tropicália

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Clark was uncertain if what she did was art, or signal to her own pathology. It was both. She was a true original. A diver’s breathing tube, mirrored goggles to be worn by two people, weird balaclava-like masks with pan-scourer eye-hole, rubber gloves to be used to manipulate small objects, whole body-suits with pregnancy-pouches and umbilical tubing – her work is meant to heighten and destabilise the sense we have of our own bodies. We might feel self-conscious wearing this stuff, or playing her games, but their intention was actually cathartic. Her smaller works may have been entertaining, but they also carried within them a similar kind of threat as Giacometti’s “disagreeable objects”. Why there has never been a proper retrospective in the UK of Clark’s work is beyond me.

For all its flaws, this is a timely exhibition. Whatever else it was or wasn’t, Tropicália was an engine of creativity. It had spirit. It was sensual and intelligent, for all the embarrassments of the period. Sitting watching early concert footage of Gil and Caetano, or excerpts from their short-lived TV series, one gets an impression of a less media- and market-driven age, before culture became an industry. An errant art meant something in the late-1960s. Nowadays there’s only the market, and dictatorships by different names.

more from The Guardian here.

seydou keta: african images

Camhi

The portraits show modernity and tradition entwined in a complex dialogue with no beginning or end. The ghost of Marie Antoinette hovers over the pleated bodices and ruffled blouses of these gay and pensive beauties, some made of “Dutch wax” fabrics imitating colonial Indonesian designs, which were printed in Manchester for export to Africa. Their “aeroplane wing sleeves” and “coat hanger braids” (as the Bamakois called them) turn up in the breeze; they bear the marks of scarification and of Western affluence with equal pride.

Above all, they live. “My wish is that my negatives will survive for a very long time,” Keta remarked in a late interview. “It is true, my negatives breathe like you and me.”

more from The Village Voice here.

The birth and life of the ‘9-11 Truth movement’

From The Village Voice:

Tower William Rodriguez, a janitor at the twin towers credited with saving lives on 9-11, has filed a federal RICO suit against Bush, the president’s father and three brothers, the Republican National Committee, Alan Greenspan, Halliburton, several voting-machine companies, and others. He claims that the president and his administration participated in “approval and sponsorship of the 9-11 attacks, kidnapping, arson, murder, treason” in order to “obtain a ‘blank check’ to conduct wars of aggression, to consolidate economic and political power.”

“The guilt of the defendants,” the suit alleges, “is compellingly suggested by their myriad lies, their thwarting of any proper investigation, and their stonewalling and failure to truly cooperate even with the . . . Commission ‘investigation.’ ”

More here.

Unlocking the Secrets of Longevity Genes

From Scientific American:Age_6

You can assume quite a bit about the state of a used car just from its mileage and model year. The wear and tear of heavy driving and the passage of time will have taken an inevitable toll. The same appears to be true of aging in people, but the analogy is flawed because of a crucial difference between inanimate machines and living creatures: deterioration is not inexorable in biological systems, which can respond to their environments and use their own energy to defend and repair themselves.

At one time, scientists believed aging to be not just deterioration but an active continuation of an organism’s genetically programmed development. Once an individual achieved maturity, “aging genes” began to direct its progress toward the grave. This idea has been discredited, and conventional wisdom now holds that aging really is just wearing out over time because the body’s normal maintenance and repair mechanisms simply wane. Evolutionary natural selection, the logic goes, has no reason to keep them working once an organism has passed its reproductive age.

Yet we and other researchers have found that a family of genes involved in an organism’s ability to withstand a stressful environment, such as excessive heat or scarcity of food or water, have the power to keep its natural defense and repair activities going strong regardless of age. By optimizing the body’s functioning for survival, these genes maximize the individual’s chances of getting through the crisis. And if they remain activated long enough, they can also dramatically enhance the organism’s health and extend its life span. In essence, they represent the opposite of aging genes–longevity genes.

More here.

Fukuyama’s revisionism

Helmut at Phronesisaical:

Francis Fukuyama reassesses neoconservatism, distancing himself from the tragedies and grand fiasco that is Bush Administration foreign policy. He does so by repeating neoconservative revisionist mythology. Neoconservatism is not idealism. Strauss was indeed a serious scholar of Greek texts, but his anti-democratic, elitist Platonist and Machiavellian conclusions underride all neocon thought. What we have here is an apologetics where the main figure, Fukuyama himself, reimplicates himself by showing he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, this is a piece of revisionism itself – same old necon approach – since there’s little argument to be made. Let’s take a look at his piece from the NY Times Sunday Magazine

More here.

