Thoughts on the nature of the institution from a new Assistant Professor of Physics. I'm not sure about the "healthy tension," but then I'm a cynical old Professor of Humanities. Actually, I'm linking to this because it plays into my still-developing ideas about academic honesty. Besides, how can you argue with this kind of idealism? Being fifty (two) ain't so bad, though. Maybe because I've spent my life in the university?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:27 AM.
Walt Whitman, born May 31, 1819, pictured at about the age I am now, by the look of him. Leaves of Grass was the first book of poetry I bought for myself, at the recommendation of a kindly used bookstore owner in San Diego.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:19 AM.
Jonathan Mayhew responds (I think) to this note of mine. I did misunderstand Jonathan's meaning, but now that I understand it, I'd ask, Didn't WCW's apprenticeship to Keats help shape his mature work? Isn't "The Great Figure" a sonnet?
Among the rain
I saw the figure 5
on a red
with weight and urgency
to gong clangs
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
The lyric I, lyric intensity, a first-person point of view: I saw. Direct experience of the world. It has fourteen lines. On the other hand, the deprecation of WCW's later poems strikes me as mere fashion or young men's failure to understand discursive urgency. "To Daphne & Virginia," "The Orchestra." Well, are we going to talk / or listen? "The Descent." Didactic? Old men are entitled to be didactic. Williams didn't completely outgrow Keats until he left Imagism behind via the variable foot. (Not that anybody knows what the variable foot is.) The great Williams is late Williams.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:13 PM.
Not writing about it:Sue Bailey has been writing about her depression. It's a subject I know something about as well, though I haven't written much about it, here or anywhere else except for some journals I kept while I was living in Hanoi a couple of years ago. And I've not looked at those since I wrote them. While I haven't been entirely secret about my depression / anxiety disorder, I haven't been shouting from the rooftops, either. More than a year ago I wrote a letter to Salon regarding the use & side effects of Zoloft & by extension, other SSRIs. So I went on record, but in my everyday life only my closest friends know I take medication. I don't think any of my colleagues know--at least I haven't told them. Why? Depression & its related disorders are, according to some studies, more common among writers & artists than other groups: who wants to be a cliche? But there is a self-preservation instinct at work, too. I have no desire to be thought unreliable or erratic. Or, if people think of me as unreliable or erratic (I'm not, usually), I want them to ascribe these failings to whatever reason they would in someone "normal."
Even here on my weblog, I haven't said much, if anything, about depression. Even while I keep this record for personal reasons--the other day I said the blog was "a way of paying attention"--the voice you "hear" when you read me is not me, but a persona. Nothing odd about that. Standard literary practice. I know what John Berryman meant when he noted at the beginning of The Dream Songs that Henry, his protagonist, is "not me." The poems have been read--justifiably--as confessional & autobiographical, but they surely do not represent all of the person John Berryman. And I'm far less confessional--in my poems & certainly here--than Berryman. (Against fashion, I have deep respect for Berryman's project.)
There are certain striking resemblances between a blog entry & a poem, by the way. Both are highly intertextual & allusive; both are relatively compact & compressed uses of language; both suggest a personality "behind" the mask of language. Of blogging & poetry, Henry Gould wrote this morning:
I tend to agree that the poetry & the poet are inseparable. This doesn't mean we have to delve with vulgar curiosity into the biographical mulch. I think all I'm saying is that the "public informality" of blogging reinforces the presence of poet In Persona qua poet. Words are darn powerful, as my Uncle Ned used to say on the porch. Many authors have a curiously impersonal approach to writing - even poets. For them literature is a form of channeling - the results vary depending on talent & scruples. Blogging in an interesting way combines power (of language) & informality (diaries, letters, conversation). In that combination lies the odd feeling of personal presence & immediacy which blogging provides. // I realize I'm rambling. I think whut I'ma tryin to say is that deep down I have a hunch that poetry is NOT channeling - either of accepted power-hegemonic social discourses (cultural or subcultural), or of exemplary classic models. & why not ?? because deep down the person & the word are indistinguishable. The vocation of the writer transmutes or fuses person & word. The poet stands with her or his word to the end of time & none other's - the rest is echo chamber, channeling, feedback, follow the signs please. & the informal immediacy of blogging perhaps reinforces that impression. It gets back to what I was theorizing way back in Jan or Feb about poetry versus prose as illustrated by poetic NOWNESS vs prose MIMESIS.
I agree. What about depression, though? I haven't written about it here partly because to have done so would have been to put in jeopardy a part of the persona I have developed for reading & writing. Though I have had symptoms of depression & anxiety disorder since childhood--when I was seven the family dentist prescribed Valium for my mother to give me before an appointment--it wasn't until I was fifty that the effects of the condition threatened to lay me low. And when I turned fifty I was having a terrific time living in Vietnam. How could I possibly be depressed or anxious when I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing & being paid handsomely into the bargain? I was living in Hanoi, learning Vietnamese, translating poetry, walking around the city everyday & I began waking up in the middle of the night terrified. Not terrified of anything, just terrified. During the day the fear would attach itself to various things. I couldn't eat on the rooftop garden of the building where I worked because I was afraid I would fling myself off--I didn't want to, but I was afraid I would, against my will as it were. I became obsessed with the mosquito-borne disease Japanese Encephalitis, which is pretty common in Hanoi & which the CDC website notes often leaves those who recover "mentally impaired." I took my temperature fifty times a day. Some days I just went back to bed after breakfast & some days I had to get the hell out of my apartment & walk for hours around the city just to wear myself out enough to be able to sleep. To have written that would have been a denial of the city, Hanoi, I love more than any other in the world; it would have been a denial of my friends & colleagues there; so I didn't write about it. And I'm only half writing about it now, embedding it in this wider discussion of the poet's persona.
In any case, a low dosage of Zoloft, perscribed by a great Canadian doctor in Hanoi, peeled back most of the craziness & returned me to my self without making me feel numb or stupid. One of the phrases I would get obsessively stuck in my mind during the craziness was "I have a great capacity for joy." I would repeat it thousands of times as I walked the city. Turns out, though, that I was right.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:53 AM.
Two dreams last night: The first was typical for me, an anxiety dream in which I was supposed to perform some task but was totally unprepared. I had to rush around & make do. I have a lot of these Faking It dreams. I woke up after this dream & went downstairs to get a drink of water. I lay in bed for a while thinking about it, then drifted off to sleep. This morning I had another dream of similar form, but vastly different content. It was an answer to the first dream. I was a student & had been assigned to do a dramatic presentation that was to last ten minutes. Once again, I hadn't prepared anything, but when my turn came, instead of going all nervous & self-conscious, I thought What the hell I'll improvise. We were in a classroom & I took a whole handful of chalk (slightly damp, like pastels) & drew an architectural shape on the board--sort of a cross with the bar tilted. In the lower left quadrant formed by the cross I drew with only a couple of gestures a creature covered with hair looking back over its shoulder. The last thing I did was very carefully draw its eye. I then turned to the class & began, "I want to tell you a story about a man who became a dog & a dog who became a man." But instead of beginning the story immediately I began a short philosophical lecture--incredibly fluent--about the modern withdrawal of God & the predicament this leaves us in. I was aware while I was speaking & gesturing that my fellow-students, as well as the teacher, were enthralled. I had so much to say that a tacit agreement was reached that I could take thirty minutes. I wasn't faking anything, just performing things I knew. I woke up just as I was coming to the story about the man & the dog.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:25 AM.
Dan Tessitore really ought to have his own weblog. Got an email from him yesterday as follows:
Hope your summer is going well. Your blog is one of two that I still read regularly, the other being Silliman's. I noted a while ago your post about Hejinian's My Life, a book that enthralled me much the same way Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror did the first time I read it as a student. What is most interesting to me about ML - and what separates it from the reams of more "traditional" narrative poems one finds in most of the mainstream reviews, is its acknowledgment and foregrounding of the inexactness of memory. Ironically, her portrait of her youth is more accurate - as-remembered/as-written as opposed to as-selectively-manipulated - than the clear, tidy sketches most poems about the past struggle to be, for example:
Warm nights we'd park the car
There across the river where
Saline Street stopped, the boat
Ramp vanished into the black
Lapping oils of those waters.
