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.
Posts by John Holbo
Monday, April 25, 2005
Reputation Economy Again
Does your literary weblog lack readers? Are your best posts alms for oblivion? Well, then, that is what the comment box is for. To make yourself known. Go ahead. Announce your existence. Tell us of your blog, or your best post.
Speaking of the blogroll, I just remembered to add: God of the Machine. He used to do more of the cultural blogging. Even Yvor Winters blogging. Now I gather he's starting a cult and mathematics is involved. I really couldn't say. Also, you should
visit the nice behold the considerable, eccentric intelligence of John Emerson at Idiocentrism. Also, here's something odd Halfway Down the Danube. (For those who care to step in the same river twice, part II. I do want to encourage holbonicism. Does 'hooked on holbonics' have a ring to it?)
Friday, April 22, 2005
WHEREAS, tater tots …
Life not only imitates but resolves in favor, with one absention.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
More on Chabon
Scott McLemee has an Inside Higher Ed column up about the Michael Chabon/Paul Maliszewski dispute I mentioned here. He thinks the NY Times article, taking Maliszewski to task for being a hoaxer himself, fails to take seriously the content of his Bookforum piece.
If you take the time to read the essay, though, you find a nuanced and searching analysis of the relationships between author and audience, between memory and fantasy, between story-telling and truth-telling. Maliszewski’s point is less that Chabon intends to trick his audience than that (for a variety of reasons) his listeners want the story to be true.
Regarding the fact that only a portion of the essay is free online: “it ought to be a prerequisite for any future commentary regarding his essay on Michael Chabon that the discussants have actually read it. It would also be useful to everyone if Chabon himself commented on the matter, which so far he has not done.” I’ve only read the excerpt myself.
Waiting for the Barbarians
This is a review I've been meaning to write for a while. What has finally defeated my intertia is a sense that my theme will complement Amardeep's dual review of Hariharan and Byatt, while constituting a platform for critical response to some of Daniel Green's expressions of aesthetic purism.
My book is J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians. I've never read any other Coetzee. I read it because my mother-in-law left it on a table. The sum of my critical knowledge of Coetzee derives from James Wood, "Coetzee's Disgrace: A Few Skeptical Thoughts", in The Irresponsible Self. Of course I am aware he is a Nobel Prize winner, too.Continue reading "Waiting for the Barbarians"
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Only three nominations in response to my reputation economy post. Into the roll they go: Acephalous, who has been a very welcome presence in the comment box for our entire two week existence; Jenny Davidson, of Light Reading; she’s an English prof and novelist. Last but not least, Dave Fiore, Motime Like the Present. (Thanks for reminding me, Josh!) Dave has been a welcome commenter at good ol’ J&B from time to time. He is witty. Now he says he’s moving on from comicsblogging - ‘ceptin Cerebus - to film, literature, politics, philosophy. Visit him.
In other news, the reliably Nabokovian nnyhav plants a link to a Guardian review of a new Empson biography in comments to my mock-pastoral Lethem-Chabon post. Complete with post-appropriate quote: “Life involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can’t be solved by analysis.” Speaking of Nabokov and Chabon, here’s a Bookforum piece on the latter, “Lie, Memory”. Not very flattering. [And now comments alert me to a NY Times article on the Chabon case. Apparently the author of the Bookforum piece, Maliszewski, may himself be guilty of maintaining himself between contradictions that do not admit of any obviously satisfactory analysis.]
Plus nnyhav links to a very interesting Bangs on Eno piece, “A Sandbox in Alphaville". Who knew Eno was “terribly attracted to women with ocular damage”? I like this exchange:
Bangs: When I hear the word ‘shaman’ I reach for my revolver.
Eno: I don’t think it’s a word we should be so afraid of. Being afraid of it only imputes to it more of those qualities we disliked in the first place. Lots of people are shamans.
Do you think that’s true? Joking aside, the whole long piece is well worth the fascination of those likely to be fascinated by tales of Roxy Music; Eno and Fripp. Eno’s background, education, approach and philosophy.
Friday, April 15, 2005
“You poor little earthenware pipkin, you want to swim down the stream along with the great copper kettles." I saw the film a few nights ago and enjoyed it. Through the art of screenwriting, Gabriel Byrne is spared the difficulty of calling Reese Witherspoon an ‘eathenware pipkin’, however. Try it yourself at home. Whether crockery or not, does she make a good Becky or not? Speaking of Thackeray: in comments there has been touch of Barry Lyndon blogging. The Kubrick version. Do you have an opinion about that?
