Saturday, March 28, 2009


In New York at multiple sites, the PEN World Voices Festival will take place from April 27 through May 3rd, with more than one-hundred and fifty writers from forty countries.

Late last year, the University of Chicago published Alain L. Locke: Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth. Locke, a Harvard trained philosopher, was one of the movers behind the Harlem Renaissance.

Robert Bolano’s novel 2666, Dexter Filkins factual The Forever War, and Patrick French’s Naipaul biographer received awards from the National Book Critics Circle for excellence in 2008.

The March 2009 issue of Poetry Internatinal (Poetry International Web) has poetry from Australia, Ireland, Portugal and South Africa.

There is a free “Philosophy and/as Literature Conference” in London at the King’s College River Room on May 5th and 6th this year, beginning at 9.30am and ending at 5.30pm. The work of Adorno, Iris Murdoch, Plato, Proust, and Richard Rorty will be discussed as well as such questions as “What would be the significance of identifying features of reasoning intrinsic to philosophy but not to philosophical literature?” and the topic “Responding to Fiction as a Form of Self-Knowledge.” Coffee, tea and lunch will be served. If you want to attend please e-mail Christopher Hamilton, with reservation details (one or both days):

Acadiana Film Festival

The Acadiana Film Festival taking place at different locations (Cite Des Arts, and Grand 14 Theater, Lite, and the Natural History Museum, among them) in Lafayette, Louisiana, scheduled for April 16th through 19th, is focused on the craft, content, and pleasure of films, present and future, with programs attractive to film professionals and the general audience. There are workshops for film and sound editors, for actors on developing characters, and discussions on music composition and marketing an idea for a film (pitching stories), and the festival provides a location tour, as well as music receptions, and, most importantly, film premieres and screenings, with the subjects of films including hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras, writer Kate Chopin and singer Patti Smith, coastal land loss restoration and plate lunch restaurants.

A few days ago, I asked one of the organizers, Jana Godshall, about the Acadiana Film Festival, and the expected audience:
Who are the likely attendants of the film festival (artists, educators, students, others)?

Two days ago (Thursday), the festival director Jana Godshall answered, "All of the above. We have artists, educators, students, producers, musicians, composers, directors, actors, writers, city and state entertainment industry representatives and not only that,...simply film enthusiasts. Anyone who enjoys independent cinema, as we have tons of free screenings open to the public Thursday through Sunday, April 16-19th," and she added, "our line up is great this year. we have so many feature film, shorts, documentaries, panels, workshops, parties, networking opportunities."

Godshall works with festival coordinator Julie Bordelon, and can be reached at: Acadiana Film Festival, 101 W. Vermilion St., Lafayette, La 70501; and, more information about the festival is available online (search: Acadiana Film Festival).

Events in Louisiana Film Appreciation

In October 2008, I asked several persons involved in Louisiana culture questions about the impact of film, including, What are five important events in the development of film appreciation in Louisiana in the last five years?

Here is the response of film critic and journalist Alexandyr Kent (of the web log Louisiana Movies):

"For northwest Louisiana, the opening of the Robinson Film Center is a sign that film appreciation is, well, appreciated. The nonprofit’s challenge will be to sustain interest – or more bluntly put, sustain funding – as the entertainment dollar continues to be pulled in new, unpredictable directions.

Last year’s return of the New Orleans Film Festival, I think, can’t be underestimated.

The growth of the film industry – throughout La. – has probably drawn some La. viewers to look more critically at film.

We’re also seeing high schools and colleges add courses and programs in film study and filmmaking. That’s good.

Generally speaking, as cable/satellite TV continues to grow viewership, more people are being drawn to nonmainstream movies."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Shakespeare's King Lear

Children are born, educated, mature, and they go to work and have their own children, and in the midst of those basic activities are love and hate, ignorance and knowledge, possibility and disappointment; and our arts reflect those facts, those states. Our arts are embodiments of experience and reflection, and the extent to which they are honest and wise is a register of their integrity and use, their necessity.

