American Gods 1.08

Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:42 pm
selenak: (Illyria by Kathyh)
[personal profile] selenak
Getting this done before the Munich Film Festival starts tomorrow (guests of honor: Bryan Cranston and Sofia Coppola, who brings her parents along!).

Now that the season is over, I'm still not sure whether Fuller's decision to stretch the main plot out and pace it the way he does is justified. I mean, we STILL haven't reached the House on the Rock yet, and I assumed that would happen in the third episode, as it's this story's Council of Elrond scene, so to speak. Just think of a LotR tv adaption where they've barely made out of the Shire by the time the season finishes. Otoh, all that Fuller & Co. have added does enrich the story and I wouldn't have wanted to miss it, so.

And the moral of the story is... )

New h/c bingo card!

Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:44 am
sholio: man chasing flamingo (Flamingo)
[personal profile] sholio
I'm almost certainly going to sign up for [community profile] rarepairfest, once I finish getting my signup written. Probably with Agent Carter, Guardians of the Galaxy, and ... I'm still figuring out a third one that sounds fun. Supergirl? White Collar?

I have also acquired an h/c bingo card! This is round 8, which means it's been going on for 8 years (omfg!). And I've been doing it almost every year. I think there was a year in there I didn't do it, and there have definitely been years I haven't completed a bingo (and one year I blacked out my card - though admittedly it took me 'til the amnesty period to do it), but in general, I really look forward to getting each year's card. So here is this year's.

2017 h/c bingo card )
sparowe: (Casting Crowns)
[personal profile] sparowe

God is Not Sometimes Sovereign

Today's MP3

This season in which you find yourself may puzzle you, but it does not bewilder God. He can and will use it for His purpose. God is not sometimes sovereign. He is not occasionally victorious. Jeremiah 30:24 reminds us, “The Lord shall not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the thoughts and intents of His mind.”

Case in point. Joseph in prison. From an earthly viewpoint the Egyptian jail was the tragic conclusion of Joseph’s life. The devil had Joseph just where he wanted him. But so did God. What Satan intended for evil, God used for testing. If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter and angry. If you see your troubles as tests used by God for His glory and your maturity—then even the smallest incidents take on significance!

From You’ll Get Through This

umadoshi: (writing - internet (iconriot))
[personal profile] umadoshi
Usual sad note that not only have I never gotten a bingo on one of these, but I often don't manage even one fill, but I can't resist them. ^^; I keep hoping some inspiration will be jarred loose, and occasionally that even happens!

My [ profile] hc_bingo card is under this cut )

At first glance I didn't see a whole lot of prompts there that work well with my usual-these-years fandom/ship, but on looking again, there are a few that I could theoretically do interesting things with, or that at least can be made to match WsIP that I expect to be on the shorter side if/when I can finish them. And my monofannishness aside, I do always hope that these challenges will twig something in my brain and let me write something new.

(Is this my first time getting an [ profile] hc_bingo card that doesn't have one of the soulbond prompts? I haven't gone and checked to see if it's literally the first time, but the card generator has traditionally been very keen on giving me "unintended soulbond" and/or "unintended side effects of planned soulbond" [or whatever the exact phrasings are]. I always kinda meant to write the former for Warehouse 13; it could even happen someday. It's pretty perfect.)

And my [ profile] seasonofkink card and Newsflesh-specific (inherently NSFW) notes are under THIS cut )

Shakespeare 9

Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:02 am
rosage: (Dragon yuris)
[personal profile] rosage posting in [community profile] femslashficlets
Title: Kindling Water
Fandom: Fire Emblem: Awakening
Pairing: Sully/Miriel
Rating: G
Word Count: 731
Prompt: 9 Now is the winter of our discontent – Richard III
Summary: An experiment worries Miriel, giving Sully a chance to return a favor.
Note: For Faye, Max, and anyone looking to cool off on this summer solstice.

“What in blazes happened, Miri?” )
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
[personal profile] sovay
Happy solstice! I was indeed awake all night. I'm still awake. Sleep or no sleep, however, sometimes a person has to yell about a movie on the internet.

Girl of the Port (1930), directed for RKO by Bert Glennon, is a pre-Code curiosity if ever I encountered one: a hopelessly confused adventure-melodrama-romance between a tough-cookie showgirl and a shell-shocked veteran set in the South Seas islands, which is part of its problem. Its title is technically relevant in that the heroine is the only female character of any prominence, but thematically it would have done much better to be released under its production title of The Fire-Walker, after the original short story by John Russell. Story elements include World War I, half a dozen nervous breakdowns, British tourists, mixology, untranslated Chinese, institutional racism, surprise aristocracy, the climactic if no longer eponymous firewalk, and the whole thing's over in 65 minutes, so it gets the plot in with a crowbar. There are really interesting things in it and there are really frustrating things in it and they are not arranged in any separable fashion. I am not sorry to have seen it, but I do not expect anyone else to feel the same.