Stripped clear to our skivvies,
We'd pick our way past beer cans
And wrappers, pale rubbers
Floating at the shoreline like
Small dead fish, and slip into
That body of darkness buyoing
from "Night Moves" by Robert Gibb
Missouri Review, XVII, No. 2, 1994
I could write a couple of single-spaced pages discussing what I don't like about this poem (the silly mock-sordidness of "clear to our skivvies," the laziness of "wrappers," the bloat of "those waters" and "That body of darkness..."), but what I come away with most - ironically I suppose - is the sense that none of it is true. Not that I doubt the event took place, only that it is being seized upon and manipulated for the purpose of constructing what is generally accepted as a poem, the only goal of which is to justify its own closure.
It makes me wonder who's really foregrounding artifice, the Hejinians or the Gibbs.
Makes me wonder, too. But what really stands out in Dan's brief essay is the way he demolishes the current period style by contrasting the Gibb poem to Hejinian's writing. I don't think I've ever seen as clear a take on the nature of poetic truth.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:30 AM.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
I posted a link a few days ago to a Scientific American article from 2002 that dealt with the Semantic Web; around the same time, I also put up a link to a piece about the ways blogs link stories together in entirely new ways. As I've already noted, this new rhetoric is presenting me with certain problems as a reader, if not (so much) as a writer. (As a writer, I'm fairly comfortable letting my work go its own way in the world.) But as a reader, I'm obsessive--I want to see the whole picture; but such a desire is thwarted by the very nature of the internet & more specifically the subset of the internet populated by webloggers. I'm not sure this follows, exactly, but my solution to this is to take myself back to grammar school. For several years now, I've been content to use various editing tools to get web pages posted for my classes & to publish this blog. The tools are invaluable & have allowed me entree into a world I would otherwise have not been able to inhabit. But I am going to go down to the basic structures: I already know a bit of HTML & a fair amount of related procedures, but I now have the very strong sense that I need to look at the "linguistics" of the internet--if not to master the subject, then to begin, at least, to understand the wider ramifications of writing in this medium at a finer level of detail. I've begun reading Simon Willison's CSS tutorial & a couple of related books, while at the same time going back & re-learning in a quasi-systematic way the fundamentals of (X)HTML. I'm doing this not because I want to be a web developer, but because I want to understand & take advantage of what I'm doing as a writer using the web. I will always rely on webfolk for the finer details, but I have come to realize that I need a clearer understanding of the technology I'm using. I loved my old Olympia typewriter, but this laptop, though it bears a certain similarity in size & layout, is not a typewriter.
Jonathan Mayhew writes, "Monk liked working within forms, not exploding them. Especially the 12-bar blues. Imagine if William Carlos Williams had written sonnet after sonnet. I am not the first to make this observation. The renaming of this blog inevitably affects its content." The good doctor's first great poetic love was Keats & in fact WCW did "[write] sonnet after sonnet." Put him off pentameter for good.
I like working in forms too, though usually they are what are called nonce forms: visual stanzas, syllabics--something with the element of chance thrown in to mix up the grammar & produce new patterns of perception. Which is why I like Julia's one-word-one-line poems. If the doors of perception were cleansed . . . [Wm. Blake, The Marriage of Heaven & Hell. Plate 14] Sometimes any little game in the language can shake you loose. Like Monk with his odd chords.
I'm something of a blogging control freak, I guess. Not a good thing. I wish I had Jonathan's nonchalance about following out threads of blog talk & cross talk.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:56 AM.
HG's birthday & mine are only two days apart. I was born in 1951. Henry, how about you?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:32 AM.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Bioimages: Useful guide for people who like to look at plants. Like me. Just planted some Mallow in the yard today--extending the rock garden down to the edge of the woods. We've been filling & mulching the side yard since we bought the house ten years ago & have developed a poetics in which the woodland plants like ferns & trilliums are encouraged while others--weeds like dandelions & vetch--get pulled up. This is an entirely aesthetic process, of course--human intervention in the "natural" world, but then there's nothing unnatural about that. It's how agriculture began ten thousand years ago. Even decorative gardening is agriculture. So we reshape the world along aesthetic lines; me in my garden & George W. Bush in Iraq (the location of the Garden of Eden). Question then becomes, what kind of aesthetic decisions? What kind of poetics?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:00 PM.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Just spent five minutes cleaning out my inbox, so this, from Open Brackets, struck a chord:
The spam on the web says loser, loser, loser,
you got no money,
you’re getting no sex.
The spam on the web says loser, loser, loser;
click sucker, prove me right.
But other stanzas also ring true--go read. [Later: Sometimes doggerel is just the technical means necessary to make a point.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:20 PM.
Paul Krugman: Stating the Obvious ". . . the people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need. The Financial Times, it seems, now understands what's going on, but when will the public wake up?"
I find myself silenced by lies. That is the wrong response--I ought to take a lesson from gardening. The gardener learns that every time you go out you need to pull a few weeds or toss a little mulch on the garden. You can't make the garden happen all at once. Rooting out political lies is an ongoing process, but one that must be taken up every day.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:13 PM.
Monday, May 26, 2003
How discussions proceed in blogspace. I've been thinking about this from a writer's point of view, as well as a reader's. I'm not looking for completeness--that's not the nature of the medium, but I'd like to find a tool that let me easily pull together posts from different writers, preferably in chronological order. I think such an ability would contribute to the rhetoric of blogging as a genre & consequently help the development of meaningful discussions & exchanges.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:31 AM.
Sunday, May 25, 2003
It's almost seven o'clock of a rainy Sunday. Carole is downstairs watching a biopic about Orson Wells & I'm sitting in the bedroom that looks out over the river with the dogs Angel (ours) & Lucy (Angie's) & trying to get my mind around natural & artificial structures of knowledge. Problem is, the very distinction between natural & artificial probably turns out to be artificial, in the sense that it's natural to human minds. It has rained off & on all day, each band of clouds dropping the temperature, each sunny spell bringing out the mosquitos. This 2002 article from Scientific American, "The Semantic Web," has been my starting point. I found it by following links from Burningbird, though I couldn't possibly reconstruct them on demand. (Nature of the web, eh?) Let's define grammar in the broadest possible sense as a set of conventional structures. (We'll leave it to the linguists & philosophers of language to sort out where these structures ultimately come from.) From the SA article:
"Human language thrives when using the same term to mean somewhat different things, but automation does not. Imagine that I hire a clown messenger service to deliver balloons to my customers on their birthdays. Unfortunately, the service transfers the addresses from my database to its database, not knowing that the "addresses" in mine are where bills are sent and that many of them are post office boxes. My hired clowns end up entertaining a number of postal workers—not necessarily a bad thing but certainly not the intended effect. Using a different URI for each specific concept solves that problem. An address that is a mailing address can be distinguished from one that is a street address, and both can be distinguished from an address that is a speech."
I'm trying to think about this as a poet. Poetry is the most human form of language, then, not because it is the most humane & not to valorize the term, but because poetry is a way of using language that takes maximal advantage of the notion that a word or phrase might "mean somewhat different things." Somewhat. Some what. Poetry occupies the space between some & what. So how do we make our human machines grab onto human grammar? It seems just possible to me that metadata & metametadata & so on out to infinity might be used to create at least a semblance of human meaning that could move freely between machines & between machines & humans. (It occurs to me that either there is a huge abyss between some & what, or none at all. In theory, in the abstract, there is an abyss, but in practice only a few levels of recursion are necessary to capture a pretty fine-grained version of the world. No one but chess grand masters think more than a few moves ahead. So the way forward would seem to be with the semantic web thinkers, who appear to recognize the paradox between the need for specificity & the "naturally" fuzzy relationship(s) between mind(s) & world(s):
"Semantic Web researchers, in contrast, accept that paradoxes and unanswerable questions are a price that must be paid to achieve versatility. We make the language for the rules as expressive as needed to allow the Web to reason as widely as desired. This philosophy is similar to that of the conventional Web: early in the Web's development, detractors pointed out that it could never be a well-organized library; without a central database and tree structure, one would never be sure of finding everything. They were right. But the expressive power of the system made vast amounts of information available, and search engines (which would have seemed quite impractical a decade ago) now produce remarkably complete indices of a lot of the material out there. The challenge of the Semantic Web, therefore, is to provide a language that expresses both data and rules for reasoning about the data and that allows rules from any existing knowledge-representation system to be exported onto the Web."
