Is a vampire as old as he looks or as he feels?

John and Hank Green are the most delightful video bloggers ever to grace the extremely-small screen, a fact that I had forgotten in my year-and-a-half of blog absence.  This year-and-a-half was, coincidentally, also the time period in which I devoured the Twilight series, and then spent months and months hungover, trying to purge my soul of the bitter ideological aftertaste of my days of fevered vampire-werewolf enthrallment.

So suffice it to say that I fundamentally agree with every single word that John Green utters in the following video review of the Twilight phenomenon:

I am especially glad to hear someone else give voice to the misgivings that I so often feel in paranormal, YA-ish tales (Buffy and Twilight among them): why is this not statutory rape??? Why are we not at all troubled by the difference in maturity between the sixteen-year-old heroine and her ancient vampire/werewolf/godly lover?  Does this just go back to the romance trope of the experienced older man who brings a broad skill set and empowering expertise to care for the innocent maiden he wants? (Message: men's value = competent love- and decisionmaking, women's value = indecisive ignorance that guarantees their biddability and, shall we say, sexual focus.)  

Just put the age old reversal test to yourself: if the genders were inverted in these romantic relationships, and a century-old vampiress began to pursue a teenage boy, how would we as readers feel about that? (Careful now: we know how the teenage boy would feel - blessed by the gods.  But how would we feel about watching it happen?)

Ah Twilight, you've done it again.  Will you never stop turning me into a wizened old curmudgeon?

Sunday Salon: Calypso in January

Greetings, fellow Sunday Saloners!  This week has seen a colossal effort on my part to step up my blogging pace, a feat which is easier to manage during the part of the week in which I am not actually teaching.

What have I been up to all week long?

Well, there have been a few posts:
I have been embroiled in a marathon continuous reading of Homer's Odyssey, as I explained in "The Tears of Odysseus." In the end, this event was every bit as delightful as I hoped it would be. My group, ominously dubbed "Buck Naked on a Plank," was on from 11 p.m. to midnight on Friday, performing for a select crowd no doubt drawn in by the promise of our name.  And boy, did we deliver.  (Not, I hasten to add, to the point of total nudity.)

I had never realized how profoundly funny Book 5 is. It is the book in which Athena complains to the council of the gods that the immortal Calypso has hijacked Odysseus' fated homecoming, and is holding him in sexual captivity on her island Ogygia. (Calypso's named has all sorts of connotations of devouring concealment - she is generally assumed to represent the alluring danger of femininity and sexual thrall for Odysseus).  Zeus sends Hermes off to wrest Odysseus back from the loving arms of the nymph, who only gives him up after giving Hermes a thorough tongue-lashing for the gods' double-standard on mortal/godly relationships (A-OK for male gods, forbidden for goddesses).  Odysseus sets forth with Calypso's "help" and "blessing," only to be discovered by the vengeful Poseidon (still pissed about the blinding of his son, the Cyclops), who batters him with a storm until the sympathetic nymph Ino gives him a magical scarf that takes him safely to shore.  There he hides himself in the brush - like a coal burning overnight amidst a safe covering of ashes - and gets some much needed rest.

I was cast as the three immortal women who come to Odysseus' aid - Athena, Calypso, and Ino.  By the time he gets help from Ino at the end of the book, of course, he is thoroughly mistrustful of the reliability of divine aid.  After all, you never know when some too-perfectly timed assistance may end in years of sexual enthrallment on an island paradise.  It is only when Poseidon's storm destroys his ships and all of "divine Calypso's [other] gifts" (including the clothes that are weighing him down and drowning him, as Calypso's love has a tendency to do), that he makes use of Ino's hints.

I played Athena as a politician, carefully working the eternal senatorial negotiations of Olympos; Calypso as a conniving two-faced wretch who chokes on the word "wife" every time she talks about how glad she is to help Odysseus get back home; and Ino the Nymph as a eager dolphin who bobs gleefully at the edge of the hero's raft (this last improvised at the last moment in response to my colleague's dolphin-like chirping when I first popped buoyantly up at the periphery of his naval suffering).

