Monday, July 31, 2006
(10:24 AM) | Brad:
Mercy for Miss AwdyThere have been theological & philosophical autobiographies, biographies, novels, and plays, but what about scatological parodies (outside of the novels of Bataille, which are, arguably, parodies in & of themselves)?
Yes, in fact.
(9:24 AM) | Adam R:
My Serial Novel: Chapter OneThis is how I imagine the beginning of my movie: I will strap a camera to my bike and record my ride home, through the bright streets of downtown Baltimore into the grimy, ramshackle neighborhood where I live. I imagine it will be an effective way to document the bizarre, I dunno, duality of this town, the vast rift between the rich and the poor. It will show the protagonist as a person who can navigate through two distinct dimensions of one world.
But all that comes later in the process. It occurs to me that first I ought to plot the movie. This can be done in a short story (or novel?) format. It should go like this:
Five minutes, he thought as he sat typing at his desk. People were rising all around him, heads popping from cubicles like turtles out of shells, snappers and painteds discussing their plans for the weekend. The Yankees were in town. Families were due for dinner. “Happy hour,” one tortoise pointed out, “must be getting close because I can’t stop smiling.” Adam Robison kept his head tucked low and wrote that The appeal for experimental artists is that their work can't be evaluated with a glance, a misfortune other media is doomed to face. A photographer doesn't just take photos, for example; photographers also take risks in ways that are unknown to conceptual artists or experimental novelists. A picture, an unassuming poem, a painting can be given a once-over, but conceptual art happens on the inside – he typed out the code for italics – so that it can demand the viewer’s familiarity with the back, the inside, story. When the viewer invests himself like that for a work of art, he is more likely to appreciate it, less likely to discount it, shrug and walk away, as he might with a picture that does not suit his taste.
There, he thought as he posted his reflections onto the Internet. And there: five-oh-one. The office was mostly empty by now, so he gathered his bag and shut down his computer. Even at just one minute after five, the elevators would not be crammed full with worker turtles scrambling out to their ballgames and families and happy hour; almost everyone had cheated out a few minutes early. The doors slid open. He worked on the 25th floor of a forty-story building, which meant that the other people riding the elevator down with Adam were the literal higher-ups in sharp-looking suits. I like those executive striped shirts, he thought. I like working where the suits are sharp and intimidating. I like that the people wearing them are younger than I am. Twenty-nine. I like that I am riding this elevator down to the garage, because some of these people might think I am allowed to park there. Only very well connected people can park their cars in the garage.
Anyone was permitted to park a bike. Adam strapped his radio to his arm and climbed onto his Schwinn and pedaled away. He swung onto the jam-packed street and maneuvered through the Audis and BMWs. He arced around a bus and between cars at the intersections. He passed SUVs on the narrow, leaning to avoid their side mirrors. I'd be flattened like a pancake if I fell. The German cars turned Japanese as he cruised out of the harbor's inner glitter. He concentrated on the potholes as he drove his bike past the strip clubs, up a shallow hill and to where the cars turned American. They turned into dented pickups and miniature motorcycles. He struggled up the last hill and climbed off his saddle, clicked off NPR, and took a deep gasp of air. Different people were about. He stretched his arms then dug into his pocket for keys.
Adam Robison worked happily as a temp at the main office of a huge mutual funds corporation. He was employed there indefinitely – his supervisors liked him because he worked hard when they asked him to, and he always seemed to be busy. In fact, he was always busy. The assignments he was given usually only took him a few minutes to complete, and he spent the rest of his time writing. He kept a few journals on the Internet, which he updated during the workday; he was midway through a play, and he was just beginning a novel. This last effort he grabbed at loosely, thinking his idea (which, like his play, was only half-formed) might be more successful as a movie. The important thing, equally as important as the work he did for the company, was that he wrote with diligence. Writing for him was carving. The world was filled with beauty and intrigue and hope, and if he sliced at it he could carve out the right story, and the right story ought to afford him an apartment in Mexico City, or Morocco.
So every day he arrived at his beige cubicle ten minutes early and left a few minutes late, and was paid by the company to work on his writing. The situation could not have suited him better. Had he been at home, he would have been less inclined to write. He had fashioned a nice office for himself there, but he spent his free time watching movies or baseball games on the Internet. He lived with his girlfriend, who owned the house. Tiffany had bought it the summer before, picked it at random from a long list of cities, and moved into it from across the country. He followed her, madly in love. Their relationship was just beginning, and, like their work on the house, progressed with a lot of banging.
For months they spent every day at work on the house. They shredded nasty walls and put up new ones; they stopped leaks in the roof and installed windows. Hauling in over a ton of topsoil, they landscaped a garden in their cinder block backyard. They tore up miles of linoleum; there was so much linoleum piled on top of linoleum that they could have floored their way to the moon. All of their work was done with recycled parts and hand-me-down tools, so they managed to live and work with few expenses. When finally it was time to earn more money - sheetrock ran low - Adam slipped easily into the temporary employment world.
He loved the trip to work. Usually he would ride his bike (really it belonged to Tiffany), but sometimes he’d catch the subway. He could read on the train, but the trip only took a few minutes. What he enjoyed most was the big-city feeling he got from mass transit. He liked watching the people and he also liked ignoring them out of urbane sophistication. There was always criticism of society’s coldness in public spaces, but that remove was what he liked. And then he liked riding escalators out of the station and walking the short blocks to his office, past banks and upscale clothiers. A line formed outside the doughnut shop, which he liked. There was a concierge in the lobby of his sky rise. One time he asked her where he might find shoeshine service. He was thinking of arranging newspaper delivery through her, too. It’s likely that he was the only temp who wanted to use a concierge in order to get a newspaper.
Adam took his lunches in a busy downtown park, where he fed pigeons, watched tourists and read for an hour. He would contemplate the huge corporate sculptures that rose from the sidewalks, thinking about if he should fit them into his novel. Sometimes he would browse the new releases at the bookstore. Sometimes a guitarist would play in the park, and Adam would listen for a while as hundreds and thousands of other office workers swarmed through their lunchtime. Water from the harbor lapped at the docks.
Adam felt strongly that he didn’t fit in with the downtown environment, even though he was interested in observing it. He didn’t have any friends at his company, although he liked the people who worked there and they seemed to like him. Occasionally he would join a conversation about baseball, but other than that he shared no common ground with his colleagues. He didn’t own a television or a video game system. He found it remarkable how many adults actually played these games, but he made no remark. Adam was not judgmental. For one, not watching TV didn’t mean he was immune to cheap escapism; he watched plenty of movies on his computer. Also, Adam was interested in video game development, although he was not personally a gamer. He marveled at the future, and greeted every technological advance eagerly.
Not as eagerly, however, as he greeted every five o’clock.
Great, that’s fine. The gist is that I sort of live in two places with more or less equal happiness. I certainly don’t want the movie to convey that I despise either environment or its inhabitants. In fact, I had initially started the writing with my character named “Adam Tyler,” because Tyler is so close to my middle name, Tyner. I have always been partial to that name, as it is my maternal grandfather’s, whom I deeply loved and respected. But after Chuck Pahlaniuk’s success with Fight Club, the name Tyler is strictly evocative of that novel’s nihilistic protagonist. A writer can’t use the name Tyler anymore unless he wants to suggest that movie, but Fight Club is so far from the direction I want to follow with this story that I realized right away I had to change it. I realized this thanks to a comment my friend Randy made after reading the first two pages.
I had asked both him and my girlfriend, Stephanie, to peruse the early 1,500 words to get their impressions. I am not confident in my writing ability anymore. Also, I am a little reluctant to use my neighborhood as a subject for art (I’ll be exploring that idea quite a bit). I was ready to leave off the story but Stephanie said she was impressed by the beginning and Randy said I have a responsibility to the world to finish it. Randy also said something about how I had made it clear that I disdained my colleagues, and that I should focus on the inanity of my office, not my neighborhood.
In fact, my intentions and sentiments are pretty much the opposite. While it’s true that I don’t have friends in my office, I still think that my co-workers are admirable and lead meaningful lives. However, this movie is more or less finished with them. I have used the office and downtown to its full effect, I think, simply by leaving it. One addition did occur to me, though – namely that as I ride through the streets on my bicycle, the soundtrack ought to be not the chatter of car horns and bus engines, but how about a baseball game, piped through the headphones of my sport radio?
And at five, when he had made his final updates to his writing, he left the office, having spoken less than a handful of words to anybody the whole day. He clicked a baseball game onto the radio strapped to his arm, and by 5:30 he was riding into his neighborhood, which was night to the daytime of his downtown. The streets around 1818 – the name he and Tiffany had given to their home – were improbably crowded. Many of the rowhouses were boarded up, dilapidated buildings with caved in roofs. Eight out of every ten of them were vacant, crying lots. Still, in the three blocks between Wolfe and Broadway, the major avenues that surrounded 1818, a hundred people seemed to be forever loitering about the cracked and littered sidewalk.
Adam was slowly adjusting to this neighborhood. He knew it was a dangerous place to live, and imagined that he and Tiffany were the only straight - as in non-drug using, mildly square - white people who had lived there for probably fifty years. They stunned people when they moved in. Drivers would stop their cars, roll down their windows and curse in disbelief at the sight of them. Everywhere he walked, he overheard people speculating about him, the white boy. One group of men stopped him to lay odds - how long would it be until he moved out of the neighborhood? Six weeks seemed to be the consensus. Police officers frequently halted him and Tiffany, supposing that white people had only illicit intentions on these streets. One officer told him that “all the white people in the neighborhood were either criminals or victims.” The only time he felt more out of place was when he spent two weeks traveling in China, but even there he was welcomed as a tourist. Here, most people didn’t know what to think of Adam and Tiffany.
