Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Still unstable after all these years

A few more pieces from The Self Unstable are up at The Offending Adam. I love Whitney Holmes' introduction:

With what voice do I want to read out loud from The Self Unstable? Do I read with a full-throated Poetry voice or a playful wink-wink voice or with the voice of an oracle or a mystic hippie fortuneteller? I can’t decide, and maybe that’s part of the instability to which the title of this work alludes. Who is the self in these declarative prose poems? Elisa Gabbert uses the force of her tone and sentence structures to create authority, despite the fact that the identity of the speaker is neither fixed nor always recognizable. At the junction of aphorism, confession, and armchair philosophy, these prose poems delight in their ability to make profundity flippant and flip profound. Gabbert writes, “History is the news via consensus.” The speaker here doesn’t say anything we don’t already know, nor does she say it in a new or nuanced way. This axiom could, at first, be met with a little eye roll, with a “duh.” But Gabbert subverts the power of her declarative tone by playing with the declaration: “And then they add mood music.” And then I laugh out loud.

I reviewed the proofs for these pieces about voting and violence and history and war and the news during the week of the Boston marathon bombings. I was in the coffee shop in Golden where I spent many mornings this semester (I had finally stopped thinking of years in terms of semesters, when John started teaching college). John's intermittent vertigo and dizziness prevented him from driving for several weeks, so on days he felt well enough to teach, I would drive him to his 9 a.m. class and work down the street, drinking iced coffee even on the days that it snowed. We listened to the news obsessively that week, though half the time John couldn't hear it. Reading those pieces again, it struck me that my poetry has never seemed more topical or politically relevant. But weeks have passed; perhaps they're irrelevant again.

Thanks to Whitney and to Andrew Wessels for featuring my work.


In other "news": My pal DB just sent me a link to an article in The Atlantic by the guy who teaches the "Navigating Pornography" course at Pasadena City College. He sort of lost me here though:

Part of equipping students to navigate porn means giving them the tools of feminist analysis. Pornography traditionally revolves around the production of images of women for the pleasure of heterosexual men. Feminist critics like Andrea Dworkin, Gail Dines, and Robert Jensen help my students to see the ways in which porn can construct and reinforce misogyny. At the same time, my students examine the limitations of familiar feminist anti-porn critiques. Research suggests that nearly as many young women as men watch (or, if you prefer, "use") porn for masturbation fodder, making it increasingly difficult to characterize porn watching as a primarily male pastime.

If you click through to the links in the highlighted section, neither of them says that "nearly as many young women as men watch porn." According to the second link, which hyperlinking protocol suggests should include the relevant stat: "In the first three months of 2007, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, approximately one in three visitors to adult entertainment Web sites was female; during the same period, nearly 13 million American women were checking out porn online at least once each month." If 1 in 3 visitors were female, that means 2 in 3 were male. Hence, twice as many. How does half as many translate to "nearly as many"? Is that the new math?

Have I mentioned how much I hate The Atlantic? Of course I have. Nevertheless, this comment thread about chickens gave me great pleasure this morning:

Chickens are highly sentient. They form long-term friendships. They seek pleasure. They have good memories. They learn to play video games. They grieve (I've seen it). They have empathy. They play. They are curious. They understand object permanence sooner than a human baby does. They are aware of others, which is more important than self-awareness. 

Chickens play video games?


  1. I guess I can see why he said "nearly as many" though of course it's misleading. I guess his point is that the gender breakdown among porn-viewers is _balanced enough_ to refute the (stereotypical) generalization that porn is for men. (33% is a large minority.) I remember an argument in Lang. Log comments some time ago about the meaning of "most"; Geoff Nunberg said that he heard "most" as implying that a majority is large enough to generalize. What this guy wants to do is sort of the opposite, and there isn't an obvious default construction for this.

    1. But if you're trying to make an argument about gender equality in porn, it's beyond misleading. If 2 out of 3 jobs in a given industry go to men, it's just lying to say that "nearly as many" women as men get those jobs. Y'know?

    2. Surely it matters a little what the expected baseline is? There isn't a crisp term out there for not-equal-but-much-less-unequal-than-people-think. If there were a subfield of physics that happened to be 40% female the _news_ would be how many women were in it, not how few.

    3. Right, but it would have been better to just quote the stat here. What's preventing him from saying "Surprisingly, 1 in 3 visitors to porn sites are female"? The rephrase makes it seem like he's trying to finesse the statistic.

  2. The world economy remains deeply depressed in the aftermath of a financial meltdown that called into question the entire regulatory apparatus. A liberal president can't advance his agenda in the face of congressional intransigence. The most advanced countries in Europe have embraced austerity and are immolating themselves. The unemployment rate in the U.S. is falling, but mostly because the labor force participation rate is collapsing. People are dropping out of the labor force: giving up. It feels as though the whole world is giving up.

    This is the state of affairs at the beginning of The Selphun's Table, Elisa Gabbert's first science fiction novel, and it hardly feels like fiction. But Gabbert's world does not stay recognizable for long. Suddenly employment surges. Household formation accelerates as America's young people get jobs, get married, and move out of their parents' houses. Tax revenues surge, and state and local governments start hiring. The nightmare is over.

    But then the President receives a startling message from the Selphun, the leader of an alien race that has been surreptitiously circling Earth. All of those jobs? All of that growth? The result of the aliens' clandestine hiring, conducted through shadowy shell corporations throughout hard-hit states like Michigan, Nevada, and Rhode Island.

    And then the Selphun issues his startling ultimatum: the aliens will keep hiring - if the President eats the Selphun. Pandemonium reigns in the situation room until it is established that the aliens are a hyper-intelligent race of intestinal bacteria, completely harmless to humans—or so they claim. The Selphun is just looking for a home.

    Gabbert never explicitly cites "To Serve Man," the famous Twilight Zone episode in which aliens read a book with that title, but Selphun's Table slyly mirrors it. At first, it seems as though Gabbert is posing roughly the same question: will the Selphun serve the President, or will the President unwittingly be served to the Selphun?

    But Gabbert's books are never so simple. True, Gabbert examines the promise and perils of fermented food and probiotics at length. But the book's true obsession is with Keynesianism. Gabbert presents the question: does expansionary fiscal policy "serve man"? Or does it devour him?

    There is a sense in which this is Gabbert's most ideological book to date, with the exception of her debut novel, Bitter and Let's Face It, Crazy, which features "characters" ranging from an anthropomorphic Katyn Forest to Indira Gandhi's vagina.

    But can a book really be said to be ideological when it disposes of ideological questions with such dispatch? Gabbert's embrace of Keynesianism is so thorough that Selphun's Table could be taught in introductory macroeconomics classes. The ideological stakes are high, but the drama is low. Credit Gabbert's lively, staccato prose for keeping the "mystery" of Keynesianism even somewhat interesting—but let's face it, liquidity traps do not a great novel make.

    But don't despair: Gabbert finds drama, instead, in the psychological underpinnings of austerity. At 535 pages, no one would call Selphun's Table a taut thriller, but it has a certain lively momentum, and as the characters' self-hatred and distaste for the Other frustrate the Selphun's plans, the novel becomes recognizable again: sic semper Keynesianism, Gabbert says with a wink. Thus always with the ideas that would save man, if he were not so determined to destroy himself first. The problems with the famous Reinhart-Rogoff "90%" paper did not emerge until Selphun's Table had gone to print. We can only hope that Gabbert will be proved wrong, that her cynicism will, for once, have been misplaced.

    1. Ha ha ha ha "To Serve Man"

    2. Here we go with recursive cooking again...