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La Grange

Jun 15, 2012
Highway 71 between Austin and I10 is America in all its glory. Things I saw: Teenager in a Joy Division t-shirt, walking on the side of the road toward Austin with sun-dazed eyes. Fresh deer carcass, ungralloched. A viewing stand constructed to survey, as far as I could tell, miles of excavation and burnt pine. A billboard for a resort just outside of Austin showing a roll of toilet paper on a stick.

Fanciful Etymologies

Sep 22, 2011
The word “sincere” was often thought to derive from the Latin “sine cera” or “without wax” and was thought to refer to the adulteration of marble by unscrupulous Romans. Hence Ezra Pound, “We have a word ‘sincere’, said to date from the Roman luxury trade in fake marble” (“Confucius and Mencius,” Selected Prose: 1909-1965, [New York: New Directions, 1973]: 84). The OED notes that this has “no probability,” but it’s easy enough to see why it appealed to Pound, who was very concerned about the adulteration of all things in the present age.

The Historical Novel

Aug 6, 2011
Perry Anderson has an article on the historical novel in the most London Review. Right after an impressively keen assessment of the importance of Orlando, Anderson notes: in Britain hoary sagas of doughty patriots battling against Napoleon poured—and still pour—off the presses, from C. S. Forester through Dennis Wheatley to Patrick O’Brian. Patrick O’Brian? I hesitate to ask if Anderson has actually read one of O’Brian novels, but one must assume that they operate on a different level than Dennis Wheatley, with respect to cultural chauvinism, craft, and pretty much everything else.

Rimbaud's Conte

Jan 4, 2011
John Ashbery has a translation of Rimbaud’s “Conte” in the most recent New York Review. The final line of the poem, “La musique savante manque a notre desir” is translated there as “Wise music is missing from our desire.” Wallace Fowlie renders it “Our desires are deprived of cunning music.” Paul Schmidt, “Our desire lacks the music of the mind.” Ashbery’s translation seems amusedly literal for the most part. He translates “les betes de luxe” as “thoroughbred animals,” which does seem better than Fowlie’s “pet animals.” (I can’t remember what Schmidt does there offhand; something with “luxury,” I think.) What does “Conte,” mean, though?

Herodotus and Linguistic Essentialism

Dec 21, 2010
In the second book of the Histories, Herodotus tells us of the Egyptian king Psammetichos, who wanted to discover who were truly the oldest people of the Earth. He took two infants and had them raised by shepherds in isolation from human voices. When they were finally brought out of their huts, they cried “bekos,” a word that means “bread” in the Phrygian language. Thus Psammetichos concluded that the Phrygians were the oldest humans.


Oct 15, 2010
Anthony Burgess, I believe, said that any writer worth his salt should be able to produce a thousand words per day. I’ve been trying that for the last eighty days or so. (I missed the day I had spinal surgery because I couldn’t type with the IV and some other device they had sticking in my finger, and I never did make up those words.) I don’t know if creative writing would be more difficult to follow through with than academic writing, but the main problem I’ve found is being able to find enough time to do both the writing and then the reading necessary to keep the motor going.


Sep 29, 2010
Spinal Surgery NRC Rankings Losing the OED Spinal Surgery I had spinal surgery two weeks ago. An anesthesiologist told me that I wouldn’t remember anything he was telling me, and I remember every word. NRC Rankings I had a lot to say about these until I learned of the role the Survey of Earned Doctorates played in them, at which point I decided to remain silent. Losing the *OED* Our state library consortium lost access to the OED last week.

Zizek and Facts

Sep 4, 2010
The most recent NLR has a piece by Zizek on the contemporary European financial crisis, in which he attributes to Kissinger the “make the economy scream” comment. I was unable to find any source which claims anyone other than Nixon made the remark noted by Richard Helms. Christopher Hitchens even mentions that Kissinger was relatively unconcerned with Chile, describing it as a “dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica,” for example.

Mondale as Debater

Aug 20, 2010
I am intermittently working my way through the archives of the London Review of Books and have now reached late 1984. An article by Alan Brinkley about the Mondale-Reagan presidential race mentioned one of their debates, and I remembered that I might have actually watched that when it happened. Thanks to the miracle of the Reagan Presidential Library, a handsome copy is available on Youtube for all to see, and I was just browsing around in it.

Pynchon in Poland

Aug 5, 2010
Here’s a neat piece on a Pynchon conference in Poland. The thesis of the paper the author presented sounds somewhat similar to some ideas I had about Lemuria in the book when I wrote about it a while ago. I’ve only been in one gathering of Pynchon specialists before, and they were nowhere near as eccentric as those Nick Holdstock describes. n+1 academic conference descriptions always, at least in this and the Elif Batuman versions I’ve read, sound closer to something out of The Futurological Congress than those I go to; but I haven’t been terribly adventurous in my choices either.


May 9, 2010
Alex Golub, an anthropologist who’s blogged for a long time, is running a series of personal associations with Library of Congress call letters, which is a truly great idea for a series of posts. He’s starting each one with a color association, and I don’t know if that synaesthetic twist came from the Rimbaud sonnet or just memories of book covers, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I’ve read Golub’s blog since I was a graduate student myself, and he used to write amusing pieces about computer games.


Mar 24, 2010
I was thinking a little today about the problem of snark. I haven’t read David Denby’s book on it, but I was able to work out after thinking about it for a while that the lowest form of snark possible on the internet would be snark about John Byrne’s Canadian superhero team, Alpha Flight: (I apologize for the monochrome; I think I may own a colored original of this particular

My Daughter

Mar 22, 2010
You can’t really see her face here, but I’ve uploaded some more pictures to Flickr, if you’re interested. Clara Madeleine Goodwin was born at 7:33 AM on Friday. She weighed 8 lbs. and was 19” long. She shows all the signs of being a good baby, and her big brother is both tolerant of and occasionally interested in her presence. While in the hospital with Clancy, I read about two-thirds of Gene Wolfe’s latest, The Sorcerer’s House, which I so far like a great deal more than his last two books, even if Wolfe is drawing upon some fairly outlandish academic stereotypes.

For My Commonplace Book

Feb 15, 2010
‘In England a schoolboy of [James] Watson’s precocity and style of genius would probably have been steered towards literary studies. It just so happens that during the 1950s, the first great age of molecular biology, the English schools of Oxford and particularly of Cambridge produced more than a score of graduates of quite outstanding ability – much more brilliant, inventive, articulate and dialectically skilful than most young scientists; right up in the Watson class.

So Probable

Feb 11, 2010
Like many citizens, I’ve followed the Google in China case somewhat. This Wired article caught my attention for a different reason. Look at this quote: “If you’re a law firm and you’re doing business in places like China, it’s so probable you’re compromised and it’s very probable there’s not much you can do about it,” Mandia says. Is there a way of parsing this other than “it’s like so probable” ?

Mickey Mice Better Beware!

Dec 30, 2009
Hep-Schmaltz Era is Dawning! NEW YORK, July 4—Now that hepster Harry James has hit the heavy dough by hiring a flock of fiddles and blowing trumpet solos strictly from the sugar mill, and now that hepster Tommy Dorsey, in the heavy dough to begin with, has added catgut and a harp besides, the band biz finds itself in the throes of a trend. Said trend is more than the removal from the relief rolls of several dozen previously impoverished fiddle scrapers—it is the dawn of the hep-schmaltz era, as contrasted to the ragtime days, the jazz age, the heyday of the crooner, and the era of swing, all trends and all now dead.