This appears to be a reasonable attempt to create a grammar for the web, but it has pre-web antecedents & has been thought through in other contexts by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell & Ludwig Wittgenstein. In fact, as I have been tapping out these thoughts & the sky has gone from gray to black, I have thought about how important 20th century philosophy might be to the development of a grammatical web. Wittgensten began his project by proposing a "picture theory of language" in which grammar, in the form of propositions, mirrored the actual structure of reality. It was an immensley influential theory, reflecting the views of the Vienna Circle & driving the development of Logical Positivism. Unfortunately, it was a dead end. Wittgenstein, in his later work, concentrates on the notion of "language games" & derives the meaning of propositions from the ways in which people actually use language.
I'm going to continue reading about the bones & nerves of the web & in coming days look at the ways those structures hook up with my own literary & philosophical knowledge. The only way I've ever been able to learn anything is a) that I need to know it & b) that I could hook it on to stuff I already knew. (I know, there has the be a foundation--at least some say so--but for now I'd just say it's turtles all the way down. I hope to begin working my way down the stacked turtles of the web in coming weeks; there is also the (I think related) project of investigating academic dishonesty. Good thing I don't have a class to teach until July.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:49 PM.
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Topoplogies of Consciousness
in human eyes
buzz & flicker
same as those
in the rain
& in the grass
& whatever it
is I'm looking at
at the moment
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:58 AM.
Geeked-out: So how have I spent the first part of a rainy spring morning? Sitting in bed with my laptop & wireless connection reading about the Semantic Web & RDF. Shelley, I have you to blame for this! Totally geeked-out: Carole is sitting beside me playing Eye Sketch on her Powerbook.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:49 AM.
Selected recent searchengine queries for this weblog. Sort of a verbal hologram:
science of dehydration food essay
reading and writing to memory
"field of struggle" culture economy art
love poetry rapper window
Ap Bac battle 1963 essay "A Bright, Shining Lie"
shulsky and leo strauss and the world of intelligence
baking google rhubarb pie
writing rhymes schemes
I've often thought, in passing, that there is a close relationship between the New Critics & the various Deconstructionists. Now Waggish gives an account of a Morris Dickstein essay that specifies & elaborates this connection. [via Wealth Bondage] Both schools reject claims of expressive meaning in the texts they examine in favor of a forensic hermeneutics. I vividly recall a faculty meeting many years ago in which a senior colleague memorable characterized Deconstruction as "the high culture of Reganism." My own view has been that the theorists have developed & taught some useful analytical tools, but put them in the hands of academic savages.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:25 AM.
Meta: I didn't start blogging in order to become a news or opinion source. And though a reader will inevitable find my opinions about various things here, they are not really the main action. Over the nearly two years I've been at it reading & writing has been a way of keeping track & recording the texture of my life in the natural & social world: a meditation tool, or, less pretentiously, a technique for paying attention. As for the public nature of the blog--as opposed to writing these observations in a notebook--the potential for readers keeps the writer honest & attentive. But I have minimal interest in the circulation wars waged by various bloggers in order to bring traffic to their sites.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:46 AM.
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Mac Diva has taken on the right hemisphere of the blogosphere; in particular, the question of style. However quixotic, it's honorable to tilt at the right wing windmill, which just goes round & round in the wind. In short, I don't think prose style can be correlated to politics. Having said this much, I'd simply echo Kevin Drum's response: "This kind of stuff is always a bit silly, I suppose, but when you include Little Green Footballs and Steven Den Beste as examples of cosmopolitan flexibility, haven't you gone beyond silly and entered some kind of parallel universe?" Look, I don't read Den Beste or LGF, though I have looked at both of these blogs from time to time. Some writers you read for beauty, some for sense: so I don't read either Clueless or LGF. How many times do you have to step in dog shit before you learn to look out for it & keep your shoes clean? I hadn't been aware of Ruffini before this week & I find the the sort of broad sociological generalizations he spins completely useless. Ruffini is engaging in an act of public self-congratulation. What's he added to our knowledge? Why is the right so obsessed with being right? Why the massive inferiority complex, given that their guys control the country? On the subject of style in the blogosphere, though, I'd say that conservatives like Josh Marshall & Kevin Drum write pretty well; in the middle, Eric Alterman writes a serviceable journalistic paragraph; on the left I like Joe Conason for his acid understatement. [Update: I should have mentioned Jeanne D'arc of Body & Soul as another left blog that's beautifully written.] Matter of perspective, no? In any case, the extent to which any blogger is willing to prostitute him- or herself for links is a measure of their uselessness. Praise Reynolds or praise Atrios--honest writers write to challenge their audience, not to use the keyboard as a tool to perform a hand job.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:48 PM.
Steven Brewer contributes a wealth of insight to my exploration of academic cheating. In the writing-intensive freshman Humanities course I teach, I make students come up with their own paper topics, usually based on group work on particular texts. I encourage students to follow their own questions toward making a particular claim about the text. I concentrate more on the idea of claims than on the formal rhetorical rule to define a thesis. The thesis, as a rhetorical technique taught in high schools, tends to focus an inquiry outside the seeker. I use the quasi-New Age term "seeker" with some reservations, but I use it here as an endorsement of Steven's idea that educational exercises are meant to be transformative; if they fail to be transformative, the circuit has been shorted out. Along the lines that I've been thinking, such a short circuit leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of our academic ceremonies. I'm going to need to do a little more research about graduation ceremonies before I try to pull this together, but I have an intuitive sense that the relationship between behavior & ritual will be revelatory.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:05 PM.
The Happy Tutor seems to think that tenured professors make $150,000 a year. Some do, but most of us make half that, maybe, which still does not make the differential between the $15,000 a year adjunct & the $60,000 a year professor a just distribution of goods, but it does serve to refine our analytical model: granted, there is some percentage of the professorate--mostly at elite institutions--who make one-fifty or more, but I'd guess that this group represents only about ten percent of full professors at four year colleges in the US & they are to some extent a ruling class; the other ninety percent are strictly middle class, though, just working stiffs--especially those at state colleges & universities. This, as I said, doesn't address the issues of the just distribution of goods. Still. The real distinction here, the important one analytically, is not academic rank, but income for work performed. Update: Turns out the Tutor overestimated the salaries of the professorate & I underestimated it. Here are the figures for 2001-2002.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:22 AM.
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Sports notes: I have little athletic ability & didn't start playing golf until I was 35. These days, I play a full round only six or seven times a summer. Carole bought me new irons for my birthday, so maybe I'll be motivated to play a bit more this year. I play just enough to really appreciate how good professional golfers are. And I learn more from watching women pros play than the men, who are simply in a different universe from guys like me in terms of strength & length. So I've been fascinated to watch the build-up to Annika Sorenstam playing in the Colonial Tournament next weekend. Tiger Woods has been supportive, even lending Sorenstam several members of his security team; Vijay Singh, on the other hand, has objected to Sorenstam's presence, remarking that, "This is the men's tour & there are guys trying to make a living out here." Singh's comment presumes that women golfers ought not to displace a man from a particular event. Sorenstam is playing Colonial under a sponsor's exemption, something lower-level male players do every week on the PGA tour. Singh's remarks are churlish--Sorenstam has won more than forty events on the LPGA tour. Nick Price, a player I like a lot, has also been acting like an idiot. I'm looking forward to watching her play & I predict she will not only make the cut, but place in the top twenty. I'd love to see her finish in the top ten. In this, I'm following Phil Mickelson's prediction. Asked how he would finish, Mickelson laughed & said, "Nineteenth or better, I hope." Surely, that's the right attitude.
