[I was going to post something else entirely today—something light and fun—but I ran into some technical issues, and in any case this past weekend's comments and page views indicate y’all would rather talk about Seth Oelbaum. So let’s talk more about Seth Oelbaum! As well as talking about Seth Oelbaum.]
Mike Meginnis’s recent post, and his follow-up comments below, clearly express his desire to pronounce some final word on “the Seth Oelbaum question” (as Reynard Seifert so cleverly phrased it), and put it all behind us. I have the highest respect for Mike as a writer and as a friend, and I understand his frustration, but I don’t think critique works that way, or should ever work that way. The price of being able to criticize is constant reappraisal, and not being able to declare conversations over.
In my comments on Seth’s last post (here, here, & here). I stated my concern that I’d said all I had to say about his writing here, was starting to repeat myself. But Mike’s post and the ensuing conversation caused me to return to certain aspects of it, and think up some new thoughts. (Surprising, I know, that I would find I had more to say.) So this is my attempt to lay out my thinking as clearly as I can. I hope you’ll add your own thoughts in the comments section, if so inclined.
First, let’s agree that Seth’s writing is (perhaps deliberately?) somewhat inscrutable. Seth’s penchant for opacity hasn’t made it easy for people to figure out what he’s up to, even as near everyone agrees that the writing is offensive. Seth has also demonstrated little willingness to engage directly and openly with his growing ranks of critics, preferring instead to double down on his shtick.
I’ve read everything Seth has posted here (multiple times), and many of his posts at Bambi Muse, and a fair amount of his poetry. (Peter Jurmu just gave me a copy of Artifice #5, which contains some sonnets by Seth.) And while I certainly may be wrong in my interpretation, I think I understand part of what Seth is up to. (I’ve said some of this already, but please bear with me.) Forced to summarize, I’d say that Seth is appalled by how the suffering of certain people is privileged over the suffering of others. Thus he was enraged when the US media devoted extensive coverage to the Boston bombings, while it has remained relatively silent regarding the ongoing bomb-heavy conflict in Syria. He’s also enraged when Hollywood regards the Holocaust as an atrocity the Nazis did exclusively to the Jews, ignoring the simultaneous slaughter of the disabled, homosexuals, the Roma, among many others.
If this is indeed Seth’s point, then I don’t find it controversial; nor, I imagine, would you (at least in general—let’s acknowledge that Seth is not one for finer details). If one opposes massacres, then one should oppose all massacres. As such, the US media deserves criticism for privileging certain ones over others. Similarly, we ourselves are at fault when we disregard the suffering of others. We would do well to wonder how and why the world got to be like this, and what we can do to change it.
Meanwhile, we might also say: “Seth Oelbaum, you’re barking up the wrong blog! We’ve already read Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt and Noam Chomsky, and we know what you’re trying to say and already agree with you (even if we find repulsive your way of putting it)! Go post at Little Green Footballs or some other conservative blog, or at least change your shtick to acknowledge that we’re not the audience you’ve mistakenly judged us to be!”
The problem, however, is that this is not the entirety of Seth’s message. The fact that Seth keeps posting here—doubling down—indicates that Seth does not believe that we are “the wrong audience.” Furthermore, from what I’ve heard (and this is hearsay, but I’m inclined for now to believe it), “Seth is always like this”—anywhere he goes, anytime of the day, he’s always “on.” Seth has responded to total war with total abhorrence to war. And while that might not make him the most charming dinner companion (or party guest, as Mike put it), it does suggest a bit more about his motivations. Because I think Seth’s primary goal is to make other people suffer.
