About Lawrence LaRiviere White
Lawrence LaRiviere White is a poet and an adjunct composition instructor at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, WA.
Posts by Lawrence LaRiviere White
Thursday, December 06, 2007
How’d Ya Get Them Spurs?
It’s that time of year again. Theory season! Which reminds me of something I meant to ask about last time, but didn’t get to it. Actually, a post over at Crooked Timber reminded me. Kieran Healy directs us to an essay from back in the day, by Michele Lamont, that lays out a full panoply ("intellectual, cultural, institutional, and social") of the factors in Derrida’s rise to notoriety. & just about the first element Lamont brings up is style. Basically, Derrida wrote in the socially (for intellectuals) acceptable style. & what style was that? According to Lamont, “sophisticated and somewhat obscure,” “highly dialectical,” full of “rhetorical virtuosity,” and “highly rhetorical.” All of which is fairly vague but fairly accurate. But the question I want to ask is behind the matter of style. Really, what was behind it? & I was reminded again of a Perry Anderson piece from the London Review of Books some years ago.Continue reading "How’d Ya Get Them Spurs?"
Sunday, September 23, 2007
What a Book Would Be the Real Story
I am reading two biographies of Raymond Chandler, Frank MacShane’s & Tom Hiney’s. They each have their virtues. The Amazon reviewers note that Hiney got some summaries of the novels wrong, so they’re worried he might have got some other stuff wrong, but I think he does a much better job of creating a book out of the life story. MacShane’s is kind of shapeless, or at least heavily skewed toward the latter part of the life, after Chandler he was pretty much done writing everything except letters. & it’s odd how MacShane treats the alcoholism in passing remarks.
These books are interesting enough, but neither are as interesting as Chandler’s life was. I’m not thinking of his inner life. My post title, derived from a Stein comment about Hemingway, is misleading. I think there is plenty of evidence for the real Chandler in the biographies. No, what interests me more is his outer life.Continue reading "What a Book Would Be the Real Story"
Friday, September 21, 2007
Louis Zukofksy, to you. The guest editor of Poetry 35:7. The ringleader, as it were, of the Objectivism, having reluctantly coined the term at Harriet Monroe’s insistence that the issue have a title.
Comparisons to Pound are easy, Pound himself being an inveterate ringleader. Zukofsky had sent his a copy of his first mature poem, “Poem beginning ‘The’,” to Pound, and Pound started directing people to Zukofsky & Zukofsky to people. Pound’s and Zukofsky’s poetry comes in similar formats, a collection of shorter pieces, Personae and All, and a book-length serial poem, Cantos and A. (Zukofsky’s situation is more complicated, with some other volumes of poetry, such as 80 Flowers.) Both wrote extensive critical works. & if you want something sensational, there is the fact the extended relation between Pound and Zukofksy is complicated by & complicates our understanding of Pound’s anti-semitism & Zukofsky’s Jewishness.
I must confess to not having read as much of Zukofksy as I should. I plan on reading A, but I don’t yet own a copy of it. I have read much of the shorter poems, & I find something in them off-putting. The poems display a high level of accomplishment, of craftsmanship with words, and a strong sense of the individual poem as an integral whole, but they feel arch, cold. I am not drawn to them enough to appreciate what they are doing, because they, as is typical of Modernist poetry (if not most poetry), take a good deal of work to appreciate and thus require a certain level of motivation to get into them.
The allusiveness in Zukofsky’s poem puts me off. Of course allusiveness is a Modernist commonplace. (If there were more of a Zukofsky industry, producing comprehensive glosses of all his work, it would make things easier for me. Though the Z-site is very good & a shining example of the good things the Internet can do.) But something about his particular brand of allusion leaves me cold. & if I knew more about poetry, I could describe it better. There is an insistence in the allusion, a sense of constant pressure towards what is not there in the poem. As trying to make the missing parts are importantly present in the poem. Putting the matter in an overly dramatical way, I could say that the poem is composed in equal parts of what is there & what is not there. If I’m correct that the poems are doing this, then they are doing something very interesting. I will keep reading them to figure it out, if only to learn more about what poetry can do.
