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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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About Last Night
Academic Splat
Amardeep Singh
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogging the Renaissance
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
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Cogito, ergo Zoom
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Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
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Culture Industry
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Ferule & Fescue
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
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Ideas of Imperfection
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John & Belle Have A Blog
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Languor Management
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Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
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Making Light
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Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
Say Something Wonderful
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
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Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
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The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
What Now?
William Gibson

About John Holbo

John Holbo is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He works on philosophy of literature and literary theory; Wittgenstein and Nietzsche; also, science fiction, fantasy, film, comics; also, more highbrow literary stuff. He blogs at Crooked Timber and John & Belle Have A Blog. Some of his writings are here. The Valve is pretty much his baby, and he's pretty much Editor-in-Chief.

Email Address: jholbo@mac.com
Website: http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/


Posts by John Holbo

Monday, July 25, 2005

Near Theory II (Bits and Pieces)

Posted by John Holbo on 07/25/05 at 01:23 AM

This is the conclusion to "Near Theory (My creation, is it real?)", see above. It has been separated off for the convenience of those who like their punchlines without a lot of joke by way of lead-in. Well, really I suppose it contains the second punch-line. To get the joke you need to read just a little bit of the above post, but then you can quit in boredom and read this instead.

Continue reading "Near Theory II (Bits and Pieces)"

Friday, July 22, 2005

David Thomson Likes 24

Posted by John Holbo on 07/22/05 at 09:12 AM

The most valuable book on cinema I know is David Thomson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. And I don’t even love Howard Hawks. I read it before there was an internet to speak of. Cover to cover, practically. Now we have IMDb and it looks less indispensable, but it still has the elegance. It’s a damn monument (gets sentimental, remembering renting all those videos only after reading about actors and directors in Thomson. He taught me what happened before 1975.) So someone ought to get a grant and buy the rights and publish it online as a one man wiki. Admiring Thomson as I do, I thought this interview was interesting. Thoughts? (What’s your favorite book about film, for example?)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

One Fish (not Stanley) In Search of An Author

Posted by John Holbo on 07/20/05 at 06:10 AM

Having criticized Vernor Vinge for letting awareness of heroic fantasy genre conventions seep into the consciousness of his characters, to ill effect, let me note how it is done right. (I hereby repeat myself. This post, for example. My hobbyhorse is Empson and pastoral, ‘the complex in the simple’. It is tricky, pouring psychological complexity into narrow, genre vessels to make them bulge distinctively without bursting parodically.) In comments to my Vinge post, Brad DeLong mentions Elizabeth Bennett, in Pride and Prejudice, which was an example that hadn’t occurred to me. (A different genre, obviously.) Rich Puchalsky mentions John Crowley’s Little, Big as first rate fantasy fiction. Little, Big may be my favorite novel, so I would have to agree. Rich doesn’t mention that the novel’s intense, sustained, uncanny mood is spun out of the very thread that trips Vinge: characters’ dawning awareness that they must be inhabiting a Tale. Obviously this is not a new trick, but Crowley is better at it than everyone else. What other examples can you think of? Characters realizing that the laws of the universe are the laws of genre. Non-parodic, please. I’ll just quote a bit from Crowley that I have handy:

Continue reading "One Fish (not Stanley) In Search of An Author"

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Bobble, bobble, toil & trouble

Posted by John Holbo on 07/17/05 at 05:11 AM

Lest Theory's Empire fatigue set in ... something light.

I am plotting one more big post about the volume, but I don't want to deprive the posts we've got of attention they deserve. Speaking of which, don't miss Brad DeLong's unsolicited contribution to our forum, "Two Months Before the Mast of Post-Modernism".

And now for something completely different ...

Continue reading "Bobble, bobble, toil & trouble"

Monday, July 11, 2005

Theory’s Empire - Making Sense of the Theme

Posted by John Holbo on 07/11/05 at 12:22 PM

Our Theory's Empire event started early, with Mark Bauerlein's B&W article and Michael Bérubé's vigorous riposte. Let me join the discussion by way of introducing my general thoughts on the value and coherence of the volume's theme. (John McGowan posted his review just as I was finishing writing this. He takes sort of the same line as Bérubé. Later I'll respond to some of his specific points.)

Continue reading "Theory’s Empire - Making Sense of the Theme"

Theory’s Empire Event Starts Tomorrow

Posted by John Holbo on 07/11/05 at 04:05 AM

The Valve’s first book event starts tomorrow. Our text is Theory’s Empire. See table of contents here. Amardeep made a handy bibliography, telling you where you can access some contents elsewhere - Project Muse, your local university library & etc.