The Wanton Student

Dec 13, 2009
Much about the TLS annoys me, though I still subscribe. Here is one happy thing I found in the latest issue, a non-watermarked version of which I was unable to find elsewhere: That’s “The Wanton Student” by Arie de Vois.

On Being A Mac User

Nov 9, 2009
I used a Mac in my office at Georgia Tech, and I’ve had one in my office at UL for about a year now. But I’ve only been using Macs exclusively for about a month now after the purchase of a Macbook Pro. Now, it’s important to understand that the Gateway laptop I had been using before, which had come with Vista and improbably enough had a driver incompatibility of some type with Ubuntu that I wasn’t able to fix, was one of the shittiest pieces of hardware that’s ever been manufactured.

Sartre's War Diary

Oct 5, 2009
The most recent NLR has a translated excerpt: I believe that I loved my time like others love their country with the same exclusivity, the same chauvinism, the same partiality. And I despised other epochs with the blindness that they apply to despising other nations. And my time has been defeated. I always thought that something, in 1920-25, was almost born: Lenin, Freud, Surrealism, revolutions, jazz, silent films. All this could have come together.

The Discus of Odysseus

Jul 8, 2009
Among the Phaeacians, Odysseus, with athletic vanity piqued: “Up he sprang, cloak and all, and seized a discus,/huge and heavy, more weighty by far than those/the Phaeacians used to hurl and test each other” (Fagles’s translation, 8.216-218). Why is this too-heavy discus there? Did the man-formed Athena create it beforehand? I expect no Homeric discus is left unflung, so I’m sure there are centuries of weighty scholarship on the issue. I suppose it could just be one on the pile, so to speak, or a reminder of the mighty men the Phaeacian ancestors were.

The Giraffe

May 11, 2009
We took Henry to the local zoo today. At one year of age, he seems to have no instinctive fear of snakes, large carnivores, or even baleful maras (“Patagonian cavies,” according to the plaque, which also amusingly suggested that they could run at over 65 mph for an hour. They very much had the aspect of creatures who wouldn’t hop a yard to piss on you if you were on fire, as the saying goes, but who am I to judge?) I suppose I haven’t seen a giraffe in person since I was eight or nine years old, and I had forgotten just how improbable they are.

De Anima

Mar 25, 2009
You may remember that Aristotle attributes to Democritus a story of Daedalus making a wooden statue of Aphrodite move by pouring mercury in it (De anima, 406b). I wondered, however naively, for what purpose until I then remembered the story of Asterion’s birth. I should consult a scholarly edition for more details, I suppose.

Shelby Foote's Standards

Mar 8, 2009
This is from the NYT interview with Cormac McCarthy: Saul Bellow, who sat on the committee that in 1981 awarded him a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius grant, exclaims over his “absolutely overpowering use of language, his life-giving and death-dealing sentences.” Says the historian and novelist Shelby Foote: “McCarthy is the one writer younger than myself who has excited me. I told the MacArthur people that he would be honoring them as much as they were honoring him.” Shelby Foote was born in 1916.

The Legal Memo as Literary Genre

Mar 3, 2009
Can anyone think of a book which uses them almost exclusively? Real life has provided some very good models, as you know if you follow the news. I could imagine someone publishing the Yoo memos, as is, in chronological order, in 1997, and winning all relevant prizes. I feel like there’s an obvious example, but I refuse to research it; and I know that one of my erudite readers will supply some examples, if they exist.

Nuclear Factoid of the Day

Jan 21, 2009
I taught Beowulf today, and I think it’s worth noting that the Geatish martial spirit was, contrary to all visible evidence, apparently being preserved in Sweden in the late 60s. This CIA memo mentions that Sweden, along with India, was one of the countries that might conceivably develop nuclear weapons in the next few years. I found the memo on this National Security Archive exhibit on the Nuclear Emergency Search Team.

On Lefebvre's Critique of Everyday Life

Jan 15, 2009
Or, at least, on the specific copy of it I got from Verso as a gift for subscribing (finally) to NLR. The copy they sent me has about a twenty page interpolation of some type of organizational theory text, different typography and everything, almost in the middle. I don’t know if I received the book because they knew it was defective, or if the entire print run is like this; but I have to admit that I’ve thought about what it would be like to assign this edition in a class and then pretend as if the organizational theory text is in fact a Borgesian creation of Lefebvre’s.


Jan 1, 2009
The first quotation in the OED for the word “hooey” is “*My prof’s full of hooey. He doesn’t know a C theme from an A one. *”


Dec 28, 2008
An example of a scholarly investigation of a topic or figure which finds that the conventional representation of such is in fact exhaustive and accurate.

A Witticism from Ursula Le Guin

Dec 10, 2008
I realize that the Library of Congress has chosen to transliterate out of the Crillic [sic?] into some quite private language, so that Chekov, for instance, turns up as “Cexov,” which sounds like an anaphrodisiac breakfast cereal; but these weird pedantries needn’t infect the rest of us. (SFS 1.3 [1974] 182).

Canadian Separatist Literature

Dec 10, 2008
I’ve always thought that the manifest ludicrousness of the Quebecois elements in Infinite Jest was a clear indicator of the diegetic embeddedness of much of the book, but I have learned from two review articles* in SFS that bizarre extrapolations about many different varieties of Canadian separatism have a rich literary history. Wallace, who enjoyed science fiction, might well have read some of them. Heinlein’s Friday, for example seems about on par from a plausibility perspective, if lacking in the grotesquerie of Wallace’s scenario.


Nov 28, 2008
Do you know of any fiction in which a character (or the narrator, better yet) describes or engages in mythographic research in the mode of Eliade, with all of the details being entirely fabricated? I suspect that something in the Lovecraftian mythos might fit here, though what I have in mind is more self-consciously metafictional than anything I know of it in that genre.

On Interpretation

Nov 8, 2008
From this fascinating LRB article by James Davidson: There is a nice irony here, for Constantine’s critical conversion was dependent, we are told, on old-fashioned battlefield oracles not dissimilar to those in which the Iamids – who were still apparently prophesying after perhaps a thousand years or more, but would not do so for much longer – had proved so expert. First, according to a contemporary panegyric of around 310 AD, a mystic vision was granted to Constantine.

Translations, Editing, Covers

Sep 30, 2008
These are three paratextual areas that I would like to explore in more detail. Specifically, I’m interested in the current utility of and history of past attempts to use translations as a way of illuminating textual cruxes. Kevin Canty told a class I was in that the Danish (possibly Dutch) translator of one of his books was the only person to ever note that he switched the models of car that a character was driving.

The Shortest Distance between Two Pints Is A Strayed Lion

Aug 21, 2008
The title phrase comes from one of Pynchon’s letters to Kirkpatrick Sale in the Harry Ransom Center. I won’t tell you the lead-up, but rest assured that it is every word the groaner you think it might be. (A letter from Phillip Roth to DeLillo in the same archive advises him against using Pynchon’s blurb for Mao II: Roth writes that it has something like five cliches in seventy words.) I return to Gravity’s Rainbow now and then for light reading and to recall the electric incomprehension I felt when I first read it as a freshman.

A Mailing

Jul 14, 2008
I received a letter from one of our insurers recently addressed to That is all for now.


Jul 13, 2008
I applaud the OED lexicographers who cite the recently departed Thomas Disch’s Camp Concentration in the entry for “opsimath.” They believe that everything rational must come into being. My own opsimathy will extend to botany, as I have decided that I want to be able to identify every plant species growing in my yard, out of some proto-Adamic impulse or another. I hope to be able to fold the taxonomic aspects of this learning into a project on the cladistics of genre and narrative technique, such speculations suggested originally by Moretti’s GMT.

