Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reading a New Translation of the Iliad

Reading a new translation of the Iliad — Robert B. Powell's. I'm not going to compare it to previous translations, not daring to presume. But it is really something to be reading that poem again.

The gods are puppet masters — that's obvious right off — but in violent disagreement about what we, their vassal puppets, should do on the world stage they set.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

recent visit to the gardner museum

first of all, "last seen," the sophie calle exhibit, consisting of quotes taken over the years from gardner visitors, staff, and art thief investigators, about the gardner's storied stolen paintings.

these quotes, juxtaposed over relevant images, can be hilarious, poignant and/or fantastically dumb. one visitor, we discover, has hated vermeer from the get-go as a kid, and is overjoyed someone has at last removed that damned vermeer from the museum.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

game of thrones, hbo version

peter dinlage, the dwarf who is the voice of wit in the hbo rendition of george rr martin's  "game of thrones", is an american actor. in his role of tyrion lannister he speaks the king's english. they all, all, speak such english. nothing wrong with it. it works. the curtness, cadences, pauses etc., the hard sharp cutting sarcasm, are entirely brit.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

internet chess

it's a terrible thing to go to sleep with a knife-edged bishop aimed at your king
three diagonals away

what kind of dreams can you have
when you hit the sack
in check?

in check you will remain forever
or until the rules of the game are forgotten
or the universe collapses

whichever comes first

as you try to awaken from the bad dream of this game
you know that your opponent sitting
at his bright screen
thousands of miles and eleven time zones away

is quite clear headed
looking forward to your coming back
the white square bishop
nudging, prodding and tearing at the soft tissue
of your spongy king

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

$142 Million for a Francis Bacon Painting? Jed Perl

this is about a new piece by jed perl (in the new republic, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115583/francis-bacon-breaks-art-auction-record):

can't comment on francis bacon. don't know him well enough.

so perl's points are in an aesthetic vacuum for me. but they reduce to the usual perl points. we are all being gulled, our tastes subject to and ground down by all manner of marketing, including the museum blockbuster sort.

& who am i to disagree?

but perl can't but take this fairly obvious critique too far, and become insulting. (he's never happy unless he's at least a little insulting to those who do not share his unerring aesthetic aim). in this piece, perl writes: "in this wrongheaded tradition, caravaggio is admired not because he was a good painter but because he was a bad boy. . . "

is that so? it gives me the opportunity to say that's not why i admire caravaggio. in fact, i happen to think most of what i've seen of caravaggio is pretty, petty, and utterly forgettable. and then there are some canvases — i can't say how many, probably just a few — of incomparable power: visual, psychological and dramatic power.

i remember sitting in the metropolitain museum for a long time in front of "the denial of st. peter". in brief, a woman — it matters that she is not demonic or a hag nor yet a beauty but of the flesh, a woman — is pointing out to a roman soldier that peter, to her right, had been part of the jesus cohort. peter is in anguish, torn and tortured, as he denies it, exactly as yeshu said he would.

you can stare at this a long time and think about it.

the only inhuman protagonist among the three pictured as i look at a reproduction is the roman soldier, armored and faceless.

peter and the woman are in the light.

what goes on between them?

i think it's a brilliant painting, and psychologically complex.

actually, i appreciate the dismissive violence of jed perl's opinions.  i read him whenever i can — since his views  encourage me to say what i like/"admire" in despite of his dismissal.

his intolerance is stimulating.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Doris Lessing Died Yesterday

Doris Lessing Died Yesterday

Doris Lessing died today and people who have not have been in touch for some time contact each other just to say, "Doris Lessing died". She was that important to that many of us. Yes, she was ninety-four but that did nothing to lessen the blow, the personal hit of grief, the need to say to whomever might understand: "Doris Lessing died".

Lessing got the Nobel Prize for literature belatedly, at age 88 — the details of why it took the Nobel Committee so long to arrive at such foregone conclusion are irretrievably buried in shameful Nobel murk and miasma — only to scoff at it, saying in would just get in the way of her writing anything again, which, so far as we know, it did.