Leonard Susskind Interview

Greg Ross in American Scientist:

Fullimage_2006112132653_306It’s often noted that the universe seems strangely tailored to support human existence. The cosmological constant, for example, is tiny but not quite zero, producing a delicate cosmic balance without which life could not exist. This unlikely hospitality has given rise to the “anthropic principle,” a controversial concept that invokes the requirement for human existence in seeking to determine the rules of our universe.

The principle is unpopular among physicists, who would prefer to reach a single elegant solution that prescribes values for all the constants of nature without appealing to our own existence. The difficulty is that string theory currently gives rise to an unmanageable number of possible solutions.

In The Cosmic Landscape (Little, Brown, 2005), Leonard Susskind offers a different conception. The Stanford physicist champions the idea of a “megaverse,” a sea of pocket universes whose local environments correspond to the myriad solutions offered by string theory. Rather than seek a unique theory that somehow allows for our existence, he argues, physicists should consider a landscape of parallel universes in which the “local weather” is, here and there, hospitable to life.

Read the interview here.

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do: The economic case for polygamy

Tim Harford in Slate:

Mammo1A lot of the knee-jerk reactions against polygyny are from people who can’t add up. In a society with equal numbers of men and women, each man with four wives gives women the additional pick of three men—the poor saps whose potential wives decided they’d prefer one-quarter of a billionaire instead. In the Sahel region of Africa, half of all women live in polygynous households. The other half have a good choice of men and a lot more bargaining power.

It’s hardly surprising that in most polygynous societies, the bride’s family gets large payments in exchange for her hand in marriage. If polygyny combined with women’s rights, I bet we’d see more promises to wash the dishes. Not everybody would have to share a husband, but I can think of some who might prefer half of Orlando Bloom to all of Tim Harford—including my wife.

More here.

A Chinese Play About Che Guevara

In Beijing Scene, a new play in Beijing tells the tale of someone largely unknown to the mainland Chinese, Che Guevara.

On April 12, a new experimental drama about the famous sultry-eyed, cigar-smoking revolutionary, appropriately titled Che Guevara, opened at the Beijing People’s Art Theater. Conceived by playwright Huang Jisu and performed by an eclectic group of actors, artists and musicians, this play is a revolution in its own right in the capital’s art scene.

Firstly, the group is putting on the production independently, without the official backing of an established theater company or the support of a work unit. Its 10 to 15 members represent a new generation of Chinese who are choosing to create unofficial networks, particularly in the arts, in response to the dwindling number of government-sponsored jobs and work units. Collectively, they refer to themselves as beipiao, or “Beijing drifters.” Consequently, it comes as little surprise that this rebel theatrical group has chosen one of the world’s most notorious drifters and non-conformists, Guevara, as the subject of its first production.

“Che was a totally free spirit,” says the play’s producer Yuan Hong, who produced most of director Meng Jinghui’s works, such as last year’s hugely successful Bootleg Faust “His life represented nomadic wandering and non-conformity, which many people in this society can relate to. He utterly refused to be forced to lead a fixed life. This was something Che always tried to resist.”

The French Don’t Embrace Their Own History

In Le Monde Diplomatique (English), Chris Bickerton looks at France’s ambivalent relationship with its own history.

IT SEEMS from recent events that the French malaise is no longer confined to the present. It applied to contemporary problems of the nation’s economy and politics, and now it also encompasses the past. Through a challenge to French history it has reached the foundations of national republicanism. The unsurprising reaction to this has been a mixture of Gaullist hand- wringing and post-colonial self-satisfaction. But current debates have also raised some positive and key questions about the role of history, and its relationship to memory, morality and the state.

The leading event was the fudged bicentenary celebration of the battle of Austerlitz, fought between Napoleon’s army and a Russo-Austrian army in 1805, and long celebrated as a great French military victory. In an article in Le Monde, the renowned French historian Pierre Nora (recipient of the legion d’honneur, created by Napoleon in 1802), fulminated against what he called the non-commemoration of Austerlitz (1). He wrote that this was a sign that France had reached the depths “of shame and of ridicule”. The British were able to celebrate Trafalgar, the Belgians Waterloo, and even the Germans were planning to celebrate in 2006 their grand rendezvous with Napoleon, in commemoration of his victories at Iena and Auerstadt in 1806.

