Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Expanded tweets

Going beyond 140 characters on some stuff I have tweeted lately:

Something I think about a lot is the attitude some people seem to have that if you claim to be a feminist, you should have read a lot of feminist theory. I feel like this is a wildly limiting view of feminism. John and I hate when Republicans use the word "elitist" for anti-intellectual agendas, but this is elitism. Feminism isn't a college major; it's a way of life! I really feel like the principles of feminism are discoverable from very basic, limited information, like geometry. You know? It's all there! Which is not to say that reading theory isn't nice, just that it's not at all a prerequisite to being an active feminist.


I was thinking about why I don't care at all about Goodreads (recently, of course, acquired by Amazon). And it's because random schmoes aren't very good at evaluating things aesthetically. They are, however, pretty good at evaluating function, especially if the body of reviewers is large enough to cancel out some of the noise of stupidity. So if a product has 100+ reviews, you can feel pretty confident in the star rating. Amazon's system whereby viewers can vote on whether a given review is helpful or not makes those ratings even more valuable. Star ratings on Goodreads, however, are close to absolutely meaningless. First of all, there's star inflation, especially on books from smaller presses, because no one wants to hurt the nobody-author's feelings; the most successful the author, the more likely that someone does want to hurt their feelings.  Most any book I have ever looked at on Goodreads seems to have an average rating between 4 and 5 stars. In any case, I really don't care what these random people like. If a friend recommends a book, sure, I'll check it out, but a stranger? Who cares? This is related to the argument I made about criticism in my recent essay on Kate Zambreno, i.e., no one cares about your aesthetic opinion until you show yourself to be a smart and careful reader.

HOWEVER. Some smart Twitterer pointed out that Amazon reviews on books can be helpful in rare use cases such as when you're trying to decide between translations. I also think they could be useful for functional books, like a cookbook or manual. Just not so much for fiction, poetry, creative etc.
Almost every time I've felt that I was in contact with the sublime, I was looking at something really huge: an enormous painting, a gash in the earth, whatever. Occasionally, the sublime is something really small, like the Thorne miniature rooms at the Art Institute in Chicago. But size is involved there too. I don't think I've ever brushed sublimity with something medium-sized.
Get it? They're all ends of other names. Innovation!

36 comments:

  1. I agree about the sublime and size; when I realized this it put me off sublimity for years, and although that was probably an overreaction (_some_ things can be sublime and good, like Lear on the heath or the first book of Paradise Lost) I feel like any aesthetic reaction as mechanical as "awe" is something one should be deeply suspicious of. It also seems to be empirically true that the only way to get the public interested in science is to wave numbers with a ton of zeros at them.

    Cf. Kant on gender and sublimity, near the bottom of this post: http://glassbottomblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/berks-and-wankers-barbarism-and.html

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    1. I had a British philosophy professor in college who pronounced can't like "Kant" and Kant like "can't." Inexplicable!

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  2. I understand what you mean about feminism if feminism is reduced to its most simple, generic form (equal rights and opportunities for women), but that seems to disregard the complexities and internal conflicts/arguments of feminism as a political movement. When Judith Butler says feminism or Andrea Dworkin says feminism or Sheryl Sandberg says feminism or bell hooks or Emma Goldman says feminism, they all mean different things (sometimes dramatically different things). All those women are really smart, but they came to very different conclusions.

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    1. I'm not reducing feminism, I'm defining it. Of course one can and should, if they have the means, try to understand the history of feminist movements, I just really don't think it's a requirement if you want to consider yourself a feminist. I think it's possible, and should be possible, for someone who grows up in the woods to be a feminist.

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    2. Definitely, anyone can arrive at feminist conclusions without reading anything, but I don't think it's simple or clear-cut like geometry (or there wouldn't be so many divisions and arguments within feminism).

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    3. Yes, admittedly I'm overstating/oversimplifying for the sake of argument. It's not EXACTLY like geometry. But it's more like geometry than I ever hear anyone claim.

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    4. Also seems like some principles of feminism are unclear. Is opposition to pornography or BDSM a basic feminist principle? I don't think so, but for a lot of feminists it is. Etc etc.

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    5. I wouldn't call those "basic principles" though -- I mean, liberals have different views on particular little issues but there are still some basic things that all or almost all liberals have in common.

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  3. The scope of this post appeals to me *so* greatly. Especially ending with suffix-ial naming. These are wondrous-good. I may borrow the idea for next novel (will credit you of course...)

    The sublime is not always huge although I think you cd argue that vastness (as in, the concept of atomic space--not huge but vast) is one of its poles. It was a big part of my recent dissertation (in/on dance) but my favorite aspect of the sublime was actually Kant's inability to talk about its properties as they affected the mind without constantly evoking kinesthetic metaphors. He violated again and again his own mind/body apartheid. Such as: "The mind feels itself *moved* in the representation of the sublime in nature, while in aesthetical judgments about the beautiful it is in *restful* contemplation. This movement may (especially in its beginnings) be compared to a vibration, i.e. to a quickly alternating attraction toward, and repulsion from, the same object. The transcendent (toward which the imagination is impelled in its apprehension of intuition) is for the imagination like an abyss in which it fears to lose itself." (Italics his) All the movement imagery. So fantastic. The body welling up to provide images for the unsayable. A field day!

    So the sublime is located at the site of / in the event of anything that thwarts mindful calm: The Grand Canyon and the Holocaust, and the infinity of our indiscrete bodies constantly incorporating what we consume while simultaneously secreting and sloughing off tissue and (for some of us) homunculi--all these are sublime. This indiscriminatory inclusion thrills me... since my mind is rarely calm nor drawn to calm things (why, I think, never comment on your beauty posts). Kant is, as you say, a wanker. Still--his method is both an influential and often fascinating bit of fappery. I like Kristeva better.

    I hate goodreads, and small press-lady tho I may be, I do not feel terribly inflated. I like reviews that begin "I cdn't get past the first chapter" best. By which I mean to say: really?

    About feminism. Yes. More so. Ad infinitum. We cannot stop making clubs. It is a sadness.

    K

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    1. Have I told you my theory that the Grand Canyon is TOO big, and therefore NOT sublime? They overshot it!

      I would be hell of honored if you borrowed any idea of mine for a novel.

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    2. "They overshot it!"... brilliant.

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  4. Oh, and Kant on race is even worse: http://www.public.asu.edu/~jacquies/kant-observations.htm

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  5. When I gaze upon the schmoe-blanketed expanse of cyberspace, I'm overwhelmed by a sense of sublimity.

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  6. If only I understood math as well as I understand feminism. Fortunately the latter is the only one that's actually useful in daily life.

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    1. Watchu got against maths?

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    2. It's hard. Too abstract for me, or something. I recently discovered I've even forgotten how to do long subtraction on paper, with the "borrowing" and all that. I shudder to think what would happen if I attempted long division.

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    3. I agree it's hard, that doesn't mean it isn't useful.

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    4. I like it because it's beautiful, not because it's useful.

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    5. Guys, without math, you'd have no houses.

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    6. By "useful" I mean "useful to me personally":)

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  7. I love math. And science (especially science I do not understand). Did you know that because of dark matter (possibly/probably) matter is moving away from itself at an accelerating rate. We are literally running away from ourselves (cosmically).

    Who says poets are out of touch?

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  8. I maybe have a different understanding of "sublime" from what I'm understanding you to be saying here. For me it doesn't seem to be related to size. A haiku by Basho or a fragment of Sappho can be sublime. There are long passages of the Kalavala and the Popul Vuh that I've found sublime, also long passages from Shakespeare and Rexroth. And all kinds of medium-sized poems.

    And not just poems -- I found the Pacific Ocean sublime, and the seacoast at Big Sur, and the Cascade Mountains viewed from the west. Morning mist on the Mississippi River. Water flowing over rocks in a small clear stream.