And then there's Funny Cide's victory in the Preakness. (I lived in Washington State when Seattle Slew won the triple crown & now live only a couple of hundred miles from Funny Cide's New York stable. Owners who want to win the triple crown ought to make sure I live in thewir state!) Even though Carole & I actually own a thoroughbred, I don't really follow horse racing & have never bet on a race. Tim, our horse, is a hunter-jumper & cost us only in four figures when we bought him from a local farm last year. I do usually pay attention to the Kentucky Derby, though, if only because Carole is horse-crazy. Add to that the fact that I love an underdog & Funny Cide had me glued to the TV last weekend when FC won the Preakness by nearly ten lengths. It was as brilliant a performance as I've ever seen by an athlete, regardless of species. The horse obviously wanted to run from the gate, but the jockey Jose Santos held him back until about halfway through the race--"I had my feet up on the dashboard trying to hold him back," Santos said--then he just let the gelding go & that was it. Funny Cide was still accelerating when he crossed the finish line. The horse looked like he could have run another mile & loved it. Wouldn't it be lovely to see Funny Cide win the triple crown.
The joke around our house is that we follow all the elite sports, the only thing we lack is the elite income. I don't know if that qualifies as class consciousness, but it will have to do.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:18 PM.
Walking with Angel in the woods this morning I noticed a couple of painted trilliums--we only have the purple ones on our property. The trout lilies are also blooming now.
Speaking of wildflowers, I found this identification key for northeast US wildflowers this morning when I was looking for the name of the white trilliums we saw in the woods.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:39 PM.
Stepping over a Ditch & Entering the Woods
lichen on a boulder
Carole is up in Ontario for a couple of days installing an art exhibit. At the moment, I'm sitting in bed, cup of coffee to my right, Penny the Terrier to my left & Angel the Lab at my feet. It's a clear cool spring morning & as I look out the bedroom windows I hear the honking of geese, male Robins defending their territories, a woodpecker tapping back in the woods & myriad chickadees calling to each other. Just reminding myself how lucky I am.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:34 AM.
Monday, May 19, 2003
Spring has really only gained a hold in the north country in the last couple of weeks, but the last couple of days have been the real thing. Growing up in California, I didn't have a natural appreciation for spring until I moved east fifteen years ago. There's nothing to make you appreciate flowers & foliage like a long, cold winter. I got out early this year & began cutting out the weeds--always the first to arrive--& preparing a couple of new beds for planting. Carole's big rock garden out front has been a glory for five or six years now, but we've been slow to gain control of our overgrown three-quarters acre of woods by the river. This summer neither of us are travelling much, so we've decided to make a big push around our place. We're working within a strictly rural aesthetic here, mind you. I've taken to carrying my pruners & a little saw when I go out & work in the yard & I've been cutting back maple saplings & trimming back the dead lower branches of spruce. This year's big project will be digging a little pool fed by the spring-fed spring on the hill above our place. I've also discovered the site for something I've wanted for years: a poem shack overlooking the river. I don't know that I'll get it built this year--probably not--but I've begun clearing the brush & hauling out the dead wood from the ice storm of 1996. Maybe next summer if I don't get to go to Vietnam I'll have time to build myself a little writing shack. My grandfather, who was not a writer, had a little shack above his river where he kept all his stone polishing equipment. The place was a mess by the standards of the main house, but it was filled with odds & ends & hundreds of National Geographic magazines & tools & rifles . . . perfect place for a boy to hang out. Grandad had a little screened-in sleeping alcove in his shack with the beehives just outside. I remember napping there in the hot afternoons to the sound of bee buzz. I want my shack to be a writerly descendent of my grandfather's. We're talking small--maybe ten by eight, though I'm thinking, given the site, of building it in two levels. I like complicated even weird spaces, so I don't want just a box. which would be easiest to build, but something that feels right for the little patch beneath the spruces above the creek & overlooking the river. Maybe an elbow shape with a higher roofline on the river side of my shack. It's probably too much to consider making it tall enough to have a sleeping loft, but I haven't completely given up the idea.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:40 PM.
I don't really like mono-blogging, though the recent week plus worth of posts on cheating has been a useful exercise. In the essay I'm developing, I want to look at the foreground / background context of academic cheating & I want to think about the moral calculation most students make when they turn in a paper they downloaded or program their calculator with the formulas they'll need on a test. What I can't quite figure out is the extent to which academic cheating (the foreground, from my perspective) and public lying (the social background) are related. I instinctively mistrust moralistic equations that link personal moral failures to social disintegration; that is, I reject the traditional conservative explanation for ethical lapses.Which leaves me looking for a progressive explanation & though I am willing to proudly wear the label liberal, I want to avoid anything that could be called mushy or soft-headed liberalism. I'm looking for a rigorous liberal explanation for academic cheating in particular & dishonest in general. Short version: Educational institutions have not adequately prepared students to resist the background pressure of dishonesty. (And I've learned a good deal about utilitarianism, consequentialism & deontological ethics, useful tools for thinking.) Everything I've written on this subject over the last week has been tentative, notational. I'm ready to resume the regular texture of my blog, but this has been a useful exercise in mono-blogging & thinking in public.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:02 PM.
Some referrals to this weblog from today. Hope they stuck around to read the stuff on plagiarism.
booknotes: civilization and its discontents
"satisfaction coal company" analysis
darkness at noon booknotes
"One Very Hot Day" [early David Halberstam novel]
"Satisfaction Coal Company" critique
Saturday, May 17, 2003
Still thinking about lying. Thomas Preacher may very well be right in the specific case (see below), but in the media-mediated haze that envelops the citizens of technologically developed societies, the difference between the overt lie & the triumph of appearance over substance becomes obscure. That's the background, but what about my particular foreground, students cheating on tests & plagiarizing essays? I have the strong intuitive sense that there is a connection, but it would take a battalion of sociologists to document it. Students, in my experience, are not masters of deception; usually they act out of desperation--but act against background buzz of dishonesty--& are not very effective. (I suppose there might be cheaters who are so effective as to go undetected, but if there are, I don't think there are very many of them.) I do think that a sort of half-conscious moral calculation takes place in most cases of academic cheating. It's basically a utilitarian / consequentialist calculation that goes something like this: If I cheat no one will be harmed & my happiness will be maximized. One of my jobs as a teacher is to demonstrate that this is an insufficiently sophisticated calculus. Even without entering the realm of nonconsequentialist ethics, it is possible to demonstrate the weakness of the student's rationalization: 1.) The student is harmed by depriving herself of doing the work. (If the work is meaningless, as it sometimes is, don't do it & tell the teacher why you haven't, or just drop the course.) 2.) Other individuals are harmed. One's fellow students are put at a disadvantage if the cheat succeeds--if grades are curved, they suffer a statistical penalty, but even if grades are calculated on an absolute scale, honest students have expended time & effort on an assignment while the cheater has not. 3.) Cheating wrecks the system. If the university is an intellectual community--one where truthful language & the ability to verify facts are paramount--then cheating weakens the bonds of the community. 3.a.) Faculty bear a good deal of responsibility for weakening the community by setting up adversarial relations between teachers & students; in adversarial relationships students find it easy to rationalize cheating as a way of equalizing unbalanced social relationships. If the educational transaction is not perceived by students as a collaboration, cheating becomes a thinkable option even for otherwise honest individuals.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:04 PM.
I've been trying to write something intelligent and funny about my weekend Pom-a-thon, but everytime I work up the steam I get kicked in the back of the head by Britten's Michaelangelo Sonnets. They send me hurtling backwards outside my body, my soul a transparent mass disarticulated by his isotopically unstable arpeggios, the half-life of Britten's harmony playing out the end of western tonality for all it's worth. Listening, I feel just like the rasta bad guys from Matrix when they get all gelatinous and shit.