One thing we need to do with the Valve is fill out our blogroll. It was haphazardly composed and we are sorry if you are not on it but should be. Several folks have emailed, politely requesting inclusion, and I mostly haven’t got on the case. So tonight - whether you have emailed with a request or not - please feel free to advance yourself with Becky Sharpish brass and alacrity. In comments, tell us about your blog. A few sentences; a short, winning paragraph. If you are in the blogroll, feel free to tell us about that post you wrote, your best, showing off your fine qualities; but no one noticed your need to be raised in the eyes of the world. If you feel a Dobbinesque devotion to someone else’s blog or post, that’s a fine thing to report, too.
As to whether you will get in our lofty roll? The criteria for inclusion are vague. We do contemplate some degree of quality control. A significant portion of your posts should be humanities stuff, literary studies-ish. Bookish. It doesn’t need to be academic though that helps. General cultural criticism stuff is alright. But if we keep going out and out we’ll let in everyone. That won’t do. I’m planning to add a few philosophy blogs. Because I am a philosopher. Where will it end? This isn’t your problem. It’s mine. “They say the honest newspaper-fellow who sits in the hall, and takes down the names of the great ones who are admitted to the feasts, dies after a little time. He can’t survive the glare of fashion long. It scorches him up, as the presence of Jupiter in full dress wasted that poor imprudent Semele - a giddy moth of a creature who ruined herself by venturing out of her natural atmosphere.” Poetically, I always identify with the moth rather than the Steyne.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Worth the consideration of those to whom it may prove worth considering
Some would call this post navel-gazing. But I always say: think of it as putting the oomph back in omphalos. (What would you be left holding without the oomph, I ask you?)
A Word About Our Authors
You can click names in the sidebar. It seems worth mentioning that a number of us are newbies, although some of these have cut their teeth in comment boxes. (I hope they know not to use the emoticons on the ExpressionEngine control panel. We'd never live down the shame.)
Ray Davis is very busy these days. He has yet to post here. But if you've never visited beautiful pseudopodium.org, you owe it to yourself. Right now it's Anselm Dovetonsils there-and-back-again. What's good for the Portuguese is good for the Portugander babelfish poetry. With clip art. All the boy arrested.
Miriam Jones has posted, but if you've never visited scribblingwoman, she's a one woman boingboing for humanities stuff with visual appeal. I mean that in the nicest way; anyway, it's perfectly chaste, the way I say it. She's lady of the links. I don't know where she finds them. I have half a mind to encourage her to reprint the old one's here. I don't believe she's ever got a hundredth the traffic she deserves for such stuff. Maybe we could call it - scribblingwoman classic! Nah, too VH1. Well, at least she should sell the old links, I dunno, in a bulkbin at some expensive grocery. Like Trader Joes. It seems to me that rich people, who can afford it, should pay for this stuff.
I'll introduce the others later.
And now the tedious stuff.
Monday, April 11, 2005
Nice essay at Conversational Readings about Sven Birkerts’ Gutenberg Elegies. Birkerts, reasonably, sees the novel as threatened by the computer: “The book dead-ends us in ourselves, whereas the screen is a sluice into the collective stratum, the place where all facts are known and all lore is encoded.” Esposito concurs:
This is an essential point. Often, discussions of the so-called death of literature revolve around false distinctions between our age and previous ones; e.g. significantly more people read serious novels in the past, or people have less leisure time for novels nowadays. Birkerts gets at a very real, and very important distinction: Our idea of how leisure activities should engage us and where they should take us has changed. With the internet, there is more expectation of being drawn into something interactive, something part of a thriving, changing web. This, of course, is not what we are given to expect books to do.
Esposito concludes with nice thoughts about how, for many of us, blogs have changed this by making our books presumptively ‘interactive’. We read with the presumption of conversing with at least a few others, if we care to.
So go have a conversation with Esposito about Birkerts, if you care to. (I’ve been meaning to read Birkerts. I like Birkerts, despite that stupid review of Atwood for the NY Times, saying SF can never be good.)
I realize saying it is a good thing to make literature ‘interactive’ exposes me to mockery. Let me do the worst to myself, lest it be done by others. Obviously my dream is a hypertext rewrite of Remembrance of Things Past as a “plan your own adventure” novel. If you would like Marcel to smell the pink hawthorn blossoms, turn to p. 587; if you would like Marcel to smell the white hawthorn blossoms, turn to p. 435. Marcel should be pictured as a scrappy looking freckled kid in Wrangler jeans. Thus will the novel be saved.
