Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Big Cities, Empty Spaces and the Whole Earth

In 1966, Stuart Brand was hanging around with Ken Kesey--together they helped create the countercultural revolution we pretty much take for granted.

He went on to create the Whole Earth Catalog. It was a fringe document then. Now it is widely regarded as foundational to a rather popular notion called "environmentalism."

He has a couple of other items on his resume: the concept for (not the invention of) the Internet is one. But let's stick to environmentalism.

Brand is not a romantic, live-off-the-land advocate. He claims to be in favor of big cities and empty hinterlands. He claims to be in favor of well-regulated nuclear power.

I have long been against what I call FreeSprawl: the destruction of native habitat for lawns and pools; and in favor a concentrated, mass-transit-oriented population. The bigger (considering our population pressures), the better.

I may take some convincing on nuclear power. But it sounds like a much more viable solution than trying to convince everyone to use paper bags instead of plastic, or to freeze up north in the winter.

Keep it coming, Stuart.



An invention for the 21st century...

a book whose ink gradually vanishes at a calibrated pace, from
page one to the end. said book can than be re-printed over
and over. Reading for immediacy, not posterity, forcing
the Reader to aerobicize their memories. The Word becomes like
Flesh and dissolves...In these amnesiac days of 2007, anything
to aid in jogging minds and recycling matter might be worthwhile.
-Katy O'Farrell

Where the highway bleeds out and dies

Ride all the way out with me, my darling,
past those suburbs on the purple hills where
the angels laid down their swords, miles past
the sluggish red tide of the city, where the cold
sharpens each angry tail light in our tired eyes
the dark making each one a star of lances and burrs.

And then we will realize that it’s been an hour
since the names of the towns made any sense at all,
it’s been longer since we thought we wouldn’t get shot
if we even stopped for gas in one of those desolate stations
lit in the distance and silent as an aquarium.

The road will fall hush, in its senescence, as if it knew
it were about to end, and then it will be
a private highway, only three cars, each black,
and slower than ours. And it’s all just perfect,
the barns under the brittle moon, the grasping hands
of the trees, the shoals of sand at the side of the road,
perfect. The tractors were left in all the fields
just so their dark shapes could stand long on the fields.

Even the song on the radio is perfect,
once we turn the volume down a little,
and our car is clean, and bright, and you have always been perfect,
laughing with your hair that even the wind wants to touch,
and now that no one watches us pass,
even I belong in this landscape, too.

Mark Aiello

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied."

Here's a dispatch that at least fellow Tempest correspondent Martin Scriblerus would appreciate:

This morning I woke into that hypnapompic half-sense, in which pigeons simpering at the window sounded like sea gulls. As my mind filled itself with fragmentary pictures of seascapes, I began thinking about John Millington Synge's RIDERS TO THE SEA, perhaps the finest one-act play of the twentieth century. The play takes place on the Aran Islands and represents the multiple tragedies of a family losing all of their fishermen-kin to the sea. Noticed as I re-read it this afternoon that the play first premiered on THIS date in 1904, at Moleworth Hall in Dublin. What an odd, eerie coincidence! curley

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Late Winter; Potential Projects

In society, the illicit taking of property is called theft.

In art, it is called appropriation.

Lately, Harper's Magazine has focused on art theft, "appropriation," imitation, the plague of plagiary, the communion of cooptation, pastiche, simulation, whatever term enflames the propertied or property-less soul. A few issues back discussed the use, re-use, and mis-use of a photograph of a Nicaraguan revolutionary; then Jonathan Lethem, glib but insightful, discussed the heritage and heresy of taking, turning, and re-making already existing art objects.

Not so much in league with this line of concept is a preferable one-- inspiration based on made work, seizing a dialectic between multiple parts, and synthesizing them but in one's own words. Selection could commence with random commonalities, such as words in a title. So you could take Kafka's The Castle, Celine's Castle to Castle, and Edmund Wilson's Axel's Castle and attempt to fuse them stylistically and thematically, despite their distinctions, the contradictions abounding among them, and the fact that their fusion would be a collision. Glorious un-accident!

If this seems too ambitious for late February 2007, one can save it for the swelter of summer. As a substitute, one might ensure that when books are being judged by their covers, they are in fact being judged by their contents. So...one writes a short novel (the form we deem it is unimportant) in which the text is on the cover and the cover art is found inside, as one opens the book. People, get ready...and get working. curley

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hail, Samson!

