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James Clifford’s “The Greater Humanities” By kind permission of James Clifford, this is the text of a talk he delivered at “The University We Are For,” a conference  organized by David Theo Goldberg and Wendy Brown at UC Berkeley (11/5/10). The Berkeley forum is webcast here and the UC Irvine version can be viewed here. “The University… Aaron Bady 12/13/10 3 12/29/10
The Language of Developmentalist Literature Lapata wrote a great post at Chapati Mystery on the special issue of Granta devoted to Pakistan (her second; the first was here). Building on Sepoy’s earlier critique of the issue, she targeted the use of “development” language to describe the development of Pakistani literature: “…Aside from the ludicrousness of talking… Aaron Bady 11/04/10 3 11/28/10
Franzen’s freedom and Unfinished Realism I could be wrong about this.  I haven’t finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, so I’m open to having my impressions of the book thus far—superbly written but sort of wrong—revised by the rest of the novel.  But I started reading the book because part of it addresses mountaintop removal mining in West… Aaron Bady 09/28/10 4 10/27/10
Hawthorne’s Letters In 1855, Hawthorne famously wrote a letter to his publisher complaining about how hard it was to get anyone to read your books because of all the chick-lit they were publishing nowadays: America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance… Aaron Bady 08/10/10 4 08/20/10
Tweeting Art Whatever you think of the New Critics, an interesting way to frame what was going on in that weird Ebert column I was banging on about last week would be Cleanth Brooks’ claim that “The poem, if it be a true poem, is a simulacrum of reality…an experience rather than any… Aaron Bady 07/30/10 8 08/29/10
If Andrew Breitbart Edited It The always excellent Amanda Marcotte has been tweeting movie and book reviews if they were edited by Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing hack who doctored a video to get an innocent woman fired (or merely passed along fraudulently doctored video) for petty political gain, and in the face of whose transparent dishonest… Aaron Bady 07/21/10 1 07/26/10
Art art Art Apparently, Roger Ebert recently declared that “Video games can never be art.” After making him “an object of scorn and incredulity for members of the gaming press, not to mention the Great Unpunctuated out there on the boards,” as a friend of mine put it, this categorical statement also provoked an… Aaron Bady 07/19/10 6 08/07/10
Garbage In Bashing the romantic notion of the artist against the computational power of an algorithm and you get, if nothing else, amusing (and likely short-lived) internet memes. You may have heard of the “I write like” thing that a programmer in Montenegro, Dmitry Chestnykh, put together. Basically, you copy and paste some… Aaron Bady 07/17/10 4 07/26/10
Better Critics Please On hearing that Shirley Jackson is getting a Library of America volume, Malcolm Jones was suspicious that “the Library of America is running out of writers”: Latest reasons for suspicion: at the end of April, the LOA will publish a slim volume containing John Updike’s famous New Yorker farewell to Ted Williams, “Hub… Aaron Bady 07/17/10 3 07/23/10
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, beginning at the end The subtitle of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom is “A Triumph,” and yet he frames the story in such elegiac terms; it is a story, he writes, of “what we felt, what we hoped, what we tried” and you can feel the teleology of tragic failure even before he makes… Aaron Bady 07/05/10 2 07/07/10
Africa as the Anti-Empire of Signs I’ve been thinking about how I would construct a course like Tim Burke’s Image of Africa; if I were to do so, I suspect it would look a lot like his, though perhaps organized by some kind of historical chronology instead of structuralist categories. But I’m not sure I want to.… Aaron Bady 06/10/10 2 06/12/10
Generation Iron Man I don’t know if this is what Adam was getting at in his post on Ironman, but this is how I would pick up that baton and try to move with it: Aaron Bady 06/01/10 14 06/08/10
The Valley of Elah as our Heart of Darkness It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn’t… Aaron Bady 03/12/10 0
