Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"The only philistinism that counted was the kind that deforms the heart, trapping us in an attitude of scorn and fear until scorn and fear are all we know."

Zadie Smith

Monday, August 18, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

(no subject)

Just because we did it doesn't mean we're the kind of people who would
do that.

Does it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


" 'True courage is often nothing other than the expression of a metaphysical conviction, so to speak, of our own superfluousness."

You Jew, Georg thought without animosity, and then: perhaps he's not so wrong.'

-- Arthur Schnitzler, The Road Into the Open

Advice, Part II

Yes, one must choose with the heart. And the heart desires riches.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stones Vs. Springsteen

Here's the Stones during their Golden Age:


Here's Bruce:

Anybody that knows the first thing about rock ensemble playing knows which is the dynamic, explosive, kinetic performance and which is the bunch of largely inept poseurs phoning it in onstage.

So maybe you haven't tried rock ensemble playing yourself or trained your ear to hear it in others: Anybody who nonetheless has their instinct for rhythm intact ought to be able to perceive that one of those things has real groove while the other is lame-ass limeys wanking. And they should be able to tell which is which.

If you don't know enough to know the difference -- it's not important to me to persuade you. That's your problem, and, if you want to write lengthy posts exposing your problem to others, that's OK with me too. We'll just to have to disagree.

Mick Taylor had a nice tone and feel, but his playing was always a dull collection of blues licks strung together in no coherent order; Bruce's solo here is actually a far more carefully structured composition than anything Taylor ever played. It uses simple elements, but it builds to a climax; it's musical in a way that not much the Stones ever did really was.

To subject the lyrics of Prove it All Night to detailed textual analysis is to commit a category error. They do the work that is required of them.

Lyrics of songs like Spirit in the Night, For You, even the River, nonetheless survive the test of close textual examination better than any Rolling Stones song, and better than almost any rock songwriter other than Dylan.

"But that medal you wore on your chest always got in the way
like a little girl with a trophy so soft to buy her way
We were both hitchhikers but you had your ear tuned to the roar
of some metal-tempered engine on an alien, distant shore
So you, left to find a better reason than the one we were living for
and it's not that nursery mouth I came back for
It's not the way you're stretched out on the floor
cause I've broken all your windows and I've rammed through all your doors
And who am I to ask you to lick my sores?
And you should know that's true...
I came for you, for you, I came for you, but you did not need my urgency
I came for you, for you, I came for you, but your life was one long emergency
and your cloud line urges me, and my electric surges free:

Now, you can take that apart and find various solecisms embedded within it. But when placed within the context of that song, and with his delivery, that thing sings. It has poetry, and it stands up to Dylan's stuff, which was itself full of solecism and can also easily be pulled apart and ridiculed.

Bruce's songs tell complex stories; they bristle with verbal ingenuity; they bring to life characters struggling with the pain and limitation of life. They are full of an almost crushing generosity of feeling and empathy.

By contrast, Brown Sugar:

"Drums beating, cold english blood runs hot,
Lady of the house wondrin where its gonna stop.
House boy knows that hes doin alright.
You should a heard him just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a black girl should

Stray Cat Blues:

I can see that youre fifteen years old
No I dont want your i.d.
You look so rest-less and youre so far from home
But its no hanging matter
Its no capital crime

Oh yeah, youre a strange stray cat
Oh yeah, dontcha scratch like that
Oh yeah, youre a strange stray cat
Bet your mama dont know you scream like that
I bet your mother dont know you can spit like that.

Under My Thumb:

Under my thumb
Her eyes are just kept to herself
Under my thumb, well i
I can still look at someone else

Its down to me, oh thats what I said
The way she talks when shes spoken to
Down to me, the change has come,
Shes under my thumb
Say, its alright.

I like all these songs, of course, in part because they are so dirty and wicked and so rankly fraudulent, and it can be fun to play along with the disgusting misogyny that is so central a current in the Stones' pose. But it's transparently childish posturing.

Anyway, the videos speak for themselves. If anyone watches both and picks the Stones as the more compelling performers -- let's just say that I don't understand that person, and don't care to try.