I, too, extend commemorative poesy praise for dear John Keats. Thanks, Martin S., for the notice. Keats's near contemporary, John Clare, died a death every day of his troubled life so I fete both Johns and--why not?--you, dear Reader.

As we are in the valley of vales (don't rhyme it with sails), I might as well give a shout out to Samson. No, not Delilah's lad, but a piece of museum art/demolition I remember hearing about more than a decade ago. Apparently, and this could be hearsay, a device rigged to the turnstiles of some American museum, called Samson, incrementally pressurized strategically placed steel girders that pushed the walls apart. So, everytime a patron passed through, s/he was inadvertently contributing to the eventual demise of the museum's space. What a concretized symbolic function, eh?

In the same spirit of shaking foundations, both foundations of perception and physicality, I have an idea (in the spirit of Perec-- hail, Georges!)for some benign spatial sabotage. By moving every single physical object in a city scape (Manhattan would be a fine testing ground)in varying measurements from their original locations--from trash bins, to sidewalks, mobile and seemingly immobile objects--we could wreak such disorientation that the body politic would be checking the sky (and ground) for signs of the Apocalypse. Eyes, minds, and legs would succumb to an architectonically-inspired vertigo or nausea. Just a Friday thought, "in situ, deus ex machina." Call Homeland Security! Call the French postmodernists! -curley

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hail, Hyperion!

Tomorrow is the anniversary of English poet John Keats's death. He would've been two hundred and eleven had he not succumbed to tuberculosis at age twenty-five. But, then again, he's immortal, so no talk about names being writ on water or death as anything but a virtual state for those deserving more. Whenever I'm in London I make a pilgrimage to his residence in Hampstead. Not sure if I believe in auras and emanations, but that space has an uncanny meditative quality. One gets dizzy with reverie and, no, that's not the British Romantic in me.
Since unheard melodies are sweeter, sing no elegy for this young man. Just read his poems and fall in love while at the cusp of extinction. cheerio! martin scriblerus

For Emptiness, for Sustainable Water Tables

Is it news that there's drought in Arizona?

Shockingly, it is.

After decades of untrammeled growth, Arizona (and places like it) may be in for a period of adjustment. Residents of its desert lands are increasingly forced to confront one uncomfortable fact: there's no water in an ocean of sand.

Trace the problem back to a pair of very American factors: the pursuit of cheap land; and the pursuit of hidden subsidies (some say they are the same). Unlike residents in densely populated, heavily taxed corridors, folks who live (often quite comfortably) in the far reaches of the Great American Sprawl rely on several species of freeloading.

The most important in the Southwest, and the least supportable, is that they rely on the nearly free (to them) importation of water. In order to enjoy both constant warm sun and a constant supply of wet stuff to bathe in, historically they have hornswaggled the federal government into building massive, expensive water works projects. The ecological ruin these systems bring is well documented--but if it lets you build a very profitable golf course in Dry Gulch USA, who cares? Right?

Now, perhaps, Nature calls in the bet--for it seems severe drought is really the geological norm in these climes. Consequently it will be even drier there than it is now. As a nation, we continue to fund expensive water so that FreeSprawlers can pretend in their golf carts that they're not on welfare. But we probably can't afford to support their fantasy for very much longer. Will the sprinklers soon run dry on the putting green?

Wake up, FreeSprawlers, and get ready to move someplace more sustainable. In the end, it will have been for the best, at least for those who pay for your subsidized water.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Radical Love, Indeed!

I just finished reading RADICAL LOVE, a newly published collection of five previous novels by Fanny Howe. Nightboat Books must be credited with one of the finest publications of the past several years. Fanny Howe is known mainly as a poet but, as she writes in the introduction, "I hope this collection will contribute to a literary tradition that resists distinctions between poetry and fiction as one way to save history from the doom of duality..." The five novels (all for just $20!) are NOD, THE DEEP NORTH, FAMOUS QUESTIONS, SAVING HISTORY, and INDIVISIBLE. Each is a modern classic, exploring the layers and landscapes of class, religion, and race. If these issues seem overdetermined or uninteresting, you've buried your faces in too much critical theory or are bracingly indifferent to their centrality, how fiction can imbue their natures into startingly new and truthful visions and versions. I'd recommnend that everyone use their last twenty-dollar bill to acquire this treasure. To relate too much of the content would be unethical. And if you need any other Fanny Howe recommendations, I would happily reply: "Read all of her work, read all of her." Her poetry, fictions, including short stories, and essays are all necessary reading. She is lauded as a great writer; such praise is damningly faint, indeed. She is one of the greatest. Although I can be charitable in my praise, rarely do I reach the pinnacles of hyperbole. But there I find myself now, waving you like an air-traffic controller towards the flight path of HoweLand. curley