That China comment should suggest, on one hand, my interest in traveling but should not indicate a similar “passing through” mentality behind living in this rougher territory. Also, I should note that were I writing this story as a story (and not a story-board for my film), then further revisions would show the disgust Adam Robison felt at hearing the cop’s despicable “warning.” This ought to be made explicit through a flashback of the incident, perhaps, which means I need to consider using a narrator. Now, back to the story:
It wasn’t that he wasn’t accepted in his neighborhood. But unlike his neighbors, he never spent more than a few seconds on the street at a time. He had never lived in a place where he
Stephanie pointed out that the phrase “lazed about” is perhaps too charged up. I don’t disagree, but I leave it in as a place marker that shows “here I proved to be a racist.” I believe racism is as ubiquitous as breathing is, and that we all ought to note offensive instances in ourselves in order to weed them out. I tried to discuss this idea with Randy, who told me that while he knows something he says might be offensive, he’ll say it anyway if it’s what he thinks. I appreciate that we ought to be true to who we are, but I don’t think self-censorship prohibits that, or is a weakness.
But you know what? Had I not veered into unseemly wordage, I would have deleted that whole paragraph. I left it intact only to bring up the issue of racism, and to show for the future that when it comes up, I am aware of it. Or hopefully I am. At any rate, I imagine these constant asides inhibit the storytelling, and I will try to refrain from them for a while.
When he first moved in with Tiffany, about two weeks after she arrived in Baltimore, Adam Robison felt terribly out of his element and didn’t know how best to get along with his neighbors. One day, for instance, he was picking grass that grew between his sidewalk when a man approached, offering to help. Adam suspected that Eugie (as the man had introduced himself) wasn’t offering just to be neighborly, but would expect payment. Tiffany and Adam didn’t have money to spare, and Adam didn’t need help anyway, so he thanked Eugie but declined.
“Well, it’s easy work if you have a shovel,” Eugie said, “I just did it up at my own place the other day.” He pulled at his whiskers with stubby, calloused fingers. Eugie hadn’t shaved recently and his face was furry with gray hair. His slacks were as dirty and worn out as his hands, but his eyes were kind and vigorous.
“Oh, okay. I have a shovel.”
“You got to use a shovel with a flat head and that makes it real easy going. I could go get mine.”
“Nah, I don’t mind doing this,” I said, but I didn’t really like the job. 1818 has no yard, and the sidewalk between the building and the street is only a few feet wide and about forty feet long, but there was plenty of weeding to be done.
“Well, I don’t mind getting my shovel.”
“Okay.” Eugie hobbled up the street. Like a great percentage of the men in the area, he was lame in one leg. Adam reflected on that and went back to work, hoping that he could continue alone, but a minute later Eugie returned with a busted spade.
“Neighbors help each other out, you know what I’m saying? Maybe I help you a little with this work, maybe you show a little appreciation.” Despite his limp, Eugie attacked the weeds zealously. The shovel made a loud racket against the pavement and soon a wide man named James came up to give Eugie a hard time. Maybe he wanted to case up Adam Robison a little bit, too.
“What are you at, Eugie?” James said, then turned to wink at Adam. “Hey, how you doing, man?”
“Man, I’m just helping out my new neighbor here,” Eugie said as he continued to strike the ground with his shovel.
“Where’d you get that shovel?”
“From up at my place, you know? What are you doing?”
James said, “I’m just talking to my new neighbor here.” Adam had absentmindedly stopped working and was staring as he listened to the two men. James wore huge, cracked glasses and, like Eugie, had flecks of gray in his hair. He said, “You live here, man?”
“Uh, yeah. My girlfriend bought the place.”
“You going to open it back up?” Until Tiffany moved in, 1818 had been “C & S Grocery,” a corner store not unlike the half-dozen other corner stores within three blocks of where they stood. Despite the number of other stores, though, people seemed to miss C & S.
“Nah. We’re sort of converting it into a gallery, you know. We’re going to make art in there.”
“Art? What, like paintings?” Eugie pronounced it “pennings.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Eu,” James interrupted. “You just use that shovel.”
“Now I don’t like that,” Eugie said. “How come he’s gotta talk like that?”
“People . . . I guess some people like to argue,” Adam fumbled around for a while with a pocket full of words. He didn’t know what the score was, whether the men were really escalating a fight, but he was paying more attention to not getting scammed by fast talk than what the men were saying.
“Look here,” James said, “some people don’t know what they like.” For some reason, James was trying to aggravate his friend, but Adam felt loyal to Eugie, whom he had already lent his confidence, so he just shrugged and went back to the weeds. This gave James plenty of time to sputter.
“I’m saying, some people just don’t think about anything, day-in and day-out. I’m not saying I know it all, but I’ve led a good life and I got a daughter who’s getting married tomorrow and she’s a lawyer, or going to be, so,” he paused and let the thought drift away. “I mean, I may have spent some time in jail, but I still think about things, you know.”
“That doesn’t mean you know anything,” Eugie argued.
“See, you’re not thinking,” James said emphatically. Adam couldn’t make out the argument and hoped James would leave. People wear jail like a badge of honor, he thought. But instead of leaving, the man pulled out his wallet. It was old and thick from wear, but Adam supposed this usage wasn’t from a hectic financial life. He pulled a picture from the folds and offered it to Adam, who looked at it. It was a Christmas photo that showed a mother and daughter in front of an artificial white tree.
Oh, they were bonded, the pair, in mutual hope. This was clear past the creases in the photo, and past the photographer’s index finger which partially blocked the lens and created a shadow in the picture’s upper right-hand corner. The mother-daughter unity was evinced in the way that the daughter sat cross-legged on her mother’s lap, in the way the mother reclined on a torn duct-taped barcalounger. The girl’s eyes, the daughter’s, she was six maybe, zoned in on a trail of smoke that had lifted from her mother’s cigarette. The trail, traced down, ended at a long ash which verged on dropping to the floor. The floor showed up as a shaggy and worn carpet, orange, where the mother’s eyes fixated. Adam could visualize her hatred of the rug. The woman in the photo hates the rug because that’s where all the gifts should be, dozens of them, there before the girl who cuddles against the mother who sits before the tree. There were plenty of presents around the tree when Adam was six. Come to think of it, Adam came to think, that’s the same wallpaper we had in my living room in those days. The paper was originally white, with a light blue pattern, but in the photo it was stained beige. It had a tactile presence, more so even then the Christmas tree, which boasted only a few measly decorations. But presently Adam stopped and changed his reflections: there’s no disappointment in either of their eyes, and no resignation, and the hope that unites them isn’t a hope for better times, but for the same times. Adam wished the photographers finger could sweep down from its corner and across the image and brush away the wear, the creases and the smudges from the weight of James’ empty wallet. It’d be nice, he thought, if I could pass to James the clarity with which I view this picture, the poor mother’s placidity, so he wouldn’t need to invent successes. Then he amended his thought. It’d be nice if the photographer’s finger could reach out and pick my nose and rid me of my preconceptions: I have no way to know that this family home smells of the sweat and mold I ascribe to it.
“Is this your family?”
“That’s my daughter and her daughter.”
“She’s getting married?”
“Yeah, she’s getting married tomorrow. She doesn’t have anything to worry about, you know what I’m saying? She’s all set. And you know why?” He directed his question at Eugie. “Because she thinks. She’s smart.”
Eugie looked up from his work. “Hey, all I’m saying is I’m the one working. You’re just standing in the street.”
Adam realized he was just standing in the street, too, and he appreciated Eugie’s work ethic. But he could tell that James was going to attack Eugie, so he asked, “She’s a lawyer?”
“Yup. She just has to take the bar exam real soon.” Adam doubted him, and was frustrated by the falseness of their conversation, but it continued as long as there were weeds in the ground. So he put up with James’s and Eugie’s bickering and returned to the work himself. He pulled at the weeds with renewed vigor, and when he was finished Eugie said slyly, “You know what to do.”
“How much, uh, did we agree on?”
“I was thinking this was like seven dollars.” Although Eugie did most of the work, it had only taken fifteen minutes.
Adam never made $28 for an hour of yard work, and said “I was thinking more like five.” In truth, he just wanted to show Eugie that he wasn’t a pushover, even though he had been nothing but pushed over the whole time.
“You do what your heart tells you, man.” Adam went inside and returned with seven dollars, which he slipped into Eugie’s palm.
“I really can’t afford to do this anymore.” Adam said, feeling foolish for handling Eugie’s bid for help so poorly. Throughout the coming months he would see Eugie only rarely, and they seemed not to know each other. He never saw James again. There were plenty of people in the neighborhood who claimed to live there whom Adam would only see once and then never again. There was a man who approached while Adam was getting off his bicycle in front of 1818.
“Whooey, that’s a nice bike,” the man said.
“Thanks, it’s a little small.” It was an old mountain bike that Tiffany had since she was a teenager.
“Looks really nice. I wish I had a bike like that. Let me roll it.” The man gripped the handlebar as he spoke. Adam didn’t want to be rude, and he pushed the bike only tentatively toward the house.