Brooks on Bellow
David Brooks’ latest gets a comment box:
The tension that propelled Bellow’s work is now mostly absent from American life. On the one hand, you have a generation of students who are educated in a way that doesn’t bring them into contact with the European canon, the old “best that has been thought and said.” They don’t have a chance to push back and assert their own Americanness. On the other hand, there are those in the academic and literary stratosphere who are part of the global circuit of conferences and academic appointments. They seem aloof from or ashamed of America, so they are not driven to define, the way Bellow did, an American identity.
I'm glad to see Sean's Deadwood post getting a few comments (let it not be buried before it has lived): "Is there any doubt that historians will some day consider the 10 years or so flanking the recent turn of the century and regard it as an astonishing acme in the art of TV?" Isn't that a conversation starter? Joel Turnipseed pours gasoline on the bright thought in comments: "Many years ago, a friend of mine - whose father was in television - remarked among several of us drinking and talking of writing that, “no one writes better than tv writers now.”
Today I gave my final Nietzsche class of the semester. "The Case of Socrates" from Twilight of the Idols, which took me back to where we started, with "Schopenhauer as Educator", §3:
Everything contemporary is importunate; it affects and directs the eye even when the philosopher does not want it to; and in the total accounting it will involuntarily be appraised too high. That is why, when he compares his own age with other ages, the philosopher must deliberately under-assess it and, by overcoming the present in himself, also overcome it in the picture he gives of life, that is to say render it unremarkable and as it were paint it over.
By the time he writes Twilight, Nietzsche decides this sort of reflex negativity - pretending the present is worse than it is - is far from a wise tactic for securing critical autonomy and teleology; it is a piece of stupidity and probably unhealthy asceticism. (At least I think that's what he decides. He isn't worried about judgments of the value of pop culture, but of life. But life is a form of popular culture, really.) In other words, Nietzsche still subscribes to the above diagnosis of why folks won't agree with Sean's sensible judgment about the Golden Age of HBO. But he ceases to accept this as an excuse not to open your eyes - yes, not even if you feel overwhelmed and nauseated by and alienated from the sheer mass of contemporary pop culture. Go argue with Sean in his comment box. (Or maybe the reason you aren't arguing with Sean is that you've all figured out for yourselves that it's true about TV being good. In which case: good.)
Gold-hatted, high-bouncing loverboy turns 80 (via Maud - to whom we owe thanks for linking to the Valve on its birthday. Seems only a week ago, but it was a week and a half.) Terrible news for Amardeep: Paris Hilton as Daisy. Now everyone is going to be emailing, demanding to change their answers to question 12 as a preemptive strike. (Show those Hollywood folks who's boss.)
But I don't care if Paris trashes the place, frankly. I don't think it's a good novel. I taught it once because I was teaching Trilling's essay on Fitzgerald, and Trilling on 'ideas in literature' and 'reality in America' and such-like lofty stuff. (Let this be the time I don't quote Trilling, when I perfectly well might.) I find Fitzgerald's attempt to invest his hero with Platonic pathos (how to put it?) every bit as ill-considered as trying to blow a golden yolk into an evacuated eggshell. If you see what I mean. There is a trainwreck fascination to the compositional attempt. But then again, not.
Plus the thing is plain badly written at points. Lesse - aha! Chapter 8:
It was Jordan Baker; she often called me up at this hour because the uncertainty of her own movements between hotels and clubs and private houses made her hard to find in any other way. Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.
The first sentence is fine; after the semicolon we get something too long. Then the unexpected divot on your desk. As if Jordan's voice makes you feel trapped in the body of the straightman in a Bob Hope movie. The funnyman himself must bestride your desk in a moment: 'can I play through?' You splutter in indignant protest as your paperwork flies. The audience roars with laughter. (What a set of pipes on that Baker dame! Yowsa!)
Having virtuously refrained from quoting Trilling, I undo my good work by too predictably quoting Orwell: "The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash - as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot - it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking." Orwell isn't right about the mental image/author-not-thinking thing. Fine poetry may permissibly contain impossible images: Pity as newborn babe, striding the blast. To take the classic case. Nevertheless, I'm seeing a divot where none should be. All attempts to mate it, synaesthetically, with a sultry voice, are producing unviable offspring: figmental octopi that don't want to go gently into the bright light of the melting pot of imagination, instead remaining splayed with tenacious eight-leggedicity, clinging to the pot rim of sheer inconceivability. If you see what I mean. Also, 'but this morning it seemed harsh and dry' seems syntactically flat, after the flight of the divot, over and above the visual incongruity (if you can sort of locate it in three dimensions.)