Odysseus was a Newfie old-timer who spent more time discoursing on the harshness of fate with his tormented soul (played by a sock puppet in the shape of a friendly dragon) than talking to the goddesses who are trying to help him. Hermes did calisthenics and careful stretches before running about the auditorium, casting chairs this way and that.  Our chorus tossed lines back and forth between themselves with increasing urgency while describing the storm that Poseidon sends for Odysseus.

We left no entendre undoubled in Fagles's really profoundly sexual description of the storm (Odysseus rides the waves like a horse, stroking vigorously, and then rejoices to reach the land where men love their long oars. No, really.) At the point where Ino encourages Odysseus to cast aside Calypso's gifts (of clothing) and wear only her own magic scarf (of buoyancy?), our Odysseus ripped off his breakaway pants while the chorus sang a strip-club melody.

At the end, the MC said to the audience, "Well, I think a new standard has been set for us."

Then she said to us, "That was amazing! Gone is this idea that Homer is some work of high literature."

"That's our goal at the English Department" I replied. "Deflating high literature, one work at a time."

As a reward for our labors in the service of literature, we got this wonderful shirt, a shirt so implicitly troubling I am not sure I will ever be able to wear it out of the house.  But I will delight in it nonetheless:

What am I reading today?
  • My most vital task involves reading the first book in Samuel Beckett's trilogy of novels, Molloy, for a blogalogue with my friend JP.  He is reading them for his comp exams, and I have promised with delight to read it along with him and engage in a blog dialogue.  Then, as always, my true indolence shone through, and I fell terribly behind.  But now my blogalogue partner has posted his first entry on the trilogy, and advertised Molloy to me as "the greatest novel I have ever read," significantly increasing my eagerness to read it.
  • I am in the midst of Amanda McCabe's historical romance, The Winter Queen, which takes my romance reading out of the 19th century for once and into the court of Elizabeth I.  To be honest, this is one of my favorite places to be.  It is a period I was obsessed with as a child, when (and I hope you appreciate how embarrassing this revelation is to me) I could recite the entirety of Elizabeth's "I have the heart of a king, and a king of England too" speech.  Yup.  Sure could.
  • I am within forty pages of the end of The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equitorial Pacific, so I anticipate the delightful contrast of cycling between the Beckett, The Winter Queen and the tales of remote Kiribati that make up this non-fiction book.
Apart from this, I want to finish my rereads of The Bacchae and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead for class this week.  We are having a great discussion of tragedy as a species of ritual sacrifice in my Intro to Drama class, and of how game play relates to ideas about providence/fate, luck, moral choice, and probability in my post-56 British drama class.  Is it possible to enjoy games of luck, I asked them, if you don't believe that an otherworldly providence shapes them?  Surely then it is just an exercise in tedious randomness?

Then I made them divide into groups of two and play the question game from Rosguil until they wailed in despair.

Why is this a fitting game for this play?  Because it is a world in which there are no answers, only further questions, and more than two minutes of this leaves you sunk in existential frustration.  That's my teaching strategy: a pedagogy of irritation.

Last, but not least, I am hoping to get a review of Tomorrow, When the War Began written some time in the near future, and to watch one of the DVDs I have out of (my Canadian Netflix equivalent): The Warrior, Kinsey, and Rescue Dawn.  Oh, and the pilot episode of Caprica is lurking on my Tivo, casting alluring, Calypsonian glances my way.

A busy day, I now realize.  Wish me luck...

(To find out more about the Sunday Salon, or to join, visit its webpage.)

Teaching Diasporas, Mummy Relics, and the Future of the Serial: an Enthusiasm of Links

Grim news: foreign language education in American public schools is in sharp decline, largely because No Child Left Behind has drawn resources away from any subject it does not directly test.  This troubles me. If there is anything I would want my (utterly hypothetical) children to study from a very young age, it is language (foreign and, well, domestic).  Acquisition is so much easier in childhood than in later years, and it is a skill set that is both profoundly useful and tremendously marketable.  Furthermore, (and perhaps this is why language study is proving unpopular in much of America) it acknowledges the multicultural reality of our nation while preparing us to be active citizens within that culture of pluralism, and it combats American isolationism (and thus allows us to engage more fruitfully in global diplomacy, the world economic market, and the free exchange of artistic, academic, and scientific ideas across national boundaries.).


