Monday, December 1, 2008

more romance of the borrowed umbrella

§ 3

The last time Germy had used the phrase, "the truth of the human heart," he had been on an airplane. By the time of our story, when Germy is getting off of the train and heading to Alicia's, no airplane had run for quite a while out of the Pale. Germy had been fingering a gold ring he had found in the airport when he was on the flight. It had been dropped by a man who got on a plane before him. Germy did not know this. He tried in vain to get a flight attendant or airline employee to accept the ring into their lost-and-found coffers. The employees said they could not accept it. The new property-protection laws prohibited it. So Germy took a poll from amongst those present at the airport gate as to what should be done with the ring. He actually formed a small town-hall-meeting style forum, and allowed each traveler to vet her own ideas about what it was that should be done. Germy himself did not participate. He was, for good deal of the episode, voiding his bowels in the airport lavatory. Finally, certain members of the group announced that they felt a consensus had been reached, and it was suggested that those present should vote to ascertain the correspondence of this feeling with the, as it was once said, "situation on the ground." The vote was unanimous that a consensus had indeed been reached and that the sense of said consensus should be understood to mean that Germy should indeed himself take the ring. As it turned out, this particular ring would become rather worthless soon enough. But the ring is just a ruse for you, dear reader.


The day that Germy was holding, gingerly, like a little story or a cauliflower given as a love-gift, this ring, he was also feeling a certain anxiety. The man seated next to him on the plane surely recognized him as involved. The man surely worked for the State of New Jersey and surely knew that Germy was traveling with cargo in the form of a coded message. He needed to deliver his message to a friend in Brooklyn, NY by 5 pm only three days hence. This, actually could have put things in a difficult way for Germy as at that particular time the airlines were, for security reasons, routing at least 75% of all flights through a connecting airport not announced to the passengers until landing. Needless to say, this was many months after all windows had been banned, internationally, on all passenger commercial aircraft. As a result, Germy, and his companion, who later would take the name Matt and scurry off of the Pale towards Florida in order to catch a boat to Britain and the hope of a regulated State-Zone, were routed from Cleveland, OH, through Philadelphia (which had been planned and announced) and then back through Memphis, where they were held for 18 hours.

It was, moreover, in the wake of this tiresome holdover that Germy's seat had been re-shuffled, he was surely moved on purpose, away from his co-conspirators, with whom the reader has hopefully developed a cursory acquaintance. In this state, Germy took a great deal of solace in this ring. And this ring in fact gave him an incredible idea which he was, indeed, already attempting to make good on by putting the potential plan of great design into motion, against the will and art or this man who would take the name Matt, and his entire cohort. Germy got up and asked for a cup of coffee from the attendant in the back of the aircraft. It was large, a 777, used for flights just like this one, so passengers could never really be sure if a landing would result in allowing some passengers to leave, at a connection or final destination, or if the plane would be held for some unfortunate length of time.

Taking a phial from his pocket, Germy slipped not into the lavatory, which would have certainly aroused the suspicions of his Statist seat-mate, but into the little cubby just outside this very room on many of these planes, where a window would have been for Germy's enjoyment only months before. He stood there, phial hidden slyly in hand, sipping his coffee. He put this ring into the coffee, carefully, so the attendant would see him doing it. The attendant spoke harshly and demanded that Germy show him what he put in the cup and why. Germy, told him what it was, a ring, and told him the story of how it came to him on this very trip. He also deflected the demands of the attendant to actually produce the ring long enough for his hand holding the phial to twist out a pea-sized stopper that was blocking a bit of clear fluid. This was not sinful, this was not sin: this is the phrase that ran through Germy's mind, around his heart, and in his very bowels, as he maneuvered his hand holding the phial up and around to pull the ring out of the cup, as the attendant leaned over to verify this passenger's story and strange behavior (which, surely, was odd, suspicious and, probably dangerous and a threat to the ruling American Hope party to which he was exceedingly loyal), and Germy tipped the phial over, emptying its contents into the steaming coffee--the very same which at that moment sheltered an 18k gold ring of substantial weight. At this moment, Germy felt about the ring the way he would feel about the aforementioned borrowed umbrella.

This was not sinful, this was not sin: this is the phrase in reference to which Germy would speak of "the truth of the human heart." Germy was recounting this story to Remus when Alicia reminded them that they needed, very badly, to get inside, to safety.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

a new book we all should read

This book isn't out yet, but I think we all should read it as soon as it is:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

As much as it is now true of many of my friends (without whom I can no longer think or write) that they inhabit cities rather far from my own, and as much as I champion and think and write a good deal about being-together, and thus DO want to be with them, I feel equally as strongly--and often at the very same time--that some of my moments of deepest communing take place in what we conventionally call solitude. This is why, of course, so many of us love reading. This is how C. Dinshaw can claim so many wonderful things touch her in the archive. This is how Cary Howie can think as he does about the present enclosing the past--and it is also how high modernists felt so out of step with time in their own way--along with less conventional (but still) modernists like C.S. Lewis who could do their appreciative criticism of medievals as if in the voice of the book review for something that just came out last week.

In this light, 2 poems in my current sphere of reading and thinking.

First, a poem from an Alice James Books Jane Kenyon Chapbook (a now unfortunately defunct award) by Alice Jones, called Isthmus (a word which names one of those wonderful middles). A good deal of the book is actually a little too 'nice' or 'tame' for me as a poet--but these lines are a little bit Rilkean and provoke a particular enigma which obsesses me: connection as the registering of a equiprimordiality of Being and Beings with World (Beings as a phenomena of particular densities of World):

Going out into the break,
in the thick of atoms--

finding what--
your being? Mine?

Are we the stuff
or the empty acres

in between? I can't place you.
Disarticulated particles

we fly and coalesce again beside
each other: one cleft,

one entering, the primal
grasp of matter: creatures

yoked here, bumped up
breathing, onto the shores

of the world's desire to reach itself.

And then, a textual moment which haunts me many of those time in which I desire so badly to touch something or someone in the midst of reading, from W.H. Auden's "Journey to Iceland" (did I mention I loved High Modernism?):

Europe is absent: this is an island and should be
a refuge, where the affections of its dead can be bought
by those whose dreams accuse them of being
spitefully alive, and the pale

from too much passion of kissing feel pure in its deserts.

Fantastic. Touching, or enclosing, or separating, as events of World desiring itself. In our dreams, certain of us scholars accuse the dead of being alive because we want them to be so. And if it 'worked,' these dreams should call the ghosts into haunting us even when this is most impossible--as part of the very isolating structure of the space of 'Island' and 'not-Europe.' I of course believe (at least I think I do--note that I did NOT write 'call them into being' but 'into haunting': an operation which operates on the condition that a thing just quite isn't) that this 'works.'

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Palimpsestic Poetics in Orfeo: What A Book Might Do to a Body

Here is the text of the paper I gave at the Southeastern Medieval Association Conference in a BABEL Working Group sponsored session with co-conspirators Liza Blake, Mary Kate Hurley (of ITM ), and Blaire Zeiders--just a couple weeks ago. The latest from a project that I previously wrote about here on wraetlic:

Palimpsestic Poetics in Orfeo: What A Book Might Do to a Body

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

why there are not "bokes ynowe": all our little laborers, toiling for revolution

Here's a short meditation of of sorts from my current coursework--specifically a course the 'Piers Plowman Tradition," dealing with all the short poems around the big one (the Symonie, Parliament of the Three Ages, etc.), both before and after, but with Langland as the centerpiece. Now, I have some good friends in the discipline of medieval studies who happen to find Piers rather dry at best, and totally unnecessary to study and a little bit just plain boring. I happen to find

The poem for me is so fun, largely, and most generally, because its structure and poetics seem to elude the workings of literary history which seem to depend so much on economies of representation (think both the history's ability to represent trends and work etc. in literature across time--breaks, shifts, etc., and also the works which form the 'object' of the history's study to need to be themselves little machines of a mimetic economy in order for a mimetic economy to account for them). This allows us to track things like a 'history of representation' across western lit. And this is surely useful and great. I love Auerbach, for instance and I mean that. But, this limits us to writing a history of tropes and trends and leads us into obsessions with continuities, etc--ie. we always end up asking about how to understand literature in terms of its relationship to its ability to represent, and what it values as worthy of representation. This whole movement in turn depends on believing very strongly in a fundamental separation between literature and criticism, poetry and serious thought. It fails to account for the possiblity that poets took up Plato's prescriptions about poetry not as a condemnation of poetry's function, but as a challenge--to prove that poetry itself could philosophize and indeed be a mode of philosophy itself. The thing about Langland's poem is that so much of it does not seem to be interested in representing an outside world or an outside truth. It is a poem obsessed with 'truthe,' but not in representing it--but in finding it. It would then seem to be a poem which is of its own agency working.

So, enter the poem itself. In the early Passus, within a little episode of personification, with the King, and a trial concerning Wrong and company, Reason reads a little thing to the King: "Ne for mede have mercy, but mekenesse it made;/ For "Nullum malum the man mette with inpunitum/ And bad Nullum bonum be irremuneratum."/ Late thi confessour, sire Kynge, construe this on Englissh,/ And if ye werchen it in wek, I wedde myne eris/ That Lawe shal ben a laborer and lede afeld donge, / And Love shal lede thi lond as the leef liketh" (Passus 4:142-148). Now we can read this passage as Reason urging the King to put the law to work, and pay wrong with justice and and good with good etc. In that way some would call it a 'conservative' passage, with its advocacy of simply, a working state legal code which 'works' in that it gets the people into the fields and enforces their injunction to 'work.' But, let's put that aside for a minute, and think about the genius of this formulation of Law as a laborer. Law has a functioning status all its own. It (and perhaps this is just the personification talking, but either way, it makes it happen) seems to be able to go on and work without a specific wielder in this little micro-exhortation. The possibility that a concept can work is truly a fantastic one, and not entirely new to 'modern' criticism, especially that with a nice Marxist bent. But I want to index as here in this little gem of a Langlandian moment, and then keep it in mind when we read a rather key passage a bit later in the work. Keep this in mind, I promise I will return to it in just a second.

Later in the poem, in the midst of a dream within a dream, Ymaginatif presents a big challenge to Wil who is sseeking after these three concepts with his poem (Dowel, Dobet, and Dobest) and to all of us who play with our own makings, be they critical or 'creative.' Ymaginatif never was idle (Passus 7:1), apparently always busy forming images in the mind and composing and dividing them so as to actively make up a part of a person's soul, and so he scorns Will's poetry, which he sees as idle. "thou medlest with makyng--and myghtest go sey this Sauter,/ And bidde for hem that yveth thee breed; for there are bokes ynowe/ to telle men what Dowel is, Dobet and Dobest bothe,/ And prechours to preve what it is, of many a peire freres" (7:16-19). For the busy and useful Imaginative, all that's needed apparently are all the books that are already out there and the preachers who can tell us what is in them. We of course might dismiss this as 'typically' medieval or whatever, a recourse to the function of books as preserving not producing knowledge, a recourse to autoritas. But Will insists on the active role of his book--implicitly assigning agency to the book itself: "Ac if ther were any wight that wolde me telle/ What were Dowel and Dobet and Dobest and the last,/ Wolde I nevere do werk, but wende to holi churche..." (7:25-27). It is not only that Wil's work is worthless according to Imaginative, but the book itself. There are bokes ynowe. All that is left is to figure them out.

It seems to me that this is an attitude we are sometimes unlucky enough to find still lingering in works of our own contemporaries--in courses, books, papers, ideas, etc. That, if we could only figure out X and/or Y then we would be doing our job. But figuring out X and Y won't necessary produce anything which does any active work, which continues to produce. Call me a Modernist, but we need to be messing around with our makings and trying to make things new, and make new things, even if these are impossible propositions.

Hearken now back to the bit about Law being a Laborer. For Wil, it seems that his poetry, his dreaming, all that's tied up in this, as a practice of the poet, the [its important to him] christian, the thinker, theologian, student, etc--that all this is itself Work, a practice. But the only way that this actually responds to the problem of there being 'books enough' already, is if this implicitly implies that the book itself if also able to Work. If there was a book that was already working to find Dowel et al., then he wouldn't need to write one.

We need books that can understand this structure, even if they aren't all in tuned with project of harmonizing orthodox belief (I would hope my books are nothing of the sort, at least). We need lots of books. We need books to be working, and working for us. Each little book we send out there, if a reader runs up (or, for that matter, rubs up) against it, is laboring in our efforts. And if those efforts be revolutionary, then, each little book, in its small way, is a kind of wind-up-toy with a secular-soul, a little soldier, actively working when in the absence of, sometimes against, our 'presence'--but as a laborer and a producer. These books aren't for producing knowledge. Such books seriously mess with--or could, if we caressed them rightly--with most literary history. They are for thinking, and looking for things. Books think, look for, pursue. Books don't contain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Caught with your pants down--naming, being, and fetishes

EDIT: As these things were still in play when I first posted this, I didn't mention that in addition to the Amazing Anna K., others invovled in the project I discuss below are, the Not-to-be-messed-with Nicola Masciandaro, and the Ever-Evanescent Eileen Joy.

Et quant il les vit en apert
Que do bois furent descovert,
Sit vit les hauberz fremïenz
Et les hiaumes clerz et luisanz
Et vit lo vert et lo vermoil
Reluire contre lo soloit
Et l'or et l'azur et l'argent,
Si li fu molt tres bel et gent
Et dit Biaus sire Dex, merci!
Ce sont ange que je voi ci.
(Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval, La Pochotèque, 120-132)

Commant avez vos non, amis?
Et cil qui son non ne savoit
Devine et dit que il avoit
Percevaus li Gualois a non,
N ne set s'il dit voir o non,
Mais il dit voir, et si no sot.

(Perceval, 3509-3515)

It was a chainless bicycle, with a freewheel, if such a bicycle exits. Dear bicycle, I shall not call you bike, you were green, like so many of your generation, I don't know why. It is a pleasure to meet it again. To describe it at length would be a pleasure. It had a little red horn instead of the bell fashionable in your days. To blow this horn was for me a real pleasure, almost a vice. I will go further and declare that if I were obliged to record, in a roll of honour, those activities which in the course of my interminable existence have given me only a mild pain in the balls, the blowing of a rubber horn--toot!--would figure among the first. And when I had to part from bicycle I took off the horn and kept it about me. I believe I have it still, somewhere, and if i blow it no more it is because it has gone dumb. Even motor-cars have no horns nowadays, as I understand the thing, or rarely. When I see one, through the lowered window of a stationary car, I often stop and blow it. This should all be written in the pluperfect. What a rest to speak of bicycles and horns.
(Samuel Beckett, Molloy, Grove Centenary Ed. Vol II, 12)

Yes, my mind felt it surely, this tiny sediment, incomprehensibly stirring like grit at the bottom of summer weighted and the splendid summer sky. And suddenly I remembered my name, Molloy. My name is Molly, I cried, all of a sudden, now I remember. Nothing compelled me to give this information, but I gave it, hoping to please, I suppose. They let me keep my hat on, I don't know why. Is it your mother's name? said the sergeant...
(Molloy, 18)

I had a little chat with Jeffrey Cohen last weekend at SEMA. He, shall we say, encouraged me to take up the blog again. Well, maybe he was just observing that I haven't been blogging much at all for along time. But I am going to choose to interpret those words as encouraging.