It opens with title cards, setting the zeitgeist of the Lost Generation: "Not all the casualties of war are in hospital cots. There are wounds of the spirit as lasting as those of the flesh, but less pitied, and little understood. Few know the dark fears brought back from the battlefront. Even fewer know that those fears may be cast out . . . but only by the mind that harbors them." The sequence that follows startled me; I keep forgetting that while the Production Code did its best to reduce the realities of sex, race, and gender to cartoons, it also did a lasting disservice to violence—not the two-fisted pantomime kind where bullets leave no marks and people's eyes close gently when they die, but the kind people should be scared of. We see it in the barbed wire trenches of World War I, where a battalion of British soldiers is getting ready to go over the top. It's cold, dark, ghostly. A young officer is trying to reassure an enlisted man even younger than himself, a hollow-eyed boy whose head is already bandaged bloodily under his tin hat. Five in the morning is zero hour; he re-checks his watch, takes a deep breath, and blows the signal. All together, his men call out their watchword, "God and the right!" and scramble up over the sandbags into no man's land. Their German counterparts affirm, "Gott mit uns!" and do the same. There's little sense of strategy on the British side, just a loose line of men ordered into hell with rifles and nerve.1 They walk into a nest of German flamethrowers. It's horrifying. At first they don't see the danger, decoyed by the smoke and the disorienting concussions of the mortar barrage covering the German advance; then it's too late to get out of range. There is something uncanny and inhuman in the flamethrower troops with their deep-sea gear and the long, long streams of fire they send snaking out before them, licking and curling as if they were living and hungry things. The young officer stands his ground with his service pistol, trying to take the flamethrowers out, but soon he's dry-firing and then a stutter of enemy machine-guns takes him in the leg and the arm; he tumbles into a shell-hole alongside the feebly flailing body of a fellow soldier with some obliquely shot but grisly makeup effects on his face—burned, blinded. He keeps crying about the fire, about his eyes. With his helmet knocked off, we can see the officer's face under its stiff tousle of dark hair, terrified and suddenly, desperately young. "Stick close to me," he said confidently, just a few minutes ago in the safety of the trench, "and don't forget—those Fritzes are nothing but men." But fire is more than men, fire can eat men alive, and it's doing just that all around him. Everywhere he looks, the white-hot hissing light of the flamethrowers coming on and the bodies of men he knew burning, or worse, stumbling through the inferno, screaming. He's trapped. He can't get out. Suddenly he's screaming, too, high and hoarse and raw: "Oh, God, don't let the fire get me—don't let the fire get me—oh, God!" And scene.

It's a harsh opening and the viewer may be forgiven for feeling a little whiplashed when the action jumps years and genres to the rainy night in Suva, Fiji when footloose, all-American Josie (Sally O'Neil, a mostly silent actress new to me) blows out of the storm and into MacDougal's Bamboo Bar. Late of Coney Island, she fast-talks her way into a bartending job with theatrical sass, booting the current barman and introducing herself to the appreciative all-male clientele like the carnival talker of her own attraction: "I don't need no assistance, thanks. My father was a bouncer in the Tenth Ward. My mother was a lion tamer with Ringling. I was weaned on raw meat and red pepper. Boo!" She's petite and kitten-faced, brash and blonde as an undercranked Joan Blondell; her dialogue is a glorious compendium of pop culture and pure, nasal Brooklyn slang. She refers to her pet canary alternately as "John McCormack" and "Jenny Lind," derides a hoary pick-up line as "old when Fanny was a girl's name," and deflects an incipient attack of sentiment with the admonition not "to go . . . getting all Jolson about it." A handsy customer gets the brush-off "What are you, a chiropractor? You rub me the wrong way." When she finds another new patron passed out face-first on a table, their exchange as he groggily props himself up gives a good idea of the script's overall mix of the snappy and the sententious:

"Who in blazes are you?"
"Lon Chaney."
"I'm coming up to date. Usually at this stage I'm seeing Jonah's whale."
"Snap out of it, bozo. Ain't you glad you don't see pink elephants?"
"Lassie, I drink so's I
can see them. They crowd out other things. Four fingers, please."

