Friday, October 31, 2008

Barack Obama's Work

“In the eyes of many voters, Barack Obama has come of age in the short span of two years, miraculously fired in the crucible of this presidential campaign. The fact is, he has been practicing for a very long time, learning his lessons in relative anonymity,” writes Christi Parsons in the October 31 Chicago Tribune. Parsons covered the Illinois statehouse for the Tribune during Senator Obama’s tenure there; and reported on him on both Capitol Hill and for before his presidential campaign. Her current Tribune article (“In Statehouse, Obama quietly made own way”) discusses his hard work, his discretion, and his accomplishment. Months before, January 4, 2008, Charles Peters in the Washington Post wrote an article (“Judge Him by His Laws”) that identified some of Senator Obama’s work: Senator Obama, in the Illinois state senate, opposed coerced confessions as part of police investigations and proposed videoptaping of interrogations and, with stern opposition, got that into law; and he passed income tax credit legislation to help the working poor; and helped to establish the first ethics and campaign finance law in twenty-five years; and, later, in the national senate he coauthored a lobby reform law that specified the naming of fund bundlers.

Political Notes

The search engine Yahoo posted today a Jerusalem (AFP) news story by Ron Bousso regarding an interview with the killer of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin: Yigal Amir; and the article stated, “Amir told Channel 10 his act was influenced by the rhetoric of right-wing politicians and generals, including former prime minister Ariel Sharon and former army chief of staff Rafael Eitan, whom he said made it clear the 1993 Oslo agreement ’would lead to disaster.’”

Amos Gitai’s film One Day You’ll Understand has opened in Manhattan at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas: it is a film about “butcher of Lyon” Klaus Barbie’s 1987 trial and its effect on one family. Barbie had planned to study theology, to enter academic life, but due to lack of funds could not; and he became part of the Nazi security force, and during the twentieth-century’s second world war in Lyon, France, he tortured people. The film is about how members of a family react to what is said—and left unsaid—in their own home about Barbie as the trial is televised. has an article on “How to Make Your Vote as Easy as Possible,” by Steven Rosenfeld, featuring voting advice (for efficiency and registering complaints). There’s also an Amy Goodman transcript of her interview with a reporter, Jane Mayer, on the story behind Sarah Palin’s selection as Senator McCain’s vice-presidential nominee, including Palin’s courting of the Washington conservative elite.

“Opportunity and hope, I think that’s what Barack brings—the hope that anything is possible,’ said Ramone Crowe, 39, owner of The Java Exchange Café in Detroit. That is a quote from an article, “The Obama Swagger,” for the online publication The Root, by Melanie Eversley on the effect of Senator Obama’s campaign on the self-esteem of African-American men. has an article by Jesse Oxfeld on how many political reporters covering the presidential election are gay, asserting that the perspective and lifestyle of an “outsider” is useful when required to be away from home for a long time covering a high-profile subject: “chief political correspondent for The New York Times since 2002, Adam Nagourney, is gay, as is his predecessor in that job, Rick Berke, who started in the paper's Washington bureau in 1986 and is now a top-level editor in New York. Likewise the Times’s lead Barack Obama reporter, Jeff Zeleny, its lead Hillary Clinton reporter, Patrick Healy, and the man who ambled behind George W. Bush in 2000, Frank Bruni, now the paper’s restaurant critic. (Jeremy Peters, a rising star in the Albany bureau, occasionally joined the campaign crew for those nights out at The Garden and Des Moines’s two other gay bars, the delightfully named Blazing Saddle and Frat House.) There’s Michael Finnegan, a campaign heavyweight at the Los Angeles Times, and Jonathan Darman, Newsweek’s 27-year-old wunderkind political scribe; there’s Candy Crowley’s producer at CNN, Mike Roselli, his fellow CNN producer Chris Welch, who was the network's off-air in Iowa, and producers from CBS’s The Early Show, ABC’s Nightline, and, of course, Logo.” The article also discusses the importance of objectivity and how personal politics might affect the atmosphere of political discourse.

“The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January” begins an article by R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post (and circulated by

The October 30 Economic Policy Institute’s newsletter (EPI News) notes that analysts have “found that nationwide, working families with two parents and two children need $48,778 to meet the family budget. But they also show that young families, minority families, and families with lower degrees of education all face greater difficulties in meeting these economic benchmarks.”

There is a Native Theatre Festival, featuring Native American (American Indian) writers and performance artists, at Manhattan’s Public Theatre, November 12 through November 15, at 425 Lafayette Street. That the Native perspective is seldom a part of mainstream discourse makes this event both cultural and political.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Endorsing Senator Obama

The magazine The Economist, which is edited in London and has 700,000 U.S. readers, has endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president. On October 29, Editor & Publisher reported that 231 American newspapers had endorsed Senator Obama and that 102 newspapers had endorsed Senator John McCain. Thus, it was startling, considering not only those endorsements but my own election-year perceptions and Senator Obama’s thirty-minute television broadcast last night, to get a note from a friend who indicated she’s looking for a real reason to vote for Senator Obama. (Anyone interested in Barack Obama’s positions can go to I think that Senator Obama has run a beautiful, intelligent, politically progressive campaign, one that expressed his personality, his view of the world, and his civic intentions. This man, a man of the world, who has lived in Indonesia, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and New York as well as the heartland of America, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard, an expert in constitutional law, first an Illinois state senator before being elected to the national congress, a genuine intellectual, a gentleman, is the most promising political candidate I have seen in my lifetime. He has offered a wide range of principles and proposals that leave no question about his priorities: among them, international diplomacy; fair international trade with labor protection and environmental standards; tax cuts for the middle class and for small businesses; investment in new energy sources and “green” jobs; support for universal preschool, giving children an early orientation toward learning, and education-related tax credits in exchange for community service for young people, and better recruitment of teachers, with higher salaries for teachers; affordable health care, with a focus on preventive medicine; etc. I have appreciated his repudiation of the invasion of Iraq, and his critique of the lawless, self-indulgent gambling on Wall Street. The question is, Are we interested in the possibility of change, or do we want more of the same—the same policies that mean a war founded on lies and an economy on the brink of collapse? Do we elect a president with hope, or out of fear and hatred?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I voted today, part of early voting in the presidential election, in Iberia parish, Louisiana. I am glad to have done it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Proposal: Bibliography, African-American Philosophical Fiction

Several months ago, this query was circulated to various persons and publications, with the request that suggestions be sent by late August 2008 and some of them sent in responses, but the research into African-American philosophical fiction continues (and will likely continue until late spring 2009)...

...I am interested in compiling a bibliography primarily focused on African-American short, philosophical fiction stories: short stories in which explored are facts, ideas, issues, myths, questions, and relationships involving or regarding being, existence, knowledge, logic, and, also, aesthetics, ethics, values, and wisdom. I am interested in stories in which characters are conscious or become conscious of the complexity of mind, self, society, and life, and grapple with that complexity or those complexities, whether the forms of the stories in which those characters appear are conventional linear narratives or experimental. How does the individual come to understand life and mind, and then incorporate his or her understanding into his or her actions and relationships with the world, whether those relationships are intellectual, intimate, familial, social, or political? Do you know of such stories, new or old, and would you pass on the titles of the stories and the authors’ names?... I would love it if the information you provided were complete, including publication information and a summary of the story (such as author’s name, story title, magazine/journal/book title, page number, publication issue number, year published, name and location of publisher, and ISBN or ISSN—with the principal theme and/or plot identified); but—if you do not have that detailed publishing information, nor the time and patience to acquire it, that is not necessary: the story title and the author’s name are a good start. (If there are unpublished stories you are aware of, for each please supply me with the author’s name, the story title, and author’s contact information as best you know it.)...

Fiction Excerpt, from "What She Thought"

An excerpt from the chapter "What She Thought" in the novel A Stranger on Earth, a work-in-progress.

(c) DG

When Sarah returned to Dr. Whitaker’s office, his door was closed, and there he had a stack of work for her to do at the desk at which she sat. It almost felt like punishment. Was the stack inevitable? A sign of how busy he was, of how necessary she was to him—or was it some kind of warning? She dug into it.

Dr. Whitaker opened his door, and they exchanged greetings.