I can't promise anything. NYU is keeping me on my toes. But there are so many things I want to be blogging about, and its such a fantastic way to feel like one is being read, that perhaps its just worth a shot. I will try to get my SEMA paper up also, but I need to format it for HTML with the notes and all, and I can be sorta slow with that. And I haven't given up on my little story either!

As an opening salvo, I will throw out a few very very preliminary thoughts on a current project, one I am lucky enough to be working on (the gravity that needs to fall on the word 'lucky' here cannot possibly be enough) with the wonderful Anna Klosowska. The gist of the project is best summed up at this point by a list of key nodes: Perceval, Beckett, Heidegger; language, humannesses, feelings. But that's crazy, you say? Why yes, thank you very much.

I am starting with some very obvious resonances. Beckett deals with characters that are so fully spoken by language one can read him and believe Heidegger's whole thing about language speaking Dasein and not the other way 'round. Perceval also operates, in my mind, as such a text. I have always felt that the best preparation for reading Beckett's novels was found in reading Chrétien. The idea of the Romance is so fully flowing into these novels which go on and on and on, with seemingly unmotivated plots and mysteriously opaque characters, arising magnificently and marvelously out of their worlds--. What I'm saying in part is that both can be loved (and I mean erotically), but only with a certain queer patience.

Beyond that though, there are some more specific resonances, between which I would like to touch the feeling of an affective connection betwixt how each set of texts speaks various--yes, let us say it--humans. One such moment might arise from thinking Perceval as a phenomenon, an event of Being, and thinking Molloy also as a phenomenon--an event of either Being or nonBeing but an event either way. Both have to upspring from the ground cleared by the language that speaks them. And they seem to upspring in these really silly (but, because they are so, deadly serious) cracks in the narrative and language of the work: Moments which themselves are fetishes, to be seen (as they see and arrest you) as partial nonteleological and wildly non-sequitor textual phenomena. So, part of the crux is that these humans are spoken by language, but only by a shard of language, and so their worlds are also arrested in these discrete and bounded fetish-fragments of language--and the way they must then function as Beings in a world is only ever always in partial fetishized relation to World and World and others--and thus never participating in World as we know as in a totality of relations.

In the quotes above, Perceval and Molloy are both caught with their pants down. Molloy is being questioned, for doing something apparently offensive (though in the seemingly authoritarian police state of the novel, it may have been totally arbitrary) in public with his beloved bicycle that has him so besotted [and on 'besotted,' I can only say how amazing Anna's paper at SEMA last week was], and Perceval, for not asking any questions of the marvels which had him so besotted chez fisher-king the previous night, so that this wildly mourning girl can tell him that he's pretty much ruined his and a bunch of others' lives as a result. In both scenes, both remember their names. Wild. They just don't know for sure either, but it seems to work for both of them.

Among some other things, it is this moment of naming, by language, in language, which has me in total wonder right now. As soon as Perceval divines his name, this girl tells him a whole set of other names which befit him better, and his now messed-up fate. Later in Beckett's novel, the narrator-Molloy writes "And even my sense of identity was wrapped in a namelessness often hard to penetrate, as we have just seen I think. And so on for all the other things which made merry with my senses. Yes, even then, when already all was fading, waves and particles, there could be no things but nameless things, no names but thingless names. I say that now, but after all what do i know now about then, now when the icy words hail down upon me, the icy meanings, and the world dies too, foully named. All I know is what the words know, and the dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning, middle and an end as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead. And truly it little matters what I say, this of that or any other thing. Saying is inventing. Wrong, very rightly wrong. You invent nothing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out of your lesson, the remnants of a pensum one day got by heart and forgotten, life without tears, as it is wept." (27).

What is hard to penetrate of what makes merry with the senses is a concept that is now hard to penetrate, but perhaps only because it is so wispy. Because what makes merry with the senses is language itself. But that is only because everything is language and language is everything. Not the prison-house of language, but--well, I don't know. Language speaks, catches hold a fragment of Being, a fragment of a wispy being catches on a fragment of a language and is spoken--here embraced as a fetish in the non-sequitor word. The the arbitrary word (where the World itself is a word and made of words and the World is always already a Language), makes for not a thing you could have yourself invented as your self, but a very silly Lesson. So, it is in speaking that you let language speak you. But, not as some high modernist empty form, or platonist perfected eidos. Waves and particles need something to move through or reflect off of. This all must move through sense--and this is the erotics of its upspringing.

I'm not sure that makes any sense to me, and I need to think through better the actual logic of all of this. Consider that an initial waxing poetical in the most profane senses of the term.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

felicitious announcements

Hey readers! A happy announcement from Whiskey & Fox, as well as a new open call for submissions:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

SSHMA session update...

I am almost ready to announce to you all how wonderful it will be when the session on which I posted below actually happens next spring.

But, I could still use one more submission to make this thing exactly as wonderful as it should be. If , YOU, dear reader, might contribute something, send and abstract and form and all that jazz to feel free to contact me with any questions about the session as it stands already. Unless, it isn't you, but your friend who should submit an abstract--then see to it that your friend submits! And quickly, you only have until September 15!

Here's the session description again:

Sex, Theory, and Philology: Queering Anglo-Saxon Studies

Taking a hint from Carolyn Dinshaw's claim that an affective historiography could queer historiography itself, as well as the 2008 BABEL session at Kalamazoo titled "Is there a Theory in the House of Old English Studies?," this session especially aims to consider the significance that a Queer history of Anglo-Saxon writing has for contemporary Queer communities. Papers should consider not only a mapping of queer literary history in the Anglo-Saxon period, but also the specific ways that we might queer the very procedures of study for those texts in question. Under examination will be the potential for Queer pleasure in the practice of philology, Queer desire specific to Old English texts, as well as how Queer theory and philology might be better understood as working together—in opposition to traditional views of the opposition of theory and philology. The session will thus provide for possible new discoveries and new directions in the role of Queer theory in Anglo-Saxon studies, while also considering how Anglo-Saxon studies can in turn make theoretical interventions in the contemporary.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kalamazoo 2009

I wanted to announce this, since I have noticed that some of the Medieval-Blogging world has already announced little tempting scraps of what awaits us all next spring in Kalamazoo.

I am organizing a panel for SSHMA (society for the study of homosexuality in the middle ages), called "Sex, Theory, and Philology: Queering Anglo-Saxon Studies." Some of the who and what of what will go on there is still up in the air, but I can promise that Eileen Joy will be on the panel, and so I suppose I can promise at least one frighteningly exciting performance next spring. Keep your eyes open, and I'll be sure to let you know when the whole thing comes together.

And, I'll include the session proposal blurb here too, because I think it will be a good description of how the session will come together.