Asked for the color of his money, the man produces a military decoration: thin and scruffy in an old collarless shirt, no longer quite so boyish with the haunted lines in his face, it's the young officer of the opening scenes (Reginald Sharland, also new to me; he had an eleven-film career between 1927 and 1934 and by turns he reminded me of Richard Barthelmess, Peter Capaldi, and Dick Van Dyke, which is a hell of a thing to say about anyone). He has shell-shock you can see from space. When the bar pianist starts tinkling a jaunty improv on "Tipperary," he recites the chorus in a kind of bitter trance, tellingly omitting the last line about his heart. Josie tries to break in by guessing his rank; when she reaches "Captain," he jolts to his feet like a snapped elastic, giving an instinctive salute and then a haggard smile: "Clever, don't you think yourself?" In a welcome gesture toward nuance, he's fucked up, but not totally pathetic. He's known as Whiskey Johnny, after the stuff he drinks more thirstily than water and the song he'll perform in exchange for free glasses of it, especially when egged on by white-suited local bully McEwen (Mitchell Lewis, wait for it). This sort of setup is usually the cue for public humiliation, but Johnny can actually sing and he grins round at the room while he does it, a slight, shabby, definitely not sober man, drawing his audience in all the same. I had a girl and her name was Lize. Whiskey, Johnny! Oh, she put whiskey in her pies. Whiskey for my Johnny! He balks only when McEwen presses him to sing the last verse, the one that Johnny nervously protests "isn't done amongst gentlemen, is it? Not when ladies are present."2 In response, McEwen insults Josie, Johnny insults McEwen, words escalate to fists escalate to McEwen pulling a knife, Johnny grabbing a chair, and Josie throwing a bottle that smashes the nearest lamp. The oil ignites as soon as it hits the floor, a quick mushroom of flame spurting up right in Johnny's face. He was unsteady but combative a moment ago; in the face of the fire, he screams like a child. "Oh, God, the fire! Don't let the fire get me! Oh, God, let me out of here!" A few voices call after him as he blunders jaggedly away through the crowd, plainly seeing nothing but Flanders and flames, but most dismiss him as a "ruddy coward . . . not worth stopping, with his tail between his legs." The next morning, flinchingly hungover on the beat-up chaise longue in the back room of the bar, he tells Josie the story of how he won his medal, the sole survivor of his company decorated for bravery for cowering in a shell-hole "watching the others crisp up and die—hearing them die—seeing the fire draw nearer, nearer, seeing it all round me—oh, God, don't let the fire get me! Don't let the fire get me!" He can recover a wry self-possession in quieter moments, but he "can't face fire" or even the memory of it: the terror is always just below the surface. McEwen has only to flick a cigarette into a bucket of gasoline to bust him back down to a shuddering wreck, trying to hide in the furniture, chokingly gulping the drink he just swore he wouldn't touch.

Josie's solution is unorthodox but unhesitating: she has him move into her cabin. McEwen can't get at him there. House rules are they don't sleep together and Johnny doesn't drink. As the intermittent intertitles tell us, "Half her time she saw that men got liquor at Macdougal's . . . the other half, she saw that one man didn't!" After eight weeks, their relationship is a comfortable but charged mixture of emotional intimacy and unacknowledged sexual tension and I think accidentally sort of kinky. Each night when she leaves for work at the bar, she locks Johnny in—by now at his own request—so that he can't wander off in search of booze despite his best intentions. He refers to her as his "doctor, nurse, pal, and jailor—and savior, you know. That is, if a chap who didn't deserve it ever had one." His hands shake badly when he kneels to put her shoes on for her, but he insists on doing it anyway, just as he insists on helping with the washing-up even when they lose more plates that way. She treats him practically, not like something broken or breakable; she calls him "Bozo" because she doesn't like "Whiskey Johnny" and he doesn't like "Captain." Eventually, diffidently, he introduces himself as "Jameson," at which Josie shoots him a skeptical look: "I've seen that name on bottles." She's fallen for him by now, which the audience could see coming from the moment she deflated his romantic sob story of a contemptuous fiancée who betrayed him with his best friend with the tartly dismissive "What a dim bulb she turned out to be," but she keeps a self-protective distance, correctly recognizing that she's given him a breather, not a miracle, and in the meantime he's imprinted on her like a battle-fatigued duckling. When he declares his love, she warns him, "Now don't go mixing up love and gratitude, 'cause they ain't no more alike than champagne and Ovaltine." They end up in a clinch, of course, and a jubilant Johnny promises that they're going to "lick that fear—together," waving her off to work like a happy husband already. The viewer with a better idea of dramatic structure vs. runtime waits for the third-act crisis to come home to roost.

All of this is an amazing demonstration of the durability of hurt/comfort over the decades and to be honest it's pretty great of its type, even if occasionally over the top even by the standards of idfic. Both O'Neil and Sharland's acting styles are mixed somewhere between early sound naturalism and the full-body expression of silent film—O'Neil acquires a vocal quaver in moments of emotion and Sharland employs some highly stylized gestures in his breakdowns, though there's nothing old-fashioned or stagy about his screams—but since they are generally in the same register at the same time, it works fine. They make a sympathetically matching couple with their respective fears of being unlovable, Josie who bluntly admits that she "ain't a nice girl," Johnny convinced he's a coward and a failure, "finished." Some of their best romantic moments are not declarative passion but shy happiness, the actors just glowing at one another. The trouble is that what I have been describing is the best version of the film, the one without the radioactive levels of racism that start at surprisingly upsettingly high and escalate to Jesus, was D.W. Griffith ghosting this thing? and essentially make it impossible for me to recommend this movie to anyone without qualifiers galore.