“what-have-you intriguing subject” Brian Reed divines the profession’s future by reading the tea leaves of his university’s grad program applicant pool: “Movies and TV seem to trump what we teach in the classroom when it comes to influencing future faculty.  We have a sea of applicants wanting to study vampires, zombies, Harry Potter, J.R.R.… Aaron Bady 03/12/10 7 03/25/10
The Hurt Locker’s Addiction to Detachment, and Ours I’m less interested in The Hurt Locker than in the kind of problem it faces: how do you make a movie about an event that we have so thoroughly forgotten, ignored, and under-articulated as the Iraq war? The important point to make about media narratives of the Iraq war is not… Aaron Bady 03/06/10 25 03/23/10
Founding the Terror State in Macondo Years after that founding, after Macondo has become more established and more connections have been built to the outside world, Don Apolinar Moscote shows up in Macondo and declares himself to be the Magistrate—by writing it on a piece of paper—and his “first order was for all the houses to be… Aaron Bady 03/02/10 0
Founding Macondo in Forgetting Rape To continue the “big famous book Latin America” kick we’re on, I want to take us to the author Bolaño called “a man terribly pleased to have hobnobbed with so many Presidents and Archbishops,” and who just generally represented so much of the literary establishment The Savage Detectives seemed, as far… Aaron Bady 03/02/10 0
“I meet them, yes. I go around.” I found this Swahili Forum article by Uta Reuster-Jahn absolutely fascinating: “It can be said that newspaper serials are the most popular form of Swahili literature in Tanzania at the moment. This is all the more important for the assessment of reading culture in Tanzania, as book sales via the established… Aaron Bady 02/19/10 2 02/21/10
More Original Aura I can’t figure out if I should be excited about this or not. But apparently Sally Wolff-King has found a fragment of a Mississippi planter’s diary from which Faulkner took (at the least) a bunch of names for his novels: As she puts it: “The diary and a number of family… Aaron Bady 02/11/10 0
Original Aura This isn’t a particularly deep point. But I was struck, looking at this image of the only original manuscript copy of Paradise Lost (h/t), at how much more it affects me precisely because I’m seeing a digital reproduction of The Original: Mainly, of course, I just wanted to share this image.… Aaron Bady 01/28/10 9 02/02/10
Avatar and the American Man-Child: “Don’t you want to be an Indian little boy?” "I am a firm believer in children living out their lives in the mythical stage: in the period when they ask and answer themselves questions about nature…The child is a born savage…the child is born a naturalist…[To the children:] Don’t you want to be an Indian little boy, and put feathers… Aaron Bady 12/23/09 16 02/01/10
On teaching a writing class in a classroom whose door was recently knocked off its hinges At 3 o’clock yesterday, I taught my first “normal” class since the strike of last week, the occupation of Wheeler Hall, and since the confrontation between UC Berkeley students and the BPD, the SFPD, and riot cops from the Alameda county Sheriff’s office. This happened outside my building, a long and… Aaron Bady 11/24/09 1 11/24/09
Rudyard Kipling: You would like him when he’s angry At age 24, Rudyard Kipling was angry with the United States. His books were being pirated, since American copyright laws took a liberal approach to defending British authors. So, en route from India to England, he took time to write a “Brit goes to America!” book (starting in San Francisco), which… Aaron Bady 11/12/09 0
Repressive Anti-Sentimentalism: Best [Male] Writers of 2009 I find it hard to regard “best” lists as anything other than an expression of taste, as anything other than basically subjective. I have nothing against subjectivity, of course, and I’m not saying that the enterprise isn’t valid or useful in some important sense, but it means that I regard the… Aaron Bady 11/09/09 14 02/05/10
Tarantino is an Inglourious Basterd First, I propose to you the difference between fantasy and counterfactual. A counterfactual is interested in historical causation, both the question of what could have happened (but didn’t) and what, as a result of that change, might have happened next. A fantasy, on the other hand, is not interested in any… Aaron Bady 11/05/09 6 11/10/09
Things Fall Together; or, the different hats that Chinua Achebe wears A friend of mine has the annoying habit of reading African novels that I’ve read long enough ago to have more or less forgotten. The other day, in fact, he returned Nuruddin Farah’s Knots, a novel which I’ve not only not read, but which I forgot I even lent to him.… Aaron Bady 11/02/09 0