More Trevor-Roper

Jul 10, 2008
I had earlier noted his mordant article on Toynbee, but I just learned from this piece that He enjoyed sending mischievous, pseudonymous letters to newspapers; like the solemn inquiry, published in The New York Review, purporting to come from one “Miss Agnes Trollope” of “Buttocks, near Ambleside,” asking Lawrence Stone for documentary evidence of the prevalence of coitus interruptus in Caroline England. I look forward to an upcoming research trip to the HRC in Austin.

El Panóptico

Jul 1, 2008
A footnote in the August 2002 memo attributed to John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee regarding the distinctions between cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and torture and promulgating the interpretation that, according to the prevailing constitutional interpretation, the President in wartime was free to ignore any statutory niceties regarding these distinctions—a footnote in this memo references Kodak Eastman v. Kavlin to claim that the court there found that the arbitrary imprisonment of a Kodak employee in a difficult* prison with murderers and bribe-expectant guards did not meet the definition of “torture.”** This infamous prison in El Paz is known as “El Panoptico.” *From the decision: According to Carballo, a waking nightmare followed.


Jun 20, 2008
One of the many interesting items I’ve learned from Mark S. Morrison’s Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory (Oxford, 2007) is the existence of Technocracy Incorporated, a type of Wellsian open conspiracy of engineers and planners that numbered the young Ray Bradbury among their members. They are still around, apparently: Morrison describes how Nathan Schachner’s “The Revolt of the Scientists,” published in Wonder Stories is based on Technocracy Inc., and the use of various utopian financial texts about the potential fluidity of currency in their founding doctrine is an altogether fascinating bit of cultural history.


Jun 10, 2008
Behold, the destroyer of citrus: He’s on an evolvulus because I’ve been progressively extirpating, deracinating, and finally, uprooting three heavily cankered orange trees that came with our back yard. The minor drought here has been helping, but, when I dragged the trees to the front yard to be carried away, the displaced leaf-footed bugs took to my asters. The nymph instars you see above sample everything, though I think they find the lemongrass and Vietnamese coriander in that herb bucket with the evolvulus strange and frightening after the sweet, sweet satsumas they’ve known for so long.

John Banville on M. R. James

May 2, 2008
Montague Rhodes James (to distinguish between the Jameses, Leithauser, with a familiarity that would have made both men stare, refers to them as “Henry” and “Montie”) was a Cambridge don—”linguist, paleographer, medievalist, biblical scholar”—who wrote ghost stories to amuse his bachelor colleagues over the port and plum pudding at high table at Christmas time in the early years of the century. “If Montie is an ancillary literary figure,” Leithauser writes, somewhat defensively, “he looks to be a durable one, and surely few writers have ever won a portion of immortality with such quick, light-handed ease.” Quick?

More Baby

Apr 24, 2008
Henry Clinton Goodwin was born at 8:40 AM on Tuesday. The operating room was very cold, with the vaguely futuristic air you might expect. I sat behind the curtain during the short procedure and detailed the various possibilities remaining in the NBA playoffs to an interested Clancy. The doctor called my attention to the cyanotic Henry being pulled out (these babies are surprisingly tough—Henry has the wiry strength which currently characterizes his mother and formerly characterized his father, before po’ boys and gumbo rendered him a gelatinous mass).

Fieri Fascias

Apr 11, 2008
Just bought a house today and learned the title term and “hypothec” for my trouble (which involved actually reading the mortgage contract; I got the distinct impression that most people don’t do that.) We will move in gradually and then suddenly, taking the house by surprise.

Some More Complaints about JSTOR; The NWE

Apr 8, 2008
The new interface is too busy, and the page images are too small on the screen. I also don’t appreciate having to click through a pop-up each time I want to download a PDF. I looked briefly to see if there was a way of using the superior older interface, and it doesn’t seem like it. The “see first match” option also seems to be broken. In other news, I’ve heard that the Networked Writing Environment at UF, where I taught many classes as a TA, has been dismantled.

Descriptive Clause of the Week

Mar 15, 2008
Comes to us from the recent edition of the New York Review. Michael Massing, writing about who joins the military, explains: “One night, on a visit to Buffalo Wild Wings, a cavernous bar/restaurant on Arsenal Street, I approached a table of young men who were drinking beer and munching on chicken wings.“ I picture Massing, or his editors, imagining subscribers pausing, chin-in-hand, to look out at their windows and wonder at a world with such marvels as Buffalo Wild Wings in it.

The White Visitation

Mar 4, 2008
I wonder if Pynchon knew about: Louis De Wohl, a German with an alleged penchant for cigars and cross-dressing, was an astrologer working for the British MI5 during the 1940s. He was courted by high-ranking intelligence officials to develop information on the date of the German invasion of London to the best dates for battle, the Independent said Tuesday. De Wohl wrote a report in 1943 that said it was important to utilize astrology when developing strategies against Germany because Hitler allegedly employed seers and astrologers.


Feb 26, 2008
Does the following passage come from the PR arm of a prestigious scientific research journal or a novel by Michel Houellebecq ? In many monogamous animals, including marmosets and humans, males of high genetic quality are less likely to invest time in paternal care than are those of lower genetic quality. The theory behind this is that females view males with good genes as so desirable to the quality of their offspring that they are willing to sacrifice help with the rearing, letting the men get away with not being around.

Better Not Of

Feb 3, 2008
This phrase, closely kin to “would of”, shows up in a line of dialogue early in McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Unlike Harrison, McCarthy uses eye-dialect (and has the tic of omitting apostrophes in contractions–where did this come from?), but it’s inapplicable, strictly speaking, in this case. The google books corpus reveals a similar usage on p. 247 of Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck. UPDATE: Page 72 has, in dialogue, “I

Trevor-Roper on Toynbee

Feb 1, 2008
As I have an interest in Spengler’s influence in England, and in British historiography of the early-mid 20th C more generally, I was quite curious about Hugh Trevor-Roper’s piece on Toynbee in the New York Review. I didn’t expect it to be quite so acidulous: Behind what his biographer calls “his mask of modesty,” which became in time a grotesque parade of “humility,” there was a raging egotism. In this he reminds us of another great egotist who also ended as a self-important prophet vaticinating in the void, Thomas Carlyle.

Havelock Ellis on Oneiric Neologism

Jan 31, 2008
I’ve been going through John Livingston Lowes’s The Road to Xanadu in preparation for teaching Coleridge this week, and I found an interesting footnote on the aforementioned phenomenon from Havelock Ellis’s The World of Dreams: There is abundant evidence of the invention of new words in dreams–see, for example, Havelock Ellis’s selvdrolla and jaleisa Lowes then notes that “Xanadu,” “Abora,” and “Alph” are all perfectly “normal formations, when judged by the semasiology of dreams” (396 n).

Punctuated Linguistic Evolution

Jan 31, 2008
I look forward to reading article in the latest Science, particularly as I”m interested in the evidence for this claim: “Our findings identify a general tendency for increased rates of linguistic evolution in fledgling languages, perhaps arising from a linguistic founder effect or a desire to establish a distinct social identity.”

Would of

Jan 17, 2008
In M. John Harrison’s Nova Swing, a character named Alice says, “We would of iced them, Vic, but what do you do?” (68) To my ear, “would’ve” and “would of” are homophones, which is why they are confused in writing. Alice, if she’s literate, very possibly would have made this mistake. But this is dialogue reproduced by the narrator. I don’t think you can credit the notion that it is rendered dialect, as there’s no difference in pronunciation.