Yet, according to Nora, it would soon be impossible in France to teach with pride Victor Hugo’s lines about hearing “in the depths of my thoughts the noise of the heavy cannons rolling towards Austerlitz”.

Community-building through Samba

In openDemocracy, Arthur Ituassu looks at Samba.

Slide1_5

São Gonçalo, where Porto da Pedra is based, is a community of 950,000 people in Rio. With a literacy rate of 95% and 199 health centres, 57 of which are public, São Gonçalo has much to offer. It has a local economy of $2.5 billion, and the city hall manages costs of $125 million a year and (in typically Brazilian fashion) almost 80% of this is spent on its employee and administrative costs alone.

Much of São Gonçalo’s wealth is down to Uberlan Jorge de Oliveira, and he is proud of its huge achievements: “We have doctors trained in nine different medical professions; we have a circus school for kids; we distribute food to at least 200 families; we have social workers; we are opening a dentist surgery for the community. I take care of at least 1,500 people.” As he speaks I notice a big picture of a tiger behind his desk, the animal is the trademark of Porto da Pedra. “But that is my wife’s job”, he concludes.

One of Uberlan Jorge de Oliveira’s most notable investments – more than $1.5 million – is on a very special project that happens just once a year: Porto da Pedra’s ninety-minute presentation at the top stage of Rio’s Carnival parade, the sambódromo.

“Chili and Liberty” by Amartya Sen

“THE USES AND ABUSES OF MULTICULTURALISM.”

Brilliant stuff as usual by Sen from The New Republic:

Amartya2_1The demand for multiculturalism is strong in the contemporary world. It is much invoked in the making of social, cultural, and political policies, particularly in Western Europe and America. This is not at all surprising, since increased global contacts and interactions, and in particular extensive migrations, have placed diverse practices of different cultures next to one another. The general acceptance of the exhortation to “Love thy neighbor” might have emerged when the neighbors led more or less the same kind of life (“Let’s continue this conversation next Sunday morning when the organist takes a break”), but the same entreaty to love one’s neighbors now requires people to take an interest in the very diverse living modes of proximate people. That this is not an easy task has been vividly illustrated once again by the confusion surrounding the recent Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and the fury they generated. And yet the globalized nature of the contemporary world does not allow the luxury of ignoring the difficult questions that multiculturalism raises. 

One of the central issues concerns how human beings are seen. Should they be categorized in terms of inherited traditions, particularly the inherited religion, of the community in which they happen to have been born, taking that unchosen identity to have automatic priority over other affiliations involving politics, profession, class, gender, language, literature, social involvements, and many other connections? Or should they be understood as persons with many affiliations and associations, whose relative priorities they must themselves choose (taking the responsibility that comes with reasoned choice)? Also, should we assess the fairness of multiculturalism primarily by the extent to which people from different cultural backgrounds are “left alone,” or by the extent to which their ability to make reasoned choices is positively supported by the social opportunities of education and participation in civil society? There is no way of escaping these rather foundational questions if multiculturalism is to be fairly assessed.

More here.

Rollyo: A new kind of web search

Dave Pell has created a very interesting thing called Rollyo: a way to create custom search engines. This is from the Rollyo website:

LogounregplainAre you tired of wading though thousands of irrelevant search results to get to the information you want? Ever wish you could narrow your search to sites you already know and trust? With Rollyo, you can easily create your own custom search engines, and explore and save those created by others.

Rollyo puts the power of Yahoo! Search in your hands, by giving you the tools to create your own personal search engines – with no programming required. All you have to do is pick the sites you want to search, and we’ll create a custom search engine for you.

Check it out here.  [Click on “Learn more about Rollyo” for more information.]

ágnes eperjesi

Atleta1eng165

I happened to catch a recent lecture by Arthur Danto at SVA here in New York City called “Embodied Meanings.” It was an excellent talk in general about how, contra certain formalist readings, meaning is an important component of contemporary art indeed.

