Monday, June 25, 2012

It's Stanley Aronowitz's Fault

A couple of years ago I popped into a panel at the CUNY Graduate Center and heard Professor Aronowitz talking about the best use of one's time while waiting for the political moment in which change, real and widespread change, might be possible. He said that we should start newspapers--not blogs, not websites, not journals, but newspapers!

It took a while but I've done the next best thing; I've helped to revitalize a defunct one. I can hardly believe it, but I am the proud publisher of The Madison County Crier, a free alternative community newspaper published semi-monthly here in Southeast Missouri, where I've lived for the last year and a half.

Please download the PDF of the paper here and please, please pardon our numerous typos. We'll sharpen our pencil on that score in the July 11th issue. We have a Facebook page too, here, which you could "Like" if you really and truly do. And please come see us in Fredericktown or Marquand or Junction City or Cherokee Pass real soon.

Thank you!

Monday, June 18, 2012


Image by Steve Hull; Silence by Frances Madeson

The thrill ride that was The Vault, Farmington, Missouri: March 22, 2011 - June 15, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

JoAnn Emerson's Modest Proposal

What's with the black stars on this American flag? Has the U.S. flag flying in Rep. JoAnn Emerson's Columbia Street office window been--egads!-- desecrated!? (Say it isn't so, Jo-Jo!)
Election season brings its litter of lawn signs enriching sign makers and impoverishing the rest of us. Tempting as it might be to suggest the enactment of legislation to abolish lawns themselves as a way of eliminating the eyesores, one has to assume the pols would find another way to do their electioneering; and since elected officials or their wannabes are not required to take a blanket oath (like doctors, for example) to do no harm, their tactics might include even greater destructive acts such as pounding nails into trees to hang their red, white and blue come-ons, or by further polluting the already imperiled night sky with LEDs.

So unless one has cultivated the kind of selective vision that elides the offending signs from the landscape, it's just another of the crass indignities to be borne in modern daily life. We're forced to look at their banal slogans while driving to the local food pantry to contribute canned goods to our jobless, hungry neighbors (last year in this rural hamlet alone our local food pantry distributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of food); or while heading over to yet another fund raising benefit for someone gravely ill fighting the good fight without adequate health “insurance;” or on the way to one of the frequent senseless and tragic funerals for a person in their prime slaughtered on the blood-and-guts-soaked killing fields that are our local highways by yet another drunk because let's face it, there's no public transportation and a very limited and expensive taxi service, and if a tipsy party-goer needs to get from point Alpha to point Omega it's likely going to be behind the wheel of an automobile. I do the best I can to block out the annoying placards from my view and resist allowing them to penetrate my consciousness.

But there is one on the horizon that has somehow darted in under the radar, and try as I might, I can't shake it off. Offered up by career U.S. Congresswoman and professional people person (and golfer?), JoAnn Emerson's campaign sign says: Putting People Before Politics. Now maybe this is where the rubber of my New York cynicism meets the road of my Missouri skepticism, but putting people...? What grip on which club would she even use for that? Is putting people even possible in any meaningful sense? Would they roll and fall into the hole, or just sort of pathetically flop over and convulsively twitch in place?

In theory I understand why she'd want to putt people before politics; and not only because “politics” is how she earns her daily bread ($165,200 per annum) and benefits you and I can only dream of, so the incentive to risk injuring “politics” with her putting iron really isn't there. But still, I'm not liking this idea of putting people., even small dimpled white roundish ones. Furthermore, I'm not quite buying that she does it successfully, as her message implicitly suggests.
I can hear the naysayers out there shouting me down, because, technically, she never claims that she sinks the putts in the hole, just that she makes the attempt. I concede the point, but I find it, if not exactly disingenuous, kind of weak on her part to announce all over her own district, to the very people who hold the power (or so we're told) to vote her back for more of the same ole, same ole that she's flailing around on the putting green; simply going through the motions. Has staff not informed her that even the perception that she may be engaged in false advertising could be extremely harmful to her re-election bid? Have they not advised her to add a clarifying modifier, perhaps something like: Putting (But Not in All Cases Sinking) People Before...etc.?

By now, some of you out there may be thinking that I'm pulling your leg, that I'm making some kind of “statement” about the false, one might say subpar, "choices" routinely presented by the electeds, or how they never really mean precisely what they say or say precisely what they mean, or both. To which I, doffing my plaid golf cap and bowing low from the waist of my pink and lime Lily Pulitzer golf togs, might retort: Play through!

When they go so far as to place the white elephant right there in the window for everyone to see, maybe we should take a freaking clue...? What good is transparency, if no one bothers to look? Or if when they do, they can't see what's staring them in the face?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomenology: The Baggage of Vivacity

“Christ almighty. Cancel the order.”
“Cancel the cremation!”
“Stop yelling. Hope said it was okay, we have it in
writing!” And I ran to get the note from Mr. Plotsky, but
the visual of Mr. Plotsky’s helter-skelter craziness made
things worse.
“Frances, what have you involved us in?”
“She said we have a biological imperative! She said
we have to clear the decks!”
“What’s coming in for a landing? A UFO?”

--From Chap. 4 of Cooperative Village, “A Dunking A Day Keeps the Torturer Away”

In my novel Cooperative Village, I created a fictional character to represent the part of me who lags behind, who gleefully dances for perverts, who openly weeps at beauty and loss; the slowest bubble to the surface, I called her “the lovely retarded woman.” In one of my favorite scenes (one that anticipates the configuration aspect of Bogost's Tiny Ontology concept) the protagonist, Frances, rewards the lovely retarded woman for her help with a tedious project creating vocabulary flashcards for her husband's elementary school students. She presents her with an expansive gift removed from a curio cabinet of treasures—a kaleidoscope.