“I’m not going to steal it. I just want to see how it feels. I’m just going to roll it.” A few months earlier some teenagers broke into 1818 and stole Tiffany’s Schwinn cruiser, a cheap bike that a friend had fitted especially for Tiffany. She was depressed about it, so Adam was protective when the man asked again.
“Gee, uh, okay,” Adam said, but he held onto the seat as the man pushed it a few feet.
“That’s real nice.”
“Do you live around here?” Adam asked. He hoped the man did not. He had never seen him before, but he immediately disliked how loud and pushy the man was.
“Yeah, man. This where you live?” he said when Adam stuck his key in the lock at 1818, his hand still holding the saddle of the bike.
“Whoa. This used to be a corner store way back.” The man’s surprise made Adam confident that he had been lying about living in the neighborhood. Everyone knew it wasn’t a corner store anymore. A couple times a day, however, people would come and pound on the heavy red door at 1818 expecting to be let in to shop. Whenever Tiffany or Adam answered they would say, “It’s not a store anymore.” The words became a mantra.
Pound, pound, pound.
“It’s not a store anymore.””Oh,” and the person would usually curse.
“There’s one on the other corner.” But suddenly the person was either too upset to shop, or they didn’t need anything anyway, and they would grumble as they left. It seemed to Adam that people frequently went to corner stores at their whims, and only to bother the Korean owners. They didn’t necessarily need to buy anything.
When Tiffany’s Schwinn was stolen, the couple were in the house. At that time they were lackadaisical with locking the red, outside door because there was another, lighter door in the entryway. But that door was on a remote lock so that the store owners could buzz customers in when they needed and maintain light security otherwise. A hard push would break the lock open, which was how two teenagers managed to creep in and steal the bike. It was clear who did it; Tiffany had named one of the boys “Barky” because he teased Adam’s dog, Lightning, by barking at her. Barky had broken in on another occasion and stolen a pair of boxing gloves and a Super-8 projector (which he left on the sidewalk). The kid was really the terror of the neighborhood. Tiffany caught him one time threatening Sky, the Korean man who owned the nearby corner store, with an electric taser.
So Adam was hoping he wouldn’t be shocked when he saw the Schwinn on the street a week later. Barky stood a few feet away from it, outside Sky’s, with his friends. It was a wet evening in the late fall, and dark. Adam was heading to the store for a pack of cigarettes when he saw the bike. He thought quickly about retrieving it, and then stopped thinking and took the bike. He hopped on and realized the tire was flat immediately as he rode over the curb. He climbed off and started to push it away instead. Adam was quite scared.
“Hey!” Barky hollered. “That’s my bike!”
“It’s my bike,” Adam retorted, and absurdly thought he should clarify, “well, it’s my girlfriend’s.” He stayed quiet, however, and continued walking with his back turned. He listened for footsteps, but there were none, and he parked the bike safely at 1818. Then he went out again for the cigarettes, walking past Barky and his friends without saying anything. No one said anything.
Don’t you know I could go on all day with stories about Adam Robison’s life in depressed Baltimore – but that wouldn’t get me any closer to developing a story for my movie. I saw a preview for an independent film the other day. I don’t remember what it was called. If I did, I would tell you. Maybe, actually, it wasn’t an independent movie after all. Snoop Dogg is in it. I can simply look it up on the Internet. . . .
Okay, it’s called The Tenants, and in the preview I remember seeing Dermot Mulroney discussing race and writing with Snoop Dogg (who looks really good in overalls). They are both writers. Their conversation seems very meaningful and intense. I would like to address issues like that in my movie but, after all, that’s not really a plot. I ought to address the issue in the plot.
All I have for my movie so far is me riding my bike home, listening to a baseball game. The baseball game won’t have anything to do with the story, but it ought to relate to the story somehow. For instance, it could be my favorite team playing (the Milwaukee Brewers), and they could be losing badly, but finally they come back to win; then, in my story, I could start to lose badly but triumph in the end. Or, they could be winning but then lose, and I could do the same.
What could I win or lose? Who knows? My email address is adamrobinson -at- gmail.com; drop me a line.
Say, here’s an idea. The plot ought to focus on the writing of my movie. So, like, say at the end of the story I have either found a publisher or not found a publisher? This is dangerous territory, because it’s something that Charlie Kaufman did well in Adaptations. I certainly don’t want to be derivative, even if it’s derivative of something I like so much. So I have to consider how my story will differ from his. I can make those considerations in a brief comparison of this work (as it will be in its final form) to Adaptations.
When You Trickle Through Performance Art You’re Bound to Overflow:
A Brief Comparison of This Work to Other Experimental Writing
by Adam Robison
edited by Adam Robinson
On a particularly sunny evening recently, my girlfriend and I were entertaining a couple friends, Terry and Bob. I say, “We were entertaining,” but it would be more correct to note that Terry was the amusing one. She stood on our landscaped patio and performed an act she had spent months developing. Although it was often hilarious, the piece struck me as discordant and confusing, and to be honest, much of the time I thought she was either making it up on the spot or not concentrating well. She made constant asides to us, the audience, saying, “Okay, this is the part where I am going to tell you about how I was living in . . . wait. Okay, I was going to tell you about how I was living in a basement, but now I’m going to go ahead and sing a song.” And in the song she would sing, “This is the time when you love me.”
The four of us discussed the act together, and it seemed natural that the film Adaptations would be discussed. Like Terry’s piece, viewers watch the protagonist in the film develop his story, or more accurately, the adaptation of a story written by another author. Charlie Kaufman, the author of the screenplay, makes himself the main character and chronicles his struggle to develop Susan Orlean’s novel, The Orchid Thief, into a movie. So the film switches between what the book is about, the way that the author researched her book, and Kaufman’s writing process. Adaptations, like Terry’s performance, is discombobulated in many other ways, but here we are concerned with attempting a brief comparison of my play with Charlie Kaufman’s role in his film, stopping at other experimental literature on the way.
In the beginning of the film, Kaufman – who gives the character his own name and casts Nicholas Cage to portray him – is considering projects to work on. He is discussing the possibilities with producers and friends and his brother (also played by Nicholas Cage). There is a similarity between the directions he and I seek in our work; while I am looking for a story to create, Kaufman searches for one to adapt – and we both have written about it in the final product. That is the essential element. It is also relevant that Kaufman addresses the way the screenplay of the film that he is writing in the film ought to be written about. He wants it to be real, not burdened by the “Hollywood” tendencies toward burdensome plot devices and special effects. His asides on this subject are not unlike my own – take, for instance, the paragraph in which I didn’t completely eradicate a comment that could be construed as racially inappropriate. Then, after setting up these guidelines, Kaufman finally ignores them. As for my project, we’ll have to wait to find out.
Those are the similarities, and they are there. And like Terry’s performance, they bounce so far off the wall that we risk being struck in the head. But this meta-stylism is not new with Kaufman, despite his genius and originality. One might also care to reference Nabokov’s Pale Fire, a “novel” that is written in the form of a poem with an introduction and endnotes. It is a masterful work, but its real genius, like Kaufman’s, happens off the page. A reading of Pale Fire is hardly complete without a discussion of the reading, at which time readers can discuss how they navigated the book, whether it was read straight through or with continual reference to the (bizarre and exhaustive) endnotes. Likewise, one might refer to Kurt Vonnegut’s huckstering in Breakfast of Champions, during which the author, within the pages of the book, invites his characters to a barbeque and then sets them free. This trick is made more astounding when Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut’s fictional author, is actually published, you know, in the real world. And what should we make of Kierkegaard’s corpus, wherein we find the books he wrote with numerous pseudonyms actually lodging serious objections to each other?
Tricks like these make creating art safer. They create a cocoon around a piece that protects it from that abstracted predator, scrutiny. The cocoon, when it is beautiful, pulls in the predator and initiates a relationship. The appeal for experimental artists is that their work can't be evaluated with a glance, a misfortune other media is doomed to face. A photographer doesn't just take photos, for example; photographers also take risks in ways that are unknown to conceptual artists or experimental novelists. A picture, an unassuming poem, a painting can be given a once-over, but conceptual art happens on the inside so that it can demand the viewer’s familiarity with the back, the inside, story. When the viewer invests himself like that for a work of art, he is more likely to appreciate it, less likely to discount it, shrug and walk away, as he might with a picture that does not suit his taste.
That is precisely what happens with Adaptations, which like Pale Fire, demands a cup of coffee and a casual discussion to complete. And The Book of Laughter and Forgetting plays the same game, as Kundera vacillates between his narrative, his literary criticism, and his own experiences. Ultimately, the goal of work like this is to become an event, an unforeseeable something that even Derrida himself could not have predicted. Don DeLillo or Jürgen Moltmann might posit this event as the eschaton, DeLillo with his nuclear fears and Moltmann with his coming hope, but experimental authors envision this event quite differently, as something that happens over coffee, or beer. To influence the dialog of history, that is the end of all human struggle, and the sole goal of experimental art.
As a consequence of this universal objective, it is unfair to draw a comparison between this work and any particular work, like Adaptations or Terry’s performance art piece. Therefore it is not inappropriate to make elastic this quote, from Theodor Adorno:
In the multiplicity of stimulus and expression, [great music’s] greatness is shown as a force for synthesis. Not only does the musical synthesis preserve the unity of appearance and protect it from falling apart into diffuse culinary moments, but in such unity, in the relation of particular moments to an evolving whole, there is also preserved the image of a social condition in which above those particular moments of happiness would be more than mere appearance. Until the end of prehistory the musical balance between partial stimulus and totality, between expression and synthesis, between the surface and the underlying, remains as unstable as the moments of balance between supply and demand in the capitalist economy.