Anyway, in illustrating his point he spoke much of the work of Ágnes Eperjesi, a Hugarian artist who currently has a show up at the Hungarian Cultural Center. The blurb on the website says: “Since the 1989 change in Hungary’s political system, Eperjesi has been systematically collecting images and graphics printed on plastic, such as commercial packaging, plastic bags and wrappers . . . taking the humble sign language of ordinary household chores, and recreating them as objects of beauty and irony.”
In Danto’s essay (forthcoming) he writes: “in transfiguring the isotype into an art work, an interesting reversal of Walter Benjamin’s famous distinction has taken place: the art of mechanical reproduction has acquired, through transfiguration, an aura . . . Eperjesi’s easthetic enhancement of workday images is as distinctive as Andy Warhol’s transformations of Polaroids into portraits.”
Her own website can be found here.
Her show is only up until March 6th. I think she’s doing something great, really great. So go see it.

Julieta campos

Campos_julieta

Novelist, essayist and playwright Julieta Campos has employed various genres with formal mastery and stylistic audacity. “Today I feel that I can reconcile myself, at last, with my split identity,” she wrote in the introduction to Reunión de familia (Family reunion) (1997), a compilation of her early narrative works and one play. Campos’s confession alludes not only to the many genres she has explored but also to the alliance she has wrought between her literary vocation and real life’s call: to better the lives and living conditions of Mexico’s poor indigenous population. In fact, the discovery of a pact between the alchemy of writing and the temptation to modify actual existence appears, in her case, to have smoothed the way for the reconciliation of these two facets of experience often considered contradictory, even adversarial. Yet there is still a third way to interpret this “reconciliation”: the Cuban-born author’s intellectual and biographical paths have led her to recognize that Mexico, her adopted home, is a definitive place in her life.

more from BOMB here.

James Wood on the Books of Moses

Moses

In the beginning was not the word, or the deed, but the face. ‘Darkness was upon the face of the deep,’ runs the King James Version in the second verse of the opening of Genesis. ‘And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.’ Two uses of ‘face’ in one verse, and a third implied face, surely: God’s own, hovering over the face of his still uncreated world. The Almighty, looking into the face of his waters, might well be expected to see his face reflected: it is profoundly his world, still uncontaminated by rebellious man.

The committees of translators appointed by James I knew what they were doing. The face of God and the face of the world (or of mankind) will become a running entanglement throughout the five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Man will fear to look upon God’s face, and God will frequently abhor the deeds of the people who live on the face of his world. Once Cain has killed Abel, and has been banished by God, he cries out: ‘Behold thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid.’ When the Almighty decides to flood his world, he pledges to destroy every living thing ‘from off the face of the earth’. After wrestling with a divine stranger all night, Jacob ‘called the name of the place Peniel: For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’

more at the LRB here.

Video Games Help U.S. Soldiers Learn Arab Language, Culture

From The National Geographic:

Arab_1 Researchers have developed an interactive computer system that uses artificial intelligence and gaming techniques to teach Arabic to U.S. soldiers. Soldier-students equipped with microphones navigate through an Arabic-speaking environment on a computer screen. If they successfully phrase questions and understand the answers, they can move on to the next level of the game. But this is more than just a language lab.

The system emphasizes nonverbal behavior. Users are taught to adopt local customs such as putting their right hand over their heart when meeting someone for the first time. The characters that users face in the game, meanwhile, are animated by artificial intelligence. They may nod in approval or cross their arms with skeptical hostility in response to the users’ actions.

“Language without any context is hard to learn,” said Vilhjálmsson, a research scientist with the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “But if you put it into the context of face-to-face communication, allowing for gestures and other non-verbal behavior, it becomes easier [to learn].”

More here.

The Unconscious Mind: A Great Decision Maker

From The New York Times:Mind_1

In a series of experiments reported last week in the journal Science, a team of Dutch psychologists found that people struggling to make complex decisions did best when they were distracted and were not able to think consciously about the choice at all. The research not only backs up the common advice to “sleep on it” when facing difficult choices, but it also suggests that the unconscious brain can actively reason as well as produce weird dreams and Freudian slips. “This is very elegant work, and like any great work, it opens up as many questions as it answers” about the unconscious, said Timothy D. Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and the author of the book “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.” He was not involved in the research.

