Tuesday, June 30, 2009


by this upcoming, apparently we meant next.

something came up.

something small with 4 feet and a proportionally shockingly loud voice that was found under a tree.

something small & helpless that needed a home.

Thus, today's recommendation is helping me name this freaking orphan.

I have a few ideas of my own, but I like to utilize 21st century technology when it comes to naming the freeloaders who live with me.

Monday, June 29, 2009

we recommend this upcoming week to you

I thought about giving some structure to this blog, because my life lacks it lately. Therefore, this upcoming week - loosely defined, temporally speaking - I'm going to re-recommend and revisit some albums that I'd, you know, like, recommend to you and stuff.

I don't really consider myself a music writer in the traditional sense. That's the purview of my better half and everyone I know.

But lately I feel pretty discouraged by academia and academic film / media writing, so I'll escape back to my old reasoning, which is that the best writing, all good writing, has a natural rhythm, cadence, and tone to it which relates it so closely to music that there's no real difference, if there's anything good about either of them. That's media, that's patterns. That's light on a screen, that's narrative - that's stories; that's chiaroscuro lighting; that's all art. It doesn't matter by what medium you call it or what studio you enter.

Wow, that was pretentious.

I might have synesthesia.

Firefox doesn't know that word.


I'm not really an album person.


I suppose I am a dreaded, hated "millennial" in that until I discovered Ye Olde Internet, music, or what I understood music to be, did not affect my life much. Music was the crap on the radio that the really dumb kids at school listened to; even I could tell, at the age of 13, that top 40 was contrived by corporations and nothing was spontaneous or populist.

I grew up in a town with no book store and no record store.

It was a town 100% devoid of any culture whatsoever, like a mark of pride, or maybe the mark of the beast. The town library had shelves & shelves of purple prose romance novels, but not one book by Faulkner. Everyone there knew who I was, because, in a crazy bizarro version of the village idiot, I was the Village Smart Person. I am not saying that to be smug or arrogant. i am saying that because that's how it was.

We did have a mall. It grew and grew, like a cancer, a crazy, gauche, grotesque microcosm of America, or maybe because i'm from The Real Amerikkka or something.

I went away to college; now that mall has to be visible from space. There's an Olive Garden there now. And a Borders, even. That is the most unthinkable milestone I could think of, for the town in which I grew up (note deliberate lack of use of term "hometown") to suddenly have a place where you can just walk in and buy a book, culture as handed down from the executive suites of corporate conglomerates. Oh, and a latte. Crazy. I don't know what the other three horsemen are.



It was only when, in the cold basement of the McMansion of my adolescence that I began to devote hours of my life to hunting down songs with 2400 baud spears that I discovered things other than the pabulum given me by post-apocalyptic, post-Reagan corporate homogenized culture. So like my attention span, my understanding of the concept of the album was post-haste assembled, not quite natural. It was really only in college that I began listening to music as discrete albums or wholes. Perhaps it is a mark of my uselessness as a human being, my place in time and history as a member of the most post-apocalyptic generation. The fact that despite my many useless degrees, I still honestly cannot afford to download albums from iTunes or buy them in stores.

Therefore, this week's selections will reflect that, so I ask you - discerning blog readers of excruciating taste! - to bear with me a little bit; I grew up in the cultural equivalent of like Ethiopia or something.

Thus, so this week I'm going to try to revisit, from a purely textual standpoint - because honestly, most music writing annoys me (sorry, everyone I know. YOUR writing is okay) - 5 albums that I Recommend To You (TM). The reason this is different is because:

1. They're not new albums
2. I don't think I'm coming at it from a typical-music-writing-perspective
3. I need to tell myself this because I have nothing else going for me right now
4. As a failure of the music education system, despite ?9? years of music education, I don't know the right ways to use music terms to talk about music anyway and I know just enough to want to die after reading the first 5 pages of Music Theory for Dummies.

That was a really long introduction, wasn't it?

So, I think I'll leave it at that.


Thus, right now's recommendation is that You Tune in later (what the hell do you say on a blog? Blog in later? Eyeball in later? Focus your gnat-like attention span in later?) for the first recommendation.

I may forget about this whole thing by Wednesday, but, again, in the repurposed words of Will Sheff, put to better use by my better half, its flaws are what made us have fun, right?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

if you mean something, say something

Today's recommendation is a more abstract, abstruse one, but it'll suffice.

Today's recommendation is linguistic accountability.