Originally the plan was to dedicate three days exclusively to the event. We’ve switched to a more logistically relaxed two-week (or so) time frame. Couple days on Theory's Empire, then back to our regularly scheduled para-academic persiflage, interspersed with however much more TE material we get, until everyone is tired; then we declare victory. All contributions will eventually be collected and lightly edited into one handsome, stylish PDF document and released under Creative Commons – an unofficial critical companion to the volume, in effect.

The contributors to the volume have been invited to participate, and I hope at least a few of them do. I have lined up several non-Valve bloggers who will be holding forth from their respective platforms. So far, Michael Bérubé has a critical response to Mark Bauerlein's B&W article on the volume. John McGowan has just posted a long review. And Jonathan Mayhew has a pair of interesting posts up here (in response to Bérubé) and here.

If you are a blogger who would like to join the discussion, I’m planning to do link round-ups as appropriate. Make sure I know your post exists. Consider the comment box to this post a Theory's Empire open thread.

Finally, let me thank Jennifer Crewe and Meredith Howard, of Columbia UP for their support for our little experiment.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Poetics and Problematics - or - The Engineer Knows the Worst Truth About the Valve

Posted by John Holbo on 07/06/05 at 02:49 AM

I’ve completed what I hope is the final version of my chess/Nabokov essay, now entitled (at nnyhav’s good suggestion) “Poetics and Problematics”. Maybe you saw the draft, which was about 5,000 words but lacked a conclusion. Predictably, making up this deficit caused the production to bloat to 10,000 words. I reduced it to a lean, mean, 6,500 by playing “Gonna Fly Now” on iTunes and pouring a glass of raw eggs in the disk drive. (Mileage may vary on your system.) If you would like to read the final version, just email - jholbo at mac dot com - and I’ll send you a download link. It’s location is not exactly secret, but I generally don’t post what I hope are final drafts before offering them to journal editors. (Is that a wise policy?) I’m sending this to “Philosophy and Literature” in a couple days and final comments would be appreciated. My main concern is that I’ve weakened comprehensibility through excessive cuts.

Now, something to amuse ...

Continue reading "Poetics and Problematics - or - The Engineer Knows the Worst Truth About the Valve"

Friday, July 01, 2005

Sung to the tune of “My Old Kentucky Home”

Posted by John Holbo on 07/01/05 at 11:49 PM

From Guy Davenport’s essay, “Hobbitry”, in The Geography of the Imagination. Reflections on Tolkien, as professor, boring the author out of his mind, so he could never quite conceive how this mumbling, dry pedant of Anglo-Saxon could be inhabited by an author of wonderful tales. Then:

The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I forget how in the world we came to talk about Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien’s. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.

“Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that.”

And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits’ pipes suddenly made sense in a new way.

Bonus points if you can transmogrify the Kentucky state song to tell a tale of the Fellowship, and Frodo. “A few more days for to tote the weary load/ No matter, ‘twill never be light.” Seems promising. Also, “The day goes by like a shadow o’er the heart/ With sorrow where all was delight/ The time has come when the people have to part/ Then my old Kentucky home, good night!” Sort of a downer of a state song.

Funny tale of my visit to Oregon. Friend of a friend lets his four year old watch LOTR; has later occasion to ask the lad whether “he would like to be the ringbearer” at a family wedding. Kid bursts into hysterical tears.

Substantive posting to resume when jetlag subsides.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Fear Factor

Posted by John Holbo on 06/20/05 at 05:22 PM

I’m still working through Theory’s Empire. A few notes. David Bromwich’s “Literature and Theory, Notes On the Research Programs of the 1980’s” is good. He thinks critics would do well to read more Empson and Wittgenstein. True. And funny: “The emergent style has led to some remarkable examples of the cross-sterilization of ideas.” For discussion: “It is always pertinent, Iris Murdoch observed in The Sovereignty of Good, to ask of a philosopher, What is he afraid of?” This jumped out at me because I have lately arrived at the conclusion that this is, in fact, bad advice. Not that there is anything wrong with imputing bad motives. But fear just isn’t that commonly met with among philosophers. Not that the denizens of my department are especially lionhearted. I count all academics and intellectual-types as philosophers, for purposes of the present generalization. What will get diagnosed as fear, if we follow Murdoch’s advice, is overconfidence in the superiority of one’s style of approach, plus partisan over-eagerness to arrive at an antecedently favored conclusion. Overconfident partisanship is not the same as fear. What do you think? (I’d give you a fuller proof, but I’m on vacation in Eugene, OR. In fact, you probably won’t be hearing again from me for a week or so. I’m going to try to get outside for a change.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Welcome, Laura!