Yesterday, after my lunch but before theirs, I interviewed Droqen (i.e., Alexander Martin) and Ryan Roth, the developer and sound designer of Starseed Pilgrim, a beautiful, mysterious game about “tending a symphonic garden, exploring space, and embracing fate.” It’s six dollars and I am extremely confident your computer can run it. I was kind of awkward and shy, predictably, but the two of them did great. We did it as a video because that was expedient, but if I were you I would treat it like a podcast — listen to the audio; don’t feel like you’ve got to watch. We talked mostly about video games – Starseed Pilgrim, Droqen’s other games, stuff we had all played and enjoyed, and things we didn’t like so much. But I don’t think you have to like video games very much to find a lot of what they said interesting. I made some annotations (indexed by time code) to provide context and further information for the things we discussed; click past the fold to see them. READ MORE >
At least three times a week, whether I’m sipping Berry Juicy Juice, reciting Chelsey Minnis verse (“most poets don’t have any dick or balls under this their skirts”) or staring dreamily out the window, I think about how terrific it would be if every single boy in Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” music video was my boyfriend. Oh, we’d almost surely have a swell time together. We’d engage in the most exquisite activities, like sip Berry Juicy Juice, recite Chelsey Minnis, and stare dreamily out the window. Though, obviously, if the GBE boys and I turned into an item, we might, even in this time period, be subject to racism. America hasn’t exactly been benevolent to those whose skin color resembles not a vanilla milkshake. America has savagely uprooted an entire race, dropped two atomic bombs on another, and averted their eyes from countless non-whitey genocides. Indeed, American human possess a preponderant of bias against those contrasting their skin color, just as, though in different degrees, they are biased against boys who don’t like girls, girls who don’t like boys, and anyone who doesn’t treat the Holocaust as an unspeakable occurrence.
Yes, yes, American humans are prejudiced, and I wish to discuss what these prejudices mean: What is the basis for American humans’ brutal attitude towards others? What are American humans trying to preserve? What characteristics do American humans have that others don’t? What type of society are non-American humans being excluded from?
According to Lana Del Rey, “Money is the reason we exist / Everyone knows it’s a fact / Kiss kiss.” The German boy, Karl Marx, concurs with the pointed girl singer. The laborer, in Karl’s words, “consumes in a two-fold way.” While working, he consumes what’s needed to produce what he’s obligated to, like computers, smartphones, coffee bean grinders, &c. When the laborer is not occupied with his job he spends the money that he earned on subsistence, like meat, middle-class clothes, and an apartment (probably in Bed-Sty [sp?]) that is deplorably deprived of Disney DVDs (though not, unsurprisingly, lubricant and books by 99 percent poets). The worker buys these things since, without them, his labor power value would vault into worthlessness and then he, too, would be worthless.
All worth comes from money. Marx says, “Money brings the relation of commodities into values” since it serves as the “universal equivalent.” Money turns humans into commodities. They sell their labor – themselves – in the way that someone else (Kmart) would sell me, say, a teddy bear. Commodities can be becoming things; yet commodities that are arrogant, that deem themselves superior to other commodities, are utterly unbecoming things. My teddy bear doesn’t torpedo around town twittering of human rights, morals, and equality. My teddy bear is quiet, cute, and cuddly. The American human, however, is a disgraceful commodity. They operate under the belief that they are not commodities at all. American humans talk your ear off about freedom and liberty. But American humans are not independent. American humans are moored to money, for, minus money, American humans would be bereft of an identity, since money — how much money they extract for their labor power as well as the amount they spend in order to surround themselves with commodities of commensurate value, which, in turn, perseveres the appeal of their labor power value – forms the American human’s identity.
New York Tyrant/Tyrant Books has recently brought two more important texts into the world.
If you’re familiar with the work of these authors, you don’t need me to tell you it is awesome (as in inspiring awe) and wonderful (as in screaming waffle-irons). If you’ve never held an object from Tyrant Books in your hands, I suggest you find a remedy. First lines are below.
White cone descended in sound blister
On May 9, 1961*, Iola Brubeck gave birth to a boy. He was given the name Charles Matthew.
The boy’s father, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck—who died today of heart failure on the way to a cardiology appointment and was a day shy of his 92nd birthday—wrote and recorded a song with his quartet called “Charles Matthew Hallelujah.”
Here’s the story I was told by a music teacher: Embedded in the song’s sections—there are two distinct sections—are, first, the words “Charles Matthew!” And then the follow-up “Hallelujah!” Follow Paul Desmond’s alto sax to hear them. Note that there seems to be an extra syllable in “Charles Matthew!” I always sing “Cha-earls Matthew!” when I sing along. The second section, a rolling sort of piano beginning at the 1:30 mark, has “I have a brand new baby boy, I have a brand new baby boy, I have a brand new baby boy, I have a brand new baby boy…” in it. The second and following “I have a brand new baby boy”s all start their “I”s on that stalled, heavy chord so the “I” takes a longer time to say. (Like Brubeck, the one who had the brand new baby boy is, in emphasizing the “I,” bragging a little. Or a lot.)
“Charles Matthew Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs because it’s a hell of a birthday present. And a hell of a precise artistic statement about pure joy. It’s like the air in a balloon filled to capacity. The rubber skin is the constraint of time signature and the limitations of the instruments. But the air is stretching it as out as far as it will stretch.
