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
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Nancy Armstrong’s How Novels Think: A Valve Book Event
For the next three days, we will posting and commenting on Nancy Armstrong’s How Novels Think: The Limits of Individualism from 1719-1900. This book event is the latest in our series that includes Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees, as well as the anthologies Theory’s Empire and The Literary Wittgenstein. This time we Valvesters will be joined by Jason Jones of The Salt Box.
Ms. Armstrong is a Professor of English, Comparative Literature, Modern Culture and Media, and Gender Studies at Brown. How Novels Think “argues that the history of the novel and the history of the modern individual are, quite literally, one and the same.” Armstrong places the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel at a central position in both the history of thought and history in general, granting the novel power to create and regulate individualism as wide-spread social phenomenon.
As with our Moretti event, we will examine Armstrong’s work in itself and in its significance for literary studies in general.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
That Adorno Post
1,000 years ago, in Valve time, Amardeep asked if we shouldn’t be talking about Adorno at some point, yet we still haven’t, at least not directly. So let’s!
What, do I need to say any more? Can’t I just drop the name, like the referee dropping the puck at a face-off, & back out of harm’s way? Or like the zookeeper, can’t I just throw the meat into the lion cage & keep resolutely on my side of the fence? Adorno is, to say the least, a controversial figure, to be criticized from the left as well as the right. Or from up and down, or inside and out. Pick your perspectives.
But I think he’s worth taking seriously, & below the fold I’ll offer a couple of meager reasons why, in hopes of initiating a useful discussion in the comments.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Cake. All Right Here?
Do you read screenplays? If not why not, if you read plays? Or perhaps you do: then which? Are screenplays even readable? & come to think of it, do you really read plays? It’s been ages since I have.
But I’ve read a screenplay recently, a well-suited one: Withnail and I. I just saw the film last year, so I’m a decade plus late to the party. More British comedy, chock-a-block with catchphrases. A very readable script, because the movie was all dialogue. On the page I’m not embarassed by the excerable cinematography. & the staging directions are quite narratorly, novelistic:
110. EXT. REGENT’S PARK. CAMDEN TOWN. DAY.
The park is as bleak and deserted as its ever been. The afternoon is dissolving into threadbare rain. They walk the paths like they’ve done a dozen times before. But they were together then. And now they’re already alone. Strangers already. And the sweet and sour music is but an addition to the wider sentiment.
One curious note. In the movie, Danny the drug dealer says, “We are sixty days from the end of the greatest decade in the history of mankind.” In the script, the superlative is missing, & it’s just “this decade.” Given recent obsessions here at The Valve, this might be an interesting shift.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
That was Then
Rarely does something appear on BoingBoing that could be imported directly over here, but some months ago something did, a list of The 50 Most Cited Twentieth Century Works in the Arts & Humanities Citation Index, 1976-1983. I offer the link, for your consideration. I’ll start by throwing out a couple of thoughts.
There’s plenty of evidence here of the ascendancy of Theory, that’s for sure, but note Frye. Does anyone complain that Theory pushed Frye out? & this is supposed to be all the Arts & Humanities: why does it seem dominated by literary concerns? Is that a sign of the newness of the field? Would the other disicplines would be dominated by older works? & finally, wasn’t Joyce the man? Of the handful of actual literary works on the list, he’s got the first two, plus another.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Taking what Luther has said into account, another note on what commonly gets called surrealism, or at least surrealistic. So Ray says the Goon Show isn’t improved by a big budget. So, we might ask, how good was it on a small budget? (The lack of budget was a sore point for its writer, Spike Milligan.) But how can we tell how good it was, forty-five years removed and a continent away? Well, Monty Python was almost as long ago, and that same continent apart. Then and there the Goons had the same power over adolescents that Python had here, to the point of colonizing their brains, though the Goons seemed to cut across the social spectrum more, for example, including both young Prince Charles and young John Lennon, while the Pythons were for those who watched public television. You know who you are.
Most importantly, The Goon Show was radio, not television. The BBC kept up with theatrical radio production long after it had died in the U.S. The Goons decided to stop in 1960: the network was willing to keep going. In fact, they’re rebroadcasting episodes still. Though there was a small vogue in old-time radio in my youth, it was all strictly American. Stuff like Amos & Andy—can you believe that? you could still hear Amos & Andy into the Seventies. Scary.