“I don’t expect you to do all that this afternoon,” he said.

“Good,” she said, smiling.

He laughed.

“Is there something you need me to do first?” she asked.

He said, “It would be great if you could get the photocopying out of the way.”

“Great,” she said, sounding dispirited.

“Do as much of it as you can. I can get someone else to finish if you don’t,” he said.

“I’ll do it,” she said, going through the stack to pull out the material to be copied.

Dr. Whitaker smiled. How did she manage to be efficient and honest about the dullness of it?

Sarah, her head down, thought, I hope he’s not going to watch me go through this.

“Let me know if you have any questions,” said Dr. Whitaker.

“I will,” she said, not looking at him.

Dr. Whitaker smiled again, turned, and walked into his office. He sat down, his phone rang, and he quickly picked it up.

“I did see Scott Jaschik’s piece on the Inside Higher Education web site,” said Dr. Whitaker. “I thought Jaschik quoted some good advice on how to manage senior colleagues,” said Dr. Whitaker. There was silence from his office then laughter. “Well, you’re right—if you’re going to smother someone with kindness you have to be capable of kindness, or a good actor.”

Sarah heard Dr. Whitaker mumble something, and then he stood, walked to the door, and closed it.

She waited a few minutes, then wrote a note for her desktop—In the Copy Room, Back Soon—and went off. Timothy stopped by not long after she returned, and when she again complimented him on the songs by others that he and his band interpreted, he said, “I like my own stuff. I wouldn’t want my own work forgotten, but I like to find what’s good in the work that other people have done and share that, just as I want my own work shared.”

Sarah watched him, thoughtfully, and said, “That’s not a bad definition of civilization.” She felt something—and turned to see Dr. Whitaker watching her, and listening to her conversation with Timothy. “I mean, keeping the best, the most intelligent, most pleasing and useful thing—isn’t that that what we call civilization?”

Timothy turned to see where she was looking, nodded a hello to Professor Whitaker, then lowered his voice and said to Sarah, “I agree. I’m inclined to think that intelligence and spirit are what really matter, whatever form they come in. The difficulties of the world, of life, tend to obliterate everything else.”

Sarah looked at him, but didn’t say anything. She was wondering what was the most difficult he had ever faced. She was thinking how wonderful it was to be able to talk to him, and to hear things that made sense to her.

“What?” he asked.

“I was thinking that sometimes it seems as if life is figuring out how to live with disappointment,” she said.

“I know you’ll find another job,” said Timothy.

Sarah had not wanted to talk about that. She hated to draw attention to her circumstances. If he had a particular opportunity he wanted to talk with her about, that was fine—but no general conversations about it. No speculation, no sympathy. He looked down at her—and what was in his eyes? Sympathy. If he kept that up, she would stop talking to him.

Sarah remembered what it was like to have an idea or perception that intrigued her, to see how that connected to many things, to want to do research and to do it, and enjoy learning new things, how that never felt like work, though it was, and then to outline a plan, a script, a budget, to prepare a proposal, to talk to people whom she wanted to work with, or people she thought might be interested in funding a project, and then to actually start filming, the conversations with cast and crew, the refining of ideas, the surge of energy, the movement from location to location, the modification of sets, the retakes, the screening of dailies, the post-screening discussions, the editing, and the final work.

Sarah said, “I think you’re right about the importance of intelligence and spirit. It would be great if people could be persuaded by logic and sense, if logic and sense could form a compelling conviction or reason, but—” and she hesitated, then she said, “it’s intimidation, force, status, that convince.”

“That seems cynical,” said Dr. Whitaker from his office.
Both Timothy and Sarah turned to him, then Timothy looked at Sarah to see what she was going to say. Both men waited.

“Isn’t it true? Am I wrong?” asked Sarah.

“You’re not wrong, but there are exceptions,” said Timothy.

Dr. Whitaker laughed, stood, and walked to his doorway, nearer to them, with Timothy and Sarah watching him. He stopped in his doorway, and said, “Isn’t the rule here, in this school, that intelligence and spirit usually matter; and isn’t it the exception when they do not? Beyond these walls, the chaos and greed and spite might reign but here…?”

Timothy and Sarah looked at each other.

“How long have you been here, Professor?” asked Timothy.

Dr. Whitaker laughed, and then said, “We are human—but our goals, our procedures, our rules are such that intelligence and spirit have pride of place.”

There was silence; and neither Timothy nor Sarah wanted to fill it.

Finally, Dr. Whitaker, said, “I understand you’re in a band.”

“Yeah. Yes. We played last night. It was fun,” said Timothy.

“It was very good,” said Sarah, easily. “Timothy and his friend Bill are good songwriters. The music was very melodious, the lyrics interesting.”

“And loud,” said Dr. Whitaker, smiling.

Timothy looked at Sarah.

“Not too loud,” she said.

“We’re playing again next week Professor,” said Timothy. “I’ll e-mail you the info,” he added. “Maybe, sometime, you’ll stop by. I’ll buy you a drink—and talk with you about Arnold, Pater, Eliot, Frye, and Derrida.”

“What about Ellison and Morrison, and Baker and Gates, Carby and Spillers?” asked the professor.

“Noted,” said Timothy, who looked at his watch. “I should be going. I have a three o’clock—and the last third of a paper to read before then. Nice chatting.”

“See you Tim. Tell Dr. Lehrer I said hello—and that I liked his piece in Contemporary Literatures.”

Timothy asked Sarah, “In tomorrow?”

“No, Friday,” she said.

“Till then,” he said.

“Bye,” she said.

Timothy left them, and Dr. Whitaker watched him go, while Sarah began to resume the work on her desk.

(c) DG

Identity papers

Very recently, I got my Louisiana voter's registration card and a Louisiana state identity card and filled out papers to open a checking account with a local bank, small things that matter. I have now also a library card, which, for me, is as important as anything.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Current Events: Popular Culture

The New York Times editorial board has endorsed Barack Obama for president, amid its own paper’s news reports that the U.S. and world financial market continues to be in a crisis, with panicked selling of stocks, and a cut in the production of oil by OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The Times board cites Barack Obama’s sound judgment and criticizes his opponent Senator McCain’s “ugly” campaign. (There is also an site; and Percival Everett, a writer I like, has participated in one of its events.) Senator Obama is emerging as an important contemporary figure and an historic icon, someone who embodies large aspects (intellect, personal and communal ambition, multiculturalism, progressive politics) of our political and social life.

The magazine Oxford American, which focuses on southern culture, has a special issue devoted to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast three years after hurricane Katrina. It features social commentary, visual art and celebrations of film, and a statement by Ernest Gaines on living in Louisiana. Gaines, the author of A Gathering of Old Men, A Lesson Before Dying, and other books, is also associated with a local Louisiana university. I like how his books deal with local, intimate life and still manage to handle significant ideas and issues. In A Lesson Before Dying a smart but now discouraged teacher is asked to reach an ignorant, condemned man; and it is a story about knowledge and ignorance, compassion and indifference.

There is a photography tribute to painter and sculptor Robert Rauschenberg at the Guggenheim in New York, from October 22 through November 5. (I had liked Rauschenberg's openness and his cultural ambition, his collaborations with people from other countries: I had liked his work, but after he died I looked at a book of his work and felt a certain repulsion--I just thought some of it was ugly, unfortunately.)

The Canadian band the Dears have a new album from Dangerbird Records: Missiles. I liked the Gang of Losers album and hope to hear this one. (I have been listening a lot to Death Cab for Cutie, an antidote to bad southern radio, which indulges old music set lists, fear-mongering conservative talk, and aggressive religiosity.)

Diana Ross will be the featured performer at the 15th Nobel Peace Prize concert on December 11, 2008 in Oslo, Norway.

Opening now: Angelina Jolie in Clint Eastwood’s film Changeling; Colin Farrell and Edward Norton in Gavin O’Connor’s Pride and Glory; and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The film digest Greencine Daily reports that director Alexander Kluge is planning to film Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, that old revolutionary text (and college reading assignment).

Cate Blanchett will be seen soon with Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, about a man who becomes younger rather than older, a fantasy film. (I've liked Blanchett ever since she played Elizabeth, the queen.)