This is an umbrella term I'm using to refer to a whole host of things. Not just proper spelling & grammar, which I'm all for, despite the fact that i embrace change in language & I appreciate language in all forms. I mean, I recommend that you defy the creeping trend of infantilism and entitlement that is apparent even in spoken English.

To wit, two of my biggest annoyances:

It is believed that it's perfectly common & acceptable to say, "I'm going to school to get such-and-such degree."

I disagree. Despite what my students think, you are not a customer when you enroll in an academic institution (unless it's one of those buy-a-degree, fly-by-night, for-profit schools that advertise on websites). You are WORKING on a degree. You are EARNING it. If you cannot understand the semantic distinction, then in my estimation, at least, you imply don't deserve the degree.

This is not just my grumpy, overworked grad student self showing.

I find it kind of off-putting that people my age and older refer to themselves as kids, as boys, as girls. In a society as schizophrenic as ours, in a society as hyper concerned with the sexualization of children and as terrified of pedophiles as ours, this seems a curious phenomenon. Yeah, 30 is the new 12 or something, but step up. You're not a kid. I realize that it's a bit stilted and words like "woman" and "Man" come with their own baggage, but if you're old enough to get married, to vote, to reproduce, to get drafted for a war you don't believe in, you are old enough to refer to yourself using the word that properly describes you, no matter how immature you are.

Again: today's recommendation is LINGUISTIC ACCOUNTABILITY.

If you practice this - if give yourself over to the simple act of speaking in a way that reflects not entitlement but responsibility & accountability, I believe that it will come across in your actions. Everyone is scared of responsibility, but I think that maybe words come first. By uttering it, one gets used to the idea. By getting used to the idea, you become accountable. Right?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

when you're ready to hear a message

This summer is full of trendy, self-improving things in my tiny social circle*: Infinite Jest (My pretense is showing: I've already read most of it and will read it later at my own damn pace, minus book marks - mostly cuz my cat broke my printer - once I'm done reading Anna Karenina [What? no online book club of hipsters reading that with me? I'll solider on somehow]), camping trips with indie rock bands, and best of all, going vegetarian. I like to think I'm just a trendsetter.

Because my ego is fragile and I have so little else going for me, I would like to point out that I have been vegetarian since I was 18. Not that it's a contest. But, I feel I have a little bit of cred to recommend the following to my newly cruelty-free friends and anyone else is interest. Those of you making this change, I am so proud of you!

Confession: I have a complicated relationship with my own vegetarianism. I see it as a lifestyle, not a diet; an ethos, not a trendy choice; a continuum and a belief system, not a bumper sticker. I kind of hate talking about it. I hate having The Vegetarian Conversation with mouth-breathers. (This is what they say; i usually just seethe: "Are you AGAINST cruelty to animals? So what do you like eat? Don't you think God put animals on earth for us to kill? Don't you think PLANTS have feelings? haw haw haw. What about all the animals that die when you harvest vegetables? MMM MEAT AREN'T YOU HUNGRY GODDAMN LIBERAL PINKO etc.") I hate arguing in general. So please respect that, and read the following recommendations, and be patient because some of them are kind of hurr-durr:

1. Reducing meat consumption. Even if you feel you need to consume flesh to justify your humanity / masculinity / American-ness, the most compelling argument against meat consumption is environmental. I was an environmentalist before it was trendy. True story: I got in trouble in 3rd grade for petitioning my school principal to ask him to start a recycling program. Yes, really, and it was all my own idea. So I feel my investment in this issue is a little deeper than the people who just saw the Al Gore movie a few years ago and jumped on the bandwagon; I'm not knocking their commitment and I'd rather have trendy commitment based on cynical green product marketing (someday I'll post about Green Products and the purchase of a "green" lifestyle and it affinities to church indulgences; it'll be a 95 theses kind of post) than no commitment, but this has been something that has literally dominated my entire life. Maybe that's an assy, alienating thing to say. But anyway. It disappoints me when vegetarian activists mumble something incoherent about mollusks having the right to vote or all life being preshus or something. The facts are, factory farming produces more carbon emissions than cars. 90% of sea fish are gone from overfishing. The horrifying, bloated American lifestyle is unsustainable and unnatural. If you think it's impossible for you to cut out dead flesh, then just cut down. Until 20 years or so ago, it was unheard of to consume the portions and quantity of meat and dairy that Americans consume. If you want your children to have any kind of world at all to live in, or any children to have any kind of world at all to live in, stop eating so many dead things. Period. I am truly not interested in your biased rebuttals. There is absolutely no justification or reason for the bloated, inexcusable, disgusting American lifestyle we exploit and it's time for us ALL to cut back, and not just because suddenly, many people are as poor as I've always been.

