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Statement of Purpose

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 Ray Davis

Ray Davis was a Valve contributor through May 2006. He continues to publish his own and others' work at pseudopodium.org.

Email Address: raydavis@pseudopodium.org
Website: http://www.pseudopodium.org/

 

Posts by Ray Davis

Friday, October 07, 2005

Playstationed

Posted by Ray Davis on 10/07/05 at 06:55 PM

Variations on a theme by Amardeep Singh

I have always liked Andersen's fairy tale of the Steadfast Tin Soldier. Fundamentally, it is the symbol of my life.
- Thomas Mann to Agnes Meyer
At that moment one of the little boys picked up the soldier and tossed him right into the stove, giving no explanation at all. The troll in the box was most certainly to blame.
The tin soldier stood there, brightly lit, and felt a terrible heat, but whether it was from the actual fire or from love, he didn't know. The paint had worn right off him, but whether this happened on his journey or from sorrow, no one could say.
- Hans Christian Andersen
Every day you see his army march down the street,
Changing guards at the High Road.
He's a tin soldier man
Living in his little tin wonderland,
Very happy little tin soldier man
When you set him on your knee.

In Singh's account, a feminist critic of Toy Story would be pleased that a girl owns toys. A less sanguinely imagined feminist would also note the toys' rigid gender segregation, with girls relegated to support and nagging while character development, plot points, and boffos go to the boys. Another viewer might be nettled by the contrast between a story which merged handmade family toys with imported plastics and a production which contributed to the replacement of hand-drawn original characters with celebrity-voiced 3-D models. Or by the movie's recycling in more concentrated form an earlier era's conformist fantasies, newly trademarking someone else's nostalgia to push "like momma used to buy" security. And leave us let aside those misguided children who for some reason lack access to such lovably life-fulfilling objects....

I believe these reactions to the Toy Story movies are possible since, alongside cheerier reactions, I felt them all myself. And, as with Amardeep's reactions, I think they all suggest stories about criticism. He's struck (or stuck) a rich vein here as Hans Christian Andersen did when he first made the fairy tale a vehicle for meta-fiction.

Continue reading "Playstationed"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

School of Hard Equinox

Posted by Ray Davis on 09/25/05 at 11:02 PM

No one has time this time of the academic year, and some people have even less. We Valvettes, for example, haven’t had time to arrange the catering and formal invitations needed for a properly Bakhtinian carnival. I haven’t even had time to write my own weblog post.

Luckily for the world of literary scholarship and criticism, some have more inner resources.

By the simple expedient of lengthening their Sunday, Amie translated Celan, Mark Kaplan found “The world’s a stage” means something different from a stage, and Alphonse van Worden (gratuitous Zizek namedrop in hand) and John Pistelli strolled with China Miéville through the transitional neighborhoods of genre, realism, experiment, politics, and killing Jonathan Franzen.

On Beauty is arguably her most ambitious novel,” and Steve Mitchelmore accepted the invitation. In similar moods, Literary Thug accepts Herzog, Paul K. pronounced last rites over The Literary Wittgenstein, I turned out to share one literary distaste with Aaron Haspel, and Matthew Cheney reviewed fast reviewers of Slow Man.

On the positive tip, Eric M. Selinger proved the necessity of sins, Narrow Shore proved the possibility of literary history, and GZombie showed the true meaning of editions.

Although it technically falls outside the purview of this survey, I’d also like to thank GZombie for pointing to “The Political Economy of Reading“ by William St. Clair, who’s stripped the covers from the stolen paperback ménage à trois between cost, copyright, and repression:

The business purpose was to prevent the high price market in the complete texts from being undermined. Since the clampdown was not retroactive, the older texts, that is those for which an intellectual property ownership claim had been made before 1600, continued to be reprinted. This resulted in the build up of vested commercial interests in prolonging the existence of the older texts that had been first printed before the clampdown. A political economy approach helps to explain why after 1774 the reading nation grew rapidly until near universality was reached by the end of the nineteenth. It explains why Shakespeare disappeared from popular reading, from 1594 to 1808, and why a body of texts of mediaeval romance that had been continuously favoured for many centuries should suddenly lose all appeal around 1800.