The Underdetermined Death of Uhura Having imbibed a bunch of commentary on the new Star Trek film (starting with Adam’s post, which led me to Abigail’s overview, and finally on to Millicent’s reading), I want to up the ante on the vitriol, and declare this movie to be genuinely odious. For a start, while the commonplace… Aaron Bady 06/03/09 10 07/01/09
Breeding and Diversity: Using Baseball and Politics to Hide My Ignorance About the 18th Century Opposing teams and fans enjoy attributing their success against my hapless Washington Nationals to their own dominant pitching and defense. To me, however, it is obvious that the proximate cause of the team’s 13-34 start is our impotent bats, anemic pitching, and Buster Keaton-esque, golden-age-of-Hollywood style physical comedy carnival show that… Aaron Bady 05/30/09 3 06/01/09
Norwegian and Nigerian Woods: Keziah Jones and the Beatles At the beginning of the title song of Keziah Jones’ masterpiece Nigerian Wood, an Oxbridgy voice tells us we are about to hear “African music research, long playing record, side two,” and that we’ll open up with a “a dance song with a moral.” The joke is, of course, that we… Aaron Bady 05/14/09 12 05/20/09
Continuing to Trouble Walter Benn Michaels: The Wire and the Spirit of Capitalist Critique From the outset, I should admit that I find it difficult to engage with Walter Benn Michaels’ arguments because they simply do not resemble any reality, literary or historical, which I recognize. I admire his Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism a great deal, but the fact that he could write… Aaron Bady 05/07/09 5 05/08/09
Letters and Literary Notes The first volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett have been published, and it was no small accomplishment, as Nicholas Lezard at the Guardian notes: “The breadth of allusion, and the allusive and elusive wordplay you might have expected between intimate and highly educated correspondents (“‘nastorquemada nyles’ has not been identified… Aaron Bady 03/25/09 0
In Withdrawal from Modernity: The Western and the West Side in The Wire This is a (slightly expanded) version of a paper I gave this weekend, which had its original germination in this Valve post on The Wire last May. What a difference a year makes!  Last September, David Simon gave a talk here at UC Berkeley entitled the “Audacity of Despair,” and his… Aaron Bady 03/10/09 16 03/16/09
“a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit…” In a TLS review, Jonathan Bate suggests that Milton has been a mirror which each era’s biographers have used to reflect their professional self-image. “For Masson,” he writes “it was sufficient to be clubbable around the Athenaeum. For William Empson in the following century, the professor of literature could be the… Aaron Bady 03/04/09 2 03/10/09
Worlds of Literature From now on, I’m going to post a weekly round-up of links which may be of interest to the larger community of literary types, or whoever it is that reads the Valve. That’s you, right? So let me know if you see anything you think I should include. The great Sudanese… Aaron Bady 02/25/09 8 03/03/09
Our Tautological America What I like most about Walter Benn Michaels’ Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism is the underlying claim that “ simultaneously a modern and a modernist phenomenon.” This is one of those arguments that has to get made again and again, so powerful is the “March of Progress” narrative: even when… Aaron Bady 02/16/09 7 02/18/09
The Work of Christmas in the Age of TBS’s Twenty-Four Hours of A Christmas Story If you’re like me, and A Christmas Story is its own kind of Christmas morning tradition, it’s become a unique cinematic experience. I’m not exactly sure when TBS started playing it back to back for the entire 24 hours of Christmas, but when they did, it was transformed from the movie… Aaron Bady 12/30/08 0
Just a couple of dudes… After he was done being President, Teddy Roosevelt decided to unwind by going on safari in East Africa and blasting the living bejeezus out of everything he could find. Ostensibly, he was there to get natural history specimens for the Smithsonian, but his heart was really in the simpler pleasures of… Aaron Bady 11/21/08 22 11/29/08