Posted by John Holbo on 06/14/05 at 05:10 AM

We have a new Valve author, Laura Carroll, of Sorrow at Sills Bend.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

By your/their indiff’rence in the dank

Posted by John Holbo on 06/11/05 at 10:54 AM

The draft of my Nabokov & etc. chess essay contains an alleged quote from Denis Donoghue: "I hate chess". But no citation. I was confident of my capacity to remedy this defect; the thing was to be found on a left-hand page, either of Ferocious Alphabets or The Pure Good of Theory. Alas, two cover-to-cover readings have disabused me of this inexplicable delusion. If anyone can document Donoghue's authorship of this sentence, I will, um, thank you profusely. In fact, I have to email Donoghue about the Theory's Empire event. He's a contributor to the volume. Perhaps I can try to induce him to write me the sentence in an email. I feel rather like Earbrass, in The Unstrung Harp:

Mr. Earbrass was virtually asleep when several lines of verse passed through his mind and left it hopelessly awake. Here was the perfect epigraph for TUH:

Continue reading "By your/their indiff’rence in the dank"

Sunday, June 05, 2005

My Review of The Literary Wittgenstein

Posted by John Holbo on 06/05/05 at 11:28 AM

NDPR has posted book event is scheduled for August 2-4. When it happens I’m going to use the review as a sort of general springboard for discussion. I hope it will also perform the standard function of helping you decide whether the book - and, by extension, our event - sounds interesting. I’ll produce a sequel for the occasion. Basically, the review concludes by noting - without resolving or explaining - apparently baffling tensions. I want to pick up almost exactly where I leave off, i.e. by resolving and explaining, which isn’t the job of a reviewer, who is too busy pointing out where others have failed to do so. 

What am I talking about? At the tail end of the review I quote one the contributors, Joseph Margolis, complaining (quite justly, I think): “We do certainly see how brilliantly he worked; but, for all that, I confess I have never seen a convincing statement of Wittgenstein’s general ‘method’.” I set this beside a quote from Wittgenstein: “The nimbus of philosophy has been lost. For we now have a method of doing philosophy, and can speak of skilful philosophers. Compare the difference between alchemy and chemistry: chemistry has a method and we can speak of skilful chemists. But once a method has been found the opportunities for the expression of personality are correspondingly restricted.” You see the problem, I take it. Further quotes make it worse. About how philosophy should be written only as a poetic working on one’s own personality, for example. I’m going to set the lot beside a passage from Donald Barthelme’s “The Genius":

His assistants cluster about him. He is severe with them, demanding, punctilious, but this is for their own ultimate benefit. He devises hideously difficult problems, or complicates their work with sudden oblique comments that open whole new areas of investigation - yawning chasms under their feet. It is as if he wishes to place them in situations where only failure is possible. But failure, too, is part of mental life. “I will make you failure-proof,” he says jokingly. His assistants pale.

We’ll get to that come August. Another thing I want to do then is say a bit more about some of the pieces in the anthology that only get a sentence or two in my review. Space constraints. I’ll try to make amends. 

The Literary Wittgenstein is presently available from Barnes & Noble. Amazon should be getting it soon. I hope to provide at least a couple pieces from the volume as freebie downloads.

Feel free to discuss my review in comments. Just because we are going to do it again in August is no reason not to warm up a bit now.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Posted by John Holbo on 06/04/05 at 10:12 AM

This Terry Teachout article in Commentary could use a comment box. There is much that I emphatically disagree with. I would be curious to read the sober, thoughtful, corrective response that I’m too tired to write.