2. Check out some interesting ethnic, traditionally vegetarian cuisines. It will make you a more interesting and worldly person, and help you support local businesses. My one renegade friend who went on this camping trip and didn't go veg (but, interestingly enough, did not exploit animals by petting them unsolicited - I salute you, sir!) mentioned something interesting about getting bored by meatless choices. Therefore, I'd encourage my recently vegetarian friends to try new things to reduce the chances of recidivism. Sure, you can eat PB&J (totally vegan, right?) every day, but unless you live where I do, there are lots of options for new things to try. Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern restaurants usually have many vegetarian options, and if you're not like me, and you have a real job, those are usually good places to go for lunch. So I hear.

3. This is the really obvious one. Try cookbooks or new recipes. When I first became a vegetarian in college, I got The Starving Students' Vegetarian Cookbook (at least I think it was that one. What I liked about it was that it assumed no fancy materials, ingredients, skills, or cookware, which was good because I had no actual kitchen. Everything was easy to make and after a while, fairly personalizable. Granted, I am a terrible cook. Kitchens burst into flames at the mere sight of me, which is a super power that would probably be a lot more profitable than this blog if I could just harness it & then lease it to the government. Anyway, it wasn't condescending like, "Here, kiddy, help in the kitchen. Do you know what a vegetable is? Now color!" but it wasn't snobby, either. Even if you're not a student, it's a good place to start. Seriously. Otherwise, try the Internet! I know! Imagine that, telling a person reading a blog to look on the Internet! For information! What am I thinking! That Internet thing has exploded recently; there are lots of sites with recipes that you can use to make food. You can use food to be less hungry. Whoa. This blog is full of life-changing revelations. Note the tip jar, people.
All vegan recipes
All Recipes.com. I have helpfully linked to the Vegetarian section.

4. Stick together. It really helped me in college that most of my friends were vegetarians (When I was in high school, I tried to go vegetarian but went back after a few months partly because I didn't know anyone else who was vegetarian; I also got really sick - not related to vegetarianism though). In my tiny liberal arts college paradise, vegetarianism was just the socially acceptable thing to do. We cooked together in the common kitchen. We went grocery shopping and scanned ingredient lists together. We became waiter's worst nightmares together (ouch, that sentence parses painfully). I'm not saying to abandon your carnivorous friends, or evangelize them, but I think it's a lot easier to make this change if you do it with someone, or hang out with someone who has been in this for a while. Two minds are better than one. It's easier to collaborate and be creative and notice things when you have two minds and two sets of eyes. This may seem obvious, but YOU try reading all the ingredients in Rice A Roni on a Saturday morning in a busy grocery store.

. 5. Be a self-advocate. I have problems with this myself. It's always awkward when some loud dude (it's always a dude. Sorry) engages me in "conversation" and yells at me and tries to make me feel like shit for my sincerely held beliefs or thinks that he can convince me that vegetables have feelings or some nonsense. I hate arguing. I truly do. I also feel bad going to restaurants and making extra work for people by asking if there's chicken stock in soup, if there's gelatin in desserts, if there's rennet in cheese. But if everyone self-advocates unapologetically, maybe society will wake up and realize that just as it's totally normal & acceptable to provide tons of information for the 1 person in 10,000 who will have an allergic reaction, they should stop rolling their eyes and being judgmental towards the hundreds more who adopt a lifestyle of lesser cruelty and realize that maybe it's important to know what is in the food they're selling or even putting in their body.

I know there's tons of cruelty & exploitation inherent in simply living in America or any other first-world country. I am racked with guilt on a daily basis because I live a stupid, pointless, elitist intellectual life while people are dying and I just sit here and pontificate while people die preventable deaths, and I rethink my choices constantly. I don't claim to know the answers or even the questions. I don't claim this cleanses me of original guilt. But it makes me feel better. That's all I can do, I guess.

Coming up some other time when I feel like it: Parallels between cruelty-free lifestyles and evangelical Christianity.

If it's even still necessary.

My real, succinct recommendation today is be kind, loving, and reduce how much you hurt all living things.. You'd be surprised just how necessary it is that we remind each other of this.