I have often thought that it is a sign of respect to tell the truth about matters of importance, but some people receive the truth as an insult, preferring flattery, preferring false ideology. I was reminded of that while watching a televised production of Shakespeare's "King Lear," directed by Trevor Nunn with Chris Hunt and starring Ian McKellen as the king, in a play about a father who rewards daughters who fear and flatter him, a father who disinherits the daughter who loves him but tells him the truth without embellishment (Romola Garai plays well Cordelia, the daughter who loves her father despite his disapproving rage). Pride leads Lear astray, but it is also age that diminishes his mind, age that asks for a simple view and a simple response (in the early scenes McKellen's egocentric king reminded me of a grand baby). There is a parallel story in the play, focusing on an ambitious, bastard son (the seductive and lethal Edmund, played by Philip Winchester) who gets revenge on his father and brother--for a time. As the play is a tragedy, there are all kinds of betrayals and deaths. Shakespeare's ability to create situations that fully express the noble and the savage aspects of humanity is what keeps him current.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Miscellaneous Notes on Art, Society, Politics

Interesting: the presidents of the United States of America and of Israel have made appeals to Iran for a different kind of discourse and relationship, reports the New York Times, March 20, 2009. (However, there may be more comment now about Obama's incidental remarks regarding his bowling ability and its likeness to the Special Olympics. There is something questionable about taking every comment to task, even those said briefly, lightly, in humor by someone known to be sensitive.)

The European Union is troubled by the possibility of France’s protectionist policies regarding its car industry, according to the BBC.

Amnesty International has reported, March 18th 2009, that hundreds of people in the African country of Gambia have been accused of witchcraft, detained and forced to drink a strange mixture which has led to sickness. Apparently, the president of Gambia believes in witchcraft, and encouraged a witch hunt following the death of one of his relatives. Such a fact makes a publication such as African Studies Quarterly, or a film director such as the late Ousmane Sembene, or active musicians like Femi Kuti and Angelique Kidjoe, very important as symbolic representatives of African modernity and reason, and important as resources for alternative leadership.

Good news from Africa: “Somalia, long dogged by conflict, is ‘back from the brink’ following a peace pact, the top United Nations envoy to the Horn of Africa nation told the Security Council today, calling for a three-pronged approach targeting governance, security and development to ensure stability,” states a March 20th article from the United Nations News Centre, accessible online. The peace pact established is the "UN-facilitated Djibouti Agreement" between the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia. The article calls for international aid for Somali, which has a rich coastline and promising business aspects.

“Society doesn't need newspapers. What we need is journalism,” states Clay Shirky, in a thoughtful piece (“Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable”) on the web pages of Edge: The Third Culture (March 17).

Bobby Jindal has vowed to reject some of the federal funding provided by President Obama's recovery package; and a few other governors have declared the same intention. Would they react differently with a better grasp of history? “The hardened antipathy of today's Southern politicians to public investment is especially ironic given the South's history. I'm reading Roger Biles' interesting book The South and the New Deal, and he makes a compelling case that public works programs were critical to pulling the South out of the Great Depression and allowing it to catch up with the rest of the country economically,” says Chris Kromm of the Institute of Southern Studies (“Kromm Report,” Facing South, online March 18).

Harper's magazine featured a good article on John Cheever's significant work and sad life, recently. Lee Siegel's piece on critic George Steiner in the New York Times was honest and intriguing too.

A recent article discussed the need for sharper criticism of video games and used film critic Pauline Kael as a model of criticism, citing qualities it considered strengths and weaknesses. It's a stimulating read and a nice tribute to Kael's ongoing relevance.

The new Julia Roberts-Clive Owen film, Duplicity, written and directed by Tony Gilroy, received a very warm, even excited review, from the New York Times’s A.O. Scott today; and other reviews (such as in the Los Angeles Times and Variety) seem as welcoming. There have been good reviews for I Love You, Man starring Paul Rudd, as well.

The saddest news recently has been the death of Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter, Liam Neeson’s wife, the actress Natasha Richardson, in a ski accident. The accidental death of a bright and talented person carries a special weight: it is easy to see the lost gifts and promise, easy for the loss to read as an inescapable sign of unpredictable destinies.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sarah in "Music and Friends," from A Stranger on Earth (Fiction)

Sarah sat on a bench in the park, amused, curious, dismayed, and repelled by the people she saw. She watched nannies and the babies they cared for, and thought many of the children adorable, though when they began to cry or be demanding she wished she could make them disappear. She saw and heard a couple of young men enthusiastically engaged in a conversation about music—whether Devendra Banhart was a celebratory and satirical visionary or merely foolish, in which they talked about Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and the Beautiful South—that made her wonder about the other things they cared about. listened to the inane conversations some of the girls were having—loud, bragging, full of curses, the kind of conversations she used to think typical of boys. She had been reading a book of poems by Denise Levertov and a letter from her Uncle Thomas, one he had dictated to his friend Mark. She wished that she could visit him; she wished many things. What good was it to keep thinking about the matter, if she could not do anything differently? She read a few poems by Levertov, and returned to the letter, again and again, a torment that ended when Timothy walked toward her: his smile made her smile.

