28 December 2015

Andy Moozeek


Moore's German diction is just dreadful. And the set! The set is the most rotten, kitsch, awfulness. Schwarzkopf may not have noticed it, but she was so demanding--most especially of herself--and had such good taste, it's hard to imagine her even being there.

Andy Moozeek


Du holde Kunst,
Ich danke dir,
You watch her mouth, say.
Then, you look at her eyes
at the end. And you could fall
forever into that terrifying abyss.
Not because she is dead but
because she is so alive,
so much more alive
than you have ever been.
I believe it is two shots.
I love her hair.
I hope she wins.


L. Steve Schmersal, Andy Moozeek, Dez 2015.



15 December 2015

JOTT HAH WEH HAH



JOTT HAH WEH HAH


I am a fragment
A series
A series of
Fragments

I am a thing
A part of
A thing
An

Image
A
Meme
A phoneme

A scheme
A
Gleam a
Dream

A Nothing
A something
A breathing and
A breath

An
Org
anism
A series

Of thoughts
Mistakes
Ideals and
Ideas

I am
A
thing
Made

Of thingness
And
Things
A series

Of Nothings.
I am thine.
I am
A thing


L. Steve Schmersal, JOTT HAH WEH HAH, December 2015.

03 December 2015

"Don't freak out, bitch. Just be Steve, Gay Anthropologist!"



I, too, am a notebook guy at the freak show, or, as I say of myself at circuit parties: "Don't freak out, bitch. Just be Steve, Gay Anthropologist!"

This is what I do now in the world that has become a circuit party. I don't go to circuit parties, I don't need to. The world is a circuit party I haven't been invited to.

Mostly, I just want to apologize to the other species stuck on this planet with us while we circle the fucking drain. DOLPHINS, CRUSTACEANS, BEES, BATS, BUTTERFLIES, and BIRDS! I'M SORRY WE'RE TAKING YOU DOWN WITH US! I'M REALLY SORRY!

Try to feel as I do, that the planet will heal after we're gone. We can't kill the planet. We can't kill the planet. After the various other species have achieved ascendance and recreated-rediscovered poetry over and over again and done a better job than we ever did, after that, when this planet is a burnt-out cinder circling a sun about to nova, we won't even be a memory.

Remember that, Donald Trump--and the rest of you fucktard idiots--not even the insects will trouble themselves to ever even remember, or know, you ever even fucking existed, you vile excrement.

And that's all we have time for! HAVE A GREAT DAY! :o)




Now. Watch this shit:



20 November 2015

I Stay, in Twos: for Eli





I Stay, in Twos
for Eli


I stay
At a

Friend's house
While he

Is out
Of town.

Mourning
Doves cry

Outside
The win-

Dow, as
Though they

Were fuck-
Ing or

Killing
Each ot-

Her. It
Does not

Matter
Which, yes?


L. Steve Schmersal, I Stay, in Twos, November 2015

01 November 2015

That Time, That Time, in Six



That Time, That Time, in Six
by Calvé Shelmstress


It was that time. That time
When nothing made sense, when
Time was not time, that time
When time was no time. He
Brought a boyfriend upstate
To stay with an ex-boy-

Friend. It was that time just
After he'd found a job,
That time when he'd thought that
He, perhaps, had lost his
Mind. Brilliantly, he
Had not. "Who is he?" his

Ex had asked. "I don't know,"
He had replied. It was
That time, when walking down
The street, he would just cry,
For church bells ringing. Church
Bells. "Who is he?" his ex

Had asked. It didn't matter.
He had just needed some
One to hold at night, some
One warm and real enough.
He cried real tears when he
Wrote this. He cried real tears.


Calvé Shelmstress, That Time, That Time, in Six, 1979.

10 September 2015

I Post Song Lyrics from Time to Time: Zip

I was twenty, I looked forty. I got the job. 
-- Elaine Stritch


Oh, Elaine, will ya for Chrissake go to New Haven and sing the fuckin’ song? 
-- Ethel Merman


Zip

I’ve
Interviewed Pablo Picasso
And a countess, named di Frasso.
I’ve interviewed the great Stravinsky.

But 
My greatest achievement
Is the interview I had
With the star who worked for Minsky.

I met her at the Yankee Clipper,
And she didn’t unzip one zipper.
I said, “Miss Lee, you are such an artist,
Tell me why you never miss.

"Whadda you think of
While you work?”
And she said, “While I work,
My thoughts go something like this:

"Zip! Walter Lippmann wasn’t brilliant today.
Zip! Will Saroyan ever write a great play?

"Zip! I was reading Schopenhauer last night.
Zip! And I think that Schopenhauer was right.

"I don’t wanna see Zorina.
I don’t wanna meet Cobina.
Zip!
I’m an intellect-ual.

"I don’t like a deep contralto,
Or a man whose voice is alto.
Zip!
I’m a het'roseck-sual.

"Zip! It took intellect to master my art.
Zip! Who the Hell is Margie Hart?

"Zip! I consider Dali’s paintings passé.
Zip! Will they make the Metropolitan pay?

"Zip! English people don’t say 'clerk,' they say 'clark.'
Zip! Anybody who says 'clark' is a 'jark.'

"I adore the great Confucius,
And the lines of luscious Lucius.
Zip!
I am so ecletic.

"I don’t care for either Mickey,
Mouse or Rooney makes me sicky.
Zip!
I’m a little hectic.

"Zip! My artistic taste is classic and dear.
Zip! Who the Hell’s Lili St. Cyr?"


Zip
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Written for “Pal Joey”
"Zip" was introduced by Jean Casto.
For the highly successful revival of "Pal Joey" in 1952, the song was sung by a certain Elaine Stritch.




On Hegel





Hegel founded reality by describing it.

-- Me. <--> I actually said this

08 September 2015

Here's a funny poem <--> this is the title


Here's a funny poem <--> this is the title


Hey. Here's a funny poem
I found in the 17th
Century. It doesn't matter,
So, you can stop reading now,

Because your experience
And the past have zero
Connection, whatsoever.
You're so cool; it's too cool: Anyways,

The poem goes like this: You
Are stuck in a poem: Not of your
Own devising: And that: Is the
Power of Poetry: Surprise!

Ha! And. Fuck you! Ha, ha!
You asshole, are you still
Reading this? You are.
You're mad. I can always

Tell. I can always tell that
You are an incredible
Asshole. Thank you for
Reading. I love you.

L. Steve Schmersal, Here's a funny poem <--> this is the title, September 2015.

Sound Image: Bernard Herrmann: Fahrenheit 451



So, I belong to the Bernard Herrmann Society page on Facebook--as you should--and Dirk Wickenden, of Kent, published this beautiful appreciation of Herrmann's work on François Roland Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451.

It is a thing we can't talk about, exactly: this intersection among image, music, and idea. Sound-image. Saussure spoke--as we know from his students' notes--of the sound-image, but we never seem to speak of the incredible accomplishment of the great score-writers and their attempt--sometimes well-intentioned and failing, sometimes better than the image being supported--to further the diegesis, the image, the audience, the now-place; the flavor, the texture, the smell--yes, I said the smell--and the possibility of film through sound. The image, somehow, as sound. Sound-image.