But an odd silver lining: the teaching of Chinese is way up, largely because the Chinese government is partially funding a teaching diaspora.

*    *    *

As it turns out, Joan of Arc's bones are actually fragments of mummified Egyptian remains, some of them feline.  No kidding.  More details are coming out in the glare of modern technological examination, but when the feline remains were first identified a few years ago, academics speculated that perhaps someone threw a demonic familiar into the flames after St. Jeanne.  Except the remains all predate the Maid of Orleans by hundreds of years.

I trust you are on top of this story, Dan Brown.

*    *    *

I have quite a thing for the serial format: in television, in novels, in blogs. In fact, I once proposed the idea that HBO (or a similarly ambitious network) should give a group of TV auteurs a series of fixed-length serial format macro-series contracts: a show that would be on the air for 30 or 40 episodes, for instance. It would have a larger arc, of course, unlike most TV series, which aren't teleological in their orientation, but wouldn't be fully mapped out like most mini-series, so it would be allowed to develop like a longer series.  Most of all, the creators would be safe from cancellation during this limited-but-not-short run.  And they could pace the show accordingly.  Because this is the major problem with television as a serial medium: pacing, which fluctuates wildly according to the threat of cancellation and various prognostications about the likelihood and length of renewal.

I also have an equivalent fondness for the nineteenth-century serial novel as a format, and a curiosity about how new media can adapt these conventions.  The Guardian speculates about the form here, and much of the debate in the comments sections seems to be taken up with issues of pacing and its ties to questions of melodrama and taste.

Righto.  Time to get on with my day of chores and Beckett reading.  More later, perhaps...

The Wild Child*

OK: effort to be more completist in my reviewing, despite the fact that a more complete account of my reading will only reveal how very many identically plotted romances I read in a month.  What can I say?  Every one of the Top Ten Signs You Have Been Reading Too Much Historical Romance applies to me, but especially number 2:

You know all the titles in the British monarchy’s peerage, in order, and have already decided which one you would be willing to settle for if you were sent back to the early nineteenth century, a fantasy you have at least twice a week.

This, by the by, is from the brilliant Racy Romance Reviews, my favorite new blog. (No, ye academics who read Sycorax Pine, I am not lacing this sentence with irony.  This is an irony free sentence.  But - and I don't want to make any promises-  Racy Romance Reviews may not be an irony free blog title.  The author is a professor of ethics who addresses the ideological and philosophical underpinnings and narrative workings of the romance genre in all kinds of fascinating ways.  My favorite so far?  Her analysis of the representation of menstruation in romances.  In other words, that event that only happens when you are waiting to see whether you are pregnant but otherwise doesn't disrupt your life at all even in an era with much less convenient, ahem, hygienic technologies than our own.).  RRR was recommended to me by Sherry, whose suggestions are always omnisciently, uncannily delightful.

The most recent landmark in my Year of a Thousand Romances (as I have decided to call my first year in Halifax, which really seems to bring the romantic out in me) is Mary Jo Putney's The Wild Child.

This is my third novel by Putney after Silk and Shadows and Silk and Secrets, two novels of tormented exoticism that had an odd effect on me that romance novels sometime have: I was gripped enough to want to know what happened to the principal characters (who are often British aristocrats or aristocratic wannabees masquerading as magnetically sultry adventurers from or in faraway lands), but not gripped enough to wade through the nitty gritty of plot details to get there.  So I would skim.

I know this, I really do, even as I start to skim, but every single time I have to learn anew that there are few things as satisfying as a skimmed romance novel.  After all, you already know what is going to happen to the characters at the end.  There is only one possible outcome.  Sadly, my attempts to reason with myself about this only yield the surly response of a teenager being forbidden to do something.  "You're not the boss of me, genre-fiction superego!", the impulsive plot addict in me cries.

And after I have skimmed, I don't feel like I've actually read the book (because I haven't), but nor can I go back to the state of narrative unfallenness with which I began the book.  Instead I have to bury it deep in Mt. TBR, hoping that months or a year later, when I finally work my way back round to it, I will have forgotten everything I ever knew about it.  Sadly, I am now performing this questionably effective bit of self-trickery on Silk and Secrets for the second time.