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton are going to be in the disaster film 2012, which also has John Cusack and Amanda Peet as part of its cast, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Jude Law is scheduled to play Watson to Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes in a Warner Brothers film to be directed by Guy Ritchie, whose divorce from Madonna Louise Ciccone was announced recently.

Johnny Depp has been reported to be playing Tonto in a Jerry Bruckheimer film and the Mad Hatter in a Tim Burton film.

The new television show featuring Simon Baker, "The Mentalist," has done very well in the viewer ratings, as has "Eleventh Hour," with Rufus Sewell: and the actors are smart, appealing, and both shows have fictional detective work that emphasizes eccentricity and complex situations.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier

During the weekend just past, I saw Denzel Washington in Fallen, and late Monday night (or very early Tuesday morning) I saw Sidney Poitier in Lillies of the Field, both on television. I enjoyed the actors, and consequently the films, tremendously. The first movie, a modern film in color, is about an ancient demon whose evil, violent spirit moves from body to body by simple touch--and there are two very scary scenes when we see this. In that film Denzel plays a policeman investigating murders. The second film, an old black-and-white movie, featuring Poitier, is about a man whom a group of German nuns in America get to build a chapel. (There is a scene in which the severity of the lead nun is compared to Hitler.) The two films take place in different eras and settings, with very different subjects; and both men, Washington and Poitier, embody masculine beauty, dignity, intelligence, sensitivity (they embody goodness)--and it was a pleasure to watch them.

A Glossary of Values

Writer's Note: "A Glossary of Values" was begun several years ago, circa 2002-2003, and this version was completed in October 2008, today.


Art – work created and crafted for aesthetic pleasure; work of beauty, depth, energy, insight, intelligence, relevance, and truth

Beauty – fineness of form; an attractive, suggestive wholeness, having physical and spiritual appeal; affectingly sensuous

Civility – a sensitive or intelligent regard for others that shapes manners and relationships; the desire and habit of avoiding injury to others; and avoidance of vulgarity and cruelty

Common Sense – assumptions based on experience; intuition; ordinary logic

Compromise – resolution of conflict or disagreement; settling for less than one’s original intention or goal in order to maintain cordiality, peace, or another important aspect of a relationship

Context – the preceding and/or surrounding history, ideas, and relationships; environment

Contradictions – conflicting ideas and feelings; the discordance between ideas and reality

Democracy - civic participation; sharing of responsibility in government, in public representation and activity

Economics – wealth generation and distribution; financial relations in a society; the system—the laws, rules, practices, and beliefs—involving money in a community, city, state, or nation

Evidence – observed fact; books and documents; trial and testing; expert testimony

Fairness – balanced or objective treatment; justice; a valuation rooted in established criteria

Form – structure; organization

Generosity – the act of giving out of choice, instinct, bounty, uncompelled giving; an open way of being, and a special sympathy of insight

Honesty – adhering to facts, intention; candor, clarity, directness; truth

Imagination – creativity, dream, invention; an ability to give vision to what does not yet exist or to see the connections between what does exist

Innovation – new forms of thought or product; experiment; changes in received orders

Intelligence – thinking ability; criticality; the capacity to weigh experience, analysis, observation, intuition, and other sources of information

Integrity – being true to the best, deepest, highest aspects of one’s character, discipline, philosophy, and character; dependable, recognizable quality;

Intellectual Rigor – thorough criticality of both details and overall structure and content

Intergenerational – the relationship between differing age groups; the potential of recognizing or responding to ideas, events, facts regardless of age

Justice - fundamental fairness, in interpretation and treatment, and regarding rewards and punishments

Knowledge - fact, truth, propositions for which there is proof; a body of evidence and insight; a tradition of knowing, speaking, and writing.

Lyricism – musicality of language; elegant and poetic diction

Multicultural – the presence of cultural diversity; an appreciation of artistic and philosophical traditions from different nations

Nuance - complexity, difference, subtlety; variety of experience, perception, and texture

Observation - what can be known through the senses and/or by study

Passion – a great intensity of feeling inspired by an idea, object, or person; an obsessive regard

Pleasure – the act or feeling of being pleased; elation, enjoyment, entertainment; a rise in spirit, a lightness of being

Power – authority, convention, and force; forms of power often work to undermine, deceive, stereotype, embarrass, intimidate, misinform, smash—as power often does whatever it takes to maintain itself

Quality - character, integrity, wholeness

Resources – useful character(s), ideas, artifacts, books, information, and tools; material that can enable one to make desired gains

Security – a belief in or sense of well-being, of necessary resources; the satisfaction of survival needs; ability or facility for self-defense and self-preservation

Sensuality – appeal to the senses; the facility to have or to provoke pleasant physical sensations

Spirituality – of the spirit; perception of life beyond surfaces; an abstract apprehension of the connection between living things

Subcultures – the shared habits, relationships, rituals, and values among people who aren’t dominant in a civilization or society; minority, rather than majority, culture; and often subcultural energies and forms reinvigorate the dominant culture

Technique – ability to do what is required by a given art or discipline

Tradition – the inherited culture, logic, and philosophy of an art or nation; the ongoing discourse within a discipline, with its own particular grammar and vocabulary and object or objects of concern

Understanding - comprehension; clear, right, judgment

Virtue - evidence or nature of being fine, good, right

Wackiness - eccentricity; an appreciation for, or inclination to, absurdity or wild imagination

Xenial - hospitality

Youth - early life; the spirit of possibility

Zest - energy, enjoyment, pleasure

Monday, October 20, 2008

Notes: Time, the Destroyer

I had long supposed that the most important things in life are work and relationships, but I'm not sure that this knowledge, insight, or belief, has made much practical difference in terms of accomplishment or happiness. And, in the last two weeks, despite moments of pleasure or distraction, mostly I have been--oh, depressed, disappointed, down.

I have been thinking about the importance of basic human acceptance, how important it is to give it and receive it; and that we might call this basic human acceptance, in its most ideal forms, respect and love. Growth happens in time; and we do not have forever in which to grow--and decay also happens in time. There is much that is lost in isolation--information, the testing of assumptions (rigor, knowledge), the reminder of boundaries, new possibilities. It is easy, in isolation, to be drowned by fear, insecurity, doubt, shame.

It is not hard to find similarities to our own experience in the lives of others, and in the surrounding culture--if we look. (Even television programs, many of them focusing on family situations or crime or the supernatural or scientific, are often about human error and evasion; about intelligent detection and moral punishment.)

What can be a key to a good life, or a rewarding career, is learning to live beyond the limitations of one's flaws or weaknesses; learning to manage one's temperament and habits.

In my last days in New York, Lena Horne's version of the song "Havin' Myself a Time" played in my head, a song about "doing what I like, and liking what I do"; and during my first days in Louisiana, I kept remembering the Eurythmics "17 Again" and Nina Simone's "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and Matthew Sweet's "Evangeline." The Longfellow poem about Evangeline has long been connected to southern Louisiana, so that is one easy explanation. The Eurythmics song is about feeling "like I'm 17 again"; and I first left Louisiana for New York when I was 17. And, the Nina Simone song says I had a mother who could pray, so if I should die and my soul be lost it's nobody's fault but mine--and, of course, my mother has religious faith and I do not. And, despite whatever other criticisms I'm inclined to make, I think my mother and her family are fundamentally decent, generous, humorous people in ways that make sense for who they are and where they are.

Here, I have been here in Louisiana for a little over a month, and I have been trying to get my personal papers in order and to initiate some professional work projects, but nothing of significance has been achieved yet. That has been disheartening. As well, some family relationshps have been...unsettling, thanks to too much communication or not enough communication. During the weekend, an aunt who has been helpful interrogated me about my future work plans; and my younger sister, who has been distant, surprised me by offering to be helpful in whatever way she could. My relationship, now, to other people leaves something to be desired. (Sometimes the most pleasant moments have been brief notes exchanged with a few friends through e-mail: one is in India, one Pennsylvania, and one New York.)...The land itself is a resource, of beauty, of spiritual refreshment.