Herrmann may have been the sublime possibility, suggestion, and ending of all these intractable ideas. 

This clip is incandescently gorgeous. It sounds very much like Bernard Herrmann. It is a repetition without being a canon. It is as though every time the theme comes back again, the composer can't let it go. It is the most searchingly wonderful passage. I love it.

Please, listen to this. I wrote to Dirk Wickenden, today, just to ask to quote him, so you could read him. Just so you could listen.

Dirk Wickenden writes:
Fahrenheit 451: In this one cue, supporting a closing montage, Herrmann manages to comment on the characters' feelings of love for books and knowledge, the possible emerging love of the two main characters and the melancholy feelings of a group of people who are trying to keep the essence of an author's words alive. It is beautiful but sad at the same time.

29 August 2015

Anymore



Anymore

I no longer believe in truth, anymore,
Nor time, nor family, nor human relationships, anymore.
I only believe in cash, anymore,
Because it is the only thing, anymore, that matters, anymore

I don't believe in poetry, anymore, or people or art or me, anymore
I no longer believe that anything matters, anymore, but money, anymore, anymore
And I'm okay with that
And I'm okay with the fact,
That that is always what you wanted from me
I'm okay that you have broken me
I'm okay with that

I'm okay that I am cash to you, anymore,
And that just is all I have ever been
To you
It is all I have ever been, anymore,
And I'm okay with that

I am okay that you are only cash to me
But only for the first time, anymore,
To me, and
I am okay with that

And I am okay with that
That I am okay with that
I am okay with that

L. Steve Schmersal, Anymore, August 2015

06 August 2015

Top Car, Freeze Car, Fremont, OH



Top Car, Freeze Car, Fremont, OH

We ran up the hill.
Car from the top:
We all must race down;
Car from the bottom:

Froze us still:
Top car: freeze car.
At the top of the
Hill lay an unused

Rail track; the bottom:
Gramma's house, but
Also beyond. The boundaries
Were moveable and

Moved. The Elders often
Played with us.
The ghost of my
Future, forty-seven-

Year-old self yells, "Run,
Run, you motherfuckers!
Run!" They don't listen.
They don't know any

Better. How could
They? Those Widmans,
Those Elders, running,
Or not running, up

Or down, Park Avenue.
Run up, make a left
And go direct to
Spiegel Grove and

The Hayes Museum: hills
Full of snow for sledding
In the memories of
Our parents' parents. Ohio.

Our parents lived far
Outside of town, where
There was no sledding
Only flat Ohio, work,

Work, fields, words, grapes,
Cows, and popcorn. I
Return to that house in Fremont:
My mother kissing my

Grandfather goodbye on
The porch, the railing
Hardly higher, now, than my
Knee, in a picture, on

Her wedding day, in
My mind. I wander that
House, in my dreams,
While trying to fall

Asleep; my grand-
Mother's mind, so simple,
So full of snapdragons;
Pink, home-made apple

Sauce, hot in the bowl at
Dinner; lemon meringue
Pies; marbles popping in
The kettle; basement dirt floor;

Lightning rods, glass spheres;
Fourteen, hand-sewn, Christmas
Stockings lining the dark,
Shiny stair rail; fireflies; attic

Stairs; old prom dresses
In a musty trunk; her mind, so
Huge, so much bigger
Than us: so loving and

Careful: a structure,
Far-reaching, far bigger
Than the Internet.
I can't tell where her

Mind leaves off and
Mind begins. My
Aunt mentioned she
Was a worrier before

Her funeral--and so
We all are, we
Widmans. Fear
Is Love. Love

Is Space. Space
Is Time. She
Loves us
Now, here. I

Walk this
House, now. I.
I, I, I, I.
I.

L. Steve Schmersal, Top Car; Freeze Car, Fremont, OH, July 2015





14 July 2015

The Night City



The Night City

The Night City girds,
It blooms, itself.
The Night City knows.
You don't know.

You wander
The Night City.
The Night City worries about you.
You don't worry.

The Night City expands
In unconsciousness.
The Night City is tall.
You are not tall.

Are you you or
The Night City?
The Night City doesn't care.
You don't care.

The Night City's
Leaden circles beat
Against your skin and mind.
The Night City has no mind.

The Night City blooms,
It leans, it watches, it knows.
The Night City burns.
You burn.

L. Steve Schmersal, The Night City, July 2015


04 July 2015

The Shelmstress Poems III: Suicide Ditty



Classic Shelmstress! This one is very hard to find, but I was lucky enough that an old friend was looking out for it as well. I first read it in grad school at OSU and have been trying to find it again ever since--its Rodgers and Hart echoes, which occur throughout Shelmstress' work, keep nagging at me till I find them again.

Thank you, Armando, for sending this on.

Suicide Ditty

Hi. It's me again,
Hi, it's not me. Hell-
O, or hi. Hey. Ho.
Nobody writes his
Song for me, heigh-ho:

Who cares? Thirty-odd
Years demonstrating
Explanations and
Exhortations, some
Defense-formations;

Trying, showing, and
Trying to show what
Ever: things: any
Thing; in this place where
I don't think or know

Or want anything
For myself, in this
Place of my great un-
Knowingness, where I
Drop, with a ripple--

Or not--across your
Great knowledge, where you
Know everything, where
My me-ness is as
A nothingness, where

I sink beneath your
Wisdom like a stone.
You locked me in some
Safety deposit
Box, in the basement

Of a bank, on a
Shelf in your closet,

In some universe,
Where I don't exist.

Calvé Shelmstress, Suicide Ditty, 1977

19 June 2015

On the Melancholy of Los Angeles





It was the second time I'd flown into LAX.

The day was late, the sun was setting, and the plane pulled itself across the low sky over countless suburban ranch houses, each with a single, very tall palm tree in the front yard, each palm like an enormous Bob-Barker microphone.



The sky was orange and blue, the light was all-golden, and all I could think about was of the countless beautiful people who had come to Los Angeles to be movie stars, didn't, met each other, moved into homes like these, and had beautiful children. It was the most dire pronouncement on humanity, and it suddenly made me feel an undefinable emotion for this town of dreams, this town of broken dreams.

I had thought that town was New York. I know New York really is the town of broken dreams, now--they are different dreams, though, broken in different ways for different dreamers of different dreams--but then, I condescended to this other proposition, which I still, by the way, believe, entirely. "Los Angeles" just means "The Angels," it is only its proximity to English that we feel it to be the city of lost angels. Which, of course, it very much is, as well.

The capital of the 19th Century was Paris--they say (Walter Benjamin may have been the first)--and New York, the capital of the 20th. Los Angeles was foretold to be the capital of the 21st. I think we all know this optimism was misplaced. The capital of the 21st Century will be outside the United States, probably in China, or some other sleeping giant our leaders have neglected to identify correctly. It wouldn't be the first time and it certainly won't be the last. I digress.