There are Nobel Prizes and Nobel Prizes. In a way, Lessing's Nobel Prize was not only belated but incommensurate. The real award, one hopes, will come from literary history/posterity. Only literary priggishness of various kinds stand in the way of her being read as she ought to be. Literary priggishness was always in her way.

She was one of the finest writers about the entanglement of leftwing intellectuals with Communism, on a level, perhaps, with Sartre and Milosc, and better than Sartre.

She wrote splendidly about ageing — none better. Though aging is now a literary theme, she wrote about it without pathologizing it. She didn't require labels like Parkinsons, or Alzheimer’s or Dementia to take it on, not that such descriptors are invalid, hardly, but to say she saw the process and its sorrows and losses, however described and treated, as unavoidable functions of mortality.

There are writers who are supremely gifted at transmuting and expressing the vectors of time, place — history — in their fiction, Phillip Roth and E. L. Doctorow being two who spring easily to mind, perhaps Hillary Mantel, though I haven't had the pleasure, as well. Lessing did that and more: when historical space and time felt confining, she availed herself of the modalities of science/speculative fiction to include geological eras, pre- and trans-historical time. Doris Lessing used climate change as backdrop to humanity in several of her books, the kinds of books the likes of Gore Vidal dripped scorn on for having violated the strictures of literary fiction as he conceived it.

Then there are those who say she was unpolished as a stylist. They are basing that assessment on "The Golden Notebooks", in which unpolished expression was her style of choice. These particular literary prigs miss the fact that she could write in other ways, and that "Love Again", for example, is a work of exquisite lyricism.

Lessing baffled categories and critics, except for those, like me, who were marked by her and knew her for the bold and extraordinary writer and creature that she was.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Doris Lessing twice. In my first encounter, in the flesh, I tried to scare her just a bit, and just for fun, succeeded, briefly.

In addition:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Repetition Redux: Game 2 , Anand v. Carlsen

For those awaiting exciting news about the conclusion to the second game between Viswanathan (Vishy for short) Anand and Magnus Carlsen in their twelve game World Championship chess match, let me break it to you; there isn't any. Game 1, let us recall, ended in a draw by repetition after just sixteen moves. Game 2 petered out the same way: draw by repetition, this time after 25 moves. Yeah: repetition of draw by repetition. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Repetition: Game 1, Anand v. Carlsen

The match between Viswanathan Anand, current title holder, and Magnus Carlsen, challenger, for the world championship of chess is being played in Chennai, India, on the subcontinent where the game was born, circa 600 AD. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Affordable Care: A President being Wrong

I think Obama has blown it a few times, maybe more than a few, waffled or whatever, failed to follow through. Sometimes waffling was default wisdom. Rather than lobbing missiles into Syria, with god knows what dread consequences, since violence does actually engender violence, esp. in that part of the world, rife with religious schism as it is, he held off.

Monday, November 4, 2013

lou reed

did you see the pbs doc on lou reed? it's probably being shown again all the time. it was made no later than 1997, last dateline in it.

paid a lot of attention to reed's post velvet, solo career. i think, too much.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Adelle Waldman's "The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P."

Brooklyn is hardly virgin territory for novels or short stories; if anything, the borough bristles with fiction. There is, of course, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), and The Williamsburg Trilogy (1961), by Daniel Fuchs. More recently, we have Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn (2009), which portrays the borough as a port of call for an immigrant who instead of taking the chartered path to life in America, however arduous, opts to go back home to Ireland. Norman Mailer made Brooklyn part of his domestic and, in 1951s Barbary Shore (admittedly not his most memorable work) literary domain. The stories collected in Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts (2013), devise a lingo for the subcultures that have sprung up in the chic, hothouse corners of the borough. Thomas Wolfe’s story Only The Dead Know Brooklyn (1925), makes a bold claim that is false on the face of it, since it’s clear that Jonathan Lethem knows a few things about the place, as he showed in Motherless Brooklyn (1999), Fortress of Solitude (2003), and glancingly, in Dissident Gardens (2013), which, strictly speaking, focuses more on Queens.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

lou reed lou reed

NY Times 10/28/13
"Lou Reed, Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer, Dies at 71"

lou reed lou reed
you'd given your best
long ago
the kinda best
than which no better