Among the poet blogs, K. Silem Mohammad has been putting us all to shame with the ideological function of irony, the birth of critical conscience, and the problem of reviewing poetry. Mark Scroggins offered a solution and the next edition of Transatlantic Zukofsky. Nick Piombino served poetry where everybody knows your name, and k page harris gave new meaning to poetry of place.

“Joshua Clover” (aka “Jane Dark") issued an efficient looking manifesto for Marxist criticism and/of emergent poetics, with Henry Gould responding antagonistically, Jordan Davis and Thomas Basbøll more equanimital, but everyone a bit puzzled about how to set about belonging to the present when they have no choice in the matter, and how to attempt a historicist reading of contemporary writing. By definition, isn’t the reader always more thoroughly embedded in history than the poem? Still, as Ron Silliman showed, you don’t have to wait long for shared references to require a bit of research. Helping the researcher: memoirs from Marjorie Perloff and Rosmarie Waldrop

The Valve’s own Miriam Burstein has expressed sensible skepticism regarding the Startling Origins of Oliver Twist! and produced a splendidly concise appreciation of John Crowley’s Lord Byron’s Novel. As a scholar of the period and a scholar of historical novels, L.P. is likely to outclass the reviewer in your or my local paper. Staying in the world of High Genre, a duel to the brain death over Gene Wolfe’s honor has been taking place over at Acephalous. I’m staying out of the crossfire, but those who miss the most venemous years of the NYRB letters column may feel at home.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Terrorist of Malta, Part III

Posted by Ray Davis on 09/18/05 at 01:17 PM

No government which executed so many citizens could be called "small," but Elizabethan England was certainly privatized: Constantinople's "British ambassadors" were directly employed by the Levant Company. Government's role was to coordinate espionage networks, corporal punishment, military action, proclamations of religious intent, spectacular patronage, and highly profitable monopolies by and for the benefit of the powerful few. Delivering arms to yesterday's or tomorrow's enemy helped finance the looting of today's. Power was centralized and capricious, the middle class kept in line by a mix of fear and feverish speculation. Life was spent in display and exited in debt. Expressions of charity, unlike professions of faith, were left strictly to the individual conscience; long-lived consciences learned to be flexible in their professions.

Marlowe's play fantastically alters a siege that took place the year after his birth. Obviously, some alterations were part of his job as a playwright with a scene-chewer to feed. Speculatively, some were due to religious-economic war with Catholic empires and Anglo-Turkish conspiracies against Malta.

Given these backgrounds, what strikes me about the play isn't its cynicism, or its plea for tolerance, delivered by neo-con Machiavelli himself:

I crave but this,— grace him as he deserves,
And let him not be entertain'd the worse
Because he favours me.

What strikes me is who's been added and who are missing.

Continue reading "The Terrorist of Malta, Part III"

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Terrorist of Malta, Part II

Posted by Ray Davis on 09/11/05 at 04:04 PM

And so if I knew someone who was going to read The Jew of Malta or make other people read it, I would recommend "Another Country" to them. (Or more likely give them a copy.)

Without wanting to denigrate (or re-trace) Wilson's hard work in the archives, I would also mention a few problems.

Continue reading "The Terrorist of Malta, Part II"

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Terrorist of Malta, Part I

Posted by Ray Davis on 09/05/05 at 03:46 PM

"Another Country: Marlowe and the Go-Between" by Richard Wilson,
Renaissance Go-Betweens: Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe,
ed. Andreas Höfele & Werner von Koppenfels

I first read The Jew of Malta as shallow trash at about the level of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, with hand-waving taken care of by anti-Semitism in lieu of horror conventions.

Richard Wilson read it as a torn-from-tomorrow's-broadsides thriller, fueled by insider knowledge of London's hottest political and economic issues.

In my reading, Marlowe's Malta was as flat a backdrop as Shakespeare's Verona, the temporary alliance of "Christian" and "Turk" was pure plot convenience, and the long-winded wheeling-dealing of Barabas made a poor verbal substitute for the wallows and dives of Uncle Scrooge's vault.