Some concrete examples after the jump.
Friday, September 07, 2007
And Now for the Katastrophe!
I’m interested in how violence works in Godard. Well, not Godard tout court, but the previously referred to Masculin/Feminin, as well as Vivra Sa Vie and Week End. The Criterion Masculin/Feminin disc has suppléments, mostly interviews. Such as, two middle-age guys from back in the day, talking about how they didn’t like the film when it first came out, but now they can see it’s formidable. & one of its virtues, they claim, is how accurately it predicted the future. For example, the pervasive violence in society. If he is predictive, I think it’s more a matter of the pervasive violence in the media. But in any case, I’m not so interested in what violence represents in the films as how it works.
Another of the supplemental interviews gets more at it. One of the producers talks about how a film about the banality of day-to-day living, such as Masculin/Feminin, still has to work as a film. Hence the interludes of violence, says the producer. This gets more at it. I have an idea of my own, which involves reference to Krazy Kat. What would the Valve be without comics?
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Here is the first installment of further comment on Poetry 37:5. As mentioned before, one anomalous feature in the collection of second generation Modernists is the presence of a first generation figure, William Carlos Williams.
Williams had met Ezra Pound when they were both at Penn. They both spent about their first decade of writing in mostly standard meters with rhyme, and they both modernized themselves at about the same time. Whereas Pound got himself some degree of attention (as mentioned before, it was not nearly as much attention as he gets now), Williams gained no traction in the larger world of poetry till late in his life. Pound had committed himself without reserve to a career as a poet, and his work, even the miniaturist “Station of the Metro,” was done in grand gestures. Williams became a doctor who wrote in his off hours, and his work was kept small, or at least kept away from grandness. His book-length poem was about a town in New Jersey (unavoidable pop culture reference: in the first season of the Sopranos, when Uncle Junior’s crew throws Rusty Irish off the pedestrian bridge, that’s Paterson Falls—& thus the great cultural leviathan turns to Postmodernism). Pound also left for Europe, while Williams stayed home. This would be another characteristic of the Objectivists: except for Bunting, they were all Americans who stayed in the U.S.
I just want to mention one thing about Williams’s work. At its best, it has a springiness, both tensile and elastic. Or if I may use another line of imagery, it has a greenness, as in uncured wood. Each poem is a cabinet made of green wood, with a kind of warping pressure within it. One way of evaluating Williams’s poems would be to prefer those with higher degrees of such tension. The pressure is not consistent throughout his career.
Of course I’m not being terribly original here. After all, the “spring” in Spring and All is more than just a season. Spring and All was first a book, published in 1923 by a small French press. (Nothing like having your book typeset by folks who don’t speak the language.) The book alternates a series of twenty-seven poems (the famous red wheelbarrow first appears here) with short prose apologetics of the wild and speculative sort. When the poems are removed from the book, the first in the sequence, “By the road to the contagious hospital,” is also titled “Spring and All.” & there’s a line in the poem, “the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf,” that could serve as an ars poetica, a condensation of all I’ve said: the “stiff curl” of a steel spring, only it’s green.
After the jump I’ll offer a couple of examples with some cursory explication.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Why Couldn’t the French Go Pop?
This could be a topic for a senior seminar in Everything Studies. I’ve wondered why France had such weak participation in the great pop music explosion of the ‘60s and beyond. I know there are good answers to it, foremost being hostility to U.S. cultural imperialism, but the thing that confuses me is that they had a strong pop music tradition, albeit of a particular favor. But as one of our indigenous pop geniuses, Jonathan Richman put it, “the home of Piaf and Charles Aznevour must have done something right and will do something more.” & Trenet (also cited by Richman) saw his French hit “La Mer” translated into an American Hit, “Beyond the Sea.”
I would like to offer one more bit of evidence that the French could have done pop in a big way: Chantal Goya’s “Tu m’as trop menti” comes from Godard’s Masculin/Feminin, which I just saw for the first time:
Now, I’m not saying this is an all-time great pop song, but as frothy catchiness goes, it’s quite solid (if that’s not mixing metaphors).