Three Poems

A Demon Blackness

It did not have a spine.
It was all spine.
It was like a cross
between a panther and a spider,
with long black furry arms
and a small head.
It was all black,
even its eyes.
It crawled from the top
of my ceiling
to where I lay on my bed
and stared into my eyes.
Was it dangerous, wise?
I did not want to see it.
It wanted to see me, my torment.
I did not try to exorcise it
with the recitation of prayers.
I looked into its darkness
and spoke of light—
neither sun, moon, nor lamp
but song, flowers, …pleasures,
loved things,
then I cursed it
and shoved at it
with a plank
kept in my bedroom
for ordinary intruders.
Neither still nor welcoming
I was no longer the object
of contemplation—
or it may have seen enough—
and it left. It left.


You can lead a horse to water,
but you cannot make him drink.
You can lead an idiot to truth,
but you cannot make him think.

Love and Death

In the beginning was dust
and now is dust, dust

leaves bloom, brown, dry, fall
and by and by become dust

bird or rodent smashed
beneath the tires of modern time
rots, smells, dries into bits
of bone, feather or fur
into dust, dust

and you read these pages
pages becoming dust
you are hungry
grateful for fruit grown here
and my friend you gleam,
white, joyous, loving
calling me a new and secret name


I am like a child named before birth
before birth
dust, dust
a child must grow into his name
I am growing toward you
trembling, burning, licking my lips
dust, dust
you call me and I crawl to you

and ancient, dark mothers sorrow
and call my first name

call my first name
call my first name

calling me away from you
calling me back home
whose pillars turn into roots
like teeth biting into earth’s flesh
dust, dust
they weep and rage: you are no child

and you say we are two children
we are reborn in love
I am torn between times
Son? Lover?
brothers of the sensual sword
sensual wound
our hands are joined
in an unusual wedding
ringed by desire
ringed by love
ringed by knowledge
our eyes open and open
and these are decisions
of mind, heart, will
as well as requirements
of the live body
before dust
dust, dust.

© DG (written at different times)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fiction Excerpt, from A Stranger on Earth ("Histories")

This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress, a small part of a chapter, "Histories," in a novel A Stranger on Earth:

Timothy, before lunch, met with a student, Carl, who had questions about how to do research for one of his papers. Carl had begun reading about George Washington Carver, the scientist who had done so much to find uses for the peanut. Carl wanted to treat Carver as a philosophical figure— someone with ideas and a provocative social role, someone who had nurtured and questioned others.

“He was a very creative and influential figure for his time—from the second half of the nineteen century through the first half of the twentieth,” agreed Timothy. “He had a lot of freedom and success. It’s impressive even now,” said Timothy, who looked at Carl, waiting to hear what more Carl had to say, waiting to hear what in his concept of Carver would make Carl’s paper distinct.

“He had a lot of initiative,” said Carl. “He taught himself to read and write. No one encouraged him to be interested in nature—it was his own curiosity that led him there.”

Timothy waited.

“Booker T. Washington could be very controlling but Carver developed his own projects at Tuskegee,” said Carl.

“Are there any good biographies or studies of his work already done, things that you think you can use as a jumping off point?” asked Timothy.

Carl looked at Timothy, uncertain.

“I know there are a lot of children’s books, and Carver appears on calendars and things, and there are summaries of his life, but I don’t recall reading or even seeing any rigorous essays by him or about him,” said Timothy.

“You know what interests me?” asked Carl.

Timothy smiled, and said, “Not yet.”

“His letters,” said Carl.

“Letters to his colleagues, to collaborators?” asked Timothy.

“Some of them were people—young men—he worked with,” said Carl.

“And?” asked Timothy.

“They’re very affectionate,” said Carl.

Timothy laughed. “That’s usually a good thing, affection between colleagues, between friends,” said Timothy.

Timothy’s phone rang, and he said excuse me to Carl, picked the receiver up, listened and answered, “There are a couple of things I’ve wanted to see—Reds, Possession, Love Song for Bobby Long, Painted Veil, Science of Sleep.” Timothy smiled at Carl, reassuring, and into the phone speaker he said, “No, I haven’t heard about that. Why would virtual furniture cost real money, and how can someone be arrested for stealing virtual furniture?” Timothy laughed. “Okay, you pick the films up and I’ll get the wine and cheese.” Timothy put the phone down, and asked Carl, “What about the letters?”

“I thought he might have been especially attracted to those young men,” said Carl.

Timothy looked surprised, then doubtful, and then he smiled and asked, “How is that philosophical? Are you going to draw some connection between that and the ancient Greeks, maybe talk about Plato, Socrates, and the Symposium?”

“You sound skeptical,” said Carl, accusing.

“Do you really think that’s an interesting subject? You have a man who discovered a couple of hundred uses for the peanut, a man who was celebrated while others of his tribe were little better than slaves, and all you can think about is whether he liked his male friends a little too much?” asked Timothy.

“Too much?” asked Carl.

“Too much, too little, just enough—how is that relevant to his work?” asked Timothy.

“Why are you being hostile?” asked Carl.

“I’m not hostile, but I find the possibility of his being attracted to males uninteresting, very uninteresting. That’s one fact—or one possibility—and his life is about so much more than that, as you said: his initiative, his self-education, his love of nature, his independence, his success. If Carver had been married, I wouldn’t find that interesting either—unless his wife had either been particularly helpful or harmful to his work. If he had a wife and we found out she was the one who came up with a bunch of peanut recipes and he took the credit, then that would be interesting. We could talk about women as victims in history and the lack of scientific ethics. Just having a wife wouldn’t be interesting—and just being infatuated with a boy is not interesting” said Timothy.

There was silence between them.

“How are you going to make the subject philosophical?” asked Timothy. “How are you going to approach Carver so that what you see in him, and say about him, has something to do with the questions that concern us in the course?”

“Are you always this tough?” asked Carl.

“No—only with students who have trouble with comprehension,” said Timothy. “If the professor got a bunch of papers that were flawed from conception and the students said they had talked to me about them, Dr. Bernstein wouldn’t be feeling much affection for me—and I wouldn’t be very fond of the students who had embarrassed me with their failing grades.”

Timothy bent nearer to Carl, and softening his voice said, “Think about what I asked about the ancient Greeks and Carver. How a teacher relates to a student—the nurturing aspects, the aesthetic appreciation of an older man for a younger, even the possibility of seduction—could be the basis for a significant investigation. How the atmosphere of learning aids in learning could be a topic. Fellowship as inspiration for knowledge production could be a topic. That’s more interesting than just going on and on about the possibility of Carver’s queer sexual orientation. The revelation of a fact or of a potential fact is less important than the philosophical dimension. How does your interest in Carver relate to the mind, to being, to perception, to knowledge, to values?” Timothy stopped talking and looked at his watch.

“I’m really boring you?” asked Carl.

“I’m starved,” said Timothy. “I did not have much of a breakfast.”

“Could I treat you to lunch?” asked Carl, nervously.

Timothy looked hard at Carl. “Why?” asked Timothy.

“I’d like to talk to you a little more,” said Carl, before quickly explaining, “I know I don’t have much yet, but I feel as if you’re helping me get to something that will add to my paper—and I’d feel better if I gave you something for taking your time, since you don’t seem interested in the topic.”

Timothy looked away from Carl. He looked at the papers on his desk, papers he had thought he might read while at lunch. He thought about wanting to have lunch with Sarah. He wondered if any of the internet sites he liked had been given updates.

“We could go to the Indian brunch place,” said Carl.

Timothy laughed: all you could eat, for a few dollars. “Well, I do like that place, but you don’t have to do that. You could just make another appointment with me for later in the week, and between then and now do some more research and thinking about your project,” said Timothy.

“Please,” said Carl.

Timothy stood up. “This is just lunch and talk about a philosophical paper, okay Carl?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Carl, waiting for Timothy to walk toward him.

Making their way through the hall, they passed the marble busts of different philosophers, and stood in front of the elevator. Timothy looked away from Carl, thinking about the work he would be returning from lunch later to complete, while Carl observed him. The elevator arrived, was nearly full, but the two young men got on, taking it down.

