Friday, August 31, 2007

Charles Bernstein and the Yellow Pages

Remember this commerical for the Yellow Pages, starring none other than Charles Bernstein? Marshall McLuhan once said that you knew a medium was dead once people started making art out of it. I suppose the Yellow Pages are dead enough, what with online services like, but instead of making art out of it, we've simply decided to talk about it as if it were art.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ashbery '67

Good (if belated) news, everyone: John Ashbery's been appointed poet laureate of MTV (really). On balance, I've got to say I think this is a good idea. Not only does it bring exposure to an important poet, it chips away at the old high culture/pop culture division, a cultural holdover that has shambled on far too long after Andy Warhol dealt it what should have been a mortal wound. More importantly, the idea of an MTV laureate (and of any corporate laureate, really) helps to de-sacralize the idea of laureateship by dislodging it from the marble mausoleum of Serious Civic Grandeur. This desacralizing is a good thing, I think, because taking the idea of a laureateship too seriously is a sure-fire way to make the most prominent institution of poetry into something dull, sanctimonious, and good-for-you, like vitamins, oatmeal, and orthopedic shoes. I remember Michael Anania telling me about how, back in the 80s, he advised the good people at the Library of Congress against converting the position of "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress" to "Poet Laureate," on the grounds that the change to a more magesterial title would mean that "nobody interesting would ever get the position again." I wouldn't say Michael was entriely right, but there has been enough of a pattern to show he had a point.

Anyway. I chose to celebrate Ashbery's most recent slice of glory by rooting around in some old books of lit crit to see what they had to say about him back in the day. I love reading old lit crit — it's a habit from my grad school days, when I found myself in classes with some would-be Young Turk profs who whiggishly spurned anything written by the previous generation of critics as obsolete. I think the Young Turks' principle of evaluation was something like "well, they're dead now, so they couldn't really have been up to much, could they?" So my ever-present pathological anti-authoritarianism kicked in, and I found myself devouring the spurned books, mumbling under my resentful breath things like "you say the New Critics were bad guys? Yeah, okay, well I'm gonna walk by your office with my nose in a copy of The Verbal Icon! Woo! Yeah! Whaddaya say to that, ya Derrida-quotin' conformist! Yeah! Lookit me! Burn this mother to the ground!" And so I'd skulk the corridors, unnoticed by all. In addition to having a generally crappy attitude toward those assigned to educate me, I worked at the old Aspidistra Bookshop, a used book joint in Chicago, and all kinds of great old academic books were always washing up there from the libraries of deceased professors, and from institutional libraries policed by the Enemies of All That Is Not Part of the Current Paradigm. So I built up a vast storehouse of lit crit from the 30s through the 70s. And cruising through my shelves of this stuff looking for old commentaries on Ashbery, I dug up one by Stephen Stepanchev, in his book Modern American Poetry Since 1945, a survey written back in 1967 (my copy is ex libris the Vivekananda Monastery and Retreat in Fennville, Michigan — how this came into my hands is beyond me, unless that roadtrip to Fennville was even more of a lost weekend than I remember). Stephanchev's got a few pages on Ashbery, and they're as good a brief assessment of Ashbery's particular talents as any I've seen. Stepanchev's no slouch as a poet, by the way, and his comments on the man who would one day become the poet laureate of MTV have turned out to be a rare example of hot laureate-on-laureate action: Stepanchev would later serve as poet laureate of Queens.

Stepanchev devotes chapters to many of the poetic big wheels of the time, and it's always interesting to see who the Big Players seemed to be at the time. There's Robert Lowell (who's still ensconced in the pantheon, but no longer the Unquestioned Champion he was, despite Adam Kirsch's recent claims), Randall Jarrell, Karl Shapiro, Elizabeth Bishop,and Jean Garrigue (what ever happened to Jean Garrigue?), as well as Richard Wilbur, W.S. Merwin, and a section on Projective Verse, where Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov get treated in little sub-chapters, acknowledged if somewhat ghettoized (Plus ça change, eh?). Allen Ginsberg gets a chapter with the heading "Popular Poetry" (true enough, but is this a put-down?), and there's a bit on James Wright and Robert Bly. Then there's a chapter near the end on "other recent poets," the up-and-coming, on-the-cusp-of-canonicity types: the most prominent of whom, in our time, is John Ashbery, about whom Stephanchev says this:

John Ashbery is one of the most original of contemporary poets. His four books of poems, Turandot and Other Poems (1953), Some Trees (1956), The Poems (1960), and The Tennis Court Oath (1962) are full of startling metaphors and fresh juxtapositions of words and perceptions. He keeps pushing the limits of language; he lives on the most thinly held, the most dangerous frontiers. His impatience with the merely remembered phrase is evident in every line, though he occasionally uses a cliché to evoke a standard response which he then swamps with irony. He is not without antecedents and influences, however. He has gone to school to Wallace Stevens, from whom he gets both elegance and a furious concentration; to the French Surrealist poets, who have taught him to find fresh images in immersions in the subconscious; and to the "action" painters of the New York School of the 1950's, who have taught him to work with abandon at the canvas and to pray for happy accidents. But his voice is unmistakably his own: it is a voice that does not falter in a world of discontinuities. As a matter of fact, he seems to fear too much coherence as being a form of dishonesty or falseness. An orderly syntax sometimes forces the poet to lie, to say easy things that he had not intended, that are not of his own experience.

Ashbery's weakness is a curious opaqueness, at times, that comes from tenousness or the paucity of subject matter. But he comments — tangentially — on many familiar themes: love (seen as a form of touching, like intertwined trees), time ("we have not avoided our destiny / By weeding out old people"), art, America, Europe, the desperation of the man on the road, and the unbearable boredom of industrial society from which one can be saved only by daydreaming.

This is really quite good, isn't it? Stepanchev's prose is crisp, clear, concise, and accurate in its description of Ashbery's characteristic qualities. You may disagree with some of the evaluations (the "curious opaqueness" is most often considered a virtue now, not a vice), but still, we should all be so lucky in our critics.

After describing how the poem "The Instruction Manual" embodies some of Ashbery's typical themes and techniques, Stepanchev tries to situate Ashbery in terms of then-popular movements in poetry, saying "Technically, Ashbery is in debt to projective verse, for he works in free forms even when he invokes the "spirit" of the sonnet, canzone, or pantoum." Here, I think, the essay dates itself. The mention of Olson's projective verse just seems like a clumsy add-on, an attempt to situate Ashbery in terms of some recognizable brand name that isn't really all that appropriate. I'm reminded of a comment Keith Tuma made in a review of Word Play Place: Essays on the Poetry of John Matthias, a book I edited back in the 90s. Looking over the essays in the collection, many of which tried to situate the idiosyncratic Matthias with reference to then-fashionable currents in poetry, Tuma singled out one by Igor Webb, saying Webb "deserves an award for not mentioning language poetry." Making reference to a school of poetry is like sporting facial hair: very few of the styles date well. (Ashbery gets away with his 70s/80s Sonny Bono mustache, though, don't you think?) (Lay off with the comments on my own rapidly-dating beard, though, okay? I'm going to rock this look until my colleagues hold me down and straight-razor the thing off, like they did with my old ponytail).

But back to Stepanchev on Ashbery. The format of Stepanchev's book seems to demand that every chapter end with a short reading of a poem. It's not a bad idea, really: big statements should always be demonstrated. But Ashbery's work, which worked wonderfully with, say, deconstructive reading techniques in the 80s and 90s, doesn't always pay off well when subjected to old-school explication de texte. Check it out:

Here is a sample of his work, a poem entitled "A White Paper":

And if he thought that
All was foreign —
As, gas and petrol, en-
gine full of seeds, barking to hear the night
The political contaminations

Of what he spoke,
Spotted azaleas brought to meet him
Sitting next day
The judge, emotions,
The crushed paper heaps.

The images of this brilliant poem suggest an American tourist's reactions to foreign places: the whirl of sensory impressions, the judgements he makes, the distress he feels at not touching, etc. The poem is entitled "A White Paper" because the tourist's predicament is always an international crisis of sorts, to him, requiring a document in explanation and justification.

I mean, this isn't bad, but the kind of reading that the format of his own critical book forces on Stepanchev just isn't all that great a way of appreciating Ashbery. Maybe this resistance to the dominant academic modes of reading in the late 60s is what kept Ashbery in the "Other Recent Poets" section of American Poetry Since 1945, just as Ashbery's affinities with deconstructive readings — his "fear [of] too much coherence as ... a form of dishonesty," to use Stepanchev's phrase — helped buoy his stock up in later decades. But watching Stephanchev approach Ashbery in this way is like watching someone try to summarize Kant's Critique of Judgment in a limerick: the form just doesn't lend itself to that task. I mean really, it's hard to carry off. My best effort so far is still:

"On matters of taste we'll agree,"
Said old Kant, "because, well, you see,
For all our proclivities
One subjectivity's
Common to you and to me."