Brubeck is nothing but all right in my book. RIP.
* A mystery: Wikipedia & IMDB say Charles Matthew was born on May 9, 1961. Wikipedia also says Time Further Out—the album “Charles Matthew Hallelujah” appears on—was “recorded” on May 3, 1961. So, six days before the birth of Charles Matthew. is Wikipedia referring to the first day of recording? Was it recorded all in one day, and Brubeck was anticipating the birth of a son? As the story was told to me, the song was recorded on the day of or the day after his birth.
In the summer of 1962, Howard Cosell found himself lying on his back at the side of the road, the joe-pye weed squaring off in the sun above him as he woke from his stupor. “That’s when I knew I had to make changes,” Cosell says, “those weeds bending over me like God’s many heads. It was my high, purple clarion call.”
Cosell rushed home then—a place he spent precious little time in—kissed his four children on the head as they sat on the floor watching TV, and went straight up to the bathroom. Taped to the underside of the sink was his stash, 6 brown cubes of the sweetest chat Eritrea had to offer. READ MORE >
The ocean swirls up over the searock. It falls back, returns, and rushes over a whirlhole the shape of a galaxy. A black crab climbs up the searock sideways, like a demon listening in Aramaic.
All at once, I am not married; I have no parents; I wave my black claws and hurry over the rock. I hold fast to the bottom; no night-mother can pry me loose; I am alone inside myself; I love whatever is like me. I am glad no seabeast comes to eat me; I withdraw into the rock caverns and return; I hurry through the womb-systems at night.
Last night in my dream a man I did not know whispered in my ear that he was disappointed with me, and that I had lost his friendship…How often have I awakened with a heavy chest, and yet my life does not change.
—Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012
I say moon is horses in the tempered dark,
because horse is the closest I can get to it.
I sit on the terrace of this worn villa the king’s
telegrapher built on the mountain that looks down
on a blue sea and the small white ferry
that crosses slowly to the next island each noon.
Michiko is dying in the house behind me,
the long windows open so I can hear
the faint sound she will make when she wants
watermelon to suck or so I can take her
to a bucket in the corner of the high-ceilinged room
which is the best we can do for a chamber pot.
She will lean against my leg as she sits
so as not to fall over in her weakness.
How strange and fine to get so near to it.
The arches of her feet are like voices
of children calling in the grove of lemon trees,
where my heart is as helpless as crushed birds.
Hurricane Sandy was utterly unpleasant. She caused a lot of deaths, a ton of destruction, and a cancellation of a highly anticipated shopping excursion. There has been speculation that Sandy was once the pet rooster of second-wave feminist Betty Friedan. While these rumors have not been verified, there is no denying that Sandy was an angry animal. What Bertha did to Lord Rochester’s estate, Sandy did to the tri-state area. But you don’t have to descend to Sandy’s savage, dimwitted level. You can take the high road (though not to Brooklyn) by dressing yourself up in dignified outfits that are also appropriate for the ever-changing circumstances that Hurricane Sandy will throw your way.
My pal Elf came across this picture, in poster form, at the school where he works. (Here is is for sale online.)
Anyone know the story behind it? Did JLB have something to do with it, or does it refer to some other Borges?
(I found this thread debating it, but it’s hardly conclusive.)
If you haven’t been reading the ongoing Chronicles of Mitt at Daily Kos, you’ve really been missing out:
I no longer feel confident that I want to be president. Why was I running again? There was the tax cut, but surely it would have cost less money for my fellow wealth units and I to simply purchase sufficient lobbyists to obtain it. Now in order to satisfy critics I have had to claim that my singular goal, a very large tax cut, would not actually cut taxes. That is, in all of this, the one policy alteration that I cannot abide. I do not care about the other things—the nonsense about “ObamaCare,” the being angry with China, and the other things are all merely strategic calculations, but the very large tax cut for myself was the one policy out of all of them that I had designed myself, and that I felt strongly about. I spent many an evening explaining to Ann how I would carefully reapportion the money from our very large tax cut into each of our various accounts. To disown it feels like I have disowned a child. A particularly good and uproarious child, like Tagg, not one of the others.
The archive’s here.