(c) DG

...And, More Current Events

Turkey is the “guest of honor” at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year; and Eurozine offers articles on Turkey. The online magazine Words Without Borders has a focus on Turkish literature and culture for its October 2008 issue. reports that now “the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston presents Cinema Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970,” an exhibit that features international artists and will continue through January 4th, 2009. (As well, the October Art News has an article on Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, 1899-1979, an article that corresponds with a nationally touring exhibit of the artist’s paintings, murals, and illustrations for publications.)

In Louisiana, St. Martinville’s Pepper Festival will be Sunday, October 19, and will have crafts, food, games. Pepper production remains one of the most prominent and important industries in the state.

The Festival of Words began on October 15 in St. Landry parish, and continues through October 18, organized by Pat Melnick of Grand Couteau’s Casa Azul Gifts. It will include performances and discussions, and feature Louisiana’s poet laureate Darrell Bourque and other writers.

Last night, October 16, there was a vigil scheduled, for Bouligny Plaza in Louisiana’s Iberia parish, to honor victims of domestic violence. That kind of commemoration is very important. (I know someone who was killed by her husband; and not only does she continue to be missed but the effects of her loss can be seen in the practical circumstances of her children.)

There was also a meeting of Socrates Café planned for last night at Lafayette’s Public Library on 301 West Congress Street; its purpose being thoughtful conversation. Anything that promotes intellectual activity in a culture more inclined toward religion and sports is to be commended.

The web site Africa Resource has had up for a time a profile of the philosopher Kwasi Wiredu (he is the scholar of the month, for the site): “One of Wiredu’s most prominent discussions revolves around the Akan concept of personhood. He believe this traditional framework hosts a two part conception of a person. First, and most intuitive to Western conceptions of persons, is the ontological dimension. This includes one’s biological constitution. Further, Wiredu states that the second dimension, the normative conception of personhood, is based on one’s ability to will freely. One’s ability to will freely is dependent on one's ethical considerations.”

I was surprised, and not surprised, by John McCain’s inclination and willingness to be condescending, dishonest, and slanderous in his participation in the televised presidential debate with Senator Barack Obama on October 15, Wednesday night, at Hofstra in New York. Obviously, Senator McCain is not confident in his own appeal or proposals. McCain was both forceful and sloppy in his approach to the issues raised; and his statements that Obama was suggesting class warfare and that McCain feels no need to spread the wealth around should be a warning to anyone who is not rich about McCain’s priorities and values. McCain’s reference to a 1960s radical, and his attempt to tie Obama to a man who was active when Obama was 8 years old is ridiculous.

The Brooklyn Rail has an article (viewable online) by Eleanor Bader on congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), a black woman who once ran for president of the United States, before Hillary Clinton, before Barack Obama; and the piece reports on a center devoted to the legacy of Chisholm and states, “The center is presently gathering media and personal histories for the Shirley Chisholm Project of Brooklyn Women’s Activism, which should be available at the center and online in early 2009.”

The very good and possibly great poet Reginald Shepherd, who was born in 1963, died in early September, 2008. I have read some of his poetry, liked it, but have been as well impressed by some of his essays, especially his personal memoirs, in which his aesthetic concerns, biography, and consciousness of class, race, and sexuality come together. His intelligence and talent were of the first order; and his ambition classical, unique; and his loss is, then, an irreplaceable one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Excerpt, The Art of Losing (a play)

The Art of Losing is a two-act play focusing on a family of brothers and their female cousin and several friends, including two “interracial” couples. During the play these relationships are both celebrated and challenged—and challenged not only by the demands of the individual personalities and philosophies involved but also by a terrible act of police violence and an urban bombing with an international source. (The play was partly inspired by the Amadou Diallo killing and the World Trade Center attack, but it is a fictional drama.)


Patrick – professor of literature; African-American, late 30s

Margaret – Patrick’s friend and cousin, smart, pretty, strong, an assistant editor; African-American, late 30s

Adam – brilliant graduate student, agile charming; of Euro-American descent, late 20s

Raimi – Patrick’s brother, a street vendor of art, fragrances, cloth; West African, late 20s

Risku – Patrick’s brother, a businessman; West African, late 30s

(Among other characters)

Act 1, Scene 5

(Another night, weeks later. Patrick at home, on the phone, while his brother Raimi sits at the table doodling, watching, listening. Background music: Isley Brothers’ version of “Brother, Brother”)

Patrick – (into the phone) Yes, Saul, I know, your father didn’t love you as a child but you’re thirty-five, certainly something has happened in your life since then. (pause) I’m not unsympathetic. It just seems to me that at some point, one has to accept what is. If you’re unhappy with a situation, you have to change it, get out of it, or change your attitude to it. (pause) Well, your father doesn’t love you. What can you do about it? (pause) Exactly. You can do nothing. (sadly) Okay. Good night. (Hangs up the phone. Walks toward Raimi) I cannot tell you how often we’ve had that conversation. He’s totally unaware of how repetitive that conversation is. How can you be self-conscious without self-knowledge?

Raimi – It sounded funny.

Patrick – It is funny if you’re not the one having the conversation. It felt as if I were pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it, so pointless. (He stares into the distance, thinking)

Raimi – Are you alright?

Patrick – Yes. I’m fine. I hope Risku gets here soon. I’m hungry. I have some French rolls and cheese if you want to have something while we wait. There’s some sliced ham that I picked up too.

Raimi – I can wait. I’m looking forward to having a lot of your okra stew. Did you put seafood in it?

Patrick – (laughs) Yes. There’s shrimp, fish, and bits of lobster in it. Also some ham. It’s got tomatoes and onions and eggplant and okra. I wanted to put some garlic in it but Risku—

Raimi – He doesn’t like garlic. I don’t know why.

Patrick – Too strong a flavor, I guess. Some people don’t like certain foods because they’re unhealthy or fattening. He has temperamental disagreements with food. Yogurt has no backbone. Garlic has too strong an attitude, it won’t stay in its place. (pause) You know he’s going to ask you again to come and work for him. He’s very proud of the new chain store he opened and doesn’t see why he should give strangers the opportunity to improve themselves when he could be giving the opportunity to his own brother.

Raimi – I don’t want to work in his store.

Patrick – I know. He knows too.

Raimi – He doesn’t care what I want.

Patrick – He wants you to want what he wants; he wants you to want something he understands. He doesn’t understand your being a street vendor and he doesn’t understand your wanting to be a musician.

Raimi – I don’t want to be a musician. I am a musician. Just because I’m not a famous musician, doesn’t mean my music’s not real or good.

Patrick – I know that Raimi. I’m just telling you what he thinks. (wearily) I don’t know why—we both know what he thinks and what he’s likely to say. I wonder if it ever occurs to him to think differently, just to see what it might be like.

Raimi – (laughs) A thought experiment.

Patrick – I don’t understand why he doesn’t get bored saying and thinking the same thing all the time.

Raimi – Most people don’t.

Patrick - I’m thinking of making a sweet potato pone.

Raimi – When?

Patrick – Over the weekend, I think. Probably for Sunday’s lunch.

Raimi – What’s in it?

Patrick – I have to mix sweet potatoes with pumpkin, ginger, butter, and coconut, with water, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and raisins, and pour it in pie dishes and let it bake for about an hour.

Raimi – Save me some.

Patrick – You’re not free on Sunday?

Raimi – A lady who stopped by my stall wants me to go up and see her on Sunday.

Patrick – (smiles) Lucky you. I wonder why all these women feel free to give you their numbers?

Raimi – They know where I work; they know where to find me.

Patrick – You’re the nicest of the three of us. You always were. (wistfully) Risku was always the most serious about money and impressing other people, and I was always into the books, and you were always interested in other people, in talking to them, getting to know them, doing things for them. (sourly) The three of us could probably make one interesting man.

Raimi – (laughs) Is Margaret coming by?

Patrick – Not tonight. She said she was going to see a film with someone from her office. I got the recipe for the sweet potato pone from her. She’ll probably be here on Sunday.

Raimi – Is she still liking her job?

Patrick – She likes the job, not her boss, and not liking the boss colors how much she can enjoy the job.

Raimi – That’s why I like being my own boss. The weather and the cops are the only things I ever have to worry about.

Patrick – I suppose bosses are good for something.

Raimi – You’re a boss.

Patrick – It’s a bit different in a university. It’s more like we’re working on the same project and less like being on a job. It’s not just about the effort but about the thought that goes into the effort, the process too.