Viewer's Diary, Introduction

My brother has an apartment near Lincoln Square. I've been dogsitting here weekends for the last four months. He used to have a pair of dachsunds that he shared with his boyfriend. For a while they lived in Fort Lee, NJ. Then they moved into a rent-subsidized one-bedroom at 64th and West End Avenue. They lived together for three years, and even talked about adopting a child together. Brian was a blonde-haired Jew from Atlanta. He had a very gentle drawl; a long, slender body with a very long torso; dark, intense eyes; and a pronounced limp. They met while my brother was a graduate student in political science and Brian was an undergraduate studying English literature. While he lived there, Brian had bookshelves that lined the walls stocked with clean paperback editions of Remembrance of Things Past, the Man Without Qualities, and Foucault's the History of Sexuality. He had all of the books that a person who was serious about studying literature in those days would have owned. He had studied French and he also knew Ladino. He explained to me over a Korean dinner what Ladino was.

Eventually, Brian moved out, taking his bookshelves and one half of the canine pair with him. The remaining dog is named Mookie. The one remaining half-bookshelf is stocked with opera books, CD guides, and four nonfiction books about professional tennis, including John McEnroe's ghost-written autobiography _You Cannot Be Serious_, all of which I have read while staying here. I walk Mookie three times a day, feed him twice, and pick up after him. Sometimes he poops twice on a single walk, and if I haven't thought to bring two bags with me, I leave the second one. This has happened twice. There is always poop from other people's dogs on the sidewalk, so I feel entitled to leave a turd every now and again. I do feel bad, but I also feel entitled, and anyway, what other option do I have?

On my way to the apartment, I ride my bike from the World Trade Center PATH all the way up the West Side Highway. I pass the Chelsea Piers, and the USS Intrepid, and I veer around the sharp turn to the broken and rutted stretch of road connecting the bike path along the Hudson River to West End Avenue, and make the steep climb from 56th Street to 64th Street. Usually I stop in at the Western Beef Supermarket at 62nd Street and buy orange juice, tomatoes, luncheon meat, skinless, boneless, chicken thighs, smoked almonds, Raisin Bran, and mozzarella cheese. There are two grocery stores on West Avenue -- a large, fairly clean Gristedes across the street from the new high-rise, and a cramped, filthy Western Beef for the project-dwellers across the street. The Gristedes costs roughly one and a half times what the Western Beef costs.

My brother's sixth floor apartment has bare white walls, a blonde linoleum floor, and two windows that face south at an adjacent apartment complex. He does not have a river view, but in the late afternoon, the apartment fills with a river light. It is very lovely, and a little sad.

My brother has a 26 inch TV and an excellent sound system. He also has digital cable. When I come here, usually I come with a heavy load of books. My purpose here is to write. I seem always to be taking on projects that require me to read a dozen books. I usually read seven and a half, skim the rest, and decide I've done enough. I have trouble getting myself to do more once I've done a certain amount.

I am three weeks overdue on a piece I'm writing right now. I am in my brother's apartment, all alone, and away from distractions. I have nothing to do but finish. I am therefore watching TV.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


OK, I'm going to lay down a rule, and excuse me if this seems presumptuous. In fact, it's the contrary practice that is presumptuous, though I am all too aware that it is the general one.

Nonetheless, I feel it's important, lest I lose all control of my Facebook page, to assert the rule, however quixotic the assertion may turn out to be.

Here it is: you must have been at least sort of a friend at one some point in my life in order for you to befriend me here. Let's define friendship this way: at some point in our lives we were inclined to greet each other with benign intent, at no point in our lives has either of us insulted or abused the other, (or if this happened, we have subsequently reconciled ) and at least once or twice in our lives, we have had a conversation that extended beyond small talk, and that left both of us with a feeling of having gotten to know one another better than we do the other minor acquaintances in our lives whom we do not count as friends.

This is not a very high threshold to meet. Quite a few people meet this minimal threshold, many of whom you can see listed in my friend's list. But, the world being a very large place, many more people in the world do not meet this threshold than meet it. There are 6 billion people on the planet; my friends list has 130 people on it. There's plenty of room for it grow without adding the many people I have encountered in life who do not meet this minimal threshold, nor can I understand why any of them would want to add me to their friends list.

From henceforth, I will not accept anyone who does not meet this threshold, and I encourage you, if ever, for some strange reason, I try to add you without myself meeting this threshold for you, to reject me in turn.