Do you like The Great Gatsby? I do admit there are extremely nice touches. The one everyone quotes: "The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens - finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run." Except it would be much better if he had cut 'as though from the momentum of its run'. No need to conclude the sentence by turning a metaphor of motion into a pedantic explanation of how the metaphor works. Leave the pedantic explaining to us philosophers, if you please. And again, lay off the Plato stuff until you are sure you can handle it. "He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God." That sentence contains a dubious presupposition about the characteristic locomotive modus of the Deity's Mind. Damnit.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon
A passage from Lethem's essay, "The Return of the King, or, Identifying With Your Parents", in Sean Howe's Give Our Regards To The Atomsmashers!
Studying Jack Kirby now, I'm bewildered that one man can encompass such contradictory things. By contradictory I don't mean his diversity of accomplishments in so many different eras of comics history - his creation, with Joe Simon, of the patriotic anti-nazi type of superhero in Captain America; his creation, also with Simon, of the basic mold for the "romance" comic; his dominance in the "movie-monster" style of comics that preceded the explosition of inventions at Marvel; that selfsame explosion, which includes at least a share in the envention of both the star supervillain (Doctor Doom) and the ambivalent antiheroic type (whether craggily pathetic á la the Hulk or handsomely tortured á la Silver Surfer and Black Bolt); the psychedelic majesty (however thwarted) of the New Gods work at DC. Those aren't contradictory, only boggling in the sense that the accomplishments of a Picasso or a Dylan or a Shakespeare are boggling. By contradictory I mean the fact that in that DC work and then especially in the return to Marvel, Jack Kirby, the greatest innovator in the history of comics, gradually turned into a kind of autistic primitivist genius, disdained as incompetent by much of the audience, but revered by a cult of aficionados somewhat in the manner of an "outsider artist".
Lethem goes on about late Kirby as great/awful. (If you simply have no idea what I'm talking about, start here.) I must say: apart from wanting to turn it down from 11 when it comes to roping in Picasso and Shakespeare, I sort of agree. There is something damned hilarious about the aesthetic precariousness of being the Ur-creator of both romance comics and movie-monster comics. But what are you going to do? Say someone else was the greatest innovator? (If you want to push it, turn it up to 12 by postulating the New Gods and after as a sort of Tempest stage. Kirby as Prospero. Ahem.)
But let's talk about the cape and tights nostalgia story, which I find an analysis-worthy literary subject, at which I have periodically stabbed. The parody linked above is as sound a proof as any - if proof were needed - that mucking about hereabouts, you are likely to end up on the wrong side of the fine line between authentic and infantile. Speaking as a regular, raised-on-Kirby appreciator of Chabon and Lethem's fiction, it is worth considering what makes the difference. (Really I'm worrying about more than Chabon and Lethem here.)Continue reading "The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon"
Friday, April 01, 2005
I am so happy that I will imagine giving a poor man a dollar
Obscurely inspired by the melancholic Zizek wedding, I'm rereading Encounters With Kierkegaard. But not for the Regine bits. Too depressing. I'm reading selections by Mëir Aron Goldschmidt, mostly about the Corsair Affair. If you don't know about it, here is a brief outline from D. Anthony Storm's very fine Kierkegaard site:
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Form Follows the Function of the Little Magazine
Welcome to the Valve! (Do you like our name? I know it doesn't exactly set your pants on fire. But nothing that does would wear well. I like the hint of hydrodynamism, plus machine part echo of Ur-Little Magazine the Dial.)
Our statement of purpose opens: "The Valve is a literary weblog dedicated to the proposition that the function of the little magazine can follow this form. We mean to foster debate and circulation of ideas in literary studies and contiguous academic areas." Then stuff about how, actually, we'll post about other things; and stuff about not blaming all the authors, or the ALSC, for any crazy thing any one author may haul off and post. In short, common sense. So let me talk about that first bit. But do keep the other bits in mind. It seems appropriate to launch with a substantive post, rather than some piece of persiflage. All the same, this inaugural post is me speaking for myself, not for everyone else.
Yes, it's Holbonically long. I've said a lot of this stuff before, in other ways and places. But I hope this says it better. (Here it is in PDF, if you prefer to read articles that way.)