*I'm using this term lightly, because I currently live in academic exile 700 miles away from everyone I consider a close friend, and I only see them a few times a year anyway. It's more of a retinal image than a circle, a concept. The circle is not unbroken.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Today's recommendation from me is a double-whammy. As in, two for the price of one. Yes, two recommendations. And since the recommendations are free to begin with, this all works out to an EXCEEDINGLY GOOD DEAL.

My first recommendation is participating in Infinite Summer. Of course, those who read my other blog already know about this (and are probably wishing I would shut up about it), but Infinite Summer is a kind of virtual, online reading group, a communal project with the goal of slogging through David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest during the summer. Yes, all 980 pages plus 100 pages of footnotes. It started yesterday, but you can totally catch up.

Infinite Jest is a book I had been meaning to read for quite some time. Haven't we all, really? But that is about as far as many people go with it. I am firmly convinced that a large portion of its reputation is due to the cliché of pseudo-intellectual hipsters who continually see fit to namedrop the novel and discuss its importance and influence without having actually read it. To me, this project is at least partially about destroying this image with which the novel has been saddled. It's about not being the stereotypical pseudo-intellectual who skims Wikipedia entries for a faint grasp on a book so that one can name-drop it in conversation. It's about setting an achievable goal and turning it into a small but not insignificant personal success. It's about following through on things. 

Speaking of following through on things, that is the topic of the second recommendation: knowing when to say when. I am overextended and overwhelmed and exhausted right now. I have too much on my plate:
  • Infinite Summer
  • various other books I had intended to read this summer
  • preparing for the impending semester
  • my goddamn job
  • packing things to move out of my apartment by July 31
  • At least 2 cds worth of cover songs to record as thank you gifts for the autism walk
  • An entire EP to write and record
  • artwork for these two projects
  • the increasing demands of Its Flaws Were What Made Us Have Fun, which appears to be developing the beginning of what could almost be considered an audience.
  • a few other stressors of a more personal and private nature that I will not be discussing here.
The point of all this is to say that I am going to be taking a temporary break from writing recommendations on this blog. A hiatus. As you can see, I do have a lot I am dealing with right now, and I think that the pressure implicit in a blog like this to produce content daily, as well as the irrational guilt I feel whenever I don't produce anything, has taken its toll on me and only caused more stress and anxiety. I know that I often joke about plans as being promises to be broken, but I don't like breaking promises, and therefore, I am not making these promises. Maybe I will be able to resume posting after I've moved out of this apartment; time will tell.

In the meantime, though, I do intend to follow through on Infinite Summer, and I hope you do, too. Not to push the other blog again, but I have posted links to some valuable resources and tips over there. Until next time, have a great (Infinite) summer.

hungry hearts, hungry minds

I really like the strange tension involved in a recommendation blog that: 1. Has no consistent audience and 2. Leads to nobody actually experiencing my recommendations.

It's almost Borgesian, so before I break out my eye patch, I'll recommend you something that totally exists!

So today's recommendation is listening to me blather more about Anzia Yezierska in my characteristically clumsy way, because I totally had a really, really frustratingly great entry written in a notebook that's in a suitcase I haven't seen for 6 days and am, apparently, not supposed to mention here.

Please, send a hairbrush, or something.

Anyway. Yezierska.

I'm going to talk more about "Where Lovers Dream," and I'm going to avoid, hopefully, the blather that has always annoyed me about how critics have discussed it in the past. I will also hopefully not exceed my own attention span in my eagerness to post this.

Much of my *vague pretentious air quotes* research involves historiography. The narrative cultures construct about history and how it changes over time. Part of my fascination with this story involves its own historiography, the way it exists in two separate times and discusses them without it being heavily linked to stereotypes regarding discrete times and years.

This story starts with a simple, nearly postmodern fragment: "For years I was saying to myself - just so you will act when you meet him. Just so you will stand. So you will look on him. These words you will say to him."

As we used to say in happier days, in classrooms overlooking the sea discussing books, let's unpack that.

It's a pretty intriguing opening for a story that, again, has been dismissed as token, pat example of Jewish-American pulp writing in the early 20th century.

These sentences work in several ways, and that's stunningly elegant. On the one hand the speaker is referring, literally, to how she had planned for years to speak "just so" to the unnamed him (we learn later that it is the man she almost married, who rejected her because her family was poor). On the other hand, we can emphasize the just. JUST so you will stand. JUST so you will act. JUST so you will speak. These words you will say to him. It's almost an epigraph, a performance. A rehearsed litany, perhaps. Left with nothing else, able to represent herself with nothing else, the speaker unfolds her tale, building a space wherein she had once dreamed with words, evoking their power to construct nationality, identity, and social class.