At any rate, in The Wild Child the guilty pleasures of exoticism lurk only at the edges of the plot. (Is it just me, or is that phrase something of a summary of the nature of empire?  Or perhaps it is quite the opposite: despite the wishes of imperialists, the guilty pleasures - and threats - of exoticism refuse to lurk conveniently in the margins. See, by the way, the seventh sign that you are reading too much historical romance: "You are aware that British Imperialism was exploitative, unjust and dehumanizing. You’ve even read Fanon, Narayan, and Coetzee. But still, somewhere in the dark recesses of your heart, you have found yourself with your hero and heroine in some place like India or the West Indies thinking, 'Good times, man. Good times.'")

As a child, the otherworldly Meriel was ensnared in a brutal raid-turned-massacre while visiting India with her doting parents.  The sole survivor of the attack, she is whisked away to a maharajah's zenana to live among the women there for a year, and it is only when she is about to be married off (still a child, mind you) that she comes back to the attention of her British family.

But from the moment of the attack she has never spoken a word or looked her companions in the eye.  Her uncles (one maternal, one paternal) bundle her back to the unentailed estate that she has inherited in England, where she whiles away the years bonding with furry animals, trimming topiary hedges into giant chessboards, and arranging clumps of weeds in rusted cans to grace the mahogany dining table.  This, by the way, is how I am planning to spend my retirement.

Meriel's avuncular guardians argue incessantly about how to cure her "madness."  Her paternal uncle wants her committed to a "progressive" asylum for regular sessions in the ice baths and restraints.  Her maternal uncle, obviously a paragon of benevolent feminism, abhors the cruelty of this, and thinks the only solution is to marry her off and get her reproducing. (He seems particularly - and creepily - insistent that the genetic tradition of fey beauties in his family not die off with Meriel, and to her credit, Putney makes a point early in the novel about how, well, deeply troubling this is.  Almost like using your niece's womb as a genetic monument to the dead.)

Meanwhile (and there's always a meanwhile), Dominic Renbourne is languishing in the purposeless life of a younger son when his twin brother, Kyle (the elder by ten minutes, as we are frequently reminded, and thus the heir), approaches him with a proposition.  He has some vital business to take care of that necessitates his absence, but he has been approached by Meriel's maternal uncle as a potential husband/impregnator, and sees the appeal of the match.  Would Dominic mind nipping over to meet the madwoman and pretending to be his twin?  He would make it worth his while....

I want to pause for a moment and note that the names Dominic and Kyle rankled with me. (Let's not even start with Meriel.)  To me, they evoke the Jersey Shore more than 19th C England.  But who knows?  Perhaps they were quite common among the aristocracy of the period.  I haven't done the research.  But I always wonder why there aren't more Johns and Williams and Edwards and Maries and Janes in historical romances.  Or, like my ancestors in the American (post-)colonies, more Mercies and Trueloves.)

I think you know what happens when Dominic runs off to the countryside to impersonate Kyle. He is struck by Meriel's unique (but somehow endlessly reproducible across the generations) beauty, captivated by her unconventional attention to the details of life, moved by her complexity to treat her as a sane equal.  She is struck by his way with animals (mais bien sur), and abruptly convinced by her long (silent) study of nature that he is her mate.  Why does he insist on resisting the call of nature?  Fie.

Oh, and along the way we have a rescue from the "progressive" asylum (which is like something out of the opening scenes of Amadeus), the attempt to seduce (literally) Meriel back into speech, the tale of what the elder twin is up to while Dominic is trying with desperate simultaneity to woo and keep his hands off Kyle's bride, and maybe even the story of Meriel's Indian bodyguard who-is-rumored-to-be-a-eunuch-but-really-who's-going-to-check.

Lots of potential for silliness here, of course, and I have to tell you that I am taking a definite stand against fey, otherworldly heroines.  This is a persona I have tried to pull off at various times in my life, and let me tell you: it isn't very empowering.  Oh, the endless irritation I feel with heroines who (the authors insist) are fantastically accomplished in some unquantifiable, unconventional way, but in practice are too delicate and unworldly to survive a single day outside of the Biosphere of their father/husband's protection.  Butterfly heroines who end up pinned and displayed by the genre of romance.  Ick.