Psychologists have known for years that people process an enormous amount of information unconsciously — for example, when they hear their names pop up in a conversation across the room that they were not consciously listening to. But the new report suggests that people take this wealth of under-the-radar information, combine it with deliberately studied facts and impressions and then make astute judgments that they would not otherwise form.

More here.

Chimps show how they can monkey around with tools

From The Australian:

Chimp_1Scientists working in west Africa have caught chimpanzees on camera using a “tool kit” to break into a termite mound.

The remarkable film shows one chimp using its feet to push a thick stick into the termite nest, like a gardener digging up potatoes. Then the same animal takes another tool, a slender stem with a frayed end, and inserts it into the hole to fish out the insects.

Chimps have been observed before cracking nuts with stones and catching ants and termites with twigs and leaves. But this is the first recorded example of the apes equipped with multiple tools.

The video footage, which has just been brought back from Africa, was taken by a team of scientists in the Congo using a hidden camera.

More here.

On Wieseltier on Dennett

Many of you have probably seen the digraceful and disrespectful hack job of a review in yesterday’s NY Times (what is up over there?) by Leon Wieseltier, of Daniel Dennett’s new book Breaking the Spell. (Robin posted it a couple of days ago here.) It would be one thing if Wieseltier were simply confused, incompetent, or incapable of comprehending Dennett (all of which he is), but it is much worse: he knowingly and deliberately miscontrues what Dennett writes, repeatedly. I will give a single example from the beginning of Wieseltier’s review:

If you disagree with what Dennett says, it is because you fear what he says. Any opposition to his scientistic deflation of religion he triumphantly dismisses as “protectionism.” But people who share Dennett’s view of the world he calls “brights.” Brights are not only intellectually better, they are also ethically better. Did you know that “brights have the lowest divorce rate in the United States, and born-again Christians the highest”?

Dennett has written this book with a very wide audience in mind, and at the beginning of the book he tries his best to very honestly make clear his own beliefs and motivate readers (specially religious ones) to read the whole book before making up their own minds. This is what he says:

I ask just that you try to keep an open mind and refrain from prejudging what I say because I am a Godless philosopher, while I similarly do my best to understand you. (I am a bright. My essay The Bright Stuff, in the New York Times, July 12, 2003, drew attention to the efforts of some agnostics, atheists, and other adherents of naturalism to coin a new tern for us non-believers, and the large positive response to that essay helped persuade me to write this book. There was also a negative response, largely objecting to the term that had been chosen [not by me]: bright, which seemed to imply that others were dim or stupid. But the term, modeled on the highly successful highjacking of the ordinary word “gay” by homosexuals, does not have to have that implication. Those who are not gays are not necessarily glum; they’re straight. Those who are not brights are not necessarily dim. They might like to choose a name for themselves. Since, unlike us brights, they believe in the supernatural, perhaps they would like to call themselves supers. It’s a nice word with positive connotations, like gay and bright and straight…) [p. 21]

In this long parenthetical statement, Dennett is just putting his own convictions on the table. Nowhere does he claim that he thinks that he is brighter or smarter than others. On the contrary, he goes to pains to make himself clear on this. Two hundred and fifty-eight pages later, while considering evidence for the hypothetical claim that perhaps religion makes people morally better, he writes:

…when it comes to “family values,” the available evidence to date supports the hypothesis that brights have the lowest divorce rate in the United States, and born-again Christians the highest (Barna, 1999). [p. 279]

This is just one of a long list of moral virtues that Dennett examines, always citing evidence of what he is saying, so nothing hugely important to Dennett’s argument rests on this particular claim. But now reread how Wieseltier disingenuously and sleazily uses these quotes, from more than two hundred pages apart and completely out of context, to demonstrate Dennett’s supposed arrogance. The rest of Wieseltier’s review is filled with such ad hominem attacks on Dennett along with a few remarkably muddle-headed and pathetically feeble attempts at philosophical argument. It is Wieseltier’s hubris which is unbelievable throughout, such as the risible notion that he understands Hume better than Dennett! (If you haven’t read Hume yourself, imagine some editor at a science magazine lecturing a world-famous professor of physics on Einstein’s theories, and you’ll get some idea of just how ludicrous this is.)

No one who knows the first thing about philosophy can take this review seriously, but more importantly, it is so vindictive and poorly argued that nor can anyone else. Read it for yourself! It is an absolute disgrace that the NY Times not only published this rot, but felt so proud of it that they advertised it on the front cover of this week’s Book Review, and then again drew attention to it on page four in a bizarre editorial introduction. How low will they sink?