Friday, October 25, 2013

His Soapbox Was The Brillo Box: Arthur Danto, 1/1/1924 –10/25/ 2013

first appeared in the artsfuse.org

Arthur Danto died on Friday, October 25, age 89, after having, over his long career as a writer, critic and educator, worked out a distinctive take on contemporary art and aesthetics, one he often termed Duchampian. By that he meant there was more to visual art than what immediately hit the eye, more than what resulted, as Duchamp put it, in "retinal flutter." Art was unavoidably involved with concepts, meanings, questions. None were more intriguing for Danto over the long haul than the question, as Duchamp posed it in his readymades, of what distinguished pieces of art from like pieces, a bicycle wheel or upside-down urinal, for example, as deployed by Duchamp, from the ordinary item.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Vo Nguyen Giap: Military Mastermind, or "Marginalized Hero"?

 Originally appeared in

So far as Vietnam goes, the fog of war — as Errol Morris called it, in his documentary about former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara — is particularly dense and durable. Far from dissipating over time, it continues to obscure our understanding of the war in Vietnam and of how, and by whom, the vastly outgunned Vietnamese were marshaled to defeat the United States in that terrible conflict.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Polonius compares the Tea Party to the Bolsheviks

If I lived on Mars — or in the past or the future — the specter of global capitalism being brought to the brink by a Leninist clique of right wing republicans would be — counterfactually speaking, of course — utterly hilarious.

Vladimir always said "better fewer but better".

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Polonius about globalization

a scenario, a counter history, a video game:

the gov. shutdown continues. the fascist cum bolshevik tea party even refuses to raise the debt ceiling for a day or two, enough time for a serious shit storm, a killer asteroid ripping through american and global economy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Polonius speaks — about the Middle East

Polonius speaks — about the Middle East

Reading Robin Wright's, "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World" (2011).

Wright's a veteran, deeply informed author and correspondent about the Islamic world. The theme of her most recent book is that: "A decade after the 9/11 terrorism spectaculars, the Islamic world is now in the throes of a counter-jihad. The new struggle pits Muslims against their brethren. Its goal is to rout extremism in its many forms, from the deviant doctrine launched by Osama bin laden to the rigid rule of Iran's theocrats." 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Netanyahu Meets With Obama

yes, netanyahu has no right to be slipping his ongoing erosion of the very possibility of a two-state solution under the radar, which he's doing in hebron & elsewhere. he's expecting the palestinians to come to the table to talk about a state while he eats up the very ground of such a state.


Talking Bad Bard

Breaking Bad ends, Walter poisons somebody in Prague with ricin (he's been itching to use ricin since Season One), mows down the white power militia by remote control automatic fire, gets shot, saves Jesse, drops dead, and, right after a commercial break, there are the writer, actors, and errant if not completely pointless characters, taking it all apart in front of the camera, or, more precisely glad-handing each other about how swell it all was, and what fine things they are sure it did for their careers.

Makes me think that right after, say, Othello opened, Will and the cast sit down to publicly jaw about the "experience" of making it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Book Review: Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens.

first appeared in

Dissident Gardens, by Jonathan Lethem. Doubleday, 384 pages, $27.95.

The word is that that Jonathan Lethem's new novel shows that he's outgrown the urge, manifest in The fortress of Solitude (2003), among his other fictions, to meld realism with Marvel Comic fabulism. It's true there's no one in Dissident Gardens quite like Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude, characters who, in The fortress of Solitude, can fly, or, if in lucky possession of a certain ring, become invisible. Still the fabulous is very much in evidence in Dissident Gardens, albeit in non-comic book form. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

More on the Alawites . . .