The first time I came to LA, it was to visit two friends who lived there. I visited the same friends the second time, as well, several years later. The first time was in the late 1990s, and I stayed with an ex, sleeping on the couch, at his basement apartment in (the, to me, ironically-enough named) Manhattan Beach--he and his boyfriend had sex on the bed next to the couch on the second morning, which I slept through. The three of us went to a West Hollywood bar, so I could take in the local fauna: a place where I, quite literally, looked like no one else--long hair, beard, an old, black Ohio State tank top, chest hair. I don't think I ever felt so completely invisible in my life, so studiously I was ignored. Recounting it later, for years, I dismissively described the experience by saying I had "too much texture" for LA. I now think that assessment was completely wrong for being so correct. The only person I didn't know who engaged with me was a doctor from New Orleans on a tour of California hospitals and cities, looking for a new world after his residency. Reader, he ended up in San Francisco, but to tell you how I know that would require another paragraph I'm unwilling to write, but I will say that I never saw or had contact with him again.

After these minor mis-non-adventures, I stayed with the other friend, a lawyer from Akron I met in Chicago, who lived in Beverly Hills. It was he who told me that LA would be the capital of the 21st Century, as he drove me around his city in his Cadillac one night, a gin and tonic in his lap. He was impressed that when stopping at a gas station, I cleaned his car windows with the station squeegee, while he filled his car tank. I felt like I was on the cover of a 1960s science fiction novel: a crashed spaceship, half submerged in the tundra of a dead planet under a black, starry sky. I left Los Angeles believing it to be the loneliest place on earth.


The third time I went to LA, my brother's wife was living there, with my brother. I was there for work, staying at an ornate and old, haunted hotel, where the first Oscars were held, in the neglected downtown. I was within walking distance of an amazing indoor market that has tons of produce, sea food, and many dead animals, all perfect for eating, and all at great prices. I had an interaction with a stranger in my huge hotel room, which proved unsatisfying. 

One night, a close friend and I went to visit my brother's wife and my brother at their home in the hills surrounding a park. After a time, we decided to go for a drive to, first, a favorite taco cart off an empty supermarket parking lot. Everything we ate was delicious. I got one tongue and one intestine taco. I wouldn't have had it any other way. 

Then we drove to a strange French/French-American restaurant, which was decorated more or less in the style of my parents' ancient Toledo Tudor house, circa 1976, only with a lot more deep reds in the palette--it was positively Medieval in the best of all possible ways. The food was great--we got frites and maybe something disgusting I would love--and drinks. A sessions-musicians band played classic rock with superb style. 

But the part I'm leaving out is what happened on the way. As the four of us wound down and up and around the hills around Echo Park, a fog clung to the tarmac; shrouded the lush, dark, tree branches, clinging like another layer of ghost-leaves upon the leaves; and hung as sheets on a line at every dip or decline in the road. The car windows were open and the air was cool, damp, succulent, full of spectres, and scented with some indefinable sense of danger. It was then that I remembered that Los Angeles is the mother of film noir. And I suddenly felt a rush of love for this strange, sad, fabulous, beautiful, spooky town of dreams and broken dreams.



And now, for the song.


Screenwriter's Blues

Exits to freeways twisted like knots
on the fingers
Jewels cleaving skin between
breasts

Your Cadillac breathes four hundred horses over blue lines
You are going to Reseda to make love to a model from Ohio
Whose real name
you don't know

You spin
like the Cadillac was overturning down a cliff 
on television

And the radio is on 
And the radioman is speaking
And the radioman says 
women were a curse
So men built 
Paramount studios
And men built 
Columbia studios

And men built 
Los Angeles

It is 5 a.m. 
and you are listening 
to Los Angeles

It is 5 a.m. 
and you are listening 
to Los Angeles

And the radioman says 
it is a beautiful night out there
And the radioman says
rock and roll lives
And the radioman says 
it is a beautiful night out there 
in Los Angeles
You live
in Los Angeles 
and you are going to Reseda
We are all in some way or another going to Reseda someday 
to die

And the radioman laughs 
because the radioman 
fucks a model, too

Gone savage 
for teenagers with automatic weapons and boundless love
Gone savage 
for teenagers who are aesthetically pleasing
In other words fly 
Los Angeles beckons
The teenagers 
to come 
to her 
on buses

Los Angeles loves love

It is 5 a.m. 
and you are listening to Los Angeles

It is 5 a.m. 
and you are listening to Los Angeles

I am going to Los Angeles 
to build a screenplay about
Lovers who murder each other

I am going to Los Angeles 
to see my own name on a screen
Five-feet-long and luminous

As the radioman says
it is 5 a.m.
and the sun has charred
The other side of the world 
and come back to us
And painted the smoke over our heads 
an imperial violet

It is 5 a.m., and you are listening to Los Angeles
It is 5 a.m., and you are listening to Los Angeles

You are lissstening
You are lisssstening
You are lisssssstening
You are lissssssstening
You are lissssssstening
You are lisssssssstening
You are lisssssstening
You are lisssssssstening
You are lisssssssstening
You are lissssssstening
You are lissssssstening
You are lissssssssstening
You are lisssssstening
You are lissssss-
tening

To Los Angeles



"Screenwriter's Blues" is track #7 on the album, Ruby Vroom, and track #1 on the album, Lust In Phaze: The Best Of Soul Coughing. It was written by Michael Doughty, Mark Degliantoni, Yuval Gabay, and Sebastian Steinberg. They were Soul Coughing.


01 June 2015

On Paul Simon's "America"


Paul Simon's account of two lovers on a Greyhound bus journey. which in a few deft strokes of imagery juxtaposes the mixed-up emotions of young love against the passing scenery glimpsed through the window, transforming personal confusion into a metaphor for a country in search of itself. 
Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat. We smoked the last one an hour ago.... 
From its hushed, hummed introduction, through its near symphonic middle section, to its poignant, fading end, America is a true masterpiece.
-- Mick Brown, London Telegraph

I actually prefer the stripped-down (more) acoustic versions of this song to the overworked arrangement of the original, like this one from the 1981 Central Park concert, which I got on vinyl, while still in grade school, I think for Easter. It might have been Christmas. Anyway, I listened the shit out of the two disc set for years and have imprinted on my mind, forever, all the rotten patter ("Well, it's GREAT to DO a neighborhood concert....") with which Simon insisted on testing the audience's good will, all night. He's like an old comic, dying on stage, continuously, but too stubborn to give up on the promise of finally landing a line the audience is supposed to find funny.