. . . could have been written on paper. Only on the screen. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:45 PM.
A while back I took a partisan potshot at the Bush administration for claiming there was a "constitutional requirement" for the Senate hold an up or down vote on judicial nominations. I asked any lawyers who might be reading to tell me if there was such a requirement, since in my reading of the Constitution, I couldn't find this requirement. This morning I got an email from Thomas Preacher that dispassionately discusses the issue. It's so clear I'm going to reproduce it here in its entirety: He writes:
As a practicing lawyer, with no particular scholarly qualifications, I offer the following thoughts, based solely on reading the text, and without reference to historical context:
"...[H]e shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law. . ."
First, the word "shall" is often used in the law to mean imposing a requirement or a duty, as opposed to the word "may" , which usually is read as conferring a power. This is overly simple ( e.g., the previous clause in the sentence states that the President "shall have the power" to make treaties, which obviously conflates "shall" with granting a power) but you get the general idea.
The interesting thing is the contrast between "nominate" and "appoint". The President shall make the nominations. (Query: is this a duty? Would the failure to do so be a "high crime or misdemeanor," and thus impeachable? Even if not impeachable is it a "constitutional responsibility", in the words of GWB? The use of the word "shall" would seem to indicate as much.) But the appointments "shall" be made "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate." Nominations are complete by the President's actions alone; but the appointments can only be accomplished with the help of the Senate. So does the mandatory force of the "shall" encompass the actions of the Senate in giving their advice and consent? Sure, "He [the President]" is the subject of the sentence, and so on the face of it the mandatory force of the "shall" applies only to him; but given that appointments (as opposed to nominations) can only be accomplished by the accompanying action of the Senate, does the very meaning of "appoint" in this context extend the mandate to the Senate as well? If so (and I certainly think it's an arguable point) then GWB is right -- the Senate does have a constitutional duty to vote up or down.
It's worth noting in passing that there seem to be two independent issues here: first, is there a duty to have a vote at all? And second, are there any constitutional requirements regarding the what should be the winning vote? I have noted with some surprise, after a quick review of the Constitution, that there seems to be no explicit requirement for majority vote on virtually any of the issues within the power of the legislative branch. There is an explicit requirement of two thirds vote for amending the Constitution, which argues, by negative implication, that the rule in all other cases, in which the voting margin is not explicitly specified, should be majority vote ; but it's arguable that the Senate could make any rule it wanted for winning margins. And the way you come down on one issue does not seem to carry any logical entailments about how you should come down on the other issue.
It also seems to be to be a bit over the top to say that one who claims the Senate has a duty to vote up or down on judicial nominations is either a willing liar or else ignorant of the Constitution. It's sort of like saying that anyone who claims that Wittgenstein's private language argument is the final answer to the "other minds" problem, or that it decisively refutes Cartesian dualism, is either a liar or ignorant of Wittgenstein. Sure, the claim you disagree with may be wrong, but the issues don't allow for the kind of decisive certainty that is presupposed when you call someone a "liar" about them.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:57 AM.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Notes: Working title for an essay on academic cheating: "Fairness, Honesty & Ceremony." I want to make the case that if our ceremonies are not founded on the values that motivate our actual practice, then our ceremonies are either empty (best case) or hypocritical (worst case). There's an assumption here that ceremonies are important, a notion I've come to slowly.
Students & faculty alike can probably agree that the goal is a fair system of evaluation that reflects differences among the actual work students do in pursuing their educations.
Detecting lying isn't easy, though we have an abiding interest in finding out who is fibbing. This is not just moral one-upsmanship--institutions can only function effectively if their members can sustain a basic trust of each other's statements. Or maybe this is simply idealistic--duplicity & sham are ubiquitous. Maybe it is the function of institutions like universities to damp-down or cancel out individual lies; if this is the case, there has to be a point at which the lying destroys the systems meant to deal with it. For one thing it is so common as to be nearly invisible. Ours is the Age of Prevarication. But arguments from the zeitgeist finally don't get us anywhere; the tenor of the age is created by millions of individual actions in endless feedback with their effects.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:50 AM.
Yesterday was busy enough that by the time I got home all I wanted to do was watch television. This despite the fact that Shelly's discussion of the RDF poetry finder has really got into my head. I'll return to that. For now, I want to continue thinking about academic dishonesty & how to respond to it. One response would be to do nothing, on the theory that cheating most damages the cheater, with the corollary that one's bad deeds eventually catch up with one. This response also represents the path of least resistance, which makes it attractive from an institutional perspective. Pursuing acts of dishonesty takes time, resources & effort. The do-nothing response depends for philosophical legitimacy on the notion of a "cosmic" version of distributive justice, or karma. (Distributive justice, in the ethical sense I'm using it, just means one ultimately gets what one deserves.) But there is also a Rawlsian version of distributive justice (& many variations / responses) that is more rigorous & demands human agency to make it work. For purposes of this discussion, we could say that distributive justice requires the university to provide equal access to good teaching, tutoring, textbooks, library resources, information networks, even decent food & housing so as to create a "level playing field" on which even students of different intrinsic abilities can compete in a way that everyone will agree is fair. (I'll need to return to the problem of differing intrinsic abilities.) I would add another requirement: it is the responsibility of the university to explain clearly why the virtue of honesty is so highly valued among academics. Once we've done that, we have the additional responsibility of creating institutional procedures & technological systems to sustain those values.)
So that's what I was doing yesterday. Holding a hearing. A hearing is a kind of ceremony. A math prof had alleged that a student had taken an extra copy of an exam & filled it in after the solutions had been posted, then turned it in claiming his grade had been mis-recorded. I'm not going to go into the complex way in which freshman math exams are graded at Clarkson, but suffice it to say that the Academic Integrity Committee concluded it was more likely a grading error occurred than that a (very good) math student had gone to the trouble of faking an entire test. The committee exonerated the student. It was important to me, however, to thank the professor for bringing the case. The system depends on faculty being willing to take the trouble to bring cases forward when they believe a violation has taken place.
At the suggestion of a friend, I am pulling together all these recent posts on academic honesty into something that may look like an essay. I'm trying to make the connection between the meaning of the Commencement ceremony & the way we conduct our lives day to day in the university. What I'm chewing on right now is the fact that no system can be constructed that will automatically arrive at justice in every case; that is, any system intended to encourage & enforce academic honesty must leave room for unique circumstances. See casuistry.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:38 AM.
Yesterday was busy enough that by the time I got home all I wanted to do was watch television. This despite the fact that Shelly's discussion of the RDF poetry finder has really got into my head. I'll return to that. For now, I want to continue thinking about academic dishonesty & how to respond to it. One response would be to do nothing, on the theory that cheating most damages the cheater, with the corollary that one's bad deeds eventually catch up with one. This response also represents the path of least resistence, which makes it attractive from an institutional perspective. Pursuing acts of dishonesty takes time, resources & effort. The do-nothing response depents for philosophical legitimacy on the notion of a "cosmic" version of destributive justice, or http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/freenet/rootdir/menus/sigs/religion/buddhism/introduction/truths/karma2.html. (Distributive justice, in the ethical sense I'm using it, just means one ultimately gets what one deserves.) But there is also a Rawlsian version of distributive justice (& many variations / responses) that is more rigorous & demands human agency to make it work.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:19 AM.
Monday, May 12, 2003
Burningbird is up to something very interesting, but I'm not sure poetry works in terms of owl=soul. Bb: "I'm finding it very difficult to find poems to demonstrate points I want to make, primarily because I need something like RDF Poetry Finder in order to find them. My repertoire of known poetry is very limited, and I hesitate to put the poets and poetry enthusiasts in the audience on the spot asking for poems where, for example, an owl symbolizes the soul." I think most blogged-in poets would be sympathetic to Bb's project, but skeptical about the underlying notion of poetry. Off the top of my head & without having given it sufficient thought, I'd say the image=abstraction model is not an accurate representation of what poetry actually does. I would tend to think that finding ways of clustering related images around themes or subjects might be a more better way to proceed. This whole project plunges us into the depths of cognative science & the ways in which we can model human consciousness. I salute Bb & will happily join her project, but, boy, this is a huge undertaking!