Adam Robison didn’t have an overwhelming amount of faith in his writing ability, which made him insecure at his job. He wrote when he should have been phoning software manufacturers to request backup copies of the media for which his firm owned licenses, and he didn’t communicate well with his managers. This was an unhappy reality for him, for even as he doubted the quality of his writing and the extent of his talent, he knew that he could be performing far better in the business world than he was, and he worried that the business world would always be his sole source of income. If that was to be the case, Adam thought, then his writing was seriously inhibiting his real life. (He was not deluded into thinking that financial growth constituted real life, but he wasn’t convinced that writing poorly did, either.)
Nevertheless, Adam and Tiffany instituted a writing night. One evening, after a productive day of adding to his play at work, Adam was excited to share the developments with Tiffany. They sat at their table in the kitchen, eating a rice dish that Tiffany specialized in, and drinking wine. It was a sticky table, and cluttered, and the wine cost a buck and a half, and although he was bursting at the seams with excitement, Adam couldn’t find an angle with which to bring up his play. He thought it was greedy to talk about himself all the time. Discussing someone else’s work in progress is a sensitive matter, and tasking, and often very boring for everyone but the creator. Adam was aware of this (he took the same position with sharing dreams, which he considered to be impolite), and was accordingly reluctant to impose on Tiffany.
But Tiffany was an extremely sympathetic girl, and managed to take constant interest in other people if they were at all interesting, and was often considered a favorite audience member at shows. She never shied from a casual hoot mid-performance, and her ability to rouse an audience from the back of the room was uncanny. Furthermore, she had excellent taste and a keen eye, so Adam trusted her evaluation of art highly, and was anxious in seeking it. He was anxious because he wanted to hear it, but he feared he wouldn’t like what he heard.
As I was writing this I was listening to the Cubs play the Brewers in Chicago. Bill Hall, Milwaukee’s utility player, just hit a tie-breaking home-run in the seventh inning. Nothing gets me more excited than that. One time, Stephanie and I went to a baseball game at Camden Yards. It was the first time Stephanie ever went to a game, and she had a remarkable skill in watching it. She noted, for instance, that Bartolo Colon, the LA Angels’ pitcher, consistently put his foot in the exact same spot on his follow- through; it is an extremely rare and remarkable ability to pay attention to the pitcher, the batter, and the ball, but Stephanie managed it.
*** *** ***
 Interestingly, my father’s grandfather, if I have it right, was a bigamist named Kinsey, and that’s why someone decided to change our last name (to Robinson). This is something that happened in real life.
 There is a fairly successful writer named Douglas Rushkoff who wrote an entire novel, Exit Strategy I think it’s called, as an Open Source experiment. That means that he posted the work online and allowed readers to make revisions. It has since been published by Softskull, a fine independent press.
 The other night I mentioned to Stephanie that I don’t like books that shift fonts with narrators. I was reading Scott Turow’s popular new novel, Ordinary Heroes, thinking what a wonder it is that Faulkner ever got published, seeing as he only used one typeface. Of course, how many people who read Turow also dig Faulkner? Any successful business people who want to respond know my email address. (ed.)
PS I did greatly enjoy Mark Z. Danielewski’s horror novel, House of Leaves, which must have been a typesetter’s nightmare more than anyone else’s. As a footnote to the footnote, I rather disliked DF Wallace’s Infinite Jest for it’s rampant footnoting, and will break off here. (-ed.) | Main Page
Sunday, July 30, 2006
(10:23 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Used BookstoresI've spent a lot of time in used bookstores lately, searching out the all-time greatest hits of American theology from mid-century. (Whitehead! Tillich! Niebuhr! HUZZAH!) During said searches, it seems to me that the three best-represented authors in used bookstores in Chicago are as follows:
- Mircea Eliade
- Thomas Merton
- C. S. Lewis
Could this possibly be true? If so, what could account for it?
(I finally decided to pick up a book of Eliade's this weekend, The Sacred and the Profane. The store had a pile of twenty brand-new remaindered copies.)
(Yes, John Emerson, I know that Whitehead isn't a theologian. In fact, my advisor really liked Whitehead independently of his theological interests and was taken by surprise when a theological movement developed based on his work.)
Saturday, July 29, 2006
(7:48 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
On the old saw, "Kant was so consistent that people set their clocks by his daily walk"If this were the case, wouldn't it allow Kant to deviate from his schedule undetected? Inconsistencies on Kant's part would be dismissed as impossible and blamed on faulty clocks. Paradoxically, every failure to adhere to his strict schedule would thus serve to reinforce his aura of punctuality. All of this assumes that Kant went for a walk around the same time every day, which I find to be plausible -- but this big legend about him being more accurate than a clock has to be put to rest.
Of course, I've long had a vendetta against Kant, because my great-great-great-grandfather was the guy the murderer was looking for, and Kant wouldn't lie in order to save his life.
Friday, July 28, 2006
(10:46 PM) | Dominic:
A Particularly Sensitive Place
Much has been made recently of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's holocaust-denial, notably his assertion that "Jews invented the legend of the holocaust". This is denial of a familiar kind: the claim is that whatever might have happened, it wasn't "the holocaust" (or even a holocaust), and that any historical narrative in which the holocaust is presented as what happened is therefore an ideologically-motivated fabrication. In Hezbollah's case, this is part of what we might call a "greedy rejectionism": not only the actually-existing Israeli state, but also any possible "Zionist entity" is decreed illegitimate, and this illegitimacy is so total that any circumstance that might conceivably support a Zionist claim must also be minimised, treated with disdainful skepticism, and finally exorcised as a phantom.
Such rejectionism accepts as integral the total structure of Zionist ideology, including the particular function that the holocaust performs in this structure, in order to dismiss it in toto. It is thus radically complicit in perpetuating that ideology's illusion of consistency. Leftist anti-Zionists more usually argue that the notion that the fact of the Nazi holocaust entailed the necessity of creating a "Jewish state" is a kind of moral non sequitur, a factitious suturing of collective victimisation to aggressively expansionist religious nationalism that amounts to an illegitimate appropriation of the memory of the holocaust. One can only guess at why this interpretation might be lacking in favour with the leadership of the Army of God.
That is one sort of denial; it leads to a certain frantic cynicism, inasmuch as it makes the structure of reality dependent on the negation of a chimera, but Hezbollah at present have more urgent matters to worry about: chiefly the repelling of a brutal and indiscriminate exercise in military terror, aimed directly at a civilian population with the intention of punishing them, collectively, for permitting Hezbollah to exist. It is not a question of whether this is a "proportionate" or "disproportionate" response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers; clearly, it is not a response at all - at least not to that - but an independently motivated political act for which the kidnappings serve merely as a pretext.
As a political act, it has a political meaning; although this may be obscured by the desperate moral hooliganism of the perpetrators, whom one suspects of piling up Lebanese corpses largely in order to establish themselves as players of repute in the domestic arena of Israeli politics. Part of this meaning is surely apparent in the bombing of the former interrogation centre at Khiam, where members of the SLA routinely tortured prisoners under the supervision of the Israeli occupiers. The centre had been "rehabilitated" by the Lebanese government, apparently in close co-operation with Hezbollah, and now served as a museum documenting the brutality of the occupation and the atrocities endured by the Lebanese people. It was a place where former prisoners would meet with visitors and talk about what had happened to them: a site of active memory and resistance. On Wednesday 26th July 2006, without any ostensible military rationale for doing so, the IDF blew it up.
(9:37 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Anti-Zionist ... but not Anti-Statist?!I've been mostly absent from our small slice of the blogosphere for some time now, and will unfortunately remain so for some time to come now. Just want to register that while, as a thoroughgoing pacifist, I am categorically against the use of violence, there are things that are particularly troubling to me with respect to the current crisis in the Middle East. The plight of the Palestinians makes me wish for them the combined power of resistance of the movements most recognizable in the figures of Mandela, MLK, and Ghandi.
Yet the anti-Zionism of much of the Arab world and the western left is also quite troubling to me. Too many folks who have not even come close to dealing satisfactorily with the anti-semitic shit in their intellectual genealogies spout off passionately against Israel, without simulataneously criticizing all nation-states. There is absolutely nothing uniquely evil about what Israel is doing in terms of the politics of the nation state (just as there is nothing uniquely evil about what the resistance is doing in terms of guerilla warfare versus occupying or asymetrical military forces). Any and every other nation state that could, would react similarly, and has, to the type of resistance Israel faces. That is the unfortunate nature of the bordered world we live in. Thus, if you are going to boycott Israel, hell, boycott the U.S. and France and Venezuela and Switzerland and Indonesia, the Koreas, China, Canada, Iceland, South Africa, Russia. My sense is that the venom against Israel is really just thinly veneered anti-Americanism. But, then, why not simply be up front about the fact that what you really hate is imperial America. To do such a position justice, however, would have to give one a bit more sympathy for the way that Jews were caught between imperial powers for centuries and finally accepted, not without reservation, an imperial world's offer to join it on its own terms. With borders. And a military. And a racializing bureacratic democracy.
(8:03 AM) | Tara Smith:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Mommy StyleI confess that I think I'm getting dumber. I'd like to say that this perception is due to a Socratic awareness of how much I still don't know, or because I have continually surrounded myself with brilliant people thereby decreasing my perception of my own relative intelligence, but really I think I'm just getting dumber. Dummer, even. (My husband, standing over my shoulder, asks me to confess for him that he thinks I'm getting dumber as well. I confess that I'm going to kill him in his sleep.)