Despite this recurrent, distracting, and cringe-worthily awful factor--which you keep trying to forget, hoping, even when you've heard the album a million times, that he'll get the message and just stop it--I feel that the Central Park concert album is a gem, recorded a decade after the guys split up in 1970, it seems, at Simon's insistence, (according to Garfunkel's recent, also cringe-worthy interview in The Guardian). I've always known, especially from the copious photographs in the liner notes and art of the old albums, that Paul Simon and Arthur Garfunkel had been best friends in high school, but sort of hated each other, in whatever present time in question currently under discussion, but despite the occasional affectionate reference to each other that I've gleaned from interviews--affection, which, of course, I'm looking for and want--my overriding impression of the two of them, after so many years, is that they're both impossible, wounded narcissists I would not want to share a meal with. I'm also okay with being wrong with this impression.

Anyway, I wanted to say something nice about this song. Kathy Chitty, Simon's Welsh girlfriend from his first London sojourn, accompanied Paul to the U.S. in 1964 when producer, Tom Wilson, required that Simon return to the United States to finalize mixes and artwork for Simon & Garfunkel's debut studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.. Instead of working on his first studio release, Simon embarked on a five-day road excursion with Chitty, out to Michigan and back to New York, in September of that year.

One of the things I love about this song is the bittersweet--melancholic, really--diminution from the naively confident optimism of the opening declaration, which is filled with the knowingness and unearned magnanimity of the young, tying in a knot the nod toward traditional marriage which unites monetary fortunes; the thrilling unknown of their combined fates, which seem simultaneously full of the joy of infinite possibility and the acknowledged, but woefully underappreciated, possibility of adversity (or of banality or of boredom) that this compound Fortune may disclose or not; and the signal social rebelliousness and sexual freedom of the era, in which marriage is rejected as the bond between two people in favor of a looser, bondless bond, heedless and disdainful of the traditional contract, certain that their enthusiasm for each other, alone, can structure and sustain this relationship according to their own, probably not closely-examined, rules.

Paul Simon had a special knack for evoking the pensive, imprecise, confused and confusing, enveloping ambiguity--the unmooredness--that alarmingly discolors our understanding of ourselves and the world, ourselves in the world, when our certainty arrives at an entirely unexpected turn or insight, disappointment or unintelligibility. And we experience it, physically, as a nausea, as our emotions overwhelm the body by suddenly being so clearly not separate from the somatic in the way we have grown used to parsing them. The final moments of Mike Nichols' 1967 film, The Graduate--for which Paul Simon wrote much of the score--provide a vivid example of this kind of disturbing event, when Ben "saves" Elaine from her own wedding, barricades her angry family and all the wedding attendees in the church, and the two of them run down the drive of the church together, laughing, with Elaine in her white wedding gown, and jump on a dusty old bus, without paying, make their way to the back, sit down--smiles still on their faces--and then in a long shot that closes the film, regard each other, not knowing where the bus is going, or what they are going to do next, or even perhaps if they want to be with one another.

In America, the narrator and Kathy, set out with a somewhat blithe promise of commitment to each other, provisions in the form of cigarettes and over-sweetened junk food, and the notion of a, perhaps larky, adventure to discover America for themselves, together. But as the song progresses and builds, it all falls apart: the simple freedom of their "quest"; their easy certainty about--and ability to relate to--each other; meaning, itself; and all the things they took for granted when they started this trip. The journey, the whole experience, takes on an indeterminate cast of danger, recklessness, and an anxious loneliness. Jokes fall flat; the two protagonists--it might not be too much to suggest that they have, in a visceral sense, become antagonists--retreat inward and away from each other, as Kathy reads her magazines (not, certainly not, his magazines, an unexpressed distinction that also deftly articulates the yawning void between the genders, a hitherto unimagined reality for this young couple) as the narrator gazes wordlessly out the window. The narrator makes banal statements about feeling lost to Kathy, which take on a sudden profundity in the song, and not just because the time he confesses this to her is when he knows she's asleep. By the end of the piece, the alienation of our two protagonists has begun to represent a larger significance that includes the nation, America, itself, and its citizens. And so the narrator has gone from broad, bold declarations encompassing self-knowledge and love, the future and fate, to numbly counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. I do not think it would be too much to suggest that we've all--all of us--been there, in one way or another, at one time or another.

The song has an interesting--yet familiar, very Simoneon--structure of juxtaposition and non sequitur. And, after finding the lyrics, as posted on Paul Simon's website, I better understood its placement of attribution, which is--and should be and should remain--ambiguous when listening to it. For example, I have always heard the narrator ending his statement to Kathy in the second verse at "Michigan seems like a dream to me now." But Simon has it go to the end of the verse as:


“Kathy,” I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now;
It took me four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw
I’ve come to look for America.”

In this case, we are presented with a conundrum, a mystery, in the switch from "we" to "I," and the clear attribution to the narrator in conversation with Kathy that he--and only he--took four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw. Perhaps they didn't travel to Michigan and back to New York together, or the narrator, is referencing an earlier trip Midwest and back compared to this one. The song was released in 1972. Kathy Chitty and Paul Simon took their road-trip in 1964. In 1966, Paul Simon played a festival in Saginaw. Is the Paul who wrote the song, at some point, perhaps almost ten years later, mis-remembering his post-Kathy roadtrip as prior rather than post another Saginaw excursis? I do not know. When listening to the song, this placement of "I" after "we" seems to signify a breakdown--as part of a gathering breakdown in the song--between the narrator and "Kathy." In reading Paul Simon's posted lyrics--which contain at least one spelling mistake: "Kathy, I’m lost," I said, thought [sic] I knew she was sleeping.--we fall into another territory, which we will fail to be able to parse here, in terms of biography, anyway. In terms of literary analysis, it will stand as an ambiguity.

While lingering over the thorny question of attribution, let us examine the other place where it remains unclear unless we look at the quotation marks Paul Simon has provided for us--who knows when? In the fourth stanza, someone--we assume the narrator--opens with, Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat. Now, we may, or may not, attribute the next line to the same speaker, We smoked the last one an hour ago. Neither line is attributed in the heard text of the song, but Simon's web-published lyrics clearly assign the lines to two separate speakers by use of separate quotation demarcations:

“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat.”
“We smoked the last one an hour ago.”

Tradition--and certainly David Bowie, in his performance found below--gives the line to Kathy. But although the lyrics clearly indicate two people speaking, it is far from clear who is speaking which line. In any event, this is the only place "Kathy" speaks in her own voice in the song--excepting the observation about the man in the gaberdine suit, which occurs without quotation marks in the third stanza, interestingly, the bridge--we just don't know, in this case, which is the only case in which she speaks, which line is hers. Welcome to literary analysis, which sometimes is less about what we know than, very usefully, about what we don't know, but neither of which we can begin to ascertain unless and until we assess the knowable.

For myself, as a fan, a listener, and as a critic, I prefer the more ambiguity option. I am much more comfortable with not knowing who says what or where the quotations begin and end than I am knowing where the author placed those boundaries. When we listen to a song, we can't see quotation marks, except where they may be implied and where our imagination places them--and that placement is notoriously, and expansively, usefully, meaningfully changeable.

Very briefly, we will perform two two, perhaps three, breakdowns to explore some of the juxtapositions Paul Simon mobilizes in this song.