Locally Coextensive Properties

Jan 15, 2008
A number of folks have called attention to Jerry Fodor’s recent LRB columns in which he criticizes the theoretical coherence of adaptationism as an explanation. The exchange of letters in the most recent edition has Fodor writes that his critics “admit that the theory of natural selection can’t distinguish among locally coextensive properties while continuing to claim that natural selection explains why polar bears are white.” He then goes on to suggest that adapative phenomena will likely be explained by “endogenous constraints on phenotypes.” Developmental pathways are constrained.

Another View of 18th C North Carolina

Jan 5, 2008
(Compare with this): Surely there is no place in the world where the inhabitants live with less labour than in North Carolina. It approaches nearer to the description of Lubberland than any other, by the great felicity of the climate, the easiness of raising provisions, and the slothfulness of the people. Indian corn is of so great increase, that a little pains will subsist a very large family with bread, and they may have meat without any pains at all, by the help of the low grounds, and the great variety of mast that grows on the high land.

The Black Dossier

Dec 14, 2007
I’m not entirely sure what’s happening in the last part of this. Retif, or something by Moorcock that I can’t place? Part of the blurriness is my indifferent scan, part the three-d confection. I did like the chivalrous Bond, which might have been a bit overdone in less subtle hands.


Dec 12, 2007
I’m fascinated by this idea, not only the muelos belief, but considered as a general explanatory principle. The long paleolithic imprinted various atavisms, but only some have archotic force. (Some could be awakened). I suspect that Ted Hughes would have been interested in this idea, had he read La Barre, which he very well might have. Owls eat crows. (And ducks. I was startled at night walking through the Duck

Franny Had Been Assigned The Fourth Elegy

Dec 11, 2007
In my set, at least, the way it worked was that you drove around certain likely looking streets, forested coves,* and downtown loftways. Often you would find those professing to surf or aspiring to thrash deathcore; sometimes middle managers drooped from the weight of a mid-serveconomy. You could brush with fame (I was preliminarily vetted by the self-appointed handler of two transients who had written a book about watching movies fume); chance did not altogether matter.

Mailer Goes Jogging with Ali

Nov 15, 2007
That night he and I had dinner and he told me what had happened. He had kept up with Ali for a couple of miles into the country upriver from the compound at N’Sele, but then he had begun to tire, and finally he stopped, his chest heaving, and he watched Ali disappear into the night with his sparring partners. In the east, over the hills, the African night was beginning to give way to the first streaks of dawn, but it was still very dark.

The Purdue Theory of Mind Conference

Nov 5, 2007
Is where I spent my weekend, and it was a good conference, filled with smart, friendly* people discussing interesting things. Smaller conferences seem to be much better, ceteris paribus. Further experiments with my laptop seem to indicate that it may have been a hardware failure, though I’m not about to absolve Vista until more facts are known. I anticipate learning much about Gateway’s customer service in the next few days and do not wish to color the experience with the dread reason suggests.


Oct 23, 2007
I’ve been reading the back issues of the New York Review intermittently over the last few days. I’m still in the glorious era when they would print things like this [subscriber, though, given the author, I suspect it’s online elsewhere]. It’s fascinating reading (with the increasingly strong feeling that it’ll be anagnostian throughout for me with this venue) through this admittedly narrow aperture of intellectual history. There are more bird-books reviewed than you might think, and only Foucault and McLuhan (and Ong) have, as of early 1968, made any appearance from the theory-pantheon.

Nad propastyu vo rzhi

Oct 11, 2007
I was involved in a deck collapse at Wrightsville Beach, NC some years ago. Clustered cups, herded tightly on the deck by some barrier force. I pushed my way almost to the living beachside room, almost crossed the threshold, when a sudden crack–a sound more blinding than overhead lightning–cast arms, legs, and cups down to the parking garage. I somehow righted myself out of the blight with only small, distrusting welts, to later cross an alley across the road and to face a gun pointed at me by a propertied man on his own intact deck, who had had enough.

A Question

Sep 12, 2007
From the OED entry on “ignis fatuus”: “It seems to have been formerly a common phenomenon; but is now exceedingly rare.“ Why? Because it was what it was thought to be, and has sensibly sublimated to a different medium? Did McLuhan write anything about this? I’m pretty sure he must have. I’m also coming round to the idea that Gregor’s sister Grete was čarodějnice. Cui bono, etc.

Concluding Remark

Sep 11, 2007
From the previous, re Adorno’s potential attitude toward The Pick-Up Artist, I think that he would have continued the line of inquiry began in the essay on Odysseus and started here: “Non formosus erat, sed erat facundus Ulixes/et tamen aequoreas torsit amore Deas.“ Kierkegaard quotes that bit from Ovid in Diary of a Seducer.

Some Further Reflections on the Mayday Materials

Sep 8, 2007
Conrad, in his magisterial post on the Mayday Matter, advanced two complementary ideas: 1) that the ads themselves are the expression of an aesthetic sensibility and have no other discernible purpose and 2) that the community of random annotations that has arisen at Bryan Hance’s site is in itself perhaps more noteworthy and interesting than what they seek to explain. I believe that the creator of these materials has had a lifelong interest in educational methods, particularly those influenced by behaviorism.

An Unknown Source for Kafka's The Metamorphosis?

Sep 5, 2007
This piece [JSTOR] in Science from 1892 describes how a grapevine beetle came to love and obey a young woman, until it was accidentally dropped. Poor grapevine beetle. (I know that the chances of Kafka having read this are almost nil, but still.)


Aug 20, 2007
First day of school tomorrow. Mood: Actually, not at all like that. I seem to recall Rushdie begrudgingly crediting Le Carre with skillful plotting in Tinker, Tailor. It would be interesting to chart the geography of the novel, particularly that of Tarr’s (an allusion?) movements. The board above is also too monochromatic (the amber spectacles for life’s eclipse!).

Incomplete Lists

Aug 10, 2007
Fiction in which Jacques Monod appears: Kosinski, Jersy. Blind Date. I would like to hear from anyone who’s read both this book and Lem’s Chain of Chance (Catarrh).

Consumer Updates

Aug 4, 2007
Because of backorders, and frustrating customer service, I had to relinquish the potential Dell Ubuntu notebook in favor of a Gateway with the dreaded Vista pre-installed. (Note to Mac Users: I have .5 GHZ less processor speed [bus issues are not relevant, I don’t think], twice as much memory, and 40GB more hard drive space for \$1100 less than the equivalent MacBook–how is this even possible?) Our moving company made yesterday one of the most unpleasant days of my life, as we had to take turns staking out the visitors’ parking lot so that the behemoth trailer would have room.

The Antiquarian

Jun 28, 2007
“In every New England town library, there is likely to be an ancient Puritan virgin, shriveled and dried in the snows of sixty Massachuetts [sic] winters and suitably shrouded in black bombazine, who has been at work for the past twenty years on the story of her home town from 1633 to 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated and history came to an end” (Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought.

L'homme qui rit

Jun 17, 2007
I read James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia a few days ago and was struck by his reference to Hugo and the comprachicos. I believe that Rimbaud also identified the mutilated rictus as a metaphor for the artist, and the reader may infer substantial self-loathing from the excessively lurid details in Ellroy’s presentation. D. S. Neff’s “Anoedipal Fiction: Schizoanalysis and The Black Dahlia“ (Poetics Today 18.3 jstor) is a theoretically rich reading of the novel.