She is at once external and internal to this time: she speaks from a space completely divorced from the space and time she had once built with the love she had had; yet the memory and nostalgia for it allows her to construct this space / time (diegesis) fully and vividly. Without fetishizing the poverty, without simplifying the problematics of young love, Yezierksa

Of course, nothing that happy is sustainable in America - that's really the larger message in her work (a collection of one of Yezierska's short stories is called "How I found America"; like much of her work, you can read it in 2 ways).

Perhaps some of the reason I find such affinity with Yezierska is the intellectual tradition of voluntary poverty from which she comes; her father was a Talmudic scholar who was supported by the village. The character of the non-working intellectual holy man father is a recurring one in her stories.

As someone who is desperately indebted to the life of the mind (and I mean that financially, not emotionally or anything), I guess I relate more and more every day.

Anyway, so that's your daily dose of my Yezierska evangelism. Will I write more tomorrow? Will I recommend something else? Heck, will THOM recommend something? Only time will tell! Tune in tomorrow for more!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

the lost "beautifulness"

N.b.: Concepts in this post are adapted from an essay I wrote in 2005, which won "honorable mention" in an essay contest in Florida, actual title of which I have now forgotten; I like to think some concepts and phrasings have improved in the ensuing 4 years, 2 continents, and graduate degrees..

Today's recommendation is hiring me to write a postmodern, fanciful movie about the passionate, brutal life and equally passionate, brutal texts of Anzia Yezierska.

I know, that's an egocentric mouthful, but KEEP READING.

I do not even really know how to pronounce her name. I came across Anzia Yezierska's short fictions in a course I took on women writers in college. Tokenism. She was the token Jewish-American writer; we read the only story most people do read by her, "Where Lovers Dream," which is fortunate, because it's her best. What struck me was not the tokenism, not the non-standard English, but the way time was softened and constructed as a place, the interplay between nostalgia and temporality. What kept me reading was the love story; I had just had my heart broken. What shattered my soul into a thousand pieces and made me say to myself, "This is absolutely brilliant" was the recursiveness of the story, the circular, nearly Borgesian narrative that ended where it began, creating a neat, circular narrative that never really ends and by dint of that, makes a stunning and innovative statement about feminist constructions of time.


I looked her up and was surprised to discover that this writer with the unproncounceable name also had an unknown birth date. think about that for a second. You think of your life as a discrete ray, a line beginning with a definite point. You have, maybe, a shoebox under your bed with cards and mementos. You know what was in the top 40 the week you were born. What of your identity would be shattered to not even know the year? I realize that's how people lived for much of human history, but it unsettled me. And it made me wonder how, if at all, this affected her writing. Her stories are filled with a confessional, nearly atavistic textual scream to the reader, an attempt to connect in a language that wasn't even her native one. Most critics have dismissed her writing as brainless prattle for immigrants, okay to demonstrate a certain mode of non-standard English writing in a certain place and time.

Also, she was driven out of her ancestral family home by the Cossacks. That image really stuck with me.

My senior thesis in college was largely about Yezierska. My senior thesis was a mess, in part because I got so lost in her texts and her life. Every story seemed a desperate, angry wail to the reader. The words were simple, but urgent.


Also, apparently while she was at Teachers' College of Columbia in New York City, she had an affair with John Dewey (yeah, THAT John Dewey) and the rumors are that he fathered her (only) child.


I don't care if I'm wrong. This is where the movie I want to screen-play-with comes in.

Can you imagine? Can you even imagine? Cossacks! Turn of the century ghettos! Fetishization of poverty is so trendy right now (see: this year's Oscars); so are crazy writers. This will make a fortune.

I am slightly sarcastic.

I am totally serious.

I will cry if you don't run out RIGHT NOW and read her stuff.

I've been editing this entry for a week (i had it all written much more elegantly in a notebook that ended up in a particularly ill-fated suitcase), so I'm just going to post this now).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

we are very poor, II

Today's recommendation is resisting Americanist rhetoric about being the master of your own destiny.

