January 28, 2010

Rewatched the Coen Bros's Hudsucker Proxy today, which according to Agamben fits the classical model of comedy: a common man is damned through no fault of his own, but in the end achieves a happy (what we now call Hollywood) ending.

At what point did comedy begin to mean Soupy Sales and a pie in the face or Adam Sandler? or for that matter shows like M*A*S*H or Seinfeld where in the end the characters were where they were in the beginning (static, neither tragic or comic by older definitions), despite the episode's event? When did comedy come to mean just jokes and laughs?

January 28, 2010

Giorgio Agamben, “Comedy,” in The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, (Stanford: Standford UP, 1999): 1-22.

Agamben is concerned with the shifts of paradigms in what he calls categories: here specifically, the shift in the meaning of comedy from the classical period to Dante’s era, and how that shift has affected Western thought. Two texts frame the argument that Dante has retooled the idea of comedy from his predecessors: Dante’s Comedy and his letter to Cangrande.

Agamben delves into how the Church Fathers’ reckoning of original (natural) sin and personal sin affected the worldview and notions of personhood of the mediaeval era that Dante hailed from, thus affecting how forms like tragedy and comedy could function, affecting how we today conceive of ourselves:

“From this point of view, it can even be said that the moral person-subject of the modern culture is nothing but a development of the ‘tragic’ attitude of the actor, who fully identifies with his ‘mask’”(20).

An interesting essay. Aimed at people with a good grounding in classical and mediaeval thought.

January 28, 2010

written January 25, 2010

So when you move to a new place, you have to get a new internet connection. In China that involves getting the neighborhood (I won’t call them officials, because from what I can tell they are retired volunteer old bitties from the compound) folks involved. You think it would take a day, but it takes several days planning to re-turn on a connection that was previously connected, and Sha needs to give them her National ID Card number (even though it’s my account). I think the last thing is because they don’t know what to do with foreigners yet, as this is still a Chinesey part of Beijing (ironically located between the two least Chinesey areas—the Central Business District and Sanlitunr [the n is somehow silent]).

My addy on the sidebar works, as Mr. Paul Deppler sunshined my day with four books the other day. I will write about all four singularly in the near future, as without knowledge of how my TV system works and no internet, I have come back to the book in a way I haven’t since I was the only one teaching on the campus of the University of Georgia in the mid-90s that had no idea of the Rachel and Ross conversations my students were having.

Amazon found my house as well, later than Paul. I’ll deal with the books I ordered singularly as well.

But I will simply say that poet-critics need to read Donald Judd’s Complete Writings. Biased yes, calling a shovel a shovel, yes. Telling us the good and bad qualities of the shovel in discussion, yes. Putting the shovel under discussion into a context where we, the readers, feel like we might know something about the tradition of shovels and this particular shovel’s worth in that tradition, yes. Simply solid, clear, useful criticism.


January 13, 2010

Google has decided to do the right thing, but it may have to pull out of China.

Just wonder what this'll mean for my gmail account.


January 12, 2010

1. Can you remember the big push in the mid-to-late 70s for America to go metric? There was an ad with teenagers driving down a highway and a cop pulls on the siren. A back seat passenger asks, "How fast are we going?" To which, the driver responds "100", then explains she means 100 km/hour which is about 65 mph and just fine back then. Well, the Carter admin didn't convince us to go metric and now I'm learning that when someone says it's -18 degrees (Celsius), it's cold but not as bad as it sounds. There are no trees in Jackson Hole, Wyoming waiting to explode,as it's only about 0 Fahrenheit outside. I was worried about frostbite, as Beijing doesn't seem to report windchill.

2. New and improved address on the sidebar.

3. Slowly making my way, one story at a time, through Milton Crane's (ed) "50 Great American Short Stories" for work. This thing is woefully about 40 years out of date, but it does have some gems, and is readily available in the Foreign Language sections of Beijing bookstores for cheap (30 元, ca. $4.40).

4. I have recently decided that I have rested on my critical laurels a little long and that I need to redouble my efforts in this direction.

5. I keep telling my Beijing friends that the recent surge in my interest in Godzilla movies, Kung Fu flicks, and Ultraman in any medium is 1) a longstanding devotion/fetish [true] and 2)"research" for a project [quite possibly true, trying to nail down some perameters].

6. I hate when I am between projects. I am a project based person. This is why I prefer to be working on at least two things at once. During the re-transition to Beijing, I only had one fire cooking. Now that I am left with deciding which of many paths to follow from scrawlings in my notebooks, it seems somewhat, not overwhelming, but uncomfortable, as I usually just continue the project that didn't get finished first.

6. The theme song to Satoshi Kon's anime series "Paranoia Agent" has been in my head all week. I don't understand Japanese but can sing half of the song, it's that embedded in my brain. That's what happens when you watch all 13 episodes on your day off, then again the next day before work.

7. Ideal/Real=Art. I remember nearly failing an exam in Philosophy, but I wrote this equation to sum up the thoughts on art of some 20th century thinker (can't remember, Heideggar? I doubt it). Basically the idea was that the divide between the ideal (whatever that means) and the real (whatever that means) is art. I only wrote the equation, left no commentary. I passed. But I'm still grappling with the terms that come before the equals sign: A/B=Art, A-B=Art, etc. . . . I'm so glad instead of making Art, I've decided to make Kultur.

January 12, 2010

I spent most of yesterday morning in a futile attempt to get all my visa, foreigner registration documents in order. Because I'm moving house, I have to re-register with the local police to tell them where I am at. This seems okay to me as I'm sure immigrants to the US have to do this with ICE or whatnot. But I go to my new local precint with all the usual documents (new lease, my passport, my valid Chinese visa, and a copy of my landlord's ID card)and the police officer tells me that I need to go with my landlord to another non-local precint to register and she needs to bring all the housing documents (deed to the place, tax registration, etc.). This is the first time this has ever been a non-routine, in-and-out thing. And with the language barrier (my Mandarin is basic and bureaucratic speak is pretty advanced) it seemed a little Kafka-esque.

Until I re-register with the police, I can't apply for the new visa which expires in 3 weeks. And until I give my HR department my passport, I can't sign the new contract which gives me the right to a new visa, etc. . . .

So, this morning, I am drinking a blend of green teas I mixed myself (some milder teas to offset the more bitter) and eating beautifully ripe Chinese pears, trying not to think about it.


January 7, 2010

1. Am on the third read of the Dream Songs. I get how people don’t like it on aesthetic (modern sonnet?) and socio-political (Mr. Bones) grounds. But on the human level, this is an incredibly sad document of someone struggling through life, like I suspect we all are. And his struggles ended in the Mississippi.

2. Just had some more poems from the last chap manuscript I wrote accepted. This always makes me feel good. It’s hard, especially in an area without an English speaking poetry community, to get that little nudge to tell you you’re going in an okay direction with your work.

3. Everyone uses to find streaming movies. If you don’t mind Chinese subtitles, you can find almost anything. I mean, on a whim, me and the teachers I work with found the shitty Stallone movie “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot” and they had it. Just type the title in the search bar. Youku streams, so you're not not downloading. I think it might be legal (ie., you're not the criminal), even in the States.

4. Am once again on the 100 letters campaign. This has been my resolution for the past three years. I plan to write 100 letters to friends and family. A letter in the mail is still worth more than an email. I wish more of my friends agreed. If I don’t have your current addy, thengive it to me as my letter might miss the target.


January 6, 2010