I'm not sure that there's another man on earth that manages, on a nightly basis, to make himself so fully a conduit of humankind's capacity for untrammeled joy. One actually feels, watching this low-res video, that one is looking at the promise of American democracy incarnate. That a person could be at once so fully self-realized, so completely the star, and yet so weirdly selfless in his exertions, so utterly without ego or condescension toward the masses of ordinary people he galvanizes -- feels magical and heroic. I can completely understand why so many liberal writers, in particular, feel the urge to rhapsodize (as I have just done) over the man: he is the last remaining link for many effete and disenchanted people, to a dream of the decency and goodness of the American people.

He makes the Stones seems like utter poseurs.

This is just a note

To send you my neutrality.

Musings on the Public Interests

Dear Nicholas,
I've been thinking about the analogy you make between pluralism in domestic affairs and realism in foreign affairs. There appears to be a confusion here. Isn't pluralism in foreign affairs, after all, the opposite of realism in foreign affairs? Realism says that there is a rational calculation that can be made about what America's national interest "really" is. The realists say that if you look at the correlation of forces in the Middle East, it's folly for us to be supporting Israel, and that lobbying by interested parties on behalf of Israel has distorted our foreign policy and placed it out of alignment with our "actual" interests.

The pluralists say that the American national interest is whatever the American people believe it should be, and because most Americans support Israel, supporting Israel is by definition in the American national interest, and there is no such thing as a rational "realist" calculation that can stand over and above this desire.

Pluralism in domestic affairs also argues that interest group politics is the only politics there is and that invocations of a "public interest" that stands over and above the petty politicking of narrow interests are just ways of disguising a discrete bundle of narrow interests. It's Progressivism that says that we have a transcendent public interest that our best intentioned, most enlightened liberal intellectuals and their political allies can incarnate.

Then again, I can also see how both domestic pluralism and foreign policy realism are analogous in that they both eschew transcendent politics.

It seems to me that the relevant axis here is between democratic and monarchical politics. "Realism" is the watchword of monarchical politics; in domestic politics, it's the king who claims to be the only person able to represent in himself the unified general will of the people as a whole.

There are certain things, like national health insurance that have only one interest group: and that would be "everybody". Narrower interest groups, however -- private insurers, doctors, hospitals, etc. -- have a clearer sense of their own immediate interests, and the ability to mobilize in their defense to block everybody's interest in favor of their own. (They will, of course, argue that their own interest is everybody's interest, as they did back in the 90's, but this won't really be true.)

The mobilization required on behalf of national health insurance would call for someone to incarnate "everybody's" interest. And since no concrete set of pre-existing institutions represent that interest, we need someone to stand over and above the existing set of narrow interests to incarnate everybody's interest. For this, we need a strong unitary center of power -- a strong executive, as the liberal reformers of the Kennedy Administration argued. Enter Obama -- that's the wish he incarnates: the desire for a king. Our multicultural, meritocratic king. It /does/ feel a little bit apocalyptic in its grandeur.

Maybe you would classify what I call "everybody's" interests as something more like "consumer's interests"?


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

(no subject)

She has a beautiful smirk.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Old Manifesto

Most people are not that interesting. They have no values other than simple self-preservation; they have no interests other than the ones specified for them by the media; the most they aspire to is a few harmless eccentricities, and even these are pursued in a spirit of shamefaced self-denigration. Many of them go to great lengths to disguise this fact about themselves, often expending as much effort to dissemble their basic human nullity as it might require to alter it, but their interest is not to change their shapelessness but to repackage it, the latter being their instinct and the only thing they have learned how to do, the former being something they fear for what it might disclose to them of their own failings. Their attachments are meaningless conspiracies of collective self-evasion and most of what they feel for the people they are stuck hanging around with is justified, and reciprocated, disapproval.

Occasionally, a new person will come along upon whom they can practice their arts of deceitful self-presentation, and, seeing their own mugging and capering reflected in the eyes of a stranger, can partake in a momentary self-intoxication that permits them to suspend awareness of their own emptiness. The euphoria of most sexual attraction consists of this and nothing more; the eventual decline in desire tracks a mutual realization of the truth that people glimpse in one another. We tire of each other because we are tiresome; we see through the carefully crafted illusions to the dismally commonplace appetites within, and recoil.