I read a lot of personal finance blogs, which is really stupid, because they just depress me. They're all the same, and they are frankly all written for the wealthy. Nobody writes personal finance blogs for the people who need them the most. I know everything I should do with a 401 (k) and a Roth IRA, but I have never in my life been in a position to have either. I have condescendingly been patted on the head and sneered at and told that it all comes down to what I can expect to earn with my preshus major, but nobody who writes about personal finance can offer a single useful thing to career academics. I have literally never seen a single thing in a persona finance book or blog ever addressed to anyone working on a PhD, although there's plenty for law & medical students.

The best they can offer is vagaries about asking yourself if you Really Want to Go Back to school and are you just going to hide out you lazy bum haw haw haw. I have JD Roth on our blog roll, (mostly because he likes the Decemberists and seems like a nice enough guy) even though I think his blog has really declined in the last year, especially since he's started hooking up with sleaze balls like that I Will Teach You to be Rich douchebag.

That's what today's post is all about. When I was teaching in Germany, one of the lessons I had to teach from a book dealt with a study that showed how in America, people believe they are responsible for what happens to them - moreso than in any other country in the world. If I can remember the name of the book, and the study, I'll cite it. Take it for anecdata for now. In America, we believe that if we squeeze our eyes shut, we have a classless meritocracy and hard work is rewarded, and if you forego coffee in the morning you will magically get to retire and if you have to declare bankruptcy it's your own fault, you filthy slob with no self-control. Just fucking check your credit report and cut up your credit cards and all will be magic, forget about the endemic un and underemployment problems in this country. The product these blogs sell is stability. I grew up in a house where my father worked in the kind of mind and soul-numbing, frustrating office job that these blogs purvey. Leave at 6 AM, come back at 9 PM, work hard, invest in your company's 401 (k). The day of my 18th birthday, my father was laid off. He has not held stable employment since. He has had to cash out his 401(k) just to pay the bills. It bothers me that so many people buy into this one-size-fits-all prescriptive philosophy that sings the praises of a deeply flawed system that simply provides a way for the puppetmasters of the capitalist system to stay wealthy & powerful while the plebeians struggle and eat cat food in their golden years. But don't mind that. Just pay off your credit card and put $50 a month into a Roth IRA. It's all about your mind. It's all about your attitude. You broke your leg and you're bankrupt? You must have a bad attitude. You deserve what you get!

This is the rhetoric of personal finance blogs, the upper class elites who make a fortune off selling books and seminars to people (who buy these things on credit, naturally - except Dave Ramsey, who makes a big show out of not accepting credit cards, but he's more part of the fundamentalist scene than the personal finance scene, but that's another blog post) simply to reinforce the ideology of America, which is that you need to internalize a feeling of "empowering" "control" so that if you screw up, you blame yourself and feel like a failure, and if you blame anyone else, you go on a talk show and everyone hates on you at a water cooler and clucks their tongues about this "victim" society.

I am here to tell you that this is ridiculous. Obviously you can make minute and meaningless choices about shopping and personal spending. That, and only that, is what life in post-apocalytpic capitalist America is all about. Which coffee shall you get and at which store in the mall shall you get the shirt? Or not? But in the larger sense, counting these pennies (with apologies to Elizabeth Warren, the only personal financier who only kinda makes a little bit of sense) is a feeling of false control, just like much of American society. It's pointless to blame yourself and plan for retirement spending in a country that is clearly derailing, a country and empire that is far too huge, fractured, and arrogant to govern effectively, especially when most of the country is crazily ignorant and hideously greedy. It is pointless to scrimp and save when breaking your leg will bankrupt you. It is pointless to work hard for an elite education when you can't get a job, any job.

I'm not just talking about the conversation I always seem to be having with the knuckle-draggers who really, really, really love money, the people who sneer at me and laugh with spit flying and ask me just what the hell I expected, majoring in books. Uh. I'm talking about my friends with teaching licenses who can't find teaching jobs, even in states (e.g., Florida) with stated teacher shortages; I'm talking about the evaporating jobs while the filthy, vile, indolent rich get filthier and more indolent.