DNA and Data Storage

May 25, 2007
A recent paper (summary) about the encoding of a message in bacteria DNA left me wondering what the first use of this idea in literature was (i. e., a persistent, long-term message decoded by DNA analysis left by previous humans, aliens, god(s), alien gods, god-like aliens, humans who became aliens then gods then humans, etc.) “Golem XIV” has some related speculation on the informational nature of the genetic code, I believe, and Memoirs Found in a Bathtub also raises the problem of data persistence which the paper cites as a potential practical application; but I seem to remember something using essentially the same idea.


May 20, 2007
Several of my friends were Pantera enthusiasts in the early-mid nineties, but I never picked up from them that their name derived from the soldier Celsus claimed to have fathered Jesus (Contra Celsum, 1.32). The eutelegenetic details of the rebuttal are subtle. Origen had an imperfect understanding of contingency. Ernst Haeckel, who may have shared this with him, believed Celsus’s account.

King Vishvamitra

Apr 30, 2007
“Who through millennia of self-torture acquired such a feeling of power and self-confidence that he endeavored to build a new heaven—the uncanny symbol of the most ancient and most recent experience of philosophers on earth: whoever has at some built a “new heaven” has found the power to do so only in his own hell” (Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Section 10). Our administered science and technology does not require ascesis, however.


Apr 22, 2007
I would like to write a history of apriorism in science and also among the coalition of insurance mid-execs and Carl Hiassen characters seeking the election of Bush tertius (known, colloquially, as the “Jebusits”); but none of this is as likely as it may now seem. Observe Agoraphobe Harold on Twin Peaks mentions the orchid’s labellum before a moment of melodrama. Via Scott McLemee, I learned of George Scialabba’s site, which contains, I think, all his published writing and is well worth reading.

Dreams and Memory

Apr 16, 2007
I can no longer remember whether or not I dreamed about Charles Whitman last night, or, once I heard about the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech, I somehow mixed that association with my increasingly vague memory of the dream during the day. The impression I have of the dream is that I thought it was terribly important to tell someone who Whitman was, or to make him understand that I knew who Whitman was.

Getting Down to Cases

Apr 6, 2007
After reading this review-essay by Richard Hibbitt in the Cambridge Quarterly on recent translations of Rimbaud, I’m quite eager to read Clive Scott’s Translating Rimbaud’s Illuminations. Look, for example, at this visual effort.

Luna Moth

Apr 1, 2007
On our porch: Their chief exports are morphetics, and they have no natural predators except for birds, who love them.

The Common Towhee

Mar 30, 2007
Is fascinated with mirrors, particularly the passenger’s side mirror on my wife’s Civic. I see a male quizzically and somewhat aggressively pecking at its image there, sometimes even immediately after I pull up in the driveway. When I lived in Florida, one similarly assaulted my then vehicle’s mirror, but that one had a chrome-like exterior which was peeling off, and I assumed it was attracted to the shine. This eminence rouge (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is also an aggressive scratcher of the ground, and I’m concerned that it’s seeing mirror fauna (see Borges; also Wolfe) in the ultraviolet.

Missed Our Local Inland Empire Screening

Mar 22, 2007
I see, so I’ll have to wait until next month and drive to Williamsburg to see it. I noticed that it somehow made it to Gainesville. By “local,” I mean “Raleigh,” of course. I read Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia yesterday in O’Flaherty’s impressive scholarly edition. That “Uebersetzer” means both “ferryman” and “translator” and thus lends itself to Charonic puns was a tidbit I’d heretofore not consumed. I’d like to write my own scholarship in something like Hamann’s style, though sadly this is not feasible.


Mar 21, 2007
Is is just me, or do they look as if they are offering their daughters to the sun? Yes, I’ve been reading Voegelin a bit. One of the panels I attended at the recent Narrative Conference was a roundtable discussion on Against The Day. Several eminent Pynchon scholars participated. I haven’t finished the book (been reading it slowly and enjoying it), but I’m wondering about immediate popular culture influences. Deadwood seems obvious, though this could simply be an artifact of having watched it recently, but I seem to hear it in the dialogue and it’s hard to imagine Pynchon not catching on to the HBO renascence.

The Most Touching Spam

Mar 19, 2007
I’m trying to track down an expression I found in Patrick O’Brian. The OED doesn’t know anything about it, though I did, while looking, discover that Beckett is quoted for two senses of the unmentionable word that forms the first half of this mysterious compound. The spam was about Samonsite repair, by the way. Or so it claims. It seems Russian in provenance. I’m just back from this year’s Narrative Conference in D.C.

As Curtius Reminds Us

Mar 8, 2007
In the time of Diocletian, mining engineers were called philosophi. As well they should be. (European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, 209).

A Series of Trite Observations

Feb 22, 2007
I’m enjoying The Puppet and the Dwarf at the moment. Žižek reminds me much of McLuhan. Facts don’t matter for either. In the space of a few pages, Žižek has claimed that Martin Luther King made a radical anti-capitalist turn in the last few weeks before his death and that the Japanese Army relied on a Zen mantra similar to “the sword that kills is the sword that saves” to justify their actions in Korea and Manchuria.

Prestige and Pynchon

Jan 10, 2007
Clancy and I saw The Prestige in the worst theater in the world on New Year’s Eve. I had read the considerably more interesting book (how could you eliminate the frame story?) immediately beforehand, and I find it curious that Michael Wood, who’s reviewed both the the film and Against the Day in the LRB didn’t mention the shared fascination with Tesla and the occult properties of electricity seen in both.

What species of vectitation

Dec 23, 2006
I ambled through the woods adjoining the Cypress Creekway, woods full of tame does and pileated woodpeckers, woods crossed with impacted trails and pocked with the aluminum remains of impromptu campfires, and saw, near the creekbed, a red brazen jeep, its driver behatted (pileated peckerwood?) and unwary. No one went with Fergus then, as I far as I could see. Am finally reading here, in the public library, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

Of The Minor Characters in Middlemarch

Dec 5, 2006
The one that I would most like to write a novel about, set mostly during his dashing early years, is Cpt. Lydgate: “He had, moreover, that sort of high-breeding which consists in being free from the petty solicitudes of middle-class gentility, and he was a great critic of feminine charms” (Ch. LVIII). Norman Mailer remarked that he couldn’t get past the bananas in Gravity’s Rainbow. I have now passed the equivalent point in Against The Day.

Success in Croaker Fishing; Lem's Chain of Chance

Nov 26, 2006
I did happen to catch and release a croaker considerably larger than the one pictured below, but I chose not to photograph it so as not to compromise the considerable dignity of that aged fish. It was then caught and eaten by a mocking otter. I’m also catching up on the Litvinenko news and theories, and I have wondered what the odds are that it was a situation similar to that described in Lem’s book.

Now is the Time

Nov 16, 2006
A textual note about “Matinee D’Ivresse”: “ASSASSINS dans le ms est en plus grand caracteres et souligne” (Pleiade, 1963). You can also learn, at least in this edition, about the then-recent vogue for Robert Faurisson’s topo-typo-erotic interpretation of “Voyelles,” along with some suitably apoplectic remarks from Etiemble. Perhaps the unhappy fate of that controversy is what turned Faurisson mad; perhaps he always was. Granting his premise, his reading of “O”’s “l’extase finale,” however, given what we know of Rimbaud’s tastes, might have been a bit off the mark.

Mallarmé's Preface to Vathek

Nov 9, 2006
Borges cites this approvingly in his essaylet, “On William Beckford’s Vathek,” and he also notes that it is almost impossible to read because of Mallarme’s “etymological dialect.” Belloc also called Beckford one of the “vilest men of all time,” which is quite a compliment, considering. Also, Borges’s remark about the distinction between the atrocious place and the place of atrocity in versions of hell is nice.