    *

    I've run across other instances of people with suffixial names similar to the examples you've given here. First one that occurred to me is the actor Ving Rhames. (Short for Irving.) I knew a guy named William who now and then showed up at poetry open mike readings and read under the name "Liam" (and didn't use his last name). I'm vaguely remembering a few other examples, but they're evaporating as I try to think of them.

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    1. Well, the ocean and mountains are huge, obviously.

      In my mind, "the sublime" means something different from just "really good." It's like awe-inspiring, almost terrifying. I'm actually not sure I've read a poem that blew my mind that much. I may have felt in touch with the sublime while reading about physics though.

      Liam is a pretty common nickname in some countries, though I only recently realized it's short for William. This year, it was one of the most popular baby names!

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    2. Sublime is like awesome. Like "To His Coy Mistress" or "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning." Kerouac called Eliot's poetry sublime, and I think that's the right word for it. That might be the right word for Armantrout when she does something dumbfounding, despite the littleness of her poems. That goes for Dickinson, too. "The Raven" is awesome--sublime. Well, most of us could make long lists like this...

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    3. Something like Dickinson or Armantrout would NEVER be sublime to me. To my brain, size matters.

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  9. I know what you mean, but I often think of sublimity in the sense of like an alchemical transmutation of the material into the ethereal, too. If for example I'm reading aphorisms/pensees by Simone Weil, they're just spoon-sized things, but I feel elevated to a supernal plane, a rarefied atmosphere. I'd call that sublime as well.

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    1. Have you read Leaving the Atocha Station? There's a passage at the beginning where the main character sees a guy weeping before a painting and he wonders if the man is having a "transformative experience" (I think that's the phrase he uses?) of art, and how he has always heard about these experiences but never really believed in them, and assumed people were lying or faking it when they claimed to be that moved by art. I related to this passage because it takes a lot to really "move" me, so I'm suspicious of people who seem easily moved. My point being, I don't throw around words like "sublime," though I say "awesome" often enough.

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    2. The last paragraph of chapter 4 of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

      The scene in The Year of Living Dangerously when Linda Hunt's character is typing furiously on her typewriter while looking helplessly at the photographs on the wall of hungry people, while on the soundtrack (on a tape player or record player in the scene) Kiri Te Kanawa sings "Going to Sleep" from Richard Strauss's "Four Last Songs."

      The scene in the movie "Z" when the killing of the left-wing parliament deputy is shown, yet again, only this time in slower motion, the background music quieter and slower, the pinnacle of true sorrow and classical tragedy.

      Thomas McGrath's poem "Fresco: Departure for an Imperialist War."

      Joni Mitchell singing her song "Shadows and Light," backed up by her band and the doo-wop group The Persuasions, on her life album also titled Shadows and Light.

      Lorna Dee Cervantes's poem "Summer Ends Too Soon."

      A few, off the top of my head.

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  10. "Do you wish to love? Use Love's Litany, and the words will create the yearning from which the world fancies they spring." I mean if you use--not "throw around" boulder-heavy words as if they were pebbles, but use properly--words like "sublime" when you describe how art makes you feel, that might help to engender the rapture you're suspicious of when you see it in others.

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    1. Not sure I buy that theory. In any case, I don't want to participate in word inflation -- "sublime" already means something to me, it's fine if it means something different to you.

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  11. Come to think of it, I never go by Amazon reviews unless I'm looking for a gift for someone else--like, I wanted to buy a book on Norse mythology for my fellow, but know zip about it, so Amazon reviewers to the rescue. I suppose if I'm distanced from it I'm less likely to be irrationally irked (or turned off, or turned on inaccurately) by certain words people use.

    And hallelujah to feminist readings, particularly theory. (I couldn't make it through a single fucking page of "Gender Trouble.") I feel like that's part of the problem with the whole (not always inaccurate) accusation of feminism being for privileged white women.

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    1. For certain types of things I probably put too much faith in the reviews. Like one negative review will give me serious pause.

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