“Mind if I sit here?” he asked, as he was lowering himself onto the bench.

“No,” she said, with a mild laugh.

She stuck the letter into the back of the book, which he looked at.

“Mm, Levertov,” he said. “I haven’t read her in a while. Do you like her a lot?”

“Sometimes,” said Sarah.

“Why?” he asked.

“I like her assurance. She seems to know who she is, what she feels, what thinks, and what’s important in the world,” said Sarah. “She has a spiritual wholeness. It’s very calming, very healing, to read her work.”

Timothy smiled, and he looked thoughtful, sad, and then pleased before he said, “I always thought there was a lot of romance in her work, that she made things seem better and simpler than they were.”

Sarah looked at him. She looked hurt, and was silent, and she looked around and then back at Timothy, and she asked, “Do you think conflict and difficulty and lack of faith indicates depth, or confusion, lack of imagination and intellect?”

Timothy laughed, and said, “Wait, wait, I didn’t say I didn’t think she was good or that the opposite tact was right.”

“What do you think?” she asked.”

“It’s true that we often think that if something is complex, even difficult, that means that it is more crafted and more true to experience, to society and life,” he admitted, “and that’s partly an instinctive response to all the cliches, ideologies, platitudes, and spiritual stuff we are fed, and I do look for complexity in work, for some representation of the real conflicts that are in the world, but I also think that not everything is in doubt, that we have to believe something, that we have to have a mission.”

They looked at each other. Were they going to accept their friendship, their affection and respect for each other and assumption that each meant well, or were they going to fight?

“What’s your mission?” she asked.

Were they going to fight?

Timothy said, “I just want to write and teach.”

“It was good that you learned that early, and that you found the place for it—here, in the university, that you didn’t assume you could do that as easily or as well in the ordinary working world,” she said, ending in a tone that surprised her in its bitterness. Sarah looked away. What could she say now? What would explain that tone, or restore the usual spirit they shared?

“Yes, it was lucky, I guess, though it was what everyone expected,” said Timothy.

“Did they?” she asked, and she wanted suddenly to end this conversation. What was it like to move in a world in which people knew what was right for you—truly?

“Yes,” he said. “They knew I liked to learn and to talk and that to do something else would mean I’d be losing something that made me who I am,” he said.

I’m not furious with him, Sarah reminded herself. I don’t have to be nasty to him, she thought.

Timothy looked at her, and he wondered what he should say. They were talking but they did not seem to be having the same conversation. He took a chance and asked, “Did you not have anyone who believed in you?”

Sarah looked around. She wanted to lie, say something pleasant, something less damning than what she was inclined to say: she could not think of anyone. She said, “It’s not that no one thought I was intelligent or might do something useful.” She paused, and then said, “Use is not always value. No one seemed to think I was important or that anything I was likely to do was going to be important.”

“That’s sad,” he said.

Sarah could accept that, especially as he did not seem false or pitying.

“What do you want to do now?”

“I wish I could study,” said Sarah. “Being here reminds me of that,” she said. “I cannot accord it. I have been sending out resumes—and it seems I’ll be lucky to get a low-paying job. It’s strange. I couldn’t afford school and the usual bills.”

“It must be very frustrating,” he said. “Of course, you know, you’re much smarter than most of the students in my classes.” He smiled, and said, “Smarter than some of my professors.”

Sarah laughed.

“It’s an irony,” he said. “It makes me wonder about how we end up where we do.”

“I know,” said Sarah, looking away. She was afraid she was going to cry, or say something, make a confession, that she would regret. She did not want to be seen as needy, as wounded, but what else might she be? Foolish? Lost? There was no way of seeing where she was as ideal.

(c) DG


Talking to Myself

In any one of your moods,
you might denounce
seductions of the mind,
citing the cruelty
of the enlightened.

You might curse love
or praise hate
or deny feeling.

Like a true romantic
you intend to allow yourself
no illusions.

You do not know the root
of your torment
but everything mirrors
who you are: what you praise
and what you curse.
You are like a god.
You are like a madman.
You are like anyone of us.

