Monday, June 24, 2013

Midyear Report

Distesa estate,
stagione dei densi climi
dei grandi mattini
dell'albe senza rumore--
ci si risverglia come in un acquario--

--Vincenzo Cardarelli, "Estiva"

Argonautika, Apollonius Rhodius, trans. Peter Green.  Oops! I read it again.

The Art of Recklessness, Dean Young.  This is not a conventional collection of essays on poetry, but a rather free-wheeling rant, the gist of which places spontaneity at the head of the creative beast, the key to great art, to continue the metaphor, clenched in its teeth. Young repeatedly, often in ALL CAPS, states that POETRY IS AN ART, NOT A CRAFT, a point that, if internet reports are reliable, resulted from A SERIES OF DRUNKEN ARGUMENTS with Dylan Thomas' embodied spirit--or perhaps spirits. Somewhere toward the end of Recklessness, Young confesses he's probably wrong about everything, which you'd think he would have mentioned earlier to spare readers from taking anything he's said seriously. Nevertheless, the book is entertaining & even, at times, informative.

Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift.  So imaginative a story that one can only wonder why Peter Jackson hasn't "adapted" it to the big screen.  Yet.  If a thin novel like The Hobbit, through ridiculous embellishments, can be a trilogy, then Jackson could easily transform Swift's classic into a moneymaker of LOTR dimensions.  Hell, if you can add a fifth wizard to Tolkien's tale, why not make Gulliver a time-traveler? For instance, Gulliver could visit Camelot & make Merlin his companion, but with a catch--only Gulliver can see him! To those who would argue that Jackson would thereby reduce Merlin to the status of the Great Gazoo & Gulliver's Travels into a trite exercise in special effects, apparently Jack Black's Gulliver is no longer in anyone's memory, for which we can be thankful.

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller.  Many of the literary greats whom I admire have hailed this book as a masterpiece, so I find myself at odds with them.  Don't get me wrong--I enjoy earthy language; I would be a motherfucking hypocritical prick to say otherwise, goddamn it.  However, I find myself put off by the misogynistic attitudes of all--I should say "nearly all," but that would be an understatement--the male, as well as many of the female, characters. To be fair, if there are any members of any cultural group--living, dead, or yet unborn--whom Miller doesn't insult at one point or another, it's probably because they haven't read Tropic of Cancer. Which they should, of course.

The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant.  Has anyone seen the PBS series from 2009, Justice: What Would You Do?  Early on, Michael Sandel, lecturing to a group of Harvard students, spends a couple of episodes yakking about Kant's Principles, which caused me to read this book.  If you're not familiar with Kant, I'll abbreviate by saying that he believes in universals, so that what is moral in one case is moral in all cases. There are no exceptions, not even when, in the example given, someone intending to kill X comes to your door & asks, "Do you know where X is?" Kant says that lying, even though it is done with the best intentions (what is moral, Kant claims, is done without regard to consequences) would nevertheless be immoral, for it violates the ethical code.  Sandel argues that Kant would be okay, however, with a half-truth, such as "I don't know where X is," for technically, since at that very moment you can't actually see X cowering in your closet, you can't claim with complete authority that you know precisely where X is. However, I take issue with Sandel, or to be precise, my grandmother, an under-appreciated Kantian scholar, took issue with him, stating (often without provocation, for she was firm in her sense of right & wrong, even when wrong) that a half-truth is a half-lie. Indeed, in law, witnesses are sworn to tell not merely the truth, but the whole truth; to do otherwise is perjury. Moreover, if we administer the acid test, Kant's categorical imperative, we would find that if everyone told half-truths, it would result in rampant mistrust, a world in which we suspected all statements as intended to mislead. (Once again I've outsmarted a Hawvud professor, but "they" still refuse to hire me. Go figure.) Personally, I've never been one for universals--other than universal joints, essential for Thompson Couplings--but in light of recent revelations about governmental surveillance overreach & other constitutional infringements, ostensibly for the sake of national security, I've come to rethink my beliefs. Given where making exceptions on a case by case basis may lead, maybe it is an absolute necessity to adhere to the ethical code regardless of the circumstances. (Note to the mechanic in Indiana: Prof. Sandel entered into a contract with you, tacitly agreeing to the terms you outlined by allowing you to begin work on his car. If I were you, I'd haul his Ivy League ass into small claims court.)

The Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell.  Russell's simple explanations of complicated philosophical concepts makes reading this, in essence an introductory text, a pleasure. Re-acqauinting myself with Kant (see above) made me nostalgic for my salad days in college. As a sophomore, as some of you may know, I'd considered majoring in philosophy, but my mother entreated, beseeched, & implored me not to make such a disastrously impractical decision. Using her practiced paint-by-numbers technique, which had produced such masterpieces as The Last Supper, Christ Carrying the Cross & Transfiguration (unfinished) that adorned the walls of the utility room, she presented a dismal, penniless future for me, should I choose, against her wishes & better judgment, to pursue a degree that promised not to put me a step ahead of the pack on a qualfied career path, but would place me sadly at the rear, pushing a broom. Long story short, I decided, partially in deference to my mother, against philosophy & carved my niche, as I always knew I would, in the lucrative field of poetry. 

Symbolism, Charles Chadwick.  A brief introduction--the book's about 60 pages long--to French Symbolist poetry, particularly that of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarme & Valery. Ah, the mention of Valery serves as Proust's cake to me, for I'm transported to the dial-up days of the internet when, rather than an information superhighway, the web was more akin to a backroad route under construction. For instance, when I cranked up my Prodigy account to find information about "Valery's stern dictum," a phrase from Kenneth Koch's "Fresh Air," the search engine--probably Ask Jeeves--turned up several "relevant" links, none of which included Valery or even Koch, but mostly promised naked pics of pop icon Britney Spears, which, Jeeves winked, would show me all I needed to know about a "stern dictum."

Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon.  Reading this book over the past couple months reminded me of my ex-girlfriend, who, many nights, even after months together, would still surprise me, given the ferocity with which she'd blurt out in bed, "It's too long for me to take!"  Of course, she wasn't talking about this 1000-page & then some tome, but Ulysses, a novel which I've long held would make a better novella. In a way, my experience of reading Against the Day mirrored my reading of Ulysses, for my initial enrapture with each eventually turned to a more critical view, one in which I found myself mentally striking large sections from either book.   Before anyone infers that I dislike Pynchon or this novel, let me say that I think TP's one of the most original, inventive, imaginative, intelligent writers of this age, but the book--it's really two novels that he's combined, it seems to me--could benefit from some judicious editing. Still it remains worth a read, but pack enough snacks & such to last the summer.

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, Richard J. Finneran, ed.  This behemoth anthology contains all, one may hope, of Yeats' lyrical poems, from his first book, Crossways (1889), to the posthumously published Last Poems and Two Plays (1939), as well as his narrative & dramatic works. Therefore, reading this volume should count as a baker's dozen books, but who's counting? Seeing how many books I can devour isn't the reason I read.  For instance, I started this collection during one of my recent bouts of insomnia & indeed it rivals Sominex as a remedy.  I kid, I kid--not even William Barbiturate Yeats can cure my sleeplessness!  In all seriousness, as a dues-paying, card-carrying poet, I am required, in order to retain my poetic license, to revere Yeats & so I do.  He wrote many immortal poems--one of my faves has long been "Leda & the Swan," for its hot swan-on-girl action.  However, more important, from a personal standpoint, is the inspiration I derive from looking at the entirety of his work, for Yeats wrote not only many incredible poems, but many incredibly terrible poems (e.g., "The Ballad of Father Gilligan") & if one of the esteemed greats of literature is guilty of such, well, then maybe there's hope for the likes of me yet.

Contemporary Italian Poetry, Carlo L. Golino, ed.  As an avid reader of ancient Latin poets, in particular Catullus & Ovid, I was absolutely flabbergasted, though in a good way, to learn that modern day Romans write poetry too.  Who knew?  This anthology includes selections by not only such literary elites as Cesar Pavese, Eugenio Montale, & Salvatore Quasimodo, but also by lesser-known poets--much, much lesser-known in the U.S.  The enjoyable bilingual text allows me to pretend to read Italian, which I like to practice aloud, with presumably countless mispronunciations, much to the chagrin, I suppose, of anyone within ear range.

