, cheap rib,
   useful rib of an impossible thieving
Was he impenetrable?
Let her stare
Should he have been silent?
From his difficult arm he hungered for
   one, having, from his throat demoralization
     waiting
That was the creek’s wilderness
Sorrow, you were
   not there, making like a head
Fascinating and enthralling
He would sooner
   be different,
Big and little
”I save brass,” he whispered
He was lived by a
   mutter
He was thinking of the ghastly lives
   of bailiffs, knocking silently beside reckless conceptions
Now the thievings filled in the breeze

And my favorite, and the one that sounds the most like me, "Changing news like intelligence" (page 3573):

Changing News Like Intelligence

To burn descending on an art
A person
His anodyne news

Beginning beside a tree
More minor than a beggar

Now, of course there are some people who think this is lame. Others who take issue, like Silliman who made some vague mention of legal action in his blog about it.

To such people, I say chill out. It's a nice piece of something. There's no damage to your reputation taking place here. Clearly the list of authors was gleaned in someway from Buffalo poetics/the kinds of magazines folks like us get printed in. And frankly, taking Rita Dove at one end, and myself at the other, of a spectrum of fame, none of us are all that well known to the point that anybody outside our little poetry world will care about this one way or another. Take it as a compliment and relax. This thing is the best piece of flarf I've ever come across and frankly, like Anny Ballardini said on the Buffalo list today, I wish I'd had the idea.

Friday Recommendations

Cartoonist Patricia Storms has done a number of amusing literary-themed comic strips, the best of which is "The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon" which turns the titular twosome into superheroes battling against their arch-enemy, Candice Bushnell!

Nine Inch Nails new album, Year Zero has launched with an alternate reality game, in which listeners can track down easter eggs from the album and merchandice and various other clues to paint a portrait of a dystopian future in 2022. One interesting part of the game is that if you decode the bar code on the back of the CD, you get a url, exterminal.net. There, click on "Bardsley, G (Accomplice Surveillance Underway)" for a mini-short story told in multiple panels (you'll see what I mean) with accompanying photos. The way this is done is very interesting in terms of the potential for prose fiction in new media.

Also on the future-speculation front, Warren Ellis talks about the motivations behind making his new comic book, Doktor Sleepless. Ellis: "It's 2007 and the society does not yet understand how to operate water."

Lastly, go out and read Cynthia Ozick's article "Literary Entrails" in the new issue of Harper's Magazine. In it she talks about why Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus' protestations of a lack of readers are beside the point, and what literature is really missing is good criticism. (And in the process, she well-deservedly hands Marcus his own ass.) She singles out James Wood as the kind of critic we need more of in a way that makes me reconsider my dismissal of him as a reactionary—though she does point out that he is "sometimes faulted for narrow sympathies, and for depricating those styles and dispositions that escape the bounds of his particular credo." (ie. realism.) Scott Esposito has an interesting and thorough reaction to the article that's also worth reading.

Criticism on the Web

One conversation going on right now in the Blogosphere is the function of book reviews on the Internet, as per this round-up by Critical Mass. Lev Grossman, critic for Time Magazine, seems to dislike "amateur" book reviews, though he's not explicitly talking about the web, but rather, about non-book-critics writing book reviews in print. Anyway the thread was picked up by blogizens, like Chekov's Mistress, who defends a certain type of "non-critical" book review.

Frankly, I'm not well read enough to be a critic and am quite content not to be (and who, like Art Winslow, can fill reams of notebooks on a book for a review). What's more, I only write about books that I like because - here's a professional differentiation - I don't have time, short of getting paid for it, to finish a book I don't like - and a likeworthy book is not the same as a review-worthy book.

I, however, am more likely to agree with The Reading Experience, who writes:

if I am going to review the book myself (on this blog or elsewhere), I am also interested in fostering a critical discussion of sorts by putting my own analysis/interpretation in the context created by the already existing commentary on the book. ... it seems to me that book reviews, periodical essays, and weblog posts might aspire to more than just the conventional thumbs up/thumbs down, read it/don't read it sort of review and attempt to fill up the critical vacuum left by the withdrawal of academic criticism from the practice of what seems to most people to be actual literary criticism.

"Critical vacuum" being the operative word; Reading Experience is arguing that blogging can compensate for a perceived lack in academic criticism. I would argue that the lack is in the rigor of reviewing practiced by most of today's mainstream reviewers, and further the marginalizing of serious reviewing in organs like the New York Times Book Review. That's the great thing about the web: you can make it into whatever you want. And what I want is intelligent criticism and literary discussion. Anybody else?

Serialized Fiction

I really like the idea of serialized fiction. One of the appeals of TV and comics for me is coming back to the same characters and seeing what they're up to (and how they've changed). In other countries, such as China (and especially Hong Kong), serializing fiction in newspapers is still widespread, and created the cradle which gave birth to novelists such as Jin Yong. In Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith is getting credit for revitalizing serialization in newspapers here in the West. Personally, I'm looking forward to Michael Chabon's "Jews With Swords" serial upcoming in The New York Times Magazine. For now content yourselves with Jaime Hernandez' excellent La Maggie La Loca. (Jaime's Maggie and Hopey characters I've been following loyally for quite some time from their adventures in Love and Rockets. If you like La Maggie La Loca, go check those out.)

Kenneth Goldsmith and the Cult of Pretense & Boredom

The twentieth century began with a question about what art is. Artists like Duchamp, Tzara, Artaud, Beckett and Breton challenged conventional notions and forced audiences to examine a lot of pre-conceived notions about beauty and the value of the aesthetic. That's done now. It's time to move on. That now, in the early 21st century, people like Kenneth Goldsmith have come to the point where they have completely inverted prior valuations, to the point where boredom is what is aspired to, well, I find the tautological truth that what they're doing is completely uninteresting rather revealing.