can’t sleep, like really honestly cannot sleep or even make myself lay still long enough to try. something about the paper writing process is getting to me. I messed with the flux settings on my computer because it gets dark so goddamn early, and with the night-shift trying to read pdfs made me downright catatonic, but then I didn’t fix it back when I was done working for the night, and allowed myself to play sims and watch stargate for an hour before bed. this whole week has been challenging in a way that made me want to shove in the dumbest, most inane yet pleasant input into my head, as like, a counterbalance, and somehow that lead to watching the beginning of Stargate SG-1, a truly terrible show that I can’t explain why I’m fond of. I like a lot of shitty television, but usually I have a better explanation — hell, even Stargate: Atlantis (which is a better show, but still bad) I can explain what I see in it. SG-1, no fuckin clue. I watched it in high school, on really terrible illegal streams, and only ever bits and pieces of it. But I started at the start this time, and maybe I’ll get all the way through this time, through ten seasons of the immaculate garbage — not likely, but who knows. Maybe it will strike me differently this time, maybe I’ll be able to explain what’s good about it (besides Sam, Sam’s amazing, but that’s so obvious, it goes without saying.) Last time I was watching this I was a child and hadn’t thought about how racist it was to say that aliens built the pyramids — stupid, yes, I saw that, but wasn’t aware of the underlying p-r-o-b-l-e-m-a-t-i-c implications at play. I’m so much smarter now. I’m in grad school. I’m writing papers that aren’t trash, not at all, and especially not if the trash in question we’re comparing them to is Stargate SG-1. That’s actually a comforting thought. I knew sitting down and writing would make me feel better, but I didn’t expect to wind up here. Hey, whatever works, I’ll take it. Time to go back to bed, to lie down and resist the temptation of my phone, to try not to fidget and wake up my girlfriend. Time to be smarter and make better choices than Stargate SG-1.
It’s the terrible part of the semester where I just have to sit down and write papers even if I don’t feel like it. I like to think I’m a pretty disciplined writer, pretty productive even when I don’t have deadlines. But that doesn’t mean I want to produce 18-20 pages about a specific facet of modern poetry between now and next Thursday. I have my research all done, I have a working thesis, now I just need to sit down and put it all together into actual sentences that make sense, and hopefully, that I don’t hate the sound of. But that doesn’t sound fun at all. It will be good for me, I suppose, but no, it doesn’t sound fun at all.
Over Thanksgiving break I finally finished reading Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch.
a story about book hoarding: I first bought Camp Concentration ages ago, back before Magers&Quinn moved their sf section. I was Christmas shopping in uptown with Emma, and it was a couple bucks. It sat ignored on my shelf for years. I picked it up over spring break, either my sophomore or junior year of college, where I started it, and then brought it to the Como conservatory, where it got left behind, and then I was too lazy to go back and check lost and found or whatever. Last year, before Christmas, I was at Uncle Hugo’s, looking for presents for Emma, and there was a copy for a couple bucks, so I picked it up. It sat ignored on my shelf until last week, where I needed something good to read while I was home, and god, picking it up again was a great decision.
I don’t want to explain anything about the concept, because it’s complicated, and I think it’s probably more enjoyable to go in knowing nothing. Also, I could explain the initial set up, but it takes several sharp turns over the course of the book, including two very close to the end.
I cannot remember being more impressed by the end of a novel more than I’m impressed by the end of Camp Concentration. It reorientates itself suddenly, startlingly, but still in a way that is perfectly true to what preceded it, and casts the whole story in another more brilliant light. It was breathtaking.
If I was really sharp I’d do something to link the themes of Camp Concentration — appreciating poetry, coercement to productive genius, etc. It would be terribly pretentious, but I could do it. But if I’m going to commit any brain-power to in-depth literary analysis, it should really be in one of the papers I’m writing. So I guess you’ll have to read Camp Concentration yourself in order to make connections to my sad semester’s end complaining.
bad feelings. tried to be a responsible human, stuck waisting time on campus with shitty headphones and work I don’t want to dig into. throwing myself a pity party, dig into a cliff bar, wash it down with water from my dented metal bottle, the sticker chipping off.
two hours to kill at the library, and then a class on modern poetry. we’re reading the canonical modernist poets, so that means white people, only two women, too straight for my taste. well, the canonical modernists, and arthur symons. today: marianne moore. all the male poets except for symons get two weeks, but moore and HD only get a week each. I understand the reasoning, it makes sense if you’re trying to teach us what we need to know about the canonical modernists, but it bums me out.
trying to get through an article about william carlos williams and neuroscience, but I like my science a lot more fictional than this. it wants me to know things about neurons and synapses, and I’m all for interdisciplinary scholarship, but also I can’t hold those forms inside my head very well. my neurons and synapses will not allow that. I skimmed through it and gave up, it doesn’t focus enough on his early poems.
what I like about williams is that he’s just there. he’s simple, and present, and sitting on the kitchen counter for you to reach out and have however works best for you. there’s more too him, sure, but he’s so gloriously accessible, almost frighteningly so. modernist poets aren’t supposed to be this plainspoken, they’re supposed to be fucking eliot at his most extra.
it’s getting to the part of the term where I’m having to actually produce academic writing, and it’s reminding me how much I hate doing that. it hurts to give up my own voice and be subsumed into the style of academic prose. I resist it, or at least I try to resist it, I try to do my best, but there are conventions that must be observed. or maybe I’m just not fighting hard enough, hard to say. this is just to say I’m trying.