Sex, Theory, and Philology: Queering Anglo-Saxon Studies

Taking a hint from Carolyn Dinshaw's claim that an affective historiography could queer historiography itself, as well as the 2008 BABEL session at Kalamazoo titled "Is there a Theory in the House of Old English Studies?," this session especially aims to consider the significance that a Queer history of Anglo-Saxon writing has for contemporary Queer communities. Papers should consider not only a mapping of queer literary history in the Anglo-Saxon period, but also the specific ways that we might queer the very procedures of study for those texts in question. Under examination will be the potential for Queer pleasure in the practice of philology, Queer desire specific to Old English texts, as well as how Queer theory and philology might be better understood as working together—in opposition to traditional views of the opposition of theory and philology. The session will thus provide for possible new discoveries and new directions in the role of Queer theory in Anglo-Saxon studies, while also considering how Anglo-Saxon studies can in turn make theoretical interventions in the contemporary.

Back, and The Romance of Borrowed Umbrella

First, hello! I've been missing a while, I know. But, I promise another post right on the heels of this one that I'm working on, as soon as I get the photo's off of the camera, concerning deep time, the global middle ages, feeling like a colonizing traveler, and some ruins in Hawaii that I saw a couple weeks ago.

Also, in this interim, I got married, and moved to Brooklyn, NY.

So, on to the next installment of "The Romance of the Borrowed Umbrella."


Germy sold his city-rooms before the hoopla. Now he was on his way to Alisha's. Alisha's was a (small) place with a good sink. Germy had to figure out a next move. a ribbon slipping quickly out of an eyelet was what he needed to be. Must ribbon, or a rain will find what the sending might entail. He didn't send any trays with any birds or otherwise. He was clearly. The trouble he was thinking of would come later, with a cordoning off of his hamlet and a block on the bicycle track. The night he took home that umbrella, which functioned perfectly, he did notice that one spoke had indeed come out of its socket and plugged away bare in the rain like an antenna into the borrowed night full of hidings. That night was slow. Now this moved more like the shaking of the inquiry itself: what is a next move when the meeting-map leaves you with little to think about other than the shop that sold old television party back home, so the children might add them to their tricycles as decoration. It was the local gardening-cheif's son who ran the store. He had been there since before the hoopla, working for it from within what the annals called the later-canal Slipps. Even then, he remembered, an umbrella could be dear and cherished, at once a token, a sign of roving shelter sheltering he knew not what, and a tool one is so careful not to turn the wrong way into a wind. Even then, an umbrella could be as cherished as a bicycle.

In that little corner where he used to live, which was off of strip to blacktop so pocked that gravel had been hauled in every year to make it serviceable, in the year or so previous to this narrative, Germy had resigned himself mostly to watching. He would stroll past the patchwork fences, now rail, now chain-ink, now upturned strips of railroad sunk half-way into the ground. He was certain the shop-keep wouldn't mind--probably wouldn't notice. He would record all of this in the annals he got from the translation from french by the town recorder. That was before the recorders headed for Ohio. Under Jim-bo the recorders were left less well-employed or even endangered if the hamlet was too close to the City. Germy had written a good little pamphlet against the new policy, saying that to fully abolish sovereign power that histories would have to be eliminated. In the school-halls the history classes could study ancient history.

Germy's watching was not clocked, but it was habitual, and he peered often and good at the rails, and the weavers who worked in one of the little lots when the weather was nice enough to leave the workroom. One of them, he was sure. One of them, sure. One of them he knew from a brief encounter at the hamlet chartering. She then had been behind the line of recorders.

He asked her when she was leaving the lot once, if she remembered this, but she said no. Germy noticed that she walked up to the old schoolhouse building sometimes and sat there on a very aging bleached pile of woodchips that never got spread for the dawning of the hoopla. Never noticed either the cloud-form of stream that might flood. The weaver-woman, whose name was Alice, had a long, but slender and angular nose, and she tried as much as possible to use the triangle in all her poses. Germy, in watching her, was now thrilled, now interested, and never sexually aroused. She was sheering the machine of the town's edge, he thought, she was threading up the new wall of the Slipp. Germy thought to congratulate her, and she would not let him.

Germy did not think about this part when the train screeched to a halt. They all screeched these days. The three militants fled the train and tripped up the steps. The would need, first, to find some food. It had been eight hours by bicycle to the city, and another hour on the train. They had left with a loaf and a cheese. Alisha had been with Germy and Remus in the hamlet for about a month. So she had emptied her pantry.

It would all be a question of how much time they would have to read. This could determine the length and course of Germy's life in the next twenty-four hours. For this reason, it would be most time efficient to just use a restaurant to eat. They would not go to Germy's favorite restaurant. It was in a different sector of the city. Either way, everyone was worried.
Perhaps all three of them would have continued now in silence, each thinking whatever, if Remus had not though to speak up.

"I thought to visit the cook's guild last month, did I tell you? When I was on the Border with the Carolinas." Remus moved his mustache by means of a controlled upper lip quiver when we was self-satisifed, as now. He grinned until he was certain Alisha and Germy both knew that he was doing do. "Anyways, one of them runs a place a few blocks up and one east, and its good, and its only open at night for early members. I know you don't like that, you to, but I am not up for trying to sniff out something else." The two nodded. And the three stepped up out of the train trough, into a blanket of bluish light, as Germy remembered from TV's in grade school, heading off quickly.


Clearly, the three of them did not want to be noticed. To be noticed we usually make use of signs. The trouble was not to be a sign, instead of simply a a sign, even if not read. Exactly what Jim-bo was after. Jim-bo on the train, telling him he'd better get dinner at his favorite restaurant because he didn't have much time left on earth. Germy could slip away, to the edge of the Slipp. Remus would go with him probably. Alisha could go, or she could stay, keeping her rooms in the city so Germy and Remus might slip in and out, still come and go, perhaps even run something to try to oil down the party or the like. But surely, if Germy were to do this, he's remain highly unread, highly flat. The two poles of the decision were really quite the bind.

"It's just a matter of seeing clearly," said Remus. "If we head to the write spots I'm not sure Jim-bo will need to do much else." Much else didn't make enough sense, so Germy looked back at Remus, stopped in his tracks.

"I'm not sure you know what you're saying."

Friday, June 20, 2008

some writing reflecting some thinking from a current project

What kinds of books do we want to write? How can we, those of us who are heterotopian medieval critics and historians—think about, radically, how we construct our papers, essays, and books, in such a way that our bodies and others’ bodies are opened to each other, according to our politics? Many of us are historians of things in old books, or are book historians, or at least write or aspire to write things about texts we find in old books. What is a possible theory of the book for such medievalists as us? I think we need such theories—to fill Book History with radical recklessness. Also, to bridge Book Histories with a moment in which we need to learn about what kinds of books to make. What can we—we medievalists—say about what a book can do to a body today, today at the moment of Gautanamo? of AbuGrahib? Do we learn anything about what a book is for, what a book can do, and how we can refine our labor to produce such books, from Medieval practices? What are possible poetics of critical essays on medieval literature and history and language?

