Roberto Bolaño’s caracas speech


I’ve always had a problem with Venezuela. An infantile problem, fruit of my disorganized education; a minimal problem; but a problem nonetheless. The center of the problem is of a verbal and geographic nature. It is also probably due to a sort of undiagnosed dyslexia. I don’t mean to say by this that my mother never took me to the doctor; on the contrary, until the age of ten I was an assiduous visitor to doctor’s offices and even hospitals, but from that point on my mother decided I was strong enough to handle anything.

But let us return to the problem. When I was little, I played soccer. My number was 11, the number of Pepe and Zagalo in the World Cup in Sweden, and I was an enthusiastic player but a pretty bad one, though my left leg was my good leg and supposedly lefties never lose steam during a match. In my case, this wasn’t true: I almost always lost steam, though every once in a while, say once every six months, I would play a good match and recover at least a part of the enormous credit lost. At night, as is natural, before going to sleep, I would run circles in my head around my pitiful condition as a soccer player. It was then that I had the first conscious inkling of my dyslexia. I shot with my left leg but wrote with my right hand.

more from Triple Canopy here.

head cases


In general, we don’t enjoy hearing about other people’s illnesses. If you say, “How are you?” to an acquaintance or a new friend, you want to get back a pat “Fine,” not some lengthy disquisition on the latest ache or pain. The exception to this rule occurs when both people have something wrong with them: In that case, a person is willing to listen for a while so that he can later work off his own complaints. (The late Gardner Botsford called such encounters among his old-men circle of friends “organ recitals.”)

Reading is a different matter, apparently. People seem to have a nearly unlimited appetite for consuming published medical tales. These range from the inspirational to the bizarre and can be written by cancer survivors, emergency-room doctors, hospice nurses, grieving relatives, drug addicts, philosophically inclined diagnosticians, and sufferers from a wide variety of mental-health complaints. In most cases, the allure is somewhere between a car accident’s and a mud fight’s. We seem to enjoy (pace Susan Sontag) regarding the pain of others.

more from Bookforum here.

the iron poet


what a poet! and the clear water is thick

with bloody blows on its head.
I embraced a cloud,
But when I soared
it rained.
—Frank O’Hara, “Mayakovsky” (1954)

In the summer of 1915, Vladimir Mayakovsky paid a call on Maxim Gorky and read him the first draft of his new long poem “A Cloud in Pants.” Its verses initially had been scribbled, so his friends reported, on cigarette boxes. As the Russian Formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky recalls, “Aleksey Maksimovich [Gorky] told me that he was stunned and that even a little gray bird hopping on the path ruffled its feathers, cocked its head and still could not bring itself to fly away.”

more from Boston Review here.

Turkey’s dangerous message to the Muslim world

Alex Taurel and Shadi Hamid in the Christian Science Monitor:

TurkeyflagPresident Bush’s vision of a democratic Middle East was premised in part on the region’s popular Islamist groups reconciling themselves to the give-and-take nature of democracy.

It might make sense then, that the Bush administration would do what it could to support a party that has made such a transformation in Turkey. But it’s not.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which fashioned itself as the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats, has stood out by passing a series of unprecedented political reforms as the country’s ruling party.

Yet the Turkish Constitutional Court – bastion of the hard-line secularist old guard – is now threatening to close down the AKP and ban its leading figures, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, from party politics for five years. And the Bush administration, in the face of this impending judicial coup, has chosen to remain indifferent. The consequences could reach beyond a setback to democracy in Turkey and affect the Middle East.

More here.

Billionaires Back Antismoking Effort

Donald G. McNeil, Jr in the New York Times:

Screenhunter_09_jul_25_1404Bill Gates and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Wednesday that they would spend $500 million to stop people around the world from smoking.

The World Health Organization estimates that tobacco will kill up to a billion people in the 21st century, 10 times as many as it killed in the 20th.

This time, most are expected to be in poor countries like Bangladesh and middle-income countries like Russia. In an effort to cut that number, Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation plans to commit $250 million over four years on top of a $125 million gift he announced two years ago. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is allocating $125 million over five years.

More here.  [Thanks to Rebecca Meisels.]

Friday Poem

On July 18th 2008 Kay Ryan was named Poet Laureate of the United States.


Known for her sly, compact poems that revel in wordplay and internal rhymes, Ms. Ryan has won a carriage full of poetry prizes for her funny and philosophical work, including awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2004, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize…

Still, she has remained something of an outsider.

“I so didn’t want to be a poet,” Ms. Ryan, 62, said in a phone interview from her home in Fairfax, Calif. “I came from sort of a self-contained people who didn’t believe in public exposure, and public investigation of the heart was rather repugnant to me.”