The first word of every line from Tennyson’s “The Defense of Lucknow” :
I had to read “The Defense of Lucknow” for class last week. We’re doing a unit on post colonialism. It is important to read these kinds of things to look at how Englishness was created, to look at the terrible things in our history, to acknowledge that the important poetic figures of our past were also incredibly racist. There’s an important conversation to have. It’s just such a miserable thing to read.
In another class, we spent the last two weeks reading Ezra Pound. And Pound is just such a fucking problem, I don’t know what to do with him. How do we reconcile his imagism, and the incredible influence he had shaping modernism, with the fascist he became later in life? We can’t not read him, he’s too central, and too good, to be honest. His imagist poems are gorgeous, breathtakingly inventive uses of language. But he still thought Mussolini was awesome, and was antisemitic, and actually committed treason. And how America treated him for ineffectively committing treason was inhumane. But he still did some fairly terrible things.
How do we consume problematic art? This is an incredibly urgent question. And an incredibly vast question, big enough to include everything from Louie C.K jokes to Tennyson poems. It isn’t a question I have an answer for.
The only thing I’m sure about is that it’s a question we should be asking instead of taking things in without interrogating them. I’m less absolute, but believe for myself at least, that there’s value in consuming problematic art, in picking it apart, and having hard conversations, puzzling out the problems, the contradictions, and maybe even finding something worth holding onto.
Tonight one of my classmates read the first words of a handful of lines to say something about the overall tone of “The Defense of Lucknow.” “Death / Death / Death / Striking / Death.” I liked that better than the actual poem, and wound up reading down the whole thing. I find the first three stanza’s particularly effective. Tennyson ends his stanzas with the repeated line, “And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew!” which in the context of the poem is a lot of imperialist bullshit, but taking on the first word, the “and” signals an incompleteness, calling for more, leaving things open.
We consume problematic art and…
Michel Foucault was a gay man who was into bdsm and died of AIDS.
I’ve spent too much of the past day talking to straight people about queer theory. I love queer theory. It’s important to how I make sense of the world. I find it stimulating and enlightening. I think straight people should learn about queer theory — I think everyone should learn about queer theory. I just worry, that when it’s taught, something much more important to me gets lost.
What I’m really all about, is queer actuality. I care about writers who are queer, and characters who are queer, and theorists who are queer. I care about the actualities of their lives. I care about the history of their sexualities, I care about their gender troubles, I care about their cruising utopias. I care about how they belong to this complicated, nebulous, not-straight tribe, same as I do.
I’ve been thinking lately, about how in an English course you’re much more likely to read a lesbian theorist than a lesbian novelist. At some point, you’re going to read Butler, or read about Butler, but you might never read a novel by a woman who identified as queer. Sarah Schulman’s nonfiction about the lack of lesbian novelists is much more likely to be taught than her own novels. In undergrad I once had an instructor give the class a biography of James Baldwin that didn’t mention that he was gay. The number one thing you can tell me to make me care about a writer is tell me that they’re queer.
Michel Foucault was a gay man who was into bdsm and died of AIDS. He wrote about sexuality and power. These were not abstract concerns for him. They were pieces of his life.
The great thing about queer theory is how you can use it to look at anything. I love that. Use queer as a verb. Queer boring straight writers. Queer texts that are drowning in unintended subtext. Queer everything. Please, I’m begging of you, please, make every piece of the world as queer as you possibly can.
But don’t stop talking about actual queer people and actual queer lives. The word queer became popular in the 1990s with the rise of ACT UP and queer nation. WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER, GET USED TO IT. NOT GAY AS IN HAPPY, BUT QUEER AS IN FUCK YOU.
Fuck you if you’re going to take use queer theory and not care about queer people. Get me on a better day and I’ll be more charitable about this — queer theory is for everyone — but I’m so tired right now. Tired and angry, but mostly tired. I don’t want to think about straight people any longer. Goodnight.
I want to travel back in time and punch T.S. Eliot in the face. I’m not much for physical violence, but I think I could take him.
We spent two weeks in my modern poetry class talking about Eliot, and honestly, it made me hate him? I expect this hate will fade with time, but it is still true and hotly felt. Fuck that guy.