Cassettes and CDs have been issued, but most conveniently, there’s lots on the internet. One episode a week is available for free on the BBC 7 homepage (click on “A to Z of all shows” under “Listen Live” button), and for some reason the copyright gods are looking the other way & various fan sites have scripts of every recorded show. So I don’t think it would be too abstruse for me to make a couple of comments.Continue reading "Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?"
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Terry Southern’s Quality Lit
(Another, this one obliquely relevant, note on surrealism.) When folks think of Terry Southern, if they do, they mostly think of the screenwriter for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or maybe his appearance on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s. But at one time Southern was a rising player in what he called the “Quality Lit game.” He displayed marvelous potential and was effusively praised by Dwight MacDonald, James Jones, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, William S. Burroughs, and Henry Green. Realization, though, fell short. Four novels and a collection of short stories appeared during his life. A couple more items have appeared since, but his reputation has had no great revival.
The neglect isn’t entirely unjustified. Southern’s output was both small and uneven. His best works shine with brilliances, yet each seems lacking. Despite being a minor writer, he is very interesting culturally, occupying an interesting middle position between the 60’s (a recently hot topic, for some odd reason, hereabouts), and the previous era. He is also interesting literarily as a stylist. Say what you may about his sensibility, as a writer of sentences and paragraphs, he is a rare model for any aspiring prose stylist.Continue reading "Terry Southern’s Quality Lit"
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Separated at Birth?
While paying my respects among the obituaries for Hunter S. Thompson, I read that Nelson Algren’s Walk on the Wild Side had been an important early influence. (Isn’t this kind of curiosity, wanting to know what came before, one of the most basic, primitive features of the scholarly mind?) When I got around to Walk, the relation to Thompson seemed clear. Let’s say Algren displays lots of narrative brio. But the first part of the book, set in the Rio Grande Valley, in the (literally) godforsaken town of Arroyo, sparked an odd association. The narration was surprisingly disjointed, shifting between paragraphs, or between sentences, similar to the swerving rants of the novel’s alcoholic sidewalk preacher, Fitz Linkhorn.
In its dreamlike juxtapositions, Walk on the Wild Side oddly resembled something I’d read a couple of years ago, John Hawkes’s 1951 novel, The Beetle Leg. Both are set in arid, futile locations: the Hawkes a thousand miles or so west of the Algren, in the death-in-life of an inhabited ghost town, the former construction camp of a dam. The dam has failed to bring life to the desert, but a handful of zombie-like characters remain. Nothing happens there, it would seem, other than the dam slowly shifting the width of a beetle’s leg every year (thus symbolizing a High Modernist topos, the least possible difference). This early novel of Hawkes’s is High Modernism at its highest, an intensely wrought exercise in narration by omission. The individual elements of the story, disconnected from each other, take on a numinous quality, though it’s a cold glow. I could imagine that a young David Lynch read this book and burned with the thought of making movies just like it. Which he didn’t. Even at his best, there’s a whiff of cheese about Lynch’s work. Hawkes is much too dry for any curdling.Continue reading "Separated at Birth?"
Monday, December 05, 2005
What’s Ashbery to You?
Over at his blog, Scott posted a quotation from Robert Mazzocco that seems both very right and very wrong. At the least it’s an opportunity to spout opinions. Mazzocco:
[Ashbery’s] ability to go on and on has always struck me as the signal characteristic of the work of John Ashbery. Many of Ashbery’s poems are really improvisations on the theme of flux.
Going on is an essential feature of Ashbery’s work. His charm lies in his eloquence, an apparently limitless loquaciousness, turning phrase after phrase. There is a definite oral quality to it, reminding me of coworkers at menial jobs I’ve had who could go on & on w/out saying much & endlessly entertain. It’s an evanescent quality, one almost always lost in any thematic reading. Not even he can explain it to you. His poems have themes, but they are the weakest part of his work. Inasmuch as they go on, they’re wonderful. Inasmuch as they talk about going on, they’re tedious.
In yet another futile attempt to get beyond the thematic, I would say he’s doing something rather than saying something. (Ach, the dreading show vs. say! A sure sign that I’m as lost as anyone here.)