At first, my Tumblr literary corporation championed Mitt. We believed that he would cut taxes for the most moneyed Americans, thereby making it a breeze for a boy to snag a handsome millionaire so that the handsome millionaire would provide the boy with a weekly allowance that would cover straight-to-DVD Disney sequels, Snickers ice cream, and other such terrific trinkets and trucks. But, suddenly, Mitt started saying that he wouldn’t cut taxes for millionaires. Indeed, Mitt has become a centrist. Even if Mitt’s migration to the middle is merely a lie, it’s still revolting enough for my literary corporation to withdraw its support because compromise is so awfully common (not to mention unexciting).
Now, obviously, Barack Obama could never ever earn the endorsement of my Tumblr literary corporation. Obama’s trademark word is “hope.” Any thoughtful boy (or girl) knows that while there is “hope,” that “hope” cannot be realized on earth because “hope” has to do with heaven, which isn’t on earth. Baudelaire concurs. In the first Fleurs de mal poem, Baudelaire sings fondly about being an angel in heaven. Then, in the final “Spleen” poem in Fleurs de mal (which takes place on earth) hope is conquered by anguish. Yes, being amongst postlapsarian people is tediously tiring. Yet these fallen fartsniffers are the very ones that Obama plans to assist. Obama is the antithesis of Baudelaire. Obama is calm, nice, and pragmatic. Baudelaire is catty, hyperbolic, and pretty (he spent no fewer than two hours preparing his outfit for the day). Baudelaire is a performance. Obama is a person, which is the worst thing that anyone can ever be.
“I know you can’t wash in the same river even once / I know the river will bring new lights you’ll never see”
Thanks to Amy King for posting on her Facebook a link to the poem “On Living” by Nazim Hikmet, which I read, which made me read all of his poems I could find online, and later I am going to go to Amherst Books to buy a copy of his collected poems before someone else does. Probably you’re so smart and ride such a brakeless bicycle that you already knew about this guy, because even Joan Baez knows about him, and he has his own festival and portrait of himself writing in prison and is Turkey’s most famous poet, so probably you already knew all that, but I didn’t, and if like me you woke up today not having read “On Living” and “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,” you should go ahead and do that. And even if you have read them, seems like a good idea to kiss your knuckles for good luck before you get on your brakeless bike and read them again.
On October 5, Keith Campbell—one of the scientists who worked on Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell—died at the age of 58.
Adult cells have specialized jobs. They make one thing—skin, for example. Embryonic cells are not specialized. So, making an entire body from an embryonic cell is relatively easy. Making an entire body from a specialized cell is not. Campbell suggested trying to find a way to get adult cells to revert, to forget their specialization. Starving the adult cell did the trick. Dolly followed.
Some people call cloning “playing God.” Mostly, those people are talking about human cloning, not animal cloning.
But, still, Dolly caused a stir. And accusations of playing god. READ MORE >
I haven’t read Sheila Heti or Ben Lerner’s recent novels, the impetuses for Blake Butler’s recent, anti-realism-themed Vice article, but I’d like to respond to Blake’s finely-written itemized essay, because I, personally, continue to desire novels written by humans, which relate, slipperily or not, to human reality–subjective, strange and ephemeral as it is–novels which deal with such humdrums as sex, boredom, relationships, Gchat, longing, and, beneath all, death. I want a morbid realism.
I agree with Blake that a reality show like The Hills and social media such as Facebook create stories by virtue of humans doing simply anything. The documenting, sharing, and promoting of mundane everyday human life is more prevalent and relentless than ever before. In this environment, literature (and movies) about humans (most controversially, about privileged, white, hetero humans) that presents everyday drank-beers-at-my-friend’s-apartment life, wallows in self-pitying romantic angst, and doggy paddles po-faced through mighty rivers of deeply profound ennui can potentially seem annoying, or boring, or shittastical.
The Mitt Romney campaign is in a terrible tailspin. He trails Barack Obama in almost all major polls. The poor little Mormon actually has to stop attending fundraisers so that he can be out on the campaign trail more (and, even when he’s out and about, Romney proves to be so unentertaining that he must stump with more exciting Republicans). Then there’s the 47 percent comment. Mitt, honey, if you want people to like you, you shouldn’t call them losers.
But tomorrow’s debate brings hope (to use Obama’s word). What can Romney say in the debate that will swing the momentum in his direction? Need Romney say anything? Can Romney convey a stronger message using only his clothes? Obviously. Here’s four outfits from Paris Fashion Week that Romney should wear in order to regain the upper hand.