I strongly urge you to protest this sort of intellectual terrorism and the extremely shabby treatment of one of the most well-repected and admired philosophers alive today by the Times, by writing to the publisher at publisher@nytimes.com, to the president at president@nytimes.com and to the editor at letters@nytimes.com.

Meanwhile, read Brian Leiter’s review of Wieseltier’s review:

The New York Times has done it again:  they’ve enlisted an ignorant reviewer to review a philosophical book.  The reviewer is Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor at The New Republic.  The book is Daniel Dennett’s latest book, a “naturalistic” account of religious belief.   Whatever Mr. Wieseltier knows about philosophy or science, he effectively conceals in this review.  The sneering starts at the beginning:

THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett’s book. “Breaking the Spell” is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.

Perhaps it is correct that the “question of the place of science in human life” is a philosophical, not scientific question, though I wish I could be as confident as Mr. Wieseltier as to how we demarcate those matters.  But “the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical” is not a “superstition,” but a reasonable methodological posture to adopt based on the actual evidence, that is, based on the actual, expanding success of the sciences, and especially, the special sciences, during the last hundred years.  One should allow, of course, that some of these explanatory paradigms may fail, and that others, like evolutionary psychology, are at the speculative stage, awaiting the kind of rigorous confirmation (or disconfirmation) characteristic of selectionist hypotheses in evolutionary biology.  But no evidence is adduced by Mr. Wieseltier to suggest that Professor Dennett’s view is any different than this.  Use of the epithet “superstition” simply allows Mr. Wieseltier to avoid discussing the actual methodological posture of Dennett’s work, and to omit mention of the reasons why one might reasonably expect scientific explanations for many domains of human phenomena to be worth pursuing.

More here. And then read P.Z. Myers’ review of Wieseltier’s review:

[Wieseltier’s review of Dennett] is full of self-important declarations that reduce to incoherence, such as this one:

You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism. But the reason he imputes to the human creatures depicted in his book is merely a creaturely reason. Dennett’s natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason.

One moment he’s telling us that just tracing the origins of an idea is insufficient to disprove it (sadly for Mr Wieseltier’s argument, there is no sign that Dennett disagrees), the next he’s telling us that the origin of Dennett’s reason is “creaturely” and “animalized”, and therefore of a lesser or invalid kind. I had no idea we could categorize reason by the nature of its source (I’d like to know what varieties of reason he proposes: “creaturely”, “human”, “divine”? Is there also a “vegetable reason”?), but even if we could, by his initial premise, it wouldn’t matter: he needs to address its content, not carp against it because it is the product of natural selection rather than revelation.

More here. And if you want still more, check out more reviews of the review at Majikthise, here.

Oh, and if you want to see my review of Dennett’s book, it is here.

Monday Musing: President’s Day

Well, it’s President’s Day in these United States. And it just so happens that I’ve recently become fascinated with that group of early Americans and Founding Fathers whose names resonate as huge and historical but about whom I’ll confess I’ve never known all that much. I’ve started reading biographies, some studies by American historians and scholars, The Federalist Papers, the correspondences between Adams and his wife Abigail and then between Adams and Jefferson. The latter are particularly amazing; they’ve changed me, changed how I think about Americanness, good and bad. The debate between Adams and Jefferson about what they thought democracy was supposed to look like is mind-blowingly interesting, really. Alexander Hamilton is a huge figure—a huge brain, half-mad, scary son-of-a-bitch, awesome, admirable. And Benjamin Franklin isn’t just the cute and cuddly little tinkerer with his kites and crap you hear about. The man was a polymath giant and pretty funny too. Madison, Jay, some of the lesser-known figures like Paterson and then Monroe—they really are massively fascinating figures.

But there will be no hagiography here. So, in lieu of semi-nationalistic ass-kissing I give you some tidbits from a project I’ve been working on here and there when the time and mood affords. It’s about 80 pages long now and it purports to get into the heads, subjectivity if you will, of some of those figures who are hard to think about in the flesh and blood, warts and passions, failings and complexities sort of way. I pretend no deep insight, just a feel for the ‘mood’ and ‘sense’ of some of these figures. I’ve made them talk and think in a modern-day man-on-the-street vernacular because it was pleasing to me to think of them that way. That is what made them real to me again.