I showed her how to aim it a light source, look through the hole and manipulate the wheels, both in the same direction, in opposite directions, fast, slow, and spinning with abandon.

“Beautiful,” she said. “Beautiful. BEAUTIFUL. For me?”

“For you.”

She put her arms up in a “v” for victory.

The lovely retarded woman leaves her encounter with Frances refreshed, enriched, with victory in hand. (You'll have to read the book to see the curious effect their session together has on Frances.)

I don't have a kaleidoscope for philosopher, game designer, professor of Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and author of Alien Phenomenology, Ian Bogost; anyway, it would be too rudimentary a tool for the operation at hand. There are certain things I sensed in reading and rereading this newest addition to OOO theory that his own book wishes to tell him, certain contradictions currently withdrawn from his perception that it wishes him to resolve in favor of freedom and greater ontological dignity. In the book's epigraph, Bogost posed a series of questions to his book.

Particle man, particle man
Doing the things a particle can
What's he like? It's not important
Particle man

Is he a dot, or is he a speck?
When he's underwater does he get wet?
Or does the water get him instead?
Nobody knows, Particle man

--They Might Be Giants, Particle Man

His book has answered him, but I don't think he's listening. The book didn't know he was being merely clever, and his book wants his attention. So as improbable as this all seems, it called out to me here in St. Francois County over Memorial Day weekend. For days now I've been worrying how to intervene, how to help? (Lives are at stake.) What medium would best deliver his book's message, most impress him with his book's urgent warnings? 

So even though it was painstaking and time consuming (and way more than he would ever do for me if the tables were turned) I made him an ontograph, or the beginnings of one (I ran out of Time and didn't get to finish in the “dense meanwhile,” so it's a WIP; besides it's better if he finishes it himself). I mean it to be an amalgam of a Latour litany and a Shore picture. As Bogost writes, “The Latour litany gathers disparate things together like a strong gravitational field. But the Shore ontograph takes things already gathered and explodes then into their tiny, separate, but contiguous universes.”

My ontograph is in the form of an index, a creative supplement (some new categories, some new entries to existing ones) to the one already created for Alien Phenomenology, offered with two hopes: 1) that it fulfills itself definitionally, index as that which “leads an observer to surmise a particular fact or draw a particular conclusion.” (From Webster's Third New International Dictionary); and 2) that as John Barth told us in Chimera: “The key to the treasure is the treasure.” Tittle and all!

Here are the index categories:

New Unit! addiction: alcohol-caused liver disease, 20; when I don't tweet, I might lose face, 76;

New Unit! Christianity: wounds of the mountain-Christ, 3; rapturous disappearance of humanity, 8; a great cathedral, 21; Carpentry, 85-111; Wonder, 113-134.

New Unit! Empire (hyperobject): U.S. Armed Forces, 1; Trinity Site, 1: 1862 Battle of Glorieta Pass, 1; Roswell Army Air Field, 1; Very Large Array antenna, 2; African elephant, 9; Harry Potter, keynote speeches, single malt-scotch, 12; volcano's network, 21; the palace of being, 21; Winnie the Pooh, 22; Slurpee, 23; who does the counting?, 27; pragmatic speculative realism, 29; the Voyager, 32; Offra of Mercia, 35; the Prussian empire, the Zionists, 39; the relationship of accumulation, 40; Coke Is It!, 44; Disney Concert Hall, 46; the latest gadgets, 48; subjects are subordinate, 48; Hostess Twinkie, 62; USSR, 66;

games: Being human the players can try to outwit one another in order to fool the interlocutor through deception, 14; the cancer that beats others at its own game, 39;

perception: of things, 27; ordering like an imperative, 27; bracketing our natural assumptions about, 32; arrested before, 50; as clear subject for phenomenological inquiry, 61; as ideative categorical intuition, 80; subjective universe of one object's, 83;

New Unit! prison: of your own devising, 3; dank halls of the mind's, 5; tragically blind to the distinction between doing and saying, 15; making things tidy, 15; of representation, 40; of human experience, 65; the pace of Twitter, 76;

I thought it might be further illuminating and fun to practice a little mereology. First, consider each these six categories individually, then as a whole, and then insert each entry into its proper place in the preexisting index and consider the larger whole. For instance, addiction would be inserted between Adams, Ansel and Adventure; Christianity between children: career goals for and Coke Is It (slogan); Empire (hyperobject) between Eames, Charles and Ray: Powers of Ten and entities, alliances among; and prison would nestle between preservation of units and process philosophy.

Then just sit back with a kick-ass cocktail and let the index perform the philosophical work. It's powerful! 

I think if Ian Bogost will do this and spend more time listening to his book (and maybe literally reading it aloud will help him), one of the things he will discern (and by no means is it the most important contradiction, but it's the one that jumped out at me, and showed itself as a symptom of a broader tendency) is a fundamental contradiction between calling literature out, as he does on page farty, for having "a preference for traditional narrative" [of precisely the sort insisted upon by James Wood] because it "acts as a correlationist amplifier,” and reifying Wood's self-serving status as arbiter of the "good" and "aesthetically successful." Even the lovely retarded woman wasn't that self-defeating.

Meanwhile, although we haven't used the term "correlationist amplifier," to describe James Wood, or Adam Kirsch, or Lev Grossman, or Laura Miller, or any of the other middlebrow gatekeepers, we in the litblogosphere, and most especially Edmond Caldwell at Contra James Wood and The Chagall Position and in his phenomenal new novel Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant, have been saying exactly that for years.