Well, Jacques Derrida announced “The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing” long before I was a twinkle in the eye of any graduate seminar. So how can I ask these questions, today, which are about how poetic economies in a popular Romance can alter, theoretically, the functioning of a Medieval Book on the body of a reader, and what this might teach us about possible alternatives to what a book might do now. I think that the short romance Orfeo gives us its own hint about what a medievalist should talk about what a book can do to a body. Surviving within three Ms.s, and thus ostensibly ‘popular,’ the poem is famous for its tableau in the Fairy kingdom of bodies mid-brutal-death—which Jeffrey Cohen read last spring at Kalamzoo as an attempt to deaden the threat posed by memory of Celtic language and culture by freezing it, under a rock, in deep time. Such is a poem whose poetics are preoccupied with doing things to bodies.

And this is the first hint I will follow: poetics. Poetics provoke, and provoke well beyond the plans of any auctor. Poetics outlines, the chalk-outline, the always receding shoreline, of the call, the work and labor of language. I think we think to think alongside Heidegger’s thought, à la Poetry Language Thought to think such things, regardless of what we think of Heidegger. We need to think the poetics of the book, the history of poetics of books. The multi-author edited volume, such as BABEL’s recent book with Palgrave, bears testament to what might happen when we attend to such a construction, allowing a babel of critics in the same space at the same time. And, as medievalists, we are in a privileged position to think this history—a history which will have to link a phenomenology of a reader’s body with the closest readings of language, and careful attention to material condition of book production and the labors involved in producing as well as reading it.

But how do we consider a category like ‘poetics’ in the actual construction of our books? The rising popularity of print-on-demand book, for example, especially of low press-run books like those of medieval critics [even such as Stephen Justice’s infamous Writing and Rebellion, which is now laser and not offset printed, on demand, by University of California Press, as a quick check on the publisher’s page reveals if you have a recent-printed copy] reveal, like the so-called household manuscripts in which Orfeo appeared, that books might have a very strategic function, that they are constructed, and sometimes on an individual basis are for specific things. While Timothy A. Shonk dismisses the original hypothesis about the Auchinleck Ms. (the most famous home of the poem in question that book was produced in a bustling and well-organized London Bookshop, he does suggest that it was produced with a plan, of separate sections not ever intended for separate sale, but still produced by multiple scribes under the direction of a single scribes and then an artist who was the client was seeking a single volume which would fulfill the reading needs of his family and himself, much as people today order collections like the Harvard Classics.” (Timothy A. Shonk, “A Study of the Auchinleck Mansucript: Bookmen and Bookmaking in the Early Fourteenth Century,” Speculum (60:1, Jan. 1985) 71-91.) This whole process would suggest itself as an attempt at corporeal integration. Obviously, eternal optimist that I am (I am not sure if that is sarcastic or not!), I think Orfeo’s poetics might threaten a short circuit in this whole business.

I am asking how attending to the specific textures of the language of our work can alter what books are materially for, with respect to bodies. In a sense, this inquiry into Orfeo is old fashioned, in that it is not dependent on time with physical manuscripts and evidence that does not appear in orthographic form. But in another sense it is attempting to take seriously, very seriously, some of the hard-won yet still often forgotten tenets of that beast Theory, which teaches that language speaks us, and so to ask what language can do to how a book functions with a reader’s body. I am happy to say also, that poetics help us sidestep a kind of source criticism which depends on a kind of linear history of continuous recognizable strands that I do not think will help us think alternatives to our book-writing.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Romance of the Borrowed Umbrella


I have made, since finishing my MFA in Poetry in April, several attempts at a return to writing fiction (I think I wrote about 10 pages of fiction while attempting over the last three years to channel all my writing energies into poems and seminar papers) which were smashed by the wyrds quicker than you can say 'ruined.' This is no surprise, given that I've written so little fiction recently. But recently I also stumbled on a thread that I like a great deal. I had generated some sets of scattered sentences which were vaguely narrative and loosely connected, and I found some aesthetic and pedagogical sinews to string them together, over the past couple of days.

I then thought that I wanted to keep working with this language, language that seems to resemble a narrative and, as H. James might say, 'see it through.' Yet I knew that, regardless of any intention to 'complete' a 'story,'that I would fall, inevitably, into the various doldrums of fiction-writing which usually best me--things like 'plot,' 'character,' and other such narrative filigrees. I knew, in fact, what any of my friends or colleagues who have read my Hemingway-"The Sea-Change"-"Banal Story"-4 page-prose-is this a prose poem or a story-labors have known: that I can rarely sustain a work of fiction beyond 4 pages.

A solution then presented itself to me. I would need the freedom allowed only by increment and periodicity, the hazy time of the hiatus, the pause, the spacing in writing which marks the crises of "am I still speaking/breathing" and human death (cf. Derrida). Then, I would need readers who were patient, who wouldn't mind having a story shot through with ghostly 'middle spaces' between the visitations of written labor. How can I write a story of any length in which any one line can connect with any other line (cf. Deleuze and Guattarri)? How can I write a story in which there are multiplied microcosms of mathematically engineered precision poetics connected by lines connecting lines with each other so many times that none emerge as the sovereign term? Writing that could occasionally, periodically, fizzle up in a flash of quickness and with the lightness of off-kilter mechanical-organic fungus-like generation, flash itself, suspended between the poles and posts of electronic self-publishing (which is a mess perhaps more elegant even than the algea of manuscripts piling up lost, unread, altered, adulterated, or re-doubled tha Italo Calvino describes in If on a Winter's Night...)? I would need the form of the serial, the medium of the blog.

This will, I think, allow me to work with a schedule, work in small enough bursts that it feels possible, and do so without the overt [yet still direct, google-owned-blogspot] influence of the market forces which once governed serial fiction production. Also, I have always loved the possibilities of loss and disjunction, the inevitability of ever-changing or incomplete multiple versions, etc., allowed by the serial. Those spaces between installments! And perhaps a Romance [and when I write a fiction, no matter how banal or short or secular, I almost always wish it to aspire to the conditions of Romance (see my previous post on Hawthorne), ringing true not so clearly with Hawthorne's truth of the human-heart business, but with the haunting between-ness of a 'foothold between fiction and reality' opening into a language so full of holes that when it finally speaks us we might slip back into the world, which is, I think, a part of what the middle spaces of future human hearts might feel like] and its haunting-pattern of periodic visitation might fizzle well together into the blogosphere.

And so, dearest readers, I ask you to read the first installment of THE ROMANCE OF THE BORROWED UMBRELLA.