Raimi – I wonder if your secretary agrees.

Patrick – (smiles) She probably doesn’t, but you’ve been to my office and you know I don’t treat her badly.

(The doorbell rings. Patrick answers. It is Risku, who comes in, dressed in a suit.)

Patrick – Straight from the office brother?

Risku – It was a busy day. I thought of canceling tonight, but—

Patrick – I’m glad you didn’t. Want something to drink?

Risku – A cold beer.

Patrick – Coming up. (Goes to refrigerator. Risku and Raimi exchange greetings, warm but wary.)

Risku – Something smells good.

Patrick – It’s okra stew.

Risku – I had a hard day. People play rough in this country. Money is all that matters.

Patrick – Not all.

Risku – Money is at the bottom of everything.

Raimi – That’s not true.

Risku – The only people who don’t think that’s true are people not paying their own way.

Raimi – Things have been a little slow at the stand. I’ll pay you back when business picks up.

Patrick – (to Raimi) I can repay him for you.

Risku – Raimi borrowed from me—he’s the one who owes me.

(The three brothers look at each other. Risku opens his beer, takes a swallow.)

Risku – What is that folded cloth doing on the table?

Patrick – It’s there because I put it there. Raimi gave it to me and I haven’t decided yet where I’m going to put it. Maybe I’ll use it as a tablecloth, or maybe I’ll use it as a wall hanging, or have something made from it. Some people come bearing gifts, and some people come bearing grudges.

Risku – Grudges? What have I said?

Patrick – Nothing yet. I just thought I’d try cutting you off at the pass.

Risku – You two always assume the worst of me.

Patrick – (smiles) If we usually get burned when we touch a flame, it’s safe to conclude that fire burns.

(Raimi laughs quietly)

Risku – Is that what you tell your students? I bet you teach them to disrespect authority.

Patrick – (laughs) If I did that, they wouldn’t respect my authority and I couldn’t teach them anything. However, I do teach them to think for themselves and look at the basis of all authority, its logic, its truth, its relevance, the social roots of its power.

Risku – What’s authority without mystery?

Patrick – (simply) Reality. Knowledge.

Risku – Your students will get nowhere in this world without obedience. Businessmen have a vision, a goal, and run the world, and when they give orders they want those orders followed. They don’t want a whole lot of questions, a whole lot of mouth and attitude.

Patrick – There are forms of work in which the goal is something other than making money, such as art or social services.

Risku – Idiots and lazy men go into those professions.

(The three brothers look at each other.)

Patrick – Maybe we should eat while we all still have the appetite. (Goes to kitchen to retrieve stew.)

Risku – Is Margaret coming?

Patrick – Not tonight.

Risku – I wanted to talk to her again about coming to work for me.

Patrick – (Returning with stew) We all can’t work for you brother.

Risku – (smiles) Why not?

Patrick – We have different interests. Anyway, if Margaret wouldn’t come to work at the college with me, what makes you think she’d want to work in your store? You know she wants some independence.

Risku – Independence? I’m talking about money in the bank.

Raimi – (laughs) Margaret is doing alright.

Risku – Well it’s true she hasn’t borrowed any money from me. (watches the effect of these words on Raimi before continuing more quietly) I always wanted to have a family business, to have my people around me.

Patrick – That’s funny. Usually when I want to have people around me I act in a way that’s attractive as opposed to repellent.

Risku – Once someone learned the business, we could collaborate on improving it. It would be a more equal relationship.

(Patrick and Raimi look at each other.)

Risku – (to Patrick) You worked for me one summer.

Patrick – (winces, shakes his head as if to dislodge the memory) Yes.

Risku – And?

Patrick – That was a long time ago. I was glad to have the money but the work wasn’t for me.

Risku – You prefer a job that lets you daydream.

Patrick – I prefer a job that encourages me to think, that allows me to deal with a complicated sense of reality, one that respects who I am and my own experience of the world.

Risku – (to Raimi) You just hate authority.

Raimi – I like being on my own, doing my own thing.

Risku – That vendor stand is so small-time.

Patrick – (to Risku) You seem too often like a man who doesn’t mind burning down a forest in order to clear a path in which to walk.

Risku – I’m just being honest.

Patrick – That’s not as admirable as it sounds. Being honest is fine when you have a mind that is both rigorous and generous, but if not…

Raimi – (smiles) There’s nothing like blood sports. Who needs bull-fighting?


Patrick – Is there anything we can talk about tonight that won’t hurt or irritate one of us?

(They look at each other. They begin to eat quietly.)

(End of Scene)

(c) DG, 2002

Gore Vidal's play The Best Man

Writer’s Note: The controversies surrounding the election of the second President Bush—was he elected by the people or selected by the Supreme Court his father helped to appoint?—and the decisions he has made—such as seeking retribution rather than peace, and putting profits before ordinary people and their concerns for jobs, housing, and health care—reminded me of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, a play I saw in the year 2000, a play which explores the struggle to be elected president and indicates what is at stake, personally and politically. I have been reminded again of the play during the current 2008 presidential election, first with the Democratic party contests involving Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama, and also in the Republican and Democratic party campaigns led by John McCain and Barack Obama. Here is my commentary, written not long after seeing that play.

I have liked to read plays for years and my favorites have included plays by Tennessee Williams, Chekhov, James Baldwin, Adrienne Kennedy, Albert Camus, Noel Coward, and Pirandello. I’m not a regular theater-goer, but in the last year and a half, I saw plays such as Up Against the Wind about Tupac Shakur, Betrayal with Liev Schreiber and Juliette Binoche, the Public Theater’s play about Christopher Marlowe, and plays at the Henry Street Settlement and the Fringe Theater. I like plays about friendship and love, family and community, artists, ethics, politics, ideas, and idiosyncratic characters and situations. I find myself wishing I could go to the theater more, wishing I could count on being offered every year plays that connect the life of the world with the world of ideas, aesthetic experimentation, and even my own life. It’s odd to me that there isn’t more of an American repertory of great (or merely interesting) plays regularly available in New York City. When I read a play I like, I find myself thinking, “This is important. This is something that it would be great to see on the stage and discuss.” One play I did read and was later able to see was Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, a play about a political convention contest between a liberal intellectual and a ruthless opportunist, was performed last year (2000) on Broadway. (The November presidential election seemed the occasion for the production of the play.)

The play may be dated—or at least too formalistic in its conflicts—in that today those characteristics (liberal intellectual/opportunist) would describe one man. However, it’s a well-written, intelligent, funny play—and though I’m a longtime fan of Vidal I only read the play in 1999, a year before seeing it. I wanted to see it when it was first announced and mentioned it to acquaintances, but no one I knew was very interested and it soon fell off my radar—until a business associate mentioned it and I remembered it as an option. Ultimately, the play is about power, the impact of private life on public opinion, the dependence on political polls and popularity, and the lessening but still important sway of right and wrong. What is a man willing to do for what he wants? Will others support a man with good ideas and a flawed private life, or a man who merely tells them what they want to hear?

The performances of Spalding Gray (as the intellectual) and Chris Noth as his opponent were not bad but they were uneven. Chris Noth’s character first appears “good” but time and the play reveal him as abusive, arrogant, immature, and oddly spoiled, the kind of man the poet John Ashbery might have meant when he said, “He is important, it will get you nowhere. He is the source of much bitter reflection.” Unfortunately, Noth played him as if he were a candidate for student body president, not candidate for a powerful country’s leadership. (Even George W., who can seem profoundly stupid, conveys the sense that he could be nasty to be the point of murder—his Texas executions alone suggest an indifference to the loss of life.) I kept thinking Noth should be in movies; unfortunately, because he looks good—and it is a central part—he received an attention he didn’t have the professional talent to gratify or justify. The best thing about the play was Charles Durning as an aging, ill, practical ex-president who is invigorated by one last political fight (the audience response to him supports this conclusion as well). Durning himself is no longer young and that may have added to his effect, though his was a thoroughly vivid, well-conceived performance, amusing and intense. In this play, Vidal signifies on—reads—American political reality in a way that makes it hard, as all good satire does, to go back to believing sentimental but well-intentioned lies. Character itself can produce a kind of power, personal power—that is called conviction, integrity, truth; institutional power on the other hand works through people and usually prefers weak or corrupt vessels—the power remains institutional, not personal. As a character in the play says, “politics is life.”