Anyway, it’s my tribute to individuals who were simply extraordinary, other judgments, for the moment, being held aside. Finally, I apologize for the language, this being a family website. But you go where the muse takes you, damn it.

John Adams

Took a walk today.
Shit-ty day.
All the birds must
Be dead or goofing off.

Why do I get so
angry at birds?

Who knows.
But, I do.

We’ll have to get rid
Of all the animals
Sooner or later.
Or most of them.
Immolate them in a
Great fire
Like the early Greeks
And their
Stupid rites for
Worshipping
Pantheons of false
Gods.

Drive the animals into
The sea.

But for now let
Them putter on
The smooth hills,
Unknowingly.

When I move
My left foot
I feel rage.

I walked for
Seven miles.

The smooth hills were
Alive with animals
And their cries,
Crying out laments about
Death and simultaneous
Pleas for more sex.

They wouldn’t dare
Fuck the dead earth
Like I do.

You know it,
I know it,
Abigail knows it.

She cooked a plum pie
Last night.
I threw up when she
Lanced the skin.
It was like war in there,
Pulpy madness.
Tasted fine though,
Sweet and bitter
And fine.

Alexander Hamilton

This coat looks like
Crap and I’m getting fat.

Have the tailor executed,
I quipped,
Then burn his store
And rape the shit out
Of his horses.

It’s so motherfuckin’ boring in
The countryside.

Everybody thinks they
Know something.
Everybody thinks they’ve
seen something.
But they’ve only
Witnessed gleams
On the sides of barns,

Little neuron
Misfirings in the
Frontal lobes.

No one knows shit.
That much I know,
Without even dragging
My tired ass to
Delphi…
Which is simply
A rock, in the
Middle of nowhere,
For the sun to shine
Upon in the morning.

James Madison

Were we really
Like demi-gods
Back then?
Someone said that—
Demi-gods.

Now I can’t feel
my left leg and my
fingers always smell
like Gruyere.

The older I get,
The more I think
There should have been
One senator for
Every person.
That way, each
Person would
Have a senator.
And vice versa.

And we should have
Developed a new language
With a tense just
For lying,
And a verbal mood
For things we utter
Into young boys’ ears
To make them fear living.

And we should have
Designed new clothes
To seem more
American; so when
You put the great suit
On and latched up
the buckles,
tied on the extensions,
inserted the medallions…
The people would say
‘That’s an American coming’.

‘That’s an American suit.’

George Washington

To really fuck
With people,
Just don’t talk a lot.

Act like you already
Know something.
They keep talking
and you’re a
brick house…
It fucks with them.

Everyone is scared,
Everyone wonders whether
They are dumb,
Or ugly,
Or both.

Just stare and think
About something else.

I like to consider
The puckered assholes
Of youngish black girls
When people are
Talking.

Just keep talking
Idiot,
I’m thinking,
continue your prattle;
For me
Every new sentence
Is another black
Flower.

Thomas Jefferson

Just got in
From a long ride.

I wish someone
Would sing to
Me until their throat
Fell out and they died.
Then I would eat
A pheasant and
Some rich sauces.
Then I would go outside
And bury one
Of my goats up
To its head
Until the next morning.
You can blah blah
All you like, goat,
You’re staying in the ground
Until the sun comes up.
Then I would ride
Out to the end
Of the property
And cut my favorite
Tree down,
Unable to stand the
Sound of the
Goat’s cries.
Then I would
Take a bath with
Every fucking nigger
On the plantation.
One after the other,
In succession.
Then I’d write a letter
To France and go
to bed.

Dear France,
You made a pretty
Good frickin’ joke with
Me, didn’t you?
Ha ha.
Now who’s laughing?

George Washington

“How do you
stand so great?”
asked Morris,
“you’re like a
mortal Apollo
or a graceful
rhinoceros.”

“Huge.”

“While we twist
and dangle
like a coterie
of faggots.”

I didn’t answer.

But the truth was
Two stories.

One:
I place a chestnut
Betwixt my
Buttcheeks
Each morning.
I squeeze it all day
Long.
I’ve never ever
Dropped it.
That precious
Chestnut.