  "You better go to your favorite restaurant and eat your favorite dinner, because you ain't got much time left on earth," said the man with his belly pluming over the bar at the end of the bench on the subway. His upright posture was mostly compromised by his lean. Germy was interested, though perhaps also he was interested. Is interested, is leaning, is dying. The train creaked under its floor. What is happening and how is the character. Also on the train were Sammy and Eli, were Alisha and Remus. They all knew some things. Is knowing. The man with the pluming belly did not appear to be on a phone, though his voice seemed to plume also in the way a voice speaking into a cellphone would plume about a car and invade everyone. Germy first thought he would be on a cell phone because of how his voice sounded but behold Germy realized he was not on a phone because behold they were in a subway car and phones could not get a signal there and then also Germy looked at the man and saw no cellphone. That man was looking at someone but Germy couldn't see that particular person. Why not? Because Sammy was in the way, and Eli and Sammy were arguing: so Eli's arms, which are part of Eli, were also in the way. So Germy turned to Alisha and Remus who were seated next to him on the bench, which was across the aisle from the bellied man, but Germy didn't say anything. Remus had no tattoos but Alisha had a couple. They were black with the tiniest tinge of green-grey and they were on her arms. She got them when she was a rocker, which she was no more. Germy was pleased to look at the tattooed arms. The bellied man repeated himself: "You better go to your favorite restaurant and eat your favorite dinner." He was shaking his head. Is interested, is a plot. There was also no plot around or for Germy. "If he sent out 500 packets of bird and twice that of trays on those boats, he ain't got much time left to live."
   Sammy, by this time, had stopped to argue with Eli but Eli had not stopped to argue with Sammy. They were not brothers, they are not symbolic and their arms moved rather slowly when argumentatively gesticulating. Eli said,
   "Hey Jim-bo," and the bellied man nodded, successfully hailed and interpolated. "D'ya wannit er not? " Eli shot a winced glance and Jim-bo and then threw a victorious one back to Sammy, who was sweating.
   Alisha turned to Remus and asked him, with a secret imploring eye-twitch, if he was done reading for the day. Alisha was a paleontologist. Remus turned to her also. And then Germy turned to both of them. Remus had dark hair like a swamp, is a swamp full of the cover of factory. Germy decided to whisper to Remus, his friend.
   "I've been in the party too long." Germy turned his head, with its edges like a three-ringed binder, towards Jim-bo. Remus raised an eyebrow, sucked in his lips for a second. Germy then turned back and spoke at a regular volume. "I think I just watched to many of the record videos, clipped too many of those files, and gave too many farm-maps in that basement workshop we ran before the whole thing worked." Saying that made him sound like any little shop owner talking to his partners about being sick of work. Is sick, work, like a ribbon of river-oil jumping into your collection-pail. Remus raises again and sick, though there is no plot, he was happening and the party probably knew it. New York never was so before this little inscription on the edge of the sidelines of the ribbon of a carriage or car shifting along like a chip allows a zipping of energy through, this plot. The bellied man coughed. If plot, this language warns.


   Germy was nervous. He knew. Coming for him. The man in the car. Creak-tink, rrrrrrreeeeeeee. The car was not a message but its sounds might be, they were both a compression of the world: Germy and the Car--and was Jim-bo too? Germy and Alisha and Remus were pals. They did not know Eli or Sammy, but all three knew Jim-bo by sight and knew that he knew them by the same in turn, although none of them had ever spoken words to each other or so much as been introduced. They each had seen each speak at party meetings but they came from different corners. Eli spoke to Jim-bo about the birds and trays and the ships.
   "...'cuz I'm tellin' ya, ifin he doan givup what can't be..." Germy was now certain that Jim-bo knew he left the party that morning. Jim-bo wasn't actually party 'brain' (and, since the big hoopla there had been no need of the old style party 'brawn') but some people thought he was smart because he ran a good little shop in his hamlet, ever since the hamlets started, and so sometimes certain persons plotted that he should speak. Remus was still a certain person, but trying. Since the hoopla, he stuck with Alisha. Remus and Germy once shared an apartment and when to a party's, until Remus was plucked for a meeting-map.
   More nervous, Germy turned to Alisha. She he trusted much with lines outletted for hope of insights. She nodded and eyebrowed towards Jim-bo. They should head back to her city-rooms. She was lucky to have them anyway. Most didn't since the hoopla, if in the party. Most jetted when the sense was to start the flushout to the hamlets. But Alisha was a wily one. They should. Back to her city-rooms. When they left from the river-cubby that morning, the plan for the trip and meeting was to be eventful.
   But is happening. Germy wished it was raining, like when a kid and in a house. There was a raining at night for summers and he was usually pleased. Like that night he walked home with a borrowed umbrella. Then again, after the move for the party, even then in his tiny apartment carved out of what had been a Columbia University class-building. LIke from Prospect Park Boat house all the way with the borrowed. Clackity clackity.
   "Why not finally introduce yourself?" said Remus. "The last time was saw him--even from afar--was cycling from swamp-hill to the little ring of typesetters' cottages that were making posters for us upstate, he may not remember." The ring of cottages was not quite ribboned into the closest hamlet, not the closest hamlet roads. And, most of the party no had assented to the trend of no longer keeping annals, so they were slipping further off the Pale. Don't be fooled, if meant is the pulling of the ribbon not the thing itself, the ribbon-ing, an engineered ribboning ferns its way through around. Germy pointed to his mustache.
  "Are you kiddin? He knows me alright." Rain and train or, clackety clickety rain or train but the curving like a time. Train stopped, mid-tunnel. Germy to speak with Jim-bo up and lips set. Is wished, engineered, and away. It may have been engineered but not is symmetrical or standing like a block and there are a few and perhaps it is still a ribbon, not an object.
   "Jim-bo right?" Germy asked. Jim-bo turned like a rolling onion on a counter.
   "I wasn't talking about you."
   "Just now. I was talking about a business deal outside the Pale of Slipp. A covered one but you looked nervous when I said something about someone's possible last day on earth, and since you were nervous and I said that, you probably are. But I wasn't talking about you.'
   "Oh, I'm--" Jim-bo would it. Creeeeeee! Train going again.
   "You've been in the party too long. You once wanted. You better go to your favorite restaurant and eat your favorite dinner, because you ain't got much time left on earth, Germy."

Monday, May 12, 2008

dan does, in fact, write poems

A few people commented to me at Kalamazoo this year that I do not ever put my poems on my Blog. Yes, I don't. And those who have asked me have generally recieved decent enough responses, I think. But, I thought it would not help to offer to guide folks to some of the publications of my work in verse which are electronic and not print--or at least not exlcusively print.

These poems, at Sidebrow, are part of a really interesting approach to a journal (electronic and print) which is electronic and is so in a way to promote at least some level of multi-authorship and collaboration in a genre that so rarely sees anything like that. Check out their own info on themselves, and the other work on the site. this is a poem in which augustine is a character this is a letter to julian of norwich la fovea is a poetry chain journal. so if you follow the chain my work is in you can see work from from of my poet-friends/colleagues.

Hope you like some of the work.

KZoo ’08, Remembering That Theory Saved My Life

Remember the part of this blog that was ostensibly medieval by way of concern? Witness its return.

The post concerns some things about Kalamazoo for immediate release in 2 parts: Part 1, Some Serious But Chaotic Comments; Part 2, Some Frivolous Seriousness (before I forget).


My former instructor Hannah Johnson can give a hell of paper—her ideas concerning, and manner of thinking about, ethics and historiography, across times, is impressive, especially as she dares what I would risk calling both hopeful and an authenticity in her work. This is related to what Jeffrey Cohen underscored in a comment on a BABEL roundtable yesterday, that we have to do our work as if it matters—we should both imagine and want our work to have people to hear, respond—and, better: work—alongside our work.

Some new favorite people: Karl Steel, Dan Kline, Myra Seaman, Justin Brent, Dr. Virago, under the sign of Welcoming and Hospitable. Betsy McCormick, for thinking that I was actually Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog (, and the bit about welcoming, too. I had, honestly, a pretty awful month preceding Kalamazoo, and meeting these people, along with Eileen Joy and Jeffrey Cohen, some of whom I had only known electronically, or even only by electronic rumor (or as an audience of their scholarship in books or at conferences), in this context, was really very refreshing and nice.


An angel swims silently to a flat rock in the night, where seabirds are sleeping, senses them,/ and stops. Their recognizing her in the moonlight, without waking, is the physical sensation/ of your dream, when you wake. The birds’ dream represents an angel, and later it shelters the meaning,/ angel. Royal palms glisten, fronds reaching stars their shape imitates, to show feeling for stars./ The general is concrete, here, in the birds’ memories and extends to the instinctual limits of perception,/ but this hasn’t been recognized, yet.

--Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, “Daughter”

Berssenbrugge’s poems, like this one, charge the line with a task of generously exhausting her readers—pushing them into a game of remembering as one reels further and further towards the right margin like an automobile towards a concrete barrier, with bad brakes. They can be for this reason, very forgettable lines, in a strange and moving way—hard to call up and quote, but nonetheless leaving a reader with a residue of specific affects. They are the scene of a hermeneutic juxtaposition (borrowed from a paper by Betsy McCormick) of something like the auditory imagination of Eliot with Phenomenology and leftist aesthetics. Her ‘Collected’ is titled I Love Artists (!). These poems construct a scene of affects in which we can move ideas and our selves and allow what our meanings shelter, to touch.

There were a number of sessions I attended this year which involved individuals I have been getting to know by means of blogs and blog discussions for about a year now (especially those at ITM Among these, was a moving and wonderful performance by Nicola Masciandaro on Sorrow and “The Cloud of Unknowing,” at a session organized for the Medieval Club of New York ( The paper, near the end, takes this fantastic turn, which I would like to call pedagogical:

Sorrow is thus positioned as both the precondition and the fruit of interpretation. And while these two sorrows, the sorrow of having and the sorrow of not having the text’s meaning, are different, they are fundamentally related. For the latter is already on the way to the former in the same way that, to use the classic Zen figure for deixis, sorrowing that one does not see the moon but only the hand pointing to it is already seeing the moon, in some measure. This measure is the measure of apophasis, the space of continuity between unknowing and knowing, and it is across this space that sorrow in the Cloud operates as an interpretation of being which reveals by negation. So this paper (still unwritten) accepts the text’s invitation of “whoso felid never this sorow” to sorrow, not as a crude advertisement for perfect sorrow, much less an unfriendly extra-discursive gesture of contemplative elitism, but as an opening or giving of its essential meaning as the ongoing, gerundive process of seeking it, of having by not-having it.

I am reminded rather much of a Sedgwick essay, “Buddhism and Pedagogy,” in Touching Feeling, although Nicola’s distinctly phenomenological approach moves me a bit more. Something that was important to me about this moment and this paper, though, was the manner of a paper in the mode of a kind of Heideggerian commentary (ie. On Trakl, or Rilke), in which Nicola enters a circle, follows a path, returns, and, generously and patiently provokes/allows-to-be-called the session’s affects towards a future which is really a moment in the present of those at that session being together and needing to be able to ask why. That is, the practice of performing this paper allows a medieval text to do theoretical work in the present, to open our humannesses to the hope that something is coming now and we know not what it is—but all have a hunch that is has something to do with each other. The “Cloud” does not just have contemplative effects for one individual, but, when cared it is for, when one is marked by this text and allows herself to be pulled into it, across time, like a kind of temporal gravity (also called affect, or better, feelings), this movement can open individuals to the facticity of their being together.

What is important about this, given the title of this post, is that this being-together is a theoretical practice. The encounter of the individual, in whom we both hope for and are terrified of: the possibility of an actual Other, the actual New, and the Actual Future or Event, is of course just as interpretive as that of a text. As such, I want to remember something my former instructor Paul Bové wrote in the early nineties (In The Wake of Theory), in a fierce attempt to resist a kind of ‘treaty’ along that seam we mistake as ‘pragmatism’ or ‘necessity,’ between the movements of ‘Theory’ and those that stood and stand (they may be different movements now) against it. Bové discusses, concerning Heidegger’s own reading of theory, or theoria, how we should understand what this term has concealed by idle talk, history, Plato (etc.). Rather than seeing theory as Sight, as a kind of third-term tool separating subject-object relations, as a kind of grasping for the object, we can understand it as Care. Care is an attending which brings near—but not a grasping. Such nearness is immeasurably far. More importantly, for Bové and for Heidegger, Care is a potential for, and condition of, DaSein’s Being in Time.

Such a ‘philosphic’ turn, I would hope, helps to suggest, more technically and theoretically (and it will become apparent in just a moment why I would want to do this), that Theory is not a tool. Learning is not by or for the individual. And learning, when allowed to arrive in the form how we might live in a community of scholars in which learning is not on the shoulders of individuals, but can be a communal event—a shared communistic labor, is a condition of life and a part of our affective relations with both the past and the present. Theory helps us wonder that something is happening and the we are all together.

Or (c’mon Dan, better, more concise), Theory is a condition of our lives, and theory moves, pulls, withdraws and pulls us with it, by means of the affective liens which arise between us and between our texts and the worlds and times they inhabit and abandon. Theory allows us to be together.

But, more than this, as Stacey Klein’s final response to the second BABEL panel reminds us, that we should expect even more from theory. That theory was supposed to connect us to everything. This reminds me of an friend’s recent comment to me concerning when Gender Trouble was said to have been waved at ACT UP events (he is older than me). This friend said me that theory saved his life. He has never fully explained what this means, but has hinted that it had to do with providing a certain hope and imperative for his work, beyond simple self-identifications and identity-politics shouting-matches. I can say, at moments, that ‘theory saved my life,’ for different reasons, and from a different historical moment. To lay bare just a little snippet of it, I enunciate this with reference to a moment in which the Evangelical movement in the US was digging deeply into the neurosis and psychological malaises of young people in this country, and threatening the very possibility of their Affective connection to this World.

So, I am thinking about ways that specifically Medievalists can do this. And, I am ready and willing to say why the medieval, though that will have to wait for another time.

As one who has done a lot of thinking and harping about Carolyn Dinshaw’s “touching” the past, and suggested a model of historiography which amounts, when reduced to slogan, to something like “queerly loving the past,” I am deeply concerned about the scenes we depend on for this sort of touching to extend beyond the bounds of one single historian or critic performing a touch for their own personal pleasure and that only. That is to say, who is touching what and who and why—and where and when (and will be thinking through this more all summer—ideas welcome!)? Sure, this is a lot of interrogatives. But sessions like the one organized by Nicola, with Eileen Joy, Karl Steel, and Anna Klowsowska, allow such scenes to arise, and give me hope that we are moving in the rather utopian direction of opening these theatres of affect towards radical but not naïve hope, and a more leftist sort of Care that attends to more radical Hospitality or more radical Open. The temporal/spacial site of touching the past, in such a moment, might consist of what allows a certain kind of phenomenological space-time to arise—much in the way that the temple, for Heidegger, or the work of art, Opens a World. These scenes allow us to feel the affective lines, crisscrossed and pulling like gravities that arise between each other and the past, part of the very world that we are part of (and this is why, for all the reasons is unnerves me, I love the last chapter of Bersani and Dutoit’s Forms of Being which forcefully does away with the boundary between world and individual—for whom we are phenomena of the world registering the world). And this is why I can say with Anna Klowsowska that “A queer reading is a deeply ethical approach to the text, in that it takes the text beyond itself in a necessary way. A personal pleasure in the text implies the reading is not less, but more ethically engaged” (Queer Love in the Middle Ages, NY: Palgrave, 2005, 6).