BTW, Godard uses it quite humorously in the film, exploiting the best part of the song, the hooky bass-line to drum fill of its intro, in the scene when Yves Afonso turns the knife he’s been threatening Jean-Pierre Leaud with on himself.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Index to Poetry 37:5, the Objectivist Issue
While there are many narratives of artistic development, there are fewer events, by which I mean single isolated moments that draw together a large number of artists. The Armory Show might be the most famous example. (Obligatory comix reference: Rudolph Dirks, the creator of the Katzenjammer Kids, had stuff at the Armory Show.) One such moment in literature would the Poetry’s February, 1931 issue, which came to be known as the Objectivist Issue.
As with many of the great moments in Poetry (e.g. the publication of “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1911), this event was the result of Ezra Pound talking the editor Harriet Monroe into it. In this case, Pound talked Monroe into allowing the young and obscure Louis Zukofsky to guest editing a single issue. & with this issue, Objectivism, the inaugural second-generation movement of Modernism, was born.
Only to expire almost immediately afterwards. Ron Silliman separates the history of the movement into three phases: (1) “The 1930s, interactivity, optimism, joint publishing projects, critical statements, recruiting, (Niedecker),” (2) “The 1940s & ‘50s, almost totally receding, with several Objectivists either not publishing and even not writing for long periods of time,” and (3) “1960s onward, the emergence & success of these writers precisely as a literary formation.” Silliman claims that this hiatus in the lineage is a defining feature in the history of 20th century poetry: “The disappearance of the Objectivists in the 1940s – the first major modernist generation to virtually vanish, if only for a time – represents a crisis in modernism that I think we have yet to fully understand.” My only equivocation here would be that this latency extends even further back, to the first generation, in the extreme belatedness of William Carlos Williams’s reputation and the somewhat belatedness of Ezra Pound’s (Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era had a now lost polemical edge at the end of what had for several decades seem to have been the Eliot Era.)
Some time ago I tried (fairly hard, at least by my standards) to find a record online of the contents of the issue. Poetry’s online “Historical Archive” only lists by author. So last time I was up in Seattle I nipped into the Special Collections Room & jotted down the information. I offer it after the jump as a service to future searchers.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
EU Transnational Anthem
Here’s a post I’ve wanted to do for a long time, only I thought it was more Crooked Timberish, and I’m not a Crooked Timberer. But now that we’re part of an Everything Studies co-operative w/the Timberites, I’m going for it.
Here’s a suggestion for a new EU Anthem: Abba’s “Lay All Your Love On Me”:
This choice has many advantages:
(1) Abba is popular in all EU countries.
(2) Choosing this song would recognize one of the great European cultural achievements of the last 25 years, namely keeping disco music alive & well. (Cue O-Zone!)
(3) The message is right: lay all your love on the Union! transfer your nationalistic feelings to the greater whole! I assume that’s what the Unionists want.
(4) The chorus is positively anthemic. Can’t you just here a whole stadium of football fans singing it? Imagine, at the end of the UEFA Cup finals, both sides singing one song. Peace & harmony, forever!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
By which I mean Blake’s. But what follows is as histrionic as anything yowled by Friedberger frére et soeur. Something John Dolan said about Wordsworth made me think of something Allen Grossman said about Wordsworth and Blake.
Grossman’s bit comes from the Harvard Advocate interview I have previously mentioned. Since then I have found an extent version on the Buffalo Poetics Listserv, though it has formatting difficulties. Here’s the relevant bit from the interview: “The master from whom we can renew our motive to poetry is Blake. The effort to consider Wordsworth and to learn from him has failed.”
Grossman would seem to be pointing to the same consideration Dolan ends his study with, the continued hegemony of Wordsworthian poetics to this day. But Grossman has a different frame of reference. Not that he doesn’t recognize and respect the sociological aspects, but ultimately Grossman’s perspective stands on a high peak of metaphysical dramaturgy, as shown in the reference to Blake as a “master.” Still, there are some affinities between Grossman’s celestial and Dolan’s sublunary accounts.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Most folks, I assume, who’ve surfed their share on the internet have heard of The Exile. It’s a poorly mannered free weekly, to put it mildly. One of its most popular writers, perhaps even the most popular, is John Dolan. At least if you count what he writes as under his nom de guerre, Gary Brecher, the War Nerd. But in addition to his military obsessions, there’s a literary side. Under the byline of Dr. Dolan, he has written scads of reviews, most of them with a typical rhetorical swagger, such as the piece that designated Auden “The World’s Most Overrated Poet.”