I return again, to the roots of the Alawites, Bashar al-Assad's base of support. The following is from Moshe Maʻoz's, "Asad : The Sphinx of Damascus : A Political Biography" (1988) one of the most cited texts on the subject, and quite readable.

Maʻoz is Israeli. He fully opposes Assad, to be sure, but has no wish to demean him. On the contrary, Ma'oz takes pains to portray Hafez al-Assad, father of Syria's current leader, as a brutally and uniquely effective nation-builder, and a formidable adversary.

Monday, September 16, 2013

zero dark thirty

So what's the upshot now, re Syria, acknowledging as one must that the story mutates all the time.

The upshot for now is that Assad wins, hands down.

For now, he comes out ahead.

OK, no chemical weapons for Bashar al-Assad. But there is no one to unseat him. He will stay on top. Russia will compensate him for whatever he loses in the way of chemical weaponry, as will, of course, as once and ever, Iran.

Monday, September 9, 2013

upside downside syria


for the first time it seems that the prolonged comedy of errors -- accent on prolonged -- featuring obama, kerry, and a cast of characters otherwise known as the congress, may produce something sane: russia has asked assad to turn over chemical weapons, in exchange for no attack by the u.s.. if i heard it right, assad is considering it. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Syria Obama War

A letter to a friend re intervention in Syria:

It's not that my opinion on this remains fixed — no, it swivels & cycles — but it does tend often enough to come back to this: Americans are not for intervention in Syria; Congress will likely be divided about it; we're not leading an international coalition (NATO is not with us, not even England); we weirdly refuse to make the requisite gestures toward the U.N., genuflections though they might prove to be be; we support the opponents to Assad no more than we support him.

Yet Obama, who has tied himself in grotesque knots about this, will likely go ahead with military action.

I only hope it doesn't make things worse, much worse, than they are.

The odds are slim — though, admittedly, nonzero — that our intervention will make anything better.

Maybe I should just ask you, my friend, who support intervention, to say what good you hope solo American, not to say solo Obama, intervention will do.

Go on record about why you're for it. I've said why, despite deep doubts, and an admission that it's by now almost a done deal, I remain opposed.

History, it's bunk, to be sure. Still, Bush bled blood & treasure in a phony cause. Hence there's precious little of either remaining for the kind of commitment Syria entails and might have commanded. History stops being bunk when it comes to Syria. Syria reminds us of recent foreign policy debacles.

Whatever we do, after the Cruise missiles strike, Assad & the Syrian opposition, driven by Islamists, will go on slaughtering each other, until there won't be much left of the construct of Syria as we know it..

Sarah Palin has tweeted: Let Allah take care of it.

Tells you far gone I am that I almost —"almost" — like that.

I do like this, from Tom Cole (Republican representative, Oklahoma),

“It’s a civil war, it’s a proxy war between regional powers, and it’s a religious war,” Mr. Cole said in an interview. “Is there any direct security threat to the United States here? No. There’s really not.”

Well said: "civil war . . . proxy war, . . . religious war."

Too often Americans don't bother to analyze what kind of war it is we're about to step into. We just step. We are — or were — that powerful.

“Is there any direct security threat to the United States here?", Tom Cole asked. "There’s really not.”

Unless we're the self-appointed international Red Line.

Foucault said knowledge is power. Maybe not. Maybe there is more knowledge due to new media than even a declining sole & somewhat exhausted superpower can do much about.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

boots on the ground

boots on the ground boots on the ground

nobody wants no boots on the ground

whats exactly wrong
with dropping boots on the ground

good boots
the best
all sizes
many styles

millions of them

all over syria

maybe some for teheran

are we low on boots?

no troops
who said anything about troops

no missiles

just boots boots lots of boots

boots boots boots boots

see what happens. . .

Thursday, August 29, 2013

LBJ Syndrome

As of this writing, David Cameron, English PM, has, astonishingly, been shot down in parliament vis a vis his desire to join the U.S. in any sort of military strike against Syria.