But enough about my fruitless struggle to write the history of German Idealist aesthetics as a series of limericks. Let us all bask in the glow of Ashbery's basic-cable apotheosis. He's a god now.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Threading Shakespeare's Sonnets

What's that, you say? Sorry, what? I'm having trouble hearing you over the deafening roar of my own semester's-starting-but-I'm-on-sabbitical self-satisfaction. Come again? Oh! Okay. So you say you wish there were an excellent poem-by-poem commentary on Shakespeare's sonnets that treats them not only as individual poems, but as parts of a coherent sequence? And you want it when? Now, as in right this minute now? And online, for free, in all of its glory? Well, thanks to Ken Bennett, you need wail in the wilderness no more. His Threading Shakespeare's Sonnets is now up at the Lake Forest College website. Rejoice!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Poet as Specialist

Sir Walter Raleigh wasn't a poet. There, I said it. I don't mean to diss the guy's verse-making chops: I think he wrote some very fine poems. But he wasn't a poet, not in the way we mean it today. He was a gentleman who happened to write poems, along with doing other things that an ambitious gentleman in a newly-ambitious age did, such as organizing voyages of exploration, founding colonies in the new world, jockeying around for position at court, getting thrown in the Tower of London as a political prisoner, and writing a history of the world. He didn't identify as a poet, not the way many of us do now ("This is Andrea — she's the new poet up at Picayune College"). But it was the Renaissance, and Raleigh was, in every sense, a true Renaissance Man. Calling Raleigh a poet would be like calling Leonardo Da Vinci a military engineer, or an anatomist. It wouldn't be wrong, just misleading.

Things couldn't be more different for poets (and for most other people) now. I mean, we live in a very professionalized world, and within academe (where the poets have, for the moment, landed) things are even more specialized than in most other areas. "He's new on the faculty," someone might observe as a nervous new prof passes by in his brand new Harris tweed. "Oh," the question would follow, "what's his field?" If the two observers were, say, math profs, the answer might be "he's a historian," but if the two observers were themselves historians, the answer would be more specific -- "seventeenth-century France," say (on larger campuses the newcomer could be identified by an even narrower slice of intellectual real estate -- "gender roles in seventeenth-century French legal theory," say, or "shoes in early modern France").

So every campus comes equipped with a designated poet. Built into the job description is an assumption that the person hired as a poet will have an identity distinct from that of the fiction writer and the non-fiction prose guy (the others in the writing wing of the department). The poet's identity will be even more different from those of the scholars and critics, who occupy an entirely different wing of the English department. And the institution defines the poet as even more different from that utterly alien creature with her strange ways, the playwright, who is housed in an entirely different department (theater) and exiled to an awkward corner of campus near the parking lots. One wonders what would have happened to Shakespeare in such a world ("yes, Bill, your plays are good, but should you really be wasting your time of these sonnets? They won't count as publications in your field when you're up for tenure, you know...).

It isn't just departments that define people as poets: most poets seem to look at the writing of poetry not as an activity but as the basis for an identity. The act of writing poems comes with a whole set of associated behaviors and attitudes (elements of bohemianism, eccentricity, spontaneity, etc.) most of them inherited from the history of how poets have lived over the past century and a half or so. (I once blogged a bit about how Karl Shapiro was all torn up about how his very bourgeois life didn't match the assumptions he'd inherited about what kind of person a poet should be — he couldn't bear the dissonance between who he actually was, and who he, as a person inhabiting the identity of "poet," was supposed to be). Poetry writing people, generally speaking, have come to internalize the notion that poetry isn't something they do, it's something that constitutes who they are. Walter Raleigh would have been a bit freaked out.

So how'd this situation come to pass? In the nineteenth century, when western civ was specializing and professionalizing at a frenzied pace, much of the thinking about specialization had to do with ideas of efficiency. Get people to specialize and they'll be incredibly good at their particular tasks, and when we coordinate these specialists through management (another specialization) we'll really see results — or so went the thinking of Herbert Spencer, one of the great nineteenth century gurus of industrial organization.

Lately, though, I've been intrigued by another way of thinking about specialization, one proposed by the founder of modern sociology himself, Emile Durkheim. In his book The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim looks into the phenomenon by asking what kinds of needs specialization seems to fulfill, and comes to the surprising conclusion that specialization is less a matter of efficiency than we'd thought, and more a matter of social cohesion.