Let's begin with a cursory comparison of first lines, and they are:

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together;" S1
“Kathy,” I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh, S2
Laughing on the bus, Bridge/S3
“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat.” S4
“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping. S5

Every stanza--excepting the bridge--begins with an address, two of them to Kathy by name. We assume that whenever quotation marks occur, that it is to Kathy the narrator is speaking--though the narrator is always speaking, throughout this song, and therefore the song is also addressed to us, or to anyone listening, which is therefore us. 

[SIDEBAR: Friends like to give me shit when I employ the plural. I am not referencing the "royal we," in these cases, nor would I, ever. That royal usage is reserved for persons or "presences" who have more than one body, which is much too complicated to go into here. The "we" one applies in scholarly situations, is a respectful acknowledgement that a person is writing to and from a community of scholars and/or readers and/or listeners. A private letter is addressed to an individual. In most cases a poem, a novel, or a song--particularly when it has been published to a wide audience--is addressed to a plurality, and once you have entered that plurality, it is humble and polite to denote your placement in that social space. The song is not addressed to me--or even Kathy, anymore--but to all of us. And while my observations may arise from a personal engagement with this piece, those meanings are available to us all; and therefore we say "we" when discussing them with others. I am stuck in the middle with you about these things; we are bound to agree and disagree with one another about them. This is acceptable, normal, and unavoidable. In fact, it is preferable, because without disagreement, we would never learn anything new.]

Each first line takes us into a slightly different world, and each world is one slightly further away from the other. This should be clear by the gulf we see between the sentiment of Let us be lovers versus "Kathy, I'm lost," I said--and the second lines take us even further into each world, in each case. This has been covered already, but it is worth remarking again on the movement from being lovers to being lost, and this is effected most powerfully in the change from "we" to "I" and with the placement of certain images.

Look at the progression--or regression or retrogression--from "we" to "I." There is only one "I" in the first stanza. There is only one "we" in the rest of the song, and it occurs in the fourth stanza and seems to be attributed to Kathy. The shift between the first and second stanza's last lines is already stark, if you pay attention to it, with the shift from 

we... walked off to look for America 

to 

I've come to look for America

The rest of the song is filled with I, she, I, and me. For the narrator, "we" has dissolved, not only into its constituent parts, but even more so into the narrator alone: to a loneliness that is a lostness, even though he is, tacitly, not alone. And finally, in the end, which is the chorus, this turns into "they" and doesn't even include the narrator or Kathy, anymore. The dislocation has moved outside of them, and outside the bus, to no longer include even them anymore. 

A moon arises out of nowhere in this song, over an open field--an empty field--reflecting suddenly the internal sentiment the narrator feels, we assume, after he and Kathy stop speaking about the last thing they had to share--a cigarette--which is gone. It packs a whallop, that pale moon over a darkened nighttime landscape. Such emptiness. Not the sun revealing all, but the moon revealing only its singularity and little else, just darkness, and that image discloses, reflects, reveals, and makes possible, the brutally confessional moment of being with the beloved, but lost. Lost, lost, lost. And the narrator counts the cars of the others he assumes have also "come"--not gone, but come--like them, like her, like him, like them, to look for America. He and Kathy and all those people on the turnpike have gone into America (perhaps from New York, or wherever), but they are in it now--they have come into America... and they can't find it, or themselves. 

The final sentiment seems to me to run something like this: 

I am lost, I say, to no one in particular, 
to no one awake or listening, except, 
perhaps, only to myself, perhaps,
if, even, I
can hear it.

America
by Paul Simon

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together;
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And walked off to look for America.

“Kathy,” I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now;
It took me four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw
I’ve come to look for America.”

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces.
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy.
I said, “Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera.”

“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat.”
“We smoked the last one an hour ago.”
So, I looked at the scenery, she read her magazines.
And the moon rose over an open field.

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping.
“I’m empty and I'm aching and I don’t know why.”
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,
And they’ve all come to look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,

And they’ve all come to look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.

[Ed. Note: Except for the quotation marks, I have fudged with much of the punctuation and corrected spelling errors. Look for Paul Simon's version, here.]


Central Park Concert:




The original:




First Aid Kit on Letterman:




Sting, on tour in Philly:




The great Graham Nash:




David Bowie:




The classic Yes studio evidence:

05 May 2015

On Watching "The Walking Dead" III



It's the end of the world. The Governor's come to stage a reverse-prison break and died for his efforts. Our team has been splintered into some of the most unlikely pairings as they search for one another, hoping against the worst. Beth--the good, little girl--and Daryl--the bad, good ol' boy--find a shitty, backwoods moonshine joint, just like Daryl grew up in. They get drunk, they share stories, they bond, and at Beth's suggestion they burn it down, with a stack of useless money and moonshine. And as they watch it burn, at Beth's insistence, the good girl and the bad man give the finger to the past. It is the sweetest most moving employment of the bird that I've ever seen. The Mountain Goats play Up the Wolves in the background.

04 May 2015

On The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Mahagonny



Michael White, writing in the NYTimes on March 13, had one entirely accurate thing to say about the new Royal Opera House, Covent Garden production, in English, of Kurt Weill's masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), which I saw yesterday afternoon at Symphony Space as part of the National Theatre (not exactly, but that's perfectly okay) Live broadcast series: "This is a piece whose chronicling of modern life is so exact, it functions more like reportage than reimagining."

I count this as my sixth Mahagonny (eighth, if you include audio recordings). It's an enormously difficult piece to pull off, and reviewers of it, and much of Weill's work (or Brecht's, for that matter), tend toward expressing disappointment that what they're seeing is not the perfect production they seek, it seems. White does the same, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, instead of appreciating how far and how well a production actually gets it right, and thus turns away potential audiences from this hugely important work.

Every performance is different, of course, so I did not see the particular one reviewed here. Former ingenue, von Otter was wonderful, cold, laser-sharp focused, and frightening as the Widow Begbick, foundress of the pleasure town, Mahagonny, and the rest of the cast was quite strong. The production starts small and grows progressively lavish--if "lavish" includes scores of shipping containers stacked to a horizon-obliterating height--with clever, cutting edge projection effects. The first act showed the most exciting--I mean, riveting--account I've ever seen of this opera. But what blew me away the most was how clearly America (and the world) has turned into Mahagonny. "Prescient" doesn't come close to describing the alignment between what late Capitalism has accomplished--and continues to do so--and the savage world-critique, the weltanschauung-critique, Weill and Brecht fashioned, which still seemed bizarre and off-putting to me a handful of years ago, and now reads like an aesthetically-heightened newspaper, with some of the most gorgeous, thrilling music ever composed for an opera stage.

16 April 2015

On Watching "The Walking Dead" II

This image is a metaphor for the show. As such. The dream-like nature of the moment did not prevent me from weeping.

They measure you by what they can take from you. By how they can use you to live.

Meanwhile, back at the end of the world in Georgia, a metaphor is being deployed. And that metaphor is explicating the conflict between, what I would call, Love and right-wing Conservative politics and policies and policing.