I confess that I like putting my son in daycare. I don't even feel very guilty about it very often anymore, even though I try to because I think a good mom should feel vaguely guilty about everything. I know that by placing him in someone else's care throughout the day, I'm certainly creating in him an inability to bond with others that will manifest itself in broken relationships throughout the rest of his life, and I know that I'm clearly choosing the lesser path of self-indulgence rather than embracing the essence of motherhood, which can be characterized by a propensity for exhaustion, self-loathing, and a vague but unsatisfying sense of martyrdom, but man it's nice to spend eight hours of the day with adults.
I confess that I'm ridiculously pleased that I get to attend District Assembly and listen to pastors' reports all day because I know that no one cares if I take my book (Heidegger: What is Called Thinking? It's a re-read, but it's been a long time and I didn't read it well enough the first time) and do nothing but read and write all day. I could do that all day anyway once in awhile without anyone caring, but this way even I don't have to feel like there's something more pressing I ought to do.
I confess that my son is babbling my name right now for no real reason, and that makes me almost unbearably happy.
What do you confess?
Thursday, July 27, 2006
(1:56 PM) | Aryeh Rafah:
More on Shady DealingsPer the recent conspiracy posts here, from this post we can conclude that if the US government did know about or participate in 9/11, it certainly wouldn't be without precedent.
The Operation Northwoods stuff is particularly relevant.
(10:49 AM) | m2:
On August 9, 2005On August 9, 2005, in a post on my blog "The H was O", I identified Jason Gonella as the "Troll of Sorrow." Subsequently, Mr. Gonella has represented and warranted to me that he is not now, nor has he ever been, the "Troll of Sorrow." I hereby withdraw and retract that posting in its entirety. | Main Page
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
(1:55 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Regular Feature Sign-Up SheetDespite rampant complaints about overlap between the two, and enigmatic remarks from a certain Long Sunday contributor about their character as "self-regard," The Weblog's weekly features continue unabated. The Tuesday Hatred has been effectively farmed out to various readers, starting with the steady leadership of Ben Wolfson and continuing with Bitch, Infinite Thought and others, and some furtive gestures toward non-Kotsko officiation over the Friday Afternoon Confessional (in the persons of Anthony, Brad, Tara, and Jodi -- plus a bonus confession from Angela) have been promising in my opinion. Group participation in blog-posting is growing and looks to grow more; getting more non-Kotsko posting entities to handle the weekly features seems to be a natural outgrowth of and spur toward the historic de-centering of this most venerable of all blogs.
That being said, I have devised two sign-up sheets giving the Tuesdays and Fridays of the month of August. As before, these slots are reserved for regular participants in said features, or for those who already have Weblog posting powers. Slots will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. I can cover what is not taken; slots not taken can be filled by others at any point before I wake up on the day in question (usually between 8:00 and 9:00am CDT). If it works better for you, it is always possible to save a post as a draft ahead of time and allow me to post it at the appropriate time -- so if your schedule makes it questionable whether you could write or post it first thing in the morning, that doesn't need to be an obstacle.
- August 1: Scott Eric Kaufman
August 8: The Girl
August 15: silvana
August 22: Brad
August 29: m2
- August 4: Adam Kotsko
August 11: anonymous coward
August 18: Tara Smith
August 25: Infinite Thought
Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
(9:33 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Sleep for Dummies
And thus spoke the sage:I tend to sleep a lot -- at least eight hours, and often nine. Sometimes it seems "invigorating" to get up much earlier than usual or stay up much later, but reality sets in pretty quickly.
"Honor sleep and be bashful before it--that first of all. And avoid all who sleep badly and stay awake at night. Even the thief is bashful before sleep: he always steals silently through the night. Shameless, however, is the watchman of the night; shamelessly he carries his horn.
"Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day..."
--Thus Spoke Zarathustra
I suspect that my exhorbitant sleep patterns might help me as a student. I slept like a maniac my freshman year of college, grabbing and clutching at every possible second of sleep, skipping classes to sleep. I was carrying a 4.0 up until I had a class that met at 7:30am. Now I tell people that it's very important just to cram as much as possible into your head and let your mind take care of arranging it behind your back. That strategy doesn't seem possible for people who don't sleep enough. If you're going to rely on the unconscious as much as I do, you have to give it time to work.
There was a time when I thought that becoming an "early riser" was necessary, but I have started to come up against what seem to be physical limitations of what I can do. In the past, I would've worried that this was pure delusion and excuse-making, but now I realize that the worrying takes up a lot of energy -- it "counts" in the overall total of what I can do in a day or a week. I'm not going to criticize worry and self-loathing -- they've given me the opportunity to write some really nice little autobiographical self-pitying essays. That genre is pretty played out now, though.
Within a couple weeks, I'm apparently going to be getting the page proofs for my first print publication. It's an essay that I wrote during the time when Richard and Kari were moving out of the house in Bourbonnais -- I didn't help them, because I had to write this essay. I came back from work one day to find that they were gone and that I didn't have a garbage can, a spatula, etc. I went to bed early that night.
I've been having nostalgia lately for that first semester at CTS, the crazy commuting schedule, the weird job. Every part of my life has a presumptive right to become the object of nostalgia, simply by virtue of being the past -- except probably my senior year of high school. I was trying to do too much, with school, band, work (sometimes until 11:30 at night). At one point, I had something like a nervous breakdown and missed more than a week of school. They thought it was mono, but all the blood tests came back negative. Looking back, it was probably just lack of sleep -- maybe if I'd just been able to feel more fully rested, that senior year wouldn't have been so stressful and so full of conflict with my parents. Now when I visit home, I always sleep in very, very late, and my parents never wake me up -- as if they've figured it out, too.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
(7:48 AM) | Rob Breymaier:
Tuesday Hatred: Searching for HomeI hate that we will probably have to leave the northeast corner of Chicago because of my new job. Although, I don’t hate my new job. And, I don’t hate the idea of possibly moving to Oak Park. I just wish Oak Park was closer to Edgewater.
I hate that if we move I won’t be able to walk to my cousin’s place anymore.
I hate that there are some neighborhoods off limits to our housing search because I fear the neighbors will harass or, at least, isolate an inter-racial couple. I hate that part of my concern is that I know the City of Chicago’s Human Relations Commission takes at least 4 years to address a complaint of discrimination. I also hate that the Commission is not likely to consider stiff penalties even if they find the respondent guilty of discrimination or harassment.
I hate that many suburbs also make the “off-limits list” because of the same fears.
I hate that these same neighborhoods and suburbs are also many of the most affordable options in our case. I hate that there isn’t enough moderately-priced housing in Chicago and the region.
I hate that very few political and community leaders think that what I hate above is a pressing problem.
Don’t forget to show your love as well.
Monday, July 24, 2006
(11:59 PM) | Aryeh Rafah:
Iran: What to Do?I had a nice, link-heavy, non-financial post all worked out here about what Condi Rice should say this week when she meets with Olmert and the Palestinian PM. But then, we already know what she'll say, so why bother?
Instead, a poll. For background, consider the following:
- Iran and Syria support Hezbollah both militarily and financially. The only person I've heard deny this claim in the past week was the Syrian foreign minister, so.
- Iran had Hezbollah break several years of relatively predictable behavior and "overplay their hand" (as an Israeli official recently put it) on July 12 because, on that same day, the UN was considering a more aggressive proposal to impose sanctions on Iran. Note that the draft resolution came not from the US but from France, Germany, and the UK.
- The primary problem with UN pressure might not be getting Iran to comply but getting Russia and China to approve sanctions. Bush's childishness at the G8 ensures that without some very, very costly economic concessions (WTO entry for Russia, a currency free-ride for China) they won't support sanctions.
- Brand new Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has a lot to prove, and came into office as a supporter of Sharon's latter-day conversion to withdrawal from Palestine, albeit unilaterally. Given the necessity for Olmert to prove his leaderly credentials, that Israel's behavior hasn't been more criminal is actually surprising.
But what if the West ignored Iran's proxy war and responded in kind - with a more aggressive sanctions resolution, with devil-may-care buyouts for Russia-China in order to get consensus support, with unilateral gifts of the proposed carrots (light water reactors or whatever)?
The risk of this Lebanese thing expanding really is minimal. Syria's not stupid, and the Sunni Arab countries are more than happy to denounce Hezbollah if it will prevent an ascendent "Shiite crescent". There seem to be only two things at risk here: the future of Lebanon and its people - reason to demand a quick ceasefire and whatever uneasy peace can be found; but also a deflection of pressure from Iran.
The later could be the bigger risk. I'm curious, if you're still reading: what do you think the US should do about Iran, especially over the next few weeks?
Bonus: ideas for an October Surprise this year?
(8:00 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Further Thoughts on 9/11 Conspiracy TheorismLet's assume that 9/11 really was a total inside job and that the Bush administration is entirely responsible. How much does that increase their moral vileness? One or two percent?
I'd be willing to go as high as four percent, tops.
(11:04 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
9/11 Conspiracy Theorism: True?Judge for yourself! There's a short version, a longer version, and some even longer versions, too.
When you're done with that, you can view some of the documents on mind control.
Here's a lecture by David Ray Griffin, a leading process theologian who co-wrote Process Theology: An Expository Introduction with John Cobb and who co-edited the corrected text of Whitehead's Process and Reality and has done a ton of other stuff, too. Reading his lectures on the topic is a good way to feel extremely angry. What gives it some plausibility in my mind is the fact that the collapse of the towers resembles a controlled demolition -- although a decision on the part of the owners to cut their losses by taking down the entire building does not require that broad of a conspiracy.
