An analytical approach to living, that is a problem. I said it to S, I said I didn’t think that the examined life was the right one. I said it was, well, I could look it up it was on Gmail, but I’d rather try to remember. The point was, I was trying to tell him. I didn’t try that hard. I knew he wouldn’t like it if I put it that way, but the point was what I was feeling, which was that the too examined life lacked the types of brief, transcendent emotions that made it meaningful. If everything was studied very precisely, tried to be understood, attempted to be made into language, something was lost. More thoughts seemed to occur without language. Its usefulness to one’s, like, being could be put in question.
He seemed to think I was an idiot, he might have said so. G said what could I expect, he made his whole life based on that kind of tenet. That way of looking at things—S is a PhD—and trying to put that into some comprehensive explanation. Also he’s a poet. He never talked to me again. I can’t remember if I tried to strike up conversation with him. It must have been in winter. Could it have been during the time I was still doing crosswords? that was obviously a conflict of interest for me. There was a thing where I would always see the same words coming up, which was distracting. They’d be too easy or too hard.
I can find very little middle ground in stuff like that. I don’t know if I’d had the thought, but what if, what if, I had told him that I was more concerned with the exact reality as it appeared from an empirical, outside perspective, and that inner thoughts deflected it… Would it have been a lie? that actually bothers me a lot. How when you pose a question in writing (not a question in terms of “idea” but in terms of, like, a person thinking a question, I often think one vies to answer it), I always want to answer it immediately.
It was sort of a great relief, one less force to fear incurring—is it incurring?—my madness. My ideology appears, like it had sprung, only through disagreements with people. It’s weak. I felt like I’d escaped from the possibility of living S’s life. Something that required so much attention to the things beyond itself might cease to be substantive. Things are more often than not, I assert, concerned with what is directly, immediately happening.
October 22nd, 2014 / 12:33 pm
There’s a lot of ego on display here and when I’m honest, I enjoy that. It gives this site much of its attraction: people post and comment here in the spirit of one-upmanship, calling attention to themselves. The stakes are real: get a lot of page views, get voted up a lot, and you might win a publishing contract! (I have.) In the increasingly impoverished world of indy lit, what could be better than a website where typing some words into a text field and clicking a button can make you a (virtual) celebrity? When I post and comment, I do so giddy with the realization that others are watching—others who might invite me to their parties, or to contribute to their literary journals. (Some have.)
The indy lit blogosphere that we have made and are currently still making is as much about provocation as it is communication. Since its participants tend to be well-educated writers and artists, we tend to be good at provocation. We intend our comments and posts to make others think and feel differently—including, sometimes, negatively.
I was born in a relatively sexist / racist / homophobic corner of the world (Scranton, Pennsylvania—represent), where I was raised by fairly liberal parents who mostly espoused views one might call progressive. Nonetheless I absorbed a lot of sexist / racist / homophobic ideology, because the culture surrounding me was largely sexist / racist / homophobic. I attended a Catholic grade school and high school, for instance, and became an Eagle Scout—and while I’m not trying to single out those institutions (which did some right by me), we didn’t exactly sit around reading bell hooks.
In March of last year, I wrote a post here entitled “100 things to do when you have the time.” It proved popular and I was approached by a press, Compendium, Inc., with the offer to turn it into a book. I said sure and now the finished book is available through Compendium’s website as well as at various bookstores.
I worked with my editors to revise the list, which changed a lot (for instance, we lost a thing). After that, others transformed it into a book that’s just as much a journal as it is a list, with original art and design on every page. 99 Things wouldn’t exist without M.H. Clark and Amelia Riedler’s editing, Julie Flahiff’s creative direction, and Heidi Rodriquez’s design work—my sincerest thanks to all of them.
As well as to Michelle Tupko. I initially made the list for her, but after a while I realized I needed it just as much myself. And now it’s for everyone else, or for anyone who wants it. If you do check it out and find it useful, I’ll be gratified.
What would you most like to see at this site? More posts about writing and craft? More posts about Viktor Shklovsky? Jimmy Chen being forced to post something every single day? The violent death of a current contributor? The return of Boobs Friday? The creation of Bollocks Friday? Sandra Bullock Friday? Spout off and maybe by working together, you and I, we can make it happen …
[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 below, 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.
I’m still bogged down with school (almost done) but I thought I’d throw a little something up, pun intended. Two months ago I wrote an analysis of Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation” where I argued that, rather than being opposed to all interpretation, as some believe, Sontag was instead opposed to “metaphorical interpretation”—to critics who interpret artworks metaphorically or allegorically. (“When the artist did X, she really meant Y.”) I thought I’d document a few recent examples of this—not to pick on any particular critics, mind you, but rather to foster some discussion of what this criticism looks like and why critics do it (because critics seem to love doing it).
The first example comes from Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, in particular the exhibit “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962” (which is up until 2 June). One of the works on display is Gérard Deschamps’s Tôle irisée de réacteur d’avion (pictured above, image taken from here—I didn’t just stretch out a swath of tinfoil on my apartment floor). The placard next to it reads as follows: