Summer 2019 Links

I had the privilege of meeting Richard Siken when I was quite young–an undergraduate at the University of Arizona–and he gave me lots of good advice on the poetry world (and life), conversations I still cherish. Please help him out.

Stroke Recovery Fund for Poet Richard Siken.


Nuclear and Environmental

Alenka Zupančič, “The Apocalypse Is (Still) Disappointing.”

James Livingston, “Time, Dread, Apocalypse Now.

Ted Nordhaus, “The Empty Radicalism of the Climate Apocalypse.”

Jessica Hurley and Dan Sinykin, eds., Apocalypse, special issue of ASAP/Journal.

Frame, Apocalypse.

Brad Plumer, “Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace.”

Damian Carrington, “Why The Guardian Is Changing the Language It Uses about the Environment.”

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End of the Semester Links, Spring 2016

Nuclear and Environmental

Justin Gillis, “Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries.”

Ross Andersen, “We’re Underestimating the Risk of Human Extinction.”

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, “On Extinction and Capitalism.”

Robert Macfarlane, “Generation Anthropocene.”

Will Worley, “Radioactive Wild Boar Rampaging around Fukushima Nuclear Site.”

Rebecca Evans, “Weather Permitting.”

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The West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse and Other Portents of Doom

Climate Change

The New York Times on the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Paul Krugman, “Points of No Return.”

Eyder Peralta, “New Report Finds Climate Change Already Having Broad Impact.”

Gerry Canavan on “Dystopia, Anti-Utopia, and the End of the World.”

Peter Frase, “Adjusting to the Apocalypse.”

A very interesting piece at Jacobin reflecting on an analogy between abolitionists and environmentalists: Matt Karp, “A Second Civil War.”

Roger Peet, “A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis.”

Martin Lukacs, “New, Privatized African City Heralds Climate Apartheid.”

Julie Beck on John Oliver’s “Statistically Representative Climate Change Debate.”

Saskia Sassen, “Countdown to Oblivion: The Real Reason We Can’t Stop Global Warming.”

Mike Wall, “To Combat Climate Change, Humanity Must Act Now, NASA Chief Says.”

Brad Plumer, “Five Horrifying Maps of America’s Massive Drought.”

And “Picture This: U.S. Cities Under 12 Feet of Sea Level Rise.” An example:

The Back Bay in Boston under 12 Feet of Sea Level Rise

The Back Bay in Boston under 12 Feet of Sea Level Rise

But don’t fret, “This Couple is Making Roads Out of Solar Panels, and They Actually Work.”

And Michelle Nijhuis, “How to Laugh at Climate Change.”

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Poetry, Metal, Irony, and Other Links


Michael Robbins has a great piece in this months Harper’s, “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives: A Poet’s Guide to Metal,” which, in the space of six pages, is able to reference John Milton, Rainer Maria Rilke, Black Sabbath, and Converge. I did not know that could be done. (Even R., who tends to abhor whenever anything loud and screamy even gets near our home’s turntable, enjoyed this piece.) Highlights of the short essay include: quoting a number of lines from William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” and commenting, “sounds pretty metal to me”; describing a Converge show where they “took over that space like a bellowing wooly rhino crashing into a Pleistocene clearing. . . . It’s war music” (a pretty accurate description); and some reflections on metal and capital: “Sometimes I wonder what metal would sound like after capitalism, or whether we would even need metal then. I wonder the same about poetry.”

More DFW stuff. Peter Finocchiaro, “What David Foster Wallace Got Wrong About Irony: Our Culture Doesn’t Have Nearly Enough of It,” which, strangely enough, is actually an interview with Jonathan Lear about irony (rather than an article specifically about DFW’s sense of irony). In my revised version of an essay that will appear in David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing” (forthcoming July 2014), I make some similar points about the need for irony at the present time. That said, Lear seems to have a better handle on Wallace’s specific take on irony from the television essay than Finocchiaro, emphasizing that DFW was both a gifted ironist himself and that, in “E Unibus Pluram,” he is critiquing institutionalized irony, which I think all us post-ironists or new sincerity people would do well to heed, along with Lear’s acknowledgment that irony can actually be a from of earnestness: “There’s a very famous quote from Kierkegaard — or, I don’t know how famous it is, but it’s one of my favorites — where he said, it’s ‘only assistant professors’ who think irony can’t be a form of earnestness. Basically his claim is that irony when properly understood is a very high form of sincerity and earnestness, not its opposite. As he put it, it’s a real misunderstanding of what irony is to think it’s the opposite of earnestness toward commitment.” I feel the earnestness or “sincerity” of irony as it plays out in DFW’s work and thinking has been something that has been overlooked to the detriment of both our understanding of DFW and irony more generally.

Alex C. Madrigal and Adrienne LaFrance, “Net Neutrality: A Guide to (and History of) a Contested Idea.”

Dexter Filkins writes a letter from Iraq in The New Yorker, “What We Left Behind.”

And from the University of Pittsburgh’s great graduate student film blog, Kevin Flanagan on “Introduction to Applied Airport Studies.”

End of the Semester Links Spring 2014

It’s been a busy end of the semester and I haven’t been able to post anything for a bit. So, now that I have a bit of time before the semester wraps up, here’s a bunch of stuff that has been happening the last few weeks. My apologies if I’m a bit late on some of these things.

Nuclear and Disaster

Laura Miller reviews Craig Nelson’s The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and the Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Age.

John Metcalfe, “What Famous Old Paintings Can Tell Us About Climate Change.”

Only .02% of published research rejects global warming.

Adam Weinstein, “Arrest Climate Change Deniers.”

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Irony, Archives, and (Dubious) Posthumanism

I’m currently discussing DFW’s “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”[1] with my freshman English class, and so of course it was quite appropriate that Christy Wampole just wrote an opinion piece in Saturday’s New York Times, “How to Live Without Irony.”

In hyperarchival news:

To address this issue, the Wikimedia Foundation is collaborating with JSTOR, a service of the not-for-profit organization ITHAKA, to provide 100 of the most active Wikipedia editors with free access to the complete archive collections on JSTOR, including more than 1,600 academic journals, primary source documents and other works. The authors who will receive accounts have collectively written more than 100,000 Wikipedia articles to date. Access to JSTOR, which is one of the most popular sources on English Wikipedia, will allow these editors to further fill in the gaps in the sum of all human knowledge.

And The New Yorker has a piece by Gary Marcus on “Ray Kurzweil’s Dubious New Theory of Mind.”

[1] There are two things to note about this link: 1) it links to a .pdf of the original Review of Contemporary Fiction piece from 1993, so is (perhaps) slightly different than its final appearance in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), and 2) it is dedicated to “M.M. Karr” (Mary Karr), which takes on all sorts of different significances in the wake of Max’s biography of DFW.

Repackaging the Archive (Part IV): Some Notes on Sincerity in David Foster Wallace’s Uncollected and Less-Well-Known Work

Where is your compassion?  Where is my compassion?

—Lullaby for the Working Class[1]

Wittgenstein Week is over, something I perhaps shouldn’t have been looking forward to as much as I was; cf. now working through David Foster Wallace’s[2] uncollected and less-well-known oeuvre[3] as quickly.  For my sensitive summer nerves, w/ nothing to do but sit around reading short story after short story for days, I must say I’m missing good-ole Wittgenstein Week.  For instance, I can now, w/ the exception of most book reviews, say confidently that I’ve read pretty much everything DFW has published, in whatever venue (say, even including letters to the editor in The New York Times and Harper’s, and a story in an obscure journal printed on dot-matrix paper [if you can believe it]).  (This is also to say that when I sat down to write just now I hadn’t even quite considered the archival implications of this last statement.)  I thought I’d be glad, that getting through all of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, The Blue and Brown Books, and Philosophical Investigations in a week would be the “hard,” “taxing,” “draining,” “etc.” work;—and believe me, it was—that I’d come out the other end primed and ready for the “fun” work of reading DFW.  Boy was I wrong.

I am currently quite eager to read one of the first collections of essays on DFW coming out next month, Consider David Foster Wallace: Critical Essays, edited by David Hering, specifically an essay on what is being called the “new sincerity” by Adam Kelly.  I feel the DFW that gets read the most—his novel(s) and his journalism—continually hint at or give great meaningful gestures toward sincerity, but perhaps b/c of their form never really achieve what so many of his short stories do so devastatingly, howling-fantod-inspiringly well: they are un-dauntingly sincere.  Painful sincerity.  So sincere that reading the deep ironies of something like John Barth’s much anthologized “Lost in the Funhouse” acts like a kind of balm.  For the sensitive summer soul, the cold analysis of Wittgenstein is far preferable to the at times crushing-lack-of-irony in some of DFW’s short fiction.  Esp. when one reads story after story of people who simply cannot connect w/ one another, for every reason under the sun; or else people who are almost supernaturally connected[4] and subsequently get dramatically, heart-wrenchingly sundered from one another.[5] Basically, where’s Paul de Man when you need him?

His work is just so sad.  The humor found in Infinite Jest or his journalism is muted at best in his short work, and it becomes at times so dark that I’ve literally had to simply put down the book, copy-paper, or computer.  Many people have argued that this is DFW trying to transcend/go one step past postmodernism, and though there may be a distinctive ring-of-truth in that claim, his brutal sincerity—perhaps sincere b/c, like some dialectical parallax, his irony can be equally brutal—seems to simply come from a complete lack of belief in the possibility of real sincerity (; the only way to even begin to hope to construct something authentic is to be so brutal w/r/t emotion etc. b/c the “real” emotions he is trying to construct simply don’t exist in the real world).  His piece on The David Letterman Show, “My Appearance,”[6] demonstrates this quite nicely.  The ground of any sincerity being possible anywhere w/in the space of the story has been more-or-less annihilated, as the last sentence (among others) clearly implies: “And so I did ask my husband, . . . just what way he thought he and I really were, then did he think.  Which turned out to be a mistake.”[7] Or for instance, consider one of the character’s take on Mr. Letterman himself: “‘He’s making money ridiculing the exact things that have put him in a position to make money ridiculing things.”[8] To perhaps oversimplify, what DFW is so clearly criticizing throughout this story is the hipper-than-thou, against all clichés, ironic, detached, cool, postmodern, always-apt-to-ridicule stance (toward pretty much everything) par excellence.  (And furthermore, never celebrating anything, god forbid.)  Of course there’s really no foundation in anything true to back up this stance that perhaps most of us are more familiar w/ than we’d like to be.[9] The general malaise over truth(s of any kind) has been so infectious to simply create an entire simulacral culture w/ no authentic grounding in anything except its own irony.  (And of course) This is an old story (simulation, etc., esp. for the late 80s).

But that’s not the kicker.  DFW is trying so mightily to repair or at least construct the scaffolding for grounding something, anything, in sincerity.  And he never does.  The world is (almost) always more-or-less freaking bleak w/r/t sincerity, connection, compassion, warmth, mindfulness, love, etc. etc.; and not always b/c they simply don’t exist, but rather b/c they get absolutely crushed.  (This is also why perhaps his 2005 Kenyon Address was received so well.  It was so [frankly] crazily sincere; and, unlike his fiction, suggests an “answer” to this problem.)

Suffice it to say, the hyperarchivization of DFW is not an experience I would recommend in a(n overly-)short period of time.  It, combined w/ general summer-nervousness, is getting me quite down.  For at the end of the day, a writer I absolutely respect and enjoy often answers the questions in the epigraph that began these brief notes quite simply: nowhere.

[1] “Honey, Drop the Knife,” Blanket Warm (Omaha: Lumber Jack Records, 1996).

[2] DFW hereafter.*

*On a side-note: a brief perusal of The Hyperarchival Parallax will quickly reveal that I am quite footnote-happy, a clear indication of a gratuitous and acknowledged influence by one DFW, so it should probably come as no surprise whatsoever that I am heavily reading him right now for various projects.  This is an influence I’m clearly aware of, to the extent that I am more footnote-happy than DFW ever was, and he is an influence I’m not terribly concerned about having one way or the other.  As Tomaž Šalamun once told me in personal conversation, “It is important to have fathers.  DFW is clearly your father.  Do not shy away from this” (paraphrase; also of note: I was getting a poetry degree. . .).  I cannot quite recall who Tomaž said his father was (perhaps Pessoa or Milosz or Ashbery), but it really could have been any of the (dauntingly-)numerous poets he knew, loved, recommended, etc.  He was a sheer encyclopedia of generous appreciation and warmth re: pretty much anyone who scribbled poesy, so I suppose it could have been a mish-mash of people.  Not even to really mention what Harold Bloom said in The Anxiety of Influence—for surely pretty much any writing-like-undertaking is anxiety-producing—but influence is not necessarily a bad thing, and in fact one to (perhaps) be embraced (at times).  (I’m like the early Cave-In: I wear my [one] influence on my sleeve.)

[3] I owe the easy acquiring of a complete set of bibliographic links to the quite fantastic The Howling Fantods, the site perhaps attending the most carefully and encyclopedically to anything re: DFW.

[4] For instance Lyndon Baines Johnson and “Lady Bird” Johnson in “Lyndon” (The Girl with Curious Hair [New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989], 75-118).

[5] See “Solomon Silverfish,” Sonora Review 16 (Fall 1987), 54-81.

[6] The Girl with Curious Hair, 173-201.

[7] ibid., 201, emphases mine.

[8] ibid., 188.

[9] You know, those certain people you’ve never heard get sincerely exited about, well, pretty much anything?