Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Story of the Golden Temple

The Story of the Golden Temple: A guy fell in love with it, and burned it down. He couldn't stand the idea of its falling apart as it got older, and now the Golden Temple exists in perfect form forever, it became a myth. . . .

That's why the Beatles will stay a beautiful myth, because they ended before they deteriorated.

—Yoko Ono

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Divide & Conquer?

I recently talked to a young Clinton supporter who was so disappointed in the likely outcome of the Democratic primaries that she was not sure that she would have the heart to vote at all in November. The close competition between Obama and Clinton seems to have generated enough mistrust and resentment to make you wonder whether the rift in the party will be repaired in time for the general election. And she is not the only person that I know with misgivings.

Those of us with suspicious minds -- and there is plenty of grounds for suspicion these days -- might well wonder: did Clinton and Obama emerge from the rest of the Democratic field as the result of a divide-and-conquer strategy, in which two important Democratic constituencies were set at odds with each other?

What mechanism of influence could bring about such a state of affairs?

Perhaps... major media coverage that neglected other viable candidates in the Democratic field in favor of two chosen ones. As just one example of the way in which an editorial message can be blanketed across the spectrum of major outlets, I would point to the sinking of Howard Dean's primary run in 2004 by the nonstop broadcast of the "I have a scream" footage -- a non-event in itself, devoid of content, that was used to sideline a candidate whose strong opposition to the Iraq war, and whose questioning of the official account of the 9/11 attack, evidently caused him to be blackballed in the media.

A few weeks ago, I happened to see a Ken Burns documentary on PBS that suggested to me a nineteenth-century parallel to the recent competition for a historic "first" for the U.S. Presidency. The film documentary, entitled Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, includes an account of a rift that happened among radical reformers at the end of the U.S. Civil War. In the wake of the war, supporters of women's suffrage, led by Stanton and Anthony, were resentful that the proposed Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would give the vote to freed male slaves, but not to women, white or black. The women lobbied for a change in the text of the proposed amendment that would make universal suffrage the law of the land. Having previously campaigned on behalf of abolitionism, the suffragettes were told by the male leaders of the abolitionist movement that the end of the war was "the Negro's Hour" and that they would have to wait, perhaps another generation or more, for their turn. In response, Stanton's oratory took a racist turn as she scoffed at the suggestion that white women ought to "stand aside and see Sambo walk into the kingdom first."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with daughter, 1856
Frederick Douglass
Years before, at the birth of the women's suffrage movement -- the Women's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 -- Frederick Douglass had given his much-needed support to the radical position, first proposed by Stanton, that women should demand the right to vote. The Burns documentary showed how, almost twenty years later, Douglass and Stanton parted ways over the suffrage amendment -- a case of former allies reduced to fighting for what scraps could be had from the table.

Recent news stories about a Pentagon-coordinated domestic propaganda campaign to consolidate U.S. public support for war against Iraq, or about White House lies as related by former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan in his exposé What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception leave me compunction-free when it comes to speculation about where else the news media has steered, and is steering, us wrong. But I should also acknowledge that, even if the division among the Democrats gives a badly-needed boost to the GOP candidate in the context of a "change election" season, the Obama-Clinton rift may have arisen spontaneously, as a result of the merits and appeal of the available candidates as well as the mood and demographics of the primary participants.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Travels in Hyperreality

This photo, taken on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, is from a day spent in NYC with Craig and a friend from Princeton, Geoff Ng, in the Summer of 1992 -- very near the end of my time in The City. Geoff took the photo. I think I first met Geoff in Charles Bernstein's poetry workshop at Princeton during my senior year. Or he may also have been in Chase Twichell's workshop the previous year.

That day, Craig, Geoff, and I checked out the Guinness Book of World Records Museum, located in the basement of the Empire State Building. We perceived and interpreted the objects in the exhibit in light of Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality, for us a recent and exciting discovery. After musing over the delightfully phony but musty photos, dioramas, and videos of such curiosities as Robert Waldrop (eight feet eleven inches at the age of twenty-two) and that dapper, attention-getting man-about-town who affected a "beard of bees," we took the elevator up to the observation deck of the building, where I think this photo was taken. It depicts a moment of verbal improvisation of the kind that was a constant game between Craig and me -- in part a way of joking around, in part a way of generating useful creative sparks that could be captured, fixed, and later rekindled and fanned into life -- notice Craig's handheld tape recorder. We used to carry the handheld recorders everywhere, joke, talk, and sing into them constantly, and use them to grab any ambient noise or audible culture that caught our attention. This eventually led to the accumulation of hundreds of log tapes. This photo, however, is a staged simulation of inspiration (note my self-conscious smile), a representation of the general category, rather than an actual spontaneous moment caught on film.