There has to be a better way of understanding what he’s doing. This is true of all writers (otherwise no scholarship, eh?), but even moreso of Ashbery. Take when Adam Roberts in Scott’s comment thread dismisses Ashbery & offers a stanza picked “at random” as evidence. This should be patently unfair, but given the state of Ashbery’s body of work (a dirty big mass of poesy), it’s to be expected. An exquisite selection the size of Eliot’s collected (the standard meter bar for measuring all life works) would help a good deal. At least it would help me.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
An Advertisement for Jack Spicer
Another note on surrealism. (What? Can a series contain such gaps? Why, this post touches on that very question. “It coheres all right”!)
Folks should read Jack Spicer. Who, you say? One third of the Berkeley Renaissance (whose brand-name got stolen by the Big Media Superstar Beats in San Francisco), along with the better known Robert Duncan (but how much better known?) and the even less well-known Robin Blaser, Spicer has a lot to offer an academic audience.
He is very interesting biographically. Not just gay, but a member of the Mattachine Society, which is to say, very cutting edge. Refused to sign the Loyalty Oath at UC in 1950, which is to say again, very cutting edge, and it lost him his TAship, & he didn’t really have any other way to make a living, so his politics had a concrete dimension.
But in back of all this good stuff, there’s also a good deal of nastiness. Letters and associate’s accounts reveal racist tendencies (a nice way to put it), and he was one of the all-time drunks. Drinking yourself dead by forty takes some amount of talent.
& in between those poles, he was also super-obsessed with baseball and sports in general, a rare trait in an avant-garde poet.
All in all, a very complicated character, which means, lots of stuff for investigation and argument.
His main work is compact. & for those of us who lack the stamina of true scholars, this is a good thing. (How pleasant of Mr. Eliot to leave us a small volume of Collected Poems.) His mature work takes up 260 or so pages of The Collected Books. Any remaining extent poems are collected in a thin volume, One Night Stand & Other Poems. There’s a short (actually, unfinished) detective novel, Tower of Babel. The collected lectures, The House That Jack Built, have the biggest word count of any of these, but they are mostly Q & A sessions, which is to say, many of the words aren’t his. All in all, it takes up less than a foot on your bookshelf. (If you can get them on your bookshelf. Whether or not these books will get back in print or stay there, that’s another issue.)
Though his work is hermetic, and though there isn’t a lot of scholarship to fall back on, there are a number of hermeneutic aids available. Blaser’s substantial essay at the back of Collected Books is a great help. Blaser has as smart and as strong a poetic sensibility Duncan’s, but is much more sympathetic to Spicer’s work. The recently published lectures give a more direct account of Spicer’s practice. And there is also the biography, Poet Be Like God, a rambling series of anecdotes that captures the social scene behind the poems (very important in this case) and gives your referents for all the names of the beloved scattered through the poems.
Now, in my previous post on the subject, there was a sense of antagonism between the hermetic and hermeneutic. It’s a fraught situation: inside vs. outside, writer vs. critic, a lone book besieged by armies of readers. But with Collected Books, we have that nicest of features, an internal hermeneutic device, and one placed in that most convenient of places, at the beginning, with the first book, “After Lorca.” This poem, or series of poems, or serial poem, marks the turn in Spicer’s career, a turn from working on poems as individual objects, and a turn toward what Blaser called the “practice of the Outside.” Spicer calls it taking “dictation” from “Martians” (in other words, the muse system). Despite all the difficulty of the later work, “After Lorca” presents an intermediate step, something that makes it easier for the reader, a bridge from something already known (the writing of Garcia Lorca) to something new. The poem even includes direct prose explanations of the work, in the form of correspondence between Spicer and a twenty-years dead Francisco Garcia Lorca.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
You Lose, Hermeneut!
Today I would like to talk about a little bit from Kafka, “On Parables.” What follows touches on recent Mark posts, my inaugural surrealism post, and even the great John Emerson v. all of Professional Philosophy Literary Wittgenstein kerfuffle. In keeping with the spirit of Valvism, it also talks about theory and literary criticism. Most of all, it is a lesson against lessons.