Perhaps you have a little something yet to learn about native blood, milord. )

I do not know how closely Girl of the Port resembles its source story, which can be found in Russell's Far Wandering Men (1929). Since he seems to have specialized in South Seas adventures, I assume some of the racism is baked in; I also wouldn't be surprised if some of it was introduced in the process of adaptation. I can get his earlier collection Where the Pavement Ends (1919) on Project Gutenberg, but Far Wandering Men isn't even in the local library system, so it may take me a little while to find out. Until then, I don't know what else I can tell you. "Frustrating" may have been an understatement. I don't want Sharland, O'Neil, and lines like "There you go, full of ambition. You have your youth, your health, and now you want shelves" to have been wasted on this film, but I fear that they may. Duke Kahanamoku certainly was. Mitchell Lewis, by the way, is most famous these days for his uncredited three-line role as the Captain of the Winkie Guard in The Wizard of Oz (1939)—I didn't recognize him as such in Girl of the Port, but once I made the connection, the deep voice and the strongly marked brows were unmistakable. I like him a lot better when he's green. This damaged recovery brought to you by my stronger backers at Patreon.

1. And kilts, which means they must be one of the Highland regiments, but in the chaos of battle I did not get a good look at the tartan.

2. Seriously? I've got like five versions of "Whiskey Johnny"/"Whiskey Is the Life of Man"/"John Rise Her Up" on my iTunes and I wouldn't call any of them racy. It's a halyard chantey. What have I been missing all these years?

3. Once safely outside MacDougal's, Kalita spits on the coin in disgust and then throws it away in the rain. I really think the script is trying its best with him, but because even his positive scenes rely on stereotypes, I credit most of his extant dimensions to Kahanamoku.

4. With a slur I've never heard before: "That little tabby over there . . . T-A-B-B-Y, tabby. The girl that's trying to make you!" From this context I assume it means a gold digger or a tart, but if it's real slang rather than minced for purposes of the Hays Code, I don't think it widely survived.

5. We are also, presumably, supposed to cheer plucky Josie for finding a way to turn the villain's heritage against him: before she agrees to his blackmail, she makes him swear to keep his end of the bargain on something he won't be able to cheat, not God or his honor, but the carved shell charm from his Fijian mother that he wears beneath his European shirts and suits, the hidden and telltale truth of him. "Swear on this Hindu hocus-pocus," she challenges, gripping it in her white hand. "Go on. That'll hold a Malay." Native superstition out of nowhere wins the day. Looking suddenly shaken, he swears.

A ray of hope amidst the leopards

Jun. 21st, 2017 10:53 pm
erinptah: (pyramid)
[personal profile] erinptah
The bad:

Roundup of incidents of Trump supporters being proudly violent, sometimes to the point of murder, in his name. Features racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, the whole hatred spectrum.

Trump wants to start charging stores to accept food stamps, because apparently Republicans want to help small businesses by driving away their customers.

The Leopards Eating Faces Party constituents:

"'I really haven't seen him doing anything' on jobs, Olsen said. 'The longer they stall around and dance around and whatever, the more people are gonna get hurt.'" GEE, YA THINK.

"Mike Catanzaro, a solar panel installer with a high school diploma, likes to work with his hands under the clear Carolina sky. That’s why he supported President Trump, a defender of blue-collar workers. But the 25-year-old sees Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement as a threat to his job."

"Trump supporters in Texas are coming to the realization that their vote for the president may force some of them out of their homes for less than they are worth, with others finding out that — if they stay — they’ll be living in Mexico if his wall is built."

One coping mechanism: “I didn’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to feel that he’s not doing what he said, so I just choose to not listen.

The good:

"My neighbor and I drove home in silence. I wondered if his being amongst Middle Easterners who wore hijab and spoke in their native tongue reaffirmed his anti-immigration stance. As we were parting, he said, 'Let me know if you need help with more deliveries. I’m happy to help anytime.' He had tears in his eyes."

Not everyone in this mindset is stuck there forever. Some people can learn, and grow, and change.

Artificial Condition Quote

Jun. 21st, 2017 05:28 pm
marthawells: (Default)
[personal profile] marthawells
Trying to get photos to post here still seems really wonky, so here's a link to a tumblr post with a quote from The Murderbot Diaries: Artificial Condition:

This was for Book Quote Wednesday on Twitter.
sineala: (Avengers: Sign it)
[personal profile] sineala
This was not on my fic WIP list, but it kind of just happened. You know. Like these things do. After this it's back to regularly-scheduled programming, I swear.