I had to devote two and a half hours of my life to discussing “The Wasteland.” Which, first of all, you can’t understand “The Wasteland” in two and a half hours. And even if you could, do you really want to? Before this class I did not hate “The Wasteland,” it has some fascinating language in it, I appreciated that. But picking it apart is honestly, one of the circles of hell. It is all allusions to other things! He likes using lots of different languages and expecting the reader to follow along. He wrote his own notes to the poem, but didn’t bother to include any translations, why would he want to do that, the elitist fuck.
One of my classmates called “The Wasteland” “perfect.” Which is just… baffling. Important, sure, fascinating even. But also, kind of miserable? Like, intentionally miserable? In a very interesting way! But on a lot of levels it’s a deeply unpleasant poem!
I keep on thinking about how it’s made up of so many allusions, this kind of puzzel box of a poem, where everything is also pointing at something else. And often, I like these things. I kept on thinking about Todd Haynes’s film I’m Not There, and Hal Duncan’s Vellum and Ink. Both of these works are so dense with references, but they aren’t dependant on catching all the allusions to be appreciated.
I’m Not There is steeped in the mythology of Bob Dylan. And yeah, it helps if you know a lot about Dylan. It helps to know that the motorcycle is a sign of coming disaster, it helps to know the story about him visiting Woody Guthrie in the hospital, it helps to know about his relationship with Nico. But you don’t need to know all that to access the movies. I’m not particularly fluent in how Dylan played with the story of Billy the Kid, but that thread of the movie still works for me. It’s still compelling, within itself, and within the whole of the film.
The first time I read Vellum and Ink I was a junior in high school, and I understood, maybe a third of the references? I got the punk rock ones, the gay history, and a fair amount of the Shakespeare, but not most of the politics, and none of the Sumerian mythology. (They’re really weird fucking books, and I love them with my WHOLE HEART.) Despite not understanding so many of the underlying levels, I still fell for these books. I still fell for the language, and the characters, and the SPIRIT of the thing.
It’s true, that it may be unfair to compare novels and a film to a poem, but I don’t think so. These are all texts with very fragmented narratives. That’s something they have in common with “The Wasteland” actually. They have longer fragmented narratives, but that’s the difference between a long poem, a feature film, or a thousand pages of weird speculative fiction. There is more narrative, it’s more a matter of scale than ratio.
I think my problem is only like, 40% Eliot, and 50% my opinion that we should let texts breath and be confusing? That poems aren’t things to solve. They’re things to speculate over, with the recognition that you might not get anywhere, and that there will be a multiplicity of readings.
Oh god, is this another one of those situations where the real problems is that I internalized way too much Foucault? I hadn’t even thought of that, but it might be. I should remember, if I have a problem with how something is being done, it is probably because of Foucault, aka the “I’m too queer for this” excuse.
I am going to stop writing about Eliot now, and hopefully forever. I want to leave you with something nice, so here is a poem I encountered, in which a very young T.S. Eliot writes about St Sebastian. I am gay enough for that.
so I haven’t been blogging. idk. it was the election, and then I took the GRE, and then I was busy finishing grad school applications, and the election had still happened, and I didn’t have a lot of energy to tell you all my thoughts about books. it wasn’t just here, I gave up my two fancy pretending to be a real writer guest blog things. not that I was ever very good at those. I guess I missed it.
I think it’s good for me? not telling you about books necessarily, but having a space where I make myself put words out in the world. and telling you about books too. I’ve almost only ready theory or books with spaceships this year. a few exceptions, but mostly spaceships. lots of star wars novels. that’s something I wasn’t expecting.
I might go back and tell you about everything I’ve read and seen since I stopped blogging regularly. I might try to write more about music. I move to Chicago for school in a week and a half, and I start my master’s at the end of the month, so maybe I won’t have any time for anything. but writing here is good for me.
I have this theory about writing, that it’s good, because it’s an output, and it’s a processing device, and even if you’re writing about something totally different than the life stuff you need to be processing, even if you’re writing fan fiction about Wedge Antilles, you’re still doing the work of processing, of turning things into words, and it’s good for you. or at least it’s good for me? the act of writing makes me feel better, and it has very little to do with what it is I’m actually writing.
if I felt up to writing anything coherent, I’d try to explain my feelings about Bomb the Music Industry! which I have been listening to non-stop for days now. I went and saw Jeff Rosenstock play last week. it was the funnest thing, to go to a punk show in the suburbs with my best friend, who doesn’t really like punk shows, or suburbs, or that much noise. it was amazing. I still haven’t figured out what I’m trying to say. something something not carrying how it looks, making a fool of yourself, fugazi, yadda yadda, so hot on a summer nigh, nobody followed the rules on the wall about not crowd surfing.
the important thing is the act of writing, not the words. the important thing is the act of processing, not words. the important thing is the shouting, not the words. I don’t actually believe that, but sometimes it is a good thing to hold onto as a process philosophy, and sometimes the important things is the process, and not the words.