In Wilson's reading, these desiccated passages reincarnadine.

Continue reading "The Terrorist of Malta, Part I"

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Correlation methods of comparing idiolects in a transition area

Posted by Ray Davis on 08/16/05 at 02:17 PM

John L. Spicer: Correlation methods of comparing idiolects in a transition area

The cover of Jack Spicer's seventh book seems such a straightforward depiction of the poet's place in the academy.

I wish some other poets with day jobs had tried similar designs: a paregoric prescription by William Carlos Williams; a double indemnity policy by Wallace Stevens; a profits chart by Ron Silliman; a customs report by Geoffrey Chaucer....

Saturday, August 06, 2005

_Warlock_ by Oakley Hall, 1958

Posted by Ray Davis on 08/06/05 at 01:10 PM

The judge nodded. "Just a process," he said. "That's all you are. What are men to me?" He rubbed his hand over his face as though he were trying to scrape his features off.

Warlock's prose is solid, sturdy, heavy less lively than Elmore Leonard's; less introverted than Charles O. Locke's and sculpts its characters into familiar forms: noble lawman, autocratic rancher, Byronic gambler, open-hearted cowboy, drunken judge, liberal doctor, the good angel, the wicked lady, the vacillating chorus of shopkeepers, the comic counterpoint of the dime-novel mythologist....

Familiar enough to disappoint if you've heard the book puffed as revisionist. Hall didn't aim to be the Western's Suetonius but its Thucydides.

Warlock remains very much a Western. It would have to be.

Continue reading "_Warlock_ by Oakley Hall, 1958"

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Liebestod of the Author

Posted by Ray Davis on 07/30/05 at 05:51 PM

(Started as a response to John Holbo before it merged into another piece & became ridiculously long, but the original, its sequel, & their comments are at least as worth reading as this)
"And it does no good knowing certain biographical and historical facts about Wagner, or facts about his sources and influences, or even about his own before or after the fact and outside the score comments."
- sounds & fury
"Our acts, you might say, are always improper in the sense that they are never our property."
- Patchen Markell, Bound by Recognition

Truffaut said auteur theory stopped making sense to him once he started making movies. And many critical homilies became doubtful to me as I became better acquainted with the process of fiction writing.

The solid ground of intentionality, for example, grows fuzzy and falls apart when we sincerely try to follow through and find that intention.

Most writers aren't particularly obsessive readers of their own books: indifference or disgust are more conducive to production of new material. When we turn to biography, we usually find it less effective as interpretation than as dismissal: "Well, she was drunk when she wrote it." (Or, in Jamesonian mode, "What do you expect from a bourgeois sexist imperialist?")

In a reminiscing mood, the writer may tell us they began a work with intentions that were overturned along the way. Characters speak for themselves. The form has a mind of its own. Something happened on the walk to the grocery store; it seemed to fit. Simple boredom incites revolt. And yet what we're given to interpret is a whole and entire object rather than the process of making.

Then there's "style", best defined as that characteristic stink we're unable to cover up or scrub away. Our experiences and reactions aren't products of a sovereign will. At seismically active bedrock, the structures and accidents of our language are a given.

Tellingly, the writers most notoriously insistent on conscious agency also notoriously refuse help to critics: "But Mr. Hicraft, what does lie behind this passage if not subconscious compulsion?" "The page speaks for itself." "But Ms. Locraft, why that particular phrase?" "Because I have to make a living." These remarks aren't useful except insofar as they keep us from prattling nonsense, and at that they don't seem to have been very successful.

Continue reading "The Liebestod of the Author"

Monday, July 04, 2005

Return of the Snobbish Dead Part III

Posted by Ray Davis on 07/04/05 at 07:13 PM

Somewhat perversely, Limited Inc. asserts that "Santayana is a philosopher one should read." Although I don't myself share LI's high opinion, I do share his perversity, and therefore am pleased to pass along the single piece of Santayanania I've enjoyed, "What Is a Philistine?", if only for its magnificent final paragraph.

