Tuesday, November 10, 2015


The half-crazy super is sorting the garbage as I'm coming back into the building and waylays me with an obscenity-heavy disquisition on the garbage and recycling iniquities of the other superintendents on the block. The lecture is so intricate that, in the final analysis, I'm unable to figure out whether he supports a regime of recycling, with its rules and sorting requirements, or not. I gather, at least, that "in the 70s" the building's waste bags were impossibly heavy, bulging with every kind of thing. I also gather that the sanitation patrol people exercise their fining powers with vengeful pettiness. The super lauds their efforts for the most part, even as he expresses bitter resignation at the fact of their powers. But in the case of a fellow super – "a fucking idiot" who argued with a sanitation patrolman, who then radioed an NYPD car and lied to the real cops about "the idiot" having put hands on him – my guy's attitude turns to bitter hatred of the authorities.

Later in our "conversation," he describes a woman who liked to dump her household garbage in the public basket on the corner. A sanitation patrolman patiently stakes out the location, then catches her redhanded one morning and writes the ticket. With a shake of his head, the super stabs the air with his voice like a dull knife: "100 bucks!"

"Well," I circumspect, "the city has to make money somehow."

"No. This city is never satisfied. Not in a million years."

Friday, October 9, 2015

little by little and then all at once

The narrator in Murakami's first novel, Hear the Wind Sing

There was a time when everyone wanted to be cool.

     Toward the end of high school, I decided to express only half of what I was really feeling. I can't recall the initial reason, but for the next several years this was how I behaved. At which point I discovered that I had turned into a person incapable of expressing more than half of what he felt.

– reminds me that, to conclude my high school graduation speech, with the unusually tall co-valedictorian, Alethea, towering over and beside me (she is a judge now?), I quoted McClintic Sphere:

Love with your mouth shut, help without breaking your ass or publicizing it: keep cool, but care.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

exodus 2, diamond jubilee

And now for my 75th belated post, some more things I posted on Facebook — and later deleted:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ein Berliner

We could not have lived in Berlin as well or as cozily without the help of our Tagesmutter / neighbor / fixer / friend who, for no discernible reason except kindness, made our little family part of her world.

Her bio-family might not have been from Berlin originally. They might have been from somewhere boring and not-Berlin. She is the youngest. After some out of control years in the city ("Oh, Seth, if I tell you that some times I did not think I would live to the next day"), she had children of her own and settled with them in Kreuzberg.

Her father was born in 1923 and died in 1989. When he was eighteen he had a "Yiddish girlfriend." His brother made some kind of official report about her, and she was deported to a camp. Father then served as a military courier for three years of the war, at the end of which he returned on foot to the family, from a great distance.

Her father gave her and all of her siblings "Hebräischen Namen." She did the same for her three kids (who are – she struggles to translate – "mixed caste": their papas are west African immigrants)...oh, except for the middle child, named after the title character of a popular U.S. sitcom about a black teenager. "I love that show when I was growing up."

Her father was outlived by his brother, who died in 1995. "We never had contact with him. Nimmer. My father would not have contact with him."

She related these stories to me in parcels, at pick up or drop off, and then our house affairs would draw us hence.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A tangent on agency:

One claim (I’m tempted to say “myth,” and I’m tempted to use the adjective “ontological”) for big data is that, given a behavioral dataset of sufficient size, agency in the classical liberal sense gives way to agency in the sense of emergence, in which the subject is no longer in control of her truth; her truth is produced through a predictive analytics. The data show me better than I know myself. It strikes me that these competing notions of agency (liberal subject versus emergent subject) will themselves be applied in discriminatory ways. Privilege will permit some people to derive power from the revelations of big data, to mix and optimize these two kinds of agency, while disadvantaged people will end up having the emergence model applied to them — and be further disempowered as a result. </tangent>

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Look both ways!

You on Amsterdam glide
mid block without the light
then turn, like a leaf out of season
red against my bicycle bell.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Madame Bovary, c'est moi.