Quantum of Solace: Guilt Flavored Ice Cream Observing that James Bond is misogynist is like observing that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves: it’s such an important fact that it can be easy to forget how spectacularly obvious it is. I’m not going to say that the new Bond film isn’t misogynist—that’s a sucker’s game—but I want to start by… Aaron Bady 11/18/08 7 11/23/08
Shirley Temple’s The Littlest Rebel: No One Gets Out Clean The curious thing about Shirley Temple in The Littlest Rebel is not her highly sexualized performance, nor the extent to which her “Miss Virginia” is used to glorify a particular kind of subjection (the wife figured as slave) by using a child as its principle embodiment; if you’ve read Uncle Tom’s… Aaron Bady 10/23/08 15 11/19/08
Epigrammatic Accumulation Mario Puzo’s The Godfather begins with the following epigram: “Behind every great fortune is a great crime” -Balzac So “Crime” and “Fortune” are not only foregrounded at the heart of the book, but this oddly Marxist quotation makes a particular claim about the relationship between: the legitimate power of wealth, it… Aaron Bady 10/08/08 11 10/16/08
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate “Masks! O Masks! Black Mask, red mask, you white-and-black masks Masks of the four cardinal points where the spirit blows I greet you in silence! And you, not the least of all, Ancestor with the lion head. You keep this place safe from women’s laughter...” (Leopold Sedar Senghor “Prayer to Masks”)… Aaron Bady 09/08/08 0
Dubois at 90 In the opening paragraphs of W.E.B. Dubois’ last autobiography, written in “the Last Decade of its First Century,” DuBois tells an ostensibly simple story. For almost a decade, he says, “I had been refused a passport by my government,” which used the bureaucratically opaque excuse that “it was not considered to… Aaron Bady 07/29/08 2 07/30/08
Blocking Out The Wire One of the things that makes The Wire what it is, I think, is that it combines an incredible level of detail in portraying the local with a radical disinclination to address the larger context in which the “local” is located. This, of course, would hardly be a criticism if the… Aaron Bady 06/20/08 10 06/21/08
“What William Faulkner implies, Erskine Caldwell records” A reviewer for the Chicago Tribune made that comparison, and it feels apt, whatever one takes the difference between “recording” and “implication” to signify. Caldwell and Faulkner do seem to be doing something strikingly similar, even if they go about it quite differently. While novels like Sanctuary are as close as… Aaron Bady 06/02/08 5 06/03/08
You Know Who I Blame? The System!: The Wire, Barack Obama, and Omar for President Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation opens with the figure of John F. Kennedy being nominated to run for president and invoking the “New Frontier” as his vision for the country. As Slotkin observes, it might seem odd for a candidate so heavily identified with the Eastern seaboard to invoke the Wild West,… Aaron Bady 05/20/08 21 05/24/08
Some Uneducated Speculations on the “The African Novel” in Tanzania When I was in Arusha, Tanzania--doing other things--I greedily purchased the few African novels that were available for purchase. This meant frequenting bookstores that sold novels to two very distinct markets: novels for white people and novels for Tanzanian students. I feel safe in saying that the comparatively high level printing,… Aaron Bady 04/30/08 1 04/30/08
African Novels and the Politics of Pedagogy (This, for what it’s worth, is a continuation of what I was thinking through in this previous post) It’s something of a cliché that literary writing in Africa is more political than we are accustomed to expect in the West, but truisms often become clichés precisely because they have something true… Aaron Bady 04/20/08 6 04/21/08
Young Englishmen and Black Boys That racism “infantilizes” people of color shouldn’t be news to anyone. Calling a black man a boy (or a black woman a girl) means something recognizably similar in contexts as different as almost any part of Africa or the Western hemisphere, and farther abroad than that. So when, in 1952, Dylan… Aaron Bady 04/07/08 12 04/11/08
Cowboy Realism and Cowboy Presidents I’m very happy to have been invited to contribute to the Valve! So let me just say thanks to Scott and the rest of the regulars, and get on with it. I think it’s safe to say that HBO’s Deadwood first got a lot of attention for its foul language. I… Aaron Bady 03/31/08 32 04/03/08