Dasein, Red Elephant.

Elephant Links: Rhetorica, Nabokov, Fukuyama

The Cock Fight, Jean-Leon Gerome (1848)

A collection of links to Professors who keep an active blog. Methinks this is a good opportunity to explore the strange species that is the academic. If you find an interesting blog, let me know! (tags: blogs)

“The greatest literary influence upon Kafka was Flaubert’s. Flaubert who loathed pretty-pretty prose would have applauded Kafka’s attitude towards his tool.” (tags: literary)

Excellent site, includes exercises on starting to write, effective writing, revising, proofreading, and types and genres of literary and academic writing. Super for college students! (tags: writing)

An nice little website where artists post their drawings of literary figures such as J.D Salinger, T.S Eliot, Herman Melville and Aldous Huxley. (tags: websites)

Fukuyama predicts that “one of the consequences of a perceived failure in Iraq will be the discrediting of the entire neoconservative agenda and a restoration of the authority of foreign policy realists.” (tags: reviews)

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Bagombo Snuff Box

Kurt Vonnegut, by Jeff Nicholson.

Kurt Vonnegut's Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of his first magazine stories from the 1950s is a book I've been planning to read. From the snippets I've read online at Maurice Institute Library, the book seems pretty enjoyable. Judging from Vonnegut's principles of creative writing, the stories are going to be the equivalent of a Hollywood blockblaster.

In the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, Vonnegut describes his contentment with writing stories that satisfied ‘uncritical readers of magazines’:

I was in such good company with a prospectus like that. Hemingway had written for Esquire, F. Scott Fitzgerald for The Saturday Evening Post, William Faulkner for Collier’s, John Steinbeck for The Woman’s Home Companion! Say what you want about me, I never wrote a magazine called The Woman’s Home Companion, but there was a time when I would have been most happy to. And I add this thought: Just because a woman is stuck alone at home, with her husband at work and her kids at school, that doesn’t mean she is an imbecile.

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Elephant Links: Moleskine, C Theory, Writing Tools

Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe, Edouard Manet (1863)

A website that explores urban planning, architecture and its relationship to communities and social conditions. Latest articles explore the landscapes of metropolitan Dubai and the surburban sprawl of Southern California’s Antelope Valley. (tags: websites)

Moleskine are little black notebooks and diaries that have been the notebook of choice for many famous writers and artists such as Van Gogh, Chatwin, Hemingway, Matisse and Céline. I never did have one of those, but they sure do look good. Yummy. (tags: websites writing)

An intriguing piece by Menachem Feuer on the shift from modernist to postmodernist forms of criticism. “Benjamin tells us that criticism must change and the model for this change is the advertisement ” (tags: theory)

An absolute must-read for freelance writers, journalists or anyone who wants to improve their writing skills. Includes very helpful practice assignments. (tags: writing)

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Elephant Links: Superflat, Barthes, Beckett

The Decadent Romans, Thomas Couture (1847)

Hiroki Azuma, a prominent Japanese literary critic examines the relationships between Murakami’s superflat conceptuality and otaku culture. “Otaku” is a Japanese word indicating a new cultural group which emerged in 1970s, built from various post-war Japanese subcultures such as manga, anime, Sci-Fi, tokusatsu films, models, computer hacking. (tags: theory)

“Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.” (tags: theory)

An interesting website that allows you to find out where your favorite celebrity, writer or thinker is buried. Includes pictures of their graves. (tags: websites)

Free MP3 of Beckett’s plays on BBC. The trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable is also available at this site. (tags: writers audio)

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Ionesco’s Grave

Eugene Ionesco's grave in Montparnesse Cemetary, Paris.

The inscription on the tomb reads: Prier le Je Ne Sais Qui J'espere Jesus-Christ which translates to Pray to the I don't-know-who: Jesus Christ, I hope.

An absurd gesture, a reflective gesture, an anti-pièce technique, a semblance of the mockery of reason in Ionesco's plays. The rest of the 20th century literati, known for a similar existential preoccupation have been remarkly silent: Beckett, Sartre, Camus and Genet all do not have any specific inscription on their graves.

I recently read an interesting passage in Epigraphy of Death: Studies in the History and Society of Greece and Rome. While examining the construction of identity in the military tombstones of Roman Mainze, Valerie Hope writes:

Epitaphs are set up to be read. They communicate to the living information about the dead. Yet to read a gravestone is to read more than the words of the inscription. The object as a whole communicates; its size, decor and location, as well as the epitaph, all summon the attention of the onlooker and together seek to tell a story, however simple. The tombstone evokes the memory of the dead but is set up by the living for the instruction of the living.

What does Ionesco intend, with this final parting repartee?

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Elephant Links: Malamud, Rorty and Po-mo

Superflat Monogram (detail), Takashi Murakami (2003)

Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, Malamud, who died in 1986, was part of a triumvirate of American Jewish writers who dominated the national literature in the 50's and 60's. Malamud won the Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards. In works like "The Assistant", "The Magic Barrel" and "The Fixer" he borrowed from myth and folklore and transformed the stories of ordinary Jewish lives into moral fables.

(tags: reviews)

An interesting post over at Posthegemony talks about Douglas Oliver's Diagram Poems. In a radio interview from 1999, Douglas Oliver commented on the separation between mainstream and experimental poetry: “If you write poetry from a different point of view, you run the risk of falling in the gutter."

(tags: blogs)

An January 2006 article by Rorty that was published in vol.3 of Kritikos, an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image. This short piece from Rorty is written in his usual, accesible style and is definetly worth a quick read.

(tags: theory)

A nice little page that clearly delineates the distinctions and differences between modernity and post modernism. This site is primarily dedicated towards socio-cultural dimension of postmodernism, through the theories of Baudrillard, Jameson, Benjamin and Lyotard.

(tags: theory)

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Barthelme and Porcupine Balloons


Donald Barthelme. In my opinion, the best short story writer ever. Every single one of his strange rendevous with prose should be made into a movie and played endlessly, looped through a projecter on the impassive face of brick wall of an abandoned building. Midnight to dawn. Let the zombies watch. Let them enjoy it while eating breakfast with careful fringe tucked behind their ears.

The epiphany was never done better, except in Bartheleme's stories. Words created through the terrific pride of a blind trapeze act. Stories develop from a whirlpool narrative that is hidden from view, centrifugal symptoms of which are perceived from the surreal incidents that occur. A long division from numbers that range to infinity and come up right in your face, in the form of a camera obscura or an exploding banana. He looks like my father, with that kind twinkle in his eye.

"Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how.... The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.... The not-knowing is not simple, because it's hedged about with prohibitions, roads that may not be taken. The more serious the artist, the more problems he takes into account and the more considerations limit his possible initiatives."

--Barthelme, from the essay "Not-Knowing"

Don't even bother going to read his stories here.

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Elephant links: Adorno, Critical Theory, Born Mag

Dusk, the game of Croquet, Pierre Bonnard (1892)

Born Magazine is an experimental venue marrying literary arts and interactive media. Original projects are brought to life every three months through creative collaboration between writers and artists(tags: magazines art)

A prominent literary theorist, Fish is known for his analysis of interpretive communities — an offshoot of reader-response criticism. In this interview, he talks about the value of speech and rhetoric.(tags: theory)

A large collection of valuable links to thinkers such as Lacan, Lyotard, Marcuse, Merleau-Ponty, Said and Deleuze etc.(tags: theory)

I found this book a very difficult read. A work of theoretical brillance and the pinnacle of the Frankfurt School, Adorno offers the most complete exposition on onotological ideologies. Worth reading for his incredible analysis of Heidegger and Hegel.(tags: theory)

“Feminist theory needs to challenge that prevalent modern assumption on the autonomy of the economic which has been equally harmful for comprehending gender. Yet in this respect feminist theory has in Marx both a strong ally and a serious opponent.”(tags: theory)

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A Model Tokyo: City as Avatar


Pingmag has recently published an interesting series of Tiny Tokyo pictures inspired by Olivo Barbieri’s aerial photographs, which coolly transformed famous landmarks and cities into miniature models. While Barbieri had the good fortune to use a helicopter and an expensive tilt shift lens, these Tokyo images were easily achieved through the use of high rise buildings and basic photoshop effects.

In the Metropolis article, Barbieri explains the rationale behind his unique aerial pictures:

“I was a little bit tired of the idea of photography allowing you to see everything,” Barbieri says. “After 9/11 the world had become a little bit blurred because things that seemed impossible happened. My desire was to look at the city again.”

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Adieu, Modernism – Harry Seidler passes

Rose Seidler House (1948-1950), a Bauhaus-styled home in Sydney built for his mother.

Renowned architect Harry Seidler has died in his Sydney home, aged 82. Considered to be the earliest exponent of Bauhause and Modernist principles in Australia, Seidler worked and studied with some of the world's best-known Modernist architects including Walter Gropius, Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer and Oscar Niemeyer.

A Sydney Morning Herald article reveals Seidler's steadfast devotion to the Modernist ethic.

We ask Seidler of his inspiration when designing tall buildings. He looks taken aback. “Inspiration?” he says incredulously. “Architecture is not an inspirational business, it's a rational procedure to do sensible and hopefully beautiful things; that's all.” [28 September, 2002, p 4.]

Elephant Links: History of Art


New York Times article on the revision of "Janson's History of Art", a traditional text used to teach art in U.S colleges and high schools. (tags: reviews)

The Diaries of Franz Kafka


Kafka's fascinating diary entries from 1910 – 1923 can be read online in the form of a daily weblog, courtesy of the Kafka project and translater Paul Kerschen. In order not to feel too bad about peeking into his diary (which, at times is intensely personal), I've decided to imagine that Kafka is just another interesting blogger that I read on a regular basis. A torturous entry in 1910 begins:

When it was becoming unbearable – toward one evening in November – and I ran over the narrow rug of my room as along a racetrack, again took fright at the sight of the illuminated street, and yet again found a new destination in the depths of the room at the back of the mirror, and cry out, just to hear the cry, which is answered by nothing and which also relieves nothing of the cry’s force, so that it rises up without a counterweight and cannot stop even if it falls silent, then the door opened out from the wall, so hastily, since haste was badly needed, and even the cart-horses down on the pavement raised themselves on their spread hind legs like horses turned wild in some battle, their throats surrendered.

According to Kerschen, Kafka published this piece, slightly revised and with a few paragraphs added, under the title "Unglücklichsein" ("Unhappiness") as the final story in his 1913 collection Betrachtung (Meditation).

In one of my favorite entries, Kafka blogs writes about how he spent a Sunday:

Sunday, 19 July slept, woke, slept, woke, miserable life.

In another short 1910 entry, Kafka talks about Goethe:

Read a bit of Goethe’s diaries. Distance already holds his life firmly in peace, these diaries set fire to it. The clarity of all the events makes them mysterious, just as a park railing gives the eyes rest from viewing the expanse of farther lawns and yet causes us no corresponding admiration.

It seems the same could be said about his very own diary.

Rest well..K. We miss you.

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Habermas, Foucault and Nietzsche

1960s Picture of Habermas with students. Seems like a really heated discussion.
Sigh..why does this never happen in my classes?

redelephant: Was browsing through Habermasian Reflections, a pretty comprehensive blog on Jurgen Habermas's work when i came upon an article by Thomas Biebricher, which examines Habermas' interpretation of Foucault in the Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Biebricher argues that Habermas fundamentally misunderstands the Foucaultian project of genealogy. A fairly interesting read.

According to the thesis put forward here, Habermas fundamentally misunderstands Foucault's genealogical approach in projecting the methodological maxims of the latter's earlier archaeological approach onto his genealogical writing of history. Hence, Habermas misses the unique character of Foucault's ybrid approach that blends science and literature. The reason for this misreading, as I will suggest, is Habermas's misunderstanding of Foucault's reading of Nietzsche, which is ultimately rooted in Habermas's own interpretation of Nietzschean philosophy and the concept of genealogy in particular.

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Too much of a good thing: Jeff Wall’s Photography

Milk, 1984 (Transparency in lightbox 1870 x 2290 mm)

redelephant: I like Jeff Wall's pictures. While some photography seeks to capture the ethereal moment, document, suspend and expose it in its entirety, Jeff Wall seems to approach photography as a form of pictorial art, giving it thematic relevance beyond the image's context. Using large-scale photographic tableaux mounted in lightboxes, staged scenes, designed sets and amateur actors, each photograph is carefully shot with a unified composition schematic.

Notice how the left side of Milk seems to emanate a soothing air, from the use of cooling colors such as green and white in the bush and vertical indoor wall.This constrasts starkly with most of the image, which is bathed in rough, heaty brown hues, dripping from the brick grid walls to the man's shoe and wet, dark hair. Tension is remarkly concentrated in two parts of the picture: The man's posture, his clenched forearm with veins showing and the spurting geyser of white from the bottle of milk. There's something going on. The action is apparent but somehow, the careful representation of form makes the picture seem devoid of any context, removing the possibility of developing a definitive interpretation.

See more of Jeff Wall's work in his recently concluded retrospective at the Tate Modern.

Barbarella, Barbie, Barbelith

From Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, a comic series that is pretty damn good.

redelephant: Recently discovered Barbelith Underground, "an experimental online community centred around unique message-board software" The site has some interesting forums on politics, fashion, art, music and collaborative creative projects. It's literary message board has several discussions of topics such as Samuel Delany's difficult sci-fi novel Dhalgren, Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park and H.P Lovecraft (nice!).

Dogmatika – A Literary Zine

21 - Kandinsky Diversi cerchi.800x600.jpg
Wassily Kandinsky, Several Circles (Einige Kreise) 1926

redelephant: Was browsing around The Sigla Blog and came to know about Dogmatika, a literary e-zine with features, writers interviews, book reviews and a daily blog. Run by Belfast-based Susan Tomaselli, the zine doesn't have much content yet but I like the format. Heck, they even have a poet-in-residence!

Ah.. the perfect career. A writer-in-residence paid to snuggle with stockpiles of japanese delicacies in a cosy little cottage. Strong tea patios and donut conversation afternoons. Writing like a mad man, candles at the window. Really quaint. But I always felt there's a strange domestication about the whole thing. Something akin to Ted Hughes's Jaguar.





American Jewry, Philip Roth


redelephant: Just noticed a rather interesting review in Azure of Philip Roth’s 2005 novel, The Plot Against America. Samuel G.Freeman, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism examines Roth’s fictional alternate universe, where Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election and begins a nation-wide campaign of anti-semiticism. Freedman writes:

Some critics attribute the book’s impact to a concern among Americans, and especially Jews, about the emergence of jihadist terrorism around the world. Others contend that the book serves as a deft and devastating parable of the America led by George W. Bush, who in their view is simultaneously an intolerant boob and a cunning, nascent dictator.While these two arguments have merit, I nonetheless think both miss the essential point. Whether by intent or accident, Roth’s novel speaks to a fundamental part of the American Jewish psyche: Insecurity.

What Roth has actually accomplished--and it is an immense literary achievement, indeed--is to make palpable for American readers the paralysis, anxiety, helplessness, betrayal, and fleeting, ill-fated resistance of European Jewry, particularly German Jewry, during the 1930s and 1940s. By setting all the events in a familiar American context, while holding fast to eternal truths of human nature and Jewish character, Roth has given us, all these decades later and a continent away, an acute answer to the terrible lingering questions of the Holocaust. Why didn’t more Jews flee? Why didn’t more Jews fight? Why didn’t they see the doom descending until it was too late?

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Simon Reynolds and Post-Punk


redelephant: While we are on the topic of music criticism.. The NY times has just published a review of Simon Reynold’s latest book Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Reynolds, an Oxford trained historian, is an influential British music critic, who is particularly known for his brainy writings on dance music and for coining the term “post-rock” in an 1994 issue of The Wire.

It’s easier for a critic to attack than to praise, but Reynolds takes more pleasure in expressing passion for the music he loves than in putting down what doesn’t fit his program. The author finds his perfect subject in the one-named Green, the Marxist leader of Scritti Politti. Describing Green’s lyrics, which sound like the stuff of conventional love songs on first listen, Reynolds is overwrought: “On closer inspection, though, they turned out to be pretzels of contradiction, with an aporia (the poststructuralist term for voids in the fabric of meaning) lurking in the center of every twist of language, sweet nothings that could wreck your heart.” ..Naturally, Reynolds keeps it real by dropping in expletives between references to Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida.

Music Criticism as Literary Art


redelephant: I have been thinking a lot about music criticism lately. How does one begin to criticize something as intangible as a piece of music? One could do it chronologically and technically, from the beginning to end. Plough through that symphony or pop album, inserting comments on the use of a specific instrument or musical technique. Whether it is counter-point or cacophony, the overall tone of the music review (more so than the literary review) is overwhelmingly subjective or personal. The reviewer has a built up vocabulary of musical knowledge, accumulated through a discriminating appreciation of sounds. Like Seamus Heaney’s ubiquitous Irish bog, these sonic layers gradually come to form a mush of musical history, one that automatically and unconsciously defines a music piece as excellent or flawed.

Continue reading this entry »


To Victory Square by Kim Chol Ryong

redelephant:This just in. An anti-jihad manifesto from 12 intellectuals, including Salman Rushdie and Bernard Henri-Levy has just been posted yesterday evening on the website of Jyllands-Posten, a cheeky Danish newspaper, publisher of the controversial Prophet Mohammad cartoons.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

Strong words. Nothing really soul stirring, but still…a manifesto! How exciting! We haven't had one of those thrown into the public sphere in a long time. A lot has already been said about this manifesto, particularly by Paul Allen at the Brussels Journal and I'm sure there's more to come.

No End of History, no end in sight. Poor Fukuyama, what do you have to say?

Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad


The Austinist has a short review of Margeret Atwood’s latest novel The Penelopiad. I haven’t been keeping up with Atwood’s work but after watching her read Oryx and Crake at MIT, i’m really looking forward to reading this one.

Atwood’s latest “novel,” The Penelopiad, one of the inaugural stories in the Canongate myth series, is a retelling of the Greek classic, The Odyssey, from Penelope’s point of view…In the traditional tale, while Helen and Odysseus were off having various adventures and affairs, Penelope was the ever-faithful wife, keeping the home fires burning for more than 20 years despite being besieged by more than a hundred eager suitors, whom she staved off with various tricks. Odysseus eventually returned home, killed the suitors, and—for good measure—hanged twelve of Penelope’s maids.

But was Penelope really so faithful? And why did Odysseus kill those twelve maids? Those are the questions that led Atwood to revisit the story, with Penelope narrating from Hades.

Dover Beach must be nice

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

redelephant: Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach. A melancholic meditation on the ocean. Pathetic fallacy. I particularly like the long sentences in this passage from the first stanza. Meant to be read in one breath, it is akin to an terrific, worded sigh. Or the sound of a wave when it reaches the furthest point of shore.

Damn. I miss the ocean.

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Do you list?


redelephant: Listmania! Hip literary critic Larry McCaffery, an English Professor at San Diego State University, lists out the 100 greatest hits in 20th Century literature.

Lists are many things: memory aids, containers of information, a means of organizing materials, efforts to prioritize and overcome chaos and entropy. The following list of the 20th Century’s Greatest Literary Hits is all of the above, as well as being a means of sharing with my readers my own views about what books are going to be read 100 or 1000 years from now.