The Right Thing (1987 words) by Sineala
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Marvel (Comics), Marvel 616, Avengers (Comics)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark
Characters: Steve Rogers, Tony Stark
Additional Tags: Anniversary, Hydra Steve Rogers, Not A Fix-It, Civil War (Marvel), Secret Empire (Marvel), Avengers Vol. 7 (2016)
Summary: Today is a very important anniversary for Steve and Tony, and the fact that Tony's currently comatose isn't going to stop Steve from celebrating it.

You know how sometimes you get to thinking about how people used to call Tony a scumbag fascist dictator because of Civil War? You know how then you start thinking about what would happen if Actual Scumbag Fascist Dictator Steve Rogers, the leader of Hydra, showed up at Tony's bedside to tell him how much of an inspiration Tony has been to him? Wouldn't that be great? Hey, where are you going? Come back!
[syndicated profile] seattlereviewofbooks_feed

Wednesday June 21st: Life After Death

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Thursday June 22nd: Resisting Trump's Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein reads from her latest book, No Is Not Enough, and also will talk extemporaneously about whatever special hellish thing our president decides to do this week. Who can predict what that will be? Maybe he'll give citizenship to cockroaches and declare war against Luxembourg. Why not? The Neptune, 1412 18th Ave, 1-800-745-3000. $23.49. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Friday June 23rd: Spotlight

Group readings tend to die down around this time of year, which is a shame, because few things are better on a hot summer night than a brisk night of literary events. Tonight’s readers are Josh Potter, poet Sharon Nyree Williams, and Word Lit Zine publisher Jekeva Phillips, along with an open mic in which readers get three minutes apiece. Theater Schmeater, 2125 3rd Ave, $14. All ages. 7:30 p.m

Saturday June 24th: June Write-In

June Write-In This is the second in an ongoing series of write-ins in which authors gather to talk about the importance of free speech and democracy in a functioning America. Readers include afrose fatima ahmed, Catherine Bull, and Anca Szilágyi. Be prepared to write about and discuss what it is you love about your country. Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, Free. All ages. 10 a.m.

Sunday June 25th: Says You!

Did you know that Town Hall Seattle is about to close for a yearlong renovation? It’s true! One of the best readings venues in the city will be shuttered, improved, and reopened. This is your last chance to catch NPR game show Says You! in this venue for at least one year. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, $32.50. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Monday June 26th: The America Syndrome Reading

Betsy Hartmann’s latest book examines how American thought tends to be overly obsessed with the apocalypse. Is the idea of the end of the world intrinsic to the American ideal? Why do Americans spend so much time thinking about Armageddon? Is there any way to turn our national psyche around? Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday June 27th: Who Belongs?

Dr. Sapna Cheryan leads a discussion about women in science, why it’s taking so long for female representation to catch up in science — particularly computer science. Also discussed: why computer science is so thick with sexist and derogatory language. How do women catch up in this traditionally male-dominated field? That’s what tonight is all about. Ada’s Technical Books, 425 15th Ave, 322-1058,, $5, 21+.

[syndicated profile] seattlereviewofbooks_feed
  • The Seattle Urban Book Expo is happening on August 26th at Washington Hall. "Last October, the authors and the people showed out and declared that black literature has a place in our community. So much so, that we had to do it again," SUBE founders write on their Facebook page. If you'd like to get a table to exhibit at this year's SUBE, you should send organizers an email and follow the instructions on this post.

  • Local sci-fi writing organization Clarion West is offering up some neat-looking one-day writing classes this fall, including one on world-building and one class taught by the great Nicola Griffith. You can sign up right here.

  • Here's a neat idea that may or may not turn into something: Bookshelf is a website that lets you construct "book mix tapes" to share with friends. You can also read through mix tapes made by other readers. And here's a nice touch: rather than the ubiquitous links to Amazon you'll find all over the internet, Bookshelf links to Indiebound, which allows you to buy books from independent bookseller.

  • Standard Ebooks takes the free-e-library spirit of Project Gutenberg and pairs it with a good sense of design.

Ebook projects like Project Gutenberg transcribe ebooks and make them available for the widest number of reading devices. Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style guide, lightly modernizes them, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to take advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.

Strange bedfellows

Jun. 21st, 2017 11:00 am
[syndicated profile] seattlereviewofbooks_feed

Posted by Samuel Filby

Ever since Socrates asked that Homer be censored and the poets be exiled from his beloved republic, philosophy and poetry have been on less than civil terms. Hegel, for example, thought that poetry was no longer up to the task of representing the Absolute, and therefore must give way to philosophy. On the side of the poets, Keats, in his lengthy poem “Lamia,” condemns “cold philosophy” for her removal of beauty from the world.

In his posthumously published Philosophy as Poetry, Richard Rorty suggests that the conflict between philosophy and poetry is rooted in philosophy’s reluctance to admit that it is the imagination, not reason, that sets the bounds for human thought. “At the heart of philosophy’s quarrel with poetry,” he writes, “is the fear that the imagination goes all the way down.”