"Conspiracy theory" is of course a dirty word -- but speaking of conspiracy theories more generally, one could take Foucault's thought to be structured like a "conspiracy theory without a subject." Don DeLillo's Libra gives a fascinating fictional account of how an apparent "conspiracy theory" could come together and cause an event that a variety of actors want to happen, though for contradictory reasons -- and in fact, it would seem that the Iraq War is one of those kinds of things. We don't have to assume sheer cynicism is using so many different contradictory reasons to distract from the one true reason -- maybe all the contradictory reasons really are true, and that's precisely why it's such a clusterfuck.
In any case, what do we think? Is 9/11 conspiracy theorism true? Plausible? Worthy of being dismissed out of hand? In any case, remember: you won't see the mainstream blogocracy touching this. That's why you need to come to The Weblog -- for posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorism and the relative moral opprobrium attached to child molestation and terrorism. (Donations are accepted via the PayPal link in the right-hand sidebar.)
Sunday, July 23, 2006
(11:39 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Moral CompassThroughout the 1990s, it seems like we had reached a broad cultural concensus that child molestation was the worst possible crime. Do you think that's still true, or has the terrorist eclipsed the child molestor in our collective revilement? After all, a terrorist -- or even a presumed terrorist -- can under certain moral rubrics be shot on sight, something that is not generally considered to be true of child molestors. But that might be construed as more of a practical matter than a reflection of moral difference -- after all, there are relatively few suicide child molestors, perhaps even none.
What does the world think?
Saturday, July 22, 2006
(9:08 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Specificity in GeneralIn Truth as Encounter, Emil Brunner argues that not all aspects of the Bible are equally central:
There are, for example, the local references in the Gospels, which indeed are not inconsequential for a knowledge of Christ, for it is of the greatest importance that Jesus Christ lived and suffered, not just anywhere, but in specific places. And yet the local references considered singly are for the most part not of great importance, and not too much depends on whether or not they are right.In other words, such references are important insofar as they point toward the general idea of a particular place -- but unimportant insofar as they point toward a concrete particular place.
(Progress has slowed somewhat in recent weeks, but is picking back up again. Currently, I have completed 39 of the 69 books, and I am likely to finish Brunner either tonight or early tomorrow, bringing my total to a solid 40. I have also become aware that reading every single book is not strictly necessary and that perhaps it is even possible to pass the exam using only secondary resources -- but that route is for the weak. I am finding that in many cases, getting a taste of a particular author through reading one book makes me want to read more, so that is a positive sign. Yet admittedly, the odds of my reading every single book on the list are declining.)
(Tonight I made a wonderful dinner, by the way -- penne alfredo with whole sauteed mushrooms, plus steamed broccoli [organic] on the side. It was my first time using a vegetable steamer, which I found to be a very exciting thing.)
Friday, July 21, 2006
(8:47 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Apocalyptics AnonymousI confess that yesterday I gave my apartment a thorough cleaning for the first time since I moved in, and it felt good. I confess that I've been shaving less and less often and am actually considering shifting to a policy of using my beard trimmer to shave and therefore always having stubble.
I confess that I've been listening to the Beatles' Abbey Road a lot for the last few days, prompted primarily by my love for the song "You Never Send Me Your Money" and the medley section more generally. I confess that by some obscure mechanism, that album is linked to "Fred and Bethany Nostalgia" for me, and so it was nice to visit them this past weekend. I confess that I get all the mailings for events at Darling Hall, but never go to any of them.
I confess that I sometimes want to become a hermit, and my odds of being able to do so appear to have unfortunately increased.
I confess that I failed to change my address with Amazon when I moved, so I am only getting my birthday gifts today. Thank you to everyone who got me something -- I'm very pleasantly surprised. I confess that it was somewhat strange of me to put up a post giving everyone a week lead time on my 26th birthday, though it was nice that everyone knew it was my birthday and that I got a cake from Fred and Bethany out of the deal. I confess that I have been referring to it as "the double 13."
Now it is your turn to confess.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
(5:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Why the Iraq War HappenedLong Sunday's CR links to a great, thorough article in London Review of Books that takes as its starting point the slogan "No Blood for Oil."
(1:07 PM) | Adam R:
"My friend, my friend, he's got a knifeToday there were as many as NINE pro-lifers outside my office building. And the nine of them had dozens of those huge, bloody posters of aborted babies. Wicked, gross, and what's worse: thoroughly unconvincing. Now, if they showed a photo and caption like this:
And instead of those emaciated, sore-infested toddlers, Sally Struthers should try something like:Cutecore, anyway.
(12:18 AM) | Amish Lovelock:
Democracy is an (often White) Governmental FantasySo get used to it.
You know, actually, I reckon that Democracy is just another one of these old object petit a thingys. First of all to have more democracy you need places where there is no democracy, so, the System and the Man ensures this. They go about creating places of no democracy so there can be more of it – this kind of parallels those arguments for continuous primitive accumulation, right. And, to make things even better, Democracy has the structure of a fantasy. It gives people a tick; makes their lives seem viable. It has an affective dimension; an Object-Cause. If I do not posit a desired Democracy, I cannot exist as a Democrat. Hence... wait for it... constitutive lack!So, I bully the non-Democratic into becoming more Democratic. But of course, he can’t just go and become democratic because that would mean I’d cease to exist again. Bummer. So, I can only but include to exclude and vice versa.
Now, what gives me this magical ability to decide who’s in and who’s out? That would be Ol' modernity: you know the creation of those nationy-states through colonialism, biopower, and all the rest of it. But what about now? I hear you say. Haven’t we gone from discipline to control? From imperialism to Empire? Sure, but that is exactly why now you feel that special relationship with your magical power is under threat, even more so than it used to be. Society no longer must be defended you’ve got to bloody well make that damn society all over again. Go to the UN, go to the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch, whoever you can!
Ok, so what can we do about this magical power invested in us? What about letting in all the immigrants just like that, abolishing borders, and being mighty hospitable? What about moving the UN to Europe? Sure, you could do that but it is still you doing something – being active – you are the one with the magical power to do these things. So, Malcolm, what can a concerned white guy (like Jacques) who really gets your message and thinks that what you’re trying to do is really special and important do to help? Answer: do nothing. Don’t govern. No Democracy, nothing. A formal gesture of refusal in itself – that’s what you need. Get out of identity politics and governmentality and desubjectivize, or, in other words, re-subjectivize. You too Slum boy!Let’s all do nothing together and rock this world!
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
(7:21 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Fun With the CTA Trip Planner(I apologize in advance to my readers who are not familiar with Chicago's transit system.)
The other day, I wanted to make a trip from Lawrence and Western to Fullerton and Western -- a three-mile trip straight south. Western Ave. has a 24-hour bus, so the route wasn't in question, but I plugged it into the CTA Trip Planner because I wanted to know when I might expect the bus to come. I started getting some very strange results for the third possibility (they always give you three, even if there's only really one option), and I experimented with later and later start times until I started getting absolute monstrosities. Right now I can't get it to duplicate the very worst one, but here's something that's close:
Take CTA BUS # 81 LAWRENCE EASTBOUND
Depart: LAWRENCE & OAKLEY At 12:50 AM
Arrive: LAWRENCE & SHERIDAN At 12:59 AM
Take CTA BUS # 151 SHERIDAN SOUTHBOUND
Depart: LAWRENCE & SHERIDAN At 01:51 AM
Arrive: CHICAGO & MICHIGAN At 02:15 AM
Take CTA BUS # 66 CHICAGO WESTBOUND
Depart: CHICAGO & MICHIGAN At 03:20 AM
Arrive: CHICAGO & PULASKI At 03:46 AM
Take CTA BUS # 53 PULASKI NORTHBOUND
Depart: CHICAGO & PULASKI At 03:52 AM
Arrive: FULLERTON & PULASKI At 03:59 AM
Take CTA BUS # 74 FULLERTON EASTBOUND
Depart: FULLERTON & PULASKI At 04:14 AM
Arrive: FULLERTON & WESTERN At 04:24 AM
A four-hour, incredibly circuitous trip to get somewhere that in reality only requires one step -- amazing. I don't have the exact times, so I'm basically just copying and pasting the times from the one above, but my very favorite went something like this:
Take CTA BUS # 81 LAWRENCE WASTBOUND
Depart: LAWRENCE & WESTERN At 12:50 AM
Arrive: JEFFERSON PARK CTA At 12:59 AM
Take BLUE LINE (TO FOREST PARK)
Depart: JEFFERSON PARK CTA At 01:51 AM
Arrive: WASHINGTON & DEARBORN At 02:15 AM
Take CTA BUS # 62 ARCHER SOUTHBOUND
Depart: WASHINGTON & STATE At 03:20 AM
Arrive: ARCHER & WESTERN At 03:46 AM
Take CTA BUS # 49 WESTERN NORTHBOUND
Depart: ARCHER & WESTERN At 03:52 AM
Arrive: FULLERTON & WESTERN At 03:59 AM
What I like about this route is that you get such a good overview of the city -- first you go to the extreme northwest corner, then go all the way to downtown, then go deep into the southwest side, and finally (in a true triumph of inefficiency), end up taking the Western bus several miles north to reach a destination that was actually south of your departure point.