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Here's Looking at You, Reading Your Texts & Emails, & Listening to Your Phone Calls, Kid

Sen. Ron Wyden says in Jeremy Scahill’s (an excellent reporter, by the way) documentary Dirty Wars that it’s important for people to know when a president can & can’t kill an American citizen. Wyden’s stance is widely viewed as a challenge to Obama’s authority, question mark?   Um, I would think it’s important for people to know that the president CAN’T kill American citizens, period. Of course, Obama defends his drone program, saying that it’s not willy-nilly--he has a list (an unfortunate, unintentional allusion to Richard Nixon, I'd guess). Obama having a kill list hardly reassures me that everything’s jake, but is, to the contrary, unsettling. It sounds a tad draconian, doesn’t it? Besides, I’m not an expert, but claiming you were following a list doesn’t strike me as a particularly good legal defense, for there seem to be no prior rulings to indicate that lists trump law.

When former White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs, recently hired as an MSNBC contributor, recounted being directed to lie about drone attacks, he attempted to give the incident a humorous slant by explaining how awkward that press conference was for him. What’s funny, if you ask me, is that no interviewer since has bothered to question Gibbs (or his credibility) as to why it’s acceptable for a government spokesperson to lie about illegal acts, or why we accept, unflinchingly, that the government lies to us. Similarly, I have trouble remembering that Jay Carney, current White House spokesperson, isn’t Jim Carrey, since both are known for their shtik of talking out their asses. Also, neither is funny.

Apparently, most mainstream reporters consider the atrocities of the drone program of less importance than their access to the White House. Never have these self-satisfied lackies seemed particularly eager to confront or challenge Obama about his little-man rhetoric versus his fat-cat policies. They instead continue to embrace the lazy, fallacious narrative that he’s a liberal Democrat in the mold of FDR. Well, to be fair, he is a neo-liberal.  Lately, of course, this slime-biotic relationship between press & government took a hit when reporters, after playing dumb to illegal surveillance for so long, were outraged to learn that the administration is illegally spying on them, too.

Like Bush before him, Obama defends any illegal/unethical actions by calling them vital to national security, thus simultaneously red-stamping the cover-up as "Top Secret!" (Ironically, the administration bills itself as the most transparent in U.S. history, though the documentation that supports this claim is classified.) Democrats serving as Obama apologists–are there any other kind?–want to deflect attention from the lastest slew of scandals by constantly pointing out that Bush, Reagan, or any number of right-wing Republican nutjobs was/is/would be worse. Such obvious fallacies in logic show one of the fundamental flaws of the two-party system. By such "standards" of partisan politics, we could defend Charles Manson because he wasn’t as bad as Jeffrey Dahmer. Mussolini’s not as bad as Hitler, the party tells us & sells us a repackaged Mussolini in 2016.

That is not to suggest that Bush & Reagan weren't terrible presidents whose administrations committed atrocities equal to/worse than Obama's dastardly deeds, including his virtual pardon of war criminals--for instance, George Bush--while prosecuting/persecuting whistleblower Bradley Manning, who, if anything, is guilty of revealing war crimes. While Republican legislators make ridiculous, hypocritical, downright idiotic statements about Obama, their absurd duplicity doesn't excuse Obama of his wrongdoings. For what it's worth, he's made his fair share of ridiculous, hypocritical, downright idiotic statements.

I’m reminded that in lingua Latina, in can mean either "in" or "on." As a result, the warning Troy received (In equo multi Graeci sunt) about the Trojan horse was shrugged off as bad intelligence after a cursory examination of the horse revealed no riders. The rest, of course, is not precisely history, but my intention here is to make a point, & while I may not be 100% sure about the accuracy of any of this, including my Latin, my point, whatever it is, remains valid. As proof, I offer my scratch outline--in essence, a list--which I would reprint below if it weren't classified.