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:22 PM.
Most faculty feel insulted by plagiarism. What, you think I'm stupid? is the sentence that runs through our heads when we find a blatant case of cheating. At graduation, we march in according to rank & as we were going into the arena yesterday one of my fellow Academic Integrity Committee members was bantering with me & several other senior faculty. The discussion was light-hearted, but there was no sense that we were addressing a minor problem. Cheating offended our sense of order. Our cultural mores were simply assumed. That's part of the problem, I think. Our mores no longer hold sway even in the institution of which we are leading members. I had jokingly called G. a "hanging judge" because of his skepticism regarding student claims. (Our last two cases turned on the legitimacy of spreadsheets & I was very glad to have G., an engineer, on the committee, along with K., an economist.) I tend to go with my gut instincts about a student's honesty. That is, I tend to psychoanalyze the case. Fortunately, as Chair, I don't have a vote. G. asked me if I was going to serve again & I said I hadn't decided. He said, loudly & publicly--& this is a guy with a lot of clout around our company town--"He's a good Chair--he let's people have their say & makes sure everything goes by the book." All this as we are marching into Commencement. Okay, okay, I'll re-up already!. But only because there is a direct connection between the process of academic honesty & the ceremony with which we celebrate our graduates' success. I like the ceremony, but it only makes sense if the four preceding years have been lived--by both faculty & students--in an atmosphere of academic honesty.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:12 PM.
During the first week of the semester, year in & year out, I explain to my students that plagiarism constitutes a particular kind of cheating that combines theft & lying & which attacks the central ethos of the university as an intellectual community. We use words as our medium of exchange, I say--using another writer's words without attribution is like counterfeiting, I say. It all sounds very convincing to me, but it has, I conclude, a very limited effect. Cheating goes on apace, following the tidal movements of essay due dates, midterms & finals. And while I believe that each cheater must take existential responsibility for his or her acts, the acts themselves can only be understood systemically, as part of a climate of dishonesty that pervades the university & the wider society. Within the university, an ethical shift has taken place over the last generation. It is difficult to be more precise than that. I'm sure that plagiarism & other forms of cheating took place when I was a student, but I think these were more cases of individual initiative than systemic drift: "58.3% of high school students let someone else copy their work in 1969, and 97.5% did so in 1989." [The State of Americans: This Generation and the Next]
The primary reason for the shift must be that the university is no longer seen by the majority of students as a realm of intellectual & ethical development--training for the Aristotelian "good life"--but as a center for career training. Of course, the very nature of what is thought to be a good life has changed drastically in America over the last generation. Perhaps the William Bennetts of the world are partly right--there has been a breakdown of values; but I can't agree with such moralists as to the nature of those values. I'd blame sanctimony combined with an inflated sense of individual entitlement. Journalist & Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal remarks of Kenneth Starr, "'His ambition, overweening piety and lack of self-consciousness about leading the investigation off a cliff made him exactly the wrong kind of person to be put in charge of an unaccountable office'." But that's an aside, really. What's happened is that university study is now seen instrumentally by both students & their families. And the institutions themselves, with few exceptions, broadcast the pieties of intellectual & ethical development while kowtowing to the demands of the educational market. When I lived in Vietnam, I only taught university students informally, but I did work with recent university graduates. Cheating also occurs in Vietnamese universities, but it comes out of a different ethos: students feel genuinely compelled to help out their friends. I fell pretty sure, after 25 years that the cheating ethos in American universities is not the result of altruism.
If we mean to reclaim the university as a forum for the free exchange of ideas, we, as faculty, are going to have to make clear every day our standards for discourse within our disciplines. They are disciplines, after all. And we need to announce literally & figuratively that while we are glad that our students get jobs when they graduate & even that we think our teaching will make them more effective players in the marketplace, that our primary function has little to do with their later employment, but everything to do with the way they live their lives. (Jeeze, this should be one of those corny commencement speeches!) Well, I seem to have talked myself into volunteering for another term as Chair of the Clarkson AIC. I'd like to hold some faculty seminars on the subject of cheating & on the necessity of making our standards known & the reasons we have such standards. I'd like to meet with groups of students to talk about the university as an intellectual community. Maybe it's simply too old-fashioned an idea, but I'd like to see if we can begin to shift the culture back. I think we also ought to make use of technological fixes such as turnitin.com, but only within the larger philosophical context I've been sketching. And I will lobby for real--that is financial--support for the AIC: secretarial help at minimum. As part of my duties as Chair this year, I will be writing a summary report to the Senate that will include the above, along with suggestions for changes in the regulations to make the process of detecting & confronting academic dishonesty a more basic & integral part of university culture. (This entry represents a very early rough draft of my committee report.)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:20 AM.
The devil, it appears, is in the details. In Iraq, as elsewhere. From the beginning, one of my chief worries about the military adventure in Iraq was that so much of what was being said about it seemed to emanate from an ahistorical fantasy of American power. It's possible, metaphysically, to impose such a fantasy by force; but only by force.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:39 AM.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
Once Commencement is over, "summer" begins for academics. I feel the transition despite the fact that my part-time administrative appointment will have me "on campus" for another month. Then, I'll have a few weeks of "real" vacation before teaching a summer session version of our freshman humanities course. (I expect to blog that course in detail beginning in June--I'm teaching several new texts around the theme of violence & politics. I'll begin with The Last Summer of Reason, but more about that in June.) The scare quotes above indicate the relative nature of the terms: So, I'm going to skip going to the office tomorrow & work around the house a bit--the place goes to hell the last few weeks of the semester--but then I hope to just sit on the couch & read for several hours. I want to finish Gilligan's Wake & begin The Life of Pi. There are a lot more books on the list I'm looking forward to stacked in a corner of my office, but I can never tell what's going to grab me on any given day. In any case, a rich reading future . . .
. . . Unfortunately, before I can begin my summer of reading--I have plans for a little deck down by the river for reading & wireless blogging--I have to chair an Academic Integrity Committee hearing on Tuesday. There has been a lot of discussion this week among the blogging professorate about plagiarism, a subject about which I know a great deal, both theoretical & practical. I have served the last two years as Chair of my university's Academic Integrity Committee--my second stint in this position since coming to Clarkson. The Faculty Senate would be happy to reappoint me--volunteers for this duty are hard to come by--but I am hesitating. The job requires a lot of work at awkward times of the semester--cheating usually occurs in the last couple of weeks of each term; there is no secretarial support for a job that requires a good deal of written communication & distribution of confidential documents. When there are cases before the committee, I can spend entire days simply getting everything in order so that we can follow the regulations. But I am also hesitating because I like the job. If there is any class of human beings I consistently detest & oppose, it is the moralists. I don't like thinking of myself as an enforcer of ethical strictures, even when I believe in the ethic, as I do with academic integrity. So, I haven't made up my mind.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:18 PM.
Commencement morning: It's ironic that I, who never participated in graduation ceremonies as a student, now own a full set of regalia & go every year to Clarkson's Commencement. Thunderstorms are forecast for later in the day, but it looks like we may get ourselves in & out of the arena dry before the downpours begin. A few years back we had six inches of snow. I can't say I much enjoy sitting for two to three hours as the names are read out & the honorary degree recipients make their remarks, but I feel I owe it to my students to see them off into the world of work. Anyway, I've got a little notebook, a mechanical pencil & a paperback of Simon Blackburn's Being Good concealed on my person (academic robes conceal a great deal!).
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:43 AM.
Saturday, May 10, 2003
Stylistically flawed but still useful essay on the lies that led up to the war against Saddam. (Hyperbole suggests special pleading.) Thomas Pynchon's recent essay, "The Road to 1984," raises explicitly something that gets touched on in many discussions of lying & that is the creation & maintenance of political fantasies imposed on the everyday functioning of social relations, work, play & poetics.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:11 AM.