Monday, May 09, 2005
The Wrong Ones Can’t Get Saved
Aha! My chance has come at last! Jonathan’s recent post on editorial problems in the Book of Mark is the crack in the doorway through which I will barge in with a personal anecdote for years I have been dying to tell. It is a tale of a hapless TA in over his head and how he, much to his surprise, kept his students at bay. & it all turns on the strangeness of Mark. It really should have been in the comment thread, but it’s stupid long, not to say, Holbonic. No, really, I don’t want to say that.Continue reading "The Wrong Ones Can’t Get Saved"
Sunday, May 01, 2005
A Note on Surrealism
This will be the first of a series of brief comments and queries I would like to make on the subject of surrealism. By way of introduction to the whole shebang, I would like to reference two comments by important (for me) critics, Allen Grossman and Guy Davenport.
In 2000, Grossman gave an interview to the Harvard Advocate, which for some reason is no longer available online or even in Google’s cache, as far as I can tell. Grossman is a great interview: he has a thought (at least) on just about everything, & even in conversation he’s aphoristic. What I will quote tonight is not one of the zingers from the interview, but it gave me pause. In the course of a geographic survey of High Modernism, which he sees as a monumental “self-revision…practiced almost in unison across the whole spectrum of European writing,” he credits France with “this enormous, and still conceptually unassessed innovation of surrealism, which incorporates the high cultural insights that Freud, for example, offered.” Two things spark my interest here: (1) the possibility that surrealism has yet to be accounted for, and (2) the idea that surrealism in a sense precedes Freud, if not chronologically, then logically (if that’s the right word). This would seem to forestall any psychoanalytic reduction of the surrealistic project. & though I think psychoanalysis is a hoot, I wish it wouldn’t go around reducing things.
This idea that surrealism is larger than any heretofore offered account of it corresponds with some thoughts on surrealism I came across in Davenport’s “Civilization and Its Opposite in the 1940s,” from The Hunger Gracchus:
Friday, April 15, 2005
Something for the Toolbox
According to Cavell, J.L. Austin thought that one of the problems with philosophy was a lack of variety of examples, in particular when considering questions of knowledge, whether or not we can know something. One of Austin’s innovations, then, was inventing new cases: hence the asking whether or not that’s a goldfinch in the bottom of the garden.
In current criticism, there’s one example that gets used a fair bit, a petite blague that demonstrates the irrationality of supposed rational categorizations. I’m thinking of Borges’ Chinese Encyclopedia. Here it is, courtesy of Tom Van Vleck, who also lists some who have cited it:
In “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Borges describes ‘a certain Chinese Encyclopedia,’ the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which it is written that animals are divided into:
1. those that belong to the Emperor,
2. embalmed ones,
3. those that are trained,
4. suckling pigs,
6. fabulous ones,
7. stray dogs,
8. those included in the present classification,
9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
10. innumerable ones,
11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
14. those that from a long way off look like flies.
Now I’m not saying that the example has gotten tedious yet. It still tickles me pink. But should it ever wear out its welcome, may I suggest an alternative, courtesy of my six year old daughter’s upcoming dance recital?
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Gary Lutz, My Hero
or, A DJ Saved My Life Last Night
I love teaching composition. Since I could very well spend the rest of my career adjunct teaching at community colleges, this is a blessing. But it was not a case of love at first class session. The feeling has grown over the years. One moment in this process stands out, an interview in the local bohemian weekly with Gary Lutz, a writer of experimental fiction. In his answers, Lutz gave me a sense that teaching composition could be an honorable, in the stuffy, old-fashioned sense, profession. I was impressed by his overall dignity, especially when he says, “I am a grammarian.” & you don’t have to take his word for that. Slate considers him such.
My professional self-esteem issues aside, the interview also lead me to read Lutz’s work, which is a much more substantial reward. His writing is a delight, and as with all true delights, it is aesthetically captivating and intellectually compelling. But still I come back to my job. Lutz’s stories make me think about the relation between experimental fiction and student composition papers.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
What is Poetry? Take 1
Inspired by a post over at John’s home blog, I have been reading in The Literary Wittgenstein. The central Wittgenstein aphorism for the book, found on the back page, right inside the front page, & throughout the essays, goes as follows:
I think I summed up my position when I said: philosophy really ought to be written only as a form of poetry.
It’s hard to know what that means, but it sure is interesting. Having been chastened, though, by Russell as to “interesting” philosophy, I await John’s review & its corrective disenchantment before I say anything about Wittgenstein here. But I would like to talk about poetry in the larger sense, as Wittgenstein does here. What is poetry, in the larger sense?
Continue reading "What is Poetry? Take 1"