Two:
I think of the
Killing.
I think of the
Occasion I
Fucked my own
Sister, and
Without her
Approval.
In short,
I’m a man who’ll
be burning, soon.
I’m a man
Who waits
For the Devil.

Assuredly.

That’s why
I’m great.

James Madison

I’m pretty sure
My wife
Has the biggest tits
In Virginia.

I’m like, what,
Four foot ten.
Her left tit is
My size.

Each of those
Milky glands is like
A brother to me.
And they’re smart,
A dual nippled genius.

We fight and we talk
And we dream,
Usually in the
evenings, best in
The summers, amongst
The fireflies.

“Tell me a story, tit,
I’m feeling sleepy.
Of Tacitus
Or Catiline,
Or Benjamin Hoadly.”

When the sun goes
Down on the shitty
Little prairie, I’m usually
Thinking…

They’re a
Perfect union,
They’re a perfect
Union.

George Washington

I hated to see men
Dying,
I did.
But also I didn’t
Always give a shit.
Go figure.

Sometimes there’s nothing
Funnier than a stone
Dead human.

Sometimes you’re
Quivering to find a
Corpse somewhere,
Rigid, frozen, broken
Human forms.

Completely empty meaningless
Faces aren’t even
somethings.

They’re nothing.

I have a box
Full of shit.
It’s in the attic.
Dead people stuff,
Stripped from corpses.
Nice stuff,
Some silver.
Watches, hundreds of
watches,
Ticking away upstairs
For no reason.

John Adams

Skiddely skoo
Skibbeldy ska
I’m having a good one
Today.

I woke up
And farted right
In Abigail’s face.
You should have
Seen her look.

“I’m still alive,
baby,”
I was saying,
“I’m still alive.”

I grabbed a switch
and went after
John Quincy
With purpose.
“I’ll tan your
hide boy!”

But he’s like
50 now and
he’s bigger than me,
and pretty fast.

We ran around
In the yard
With no pants on.

He’s got a pretty
Big dick
For an Adams.

The sun was
Fine.
Warm and big
And spitting all over
The fields.

“This is something,”
I said to
One of the pigs
Later.
“We did it.”

Alexander Hamilton

I’d like to
Lay this whole gay
Thing to rest.

What is gay anyway?
Is it having
Certain kinds of
Feelings?
Is it a feel for
Fabrics? A certain
Specific inversion?

I loved him.
And when he
Died I sobbed and
thrashed like
Achilles and felt
Similar rages.
I too would have called
Down Apollo’s plague
Had I any sway
Over heaven’s affairs.
But Achilles’ mother
Was immortal and mine
Was just a slut floozy
From the tropics.

Slaves and sugar,
Dysentery and the clap,
Ain’t exactly fucking
Homer.

Truth is,
He had a lust
For death anyway,
He connected it with
Glory.
I remember how
Writhing his sinews
Were to touch them,
How hot his skin
Could get while
Still somehow icy.

In trajectory he
Was an arrow:
No swerving.

There was no
Battle he didn’t try
To die in.

That’s the story.

But I never fucked him,
Not once.

James Monroe

Just dinking around
the house today.
Started in on
Heavy cider at
Sun up.

Now my face
Feels like
It’s sliding off
My body,
Slowly.

The wife fell
Into the fireplace
The other morning,
Another case
Of the shaking.
She’s wrecked now,
Broken,
Over.

My Lesbia,
My Cynthia,
My Laura.
Tanto piu’ di voi,
quando piu’ v’ama

I’m going outside
To douse myself
In rain.

My love.
Somehow,
I failed you.

Benjamin Franklin

I’ve discovered that
It isn’t possible
To mate a warthog
With an earthworm,
Even if the earthworm
Fully enters the warthog
Genitally.

A dog won’t bang
A mouse,
Regardless of how much
you electrically
Shock them.

A cow and a
Horse will
Potentially get it on
In the evening,
Though, mysteriously,
Not always.

You can do pretty
Much anything you
Want with a goat.

If you replace
The innards of
A chicken with
Those of a piglet,
they both stop working,
unless I just
screwed up a few
of the connections.

The world is
Filled with gases,
Different kinds of
Gases, and that’s
about all the info
I have on that
Right now.

The Jews are
Watching everything
We do with great
Interest, no
Pun intended.

I’m gonna measure
The rest of the
Stuff in the house
Tomorrow.