But in addition to being a journalistic bad boy, Dolan is very much a Doctor, having received a PhD from the Rhetoric department at Berkeley. He’s even had academic jobs, though he gave up a tenured position in New Zealand to write for The Exile full time because, according to one of his online bios, he “didn’t want to spend the rest of his life writing with footnotes.” However, despite his distaste for such writing, he has managed to publish one well-footnoted monograph, Poetic Occasion from Milton to Wordsworth, and I think it’s a fine example of academic writing, a remarkably entertaining read and quite informative. It illuminates a somewhat obscure period in English literature and explains the origins of the dominant strain of contemporary English poetry. Dolan has written a history vital for today.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The Fantastic Four Zoas
Why aren’t William Blake’s late prophecies more popular? Blake is thoroughly anthologized, canonized, etc. even if it’s a little hard to fit him into a strong central narrative for his period (the key to success in any survey course, for sure).
As you well know, if you have any familiarity with the Four Zoas, Milton, and/or Jerusalem, and/or the other episodes in the idiosyncratic mythos Blake spent the last half of his life constructing, there are good reasons to not read them.
For your edification and entertainment, let me rehearse some of those reasons and add one you might not have thought of. But don’t let me stop there. I have a solution to this problem, guaranteed to take Blake’s “mental fight” mainstream, maybe even bring Hollywood into the picture!
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Jack Spicer’s Best Seller, Trout Fishing in America
Another day, another example of my ignorance. On the recommendation of a student, I picked up Trout Fishing in America. That someone eighteen years old would even know about the book was my first surprise. Even though I’d never read any of his stuff, Richard Brautigan was a low-level iconic figure for me, one of those symbols floating around from my pre-adolescence, like macramé or communes. To put it bluntly, I thought he was a hippy.
The bigger surprise came when I read the dedication page: “To Jack Spicer and Ron Loewinsohn.” Loewinsohn wasn’t the surprise. I’d known of him at Berkeley, that he’d been a teenaged San Francisco scene poet, but had gone on to get a Ph.D. (what must it be like to have your collected poems published while in graduate school?) and get a grown-up job, joined the tweed jacket and silk tie crew. Though I’d only read his novel Magnetic Field(s), which compared favorably to the Kundera that was so popular when I was in college, I had no idea about his poetry. I just assumed he was a Beatnik. And I’m a sloppy enough thinker to accommodate hippies and Beatniks within the same prejudice.
But Spicer? Why was he there, the anti-Beatnik, anti-Ferlinghetti? How could the acidic Spicer be associated w/any noodly, wet hippy stuff?
Saturday, June 10, 2006
So it’s the other day, and from the library I’ve got the Criterion DVD edition of The Lady Eve. One reason for getting the Criterion edition is to get the commentary. In this case, it’s by Marian Keene. At the time I have no idea who she is. But as I start to play the film, with commentary, I am asking myself, “Will this Marian Keene be mentioning Stanley Cavell?” For this film is a central text of, in fact, the first work discussed in Pursuits of Happiness, his book on what had been hitherto exclusively known as “screwball comedy.” To be honest I haven’t watched that many Criterion DVD’s, & don’t have a sense of how academic the commentary gets. & I’ve never had an objective view of how difficult or pertinent Cavell’s work is. Back when I was an undergrad & reading lots of Cavell, I thought that he was very accessible, and that everyone should read him. I think I even started thinking that everyone had read him. Since then I’ve come more to my senses, but have never fully shaken my early infatuation.