Friday, August 23, 2013

word on the run

chasing that word
that got out

all over the out
to get it back in

should not
be confused with thinking

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Film review: The Attack

Originally appeared in artsfuse.org:

The friend with whom I saw Ziad Doueiri's compelling film, The Attack, said when we left that it was remarkable how little violence was actually portrayed. That may sound like a strange comment to make about a movie centered on a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that kills seventeen people, not counting the bomber, and leaves others maimed for life. Nor is that event entirely off-screen: some of its torn, bloodied victims are rushed directly to the hospital where Dr. Amin Jaafari, the film's main character, practices medicine.

Still, the observation about the lack of violence is correct. I was tempted to remark in reply that The Attack lacked the sort of big budget muscle that would have enabled it to show Tel Aviv blown to — digital — bits. But that, I know, is pure cynicism, bred by watching too many Hollywood movies that have nothing going for them but immensely expensive variations on the theme of blow-up.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Film Review: Elysium

First appeared in artsfuse.org

Remember Neill Blomkamp's District 9, how original, how full of surprises it was — the Prawns, as they were derisively known, from outer space, and their shanty town? The movie seemed a clanky, improvised, by the seat of your pants kind of thing, low-to-no budget, and full of weird, politically incorrect reflections about racism, privilege, and power.

My point is that whatever distinguished District 9 and made it so special is entirely absent from Neill Blomkamp's blockbuster, Elysium. I'd rate Elysium a DON'T SEE, or a MUST MISS, unless you just can't get enough of guys in robotic exoskeletons whaling on each other, even if one happens to be Matt Damon. Me, I got bored pretty quick when I realized that kind of violence was really all that I was supposed to take home with me.

Review: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

First  appeared in artsfuse.org:

The responses, to date, to Reza Aslan's concise, suggestive study — "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" — have been of two kinds. There is, to start with, the Fox News kind of response, which, inflammatory and uninformed as it is, can still generate enough faux controversy to blunt attention to what might be deemed genuinely controversial about Aslan's book.

The Fox interchange, which immediately went viral on line, begins with Lauren Green, Fox's religion correspondent, challenging Aslan: "I want to be clear, you are a Muslim. So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Jonathan Spence, blogged, revisited.

I am in the process of archiving interviews and other journalistic work I've done in this blog, in the course of which I sometimes actually take a little time to revisit what I'm posting into the blogosphere.

Ezra Pound once said: "You have an obligation to visit the great men of your time." I am no acolyte of Pound, far from, and not particularly keen to be reminded of him, but his dictum comes to mind because in the course of my interviewing I have had nothing less than the privilege of conversing with, in my view, some of the finest and most challenging writers and thinkers of our time.

Monday, August 5, 2013


they are
so it seems

 (their feet are made

have evolved 

for dragging)

     at least
     negotiating the basis
for negotiating
the basis
     clarifying the
     for sitting down
to iron out
     the basis
for storming out
while being forthright about
the basis
an international binational four power
absolutely no power


about a deal
to settle on
the basis
about the basics
- of um
what was it again!?

oh yeah

that basis

for giving up
and throwing a little war
then a little less war

for stomping out

shedding some blood
more or less blood

then getting back
to that basis
for defining the very base
of the basics


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Snowden in Moscow part 4

Edgar Snowden has left his transit zone at a Moscow airport. In that zone which was for him a no-transit zone he had been, according to Anatoly Kucherena, his lawyer, hunkering down with Russian classics. Kucherena had given him "Crime And Punishment" because Snowden "should know who Raskolnikov was"; selected volumes by Anton Chekhov “for dessert”; and tomes by early nineteenth century historian Nikolay Karamzin, author of a twelve-volume history of Russia, so that Snowden could get a grip on the country to which he has now made some sort of transit.

Susan Jacoby, Anthony Weiner: The Sexter & the Sextees . . .

I admire Susan Jacoby.