But Rorty, good disciple of Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” that he was, uses the words “poetry” and “poet” broadly. For example, he contends that Nietzsche, Parmenides, and Plato are properly seen as “all-too-strong poets,” and in Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, Rorty extended Harold Bloom’s notion of a “strong poet” to cover the likes of Plato, Newton, Marx, Heidegger, and Donald Davidson. Rorty’s “poets” include both poets and philosophers, together forming a group he likes to call the Romantics. Against the Romantics are the philosophers Rorty baptizes the Platonists, the thinkers who fret at the notion that reason may be subsumed under the imagination.

In Philosophy as Poetry, the Romantics play the role of the good guys, and the Platonists play the role of the bad guys — in conflict about whether “human beings can transcend their finitude by searching for truth.” For the Platonists, such a transcendence is possible: there is an ultimate Reality (God, atoms and the void, or whatever), human minds can access this reality, and they can have knowledge of it with the help of reason.

Against the Platonists, the Romantics hold that the notion of ultimate reality is nonsense and that we would do better to ignore it. “To take the side of the poets in this quarrel,” Rorty writes, “is to say that there are many descriptions of the same things and events, and that there is no neutral standpoint from which to judge the superiority of one description over another.” To the Romantics, the Platonists are (as Berkeley described) kicking up dust and then complaining that they can’t see: they raise unneeded problems and spend all their time solving them.

For the Romantics, there is nothing that is currently described that won’t eventually be described in a better way. And that is exactly the poet’s job — to create a more useful way of describing the world and the self.

To anyone who knows Rorty’s work, all this will sound awfully familiar. Since his groundbreaking debut monograph Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Rorty’s overall philosophical project has been to change the way philosophers do philosophy. For Rorty, traditional philosophical questions, such as “what is truth?”, “what can I know?” and “what is reality?”, are unhelpful. Rather than thinking of philosophy as a search for knowledge, truth, or reality, Rorty instead thinks that philosophers should dedicate themselves to constructing interpretations of the world that lead to human advancement.

To make human progress, Rorty maintains that philosophy must learn either to serve the politics or the arts — more specifically, literature. Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, his mid-career magnum opus, is an exemplar of philosophical engagements with literature, while much of Rorty’s later work — Achieving Our Country, as well as Philosophy and Social Hope — was dedicated to politics. Philosophy as Poetry returns to literary themes in a more condensed form, offering readers new to Rorty an excellent introduction to his work and veteran readers a lens to interpret his corpus as a whole.

Following the lead of Nietzsche and Heidegger, Rorty has continually encouraged philosophers to drop the epistemological and metaphysical problems of modern philosophy and instead pick up hermeneutics. In Philosophy as Poetry, he hopes to turn hermeneutics into a kind of poetry, a word that better captures the creative nature of his philosophical project. Pace the Platonists, Rorty maintains that there is not a world to discover with reason, but worlds to create with the imagination.

Rorty’s key insight in Philosophy as Poetry is that “self-image” — what philosophers take themselves to be doing when they do philosophy — is central to philosophical enterprises. Self-image is what divides Rorty’s Romantic poet-philosophers from mainstream Platonist philosophers: The latter group sees philosophy as a means of “making things clearer” and “spelling out exactly what questions it is currently trying to answer.” Given this, mainstream Platonist philosophers will proceed to do philosophy in a particular manner, often called “analytic” philosophy. While the clarity and precision of analytic philosophy is admirable, it’s often — dare I say it? — cripplingly boring.

In contrast, Rorty wants us to embrace the self-image of the Romantic poets, which can also be found in philosophers like Hegel and Heidegger. Rorty’s Romantic poet-philosophers want to change “your sense of who you are, and your notion of what it is most important to think about.” When philosophy takes on this “transformative” self-image, it becomes poetry, and that allows the imagination to guide reason. For Rorty, this is the best that philosophy and poetry can ask for: no knowledge, no truth, no transcendence, but rather transformation.

But Rorty’s Romanticism is never pure: it is always diluted by his pragmatism. While it is his pragmatism that leads him to abandon the traditional questions about reality and knowledge that plague modern philosophy — an abandonment I can almost endorse — it also jettisons his prospects of maintaining more plausible views about poetry, as traditionally conceived. One of Derrida’s great images is of philosophical hermeneutics as a dredging machine, plunging its mouth into the text, clearing the stones and algae to form a coherent meaning, all the while letting water slip through its teeth. This image suggests that no matter what theory or method one applies to a given set of texts, elements of those texts will remain unaccounted for.