If I could touch you,
I could tell you
but you are beyond reach.
Only the poem knows
where you live--not the poet.

I imagine that you pace
a circle of days
dreaming of tomorrow, trapped
on the straight line
your mind traces.
I want to tell you,
There is no progress,
only return and return,
but you have been told
and are yet faithless.
Either side of the road
is the same road
but it's yours, as you know
with pride and pain.
Will you believe in what
you cannot know?
and what might save you?

One day you will talk to me
and I might listen.

(c) DG

Fiction Excerpt, "Music and Friends"

In the chapter "Music and Friends," from the proposed novel A Stranger on Earth, a chapter focused on two old men, both musicians, Thomas and Mark: one is dying, and the other is his caregiver, and they prepare for death and its aftermath, including a possible inheritance for the dying man’s niece, Sarah. The chapter includes remembrance of the men's earlier days...

“One of the interesting things about jazz is that every phrase, every moment, can be delectable,” said Thomas, standing and rubbing a cloth over his saxophone and looking down into the face of an admiring woman.

“The music is that—it’s delicious,” she answered.

She had stopped him when he was returning from the rest room, during the band’s break. The club was half-empty, but the audience seemed to be with the band. It was a relaxed night. The men had things they were worried about—paying the rent, the next gig, but they were in a good mood.

Mark passed Thomas and the woman as he made his way out of the club. He wanted a few minutes away from everyone—he wanted to be outside. Mark wondered how Thomas had the energy for playing when he was so busy running his mouth, filling words with all that hot air. He wondered if Thomas would be having breakfast with the woman the next morning. He did not seem to have much discrimination about where he set his instrument down.

“Is the music just for a small group of people, or is it for everybody?” asked Thomas.

“It’s for whoever is willing to put the time into understanding it,” said Fred, a gregarious, and plump trumpet player.

“That’s right, that’s right,” said Nathan, the drummer.

Nathan’s affirmation was not one that Mark thought much of. Nathan was one of those people who agreed with whatever half-intelligent thing anybody said, even if it conflicted with what he had just agreed with five minutes before.

“Only some people are going to know what the music comes out of—the way of life, the relationships, the values, out of which the music comes,” said Kent, the trombonist, a lean and professorial man.

“Do I need to know that to enjoy Mozart? Do I really need to know that to enjoy Coltrane?” asked Mark.

“I’m surprised at you,” said Kent. “You’re always reading history.”

“It interests me—and it does give me a deeper understanding, but I would still like Mozart and Coltrane if I knew nothing about their lives and circumstances,” said Mark.

“You’ve got contradictions,” said Kent, disapproving.

Mark looked worried for a moment, then laughed. “Don’t we all,” he said. “Don’t we all.”

It seemed to Mark as if there was an attempt at some kind of artificial purity in Kent. He recognized it in him as he recognized it in himself. Was it fair to call it artificial, just because they had not been able to fulfill their ideals yet?

“People like what we do,” said Nathan.

“Now they do. What if we decide to do something else?” asked Kent. “Are they going to try to deal with it for what it is; or are they going to act like what don’t know what we’re doing?”

“You planning changes Kent?” asked Fred.

“Changes will happen. If we’re deep into the music,” said Kent.

“Why do they have to be difficult?” asked Fred.

“They don’t have to be, but if they’re really original they might be,” said Kent.

(c) DG

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monica Hairston of the Center for Black Music Research

Below is a query submitted to Monica Hairston of the Center for Black Music Research, from me. I am interested in a range of disciplines and fields, but few things give me the pleasure of music, all kinds of music, including jazz, independent rock, and music from other countries; and, of course, I am open to learning more about the things that interest me. I am aware, as well, that too frequently African-American music, as with much else, is thought of in terms of stereotypes. I wondered recently if a scholar could suggest new avenues of learning, for myself, for others; and, consequently, I asked the Center for Black Music Research's Monica Hairston, What have been some areas of black music that require more research and thought? The center is devoted to researching, preserving, and sharing black music, from wherever it emerges; and I thought the center's executive director Monica Hairston, who received a master's degree in music from the University of Georgia and is a doctoral candidate at New York University, and whose own interests include jazz and popular music (and feminism, ethnomusicology, etc.) would have an illuminating perspective. In February I sent her my query and I was grateful to receive the busy scholar's answer yesterday!

What have been some areas of black music that require more research and thought?