And that was what I feared I would get here.  But in fact, both Dominic and Meriel turned out to be more fully formed and sympathetic than I had anticipated. When they are working through a potential marriage contract meant to protect her - as a woman of even more than usually weak mind and thus vulnerable pockets - from the exploitation of a gold-digging husband, Dominic wants to sign away all rights to the property and money to her, since it was originally hers.  No, she insists firmly, they will have equal access to all property, and neither will have the ability to make drastic changes without the other's permission.  If she dies, everything will be his.  If they both die without heirs, it will all revert back to her family.
Dominic stammered, "B-but you wanted to have all of your holdings in trust, so that I would not be able to misuse your fortune."

"Your idea, not mine," she said coolly.  "I said I would rather be your mistress than your wife, but I have never distrusted your honesty." She inclined her head. "Gentlemen."  Then she turned and left the study, her long flaxen braid swaying gently.
Now I love a good romance of financial negotiation.  It gets at the saucy Restoration heroine just beneath my modern exterior.  And until we reach the flaxen braid, this gave me all the economic convention-flouting I could desire.  To put it another way, what I like about this book wasn't the twee unearthliness of its heroine beauty - this is guaranteed to put me off.  Rather, I like it when Meriel is unexpectedly earthly: practical about finance and dictatorial about gardening.  But, of course, the novel and the men writing the contract can't leave her with her great exit line: "You're marrying a sylph of steel," one of them remarks, "One can see the blood of Norman conquerors in her veins."  Hmm.

Almost as much as I love a good romance of finance, I adore an asylum melodrama. (The best in my recent memory of historical romance, broadly defined: Sarah Waters's exceptional Fingersmith.)  Putney hints at both of these enough to keep me in thrall to the novel, although more of each would certainly have suited my tastes better.  At the final reckoning, The Wild Child did nothing particularly innovative, but it did knock up against some of my favorite narrative touchstones, and the conventions it chose to embody, it embodied fully, putting a fair amount of flesh on the skeleton of formula.


Mary Jo Putney
The Wild Child (1999, USA)

* To my friend JP, who may have hoped that this post was about Kaspar Hauser or something similar: apologies.  And I'm reading our trilogy of Beckett novels preparatory to posting about them.  I promise.  I don't know what happened.   This romance novel just sort of slipped in under the radar, in the guise of a Rousseauvian parable about the effect of culture and society on the natural state of, um, woman.  And, in fact, that's what it was.  Sort of.

The Tears of Odysseus

Tomorrow I make my debut on the Haligonian stage.

Have you ever heard of a dance marathon?  People gather sponsors for an exuberant, charitable night (or two) of manic movement, and then dance, dance until the dawn comes, or they drop from exhaustion.

Well, I am happily embroiled in a sort of an epic marathon.  Starting tomorrow night at 7 p.m., various groups from around Halifax will be reading Homer's Odyssey continuously for the twenty-four hours that it takes to finish the epic at the rate of a book an hour. 

Each hour a different group takes on the task of reading a single book of the epic. Mine is the one in which the nymph Calypso tells off Zeus (via Hermes) for the divine double-standard that punishes goddesses (but not gods) who want to take mortals as lovers. Nonetheless, Hermes makes her relinquish Odysseus, who goes forth to be buffeted disastrously by an enraged Poseidon until our hero flounders nude and exhausted in the vastness of the ocean.

My Calypso will, I'm sure, be a performance for the ages.

Each group has adopted a name that relates to the events of their book.  The Anglican clergy, for instance, are calling themselves "The Messengers of the Gods."
For us, I suggested "The Tears of Odysseus," since our hero spends all his time (when he isn't in the divinity's bed) weeping on the shore over his lost home and family. That was a bit of a downer, so we settled on "Poseidon's Playthings."
But somewhere along the way - and I want to assert how really unexpected this was - we were renamed "Buck Naked on a Plank."

It was when I got the email from my colleague entitled "We are now Buck Naked on a Plank" that I began to regret inviting all my students to hear me perform.