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


She apologizes for the meal
while bringing it to the table,
for the vegetables she would have bought
were they only in season.

She’s sorry for the train ride out,
the delays, the rudeness of conductors,
that you had to come so far
while the rain fell like plums off a cart.

She would love to retract some of your childhood.
Nothing major, you understand,
but some words shouldn’t have gotten out,
and some things of value were broken.

With each apology, she erases
a little more of herself
until you hardly see her
at all anymore.

Mark Aiello

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

In Thrall to a New Energy Master One Day

What if the balance of energy production shifted from the land of mullahs to the land of megachurches? That's what proponents of ethanol production are hoping. The New York Times (Week in Review, February 11th 2007) indicates that the Great Plains is waiting for a revival of economic life in what has long been America's Empty Quarter.

For fifty years the population on the prairie has been dropping. Long ago garrisoned against wandering Sioux, then thinly settled by government subsidized stakeholders, the prairie has never been viable economically. Some say it is better left to bison and antelope. Can there be any doubt that returning the American steppe to its natural state would be a boon to our warming globe?

Another plan is afoot. Latched to buzz-concepts such as "energy independence" and "renewable energy source", there's a grass-roots campaign to harvest fuel from corn; and later, fuel from straw. Right now there's enough of it going on to supplant maybe five percent of US oil consumption, but its just getting started.

Does the future look like Kansas and Nebraska, thick with single-species farms, studded with energy-enriched evangelicals, telling the rest of us what the price of heating fuel will be? Have we really thought through this Alternative Energy thing?

I read somewhere there's a 25 million dollar prize on offer for the person who figures it all out. Sure hope some real smart folks are working on it.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Fight the Power!:A Panel Discussion at the Strand Tomorrow

On Tuesday, February 13th, the Strand Bookstore (Broadway & 12th Street) will host a panel discussion, "The Legacy of the Black Power Movement: a conversation between two generations," from 7 to 8:30. The talk features Herb Boyd, author most recently of WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE STORY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AS IT HAPPENED, and Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, whose WAITIN' TIL THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: A NARRATIVE HISTORY OF BLACK POWER IN AMERICA, was selected as one of the best books of 2006 by the Washington Post. The discussion will prove to be engaging, historically clarifying, and undoubtedly revise the force and character of black militancy in the popular imagination.

I haven't read Boyd's book (though familiar enough with articles here and there), but Joseph's book is an extraordinary survey of the black power movement, which is often villified when it is not stereotyped. Joseph's account furnishes a historical overview that is wide-ranging and the most in-depth study I've read about this subject ever. In fact, WAITIN' TIL THE MIDNIGHT HOUR is one of the most powerful historical studies I've come across in over a decade. And it is a joy to read history so well written: the eloquence and focus of the writing will astonish. Come on down to the Strand for a night of conversation, polemicists and pacifists welcome. -curley

Friday, February 09, 2007

Silence, please!

Winter afternoons and the heft of cathedral tunes...Emily Dickinson tolled the time and her chimes and charms persevere. However, silence predominates too, whether willed or arriving over the threshold of the evening. Silence, like our notions of death, can be approximated but never become a full essence, an embodied totality: we approach its condition but can never ever truly reach its sanctum. Even a sensory deprivation experiment will yield the noise of one's own blood pulsing through the temples (a sublime dual meaning that). In this raucous internet-friendly world, a world of telecommunication that only underwrites our loneliness, a culture of noise merely conceals the absym of silence. Silence is existential, pathological, necessary, and taken for granted. I've been silent on this blog for some time; to recover the pause between words, the caesura between breaths. But I reach for Beckett, my favorite advocate of silence, and shut my ears between his pages, pages configuring and prefiguring silence, passage to the final destination. -curley