A Fine Anecdote

Nov 7, 2006
You remember Tennyson reading an unpublished poem to Jowett; when he had finished, Jowett said, I shouldn’t publish that if I were you, Tennyson. Tennyson replied, If it comes to that, Master, the sherry you gave us at lunch was downright filthy. As told by Philip Larkin in his Paris Review interview. I also recommend Larkin’s “Who is Jorge Luis Borges?” And I suppose this, also: I suppose everyone has his own dream of America.

Some of My People, Viewed by An Irascible Frenchman, A While Ago

Nov 7, 2006
fryday 15th. Set out from the vessel with my servant and portmantle on his Sholder. we walked 7 miles to where there were some whale fishers tents, and got one of them to Cary us over the Sound [Core Sound] in their boat to Beaufort, a Small vilage not above 12 houses, the inhabitants seem miserable, they are very lasy and Indolent, they live mostly on fish and oisters, which they have here in great plenty.


Nov 5, 2006
Bombastus kept a devil’s bird Shut in the pommel of his sword, That taught him all the cunning pranks Of past and future mountebanks (Hudibras II.3) Browning quotes this in the heroically pedantic notes to his Paracelsus.

Thomas Glover's Account of Virginia (1676)

Nov 4, 2006
Another fishing story: As I was coming down the [Elizabeth] river in a sloop bound for the bay, it happened to prove calm, at which time we were three leagues short of the river’s mouth; the tide of the ebb being then done, the sloop-man dropped his grapline, an dhe and his boy took a little boat belonging to the sloop, in which they went ashore for water, leaving me aboard alone, in which time I took a small book out of my pocket and sat down at the stern of the vessel to read; but I had not read long before I heard a great rushing and flashing of the water, which caused me to suddenly look up, and about half a stone’s cast from me appeared a prodigious creature, much resembling a man, only somewhat larger, standing right up in the water with his head, neck, shoulders, breast, and waist, to the cubits of his arms, above water; his skin was tawny, much like that of an Indian; the figure of his head was pyramidal, and slick, without hair; his eyes large and black, and so were his eyebrows; his mouth very wide, with a broad streak on the upper lip, which turned upward at each end like mustachioes; his countenance was grim and terrible; his neck, shoulders, arms, breast, and waist were like unto the neck, arms, shoulders, breast, and waist of a man; his hands if he had any, were under water; he seemed to stand with his eyes fixed on me for some time, and afterward dived down and a little after riseth at somewhat a farther distance, and turned his head towards me again, and then immediately falleth a little under water, and swimmeth away so near the top of the water, that I could discern him throw out his arms, and gather them in as a man doth when he swimmeth.

Such Simple Pleasures

Nov 3, 2006
A copy of Jean Ray’s Malpertuis arrived today, and I also had the flounder siciliana at the finest Italian restaurant in Bethel, NC (La Cassetta, I recommend it)—flounder being one of the many toothsome fishes I did not catch on my recent outing. There are apparently some Pacific islands and perhaps also places on the Indonesian archipelago where you can catch marlin from the shore. Or could. There won’t be any fish left to harvest from the ocean in fifty years according to the day’s news.

The Scar

Oct 31, 2006
This, the only Mieville I’ve yet to read (well, not King Rat either) arrived yesterday, and I’m taking some time here and there to read it. I’m more than a bit of a sucker for the Fiend Folio bestiary combined with vanguardist class critique. And the opening reminded me of my recent fishing trip, where I succeeded in bringing out of the water only a floating green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis), who gratefully wrapped himself around my lure, a mullet-looking thing I rather quixotically hoped might interest a passing trout or red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus).

More Fun with the OED

Oct 18, 2006
The last entry for “tesseract” is from Sidney Sheldon: “For Catherine time had lost its circadian rhythm; she had fallen into a tesseract of time, and day and night blended into one.” From The Other Side of Midnight, a work which, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, may owe something to The Magus.

And Another

Oct 10, 2006
Mustard gas, according to Haldane, was the most humane weapon ever invented, with about a 2.85% permanent casuality rate (“Eugenics and Social Reform,” ca. 1926).

Things One Can Learn from Haldane

Oct 10, 2006
In his essay “The Future of Biology,” (ca. 1926), I learn that it was then common to graft apes’ testicles into old or prematurely senile men, an attempt to get a hitherto unisolated hormone into the blood stream. The graft generally died after a few years. Perhaps that was well known. I don’t know.

Remark from Havelock Ellis

Sep 30, 2006
“The kiss is not only an expression of feeling; it is a means of provoking it. Cataglottism is by no means confined to pigeons” (OED, “cataglottism”).

From the Department of Puzzling Hyperbole

Sep 23, 2006
“Every school boy in the streets of Gottingen understands more about four-dimensional geometry than Einstein. Yet , in spite of that, Einstein did the work and not the mathematicians.” So Palle Yourgrau quotes David Hilbert in A World without Time (Basic, 2005: p. 6). Or is there something about Gottingen I’m missing? Also, Bertrand Russell on Princeton: “full of new Gothic, and […] as much like Oxford as monkeys can make it” (89).

The Burial Ground

Aug 20, 2006
I’ve just skimmed over The Shining, and it seems to be the case that the haunted Indian burial ground origin was added by the film, and later borrowed, farcically, in Poltergeist. The transformation of topiary (but see Zork II) into labyrinth, ostensibly a matter of economy, is hard to avoid; but I was interested in, while reviewing the novel, the ultimate stupidity of the haunting contrasted to the hints of menace in Shockley’s reaction to Jack’s research plans, which seem to go beyond any self-interest.

Recreational Scholarship in Latin

Jul 20, 2006
I miss the times where the Victorian alchemist William Alexander Ayton could write an unadmiring biography of John Dee in Latin. I studied Old Norse a bit in graduate school, and it occurred to me at the time there should be a journal devoted to contemporary literature and media studies written entirely in that language. I think it would necessitate a considerable refinement of the working concepts.

On Chesterton

Jul 12, 2006
Is this such a bad thing to aspire to? “The fat man in the cloak and the brigand’s hat forever stopping for a pork pie and a beer while he scribbled yet another poem or article on his cuff or on the back of a sugar packet” (D. J. Conlon G. K. Chesterton: a Half-Century of Views [1987]: xxiii, qtd. in ODNB entry). I especially like the “sugar packet” there.

R. C. Zaehner, Orientalist

May 13, 2006
I read Mysticism Sacred and Profane in high school, like just about everyone else, I suppose (excuse me: “I reckon”), and I did not know until this day that Zaehner was involved in the great game. Even suspected of being a Russian spy, he was. There’s also the matter of what he would have thought about the current nuclear apocalypticon.


Apr 29, 2006
What do the following words have in common? beat bumf cackle combativity congery hog-wash shot thing vaticinatory That’s right. All of their OED quotations cite Lewis’s The Apes of God. Is it as accurate of a systasis as the Amazon SIPs? Maybe not. But still.


Apr 20, 2006
A not surprising article in the Post today reviews an article by Lisa Cosgrove coming out in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics that demonstrates the close ties that experts on mood disorders, including all of those who have written the relevant entries in the DSM-IV, have to the pharmaceutical industry. I’m curious about how often we’ve seen in recent American television the effects of the diagnosed refusing their meds. There was the episode of Lost I briefly mentioned a while ago, the episode of Buffy it seemed indebted to, the fourth season of 24, and perhaps intermittent parts of The Sopranos.