On the one hand, we have Our Team that we're rooting for, going through it. Like REALLY going through it. Struggling to find ways to maintain community, friendship, family--and therefore Love--and not turn into the others: not the undead, mindless destroyers, but the living ones, who give up on everything that marks civilization, as such--in a bid, not just to survive, but to dominate--secure in the belief that domination and survival are only coextensive and/or co-Terminus, instead of considering the possibility of them being coterminous.

Rick and Carol's incredibly even, often dead-seeming stare not to the contrary--a stare that, in contrast to most of their actions, only marks the success of their struggle to stay human--our team offers a very textured, layered series of responses regarding one's self-identity and one's self-delusion (often the same thing), one's ability to create meaning, one's love for one's sister or brother, whether one is one's sister's keeper, and whether one is responsible for civilization, or not. I hold that we are responsible for all these things. And I hold to this response-ability, not out of some misplaced nostalgia for a better time in the past, but out of a misplaced interest, desire, and demand for the future. In fact, I require it. I require it of me and I require it of you. 

One's ability to create meaning is core to this metaphor, not as the problem of not creating meaning--a problem we don't have--but out of the necessity and the endless human imperative to do so. We cannot not create meaning. What separates us from the animals and insects--from what we presume to call "Nature"--is meaning-production, in all of its ambiguities, vagaries, and lies. This is the essence of language. 

The issue is not that other animals don't have symbol-systems or feelings--of course, they do--it is just that our symbol-system is shot through with a kind of ambiguity and play that I believe is unknown to our animal friends. Cats are the Japanese of animals; Americans are the dogs; yet, for all the richness of the animal symbol-systems, they pale before ours. It's not their fault. The Axial Age marked a simultaneous and gigantic leap "forward" from them, and we don't know why--no, we don't; not exactly; not really--nor whereto and to what end, though some of the more depressing indicators are clear. 

Certainly, animals have their tools, and their feelings, and their language. Notice their industrial revolution. Marvel at their gridlocked, ideology-consumed, plutocrat-run political systems. Look at their nation-states and their wars, their weapons of mass destruction, their hedge markets and stock exchanges; their banks, pharmaceutical companies; their mustard gas and guns and hydrogen ordnance; their drug addictions and world-wide religious affiliations; look at their laws; look at their writing, their theater and symphonic works and dance vocabulary; their poetry and trash fiction; look at their Jim Crow laws and concentration camps; look at their schools; their utopian claims and their dystopic interventions; look at their lawyers, prostitutes, drug dealers, accountants, lobbyists, and markets; behold their polemics and rhetorics, logics and philosophies; their intense and subtle disagreements about these things; witness their drive for nothing but money; witness their money, their lotteries and casinos, their mafia; their shamans, soothsayers, clergy, and holy men; witness their mystics; and grow to appreciate their full-scale dismissal of climate change, which affects them least of all since they live outside: they have no inside, no insulation, no thermostat, and no aeroplane to take them on vacation; they have no vacation; they have no work, no movies, no television, and no internet. They are fundamentally not like us. So, please, stop boring me with your comparisons to the animals and insects; please stop telling me how much we're alike, because we are not. Your statements are only metaphors as justifications for your behavior--and The Walking Dead is shot through with these comparisons from suitably unsuitable characters--yet I've never seen any "natural" thing do what you do. No; we're stuck with each other, you and I, in this world not created by animals, but modified by animals with an awareness of ambiguity but an unshakable need for certainty, most especially when that certainty is the most deadly thing on the planet. 

The Axial provides evidence for humans employing a new facility for tool-use, including language, which is, after all, also a tool, but hardly only a tool--it is a tool like no other: it is an environment: it is the substance and structure of thought itself: we swim in it and it swims in us. One assumes, in comparison to the animals, that the Axial allowed us to leave the pseudo-psychosis of one-to-one correlations and certainty behind, and embrace the inherent ambiguity of large symbol systems, which are not and never have been set and clear, except to the psychotic among us. I say this is no way to impugn the truly psychotic, who rarely participate in the genocidal-level, sociopathic, blood sport that I will attribute to what I am choosing to call the waking dead. And this is what this post is about.

I began this post saying that The Walking Dead details the various choices of Our Team, the dwindling and growing, waxing and waning, group of survivors clustered around Rick Grimes, who by season five, with his beard, has started to look like a hot cross between Jesus and God. There are other choices being detailed as well, in this employment of metaphor, and these, for the most part, do not involve Love. What we witness instead is the spectacle of humans going feral: humans in the wild, not just without civilization to keep them in check, but a demonstrable rejection of civilization. We are speaking of a different kind of discontent. Rather it is a new kind of contentment with savagery, with murder, cannibalism, and pleasure in these things. It is Schadenfreude articulated at the level of an ethos.

Over and over Our Team either comes across people or is come across by people who have made horrible choices--and Our Team has made HORRIBLE choices, too--but these others, the waking dead, only have it in for anyone else who crosses their path, in an Us Against Them, that must always and only end badly, must always end in Evil. Our Team actively resists this conclusion--and it is a conclusion, in every sense of the term--and we, as audience members, yell at the screen, "Kill them!" but they very rarely do. To us, the paranoia of the Zombie Apocalypse puts us more into the camp of the waking dead than Our Team. Their struggle with this question is the problem and the point.

Despite the blood and gore, which has become more intense, even personal, as the series progresses, despite the first two seasons during which the series explored what to do about the zombies--realizing that the zombies are not the text, are only occasionally the subtext of the show, but are the backdrop--the show is about the living, the living who choose to be dead, and the living who choose to not just not be the dead, but who choose to be the living. And for humans, choosing to be the living means always thinking, remembering to feel, and to build bonds based on Love not Death.

Now, the all or nothing, Us Against Them, every-man-for-himself, how-can-your-life-benefit-mine continuation of the destruction of the world of the others, of the waking dead--the very thing that Our Team exists as a site of resistance against, even with all their mistakes--is right-wing, Conservative politics, policies, and policing as we experience it today. It is the coldest, most frightening, death-loving machine the human race has yet produced. It produces the end of civilization and the end of the world without even seeming to believe in either of those things, which is terrifying. And the dreams which are narratives on our television screens and in our comic books--even more remarkable for having been produced by corporations, the great engines of our destruction and political destitution--offer both a critique and an alternative. Must we get to the place on display in The Walking Dead before can realize alternatives are possible?


15 April 2015

Poetry/Jazz Appreciation Month II: Lilac Wine



Famously, there are at least two distinctly American art forms: the Broadway Musical and, of course, Jazz--I also include The Blues in this short, proud, list, and rock and roll, which is white Blues.

It is not an accident that Jazz derives from the Black experience on this continent and the Musical from a specifically Jewish-American genius, evolving out of operetta, vaudeville, and music hall nonsense into its own real thing. These two American art forms--Jazz and Broadway--revolve around each other, nourishing each other, making each other even better, more beautiful, more feeling, more sophisticated, more complex. For at least half a century, Broadway music was popular music in the United States, and Jazz ran and ran with it.