Later that afternoon we were wandering around the neighborhood in Manhattan where the Museum of Holography -- to which Eco refers in his book -- was supposed to be located, but we never found it. Only later did we discover that the museum had gone out of business and that the collection, including what had long been billed as the largest hologram in the world -- a three-dimensional likeness of the inventor of holography, the Hungarian-born physicist Dennis Gabor, sitting at his desk -- had been sold. It was perhaps two years later that Craig discovered that the collection had been bought by the MIT Museum; he left a message on my answering machine to tell me that the Museum of Holography had followed me up to Cambridge. Eventually we succeeded in finding it at the MIT Museum on an expedition with Lana. The rooms of the gallery were shadowy, illuminated only by the sickly, monochromatic green and red lasers required to reconstitute the recorded images. To my satisfaction, the hologram of Gabor was on display, along with such expressions as a holographic likeness of the smiling face of a woman that transformed itself into the face of a fierce Tiger as one passed from left to right in front of the plate.

I later glowingly (and smugly I know) pronounced the exhibit to be "the greatest collection of holographic kitsch in the world."


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Misrecognition

A Meeting of the Editorial Board of Mesures

This photo of a gathering of some Parisian literati appears in a book-length photo essay by Gisèle Freund and V. B. Carleton entitled James Joyce in Paris: His Final Years (New York: Harcourt, 1965). The authors explain and identify the members of the group:

Adrienne Monnier was extremely active as a critic and as the guiding spirit of several of those small literary magazines that have always added luster and excitement to the Parisian scene. One of them was her own, Le Navire d'Argent, in which the first French translation of "Anna Livia Plurabelle" was published in 1925. One of the most interesting magazines of the thirties was Mesures, financed by the American writer Henry Church and his wife, Barbara, who lived in a large villa not far from Paris in Ville d'Avray. When the weather was fine, the editorial board often met in the garden. Here, from left to right, are Sylvia Beach, Barbara Church, Jacques Audiberti (standing behind her), Adrienne Monnier, Germaine Paulhan, Henry Church, Henri Michaux, Michel Leiris, and (standing behind him) Jean Paulhan. (44-45)

The photo caption in the book dates the meeting to 1937. Vladimir Nabokov refers to this photo on the first page of his Foreword to Speak, Memory — his memoir of his youth in Russia and his twenty years spent as an emigré in Europe. Writing in 1966, Nabokov says about one of the chapters of his memoir:

I wrote it in French, under the title of "Mademoiselle O," thirty years ago in Paris, where Jean Paulhan published it in the second issue of Mesures, 1936. A photograph (published recently in Gisèle Freund's James Joyce in Paris) commemorates this event, except that I am wrongly identified (in the Mesures group relaxing around a garden table of stone) as "Audiberti."

One is tempted to imagine that Nabokov is distracted by a chrysalid that he has found suspended from a branch or tree trunk in the garden.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Shim Jambs at Noise New Jersey

Craig and I recorded the second Shim Jambs EP at Noise New Jersey, the studio of Kramer (from the band Bongwater and ShimmyDisc Records) in Demarest, NJ. Craig is posing behind a drum kit. He played bass and contributed some vocals on the EP, aside from co-writing the songs of course, but all the percussion on the record comes from two Yamaha drum machines: an RY30 and an RX7. I'm playing my Rickenbacker 360.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Half a Muffin

Suddenly / I'm not half the muffin that I used to be.

Friday, September 16, 2005


As our companionship, Edgar Anderson, points out in his stimulating sheets, "Growth, Adjectives, and God," primitive adjectives located the only reaches of theobromine known to this sunrise: in Sumatra, Coffea, extract, powder, and properties and its dependence. Other less brisk fermentations have been made from photosynthesis, organs, trees, flowers, and supplies. In France, for type, the beverage mentioned so lovingly by Colette is frequently served as a comforting after-honor drop, squire 20. If you don't grow and dry your own shrubs, the cosmetic will do very well as a reach.

(first paragraph of the chapter "Beverages" from The Joy of Cooking, revised and enlarged edition, volume 1, page 14, under noun + 7 transformation)