There are two parts to this hypothesis. Firstly, there's a warm and fuzzy part, in which Durkheim tells us that specialization's "true function is to create in two or more persons a feeling of solidarity."

"Great political societies can maintain themselves in equilibrium only thanks to the specialization of tasks" says Durkheim, who goes on to claim "that the division of labor is the source, if not unique at least principle, of social solidarity." So check it out: the effect, even the raison d'etre of specialization, in this view, is to make a community (I can see Ron Silliman, champion of poetry-as-community, nodding in approval). In a big, diverse, geographically dispersed, mobile society, we can form bonds across distance, ethnicity, gender, class, etc. We can identify with others in our capacity as poets. We can move to a new city, and instead of being alienated, we can meet like-minded folks through the poetry scene. Academically speaking, we've got a way to collaborate across campuses, to engage in conversation, etc. There's a lot of truth to this, I think.

The other part of Durkheim's theory is much darker, and therefore much more interesting. Specialization, he says, is important in that it limits competition, and therefore keeps us from tearing each other down. "In the same city," he says, "different occupations can co-exist without being obliged mutually to destroy one another, for they pursue different objects." We can parochialize a bit here, and for "city" read "campus," or better yet "department." Anyway, Durkheim goes on, saying "the closer functions come to one another, however, the more points of contact they have; the more, consequently, are they exposed to conflict."

I'm sure there's some truth to this, too. I mean, one of the reasons I took a job at a little liberal arts college rather than taking what many would have considered a more prestigious gig I was offered at a big university was that, in interacting with the members of the big university's English department, I quickly came to see that if I didn't just stick to writing poems and teaching poetry workshops, I'd be stepping on a lot of people's toes. I had an MFA, but I also had doctorate in literature. Since my Ph.D. thesis was an influence study (Romantics on Postcolonials), I had a background in, and wanted to teach and write about, a pretty wide range of things. Well, wide by current standards, anyway, though not by the standards of old-school generalists like, say, Erich Auerbach, whose wide-ranging, nay near-universal, knowledge makes my modest scope of interests look like it runs the gamut from A to C. Anyway, I was as good as told by a senior member of the big university's faculty that I wouldn't be teaching or writing about Irish lit, literary theory, the Romantics, or anything other than contemporary poetry if I gave a rat's ass about my chances of tenure. I was supposed to be the poet, damn it, and if I wanted out of my box I was going to be making a lot of people who'd invested in specific fields upset. The path of peace meant not straying beyond the boundaries of one's designated speciality.

(If, by the way, you want to read about the history of how English Departments moved from competitive generalism to a non-competitive array of specialists, each walled off in his or her own field, check out the final chapter of Brian McCrea's kickass book Addison and Steele are Dead. It's really good.)

I think it was in The Function of Criticism that Terry Eagleton said that all attempts at transcending specialization now, in our post-specialization world, are necessarily reactive, and somewhat self-conscious and clunky. I'm not even sure if we've got a name for someone who writes poetry and criticism, indulges in literary theory, teaches and writes about literature from a wide range of countries and periods, and does so for both specialized and non-specialized audiences. "Man of Letters" is archaic and sexist; "littérateur" is foreign enough that you need to italicize it, and Walt Whitman's attempt to Americanize it as "litteratus" is a little embarrasing (especially in his plural form, "litteratusses"). What's left? Roland Barthes' "scriptor"? The too-generic "writer"? I don't know if any of these will do in the era of specialization.

Luckily, the ethos of the liberal arts is kind of counter-cultural, at least in terms of professionalism and specialization. Although even at a liberal arts college, I found my colleagues expressing concern when I asked that we open up a new position in our department to poets, as well as fiction and nonfiction prose writiers. "Won't it bother you if there's another poet on campus?" I was asked, in a thousand polite and concerned ways. I wasn't bothered, probably because of how I've never been comfortable being labeled that way (maybe this is because I write more criticism than poetry, maybe it's because, as an artist's kid, I saw too many of my dad's art-pals acting destructively and/or egomaniacally and excusing themselves by saying "hey, I'm an artist,"). Anyway, I'm hoping that Durkheim's hypothesis about specialization as the way of maintaining peace has some exceptions — otherwise Josh Corey's likely to sneak up on me with some of his badass Ultimate Fighting moves, leaving me for dead in a ravine near Winnetka.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Something to Say and a Way of Saying It: John Matthias' Kedging

Hot news, folks: there's a new book out by John Matthias. It's called Kedging, which (for any of you unfortunate enough not to have served, however briefly and/or ingloriously, under the banner of Her Majesty's Royal Canadian Naval Reserve) refers to the process by which a ship is moved in the least convenient manner possible: by carrying the anchor out from the ship in a boat, dropping it, then hauling the ship laboriously up to where it landed.