But that I have selected Heidegger here to anchor this contemplation (which is also a polemic about Theory, that it has never stopped being under attack and did not end its fight somewhere in the early 90’s (which is significant for someone who has said that he has nostalgia for a moment he cannot possibly be nostalgic for, and for which it is simply unwise in many ways to be nostalgic, that is, for something like ‘graduate school in the late 80’s.’ This is also to say that present IS always already unhinged and that a little fold of little soldiers lining up the fight the effects of Alan Bloom’s book are haunting us now even you among the readers of this blog)), that this post is about Heidegger and something that happened in a session on Medieval literature and history—this is significant. Heidegger, theory, and their histories, of course, find some of the hints they hinge most on, in the medieval. Heidegger would could not have thought Being without Duns Scotus. Heidegger could not have written narratives of thought, poems about linguistic and philosophical terms and unconcealments, or attempted to get beyond what he saw as the “Human” to something more Worldly and less Gnostic-religious, without the Creatures Dinshaw loves so much—mystics, (even, gasp) the ‘Church,’ and Aquinas. Derrida depends on the traditions of Medieval Jewish Commentary—and indeed takes his place among them.

I attempted to produce the above list not to write an apologetics for ‘why the medieval.’ I am not trying to respond to Nancy Partner’s paper at the first BABEL session yesterday, which suggested that when we inject queer theory or revolutionary politics into work on the Middle Ages, that we necessarily have to work harder to prove that this makes sense, because for her, queer theory and the middle ages don’t seem to ‘go together’ in and obvious way. That, as I said, is for another time. And besides, people like Derrida and Heidegger, theory itself, is exactly what asks more rigorously why we should or could put any two things together. Radically historicizing even our own moment, recent developments in neuro-science and perception sciences, not to mention the Pre-Socratics (my goodness! Parmenides, Democritus, the Pluralists!), call into question the possibility that ANYTHING necessarily follows anything else (ok, so I couldn’t resist responding at least a little bit). But, above, I am trying to highlight that we can think about and identify how specific theoretical, critical, and historiographic approaches might sew themselves into our writings, performances (here, commentary and phenomenology), and inter-locutions at conferences about medieval material. How might allow these Scenes of Heterotopian (and I need to say) Queer Affect to arise, to allow this connection to everything including each other—inviting whatever will then arrive, even if it is the Sorrow Nicola speaks of?

Berssenbrugge’s poem is in three parts. The first part I quoted from is titled “1 (THE DREAM),” and is followed by “2 (COMMENTARY),” a setup which seems appropriate for a post dealing with Nicola’s commentary-like paper (section three is numbered only, no parenthetical title). I’d like to open the ending of this post, I suppose, with the opening of the commentary on the dream:

The dream represents a meaning to me. Then, it’s a structure that shelters the meaning./ Emotion can represent evaluation or contain one, of interaction between an ethereal object/ and an organism. The angel bows down.

And the last lines of section 3:

What I thought I could lose of a person and what I thought I had lie next to each other,/ repeating, so the time in which you know her is a foliage during time and folds over on itself,/ hill filling with dogwood, tree of sky turning rose. A rose angel with the physical sensation/ of the meaning of your dream, holding a lamp, the waterfall behind her of some contemporary/ material like cellophane, achieves a cohesive tension exactly beside the contemporary.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

look kids!

Well, even with everything else, I turned in, a few hours ago, my final MFA manuscript, title: libido register.

What remains of this degree at Pitt are: 1 seminar paper, on Henry James and Nate Hawthorne and affective relations to real in the novelistic art, 80 7-page papers on the Civil War to grade. Estimated completion date: about a week. Then, beware of 'certified' poets lurking at Kalamazoo...

I realize that this is the closest thing to a picture of myself that I have yet provided for anyone reading my blog, but this is the sheet of committee approval signature for the Ms:

Monday, April 7, 2008

julie granum

I am not entirely sure how I feel about doing my mourning on the internet. But, I need to say--if I believe at all in the value of this electronic-textual community as anything resembling that of a utopian hope--that I am. My friend Julie Granum, a poet in my program at the University of Pittsburgh, died last week in an an accident. I want to name her here.

The literary magazine Whiskey & Fox has published an obituary here: http://whiskeyandfox.

Monday, March 31, 2008

news on my future

So, friends. It will be official as soon as the institution receives my 'official' response in the mail, that when I finish this MFA thing next month I will not be done being a student, in those official institutional capacities. Instead, I will go to New York and undertake a Ph.D. at NYU.

I really have to say, I think NYU and I will get along just fine. I am happy to get to work with a number of new colleagues and the NYU faculty, having met at least one of them (of the student variety) already electronically by means of the folks over at ITM .

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hawthorne, Romancing Unreality

I have been reading Hawthorne lately. Its for a Henry James seminar, with a bit of a comparative edge (Balzac, Flaubert, etc.). In the process of this reading of The Blithedale Romance for the seminar, and James' book on Hawthorne, I was reminded of Hawthorne as one of the first authors I read and subsequently fell in love with--one of those fabled first literary loves around the high school age. I have, as such, thought a bit about this--connecting the pleasure of this to the fact that Hawthorne is notoriously not a 'realist'--a point on which James harps again and again--and does not pay much attention to class; being much more that famous American (and I use the modifier as another potential strike against him) provincial "Romancer" interested in 'airy' things and ghost stories and all of that which might come to be all-too-hastily strewn aside from the shelf of the leftist (nominally US citizen) critic or poet as not an adequate resource for thinking about the problems of the present.

But, on further reflection, It has occurred to me the potential importance of the Romance as a genre with which would want to dialogically stage an encounter with that beast 'realism'--whether that means the cynical exposé of money in Balzac or the cruel streets that swallow up Crane's 'Maggie,' or the belief in the political and revolutionary expediency of representing the realties of labor, capital, and class in relation and conflict as advocated by now those famous (and now also a little too easily digestible and contained within Verso's helpful but necessarily truncated collection of them) debates of the Frankfurt school. That is, I think that Romance as a genre, as a genre I want to claim as a genre, might allow readings in which reality, selfhood, individuality, and basic platonic assumptions about truth and appearance are disarticulated from themselves. All of Hawthorne's deceptive airiness (as outlined from his earliest famous critics like Melville and later Lawrence) serves not simply to suggest than things are not as they appear and that one must look behind, or deeper or whatever truth-as-sight appearancevstruth theory your caught inside. Hawthorne's reality is a conjured one in which you can never tell, ever, if a thing is happening, if a mysterious and evil effect is being worked, as the result of a machine or a science or a pseudo-science or a spirit or a devil or all of the above because all of the above are somehow part of the same system or other misguided Emersonian 'Nature.' The 'truth' of Hawthorne's Romances is dissimulation, and their effect is not a reassurance of recognition, or one's direct and holy spiritual continuity with the world, but the spectral rupture, the experience of unreality. The begin their affective work in the way of all manner of thing which can bear a terrible effectivity being neither living nor dead. This is to say, that at moments, Hawthorne's more ghostly moments evoke/conjure the figure of the Derridean ghost, or that ability to produce effects without having being. The airiness in Hawthorne is not a Platonic or symbolist kind of 'more real' reality in pneumatic things, but rather a gray pale fading away of Being.

Hawthorne is a Romancer, of course, because disenchantment can be deceptively enchanting. Romance can be so useful, in that, in cutting (according to Foucault, what knowledge is for) its ties with the accountability of realistic representation it opens the world to the realities of ghostly 'reals' as dissimulations, along with all there 'bewitching' possibilities. While admitting, in the cutting, that, in a sense, as Auden taught, "Poetry makes nothing happen," Romance considers the possibility of affecting the reader's experience of reality rather than representing it.