Friday, May 09, 2003
As a result of my recent conversations with HG about the recent war, I have been thinking about lying. The other day Henry sketched a realpolitik scenario that, to me, offered nothing but Kafkaesque alienation. A long time ago I read Sissela Bok's book, Lying: Moral Choice in Public & Private Life, but I loaned it to a student recently who has not bothered to return it, so I'm unable to consult the text at the moment. A charming but nevertheless insightful & philosophically sophisticated short essay about lying. Perhaps because when I was young I was an habitual liar of some skill, I have been trying to come to terms with ease with which we human beings lie to each other. (I've always been suspicious of the notion that we can lie to ourselves.) It is not so much the individual lie that ought to bother us, but the habit of lying. Any particular lie might be legitimately rationalized, but the rationalization ought to cause us pain of conscience. What it's permissible to lie about constitutes a zone of contention clear in contemporary American politics. For Kenneth Starr it is not acceptable to lie about sexual matters; for many liberal commentators it is not acceptable to lie about the reasons for the war against Iraq.
So lying, like everything else, has a politics--that is, a discourse of contention. Are we left with an impotent relativism? I'd say that we are not. We might all--regardless of our politics--agree that habitual lying is destructive of personal & civil discourse, even while disagreeing about which sorts of individual lies are most pernicious. It's like beauty--we all agree there is such a thing, we just can't agree about its specific attributes. But if we assert There is no such thing as beauty, then we enter into a radical relativism from which there is no logical return. Such an assertion is philosophically empty & spiritually barren. What's more, such a view doesn't get us anywhere, pragmatically or existentially, whether we are talking about beauty or lying. (I'm a little troubled by the failure of grammatical parallelism in that last clause & am going to have to think a bit more about the analogy I have been spinning here. Beauty is a noun & lying a verb--what is the relationship between grammar & reality?) For now, I think the analogy is useful, or "range finding," as Ezra Pound described the figure in The ABC of Reading.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:25 PM.
"The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to hold an up or down vote on judicial nominations]." [George W. Bush] Where in the Constitution is this responsibility delineated? From Article II, Section 2: "He [the president] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law. . ." Am I missing something here? Would some legal blogger enlighten me if I have misread this section or missed another part of the Constitution that states the Senate has "a constitutional responsibility to hold an up or down vote"?
Which is worse, that GWB is ignorant of the Constitution, or that he is a knowing & willing liar who assumes that the repetition of his lie will establish it as truth? (His press secretary Ari Fleischer has already been sent out to make the same outrageous claim.) Update: By way of Jeff Cooper I've just landed on this discussion of the Constitutional issues surrounding the appointment of federal judges. I haven't had time to do more than skim it, but it looks like a rich vein of information. More: I've now read the piece, as well as this contrasting view. The law is a stringent kind of poetry.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:31 AM.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
Spring can now be said definitively to have arrived--the black flies were after me this evening as I was fixing up a trellis for a couple of clematis I bought at the Agway store. I'm using all the maple saplings I've been cutting out of our woods for the trellis. Hopefully,
this will cover up a grotty section of the foundation with a nice perennial vine. For those of you not familiar with the beasts, black flies over-winter as eggs in streams & then go through larval & pupal stages (on right) before emerging as small flies. They live on blood, biting deer, dogs & humans, leaving a ragged gash on the skin that swells & itches.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:48 PM.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Henry, if what you say is true, it is an even more cynical view of the administration than the one I've been advancing. It is the lie calculated & perfected. If it is true I expect to wake up tomorrow morning & discover that I have become a large insect.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:08 PM.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Matters of emphasis--HG responds: [sorry, Blogger permalinks kaput--see post for 5.6.03 at 8:26 a.m.] If this were only about a disagreement over foreign policy, Henry, I'd let it pass. I like your poems & what you have to say about poetry; but your remarks about the recent war seem to have hardened recently into something like a credo, to be repeated in the face of the sort of doubt poetry must invoke with every syllable. Yea, I was indeed being rhetorical in my analysis of Bush Administration rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of argumentation & I have the temerity to believe I am a better rhetor than Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz & the president. Look, all I have is language, so I use it. I don't own any weapons, of mass or individual destruction. Unless you count the cleaver in the kitchen drawer. And what I cannot countenance is the perverse hermeneutics of the group of policy makers who refer to themselves, with a knowing wink across the tables of power, as the Cabal: "They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal—a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community." [Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker] The most valuable aspect of Hersh's long article is its exploration of the intellectual history of neoconservatism. You mentioned the neocon's reliance on Leo Strauss in a previous post, Henry--were you drawing on Hersh? If so, I take a different lesson from the Straussian hermeneutic; if not, I recommend the essay. What really blows my mind is the essentially mystical view of history the neocons work from. How they differ philosophically from radical mullahs is hard for me to see.
Hersh: "In interviews, former C.I.A. officers and analysts described the agency as increasingly demoralized. 'George knows he’s being beaten up', one former officer said of George Tenet, the C.I.A. director. 'And his analysts are terrified. George used to protect his people, but he’s been forced to do things their way.' Because the C.I.A.’s analysts are now on the defensive, 'they write reports justifying their intelligence rather than saying what’s going on. The Defense Department and the Office of the Vice-President write their own pieces, based on their own ideology. We collect so much stuff that you can find anything you want.' // 'They see themselves as outsiders', a former C.I.A. expert who spent the past decade immersed in Iraqi-exile affairs said of the Special Plans people. He added, 'There’s a high degree of paranoia. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re on the side of angels, and everybody else in the government is a fool'.”
More: "Shulsky’s work has deep theoretical underpinnings. In his academic and think-tank writings, Shulsky, the son of a newspaperman—his father, Sam, wrote a nationally syndicated business column—has long been a critic of the American intelligence community. During the Cold War, his area of expertise was Soviet disinformation techniques. Like Wolfowitz, he was a student of Leo Strauss’s, at the University of Chicago. Both men received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972. Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in the United States in 1937, was trained in the history of political philosophy, and became one of the foremost conservative émigré scholars. He was widely known for his argument that the works of ancient philosophers contain deliberately concealed esoteric meanings whose truths can be comprehended only by a very few, and would be misunderstood by the masses."
For Wolfowitz & Perle, reality is literary in the sense that it can be interpreted selectively. Now I am enough of a postmodernist to realize that history is not just one story but a braid of stories[ such a view does not imply that all the stories are equally good. There are honest & dishonest uses of rhetorical technique. I teach some of these techniques to eighteen-year-olds every semester. The administration has failed to observe the canons of rhetoric, that's my beef. And Henry, when those WMD turn up, I'll be the first to applaud; until then, your faith in the administration's assertions strikes me as willfully naive.
Monday, May 05, 2003
HG responds thoughtfully to my earlier remarks on the language of war. Here's the deal: what Henry sees as a straightforward declaration of intentions by the neoconservative neoimperialists I see as the most egregious prevarication. Add to that the fact that I see the international vision now being promoted by the American oligarchy as counter to my understanding of the history & spirit of our democracy as embodied in the language of our poetry & founding documents.
The administration said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; to date, no biological or chemical weapons have been found. The administration said that Saddam was connected to Al-Qaeda; to date, no such connection has been found. (In fact, sources within our own government now candidly admit to overplaying these dangers in order to sell their war to the public.) The administration said that even if Saddam didn't have direct connections to Bin Laden, he might give WMD to terrorist groups; but the administration failed to investigate or secure a nuclear waste dump filled with potentially dangerous materials for a solid month. The administration said that this would not be a war about oil, but the administration has let no-bid contracts to oil companies with direct ties to members of the government; the administration said this would not be a war about oil, but American troops secured the Iraqi Oil Ministry during the first day of the battle of Baghdad, but allowed the libraries & museums to be ransacked--despite the fact that they had been warned in advance. The administration said that the US would liberate Iraq & allow the Iraqi people to decide their own future, but international agencies, NGOs & the UN have been shunned in favor of American evangelical Christian groups & a gaggle of corrupt Iraqi expats with political & financial ties to the administration in planning the rebuilding of Iraq. [Update: David Corn in The Nation provides a convenient catalogue of the administration's mendacity.]