The Previous War with Iran

Apr 17, 2006
From Richard Clarke and Steven Simon’s NYT editorial While the full scope of what America did do remains classified, published reports suggest that the United States responded with a chilling threat to the Tehran government and conducted a global operation that immobilized Iran’s intelligence service. Iranian terrorism against the United States ceased. Clarke implies here that he of course knows that there was such a chilling threat and global operation. His book also suggests that war with Iran was much closer than generally realized after the Khobar bombings.

Misdirected Panspermia, Perhaps

Apr 11, 2006
A reference in the title there to F. Crick and L. E. Orgel’s “Directed Panspermia” (Icarus 19 [July 1973]: 341-346), mentioned in the same footnote as this “For the general idea of life on Earth having arisen from extraterrestrial activity […] an idea also elaborated in the Strugatsky brothers’ […] Roadside Picnic” (Steven J. Dick, The Biological Universe Cambridge, 1996. 377n104). I’m not sure what Dick means here. I’m writing something short about Lem’s narrative theory, or presuppositions at least, in his brief essay on the book; but I thought briefly of the moulages being an advance unit that cause the rest of the world to be distorted into being, a temporal and stochastic paradox that may make sense of the Golden Ball.

The War with Iran

Apr 9, 2006
Two articles from the Washington Post and from Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. Though it feels somewhat overoptimistic at best, I’m currently subscribing to the bluster theory. I think it’s self-evident enough that there are no viable military options that the administration is working hard on a little “Madman” theory. And “explosive carrying dogs?” That’s a sure sign. Hersh has also been tipped very hard about tactical nuclear weapons, which seems to me to fit the scenario.

I'm Glad to See

Apr 8, 2006
Phillip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles recognized by Perry Anderson: In reality, the front of opinion that pressed for an assault on Iraq was far broader than a particular Republican faction. It included many a liberal and Democrat. Not merely was the most detailed case for attacking Saddam Hussein made by Kenneth Pollack, a functionary of the Clinton Administration. What remains by a long way the most sweeping theorization of a program for American military intervention to destroy rogue regimes and uphold human rights round the world is the work of Philip Bobbitt, nephew of Lyndon Johnson and another and more senior ornament of the national security apparatus under Clinton.

Sherrif Knows Best

Apr 1, 2006
“This right here beats anything I have ever seen,” Sheriff Tom Alexander told the Asheville Citizen-Times, which reported that victims may have come from as far away as South America These incidents, like the well-publicized case in Germany a few years ago, admit of no sociological explanation. They are bubbles of evanescence, chance beyond our ability to perceive. Our flawed intuitions about probability and causality are the subject of a good deal of Lem’s writings–note that the translator of The Chain of Chance gave it that overly descriptive title instead of the cognate “Catarrh.” This is yet another topic I’d like to address in the upcoming discussion, with specific reference perhaps to Investigation.

Supplement to Cronenberg

Mar 15, 2006
Denis Johnson’s story “There Comes after Here,” published in the April 1972 Atlantic (which also features a disapproving review of Straw Dogs by David Denby, cf. his current NY’er review of V for Vendetta), ends with a woman, beset by the quasi-naturalistic forces stage-managed in A History of Violence having a religious revelation on her bus to Pennsylvania. I can’t remember if this incident was directly incorporated into Angels or is merely similar; but it is clearly a moment of lunatic transcendence.

The Recreated World A Research Question

Mar 13, 2006
While reading this article about the prospects of a nuclear Iran, I noted that Kennedy estimated the odds of a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Event as ““between 1 in 3 and even.” Using either that or some other potential apocalypse, can you think of fictional scenarios in which the world is somehow recreated as it would be imagined to be, through simulation technology or similar, and a character recognizes that the true life is absent?

Andrew Ward, FT Correspondent in Atlanta, Charming Cosmosophisticate

Mar 5, 2006
Here’s some of the evidence from this recent interview with Jimmy Carter: “My sartorial misjudgment becomes even more glaring when we arrive at the restaurant, a small and homely diner with bottles of Heinz ketchup and a basket of paper napkins on each table.” Heinz ketchup on the tables. Amazing how slowly time passes for these rustics. “The secret service agents keep watch nearby, perhaps pondering how a career associated with glamour and excitement has brought them here.” Investigating counterfeiting is probably sometimes intellectually challenging and interesting, perhaps even exciting.

Several Items

Feb 19, 2006
It was subtle of Borges’s prologue to place Louis-Auguste Blanqui among Origen and Augustine in the list of those who refuted the central conceit of The Invention of Morel. I am looking forward to reading the scholarly comment on this book, which I suspect hasn’t been satisfactorily explained. (Clute’s note in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, for instance, calls it a “successful search for immortality,” which requires an unusual definition of “successful” and perhaps even “immortality.”) Chomsky somewhere remarks that bee communicationists have postulated that their dances contain information we can detect, but that the bees themselves cannot.

Borges on Kipling, Etc.

Feb 15, 2006
I’m not sure if this one’s been done yet, but still: _Richard “Dick” Cheney was a friend to the poor. He travelled with a gun in every hand. All alongside this countryside He opened a many a door, But he was never known to hurt an honest man. It was down in Harding County, A time they talk about, With his Service by his side He took a stand. And soon the situation there Was all but straightened out, For he was always known To lend a helping hand.

Heisenberg's Self-Stabilizing Reactor -- Item

Feb 5, 2006
Probably one of the most fascinating books you’ll have a chance to read is Hitler’s Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall (ed. Jeremy Bernstein, Springer Verlag [2001]). From Heisenberg’s lecture to Charles Darwin:* Such an apparatus stabilizes itself at a certain temperature. If one wants to fix the temperature of the reactor, this can be done by varying the amount of heavy water in it. If you have got enough uranium, more heavy water will raise the temperature.

More in the Way of Items

Jan 29, 2006
Read yesterday: Pickover, Clifford A. Computers and the Imagination: Visual Adventures beyond the Edge. (St. Martin’s: 1991). Hyperkinetic. Early sections on computer-generated mazes of interest, and the clear hand of A Perfect Vacuum and Imaginary Magnitude was visible later. Sedgwick, Mark. Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. (Oxford: 2004). Prologue reads in some ways like it could have come from the eXile. Would have liked more exposition of Guenon’s, Evola’s, and Schuon’s ideas as such.

Favorite Sopranos Malapropism/Items

Jan 28, 2006
“Dysentery in the ranks” (4.4). Combines foreshadowing and appealing ludicrousness. Read yesterday: Horsley, Lee. Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction. (Oxford: 2005). Where’s the Keeler? Bonfiglioni? Banville? Clarke, Lee. Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination. (Chicago: 2006). Thought that Posner’s book might have warranted a bit more discussion here. Phares, Walid. Future Jihad : Terrorist Strategies against America. (Palgrave: 2005). I don’t know why I kept reading this. Probably to see what the next bizarre LOTR reference would be.

Historians and Critics

Jan 25, 2006
I spend some time in my dissertation with the political and diplomatic history of interwar England and was pleased to have a[n] historian on my committee, who pointed out some overgeneralizations I was tending to make about the nature of the British right in the mid-twenties, among other things. So imagine my dismay when I learned, via Jenny Davidson’s comment, that, according to Sarah Maza’s “Stephen Greenblatt’s New Historicism and Cultural History […]” (Modern Intellectual History 1.2 [2004]: 249-265) at least, “Historians often approach literary criticism with a hostility, or at least skepticism, that gets in the way of trying to understand what literary critics are really doing.


Jan 22, 2006
I’m very lazy about changing a CD in my car stereo unless I’m on a long drive. I think I once listened, as Clancy can attest, to Blonde on Blonde (mind you a scratched-copy with “Visions of Johanna”–the “all night long we sang that stupid song” from “Dr. Wu”–unplayable) for at least a month’s worth of driving. I’m coming up on a month now with The Harder They Come. Even thought about playing the first track as a way of explaining my grading policy.

Moretti Event/A Misunderstanding

Jan 3, 2006
I’ve announced the upcoming Valve book event on Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees, about which I’m excited. Also, Mark Bauerlein has an article (currently subscription) in the Chronicle about adolescent culture and the decline of literacy. In many ways, I think Bauerlein misses the mark here; but for now I just want to note that this: The fact that involvement fell while access rose signals a new stance toward literature and the arts among the young.

Thomas Frank Speaking Like A Southerner?

Jan 3, 2006
Another tidbit from the Chronicle (still subscription): Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Metropolitan, 2004), sketched out prevailing American narratives of class and the rhetoric of left and right. “The ways we’re encouraged to think about elites and elitism is the key to what’s wrong with us, and there is something wrong with us,” he said. “Indignation is the great uniting aesthetic principle of conservative culture.” Not everybody was convinced.

1926 Things Like This Tended to Happen--Why?

Dec 21, 2005
According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.” In 1926 the Politburo in Moscow passed the request to the Academy of Science with the order to build a “living war machine”. The order came at a time when the Soviet Union was embarked on a crusade to turn the world upside down, with social engineering seen as a partner to industrialisation: new cities, architecture, and a new egalitarian society were being created.

It Starts with the Loss of a Semicolon

Dec 10, 2005
The most famous paragraph in “bad writing discussions”: Theodor Haecker was rightfully alarmed by the fact that the semicolon is dying out; this told him that no one can write a period, a sentence containing several balanced clauses, any more. Part of this incapacity is the fear of page-long paragraphs, a fear created by the marketplace–by the consumer who does not want to tax himself and to whom first editors and then writers accommodated for the sake of their incomes, until finally they invented ideologies for their own accommodation, like lucidity, objectivity, and concise precision.


Dec 8, 2005
From Roger Luckhurst’s The Invention of Telepathy: William Stead and Cecil Rhodes plotted a secret society throughout the 1890s that would use Rhodes’ diamond wealth to foster the idea of a worldwide Anglo-Saxon confederation (124) . Stead, who agitated against Parnell (128), seems to have had an interesting career. I look forward to reading his The Last Will and Testament of Cecil John Rhodes to learn more about this. Conan Doyle published in 1926, a magic year, a two-volume History of Spiritualism.

Lynn Thorndike A Witticism

Dec 4, 2005
“[Galen] disputes the assertion of Epicurus–one by which some of his followers failed to be guided–that there is no benefit to health in Aphrodite, and contends that at certain intervals and in certain individuals and circumstances sexual intercourse is beneficial” (History of Magic and Experimental Science Vol. I, 141). On an unrelated topic, what famous book about masturbation uses the following remark by Nietzsche as one of its many epigrams–all but one (from La Rouchefoucauld) also from Nietzsche?


Nov 29, 2005
I want to tell you about three things. “Agrippa was not unfamiliar with inns; on the contrary, he frequented them willingly and a few small stones were sufficient to pay his bills because, as Del Rio says, he gave them the appearance of good money in the eyes of the landlord. This time, however, he had lost his magic powers and was abandoned by all except his dog. Realizing that the end was drawing near, Agrippa himself grew tired of even this last, faithful companion, and brusquely cast him away.

Peirce, An Odd Remark

Nov 15, 2005
Professor Royce remarks that my opinion that differentials may quite logically be considered as true infinitesimals, if we like, is shared by no “mathematicians outside of Italy.” As a logician, I am more comforted by corroboration in the clear mental atmosphere of Italy than I could be by any seconding from a tobacco-clouded and bemused land (if any such there be) where no philosophical eccentricity misses its champion, but where sane logic has not found favor.

Noted Book

Nov 10, 2005
Brown, Nicholas. Utopian Generations: The Political Horizon of Twentieth-Century Literature. Princeton, 2005. Sample chapter. Am particularly curious about the chapter on The Childermass and will report back.


Oct 30, 2005
Huizinga, J. Homo Ludens:A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. 1944. New York: Roy, 1950. Did you know that the odds on Anne Boleyn’s brother Rochford’s acquittal were ten to one? Regarding the previous Homo book I wrote about: I know of no sadder or deeper fall from human reason than Schmitt’s barbarous and pathetic delusions about the friend-foe principle [. . .] “war is the serious development of an emergency.” (209-10) Am also reading The Book of Evidence.

Recent Reading

Oct 26, 2005
Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford, 1998) invokes Hegel on the perfectability of language: “[it] is the perfect element in which interiority is as external as exteriority is internal.” A pregnant statement, to be sure. I haven’t read Kantorowicz’s (mentioned by Agamben on p. 91) The King’s Two Bodies, but I wonder how influential Bloch’s Les Rois Thaumauturges was for its argument. Freud’s use of Karl Abel (a “now discredited linguist”) and his “On the Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words” is explored, and the Group Psychology essay would probably be worth paying more attention to in the development of biopolitical discourse, I suspect.

Telepathic Rumors of Jack London's Death Substantiated; Items

Oct 9, 2005
Upton Sinclair published Mental Radio in 1930, a curious work describing his wife’s telepathic abilities. There are more drawings and transmitted drawings per page than you’ll find in in the average Sinclair. There’s a mention of the late professor Quackenbos of Columbia, author of many books on hypnotism (32), and a description of how Craig, his wife, became worried about Jack London on a trip to California. Two days later they read of his death (22-3).

Books Read or Finished, Last Two Days

Sep 20, 2005
Harries, Martin. Scare Quotes from Shakespeare: Marx, Keynes, and the Language of Reenchantment. Stanford, 2000. Knox, Ronald A. Essays in Satire. 1928. Kennikat, 1968. Applies Higher Criticism to British literature–intended to amuse and instruct. Vollmann, William. Rising Up and Rising Down. Vol I. McSweeney’s, 2003. Strange.

Today's Items

Sep 18, 2005
Books read: Coker, Christopher. The Future of War: The Re-enchantment of War in the Twenty first Century.. Blackwell, 2004. Contains many suggestive ideas, particularly about considering the digital/biological synthetico-imaginary of war. Makes somewhat puzzling and undocumented claim that SAS troops take Viagra to increase testosterone and thus aggression. De Bono, Edward. The Use of Lateral Thinking. Cape, 1967. This was suggested to me by Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages (MIT, 2004), which I finished last week and hope to have something more to say about shortly, and contained several provocative anecdotes.

Today's Unexpected Lacan Quote

Jan 22, 2005
Available here. What the hell is that, you may wonder. That’s a very good question, and I’m glad you asked. Here’s a starter article. And here’s a discussion board at the Fortean Times. One and two Metafilter threads. An unfiction forum (site apparently devoted to large-area role-playing games). The most important depository of information about the matter is the site I linked to above. I have a theory about how to interpret this.

Kaspar Hauser (cont.), and Aleatory Research

Dec 21, 2004
After getting an oil change, I stopped by a previously unvisited bookstore in the Chamblee area and purchased an omnibus edition of Charles Fort along with the latest Le Carre. Opening it at random in the coffeeshop, I came across the following passage: “Almost anybody reading this account will perhaps regretfully, perhaps not, say farewell to our idea of the teleported boy” (706). Fort had been considering the notion that Hauser had possibly been teleported from a different time or space into Nuremberg, a possibility that I don’t think Herzog explored in his film, to my personal continuing regret.