Then we have Nina Simone.

In the hands of a true genius--a real American genius, like Simone--a little Broadway ditty becomes a threnody, an In Memoriam: You; In Memoriam: Love; In Memoriam: Me. No one makes this song speak the way she does and no one else can pull Death, so certainly, out of it in this way.

And so we continue our exploration of Jazz Appreciation Month and National Poetry Month.

Lilac Wine
James Shelton

I lost myself on a cool damp night.
Gave myself in that misty light.
Was hypnotized by strange delight
Under a lilac tree.

I made wine from the lilac tree.
Put my heart in its recipe.
It makes me see what I want to see,
Be what I want to be.

When I think more than I want to think,
Do things I never should do,
I drink much more than I ought to drink,
Because it brings me back you.

Lilac wine
is sweet and heady,
Like my love.
Lilac wine,
I feel I'm steady,
like my love.

Listen to me.
I cannot see clearly.
Isn't that he,
coming to me,
nearly
here?

Lilac wine
is sweet
and heady.
Where's
my love?
Lilac wine,
I feel
I'm steady.
Where's my love?

Listen to me,
why is everything
so hazy?
Isn't that he,
or am I going
crazy, dear?

Lilac wine,
I feel
I'm ready
for my love.
Feel
I'm ready
for
my love.


Poetry/Jazz Appreciation Month I: How Long Has This Been Going On?



April isn't just the cruelest month but also National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month. What more could we want to commemorate them than the Gershwins giving us a bit of both by way of the titanic Carmen McRae with "How Long Has This been Going On" (1928)? A strange song about being taken by surprise by one's own feelings of love--an amazing song! an amazing lyric! "Where have I been all these years?"

Lyrics aren't necessarily poetry, and yet they also are. And the Great American Songbook is full of, not just flashes, but full on lightning storms of brilliance. The idea of asking the beloved how long "this" has been going on is just mind-reeling. To me, anyway. Enjoy.

How Long Has This Been Going On?
George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin.

'Neath the stars, at bazaars
Often I've had to caress men.
Five or ten, dollars then,
I'd collect from all those yes-men.
Don't be sad, I must add,
that they meant no more than chess-men.

Darling, can't you see?
'Twas for charity?
Though these lips have made slips,
They were never really serious.
Who'd have thought, I'd be caught
In a state that's so delirious?

I could cry salty tears.
Where have I been all these years?
Listen you, tell me do:
How long has this been going on?

What a kick, how I buzz;
Boy, you click like no one does.
Listen sweet, I repeat:
How long has this been going on?

Dear, when in your arms I creep;
That divine rendezvous.
Don't wake me, if I'm asleep,
Let me dream that it's true.

Kiss me once, kiss me twice,
then once more:
That makes thrice.
Come on, and let's make it four.

What a break, for heaven's sake,
How long has this been going on?
What a break, for heaven's sake,
How long has this been going on?


23 March 2015

Jesus is Coming: a few songs about an old friend



I take a very long time putting together song lists of this sort. I began with the idea that Easter is coming, and that Jesus is Love. And so, I proceed through songs that explicitly mention the Lord but also love songs, with all of Love's disappointments, excitements, false leads, re-routs, blind faith, and Faith. This list leads through reversals, achievements, passions, angers, understandings, misunderstandings, word-associations, and deeply-felt connections.

To love Jesus is its own love affair; and we would do a lot better than to stop denying that that is the case. It's a long story, and it deserves all the backtracking, backsliding, intuition, and insight that comes with any long relationship. This is a very personal, perverse, and real grouping of songs on a theme. I hope you are able to enjoy it and understand it. 

Jesus is just alright with me, as long as he looks just like you.

And Jesus was a sailor,
When he walked upon the water,
And he spent a long time watching
From a lonely wooden tower,
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him,
He said, all men shall be sailors then,
Until the sea shall free them,

But he, himself, was broken,
Long before the sky would open,
Forsaken, almost human,
He sank beneath your wisdom,
Like a stone.

12 March 2015

On Watching "The Walking Dead"



A few years ago, my ex used to be annoyed at how the culture--its films, television, and narratives--had become overrun with vampires and zombies. I don't know what he thinks about it now, because I haven't asked him, but it seems clear that the futile fantasy of beauty, glamour, boredom, and power that is the undead vampire is on the wane (reality television, among other things) and zombies, the mindlessly persistent idea of us, as dead, as relentless consumers of everything, is ascendant--that and the sense of outlaw survivalism against the worst odds that we see in Sons of Anarchy, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, and, of course, The Walking Dead.

Our books, our comic books, our movies, and our television shows are our dreams, as a culture. Read them awake. Awaken.

07 March 2015

On Enfranchisement; On Suffrage



enfranchise

verb
en·fran·chise \in-ˈfran-ˌchīz, en-\

Full Definition of ENFRANCHISE
transitive verb

1: to set free (as from slavery)

2: to endow with a franchise: as

a : to admit to the privileges of a citizen and especially to the right of suffrage

b : to admit (a municipality) to political privileges or rights


suffrage

noun
suf·frage \ˈsə-frij, sometimes -fə-rij\

Full Definition of SUFFRAGE
noun

1: a short intercessory prayer usually in a series

2: a vote given in deciding a controverted question or electing a person for an office or trust

3: the right of voting : franchise; also : the exercise of such right


I. On The Law, Marriageability, and The Supreme Court

This begins with a very long sentence, inclusive of serial digressions on the topic:

While I have never had any significant personal interest in getting married and--less topical but still significant--I am critical of the prized, exemplary status accorded marriage culturally, and even more so of the economic and legal advantages awarded by the State to any two adult individuals--formerly white, formerly of the same skin color, and now formerly of differently sexed bodies (is it not interesting how discriminatory animus, as the Law itself, shows its sad obsession with excluding specific bodies from its irregular protections and its unearned patronage in this neat, capsule history?)--who, whether foolish or wise, whether loaded and living it up and leaving it in Las Vegas or sober at St Patrick's, decide, for any reason or no reason, for love or money or loneliness or status or spite, to claim their right to this contract that we call an institution, I nonetheless have never found the curiously overwrought desire in The Law to segregate same-sex adults from this contract (without entertaining even the condescending lip-service of "separate but equal") to be credulous or even intelligible.

I am less perplexed by the impulse two people may have to enunciate a ritual declaration of union between them than I am by the State's longstanding preoccupation with singling out this dual relation for its imprimatur, while other relationships and other adults, paired but unmarried or--Heaven forfend!--single--nearly all by dint of birth not among the 1% that enjoys the wealth of the nation--are effectively punished for their willful failure, or their legal ineligibility, to submit to this contract. And thus this structure makes a demand of the institution, a demand whose call is heard no less by those able to heed it under The Law's latest grudging concession of whom it will accept as a person (even then only under certain conditions and in specific locations) and those still shunned by its embrace and ridiculed by its exceptional promise--a promise it guards jealously in its bosom, as a child does with a secret or rather an old toy, carefully withheld from play by the merest interest from another child.