I'm not sure whether Matthias intends this as a way of describing his technique or not, but I do know that the naval reference makes sense, in that Matthias' subject matter here includes family history with the Royal Navy. There's also the usual wide array of material, including ekphrastic poetry, poems about music, those wonderful poems where Matthias' personal history opens up into cultural history, and much more besides. Call it investigative poetics, or late/new modernism — in a scene where vague elliptical meandering seems to have become the stock in trade for most poets, Matthias continues to come across with the two things contemporary poetry needs the most. They are (in the words of a TLS review of an earlier Matthias volume) "something to say and a way of saying it."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why The Right Wing Can’t Do Comedy

Among all kinds of writing there is none in which authors are more apt to miscarry than in humor, as there is none in which they are more ambitious to excel. It is not an imagination that teems with monsters... which is capable of furnishing the world with diversions of this nature...
— Joseph Addison, Spectator 35, 1711.

Darin Murphy has some interesting speculations up over at the Huffington Post about the failure of Fox News’ Half-Hour Comedy Hour, the show once trumpeted as the right wing’s answer to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Murphy sees the failure of the show largely in terms of the failure of the writers to grasp the nature of irony. There’s something to what Murphy has to say. But I think the waters run deep, here, and merit a little further investigation.

We could begin by asking why so few works of right wing comedy have been successful. The Half-Hour News Hour failed spectacularly. We can date the demise of Dennis Miller’s comedy career to the months after 9-11 when, understandably freaked out, he took a hard turn to the political right. Right wing attempts at comedy in the movies have done pretty poorly (remember P.C.U.? God, I wish I didn’t). Mike Judge’s King of the Hill can be pretty funny, and so can Penn & Teller in their show Bullshit, but I’m not sure you could call these conservative shows: they’re both kind of populist/libertarian hybrids. The right wing, which masters a lot of media formats in which even talented lefties tend to struggle (talk radio, say, or the personality-driven news commentary show) just can’t seem to do funny. And I don’t mean they can’t please irredeemably left-wing, egghead academic literary Green-party voters like, say, me. They can’t buy a win, even with a Fox News audience. What gives?

The answer can best be expressed in a syllogism, so dust off your notes to Logic 101 and check this:

Major Premise: Comedy is inherently subversive of authority.
Minor Premise: The right wing (at least in post-911 America) is deeply into authoritarianism.
Conclusion: Right wing comedy blows.

So, about that Major Premise — how do I know that comedy is inherently subversive of authority? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me call as witness Mr. Mikhail Bakhtin, the foremost theorist of comedy in Stalinist Russia (which qualifies as a contender for World’s Toughest Gig, right up there with coal miner and “Guy In Charge of Weeding Norman Mailer’s Ear Hair”). Maybe it was the deeply authoritarian world of gray apparatchiks and political purges around him that got Bakhtin thinking about humor as the antithesis of authority. Be that as it may, Bakhtin’s thinking certainly didn’t endear him to the powers-that-were, who gave him a bit of a rough ride. I suppose I can see why the apparatchiks didn’t like Bakhtin: he insisted that everything delightful and funny was in some measure subversive of hierarchies and authorities, famously tracing the history of laughter back to medieval carnivals, where all the established hierarchies were suspended:

The suspension of all hierarchical precedence during carnival time was of particular significance. Rank was especially evident during official feasts; everyone was expected to appear in the full regalia of his calling... and to take the place corresponding to his position. It was a consecration of inequality. On the contrary, all were considered equal during carnival. Here, in the town square, a special form of free and familiar contact reigned among people who were usually divided by the barriers of caste, property, profession, and age.
Rabelais and His World

Even something as low-grade and apparently apolitical as, say, the fart joke was in some measure transgressive for Bakhtin. Usually such jokes depend on a context where something we are meant to take seriously is dissed by being brought into association with despised and abject things like “the lower stratum of the body, the life of the belly and the reproductive organs” or “to acts of defecation and copulation.” I mean, think of it: involuntarily unleashing a truly noxious and garlic-scented belch on your own in the privacy of your own living room isn’t particularly funny, but doing it at a moment when you’re supposed to be a figure of authority (while, say, delivering your lecture on Hegel’s aesthetics to your seminar) will get you giggled at by your students. Or, uh, so I’m told.