Speaking of last lines, I am now convinced that Sir John Davies's Gulling Sonnets (c. 1595) contains the ultimate Elizabethan closing couplet:

Pumps of presumption shall adorn his feet,
And socks of sullenness exceeding sweet.

And speaking of my perversity, I'm hatefully charmed by these early portraits of humanities scholars who ventured into political activism and cutting-edge science, both by James Kenneth Stephen, university wit, misogynist, Virginia Woolf's cousin, and possible Ripper.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

O Felix Errorem!

Posted by Ray Davis on 06/25/05 at 07:27 PM

In whom the dear errata column
Is the best page in all the volume!
Thomas Moore

Establishing the "real meaning" is one goal of the critic's game, but no one achieves a perfect final score, even when they live in the author's time and know the author intimately. (Sociologists estimate that I misunderstand approximately 82% of what I write myself.) Although Blake wasn't referring to the Industrial Revolution, our "dark Satanic mills" still reek of coal.

Since it's unavoidable, we might as well celebrate the preservative and generative aspects of literary misinterpretation. Misreading Virgil as a Christian prophet benefitted both Virgil's work and Dante's.

But how about misattribution? What benefits do we gain from that?

Continue reading "O Felix Errorem!"

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Occasioned

Posted by Ray Davis on 06/16/05 at 09:48 AM

The use of the essay, for example, a kind expressing liberal interest at first, began with Humanism in the sixteenth century; and one of its forms, the miscellaneous familiar essay, ceased to be popular after the crisis of Humanism in the 1930s.
- Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature

At 9 PM on Saturday June 18, the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley is showing a revisionist Western from 1972, Dirty Little Billy. All later muddy streets seem thin in comparison: puddled with New Age puke or John Ford horsepiss. Given its timing, a few of the Billy demythologizers may have benefited from personal experience of frontier communes.

Was the movie intended as history or satire? To some extent, whether you're mocking or creating is decided later, by who notices what and how they respond. Artmaking is largely about being distracted from your original purpose; sometimes you even wake up in a new neighborhood. If you want to explain Robert Browning's influence on Ezra Pound, you could start worse than with a Browning parody like "The Cock and The Bull":

Continue reading "Occasioned"

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Heathcliff, Come Home

Posted by Ray Davis on 05/28/05 at 02:15 PM

I suppose many readers of The Valve eventually get around to The Yale Journal of Criticism on their own, but if un-lit blogs can point you to the New York Times front page, it must be OK for me to point you to "Petted Things" by Ivan Kreilkamp, starring the Brontë sisters as animal rights pioneers.

Kreilkamp's essay pleasingly draws from history, the authors themselves, and recent Derrida in the service of (to me) a novel, amusing, and evocative association of realism with anthropomorphism. The critic even shows good reason for having treated "the Brontës" as a group rather than as individual novelists.

Potential Disney adaptors of Jane Eyre should especially note the story of Clumsy, A Dog:

"Tell how he grows ugly in growing up; . . . Madam's disgust for him; the rebuffs he suffers . . . . Clumsy, for that is what she calls him now, banished to the yard; his degradation; detail his privations, the change in food and company."

Everyone else should especially note that Carol Emshwiller's Carmen Dog carries far more entertainment value than its equivalent in Lucas-movie-and-junk-food.

+ + +

Afterthought: The Brontës as potential writers of noble-dog stories reminds me of one of my own favorite alternate-literary-history scenarios: What if, rather than giving up their shared fantasy worlds, the Brontë sisters had successfully brought their mature styles and concerns into Gondal and Angria, weirdly anticipating Joanna Russ's Alyx, M. John Harrison's ret-conning of Viriconium, Samuel R. Delany's Nevèrÿon...?

Pointless, I know, but at least it's a break from imagining the rest of Emma.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Precision and Theft

Posted by Ray Davis on 05/16/05 at 08:05 AM

Subject Without Nation: Robert Musil and the History of Modern Identity

Stefan Jonsson reads like a nice guy. When he plays hunt-the-applicability against a full hand of voguish theorists, his point isn't to diagnose Musil away. His point is that The Man Without Qualities anticipates them.