The Unbearable Lightness of Ivy

Although I talk more frequently about my rabid attachment to my time as a Tar Heel bred at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I also spent seven years studying and working at Yale, becoming attached to its places, its students, its particular tangle of anxieties and antiquarian tradition.  It is a place that prides itself on its intensity and its eccentricity, two potentially irritating qualities that I find myself utterly devoted to.

And this video, a musical recruitment video utterly lacking in self-censoring shame about its purposes, is the very distillation of both of those qualities:

I don't want to say much more about it here, because I want the first shock of its oddity to hit each and every one of you in a state of pristine innocence.  But it manages to be rather appalling and utterly seductive at the same time.  I don't know how it does it.

I have never been able to understand why people (read "sports fans without ties to the school or the state") hate UNC so avidly.  Duke, yes, but UNC?  We are everything that embodies benevolent progressive achievement, I would say to myself smugly.  But there is an anxious arrogance woven into the fabric of achievement, a smug self-satisfaction that outsiders will inevitably perceive even if insiders aren't aware of projecting it. And the insider's fervent adoration for a place and time unavailable to the outsider only makes that impression of smugness so much worse.

Watching this video from the liminal perspective of a former graduate student of Yale (not a "true" Yalie, for the most vivid rituals of Yaleness are the preserve of undergraduates alone, but one who lived in and loved these spaces and these people for longer than any other school I have ever been tied to), I suddenly became aware of the twinned (matching, in fact) feelings of both outsider resentment and insider longing.

Surely these are caricatures of the real Yale experience, my outsider-self cried, encouraged by the campy context.  Nope, my insider-self replied nostalgically.  That was just a place where people were unafraid of how their enthusiasms, achievements, and pride in both made them look to outsiders.  A place of incredible arrogance, brutal competition, and intense, joyous intellectual purity.  I miss it terribly.

Especially the pizza.

Quotable: Tragicomic

A few more thoughts on tragedy, in keeping with my teaching this week:

Show me a hero
and I'll write you a tragedy.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am intrigued by the implications of this: is heroism possible without tragedy?  Is (as Greek tragedy seems to teach us) heroic greatness purchased with later misery?  Is Fitzgerald implying that our idea of heroism is a whitewash, constantly erasing the sadness that every human life contains?  Does our cultural desire to make heroes always contain a matching desire to see those heroes punished, diminished, fallen?

This world is a comedy to those that think,
a tragedy to those that feel.

-Horace Walpole

Is the difference between comedy and tragedy not one between disdain and sympathy, but rather between intellect and emotion?  Or are these two ways of saying the same thing?

Obviously Walpole isn't just getting at a difference between genres, an act of literary criticism, but rather making a commentary about the world itself.   To the empath, life must be a constant parade of suffering, an excruciating cavalcade of expectations disappointed and bonds betrayed.  To the intellectual, closed off from feeling, these same disappointments and betrayals become comic failures of expectation, festivals of irony.

Quotable: The Murder of Time

And killing time is perhaps the essence of comedy,
just as the essence of tragedy 
is killing eternity.

-Miguel de Unamuno
from my journals, April 5, 1996

We are talking about Aristotle in my Introduction to Drama class, so the nature of comedy and tragedy have been on my mind a bit.  

What does Aristotle say the difference is?  Well among other things, tragedians (he says) portray human beings as better than we are, while comedians portray us as worse than we are.  

In other words, tragedy is about abstract disasters, idealized lives pushed off the track of happiness by smoothly polished juggernauts of moral conflict or divine will.  Comedy takes as its basis the messiness, the assymmetry of human fallibility, rather than its grandeur and order.  

We go to tragedy to feel fear that even those with power, wealth, talent, and status can suffer despite their best efforts at living a good life.  Fear that if their lives can go so far astray, so to can our much less blessed and careful ones. Count no man happy till he dies, free of pain.  But we go to comedy to despise, rather than to empathize. Or so this line of thinking goes.

I love the way Unamuno picks this up: killing time is such a fascinating turn of phrase, such a sharply moral stance on indolence.  To fritter away an hour is to be a murderer of time, a finite commodity; it is a slaughter of a concrete portion of your total life.  