Does she mention him? Mention him, she can’t stop talking about him! Cavell’s thought is brought in throughout, and explains all the significant points of the film, & the only other critic mentioned is Northrop Frye, whom Cavell also mentions (& not just mentions: the central conceits of Pursuits rework Frye’s thought on Shakespeare). If I’d known more, I wouldn’t have been surprised. In addition to commenting on other films for Criterion (mostly Hitchcock), Keane has written, with William Rothman, a commentary on Cavell’s The World Viewed (a book I’ve previously mentioned) called Reading Cavell’s The World Viewed. So she should know her stuff. And her commentary for Lady Eve accessibly presents the stuff. Or at least I think so, but as I said, I’m not a judge in these matters.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
I am one hundred pages into H. L. Mencken’s The American Language, and I have as yet to get an explicit statement of what exactly constitutes American as opposed to English. But given his descriptions so far, it seems to be mostly a matter of vocabulary: Americans use different words or use words differently than the English. This idea disappoints me. As far as describing language goes, matters of reference are easy. Or at least easy compared to matters of syntax. While it is true, as Steve Martin said, that the French have a different word for everything, what seems really different is how they put the words together. Why do they say, “Ma mére, c’est toi,” instead of “Tu es ma mére”? This focus on vocabulary weakens Mencken’s book, which breaks down into word trivia. Not bad trivia (Thomas Jefferson provides the first written example of “to belittle”), but the word-a-day calendar form of the book might be more entertaining & not that much less informative.
By the way, this same break, vocabulary vs. syntax, is a major weakness of Saussurean linguistics, right? & thus of all theories derived from Saussurean linguistics. (End gratuitous flame-war baiting.)
So instead of starting right into a description of his subject, The American Language (or the abridged edition, at least) leads off with a history of evaluations of the subject, an account of the many detractors and the few defenders of American English. Most of the back-and-forth is between lexicographers, scholars, and critics. And most of it is stuffy Englishmen horrified at the Americans, spineless Americans horrified at themselves, with a handful of plucky iconoclasts sticking up for the vigorous newfangledness. The kind of story that appeals to Mencken. (Does it appeal to us? Is that fight done & over with? Who can resist our cultural juggernaut?)
Okay, I’ll lay off the nonsense. After talking about critics, Mencken has a shorter section on fiction and poetry writers. & here Mencken says a couple of interesting things.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
How vs. What
I would like to start off our discussion of How Novels Think with some considerations that might seem both painfully obvious and annoyingly obtuse, or at least off-topic. Instead of taking up the specific details of Armstrong’s argument, I would like to isolate one of its presumptions. Actually, something even more basic than a presumption, and something almost universally accepted in literary studies. It is my belief, though, that remembering basic facts, and pointing out what goes without saying, can help keep our pursuits oriented.
I am entirely unfamiliar with Nancy Armstrong’s work, but was quite attracted by the title of this book, as it raises the possibility that literary artifacts have agency. And Armstrong explores this possibility throughout. For example, she almost always attributes arguments to books, rarely to their authors.
Whether or not one is interested in such a pursuit could be a matter of taste. Those taken by the idea of Modernist impersonalism might find if more intriguing than those enamored of Augustan rationalism. But the pursuit need not be an expression of partisanship. It might be considered as a means for ascertaining what degree the medium of thought (novels, poems, etc.) determines the kind of thought. This experiment would be in theoretical formalism, not just describing the features of literary form, but attempting to ascertain form’s function.
My primary desire when I took up Armstrong’s book was to see what if offered in the way of theoretical formalism. & as with any desire, mine has distorting effects. For me these distortions began before I even opened the book. When I read Armstrong’s title, I immediately considered it as making a distinction: how novels think vs. what they think. This of course is not a fair approach to any work. There’s the typical respondent at a talk whose response to the paper amounts to a selfish complaint: “you haven’t made the argument I would have made if I were up at the podium.” & I expect Armstrong would be wary of the how vs. what distinction, if for no other reason than how the how so easily bleeds into the what, and vice versa. It can seem a practically impossible distinction to make.
Still, pursuing the distinction can be informative, similar to pursuing (even if per impossible) the possibility of textual agency. & I believe Armstrong’s book has an actual answer to the question, though a humble one. & the humility, I will suggest, albeit cursorily, does not reflect on Armstrong as much as it does on the novel itself, or at least its general reception by literary critics.