In all fairness, the two first options were always the obvious one -- it's only the third option that gives you the really baroque routes.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
(5:04 AM) | it:
Cor Blimey, Guv'nor, it's a London Tuesday HatredApart from the fact that no one is telling Israel to stop killing people, and the deeply sinister chumminess of our 'leaders', today I have decided to abominate:
- the woman who cut her fingernails on the sweltering tube yesterday, despite the palpable disgust of fellow passengers.
- the fact that I'm thirty pages away from finishing the last Highsmith book, ever, ever. Write some more, dammit! Oh you can't, you're dead. Clone another from her hair, scientists! What was the future for anyway?! Where are those geodesic domes for the entirety of the Earth's population? The cures for diseases? The end of hunger? etc. etc. Not to mention the total absence of any proper space programmes....
- the way the flat is covered with weird hairy fluff that I somehow can't rouse myself to sweep up.
- The fact that I've spent all my cash for this month on the back of some teaching money that won't turn up for another ninety days.
- the fact that whereas anxiety used to keep me awake now it just sends me to sleep. Not a very useful development with a large (unmentionable) imminent deadline in the offing...
- the fact that I'll never know what it's like to be an ant on stilts.
I also hate: melons, cars (with all my heart), the crappiness of British things and our incapacity to complain properly about them, all dogs (apart from guide ones), cars, children, nature, the desire to drink, hangovers, academia, the inability of coffee to taste as good as it smells, the human body, niceness, washing my hair, folding clothes. But most of all, I hate feeling listless, which unfortunately takes up at least two-thirds of any given day.
So, er, I'm supposed to ask you what you hate now, I believe...London calling (er, although I don't like the Clash much either).
Monday, July 17, 2006
(1:14 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
On ShabbinessI've always desired shabbiness, deep down. It's strange how this happened -- this desire for downward social mobility. I was always jealous of my friends who had the shabby houses full of shabby furniture, the shabby clothes that they could just wear rather than assemble and display, the friends who never had "outfits," who never had fancy meals, for whom everything was make-shift.
My mom, aunt, and grandma owned a furniture and decorating store while I was growing up, called The Country Way (it closed when I was around 12). The style was roughly what you would find in an issue of Country Living (check it out next time you're waiting in the grocery line), but the comparison is inexact. In reality, theirs was a strict orthodoxy, one that I imbibed over the years of going with them on trips to competing country stores, to the trade shows (in Chicago, Atlanta, Columbus, etc. -- I was quite a traveller!). Like most orthodoxies, it's difficult to define positively -- it only really displays itself when contrasted with tackiness. Modern "decorating" is definitively tacky. All these leather sofas, stainless steel crap -- tacky. But there was a lot of country stuff that was tacky, too. The men of the family absorbed it too and made their own contributions. My dad is a skilled painter and is perfectly capable of stencilling walls, creating wall hangings, etc., that fit perfectly with the aesthetic. My grandpa is a great carpenter and would build furniture in his workshop, either for the family's use or to sell in the store. Although I don't have a skill like that, I'm no exception: I'm sure that, to this day, I could go to a country store with my mom, and we would be in total agreement on what represents tackiness. It's not a matter of just knowing "what she would think" -- it's a matter of having absorbed the grammar of it, of "believing in it" myself (for lack of a better term). Even today, if I enter a home that attempts the country style of decoration, I know instantly whether they've succeeded or failed.
Our houses themselves were showrooms -- intensive cleaning every week (including scrubbing the woodwork along the floor, a typical job for me and my sister), complete furniture rearrangement every couple months, etc., etc. I enjoyed the furniture reorganization especially -- I was always excited to see what my mom would come up with, especially for my own bedroom. When I went away to college, I would still move around the furniture in my dorm room every couple months and clean every week or so. Just like with my mom, that tendancy has reduced since I've gotten more and more to do, but the basic tendancy is still there. I've gotten more and more spartan in my tastes -- I can't replace my mom's aesthetic with one of my own (what would I replace it with -- the ready-made aesthetic of Ikea?), so I just go with "no" aesthetic, which amounts to a stripped-down version of what I've always had. I still make my bed every single morning, as if I'm embarrassed that even my roommates will see the bed in a state of disrepair.
Though there was a lot that I embraced, there were also aspects that I rebelled against -- primarily what I saw at the time as snobbery. I'm sure it wasn't snobbery in actuality -- decorating was just important to my family, so they'd ask me quite innocently about my friends' houses. I experienced pressure, however, to submit a judgment, based on our commonly-shared standards. I enjoyed it when it was some rich person I was skewering -- they have all that money, but their house still isn't as nice as ours -- but I didn't know quite what to do with the people who didn't seem to be even trying, or to be able to try.
It was worse with clothes -- in fact, when it comes to bitching about my upbrining, that is the "quilting point." Not the hours and hours of lecturing when I was a teenager, not the hatred of my high school girlfriend, not the pressure to participate in church stuff -- no, it's clothes. My basic complaint is that they bought me too nice of stuff, all the time. I never felt comfortable in it -- it's one thing to adhere to some idiosyncratic but well-defined family aesthetic, but quite another thing to buy outfits based on what the national brands were promoting that year. I normally ended up wearing the same three things over and over, with closets full of expensive clothing going to waste. I never felt comfortable around people who "sincerely" dressed fashionably -- the people I liked best tended to view clothes in a totally utilitarian way, at least as far as I could tell. But it was as if there was some kind of betrayal -- I couldn't quite get my mind around what the problem was at the time, and I don't think I can be blamed for not saying to my mom, "Why don't you buy me shabbier clothes?"
But really: why not? We were living beyond our means, I didn't feel comfortable in that stuff anyway, it always caused a huge problem whenever we went school shopping -- it's as though the struggle over clothing represents every single thing, as though if I could untie this particular knot, everything else would fall into place naturally. My mom and I had a terrible fight about clothes on the drive back from orientation at Olivet -- my sister was in the back seat and almost had a nervous breakdown -- but I couldn't articulate it, couldn't make it make sense. "You never let me pick out my own clothes." That doesn't even make sense -- it's not even true. They would've loved for me to have asserted myself and picked out some stuff that I would've actually worn.
Even today I feel awkward getting clothes for Christmas, as though it's some kind of critique of me, as if expensive gifts are a form of emotional blackmail -- not furniture, not books, not household appliances, only clothes. They wanted me to be the best-dressed kid in the school, they said. Repeatedly. I'm ungrateful -- do I want to dress like that person who has nothing, with their worn-out t-shirts? Well, maybe I do. But I couldn't find the words to say it. I didn't know what I wanted. In a sense, I didn't know how to want -- maybe I still don't.
No, I still don't. I still don't buy my own clothes -- it makes perfect sense to go to thrift stores, to pick some stuff up, but it's as though it would be an insult to my family if I were to do that. In my own mind, almost certainly not in theirs -- I'm sure they'd be baffled if I ever came out and said this stuff, just as they're baffled now with the way my sister is trying to process things now that she's getting close to graduating college and entering the adult world.
Rightly so -- in retrospect, it has to have been built on a misunderstanding, or more likely on unarticulated motivations on my parents' part. Was there class aspiration going on? Almost certainly. And there was probably some anxiety about status more generally, not wanting to be looked down upon by the established families in a typically cliquish small town. (I didn't understand Davison until I lived in Bourbonnais -- as much as my time there drove me to the brink of despair, it was valuable in that respect.) It almost amounted to a self-fulfilling prophecy, that my sister and I wouldn't be "popular," in that quasi-official sense -- but how to want something else? How to want to be myself?
I'm only now starting to learn what that would mean: to embrace the fact that I come from shabbiness, that I gravitate toward shabbiness, that whatever degree of "quality" I achieve will have to come from my own internal standard and not from an official regulating body. That last part is why I can never reject the impulse behind the aesthetic of The Country Way, while rejecting the desire to keep up with corporate culture, which leads only to waste and debt. Similarly, I deeply sympathize with the original impulse behind the Church of the Nazarene and think that my parents were right when they said that they felt the Spirit more in that church than in any other -- but I reject the gutting of that church through "contemporary" worship, with its PowerPoint sermons, with its genericness. It's okay for the Nazarenes to have wanted to be what they were, as far as that goes -- but to want to be "contemporary," I don't know. The Country Way wasn't "contemporary" -- it just was what it was. I'm glad that it was part of my life. It's just a matter of finding something that can follow up on that impulse and be mine.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
(6:51 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Financial Responsibility? No thanks!The Chicago Sun-Times has apparently reprinted an article by Jeffrey J. Williams called "America's new debtor class: College Kids" that originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Williams' article is ostensible a book review, but it makes the argument that the amount of debt college kids are graduating with are turning them into, well, a new debtor class. This is hardly ground breaking, especially to many of the readers here at The Weblog. As it stands Hayley and I will be paying nearly $400/month for a very long time. This amount of money will quickly increase after our graduate work, though I'm hoping we'll be making enough to pay it off every month. It's a gamble though and it really is in the most literal sense. We all know that the chances of getting a tenure track position is slim especially in any department in the humanities and especially as a white male. I'm betting using house chips and it's quite terrifying if it all goes badly (though not hopeless).
That is all a familiar story and we all know it because we all bitch about or read about others bitching about it. We all know we're doomed and me and you more than most. And, of course, I'm not against bitching about it. When you have other academic failures hiding behind the label of activist calling you an over-confident graduate student for something you didn't even say it's good to know that you're anything but. It's good to know that you're also risking your ass for what you believe in (and I do believe in education and pure research just as much as I believe in socialism - both are utopian and possible). But I wonder if it's not getting a bit tired. I wonder if we can't affirm our lack of financial responsibility. Is it too romantic to be reckless with the object of our own popular piety?