Unamuno (in this translation, at least) highlights the moralism of the phrase, but also underscores the common ground between comedy and tragedy.  Both deal with the destructive nature of human behavior: to kill time is in some essential way to kill eternity, to waste some vital portion of the human opportunity. Thus there is always an element of absurdity in tragedy, and of pathos in comedy.

Play every comedy as if it were a tragedy, as acting coaches have been saying from time immemorial.  

On the death of the original

It's a platonic problem, really.  If you have conceptual art, then how do you tell the difference between the original and a copy?  Even the "original" is just a pale material shadow of the work of art, which exists only on the plane of ideas.

But somehow it all seems more than Plato anticipated when shark corpses get involved.

As this article from the New York Observer notes:

The artists are doing this on purpose, obviously, having spent the best part of the past century making work that vigorously and repeatedly challenged concepts of originality, authenticity, and uniqueness-- concepts that crucially inform how conservators have preserved and restored work, and how curators have displayed and studied it.
It’s driving museum people crazy. How do you acquire or display a work of performance art that exists only in the form of an instruction sheet? What should conservators do about works that are deteriorating because they were made from unstable materials, such as neon, or sharks?
*    *    *

The other day I was talking to a close friend from graduate school, and we both began to reflect on how much more  vital our twenties would have seemed if we hadn't spent them desperately seeking to achieve some amorphous form of status and self-worth at our competitive university.  "Looking back," my friend JJ said to me, "it almost seems like a waste. Well, I mean, it can't have been a waste, because we have our doctorates, but...," she sighed, "I want to look back on my thirties and see that I've done something more ... coherent."

Now the conventional wisdom being given to undergrads with an eye on academe is this: look elsewhere for coherence.  Advising against anyone following his (and our) path to a doctorate in the humanities, Thomas H. Benton writes:

What almost no prospective graduate students can understand is the extent to which doctoral education in the humanities socializes idealistic, naïve, and psychologically vulnerable people into a profession with a very clear set of values. It teaches them that life outside of academe means failure, which explains the large numbers of graduates who labor for decades as adjuncts, just so they can stay on the periphery of academe.

*    *    *

Looking back at the "Death of the Author"in a new Guardian blog on the sexiest moments in literary theory.

*    *    *

Is it possible to make a living as a playwright in America today?  A new study reveals that there are very few writers who can claim that the theatre entirely supports them today.  Where is the support for innovation in theatrical writing today?  Since I have been studying the 1956 moment in British theatre, it is easy to see how complaisance and the idea that innovation is the province of individual genius-artists rather than a result of national or industrial commitment can result in cultural stagnation.

*    *    *

Germany becomes the third country to produce a musical about Barack Obama.  An odd additional note:

As part of an interactive gimmick, the audience will be asked to participate in the show by playing tiny drums built into their chairs.

Yes, we can?

*    *    *

This study about the correlation between large amounts of time spent on the computer or watching television and cardiovascular disease - even among exercisers - has me totally, totally freaked out. 

So I am going to get off the computer now and go do something a bit more ... circulation-inducing.

Quotable: Malthus and the Moon

The moon is nothing 
But a circumambulatory aphrodisiac
Divinely subsidized to provoke the world
Into a rising birth rate.
- Christopher Fry
The Lady's Not for Burning
From my notebooks, April 5, 1996

Although the heavenly will may work in mysterious ways, these do not apparently include the invisible hand of the free market. 

The divinity may, however, be a Malthusian.

Quotable: Long nights and lonely days

Egyptian Proverb: The worst things:
To be in bed and sleep not,
To want for one who comes not,
To try to please and please not.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
From my own notebooks, April 5, 1996

I have to say, as an insomniac perfectionist in a long-distance relationship of eight years, I can't help but feel that Fitzgerald and the proverbial Egyptian have really hit this nail on the head.

Perhaps my favorite piece of graffito. Ever.

From my beloved college town of Chapel Hill, NC.  Where even graffiti are extraordinary.

The Curse and Cherpumple Pie

I am fairly sure a curse has fallen upon me.