Monica Hairston of the Center for Black Music Research:
"A couple of areas that come to mind immediately include the following:
Historically: Any topics eighteenth century and earlier. Black musical history doesn’t begin with African American spirituals. From Vincente Lusitano to the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, black musicians and composers populate all historical eras and all corners of the globe.

Culturally: Issues of gender and sexuality. Men and women can have differently-gendered experiences of the same phenomena. These experiences often manifest in or are refracted through music and music-making."

Music Movements and Musings

I still remember Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Gordon Jeffries, Joan Armatrading, and Fishbone, as well as lesser known musicans such as Eye and I and Follow for Now, all part of the rock music tradition, a tradition that is more multicultural than usually thought: and, Ben Harper, Tricky, The Smyrk, and Janelle Monae are among the participants in the South by Southwest music conference in (Austin) Texas this week; and there’s going to be a discussion of “black rock” featuring Rob Fields of the site Bold as Love with Kandia Crazy Horse and Daphne Brooks.

Sometimes I've loved Bob Dylan; and sometimes I have been annoyed by how earnestly and indulgently other people love him. My favorite Bob Dylan albums are probably Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, and Time Out of Mind, albums I like for the songs and for Dylan's tone of voice, honest, intimate, wise. Bob Dylan has a new album coming out next month, in April: Together Through Life, reports (Justin Brooks, March 17). I wonder how good it will be (I wasn't particularly fond of Modern Times, his previous album to this new one.) As well, the magazine Magnet announces that the remaining members of the band the New York Dolls (singer David Johansen, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, with producer Todd Rundgren) are releasing a new album ‘Cause I Sez So, due in May.

I do not know or like the music group Coldplay as much as others do, though I was impressed by a recent televised music performance. Coldplay will begin a North American tour in mid-May, in Florida (West Palm Beach) and end it in Florida as well, August 6th, according to Billboard (David Prince, March 17, 2009), with stops in Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York, among other American and Canadian locales.

Financial Data

President Obama defended his proposed $3.6 trillion budget on Tuesday against critics who say it is too ambitious, declaring that American families cannot always choose which crises to tackle first and neither can he as president,” begins a March 17, 2009 New York Times article by David Stout (“Obama Defends Budget Proposal"). Obama's point is obvious—and should not have to be said. (Some of his critics have seemed ignorant to me, and some have seemed malicious, and some have seemed self-serving. It is also odd that he is expected to undo eight years of damage in less than two months.)

Time magazine has picked twenty-five people to blame for the American economy’s collapse and allowed readers to vote for each online, proportioning blame: and thus far Phil Gramm is first, Christopher Cox second, Angelo Mozilo third, Joe Cassano fourth, and Franklin Raines fifth. Bernard Madoff is eighth. Stan O’Neal is eleventh. George W. Bush is fifteenth, and “the American consumer” is sixteenth, Alan Greenspan seventeenth, and Hank Paulson eighteenth. Bill Clinton is twenty-third. Such a list is interesting, amusing; and, seriously, I certainly think those involved in the mess, now and in the past, should be identified, but it would be more useful to examine the workings of the financial system (to provide a history and analyses) and to compare it to alternatives.

U.S. Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the house financial services committee, wants to better regulate the country’s financial system, and may begin writing legislation to do so as early as May, reports the New York Times.

Companies are beginning to suspend investment in 401 (k) retirement plans for their employees—because of the cost. As well, the value of these investments have diminished with the chaos in the stock markets. “The average 401(k) plan at the end of 2007 held about $65,000, but half of them held less than $19,000, according to a trade group, the Investment Companies Institute. They would hold much less today because of stock market falls. The suspensions mean that individuals can continue to contribute to their plans, but their companies will not,” reports Deborah Brewster, the Financial Times (March 10, 2009). Of course, I never trusted investment in stock as a main form of financial security (stock investment is gambling).

The Obama administration's economic stimulus package has had positive effects, already: “Before enactment of the recovery package, at least 34 states began closing their shortfalls by reducing services to their residents, including some of their most vulnerable families and individuals,” declares the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (“An Update on State Budget Cuts,” by Johnson, Oliff, and Koulish; updated March 13, 2009). Some states,now, are using stimulus/recovery package funds to reverse previously made budget cuts in public services. “Policymakers in at least 9 states, including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Oregon, South Carolina and Virginia have already advanced or enacted plans to use these funds,” says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. There is a about a $350 billion shortfall, and the recovery package gives states about $140 billion, so states will still be making some budget cuts. However, I hope to see the results, which I expect to be significant, of the increased federally funded investment in education and infrastructure, etc.