For reasons that perhaps have less to do with her copious writings than with sexism, she is not, so far as media is concerned, on the A-list of New Atheists, but is nevertheless a learned and passionate advocate of  secularism, and, more than her male peers — Hitchens, Dawkins et al — a chronicler of its authentic but embattled position in American history, from Thomas Paine on.

Monday, July 29, 2013

chinese chess in harvard sq.

The above piece is an elephant; its movements are related to those of the bishop in western chess.

I played Chinese chess in Harvard Sq. today, fter miraculously finding a parking space directly opposite Holyoke Center, where those who do not talk about much else, and may not be able to, indulge their obsession with chess.

I put out my Xiangqi board, and immediately a young Chinese-American woman came over. She didn't know the game but said why not when I offered to teach her. She didn't know chess either, which made Xiangqi somewhat more difficult to grasp, since it is chess, though she knew the characters that define the pieces, so that, at least, was no problem.

Film Review: “Computer Chess” — An Engaging Dream

The eccentric and charming Computer Chess focuses on a group of geeks concentrating on what they see as the infinite microcosm to be found on the sixty four squares of the chess board.

Computer Chess, directed by Andrew Bujalski. At the Kendall Square Cinema and other screens around New England.

Computer Chess is rather a dear movie even if, as some allege, it is a departure from the genre of mumblecore filmmaking Andrew Bujalski is credited with/accused of creating.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Snowden in Moscow part 3

Edgar J. Snowden, an American citizen, is stuck within the transit zone of a Moscow airport.

We know this, that this is where he's stuck, grounded and becalmed, his luck in neutral.

Transit turns to no-transit. The space curdles, wraps around itself, becomes its opposite.

Matter gets bored with itself and comes up with anti-matter.

Even with the food.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Snowden in Moscow part 2

There's more to say about Snowden in Moscow, where "holed up" — as the NY Times put it — in the transit, or in his case, to date, no transit zone of the Moscow airport for weeks, he has reached out for clean clothes and a copy of  Dostoevsky’s "Crime And Punishment."

We should acknowledge the second part of this request for what it is, namely, given the source, a surprise endorsement of the power of literature. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Comment: Snowden in Moscow

Today's NY Times (7/25/13) reports that: "After a month holed up in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, Edward J. Snowden. . . received a change of clothes and copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment,' during a meeting with his lawyer on Wednesday. . . "

The need for a change of clothes requires no comment. But why that particular novel, not that I disapprove. On the contrary, I hope Snowden will share — leak? —  his thoughts on it. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Commentary: The Best We Have

Sometimes what you want to do is curate, to use that awfully pretentious Huffpo word. Sometimes you want to point to writers and thinkers who provide counsel, a smidgeon of wisdom, an indication that it is possible to wrestle adult sense out of complexity.

For me, two such are JJ. Goldberg, longtime contributor to The Forward, this country's historic organ of secular Jewish news and opinion, and Frank Rich, ex of the NY Times, now writing for New York Magazine (nymag.com.)

Of the two, in this case, re Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman, I think Frank Rich's commentary much the best of the many I've read.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dzhokar Tsarnaev, part 2

Dzhokar Tsarnaev, part 2:

Here's a question:

Had Rolling Stone held off on that cover pic of Dzhokar & instead maybe used the police pic of him bloody & wounded, would he be any less popular in a certain set? Any less the rock star? Get any less mail/email?

I suspect not.

Those who want to cuddle him would have wanted to all the more, seeing him in pain, seeing him wounded.

Bigger question:

Why can't people hold 2 discordant ideas in their minds at the same time?

(I think the true neurological limit is more like plus or minus 8.)

Re Dzhokar:

He was cute
& a monster

He looked good
& was a killer

He was hot
& may he be punished to the full extent of the law

He was sweet
& such a sociopath

Thursday, July 18, 2013

made man

i got an air conditioner yesterday

   & it works

today my car aced inspection

i'm a made man
     made man

joe pesci

can't touch me

there is nutting

     he can do about me