The value of the Other Body does not derive from the ban placed on its marriageability, rather the Body in question--though unmarked by any outward sign of its intrinsic, alien difference, except, of course, the same difference displayed by nearly everyone: the supposedly unified, immutable sex of the body itself, now cleverly redeployed as the mark of difference, of Cain, by its proximity to another body displaying the same mark--is the very reason for its exclusion from the contract. The spatial dimension, and the arena of the social, are thus conscripted to render the familiar strange, and theorize the discovery of essential difference, of identity, in an otherwise undifferentiatable body. It is through this guilt by association, this conspiracy theory, that the Law discerns the identity that marks this unmarked body. And this is how, as Foucault memorably demonstrated, the action, the crime, the trajectory of the act defines the past and future of the body, becomes an identity, the crime becomes the body itself--becomes the Other Body--or as the Bible clarified so much earlier in the King James, the Strength of Sin is the Law. And in these latter days the struggle for civil rights has effectively removed much of the need for policing, because now we nominate ourselves for the State. The act is eclipsed by the name. And the Law is still catching up to what this means in regard to its strictures, prejudices, and punishments.

But the weakness of the Law in this case is that it is based on the notion of Sin. It is not Sin that determines the Law, and despite the important genealogical relationship between Commandments and Religious Laws and the field of American Law, they in fact are not coextensive, rather they take a very different interest in a series of similar topics and dilemmas. And though under Religion these topics do not represent dilemmas, under the Law, they must.

But let us return to the question of the problematic, intractable, ungovernable Other Body that even though the Law has spent centuries trying to define, detect, dissect, and force into submission, this Other Body keeps slipping away, as the Law realizes and re-realizes that it has never had ethical ground to stand upon in the first place in this matter. The Law of Desire is not subject to the Law of Man. And despite the paucity of reference in history books it is surely as old as the oldest profession, which is not prostitution as the romantics would have us believe, but the profession of love.


II. On Intercession, The Marketplace, Voting Rights, Racism, and The Law

As a kind of late introduction, I should mention that I had always written the first part of this post--which is a repost-of-a-post--as a commentary on the nearly simultaneous release of two Supreme Court rulings, not one: the grudging concession to the unconstitutional status of parts of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) and the chronologically precedent evisceration--a much more important and far-reaching and enormously damaging ruling--of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The second always drained any pleasure from the first. I don't care a fig for same-sex marriage when the same week thousands of people are declared second-class citizens, unworthy of the right to vote in racist Southern states, and other places--places put on permanent watch for good reason, as they have shown in this aftermath! As soon as the 1965 law was declared obsolete and unnecessary, the very states in question pursued the exact actions prohibited by the law under which they were formerly bound. This is repugnant and embarrassing to the extreme for all Americans. I feel that today, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches in protest for the right to vote, it is only appropriate that I finally finish this post.

We are watching the fascinating conflict among, and intersection of, a series of Higher Court edicts, Legislative/Executive workarounds, Late Capitalist imperatives, animus-based Religious intractabilities, States vs Federal Rights issues, dilemmas of the Franchise, and Republican-Democratic open questions (not the political parties, I speak here of principles of democratically-elected representatives of a republic: "...and to the Republic for which it stands....") simultaneously coming home to roost. Where will it lead?

Let us begin with a certain kind of franchise, which is the only one anyone seems to care about, which is the business franchise, which allows us to sell to anyone, no matter how depraved they are. This is the foundation of Arizona's gubernatorial veto, which recognized the tacit and provisional LGBTQO "community" as a realistic, even necessary, factor in the marketplace. Yet why is the ability of same-sex couples to marry such a powerful factor in the marketplace of ideas and cash, when the ability of so-called "minority" bodies to participate in the electoral process is not equally or more powerful? I am baffled by this inconsistency. Are gay bodies white and not black? Are gay bodies monied and black bodies negligible? What moronic calculus accounts for this... this unspeakable idiocy? Under what jaundiced optic of The Law are black bodies allowed to marry but not to vote?--an optic that includes one's neighborhood and income bracket?

I realize now why I have taken so long to write about this: it is because my language fails before this pathetic Racism. It is Racism on its face; and The Law should hang its head in shame before this monstrous abdication of its essential role--its protection of fairness--in our society. And let all of you who say there is no Racism in American culture incline your heads in shame as well.

I'll write more later when I've cooled off.

07 February 2015

On the Wage Economy: Everything Old Isn't Exactly New Again, but It's a Start



Some people are actually beginning to remember another time when wage-gouging, profit, and the bottom line weren't the handbasket in which we were all riding to Hell. I call the following sensible wage logic "The Great A-Doy, Now." 

From the usually excellent New Yorker Financial Page, this time by James Surowiecki:

"...A substantial body of research suggests that it can make sense to pay above-market wages—economists call them 'efficiency wages.' If you pay people better, they are more likely to stay, which saves money; job turnover was costing Aetna a hundred and twenty million dollars a year. Better-paid employees tend to work harder, too. The most famous example in business history is Henry Ford’s decision, in 1914, to start paying his workers the then handsome sum of five dollars a day. Working on the Model T assembly line was an unpleasant job. Workers had been quitting in huge numbers or simply not showing up for work. Once Ford started paying better, job turnover and absenteeism plummeted, and productivity and profits rose.

"Subsequent research has borne out the wisdom of Ford’s approach. As the authors of a just published study of pay and performance in a hotel chain wrote, 'Increases in wages do, in fact, pay for themselves.' Zeynep Ton, a business-school professor at M.I.T., shows in her recent book, 'The Good Jobs Strategy,' that one of the reasons retailers like Trader Joe’s and Costco have flourished is that, instead of relentlessly cost-cutting, they pay their employees relatively well, invest heavily in training them, and design their operations to encourage employee initiative. Their upfront labor costs may be higher, but, as Ton told me, 'these companies end up with motivated, capable workers, better service, and increased sales.' Bertolini—who, as it happens, once worked on a Ford rear-axle assembly line—makes a similar argument. 'It’s hard for people to be fully engaged with customers when they’re worrying about how to put food on the table,' he told me. 'So I don’t buy the idea that paying people well means sacrificing short-term earnings.'”

Oh! And while we're on the subject, if you happen to run into Trickle-Down Economics (aka "Supply-Side") in your travels, please do it with your car--or please tell it to kindly go fuck itself. It doesn't work; it never worked; it only works for making rich people richer. It doesn't "trickle down" to us peons, rather Trickle-Down Economics (note the disingenuous use of the word "trickle") works like a series of rocket stages, employed to increase individual and corporate wealth only. Moreover, one can't have a supply that works without a viable working-to-middle class to provide the demand, unless you have free-reign--under international trade agreements--to seek low-wage laborers and "off-shore" markets to take the place of a viable American one. But hey, this is about livable wages--what a concept! Jesus is my Economist.

It's a short piece, and you can read the whole thing at NewYorker.com.