Following a New Orleans Times-Picayune article about post-Katrina housing, and the failure of a program to provide housing following the devastating hurricane (the goal was for 18,000 living spaces, a partial replacement of the 81,000 lost—but only 1,073 were restored, the New Orleans paper reported). Harry Shearer in the online Huffington Post states, “So the contractor collected almost as much money for administration as it disbursed for actual repair of housing units. But the program's goal, ‘fallen well short of,’ was to restore less than a quarter of the housing units lost in the flooding. Blame, should one care to assign it, can fall almost equally on the state, on the private contractor, and on the Feds, for not realizing that the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans called for perhaps a more ambitious goal.”

How open is Louisiana state business to review? “While some of the budget categories allow expenditures to be tracked down to the private-sector vendor providing a service or product, not all of the categories contain this level of detail. Moreover, there is no indication what product or service was provided for the expenditures and there is very little salary information available beyond summary totals by budget unit,” states the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, regarding the Louisiana Transparency and Accountability (LaTrac) database; and the research council calls for more financial transparency in the hows and whys of official financial expenditures in the state (“PAR names Top Five Sunshine Solutions,” March 12, 2009). March 15 through 21 is “sunshine week,” a period affirming open government; and the Public Research Council of Louisiana is promoting focus on the public records law (minimizing, clarifying); reasonable costs for public records; pretrial mediation for disputes involving public records; and online access to meetings, as well as greater financial transparency.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Facts and Fictions: Distractions from Depression?

Sad news: the writer James Purdy has died at age 94. I love his strange, poetic and very funny books: Eustace Chisholm and the Works, In A Shallow Grave, Mourners Below, On Glory's Course, etc.

On a much lighter note: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a new movie opening today, Race to Witch Mountain, a family film about well-intentioned space aliens who come in the form of children. The film has gotten some mixed reviews. I have seen some of Dwayne Johnson’s work and enjoyed it, and I liked him in the interviews I saw this week.

“The world’s best dealers bring their finest pieces to this most influential of art and antiques fairs and this attracts collectors and museum curators from around the globe who cannot risk staying away,” declares, of the Maastricht art fair, March 13 through 22nd, 2009, in the Netherlands (Limburg province)

The Bronx Council of the Arts is providing a tour, Saturday Culture Trolleys, to take interested persons to seventeen free cultural events, including artist studio visits, on March 14th, 12 noon to 5pm, beginning from Hostos College’s Longwood Art Gallery, at 450 Grand Concourse and 149th Street. (Riders will get Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and be able to participate in a trivia contest with literary prizes.) Sounds great!

Unfortunately, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, a favorite of mine, is eliminating some of its staff, due to the current economic crisis which has diminished its large financial endowment, which pays some salaries.

The Conference on Southern Literature will be held April 2nd through 4th, 2009, in Chattanooga. Tennessee. Participants include poets Wendell Berry and Rita Dove and fiction writers Edward Jones and Barry Hannah (about one thousand writers and readers attend in all). Most of the events will be held at the Tivoli Theatre on Broad Street.

In Seattle, April 16th through 19th is the Experience Music Project’s conference, focused on dance music, and featuring Nona Hendryx and Diane Warren with a range of critics, scholars, and writers. It’s great that Hendryx, who made and released a new album with Patti Labelle and Sarah Dash, her long-ago partners, is getting some of the attention she deserves.

I have been enjoying Andrew Bird’s album Noble Beast. It seems a musician’s attempt to make the best music he can.

The American Religious Identification Survey says that more Americans are claiming to be disbelievers, about 15%, according to the Council for Secular Humanism's March 2009 online newsletter. Only 15%?

Rasmussen reports that only 34% of Americans believe the U.S. will be the most powerful nation in the world by the end of the twenty-first century. Is that pessimism or realism; and how will it affect the way Americans think of, and respond to, the rest of the world?

Friday, March 6, 2009

An Afternoon's Notes

In “Between Critical Rationalism and Eastern Wisdom,” an essay on the web pages of, Alessandro Topa considers Iranian philosophical tradition (March 5, 2009). There are articles at the online magazine there, as well, on Gaza, Iraq, and Turkey.