Not in the sense of displacing them, of course. They remain authoritative; Jonsson is the advocate: "You see, Others and gentlemen, he's just like you and me!"

Anyway, no big deal. Jonsson's OK. The notion that Ulrich's Austria-Hungary wasn't just a satiric target, that its fecklessness could be mourned as a lost range of possibility, hadn't occurred to me, so I'm grateful for that, especially while I'm in mourning for Jimmy Carter's America. I read my fair share of awkward over-extended well-meaning prose aimed at an obscure audience, and I produce more than my share, and another three hundred pages of it isn't worth writing home about. It's not even worth writing The Valve about.

Instead I'm writing about stubbornness rewarded. Continue reading "Precision and Theft"

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Perfecting of a Love

Posted by Ray Davis on 05/12/05 at 10:10 PM

Not many people share my interest in the contingency of canons and the fluidity of genres, but nearly everyone enjoys seeing bad reviews of (now) acknowledged "masterpieces". Either you get the warm satisfaction of mocking the (now) powerless for their stupidity, or you get the warm satisfaction of shared iconoclasm.

I'm not knocking the simple pleasures of the snide especially when the reviewers survive to eat and regurgitate their words, like those movie critics who slammed Psycho, within a decade had it on their Tip-Top 100 lists, and continued slamming newer misanthropic thrillers using the exact same series of tuts. (Reading the below, can you truly picture Anthony West's strictures on "good writing" having let, say, the "Cyclops" chapter of Ulysses pass?)

Continue reading "The Perfecting of a Love"

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Straight “A"s in Love

Posted by Ray Davis on 05/08/05 at 06:00 PM

From "Representing Isabel Paterson" by Stephen Cox:

While I was writing about Paterson, academic friends asked me, "What thesis do you want to prove?" I learned to answer, "None." A thesis is expected to be "cutting-edge," but I didn't want to cut anything. I wanted access to the longest circuit of books and ideas. I began to think that we might learn more about literature if we spent less time using literature to prove a point.

[...] If you read only what's amenable to your theory, or embarrassing to someone else's, you may be reading such a narrow range of literature that your theory is, basically, just representing itself an obvious short circuit. You need to do more browsing in the stacks. [...] I entered the library already knowing what to look for. And too often I was simply looking for a fight with someone else's theory. That's what my professional position encouraged me to do. But a walk through the neighborhood is generally more informative than a police report.

These reflections led me to notice that although our job as teachers and writers is to represent books and authors in some way, nowhere in the MLA Job List does one find "a wide acquaintance with literature" stated as a qualification. Yet even Pound, blessed and cursed with a highly individual point of view, whispered to the shade of Walt Whitman, "I have detested you long enough /...Let there be commerce between us". Paterson would have liked the word commerce. People engage in commerce to find new pleasures, not to obliterate the strange and unpredictable sources of pleasure.

I nod, smugly. (And lately I need all the smugness I can get.) Yes, I know this one. Academic practice is not precisely at one with either the practice of criticism or the practice of reading. Oversensitive, maybe, to that discrepancy, unlike my fellow Valvists, I never considered pursuing literature through the classroom.

To be fair, though, neither is writing criticism precisely at one with pleasurable reading. Many books leave me with nothing to say but "Give this a chance," just like normal folks do.

Criticism is an individual's response to an artifact, yes. It's also part of a conversation between an individual and an artifact. And here's the rubbed-raw patch it's also part of a conversation between individuals.

An educational institution must lay particular emphasis on that final aspect if it's to avoid fraudulence. But the rules by which one joins a conversation no interrupting; engage the established context; don't mix diction levels oppose the pleasures of the surprising artifact. We enthusiasts deservedly have a poor reputation in polite society.

Rather than attempting to reform the academy, it may be wiser for the weary academic to borrow a concept from a different set of vilified maladepts and gafiate.

(But don't expect relief in the corporate world. A similar ambiguity poisons "commerce".)

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