But in the end “I couldn’t resist,” she said. “It was in a strange way taking over my mind. My mind was on its own finding things and rhyming things. I was getting diseased.”  —New York Times, Books July 17, 2008



The bird

walks down

the beach along

the glazed edge

the last wave

reached. His

each step makes

a perfect stamp–

smallish, but as

sharp as an

emperor’s chop.

Stride, stride,

goes the emperor

down his wide

mirrored promenade

the sea bows

to repolish.

The Other Shoe

Oh if it were
only the other
shoe hanging
in space before
joining its mate.

Thanks to Leah Culleny


The Future is Now, At Least for Motorcycles

Icareenzyme261 Stuart Schwartzapfel in the Wired blog Autopia:

There are several not-from-this-world motorcycles in our midst. This most likely stems from the surge in sales that motorcycle-industry designers and executives are now savoring, thanks to all that madness at the pump.

To capitalize on this newfound popularity, why not innovate with, dare I say it, out-of-the-box approaches to design and functionality. To this end, there is a noticeable influx of radically different concept and production bikes hitting the scene. Each one challenges preconceived notions about motorcycles as we have come to know them.

Perhaps not as sci-fi as Deus Ex Machina or eco-conscious as Suzuki’s Crossfire, but oozing with enough testosterone to please a female bodybuilder, is the Icare concept from Enzyme Design. If bad-ass had an older brother, Icare would be it.

Enzyme, a highly hip French design house that dabbles in everything from product design to contemporary art, says Icare is a “superlative motor bike” that would fill a currently vacant niche for top-of-the-range bikes. Enzyme should check out the Confederate line for some high-end examples to position Icare against. Nonetheless, the bike is designed like a piece of art with the thought that experienced and deep-pocketed motorcyclists would like something more exclusive than a Ducati. Enzyme says its design inspiration came from the greatest hits album for Bang & Olufsen, Apple, Porsche and Audi.

Reflecting Schools

Cover00 Scott McLemee on François Cusset’s French Theory, in bookforum:

Cusset provides a serviceable map of the world of professorial superstardom through sketches of the careers of Gayatri Spivak, Paul de Man, Edward Said, and so on. And he summarizes all those terribly exciting debates from yesteryear regarding multiculturalism, political correctness, and the Sokal hoax.

The heart of the narrative is elsewhere, though. A chapter on “The Seventies” gathers up the scattered anecdotes about how various French thinkers made connections with the American counterculture, such as the interest of Tel Quel in Allen Ginsberg, visits by Deleuze and Guattari with the Black Panthers and Patti Smith, and numerous other cross-marginal encounters. Later sections treat the migration of poststructuralist concepts, or at least buzzwords, into the world of artistic practice of the 80s (the profitable misunderstandings between Baudrillard and neo-geo, for example) and the emergent cybersphere a little later.

Such wide-angle coverage makes for something considerably richer and more welcome than another book revisiting questions of “the can(n)on”—for Cusset is alert to the extreme heterogeneity both of theory and of the cultural landscape over which it spread. This in turn encourages him to focus on the small-scale mechanisms that helped constitute French Theory as an identifiable commodity, such as Duke’s Post-Contemporary Interventions series and the Foreign Agents booklets from Semiotext(e). Such venues worked “to create an impression of intellectual promiscuity between the texts and authors that were brought together in the same series or in the same collection,” writes Cusset.

The ideology of voters, congressmembers, and senators

Andrew Gelman has a post on some of the findings of his forthcoming and apparently very promising book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State:

These plots from John Sides reminded me of some graphs from our forthcoming Red State, Blue State book that display the distributions of voters, House members, and senators on a common scale:


House members and senators’ positions are estimated based on their votes in Congress.  Voters’ positions are estimated based on some survey questions where people were asked their views on a number of issues that had also been voted on in Congress.  As you can see, elected representatives are generally more extreme than voters.

In Pakistan, the Taleban Get Away with Murder

06_pak_taleb Pervez Hoodbhoy in the Tehran Times:

The recent killing of eleven Pakistani soldiers at Gora Prai by American and Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan unleashed an amazing storm.

Prime Minister Gilani declared, “We will take a stand for sovereignty, integrity and self-respect.” The military announced defiantly, “We reserve the right to protect our citizens and soldiers against aggression,” while Army chief, Gen Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, called the attack ‘cowardly’. The dead became ‘shaheeds’ and large numbers of people turned up to pray at their funerals.