Yesterday I managed to rack up $1300 in car expenses, and while attempting to shake off the lingering unease from that encounter with the mechanic (I mean, think how many books I could have bought with $1300!!), I sat down in front of the television and my TiVo promptly died.  No warning.  Just total hard-drive collapse after less than a year and a half.  Tsk, TiVo.  I am a devotee of your brand, but this hardly seems like a just reward for the fervor I have exhibited in recommending your product to others.  I practically bullied my poor parents into getting one (which they now love) with several years of constant, tiresome, superior references to how much better their viewing experience would be if they could pause, rewind, watch shows on their schedule, etc.  And this is how you repay me.  Sigh.

At any rate, since I am now cut off from access to my television until I can acquire another DVR or figure out how to rewire my entertainment system, how 'bout I take a few minutes to assemble an enthusiasm of links?

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Something brainy:

I am always intrigued by the neurology of theatre, despite being of a rather unscientific cast of mind myself.  In this video piece from the Guardian, the actress Fiona Shaw (who is always up for an experimental approach to the issues of her field) agrees to have her brain scanned while "performing" to see how this state of mind differs from normal human use of language.

*   *   *

Something tawny:

On ethnicity and the aesthetics of fake tans.  As, of course, exemplified by my beloved Dancing with the Stars, and expressed by... and here's where we enter the realm of the surreal... The Wall Street Journal.

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Something tasty:

Or at least I thought so.  D sent me to the website This is why you're fat, expecting me to join him in deploring the state of our culinary culture.  He was horrified when I kept exclaiming that the items displayed there were sublime and I wished I was eating them right now.  "No!!!" he cried, "This website is not a meal-idea-generator! It is an apocalyptic warning!".  But really, there is something about the Cherpumple Pie that touches on the sublime.

*   *   *

And something punny:

The best wordplay I have seen in quite some time comes courtesy of a decade-reviewing column for the New York Times by Richard Powers, one of my father's favorite authors.  Speaking about how the Wii defies our sense that the inevitable drift of a cyberculture is towards the incorporeal, the mental, the fleshless, he finally concludes:

Three years on, we’re less easily fooled by the Wiimote. We game the system. Gullible tennis pros still make their grand forehand smashes, but they also serve who only sit and flick their wrists.

Quotable: The Morality of Magnetism

"Wickedness is a myth invented by good people
to account for the curious attractiveness of others."
-Oscar Wilde

It probably wouldn't  surprise you to learn that despite a middling command of (and a mountain of time spent reading) the works of Oscar Wilde, I actually found this quotation in the work of one of my favorite romance writers, Judith Ivory. 

Because, really - isn't this the founding principle of the romance genre?

How sharper than a serpent's tooth... is to read about yourself on Ratemyprofessor. 

Seriously: why is it only the students who find you ear-drum-splittingly irritating on the scale of Fran Drescher who post reviews online?  Why is it never the students who come to you at the end of a semester and fervently tell you the class was the highlight of their year and you changed the whole way they looked at theatre/literature/their own writing/the world at large?  Hmmm?


The sun set from above the clouds today.
One moment: the Scott-ish thrill of snow-dusted Halifax
(dusted as a lily flours everything with orange,
scalding its neighbors with promiscuous permanence,
a fervor of dramatic possibility).
The next: our wings are casting off a shawl of clouds,
and I remember the snow that morning
wisping, smoking, roiling
over the asphalt in eddies
that run before the car.
Cataclysm in microcosm,
Lilliputian gothic.

And then suddenly, in the air,
the whole world is pollinated,
not lit but stained with a vivid heat,
a heat to shame flamingoes.
An even line of windows -
staid monuments to modernism,
a love affair with form -
cast hot, tigrish lozenges across the ceiling.
I consider how to write it, this Roethke.

The revelatory, the stuff of Pythian ecstasy,
just beneath the mist of the daily.
The sunset. The awareness of flight itself.
And then again:
the sin of it, the constant forgetting.

A flawless moment, despite the exhaustion,
or perhaps because of it.
Fixed in the sky like Rumi's ruby,
A metamorphosis, pursued by a god.
Pierced, fleeing, stilled:
night and gothic Scotia behind us, below us.

Except this: we pressed westward,
beggaring all description,
so for a time, however brief,
the sun seemed to be rising,
before the turning of the earth
became more urgent than our progress,
our flight.

Astonishing to think
for a time it was not.