My main contention with Rorty is that his view allows far too much water to slip through its teeth, more than a good theory should. He rejects philosophy’s emphasis on transcendence and is stubbornly reluctant to admit that some poets might care about transcendence as well. This results in implausible readings of the likes of Blake and Rilke, who Rorty regards as being concerned with the “merely human” alone. This is not the case for either poet, and to suggest otherwise is to do violence to their works. You can hold a Rortian skepticism toward the notion that reason goes “all the way down,” while simultaneously upholding the idea that poetry can transcend human finitude and access deep truth. Descartes, in his Cogitationes Privatae, wrote:

It might seem strange that the opinions of weight are found in the works of poets rather than philosophers. The reason is that poets wrote enough through enthusiasm and imagination; there are in us seeds of knowledge, as of fire in a flint; philosophers extract them by way of reason, but poets strike them out by imagination, and then they shine more bright.

For Descartes, it is the imagination that allows poets to access truth. Moreover, Descartes affirms that poets achieve knowledge better than philosophers can. This does not mean that philosophy is not worthwhile — Descartes, as far as I know, never rebuked philosophy — but that poetry and philosophy occasionally hope to attain the same things: truth, transcendence, self-discovery, and wisdom.

I think Rorty is right that one goal of poetry is to transform the reader’s notion of self, and that it accomplishes this with imaginative uses of language. I agree that the most interesting philosophy has taken the same attitude, and that it should continue to do so. At the same time, Rorty’s notion of poetry is far too narrow, as his conception of philosophy. If we treat philosophy as poetry, and acknowledge that poetry seeks the likes of truth and self-discovery, I see no reason why we need discard our hope for achieving knowledge and truth.

In turning to Descartes, I am reminded of a remark by the poet Maged Zaher — “philosophy and poetry are more or less different sides of the same coin.” Let’s assume that philosophy and poetry are different sides of the same coin, and that this means they use different methods to get at the same kind of things: truth, wisdom, and what have you. With this in mind, we can move to some poems from Zaher’s recent Opting Out: Collected Poems 2000–2015 (previously reviewed here) in hopes of discovering the plausibility of Rorty’s poetics.

In an untitled poem from Thank You for the Window Office, writing in the broadly conversational style of Tony Hoagland and Matthew Dickman, Zaher tells us:

There are different kinds of pills to take in hotels
Line up all the candles
No more superheroes
Love might cover up bad logistics
But your arms are getting older than you are
Only few stories remain
Of men who are the pride of their towns
And the women who loved them
Line up all the candles
One nation under the sea

This poem would satisfy Rorty — Zaher seems content to write in an entirely nominalist fashion, the poem revolving around unremarkable objects like pills and candles. Zaher’s poems sometimes feel like Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, a collection of ordinary objects and semi-related feelings. Throughout Opting Out, Zaher speaks in those terms, in one poem describing “A world of coupons / In the dangerous part of the city,” in another telling us that “we all need soft drinks,” in yet another talking about “touching all the fire hydrants in the city” with “a bicyclist’s sense of entitlement.” There’s no transcendence here, just immanence and the ordinary, albeit penned in a singular fashion.

If this sense of the commonplace were all there is to Zaher’s poems, they might prove Rorty right in his assertion that poets no longer attempt to transcend finitude and reach universal truths, and they would still serve as exemplars of the best poetry written in the 21st century — as I think the above poem does. Part of the excellence of the poem comes from Zaher’s eclectic use of images, but also how he unexpectedly weaves them together: bad logistics follow superheroes by the path of love, women and men as candles exist in a nation under the sea. Indeed, the move from superheroes to logistics might even suggest a shift from a romantic view of the world to a more cynical one that embraces the mundane.

But even though this awareness of the mundane recurs throughout Zaher’s poems, they are equally saturated by contact with the transcendental. Zaher acknowledge that life involves staring at a computer screen at two in the morning in hope for some kind of intimacy, but he is equally aware that it is human to want to escape the humdrum of humanity altogether. In another poem from Thank You for the Window Office, Zaher writes:

And I feel my cell phone’s vibrations

Asking the big questions of the universe

One more poet stepping into nihilism

Sitting at the Cosmopolitan — downtown Cairo

All big questions have one good answer —

Here — downtown Cairo — poets take alcohol seriously

I am more concerned about my desires

And how to articulate them often

Here, we find Zaher — perhaps drunkenly — attempting to walk the line between the ordinary and the transcendental: cell phones and big questions, nihilism and city life. Such moments are frequent through the 400 pages that make up Opting Out, where angels who DJ, Dante giving investment advice, and having Marx over for breakfast are as common as text messages, sex, and critiques of capitalism.

While Zaher’s poems are cluttered with the humdrum of life (I mean that as a compliment), it is not a humdrum stripped of divinity. Rather, Opting Out achieves the merging of the tedious and the sacramental, of sharing beers at the site of the resurrection. This is true particularly of the later poems, where we find thighs and the Lord’s prayer appearing in same poem. In this way, Zaher provides his readers with something like what Joyce does in Ulysses and Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow: a concurrent awareness of the utter ordinariness and transcendental profundity of daily life.