So - my recommendation today is Resist, resist, resist! Fight the power! Resist marketing, resist spending, resist conspicuous consumption, and resist ideologies that tell you that you are to blame for the failures of a system that keeps a very few people wealthy & powerful. Work hard, don't blame yourself, and fight for a better system. Whether you use the Republican bogeyman word "socialism" to describe it or not is up to you, but I am beginning to think "capitalism" is far worse. You're poor, you want advice? Cut down on smoking, or quit altogether. Arrange a childcare cooperative to reduce childcare costs (note: I neither smoke nor have children, so these may be assvice-y suggestions). Fight for your rights. Join a union. Use your library. Don't fall for slick marketing, including that of anti-marketers (does that make sense?). Demand to know every side. Read the fine print. Don't accept your situation, although you must accept that mathematically, as things stand, the middle class in American society as it is today is a dinosaur (the Onion put it best in 2004). Nobody wants to be poor, but most people are going to be. Either be poor with dignity or fight and don't be anyone's stooge. I'm not sure if this results in anything more but feel goodery and anti-vagaries and unquantifiable yearnings no different from that of the rhetorics I urge you to fight against and I urge you to read critically for that. But I had to say my piece, and that's my recommendation.

Monday, June 8, 2009

but, you can't get any poorer than dead

Today's recommendation is Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear it Away.

When I was about 18, I read J.L. Austin's How to Do Things With Words, which is one of the shortest philosophy texts ever written, and the easiest to understand, and the most endearingly titled. It is about performative speech acts. When speaking becomes doing. When you christen a ship or bet on the outcome of an event or marry 2 people. I have come back to it at several points in my life (see: "Short, easy to understand") and I'm coming back to it now. And I find it a useful frame through which to understand O'Connor's final novel, which deals with the fraught execution of a performative speech act Austin never discusses: baptism.

I romanticize the south. My parents are from the south, more or less. I was born there. Even though I grew up in New Jersey, I became a real person in the bastardized south - Florida - and have spent many formative summer evenings of my life on Amtrak trains in motion, speeding through crystallized slices of time and space and Carolinas. So, I have a perfectly good notion of what I think the South is and should be, and I suppose I seek that out in my reading. Sorry if that's regionalist. I was once accused of regionalism in a regionalist writing class in college.

The Violent Bear it Away teems with rage and explosions (metaphorical and literal). The rage and explosions coalesce around the tension between rationalism and Something Else, something atavistic and instinctive that was once called holy; between city and country; between knowing and believing. Then, of course, O'Connor presents each dichotomy with farcical distance and textually raised eyebrows. I'm not sure I liked that.

In the end, a novel - a story of destructive inner and external turmoil - is mounted over the act of uttering a few words and sprinkling a few drops of water; or, whatever you take Baptism to be (it is obvious from this review how I feel about evangelism). In a larger, meta sense, the story's existence seems a performative act of some sort itself. Here is where I always lose sight of what a performative speech act may or may not be. Thus, I will leave it to you, dear Blog Readers.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

we are very poor

I haven't been feeling very well lately; there's been little I've felt like recommending other than please, please curing my migraines and sending me money so I stop worrying and having daily, horrible anxiety attacks about how I have absolutely no safety net in the vile, rapacious capitalist society in which I live and also please send reassurance that the world isn't hurtling towards an apocalypse, or at least that it's fast & soon & relatively painless. Full stop.

But that's not much of a recommendation.

Instead, apropos of that:

Today's recommendation is another underrated writer. Today's recommendation is Juan Rulfo (c. 1917-1986), for his brutal depictions of poverty, for his haunting (haha) novella Pedro Paramo. His books were ones I left with "friends" for "safe-keeping" when I moved overseas and never got back; for this reason, they're tinctured with nostalgia and I don't care if I'm slightly wrong; I haven't read his works in years. I'm writing as I remember and that seems somewhat in the spirit of Rulfo himself. His works are brutal and decentered and decenterING. He was a photographer, and his short works, in the way they effect you, in the ways they leave you with an image, in the ways they don't just tell a story but tell a society, a fractured, post-apocalyptic society - really show that. His works always reminded me of the computer and video games I played growing up, where without explanation you were suddenly hurtled into a scorched-earth world, forced to unravel a mystery, forced to talk to characters and unravel riddles, and even then it made little sense, but it was the world, it was the only world, and you had to unravel it, you had to work with it, because it was the world - now. Rulfo's works were short, elegant, brutal, each word a carefully-chosen economy, even in translation: they said what they had to say and only later, I'd pause and shudder and think about just how brilliant and perfect they were.

Thus, I Recommend them to you.

The Burning Plain & Other Stories can be purchased at Powells Books
Pedro Paramo can be purchased from Powells (alliteration is key to an understanding of the world).

N.b.: Confession: I have only read Rulfo in translation; I am sure if you can read his works in the original Spanish you will get even more out of it.