Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Storyteller

"Less and less frequently do we encounter people with the ability to tell a tale properly. More and more often there is embarassment all around when the wish to hear a story is expressed. It is as if something that seemed inalienable to us, the securest among our possessions, were taken from us: our ability to exchange experiences."

"...[T]here emerges a form of communication which, no matter how far back its origins lie, never before influenced the epic form in a decisive way. But now it does exert such an influence. And it turns out that it confronts storytelling as no less a stranger than did the novel, but in a more menacing way, and that it also brings about a crisis in the novel. This new form of communication is information."

"The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only in that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time. A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time."

"It has seldom been realized that the listener's naive relationship to the storyteller is controlled by his interest in retaining what he is told. The cardinal point for the unaffected listener is to assure himself of the possibility of reproducing the story...Memory creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation."

"For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained...The more self-forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he listens to impressed on the memory."

Assorted quotes from Walter Benjamin's remarkable 1936 essay, "The Storyteller," which I have just been made aware of.

Friday, October 21, 2011

This Means Taking Care of Each Other

"Part of the point of this sort of occupation is to reclaim public space, to encourage the kind of noncommercial relationships between human beings discouraged by corporate culture, to build in miniature the society you are trying to create. This means taking care of one another. It means all the unlikely things that protestors in New York and L.A. and elsewhere are already doing: Setting up free kitchens and libraries and childcare and open air schools and why not a bike repair shop too, along with what rudiments of healthcare people can provide for one another on a small patch of grass."

From an excellent article by Ben Ehrenreich about the Occupy Wall Street Protests in the LA Review of Books.

Meanwhile, here are some charts detailing what the protestors are so angry about. And a website of writers who have signed on in support, complete with original work (including this rather strange poem from D.A. Powell).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Crossed an Ocean...

Found out that a friend of my friend is playing backup for Charles Bradley in Manchester next month, which means I'll be seeing the great man live for the second time in my life and possibly even hanging out backstage. Needless to say, I'm excited.

Here's him doing a rendition of Neil Young's Heart of Gold. I swear, the man is ecstasy -- soul -- personified.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Really Ace Place

Christopher Hitchens on the darker side of England: "This is the world of wretched, tasteless food and watery drinks, dreary and crowded lodgings, outrageous plumbing, surly cynicism, long queues, shocking hygiene, and dismal, rain-lashed holidays, continually punctuated by rudeness and philistinism...A neglected aspect of the general misery, but very central once you come to notice it, is this: we are in a mean and chilly and cheerless place, where it is extraordinarily difficult to have sex, let alone to feel yourself in love."


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Idealism as Belief System

"Activists weren't some fringe element back then. They had defeated the naked bigotry of the Jim Crow south. They had waged war on poverty. Now they wanted to end a senseless war. People believed that taking to the streets could change the moral condition of the country. There weren't nearly as many screens in our lives; we hadn't begun pouring so much of ourselves into them. Idealism wasn't an object of ridicule. It was a legitimate, even laudable, belief system."

Steve Almond gives the Occupy Wall Street protests some proper historical context.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To My Dead Father

by Frank O'Hara

Don't call to me father

wherever you are I'm
still your little son
running through the dark

I couldn't do what you

say even if I could hear
your roses no longer grow
my heart's black as their

bed their dainty thorns

have become my face's
troublesome stubble you
must not think of flowers

And do not frighten my

blue eyes with hazel flecks
or thicken my lips when
I face my mirror don't ask

that I be other than your

strange son understanding
minor miracles not death
father I am alive! father

forgive the roses and me

         RIP Dad

Friday, October 7, 2011

Doing It For Love

The Knowmads, the Seattle-based hip-hop group, is financing their new album entirely through the website Kickstarter. So far, they have been able to raise almost $8,000, with nearly three days to go. For my money, the Knowmads -- which, full disclosure, feature my friend Tom Pepe as one of the primary emcees -- are making some of the best hip-hop music to come out of the Pacific Northwest. They do it for the love -- and it shines through in their music.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Which Looks More Appetizing?

My very first British fish and chips...

or my very first British organic harvest?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Burn, Baby, Burn

I'm proud to see that my old employer SEIU is among the panoply of unions that have stepped up in support of the Occupy Wall Street protests this week. Along with the New York State Teacher's Union, the Transport Workers Union, and several others, SEIU local 1199 is providing food, clothing, transportation, and strategy to the protestors.

On a separate note, I am also encouraged that the nascent movement has implemented a makeshift library. As librarian-cum-protestor Mandy Henk explains, "Information is liberation. Offering people the opportunity to explore the world themselves through the written word is why I became a librarian. Connecting readers to writers is what I do. Doing that in the heart of what is rapidly growing into the strongest mass social movement since the 1960’s is an experience I will always treasure."

Whether or not Mandy is right -- whether the movement conflagrates or ultimately flames out -- remains to be seen. But I, for one, am hoping it burns, baby, burns.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"He Writes Like A Pompous Ass"

When, some months ago, I heard David Mamet had converted to conservatism, I was intrigued, as I almost always am by serious conservatives, especially of the literary variety (see Saul Bellow). Artistic success does not automatically confer political insight, of course. But Mamet is an intelligent guy. I was curious what he had to say.

Now I haven't actually spent time with Mamet's pompously-titled The Secret Knowledge: On The Dismantling of American Culture, his screed against liberal dogma, but after reading the devastating takedown in The American Conservative, of all places, I'm not sure I want to.

"Turgid when it's not imperious, utterly lacking in fresh insight, full of breathtakingly stupid generalization, The Secret Knowledge is, for a writer of Mamet's caliber, nothing short of embarrassing," writes author and musician Scott Galupo. "The literary critic James Wood once described a certain kind of freshly adopted religious commitment this way: 'It is like entering prison: you must turn out your spiritual pockets and hand over all your inner belongings, even your shoelaces.' Well, Mamet has handed over his shoelaces, voluntarily stripped, and appears eager for a cavity search."

Ouch. And this from a fellow conservative.