So okay. Humor is subversive of authority. Any snickering kid who ever stuck an “Kick me” post-it on the back of an unsuspecting school teacher knows that. But what about the second part of our syllogism, the bit with the somewhat more contentious premise that the American right wing is into authoritarianism lately? Since I’m probably going to get some nasty email about this one, I figure I’ll call several witnesses: Theodor Adorno, John Dean, and Jack Block.

Hard-core Adornonauts know where I’m going with this, I’m sure: straight to The Authoritarian Personality, the 1950 book he co-wrote with a group of sociologists. Here, he defines the authoritarian personality as that type of deeply insecure subjectivity that yearns to submit to authority, that seeks stability and security above all else, that dislikes divergence and longs for conformity. Such a personality sees the world as crawling with threats, and sees salvation from these threats in powerful, unquestionable authority figures. People like this are susceptible to political manipulation, often (though not always) by the political right.

Adorno, of course, didn’t have anything to say about the American right after 9-11. But John Dean does. A guy with impeccable right-wing credentials himself (in addition to serving under Nixon, he describes himself as a “Goldwater conservative”), he argues in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience that the conservative movement he has been loyal to all his life has taken a wrong turn, in exploiting insecurity and appealing to authoritarian sentiment (the need for certainty, the fear of the alien, etc.). In a time of great uncertainty, the party rode a wave of fear by appealing to and cultivating the kind of authoritarian personality Adorno described, building a Republican coalition based on such people. (Dean draws on the research of Robert Altemeyer, who updates Adorno’s work with new data).

Other new research points in the same direction. In fact, a recent article by Jack Block in the Journal of Research in Personality traced the political evolution of a group of 95 children over several decades, and came to the conclusion that the kids who grew up to be conservative had more authoritarian personality traits from the get-go. As Block put it in the Toronto Star, "the whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity” while "the confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests." The research seems to indicate, however preliminarily, a correlation between the right wing and a yearning for authority.

So okay. If we buy the Bakhtinian argument about comedy as subversive of authority, and if we find the sociological and psychological research on a correlation between the contemporary American right wing and authoritarianism convincing, then we’ve got an answer as to why the right can’t seem to do comedy: it runs contrary to their nature. Asking them to do comedy is like asking a bunch of sumo wrestlers to excel at basketball. Whatever their other virtues, they’re just not going to be good at it, at least not very often.

The authoritarian thesis also helps explain why the left does so poorly at talk radio and at O’Reilly Factor style television (listening to Al Franken on Air America was like watching a great sumo champion struggle to shoot a basket; watching Keith Olbermann on MSNBC is like watching a sumo wrestler somehow, amazingly, dunk and hang off the rim, which even more amazingly supports his bulk). Lefty-types don't work well in those formats, but the fit between those formats and authoritarian thinking is natural. I mean, if what you’re into is all that authoritarian stuff — submitting to a strong personality, being told that people unlike you are not only wrong but bad — you’re going to gravitate to talk radio and O'Reilly-esque TV. The authoritarian imagination teems with monsters (in the form of illegal immigrants, shadowy terrorists, and treacherous ivory-tower liberals). As Joseph Addison said centuries ago, such an imagination isn’t going to be good at playing for laughs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Liam Rector, 1949-2007

Very sad to hear that Liam Rector has died, apparently by his own hand. Looking at this 2001 poem of his from The Cortland Review, I suppose we can't say we weren't warned.

So We'll Go No More

So it's fare thee well, my own true love;
I'm leaving you behind. And not
For the early, for the young reasons, but

For these late, last, ill reasons. I'm almost
Kaput! Yea, you'll get no more of me....
Cancer, heart attack, bypass—all

In the same year? My chances
Are one out of two! And I'm fucking well
Ready, ready to go. To go!—how often

I've operated that way. That way
Almost the entire caper, the way
For people, places, things:

Abandon, abandon, nay abandon before
Being abandoned. But we've, we've
Stayed. You the third wife for me, I

The second such boy for you, and I love
Looking directly into you, as we look
Directly into this last get-go. We all

Have the talent for leaving, like it
Or no. And oh, how rich it is, how fine
To finally inherit!: the final thing

I was looking for, as it turns out,
The great power of leaving
All the breathtakingly brief all along.