Seeing the play gave me a strong sense of how theater might connect with contemporary reality, with daily conversation and our own lives and public choices. It’s easy to have a conversation after such a play about our own recent political phenomena, easy to talk about how we compromise our own ethics or repress our personal complexity to fit in…One can read or see Shakespeare and then have such conversations. But it’s important to know that there are American writers living and dead who inspire the same seriousness.

© DG

Friday, October 10, 2008

Current Events, Two

Government and corporate figures (finance ministers, bankers) met in Washington on Friday, October 10, 2008, to pool ideas and resources, from different countries, in responding to the international financial industry crisis, which seems to be threatening capitalism itself. It has been reported by the New York Times and others that meeting participants are from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. (The U.S. president issued a statement to encourage public faith.) The stock market remains unstable.

The European Meeting of Cultural Journals, which first gathered in 1983, was held in Paris days ago, from September 26 through 29th, the twenty-first such meeting, with more than one-hundred editors, writers, and thinkers, from throughout Europe attending; and they discussed languages, and the dominance of English, the effect of the internet and its regional uses, and the relation to the Arab and Islamic world, according to Eurozine, October 3, 2008.

Louisiana state senator Derrick Shepherd pled guilty to conspiracy to launder money, before a federal judge; and resigned his office, according to the Associated Press (New York Times, online October 10, 2008).

There was much small town talk this week about Louisiana policemen who shot a man in the midst of stabbing his girlfriend, who was also his first cousin.

The Clash’s Live at Shea Stadium was released in early October; and was reviewed October 10 for the online magazine Pop Matters by Michael Keefe, who calls the live recording pure rock ‘n’ roll. (Other articles for the internet magazine include Woody Allen and Sarah Palin as subjects, including discussion of Allen’s cinematic repression of his personal Asian connection and consideration of Palin as a secretly nurtured candidate.)

Roberta Smith’s New York Times review of Elizabeth Peyton’s “Live Forever” exhibit in Manhattan's New Museum on Prince Street, the article "The Personal and the Painterly,” appearing online October 9, gives an overview of Peyton’s career with a commentary on the new exhibit: “Ms. Peyton emerged in the early 1990s; with painters like John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage, she helped open the floodgates to the painterly, outsiderish, illustrational, art-smart figurative styles that by now has become a crowded genre. Her portraits have been correctly seen as indebted to David Hockney, Alex Katz and Andy Warhol. Lovingly rendered and relatively unprotected by irony or size, they have also frequently been dismissed with the put-down du jour. They’re pretty. They’re slight. They’re celebrity besotted. They’re paintings. They sell. All this is true to some degree, but hardly the whole or most interesting part of the story, which ‘Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton’ is at pains to tell as completely as possible.” Smith also states, “By fits and starts, this exhibition reveals the complicated fusion of the personal, the painterly and the Conceptual that informs Ms. Peyton’s work. Each image is a point on entwined strands of artistic or emotional growth, memorializing a relationship, acknowledging an inspiration or exposing an aspect of ambition. This implies an overriding narrative, which is unusual for an exhibition nearly devoid of text labels and unaccompanied by a meet-the-artist introductory video.”

In Louisiana, the city of Lafayette’s Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, October 10 through 12, involves crafts, folk culture, food, and music.

The “Shackles of Memory” exhibit, tracing the enslavement of Africans and their transportation to and life in Louisiana, opens in St.Martinville, Louisiana, in the town’s small African-American museum, near the Bayou Teche bridge.

The horror movie Quarantine opens today. It has not been screened yet for critics, apparently—usually the worst of signs. (Body of Lies and The Express, also opening today, seemed to have received mixed to bad reviews.) The preview short (the trailer) for Quarantine, appearing on television, seemed effective; and made me curious. I’m also curious about some other films—among them, Appaloosa, Ballast, and Rachel Getting Married.

This weekend’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival, in the town of Lowell, is an opportunity to celebrate an important but often marginal art.

Tennessee Williams’s play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is being peformed October 18 through 21 at Teche Theater for the Performing Arts, in Franklin, Louisiana. Williams, a playwright and poet, was a first rate talent; and it was a talent perceptible to most, as it explored southern situations and timeless themes of the quest for honesty and love, and the effects of family and tradition, desire and loathing, hope and pain, money and status.

The film digest Greencine Daily refers to a report that David Cronenberg may direct Denzel Washington in a future film.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fiction Excerpt, from the chapter "What She Thought"

This is an excerpt from the long fiction A Stranger on Earth (and the chapter "What She Thought), a work-in-progress.

(c) DG

Sarah had returned to the copier an hour later, and was glad to find no one there; and she made the copies she needed for the professor’s class, using the time the paper ran through the machine, to think about the other work she had to do, and what she wanted to do when she left the office. There was a book signing at a downtown store in Manhattan, and she wanted to attend. The writer was a poet who used Greek mythology in her work, someone who had written about love and marriage while using ancient gods and myths as references. Sarah had read the woman’s first book, had even written something about it for a small poetry magazine; and she was curious about the new book. It was exactly the kind of thing she enjoyed. She had gone beyond wishing she had someone to share the experience with. It had been a long time since she bothered to invite anyone anywhere. Those times when she had invited someone, so many years ago, they either suggested doing something else—going for a beer at some smoky bar or listening to music in a deafening club—or they agreed to come but failed to arrive or if they actually showed up they acted bored. Why shouldn’t she enjoy what interested her, just because hardly anyone else she knew enjoyed the same things? She would not sacrifice her mind on behalf of the dumb.

Sarah sat collating various pages when Timothy entered her office; and they smiled to see each other. Sarah saw Kim pass the door, scowling, moments after Timothy walked to her desk.

“Hi,” said Timothy. “I wanted to see you, but I’ve been busy seeing students all morning,” he explained, though she knew that he was teaching assistant to a professor that relied on Timothy and his other assistants to handle most of the one-on-one student interaction in his courses.

“I’m glad you stopped by,” said Sarah, looking up at Timothy, and down again at the papers she continued to collate. They would not say that she was ignoring her work to talk.

“I wanted to say how sorry I was that you couldn’t hear my band play last Friday,” said Timothy.

“I thought about going. I really did. The performance wasn’t too late, but I just wasn’t sure I could afford it and do the things I needed to do during the weekend,” she said.

“I put you on the guest list,” said Timothy.

“I appreciate that. That’s very nice,” she said, making a point of registering his kindness, “but I called and was told they had a two-drink minimum—and they told me the drink prices. That was enough for two lunches. I just didn’t have the extra money.” Sarah had no problem being honest with Timothy regarding how much money she didn’t have, as their conversations—about things that mattered to both of them, such as literature, art, film, and music—meant that he saw her in broader terms than did someone like Kim.

Timothy looked thoughtful and sad for a moment, and then smiled again.

“Next time, you’ll be on the guest list, and I’ll treat you to dinner and drinks,” he said.
Sarah looked anguished, then laughed.

“That’s very nice of you. You don’t know how much I eat. Maybe I’ll be very hungry,” she said, smiling.

“It will be my pleasure,” he said. “I really want you to hear my band, and I owe you for giving me something to think about other than work. The students,” he said, and lowered his voice, “and the professors are always ‘give me, give me, give me’—but with you, after talking with you, I always feel as if I’ve been given something.”

“Thank you,” she said, and she was pleased. He had, again, recognized her worth. She realized that she had stopped collating to look at him, and her fingers began to move again.
He looked down at her work and said, “Should I come back later?”

“No, don’t leave. This is just something I have to do. I can talk while I work,” she said, before asking about Sacred Band of Thebes, his band.

“We’ll be playing again in about two weeks,” he said. “It’s uptown, at the café across the street from Columbia.”

“That’s a trek,” she said.

“I have a car. I could drive you home,” he said.

She shook her head, No. “I wouldn’t ask you to do that. If I went, I would plan for my own transportation. I couldn’t imagine you working a gig then taking the time to drive me home also.”