This past Wednesday in New York began a nineteen day “Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy,” at Carnegie Hall and other sites, curated by opera singer Jessye Norman, featuring a wide range of African American music, from classical to hip-hop.

A spirited tribute to Stevie Wonder took place at the White House, and was broadcast by PBS recently, with the first lady introducing the program and the president presenting the performer with an award for his music. Performers such as Esperanza Spalding, Tony Bennett, India Arie, Martina McBride, Anita Johnson, and Paul Simon were there. Bennett's roughened voice was commanding and I didn't like Diana Krall's voice (too low and oddly accented), the duo of Mary, Mary did a funky version of "Higher Ground" and McBride's "You and I" was very good (she gave it jazz and country aspects), and I liked Paul Simon's singing and guitar playing. Stevie Wonder's performance of his own work was quite good.

Responding to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s criticism of the Obama stimulus package allowing a $50 million funding increase for the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Alexander, in an interview with CNN, argued that the NEA has been underfunded for years and that increased funding is going to people (artists) who are workers and family providers and consumers of various goods and services in the larger economy(March 4, 2009).

“In More Than Just Race, the Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson recaps his own important research over the past 20 years as well as some of the best urban sociology of his peers to make a convincing case that both institutional and systemic impediments and cultural deficiencies keep poor blacks from escaping poverty and the ghetto,” writes Richard Thompson Ford in a review of Wilson’s book More Than Just Race (the article is called “Why the Poor Stay Poor” in the New York Times Sunday book review section, in print March 8; online March 6). It is hard not to wonder why such an obvious point must be made again and again: is prejudice that resistant to fact?

On writer John Cheever's legacy: “Cheever’s novels, like his journals, belong to his lewdness and his pain, and it is easy to see why they have never been as popular as his stories. They are blunter instruments than the polished scalpels of his short fiction; they can be sloppy, challenging, even inscrutable, but they hit the reader with great force. In his stories, Cheever tried to make sense of the world and of other people; in his novels, he mostly tried to make sense of himself. Naturally, the world was more interested in reading about itself, but it would do well to revisit John Cheever’s patient, determined attempt to understand and make peace with John Cheever,” writes Stefan Beck near the end of his review-essay on the collected works of John Cheever and a new Cheever biography, appearing in The New Criterion, March 2009.

Performer Chris Brown has been charged with two felonies, involving an altercation with his girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. These two have had, before this terrible incident, the most innocent and glamorous images of today's performers. It is an irony that people who represented the sunniest aspects of human experience are now, in their own lives rather than in their work, associated with the darkest facts of life: aggression, conflict, pain, violence. It seems impossible to escape the more troubling inclinations of human nature and it seems better to be aware of those conflicting traits and to acknowledge them, as the repressed seems to return always.

There was a good profile of film critic Armond White by Marc Jacobson in New York magazine, February 15. (White is known for his odd and insistent responses to film and film culture, responses that are sometimes thought of as brilliant and other times thought of as perverse.) Armond White reviewed with praise Molly Haskell's book on the film Gone With the Wind, a book from Yale University Press, Frankly, My Dear, in the March 1 Sunday New York Times book review (online Feb. 26).

Scheduled: On March 7th, in New Iberia, Louisiana, is a Shadows-on-the-Teche arts and crafts festival; and there will be a Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival March 25 through March 29 in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Yesterday, I saw a snake in the backyard, near my mother's house, a black and gold snake. I prodded it with a long pole to dissuade it from coming nearer and that worked for a short time, but I suspect it may approach again...It was six months ago that I began this log, "City and Country, Boy and Man," documenting aspects of New York life and my planned travel to Louisiana; and since then it has included short fiction and excerpts from a proposed novel, poetry, film reviews, political comment, descriptions of Louisiana, observations about family, theatrical play excerpts, a glossary of values, notes on the election of Barack Obama, articles on African culture, music comment, book criticism, and questions and answers featuring a few excerpts such as film critic Alex Kent and historian Aram Goudsouzian on Sidney Poitier. The move south has helped me to survive a little longer, but it has involved an iteration of things I cannot get away from, certain facts: I prefer life in the city to life in the country; I am interested most in work involving intellect and culture; I am not inclined toward unconditional love of anyone (particular character and qualities engage me); and I am inclined to withdraw and be withholding when I am uncomfortable (when I cannot be my preferred self, I'd rather not be any self); and time is passing, passing, passing...