But had the killers been the Taleban, this would have been a non-event. The storm we saw was more about cause than consequence. Protecting the sovereignty of the state, self-respect, citizens and soldiers against aggression, and the lives of Pakistani soldiers, suddenly all acquired value because the killers were American and NATO troops.

Compare the response to Gora Prai with the near silence about the recent kidnapping and slaughter by Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters of 28 men near Tank, some of whom were shot and others had their throats cut. Even this pales before the hundred or more attacks by suicide bombers over the last year that made bloody carnage of soldiers and officers, devastated peace jirgas and public rallies, and killed hundreds praying in mosques and at funerals.

the suit


North by Northwest isn’t a film about what happens to Cary Grant, it’s about what happens to his suit. The suit has the adventures, a gorgeous New York suit threading its way through America. The title sequence in which the stark lines of a Madison Avenue office building are ‘woven’ together could be the construction of Cary in his suit right there — he gets knitted into his suit, into his job, before our very eyes. Indeed some of the popular ‘suitings’ of that time (‘windowpane’ or ‘glen plaid’) perfectly complemented office buildings. Cary’s suit reflects New York, identifies him as a thrusting exec, but also arms him, protects him: what else is a suit for? Reflects and Protects: a slogan Cary’s character, Roger Thornhill, might have come up with himself.

But, as Thoreau wrote, ‘A man who has at length found something to do will not need to get a new suit to do it in.’ Cary may cut quite a figure but as a person he is meaningless, so far. We find him in the Suit, but certainly he has not found himself, or ‘what to do’.

more from Granta here.

a rose from jericho


May 15 of this year marked the sixtieth anniversary of the creation of Israel—and the start of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This struggle has now encompassed the Arab-Israeli War (1948), the Six-Day War (1967), the Lebanon War (1982), the First Intifada (1987–1993), and the Second Intifada (2000–present). The following collection of poems from eleven Israelis and Palestinians offers an intimate look at the life of this region in conflict—but through a smaller and more personal lens than most news media allow. While each of these poems is politically conscious in some way, many delve into less predictable territory: sex, death, television, ghosts, memory, and resurrection.

more from VQR here.

not merely weird but off the charts


It wasn’t simply a matter of love at first sight for Genesis P-Orridge that morning in 1993, when he lay on the floor of a dungeon in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood belonging to author and dominatrix Terence Sellers, though that was certainly a factor.

As he would later discover, the impossibly tall, angelic woman who materialized in the next room as he awoke, bleary-eyed from the unwholesome activities of the night before, was the same woman his 11-year-old daughter had personally picked out for him a few months before.

As he watched, the woman paced back and forth, slowly removing her street clothes. By the time she’d slipped on her silk stockings, wriggled into her black rubber peekaboo miniskirt, and donned her leather motorcycle cap, a prayer was forming in Gen’s mind.

If we can be with this woman as lovers, as partners, for the rest of our lives, thought the front man of the legendary bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, who’d easily piled up enough experiences and enough identities to justify that royal “we”—it’s all we’ll ever want in the universe.

more from Radar here.

Weird hotel rooms


Breakout … the Freedom room is described as the friendly prison cell with a hole in the wall. Just don’t leave any valuables lying around:


Comic caper … the Comic room has a characteristic touch around every corner. The result is a dollhouse-like, comic book room with papaya green walls, a lilac bed and a pink cupboard:


Down the drain… Daspark Hotel offer tiny rooms made from drain pipes, just a stone’s throw away from the Danube river in Germany:


More here.

Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brain

From Scientific American:

Choice The human mind is a remarkable device. Nevertheless, it is not without limits. Recently, a growing body of research has focused on a particular mental limitation, which has to do with our ability to use a mental trait known as executive function. When you focus on a specific task for an extended period of time or choose to eat a salad instead of a piece of cake, you are flexing your executive function muscles. Both thought processes require conscious effort-you have to resist the temptation to let your mind wander or to indulge in the sweet dessert. It turns out, however, that use of executive function—a talent we all rely on throughout the day—draws upon a single resource of limited capacity in the brain. When this resource is exhausted by one activity, our mental capacity may be severely hindered in another, seemingly unrelated activity.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are facing a very difficult decision about which of two job offers to accept. One position offers good pay and job security, but is pretty mundane, whereas the other job is really interesting and offers reasonable pay, but has questionable job security. Clearly you can go about resolving the dilemma in many ways. Few people, however, would say that your decision should be affected or influenced by whether or not you resisted the urge to eat cookies prior to contemplating the job offers. A decade of psychology research suggests otherwise. Unrelated activities that tax the executive function have important lingering effects, and may disrupt your ability to make such an important decision. In other words, you might choose the wrong job because you didn’t eat a cookie.

More here.