"What word would you use," the psychoanalyst asks while my eyes seek the canyon of Manhattan towers visible from her window, "to characterize the feeling in all these things you've been describing?" Me: "Elegiac."

     Since I respect you, let me tell you a secret.
     As a cow devours grass, so literary themes are devoured; devices fray and crumble.
     A writer cannot be a ploughman: he is a nomad, constantly moving with his wife and herd to greener pastures.

After ripping through the first section, Juan García Madero's journal from November 2 to December 31, 1975, it took me months to fall back into the The Savage Detectives. Then, momentum: I take the last third or so of the novel in great gulps, mostly on the 1, nearly missing my stop every time, accompanied by a rising, heaving disillusionment at not having lived like a visceral realist or an infrarealist — hard-boiled. Bolaño didn't believe in exile, "especially when the word exile is set beside the word literature."

The momentum carried me headlong into Cole's Open City, which I had begun in Berlin and abandoned in a kind of panic, like catching a glimpse of yourself reflected at an unexpected angle in the bus window against which you've been resting your head; and for a moment you forget where you were going in the first place. This time I finish. The two, The Savage Detectives and Open City, pass through each other in Liberia, as though a minor character in Arturo Belano's travels there has wound up in a Queens detention center: Saidu telling his story though plexiglass to Julius. Now I fret that there is something equally despicable in my past that I have secreted away, even from myself, and that the therapist will uncover soon.

Directly on the heels of Open City, Zoo, or Letters Not about Love completed what now feels like a coincidental symphony — through Shklovsky's compressed exile in Berlin, a mental or spiritual breakdown between the lines of an epistolary novel that, like The Savage Detectives, ranges freely and idiosyncratically over a literary tradition and its recent politics. For both RBA and VBS, detection and the detective novel were special keys, but for opening what door? while Julius wanders to know himself, like the lunatic quoted by Benjamin: "I travel to know my geography."

...Moving diagonally like a knight, I have intersected your life, Alya, and you know how that was and how it is; but you turn up in my book like Isaac at the fire built by Abraham.

If ever a lady doth-protested too much, it was me writing dustily on the board clack tsssh click that the characters in the novels we will be reading this semester are not people; do not (for you cannot) identify. Drops the chalk into the tray.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Authentica Habita

Photo by Carmen Young.

As I was saying, The Decline of the German Mandarins is a terrific companion for The University in Ruins.


Visited PK + RS in PDX over the holidays. PK asked how things are going in NYC. I repeated something that I've been saying to MK for awhile: that I've begun to feel...not uprooted, but un-rooted. I no longer feel at home anywhere. I move from city to city, always just a year or a few years too early or too late. Always -jected in some way, floating. Desychronized from my own prior experiences of a place, a scene. Not there.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

another A.

Phenomenology of spirit: Whenever my mind turns absently to Kojève, which is surprisingly often, he is played by Theo Kojak. There stands the prophet, gesturing before Lacan, Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, Queneau, Breton, Sartre (?). His head shines. The Battle of Stalingrad was the battle between the Right Hegelians and the Left Hegelians, he intones. Who loves ya, baby?

Monday, January 5, 2015

autumn III: Spouse of Thieves

"In the film [Valis] Brady schemed constantly on Linda, Goose's wife (in the film, for some reason, Goose used his real name, Eric Lampton; so the tale narrated had to do with the marginal Lamptons). Linda Lampton wasn't natural; that came across early on. I got the impression that Brady was a son-of-a-bitch despite his wizardry with audio electronics. He had a laser system set up which ran the information -- which is to say, the various channels of music -- into a mixer unlike anything that actually exists; the damn thing rose up like a fortress -- Brady actually entered it through a door, and, inside it, got bathed with laser beams which converted into sound using his brain as a transducer. / In one scene Linda Lampton took off her clothes. She had no sex organs. / Damdest thing Fat and I ever saw." —PKD, Valis