I watched The Big Red One for the first time two nights ago. Sort of like reading a stack of old St. Rock comics. Not as good as I had hoped, in other words. War movies from this period do not seem to be aging well. We are used to much more impressive spectacle, and the lack of it here means there is nothing to distract us from the fact that the screenplay is dull. Lee Marvin is always fun, but just watch Point Blank instead, if I’m not mistaken. I watched The Life Aquatic for the first time last night. Like everyone says, it’s no Bottle Rocket, Rushmore or Royal Tenenbaums. It’s OK. Willem Dafoe’s comic turn as Klaus was fine. Love the Portuguese Bowie covers. It’s a little hard to say why the funny bits didn’t come together. I think the problem is that Bill Murray is only good as a passive presence - a mournful affect-sink, to whom things happen. So he just can’t be an Ahab character - a mad captain after the jaguar shark that ate his friend. You might think that, since he’s only a mock-Ahab, the casting against type is brilliant. But no. He can’t do manic. Example. The scene where he goes nuts and attacks the pirates. It’s funny, but only because it is so completely unconnected to everything else he does. Murray is incapable of being the character in the scene who is more animated and enthusiastic than everyone else. (He was a really terrible Polonius in the Almareyda Branaugh [oops] Hamlet for that reason. Did you notice?) The result is that there are occasional funny lines in Life Aquatic, where Murray’s character announces crazy plans in hangdog deadpan. But it is impossible to follow up those jokes with a coherent story, since the understated delivery is only funny as an undercutting of the possibility of Murray actually being interested in going to kill the shark, save the bond company stooge. So he plays his role like he’s still playing his role in The Man Who Knew Too Little; that is, the role of a character who thinks his character’s action-packed role is just a role. I think the film would have been much better with someone like Lee Marvin cast as Steve Zissou. Now I’m going to watch National Treasure. It’s too late to stop me, so don’t bother trying.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Poems and Problems

Posted by John Holbo on 05/31/05 at 11:39 AM

I've got a draft of a paper for you to knock back with comments, if you would be so kind. [UPDATE: final draft available by request. Just email me and ask.] Actually, it's another of my patented mock-Platonic dialogues. It's titled "Poems and Problems" (PDF) and is a modestly expanded version of what you get in this old post. 5,000 words about Nabokov and chess and Macbeth and interpretive theory and poetry. [UPDATE: the draft contains an apparently erroneous imputation of chess hatred to Denis Donoghue. See this post.] Some good jokes. It needs part II, but that isn't done. Part I should be moderately freestanding, despite the teaser ending. Please tell me what you think. I'm not sure what to do with it. Maybe send it to Philosophy and Literature.

By the by, I'm thinking about trying to have a draft-a-week feature here at the Valve. Something a bit like Brian Weatherson's papersblog, but less dedicated. I'm not taking submissions yet. I gotta think. (I want to earn my editor's stripes, but I don't want to work too hard.) Suggestions about how it might work? A simple question. Is there any problem inviting people to submit drafts of papers to be posted, while having that little Creative Commons badge up? Obviously, if it's hosted at the Valve (my paper is not), it means people are releasing their drafts under Creative Commons. Does anyone think that is a bad idea, i.e. might it make trouble for anyone who wanted to publish a final version of their draft somewhere else? I wouldn't want that.

Book Event Info: Theory’s Empire and The Literary Wittgenstein

Posted by John Holbo on 05/31/05 at 10:54 AM

I'm trying to arrange our two book events. Obviously we want to pick dates that are agreeable to participants, but we don't know who will participate yet. But when I write to invite, I have to have a date. So we'll just pick.

Theory's Empire: July 12-14 (that's Tuesday-Thursday)
The Literary Wittgenstein: August 2-4 (Tuesday-Thursday)

See this post for some basic info about these anthologies. And Amardeep helpfully compiled a bibliography if you want to get access to some bits of Theory's Empire without shelling out. We are hoping for some freebie PDF downloads of bits of the Wittgenstein book. We'll see if that pans out.

If I get a large number of responses from folks who are interested but don't like these dates, I'll consider shifting. As readers who may want to show up and comment, or as bloggers who may want to opine from your own platforms, please feel free to say whether this scheduling is good. Also, if you are a smart and qualified someone - blogger or not - who would like to be invited to be a roundtable participant, I'm accepting submissions. You don't have to be an academic, but presumably it will help since these are academic books. Go ahead. Submit a thoughtful review or discussion piece or critical essay. Email it to me a week before the event at the very latest, with a sensible subject line and basic biographical data. Send it ready to be posted as a blogpost or, if that is beyond you, send as MS-Word attachment with formatting that won't give me a headache, turning it into a blogpost. A certain amount of informality is fine - preferably of the brisk, engaging sort; I'm not interested in ill-mannered or gonzo stuff. I'm not planning on extending guest-posting privileges to anyone I don't know. But your post, if accepted, will be posted on your behalf. (If I already know you, better yet. Email me and tell me you are planning to participate.)

I want these events to be maxi-reviews/mini-conferences. I'm not exactly sure what that means. Something like those Crooked Timber events - the Miéville roundtable; the recent Steven Levitt go-round. I know I want to collect a number of serious reviews. I know I want to get a number of the volume contributors to respond. Back and forth. Beyond that, we'll see. Massive Multi-Thinker Online Review. At the end I'll collect all the pieces and 'publish' them together in handsome PDF format. Neat. I hope.

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