He appreciated that she knew the music wasn’t just fun—it was work too.

“You’ve got to come hear us Sarah,” he asserted.

Sarah laughed. “I will, I will. I want to,” she said.

“In two weeks?” he asked.

“I’ll try,” she said. “I’ll plan for it,” she added, hoping that she could make it, hoping that some small expense, or some stupid irritation, didn’t occur to make that impossible.

Timothy looked around.

“I bet that’s yours,” he said, pointing to the book on the counter behind her.

She looked behind her, saw what he was pointing to, a book about Eric Rohmer, and said, “Yes. Have you seen Rohmer’s work?”

“Only Claire’s Knee and Rendezvous in Paris,” he said. “Claire’s Knee seemed very old-fashioned, a man obsessed with touching a girl’s knee. The other one seemed more of today, with the flirtations and betrayals.”

“You should see some of the others—Autumn Tale, The Lady and the Duke, the Marquise of O, and oh, he’s made, I think, more than twenty films. They’re just so smart, so much about what his people think and feel, what they know and value. He reminds me of Henry James.”

“I can’t stand James,” said Timothy.

“You’ve said that before,” Sarah said.

“Don’t hold it against me,” he said.

“It’s hard not to,” she said, smiling, despite a small bit of irritation and some despair. “I understand. James takes care with—he gives his attention to—subtleties that other people don’t even know exist.”

“He’s a windbag,” said Timothy.

Sarah laughed. “No, he’s not,” she said.

“He’s more complicated. A gasbag, then,” Timothy said.

“No,” she said, and laughed. “He has different values, different virtues. He’s concerned with sensibility, and spirit.”

They looked at each other. She wanted to argue, but was afraid she would become unpleasant—angry, lecturing, disrespectful: she really liked James. There was something delicate and very deep about his work, she thought. Why couldn’t—or wouldn’t—Timothy see it?

“I read the Mark Vernon review you gave me on The Spiritual Dimension,” she said. “It sounds like the book is very good—as if it really tackles the relationship of spirituality to living in the world, to what tests faith might be put to—I suppose the willingness to undergo the tests is the only proof of faith,” she said.

“Some would say that arguments of logic, and arguments from design, might also be proofs,” he said.

“You wouldn’t,” she said.

“No, but that’s why I thought the review of the book—and the book—were interesting. They take spirituality seriously enough to interrogate it, to force it to be real in the world” he said. “Would you like to read the book?”

“No,” she said. “I know what I believe about that. It would be an empty exercise to read the book. I won’t be swayed,” she said.

Timothy smiled at her.

“Believe?” he asked.

“Not just believe. Think. I used to think about the matter a lot, and read about it—I don’t anymore,” she said.

“Do you want to have lunch today?” he asked.

She looked at him. The hour’s break was the chance she had to get away from all of them, even from him, and she did not want to give it up: she wanted to be alone with her own mind.

“No, not today. I have a couple of things I want to do,” she said.

She wondered what lunch with him would be like, after he had gone; and she was glad she hadn’t gone. She did not want a new experience.

(c) DG

Friday, October 3, 2008

Current Events

I saw the first Senator Obama-Senator McCain debate, and thought Senator Obama was astute, elegant, instructive, masterly, thoughtful, as always, and that McCain was selling the same old politics, and the same old masculine rhetoric, he and others often offer to the general public. Last night, I watched the Senator Biden-Governor Palin debate pleased that Joe Biden was articulate about history, policy, and Senator Obama's proposals, and amazed that Palin could be, as McCain was, so transparent: and I suspected that Palin--likable to many, but absolutely without any grasp of mastery regarding any subject whatsover as far as I could see or hear--would yet prove a force in American politics. Americans often prefer personality and commonality to knowledge.

A October 3, 2008 report on the website of New York Times says that 159,000 jobs were lost in September, the ninth month in a row that showed a drop in employment. I wonder how many people can remember a time when we didn't have to worry about employment, inflation of prices, housing uncertainty, health care problems? Meanwhile, the congressional House of Representatives has approved the $700 billion bailout bill, revised by the Senate, for the financial services industry.

One begins to anticipate the death of one's aging idols, with dread and the intention to be prepared and to pay proper respect: and for the last few years, when I would think of Paul Newman--beautiful, smart, strong; a terrific actor and consistent and generous humanitarian--I would think of his many good performances, of how good it was that he was still alive, and the inevitability of his death. His performances in Cool Hand Luke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof remain among my favorites. Now that Paul Newman has died, on September 26 at his Connecticut home, following a cancer diagnosis, I have been glad to see how beloved he was and is, that the tributes are many. (Among others, People magazine has presented photographs and a summary of his life, in its October 13, 2008 issue.)

Sometimes what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Sometimes what doesn't kill us makes us crazy. Following something my mother said that enraged me--it was not only what she said, but when (a difficult and sensitive topic introduced calmly but unnervingly as a non sequitur), I eventually found my way to the October 2008 Psychology Today, a publication I used to read regularly years ago, for insights into habits of mind and spirit. It contains interesting articles on style as expressive of a hopeful spirit; on humor; and on germs. I have a terrible sense that the only changes in human personality that are probable are too small to matter.

I visited, this last Monday, the African-American Museum in St. Martinville, a small place that showed some African artifacts and highlighted through photographs, texts, and murals some state history (the enslaved Africans in Louisiana often came from west Africa; and, it was intriguing to note how many of the families mentioned in that history still live in the area). After the museum visit, I traveled the internet looking at the sites of various Louisiana institutions: the Tangipahoa African-American Heritage Museum; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; the Louisiana Art and Science Museum; Southern University Museum of Art; and, the Louisiana Political Museum. I see today the local magazine Acadiana Profile has Bobby Hebert, a footballer turned radio host, on the cover, and articles on footballers Tyrell Fenroy and Keiland Williams, among other things. (I'm not a sports fan, but sports is an important part of Louisiana culture, and such articles are further evidence of that.) The magazine Louisiana Homes and Gardens (Sept. 2008) gives me a view into some of the beautiful homes that I sometimes see; and I like the feature on Bill Hemmerling's studio (things beautiful and rough are there; and furnishings are moved around at impulse). In terms of area current events, there is an arts and crafts festival in New Iberia tomorrow; and a Latino music festival in Lafayette and a book festival in Baton Rouge, among other things.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Prodigal Son's Return

In the words of the apostle Luke is the story of the prodigal son's departure and return: the story is of a young man who asked for, and received, his inheritance early, used it to travel to a distant land, and there lived in freedom and personal indulgence, squandering his wealth, thereby being forced to hire himself out for menial work (he took care of pigs and envied their meals), before deciding to return to the home of his father. When the father saw the wayward son, he welcomed him, clothing him and feeding him and celebrating his return. The father's other son was angry at this, saying, I have been with you, obeyed you, and you have not had a feast for me. The father reminds the hardworking, loyal, and angry son that he is always with the father and everything the father has is the loyal son's, and the father says of the returning man, My son had died and now he is alive again, he was lost and now he is found, he was gone and now he has returned...

...The one who leaves lives a life that is his own, but the ones left behind as well have their own lives; and not all of them forget or forgive, seeing cruelty and neglect in being left for so long...

It does not really matter why you're cruel to, or neglectful of, someone: the fact of cruelty is damning enough...We all need people who forget the world for us at one time or another--especially when we are young; especially in a time of need. That is a lesson that can be harder for some to learn than for others (it is a lesson that can be hard for those who are ambitious, idealistic, and practical, to self-conscious degrees, to extreme degrees; people who may have the most trouble being attuned to the personal vulnerability and need of others). Freedom may be the greatest battle cry, the greatest affirmation of the human spirit. People try, often, too often, to impose their want and will on us, but few persons trust us with a genuine need. Do we recognize genuine need? Do we respond? I can think of a few times--important times--when I did not hear what was being said to me: the passage of time revealed to me what I had missed. We can be busy with a whole lot of things that do not matter and miss the genuine need, the urgent call...

...I was angry when I was young for having to be alone in quite the way I was...and I have been told that there are a couple of younger people who have been angry with me for leaving them too alone, after I left Louisiana for New York...I have not talked about this with them yet, now that I am back in Louisiana...