But if my reading of Zaher is remotely plausible, Rorty’s view cannot make sense of it. Zaher is undoubtedly attentive to the human situation, but acknowledges the element of that nature which cannot be reduced to the merely human. This means searching for something outside of oneself, a task Zaher chooses to pursue by using the imagination instead of reason. Rorty may succeed in showing us that philosophy no longer provides us with truth or knowledge, and consequently we may be better off finding other uses for it. But he does not prove to us that poetry cannot achieve what philosophy fails to accomplish. Reading Opting Out is a good way to begin thinking it can.

[syndicated profile] seattlereviewofbooks_feed

We're so used to the modern incarnation of shooting coverage that we never think about how odd it truly is. Things always begin with reports on Twitter of gunshots, followed by dribbling pieces of "news" — some true, many false — from eyewitnesses and local news reporters. The body count goes up and down, depending on the source. Eventually, we learn about the shooter — always a man, usually with a domestic violence incident or two in his past — and people mumble about his motive and send their respects for the dead before their attention turns elsewhere. Eventually, the whole cycle begins again — every time we respond with a certain shock and newness, as though we all suffer from collective amnesia.

From 2015 to 2016, local writer Marti Jonjak published an astonishing weekly series at McSweeney’s about a man who shot two people at the Twilight Exit and then was killed by police. Jonjak's plan was simple, yet somehow entirely revolutionary: she decided to talk to the witnesses about what they saw, to return the story to the people who experienced the violence, rather than allowing the shooter to hijack the narrative.

Jonjak opens a column in October 2015 like this:

I’m meeting Dave for this interview at Vito’s, a scary and wonderful dive bar with gold-foil mirrors and meaty couches and red leather everywhere. He’s not here yet, so I sit alone on a barstool and stare at the walls. Vito’s was the scene of a murder several years ago. It’s something I’ve always wondered about. The story didn’t get a lot of news coverage, but according to rumor, the victim had gang ties. He’d recently messed with somebody and had been laying low, but his favorite band was playing, and he had to see them. It might’ve taken place on the crowded dance floor, I don’t know, but he was shot in the head. I wish I knew exactly where it happened. This question settles heavily over every surface. As I wait, it grows larger and larger, filling up the room.

Even in a relatively safe city like Seattle, there's a map of violence laid over our grid of streets. She's meeting a survivor of a shooting at a bar with a shooting in its recent past. There are so many shootings, in fact, that we can't keep track of them all. Many of them are lost to gossip and conjecture and some of them are forgotten entirely.

But Jonjak has done what she can to make sure that doesn't happen to the shooting at the Twilight Exit: she devoted herself to one crime, one narrative, to ensure that the story is completely told. Tonight, Jonjak is joined at the Hugo House by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper to talk about that night and the aftereffects of violent crime. It's a capstone to a remarkable project from a remarkable writer, though hopefully this is not the end of the story — if some editor or agent hasn't approached Jonjak to expand her column into a book-length final statement, perhaps the publishing industry deserves to die.

Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

umadoshi: (Toronto streetcar)
[personal profile] umadoshi
--With less than a month until Hugo voting closes, it's well past time to admit that there's no way in hell I'm getting even most of the reading done. ;_; (We've moved past "unfeasible" into "the idea is so ludicrous that collapsing into faintly-hysterical laughter is the only real option if I think 'but maybe if I--'" No. It is not happening.)

--To further illustrate how my reading is (not) going lately, [ profile] seananmcguire's new novella came out a week ago and I haven't read it yet. ;_; I've at least been keeping up with some graphic novels from the library, but that's about it.

--The adorable annual we're planting that I couldn't remember for the life of me is Hawaii Blue ageratum, AKA "floss flower". *charmed* Look how cute it is!

--A happy twofold discovery: while rummaging for something else, I found a small stash of Toronto transit tokens that we'd clearly forgotten about, and I was briefly sad because I'd had the impression that the Presto system rollout in Toronto was far enough along that tokens might not be usable anymore. (Horrifying thought, since the Presto rollout sounds like a clusterfuck in all kinds of ways--which strikes me as extra embarrassing when, as far as I can tell, Presto works fairly well in Ottawa, and unless I'm wrong about that, clearly it can be fine.) But I checked the TTC site, and the header on the "fares and passes" section says "Last year’s tickets and tokens are still valid. Customers paying with tickets and tokens do not need to deposit ten cents." [Emphasis theirs.] So we'll see about using our stash up.

--Related: one of the infinite things I love about having Claudia and Jinksy is that it's much less heartbreaking to come home from Toronto now that we have sweet, soft kitties waiting for us, but the flip side is that I preemptively miss them. I'd cling to them, but they don't like that. ^^;

(That said, Jinksy's currently purring on my lap. *^^*)


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