Isn't refusing, or even accepting in bad faith, the terms of our debt a possibility? Or are we convinced that there is no way out but wage slavery? Are we that tied to responsibility? Isn't it a real possibility that the amount of people with this amount of debt creates a situation with which we can make demands? Is it not possible that we can also get this God to kill himself by the sheer weight of our debt?
Here's to dumpster diving and all those who live freer than myself.
(5:52 PM) | John Emerson:
Werewolves and the State
In Society Must Be Protected (p. 53), Foucault writes
|The role of the legislator is not the role of the legislator or the philosopher who belongs to neither side, a figure of peace and armistices who occupies the position dreamed of by Solon and that Kant is still dreaming of....|
Fontana and Bertani (p. 283) interpret this as referring to
|the 'median position of referee, judge, or universal witness' which has been that of philosophers from Solon to Kant.|
Solon stands here with Kant as the archetypal philosophical universalist and man of peace. But Solon's self image is not like that at all. He represented his mediation this way:
That was why I stood out like a wolf at bay amidst a pack of hounds, defending myself against attacks from every side.... I set myself up as a barrier in the debatable land between two hostile parties.
Linforth, IX and XI, p. 139;
In the words of Anhalt (p. 134)
|Solon's simile recognizes the efficacy of the symbolic 'wolf', a kind of pharmakos or scapegoat, for the promotion of social cohesion, and gives the tradition a twist, for the poet takes the role upon himself. He transforms the wolf symbol into the hero necessary for the preservation of his society.|
In other words, the bringer of order (Solon) was like a wolfish outcast from civilization and eater of men, or perhaps a werewolf -- a pharmakos like Socrates in Derrida's Pharmakon of Plato. Perhaps this squares with Agamben's werewolf (Homo Sacer, p 107):
|The [temporary] transformation of the werewolf corresponds perfectly to the state of exception, during which (necessarily limited) time the city is dissolved and men enter into a zone in which they are no longer distinct from beasts.|
Agamben (p. 31) does cite Solon, but not the wolf metaphor:
|with the force of the nomos I have connected violence bian and justice Dikē (in Lindforth IX, p 135: "These things I accomplished with arbitrary action, bringing force to the support of the dictates of justice....")|
and also cites a werewolf passage which Anhalt has cited (p. 132):
|The story goes that whoever tastes of one bit of human entrails minced up with those of other victims is inevitable transformed into a wolf. Thus when the leader of the mob (dēmos), seeing the multitude devoted to his orders, does not know how to abstain from the blood of his tribe.... will it not then be necessary that he either be killed by his enemies or become a tyrant and be transformed from a man into a wolf? |
Republic 565d-e; Homo Sacer, p.108.
So anyway: the werewolf is Solon (the founder of Western Civilization), Socrates, the tyrant, and the state of exception. Following David Gordon White you could also throw in Saint Christopher, Romulus and Remus, and the primal ancestors of the Turkish and Mongol hordes. Wolves symbolize the state of nature, tyranny, founding violence, restorative violence, rebellious violence, and anarchy.
As we know, government is the monopoly of legitimate violence -- even Weber knew that, though "legitimate" has no definable meaning in this phrase. All order is founded on violence, but you only want one founder, preferably in the distant past -- you really don't want lots of founders. They're just too bloody-minded and wolfish.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
(12:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Juxtaposition StudiesNothing spices up dinner-party conversations like unexpected juxtapositions:
"I found that I wasn't able to understand Augustine fully until I started reading the Confessions alongside Bataille."I'm looking for juxtapositions here that are so radically implausible that the very act of stating them forcefully paradoxically makes them seem plausible.
"Anti-Oedipus remained a closed book to me until I happened upon Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy. The connections are so obvious that one begins to wonder if they aren't purposeful -- on both sides."
"Of course, it goes without saying that Gravity's Rainbow is ultimately little more than an extended commentary on Irenaeus's Against All Heresies."
Friday, July 14, 2006
(9:09 PM) | Amish Lovelock:
Amish Lovelock's Height of Good TasteSo, here I am. And, more importantly, here it is. A new corner; a Weblog first! In a couple of months they’ll all be pondering over at Long Sunday or wherever about the hermeneutics of mackerel, or what Baudrillard said about the cabbage, but remember, the culinary craze about to infect our little corner of the blogosphere started here folks!
After thinking a little bit about what shape my contribution to The Weblog might take, I remembered a few years back when Adam posted some recipe full of peppers and eggs and spinach that sounded so good I actually went out and bought all the ingredients right there and then, cooked the thing, and proceeded to devour it finding myself in full agreement with Adam’s verdict that it was quite delicious. So, what about a regular culinary corner, I thought; a place where we can all share our gourmet habits; a place for recipes, restaurants, food and drink, gorgeous riffs on fish chowders, a place where the difference between unpretentious and bog standard can be debated in full and where all expression can feel the full advantage of having its flavors lemon enhanced. An open space – itself a recipe of sorts – in that it offers readers and writers of The Weblog alike a promiscuous willingness to accept whatever is put into it. What could be better than that?
To start it all off then, here is one of my top ten of all time: Aussie food critic extraordinaire Terry Durack’s deep, dark and sensual Roast Lamb with Coffee. Yep, that's right folks, dark coffee and the biblical beast. Oohlala.
salt and pepper1 tblsp fresh rosemary sprigs1 boned and tied leg of lamb - about 1.2kg
1 tblsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup strong coffee
1 tblsp cream
1 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp brandy
1/2 cup chicken stock
- Preheat oven to 190C
- Rub salt, pepper, rosemary into the lamb
- Spread mustard over lamb
- Combine coffee, cream, sugar and brandy in a pot, stir over gentle heat until sugar is dissolved
- Place lamb in lightly oiled baking dish and pour over coffee mixture
- Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 160C for 15 mins
- Rest for 15 mins before carving
- Add chicken stock to juice and heat until bubbling.
So, where have you eaten recently?
(8:21 PM) | Aryeh Rafah:
Hedge YourselfRobin Blackburn, "Finance and the Fourth Dimension," is a weird essay.
On one hand, Blackburn gives a quick overview of contemporary finance, including explanations of the tools of the trade and plenty of examples of the power of those tools. Long Term Capital Management reference? Check. References to the ethereality of options and futures trading? Check. Stories about contemporary risk arbitrage so scary that they make '80s raiders sound warm and gentle by comparison? Check. You finish the piece already smarter than most of the staff at CNBC! So very New Left!
On the other hand, the sexy finance discussion is just window dressing - as the breathless, almost panicked tone with which Blackburn discusses current techniques attests. The real point here is to mourn the decline of corporate pension schemes, whether to outright theft, the ravages of bankruptcy, or the incompetence of pension fund managers. A sad tale, obviously, but not a new one. Indeed, in manufacturing, it's hard to understand how some companies have survived for so long. I don't know of any serious challenge to the proposition that General Motors was and is facing an existential crisis, and that trimming its benefits obligations is the only plausible solution (besides uprooting itself to some EPZ in the Philippines). Blackburn concludes with a sigh about the unfair effects of financialization on pensioners, the public sector, and consumers. I was actually surprised at the lack of reference to Marx's vampire metaphor. So very Old Left.
Two of Blackburn's points are particularly notable: fear of finance, especially of the elegant mathematical sorcery of derivatives, arbitrage, etc., is pushing the Left toward "neo-Luddism". We have to live and fight in this world, and there's no excuse for willful ignorance. Those of us who appreciate indoor plumbing, penicillin, and the internets need also to know something about what Fed chairmen do, at the very least so that we can advocate policies that are both just and plausible. (For example: antiglobalization Seattle-style protests are great fun and even better theatre. They're also strategic nonsense. An empowered milquetoast like John Edwards inside a G8 meeting is worth more than an army of angry "anarchists" outside.)
Second, he is correct that the agents of modern finance don't tend to play by their own - or anybody else's - rules. Fair, neutral strategies like vanilla swaps (replacing a variable rate instrument with a fixed rate one) and straightforward long/short positions seem to be the exception rather than the rule for the institutions. Banks and hedge funds get so obsessed with the short term and use such deliberately obfuscating techniques that they suck the profits and productivity from economies without any fear of retribution from governments or even markets.
The warning that financialization is exacerbating fundamental global economic woes makes enough sense. But it doesn't really add much to the agenda. We know that Enron wasn't a fluke, that LTCM could happen again, and that someday soon the American Samson will get a haircut. Macroeconomic resignation is warranted. A bolder SEC could do some real good, and a Gov. Spitzer will do some real good. But the only serious threat to financial engineering is a global flight of liquidity, and that wouldn't be good for anybody.
But if fear of finance is not an option, how about some suggestions for using finance as a weapon on the individual level? Maybe aged employees can only hope for the best; but there's no reason younger workers can't and shouldn't be protecting themselves from financial risk, even if that means shorting the company stock, consuming strategically, or consuming less (!). Wealthy investors don't put their retirement money into mutual funds; so there's no reason line workers should have to put their pension money into the hands of fund managers rather than ETFs. I don't have any big ideas either, but I do know that smarter, savvier employees and investors leave the banks and funds fewer suckers to exploit.
Religious voters get a lot of attention; didn't Christianity historically have something to say about usury?