Henry, I could provide mainstream media links in support of every statement in the previous paragraph & I will if you demand it, but I think most of them are self-evident to anyone who has been following the news, as I know you have. There is a tremendous gap between what the administration said were the reasons for invading Iraq & the actual reasons on which they acted. Apparently, the purpose of this war was rhetorical--to demonstrate American willingness to project power preemptively without regard to previous international agreements. I take this to be a radical revision of America's role in the world. In the imperfect would we inhabit, which evil would be worse, to have left Saddam in power a little longer (while working for his downfall), or trashing the reputation of the US among our allies & even our enemies? The the gap between the administration's stated reasons for war & what appear to be its actual reasons combined with my objections to the real reasons lead me to conclude that this war should have been avoided.
I have a moral problem with using cluster bombs rhetorically. I'm not an idealist. In fact, I'm an empiricist: I have walked through landscapes in central & southern Vietnam ravaged by the rhetorical use of American weapons & I beheld the destruction of the land & the deformation of bodies caused by the use of this "language." In fact, I am involved in a project that, if we get funding, will seek to redress in a small way the damage done by the US in Vietnam while "sending a message" to Moscow & Beijing forty years ago. The damage lingers & children still die in the Central Highlands from unexploded munitions. Our old, forgotten sentences are still being punctuated by explosions in Vietnam, as they will be in Iraq.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:45 PM.
The moralist William Bennett is, as one always suspected, a humbug. What strikes me most powerfully about this little scandal is how grim & humorless a portrait of Bennett emerges. Here is a wealthy guy who could travel, collect first editions or even paintings by Norman Rockwell or Renoir; instead, he flies into Vegas, checks into one of those soulless hotels & pumps money into high-stakes slot machines between midnight & 6:00 a.m. It would take a Dostoevsky, or at least a Freud, to do justice to Bennett's psyche. "We are the hollow men . . ." A penny for the old guy.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:19 PM.
Jim Dandy here. Tim Yu gets it about right, I think, but now that Rick Ron Silliman has weighed in on the ethos of poetry blogging, I thought I'd add my dry stick to the fire. Which is this: I don't think Silliman is a blogger so much as he is an essayist & polemicist--& a very good one within a certain range of reference. And that's fine, though it is perhaps a little odd for someone of Rick's Ron's politics & aesthetics to use a horizontal technology in such a vertical manner. What I find stranger--though oddly pleasing--is my being "yoked" together with a bunch of young, "post-avant" poetry bloggers I only discovered a few months ago & whose work I am just beginning to approach. I feel like a grizzled old gray-haired pre-avant poet amidst this youthful crowd. One thing is clear, I would not have come across these poets without their blogs--I get to big-city bookstores for browsing about twice a year, but I flip through the poetry blogs on a regular basis. I'm looking forward to reading books by these po-bloggers & I don't have any problem with the blog as a way to build an audience for one's work. Anyhow, it's a spring day & the river is ruffled by a breeze & I turned in my grades yesterday, so I'm not going to get exercised by metablogging. (Of course, there are other ways to look at it.)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:45 AM.
Sunday, May 04, 2003
Reading Lyn Hejinian's My Life, which strikes me as coming out of Gertrude Stein by way of Marcel Proust. I've been reading a couple of the short chapters each morning, much the way that the president is said to read a meditation from Oswald Chambers. I can't speak for the president, but I can say that my reading has had a profoundly inward-turning effect on me. Reading My Life has plunged me back into my own childhood. The technique here is a little like that Bonnard used to render landscape--
the paint is applied so as to call attention to itself while also representing an actual vista. The accumulation of short sentences like brushstrokes. A deft use of the passive voice. Foreground / background; at / through. The reference to the president's reading habits is not, I think, entirely gratuitous: I can't know what is in the president's mind, but I have the very strong suspicion that his use of reading & mine are so different as to constitute opposite poles of a dichotomy & I can't help thinking that these modes of reading are both embedded in & define radically different political orientations. (He's straight, I'm gay, if you take my meaning.) Is the human world split this way? We live in a time when intellectuals at least are adept at collapsing such binary oppositions, but are there some perspectives so divergent they cannot accommodate each other? I'm by nature a philosophical pluralist, but most of the time now I feel completely divorced from the uses of language with which I am surrounded. And that is why I am devoting myself to Hejinian's lovely book.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:30 PM.
The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo! Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Saturday, May 03, 2003
I left this guy out of my list of influences the other day. I read his tracts as a little boy & they had a profound effect on the development of my poetics & politics. [Further info; Jack Chick's website; the tracts themselves; still more.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:26 PM.
Friday, May 02, 2003
Something is screwy about HG's permalinks, but he mentions (in his 5.2.03, 8:06 a.m. post) my way of thinking about the recent war. Henry is contrasting my anti-war stance to that of a number of other poets on the left. Like Henry, I have a visceral aversion to cant whether it comes from the left or right; but I'm not quite so ready to condemn my fellow leftist & anti-war poets as Henry. Not that he doesn't have a point--there was a moralistic streak in some of the statements from the anti-war literati during the run-up to the war. But I am compelled to note, Henry, that the moralism from the right completely drowned out the protests from the left. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow famously remarks, "I hate a lie" & the reader is invited to share Marlow's moral clarity, only to discover as the narrative plays out that Marlow perpetuates the lie launched by Kurtz's masters--the lie of colonialism that drove Kurtz mad. One of the things that gives Conrad's novel its moral power is its willingness to look directly at the lie, which is both personally (psychologically) & publicly (politically) damaging. Moralizing is one kind of lie, a lie of certainty, & ought to be named when it's discovered in political discourse, as in personal. I'd say that my opposition to the recent war was based on an evaluation of the language used to justify it. I would go so far as to say I could have been persuaded of the need for this war had the administration not engaged so easily, so naturally, in spinning out a fabric of lies intended to cover their actual motives. My opposition to the war, was literary, Henry, in the sense you use the term in your phrase "the literary absolute." I supported the American intervention in Yugoslavia / Kosovo precisely because the governments hesitated, weighed the dangers, & then proceeded; same in Bosnia. The moral seriousness of hesitation is more fitting that the "moral clarity" that results in snap judgement. The Clinton administration's failure to act against the Rwanda genocide remains an unforgivable moral lapse--cause perhaps my excessive doubt & hesitation. Even my opposition to the Bush doctrine of unilateralism & the new Pax Americana is essentially literary, or at least linguistic & rhetorical: our current international political stance is destructive of dialogue & it is through dialogue that consensus can emerge, or clarity about lack of consensus.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:24 PM.
Jonathan Mayhew mentions Sandra McPherson in passing. My old teacher is one of our verbally quirky poets & she comes to it not from theory but from practice. I've writtentwice about her work in the context of book reviews. I no longer have the same critical perspective I had when these pieces were written more than a decade ago, but I would still defend McPherson's work on similar grounds. What I call awkwardness in these two reviews amounts to pretty much the same thing I've been talking about the last couple of days--language that foregrounds itself as language even while doing the work of personal, political or historical expression / representation. The poem is a lens that organizes & distorts but does not abuse or trick the reader's perception.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:54 PM.
Does it seem strange that someone who has published three books & lots of poems & reviews in journals & taught poetry for years should still be in the process of boiling down his poetics to a few statements? Perhaps it is only a symptom of our theory-soaked intellectual climate that such a question would present itself, but it did occur to me yesterday as I was writing about ethical choice & justification in relation to poetry. The source of most of my poems has been anxiety, with the language & form of the poem focusing the anxiety & draining it away. By anxiety I don't mean to indicate the exclusively personal or confessional; I am catholic, I include the historical & philosophical in my anxieties.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 11:01 AM.