Daily Archives: September 15, 2010

Quote of the Day: “Another superannuated commenter on the modern scene”


Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” — viewed almost 80 million times on YouTube in the last three months.  That doesn’t mean it’s great, but it does mean that, for the under-25 set, she’s offering something they want; and it apparently includes an anxiety-free transgendered sexuality with lots of neo-70s-glam set to a mid-tempo Europop beat.  That a problem?

Maria Bustillos puts the smackdown on Camille Paglia for her contemptuous dismissal of Lady Gaga.  (According to Paglia, Gaga — at age 24 and weighing in at 97 pounds — is responsible for “the death of sex.”)

Money quote:

Paglia’s Sexual Personae was first published twenty years ago, and since then the author does not appear to have offered us much beyond the news that she thought Madonna was very sexy. In 1990, the wild acclaim for Sexual Personae led people to suppose that Paglia would become a public intellectual of the rock-star stature of Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag or Bernard-Henri Lévy. That did not happen because Paglia is a nutcase who, among many other instances of self-promoting perversity, attacked Anita Hill, expressed contempt for Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi and many, many others, and went bonkers over Sarah Palin, commenting breathlessly, “We may be seeing the first woman president.” She also had something or other to say about some poems! Whatever. Paglia’s denunciation of Lady Gaga is about as perspicacious as her oeuvre since Sexual Personae might have led anyone to expect (plus, she still thinks Madonna was very sexy, “on fire”, “the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir”, etc.)

Lady Gaga is “in over her head with her avant-garde pretensions,” Paglia announces, going on to demonstrate her own total cluelessness as to what might constitute an avant-garde at this point. Like many another superannuated commenter on the modern scene, she has no problem deploring the Youth she makes no attempt to understand. . . .

Bustillos goes on to say that Lady Gaga is to Madonna what David Bowie was to Elvis Presley: “Not so obvious, a little freaky, weird, a little ambiguous, not so much trying to arouse.”

Alberto Manguel: “The Blind Bookkeeper”


Manguel giving the Fitzi-Continis Lecture, “Borges and the Impossibility of Writing,” at Yale University, February 3, 2010

Toro Magazine has a review of Alberto Manguel‘s The Blind Bookkeeper (or Why Homer Must Be Blind) — an expansion of his Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture at this year’s Frye Festival in Moncton — and which begins with Frye’s almost unbelievably prescient unfinished 1943 essay, “The Present Condition of the World” (recently cited here and here).

THE BLIND BOOKKEEPER (or Why Homer Must Be Blind)
By Alberto Manguel
Goose Lane Editions
80 pages

POSTED BY: Salvatore Difalco

Which brings me to the last of my three recommended reads: Alberto Manguel’s elegant bijou of concision, The Blind Bookkeeper, a bilingual transcription of The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture delivered at The University of Moncton by Manguel this past April. An unfinished paper Northrop Frye wrote in 1943 on “the state of the world,” and his ideas of what to expect after the end of the war and the role that literature might play in a time of peace, act as the starting point for Manguel’s moving meditation on the complex and complimentary roles of writer and reader throughout history. Frye’s essay, prescient in 1943, has never been more relevant than today, given the current spiritual and cultural bankruptcy of our neighbours to the south, with their toxic mix of demented evangelism, material superabundance, and pure aggression.

In considering the state of reading and writing today, against the backdrop of ongoing global conflict, Manguel turns to the blind Homer, the archetype of the poet who can see into the future through his knowledge of the past, as inspiration and guide. And with Homer at his side, and Northrop Frye on his heels, he charts a history of war in relation to literature (or, conversely, a history of literature in relation to war). But this overly simplifies what amounts to a stunning tour de force by Manguel. The title of his lecture, hinging on the word bookkeeper, is telling. What´s clear is that Manguel, a bibliophile in every sense of the word, who as a youth in his native Argentina spent four years reading to and hanging out with that meta-bibliophile Jose Louis Borges, loves literature and books, and that love permeates and lights up every sentence.

“Literature is a collaborative effort, not as editors and writing schools will have it, but as readers and writers have known from the very first line of verse ever set down in clay. A poet fashions out of words something that ends with the last full stop and comes to life again with its first reader’s eye. But that eye must be a particular eye, an eye not distracted by baubles and mirrors, concentrated instead on the bodily assimilation of the words, reading both to digest a book and be digested by it. ‘Books,’ Frye once noted, ‘are to be lived in.’” p.27)

Which brings me back to my initial complaint about the length of the books being offered for review this autumn, and how the times, distracted, overburdened, demand, along with relevance, concision. That being said, I’m not against long books, per se, but I do detest being told that these current, bloated offerings, written by relative unknowns, are necessary, groundbreaking, brilliant, and all but worthy of being canonized. Given the entire history of literature, and the existence of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Joyce, Borges, et al, publishers and publicists alike should step out from their fairylands, and maybe hire a few competent editors to slough off all the dead skin they’re carrying around.

Charles Darwin


Richard Dawkins reads from Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle

On this date in 1835 the HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin aboard, arrived at the Galapagos Islands.

Frye in “The Drunken Boat” cites Darwin among other 19th century thinkers to make sense of the revolutionary Romantic cosmos:

The major constructs which our own culture inherited from its Romantic ancestry are also of the “drunken boat” shape, but represent a later and a different conception of it from the “vehicular form” described above.  Here the boat is usually in the position of Noah’s ark, a fragile container of sensitive and imaginative values threatened by a chaotic and unconscious power below it.  In Schopenhauer, the world as idea rides precariously on top of the “world as will” which engulfs practically the whole of existence in its moral indifference.  In Darwin, who readily combines with Schopenhauer, as the later work of Hardy illustrates, consciousness and morality are accidental sports from a ruthlessly competitive evolutionary force.  In Freud, who has noted the resemblance of his mythical structure to Schopenhauer’s, the conscious ego struggles to keep afloat on a sea of libidinous impulse.  In Kierkegaard, all the “higher” impulses of fallen man pitch and roll on the surface of a huge and shapeless “dread.”  In some versions of this construct the antithesis of the symbol of consciousness and the destructive element in which it is immersed can be overcome or transcended: there is an Atlantis under the sea which becomes an Ararat for the beleaguered boat to rest on.  (CW 17, 89)