Brain electrodes tackle severe depression

From Nature:

Depression Severely depressed patients who do not respond to conventional therapy may be helped by deep brain stimulation (DBS), according to the most-extensive study to date of the experimental procedure. In a clinical trial in Toronto, Canada, 12 out of 20 patients who had stimulating electrodes placed in a brain area called the subcallosal cingulated gyrus showed significant improvement in their depression, with seven of them going into full remission.

The benefits lasted at least a year, according to the results published this week in the journal Biological Psychiatry. Patients in the study had failed to respond to cognitive therapy, antidepressant drugs and electroconvulsant therapy.

The research team published results of DBS on their first six patients in 2005. Four of those patients responded well, and were still showing significant improvement after the trial finished six months later. The new research represents the largest trial on DBS for depression to follow patients for a full year. “It is a remarkable that so many patients got well and stayed well,” says Helen Mayberg, now at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, who helped to develop the therapy.

More here.

wood on hemon


In Joseph Roth’s novel of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, “The Radetzky March,” there is an extraordinary scene in which the varied soldiers of that vast, improbable portmanteau parade in Vienna before the Hapsburg emperor, Franz Joseph. Uniformed men stream by, Austrians, Italians, Hungarians, Slovenians, and—most remarkably and most exotically—Bosnians, vivid in their “blood-red fezzes,” which seemed to glow, Roth writes, like bonfires lit by Islam in tribute to the Emperor himself. Those blood-red fezzes are all Roth needs to conjure the distant romance of the Bosnian subjects, who disappear from the novelistic pageant as quickly as they flashed by.

Nearly seventy years after “The Radetzky March” was published, Aleksandar Hemon, who was born in Sarajevo and now lives in Chicago, seems to return Roth’s compliment when, in his story “The Accordion,” he uses the same phrase: Archduke Franz Ferdinand is riding in a carriage through Sarajevo, and he sees “the blood-red fezzes—much like topsy-turvy flower pots with short tassels—and women with little curtains over their faces.” The Archduke has an appointment with history: any moment now, he will be assassinated, and the long fuse that ignited the First World War will be lit. But, before that encounter, the Archduke’s attention is caught—in Hemon’s spirited telling—by a man with an accordion.

more from The New Yorker here.

the Scylla of old modernist styles and the Charybdis of new mass-cultural images


THE INDEPENDENT GROUP, that extraordinary crew of young artists, architects, and critics in London in the early 1950s, sought a way between the Scylla of old modernist styles and the Charybdis of new mass-cultural images. To do so, it adopted a non-Aristotelian approach to its many objects of study—science and technology, architecture and design, popular culture and advertising—an approach that was neither satirical nor celebratory, but at once analytical and playful. It was this distinctive attitude that Richard Hamilton, a crucial member of the IG, carried forward when, following his famous little collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? produced in 1956 for the landmark “This Is Tomorrow” exhibition, he began his “tabular” pictures in the late ’50s.¹ This suite of paintings, still too little known, explores the emergent visual idioms of postwar consumer society—the erotic curves of the latest sedan in Hommage à Chrysler Corp., 1957, for instance, or the sleek seduction of the latest refrigerator in $he, 1958–61—in a mode of suave pastiche that demonstrates the mixing not only of modernist styles and commercial devices but also of sexual fetishism and commodity fetishism in the new economy of consumer society. If not strictly non-Aristotelian, these images still propose an “ironism of affirmation,” a mode of wry engagement that Hamilton learned in part from Duchamp, with whose work he was deeply involved.² (Hamilton published a transcription of the Green Box of notes for the “Large Glass” in 1960, and finished a reconstruction of the “Glass” in 1966.) Hence to the old question asked of the IG and Pop alike—critical or complicit?—the answer given by Hamilton, then and now, is both, and intensely so.

more from artforum here.

Identifying the Most Racist City in America

49 Sudhir Venkatesh asks what is the most racist city in the US over at Freakanomics and solicits answers and ways of measuring them (the comments worth a read):

[W]hat is the most racist town/city in America?

I thought of this question a long time ago when I lived in Boston. The city puzzled me. I knew about the strong liberal sentiment among the populace, but I didn’t have to look far to see that racism was part of its historical core. For example, school integration was violently resisted by many of its white ethnic residents. In sports, the city has been home to some of the most extreme forms of racism — check out Howard Bryant’s terrific book, Shut Out, in which he explores the longstanding bigotry in the Red Sox baseball organization. And I was surprised how openly some of the city’s African-American residents talked about experiencing racism at work, in bars, and on the streets.

Does it make sense to classify Boston on a racism index? Is it any different than other cities?