Hermits Rock

Friday, October 29, 2004

Into the abyss

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

I voted. And my countyunlike any county in Iowa so far as I have been patient enough to checkis already giving some evidence of the returns.

posted by Greg at 3:28 PM

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

what everyone wants, more...or less poetry

Because I do not have enough time, because I have not enough things to do I decided to join a poetry-writing workshop. I made it the first night. I did not the second, because of illness, and now I am back.

The assignment for the second night was to take a word over 11 letters long, I chose postmillennial, and to write a poem defining it using at least 4 letters words we could make from the poem itself as the final word, an anagrammatic exercise, of sorts. Open late, stomp, stamp, millennial, lenient, postal, malaise, little, militant, lame, slam, slope, soap, mil ans were some of the words that I was going to use (lenient, malaise, militant, little being words that were somewhat cheating because they repeat letters that are not repeated in the word itself). That poem is still to be written.

This time the exercise is to take a linguistic mistake or a misheard word and turn it into a poem. The poems given us as examples were themselves humorous. I am not a funny guy, and my poems are only mediocre. In fact, poems where I’ve been given a direct assignment are worse than any other poem that I write.

Here is the one I’ve written for tonight. It fails at this exercise…maybe, though, with some work (especially dropping the “mistake” aspect of it), it might work.

The President’s Java-Google Rating

“Coming up in the news: the President’s Java-Google Rating
climbs for the third week in a row to almost 90%.”

He sits in the Oval Office
Rove-ing the many internets
that Gore created
spiting out cold Kofi
(go)ogling the bunni-staffers
that Lott sent to Thurmond
on his 100th birthday—
a blond and a brunette
from the protégé to the mentor
keepin’ it real, keepin’ it pure

it’s all about the java and the google
it’s all about the multiple internets
the metaphoric underground connection
the cookies and the blogs of our lives
and the historia oficial of the mass leaders
“whose chief qualification…has become unending infallibility;
he can never admit an error” (Hannah Arendt)

Guérnica, Guérnica
no one remembers Ocotal
no one remembers Sandino
no one even remembers Oliver North

he’s a son-uva-bitch
but he’s our son-uva-bitch
three presidents have supposedly said this
of no less than four dictators
Somoza, Trujillo, that Cuban guy,
and somebody else whose memory
and name was erased by fire and brimstone
encased in pittsburgh steel

why was Hawai’i admitted in early ’59?
what do Chiquita and the CIA have in common?
it’s all about the bananas and sugar-cane
pineapple and java
the exotic staples of life
by which we judge our presidents

posted by Jeremy at 3:20 PM

half a poem

words migrate from tongue to tongue
like monarchs going south for the winter
not the ones that make it,
resting on trees and filling the forest
with the beating of a million wings;
but the ones that are trapped
and yanked from their circuit,
only to be released at an april wedding
in nebraska, lost in a sea of inebriated people.

posted by Jeremy at 10:48 AM

Thursday, October 21, 2004

you can imagin my surprise

the assistant minister at our church called me a belleweather bosox fan, when i said he struck me as the kind of guy who would like the yankeesbig, powerful, sassy, rich (he knew i meant this). this i am not, except to the extent that i like the "underdog" or the hasn't made in almost 20 years, and that is what he meant...bleeding heart liberal type.

so you can imagine my happiness that last night, against all odds, but apparently touched by god (to use schilling's misspent phrase), came back from an unsurmountable 3 nil deficit to acheive the historic and transcend victory in nyc itself. (unfortunately for the bosox, this victory will itself feel like a the world series that they will suck it up in the big game)

so you can imagine my surprise when i read today After stunning reversal, Yankees take AL pennant

posted by Jeremy at 1:16 PM

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

a game, a game

the recent exchanges have led me to create a game.

it's called cheapshots, potshots and mudslinging

it goes like this:

gore was unable to carry his own state in the 2000 election.

clinton had a fling with ms. lewinsky.

nixon was a paranoid freak that brought about his own downfall with watergate.

martha sold stock on an illegal tip.

bush was a drunk until the age of 40.

kenneth lay, while preaching the benefits of a freemarket, was ceo while enron was engaged in price-fixing.

haliburton, while cheney was ceo, engaged in creative accounting.

posted by Jeremy at 3:03 PM

Monday, October 11, 2004

A true story

The story you are about to read is not for the faint of heart. If you are squeamish about blood, you might not want to read further.

Yesterday morning, because I wanted to be responsible, I decided my first chore would be to clean the kitchen. I swept and mopped the linoleum floor, then I turned to the big job: cleaning the dishes. As mom will attest, the dishes have long been a nemesis of mine. Everywhere I have lived, they have stacked, in sinks, on counters, like newspapers in the recycle bin. For years I blamed mom. I contended that she used too many dishes when she cooked. Why is it necessary, I wondered, to mix a salad in three different bowls? Why couldn't she use the same pan to fry both zucchini and squash? It was an argument which convinced me.

Then I moved to Iowa and lived alone for two years, during which time I learned that the reason dishes stack has nothing to do with how many are used to cook and everything to do with whether they get washed. When kl and I married, I quickly learned that dishes are an even greater nemesis to her, so it became our sometimes-spoken rule that I would be the family's de facto dishwasher. That's not to say that I am a good dishwasher, nor is it to say that I am an habitual dishwasher; it is, however, to say that I am the usual dishwasher. Would that I were Dishwasher Pete, whose ambition it is to wash dishes in all fifty states. His ambition is so singular that he has been recognized on both The Late Show with David Letterman and This American Life. But I am not so ambitious as Dishwasher Pete. It is enough for me, as it was enough for me yesterday, to wash the dishes in my own kitchen.

With soap and sponge in hand I turned to the sink. Oh! There were mugs stained by fair trade coffee, bowls encrusted with marinara sauce, pans still showing the remains of the Gardenburgers that had been cooked there. It was a chore that would take time, but I was up to it: not only did I have all morning to do it, but also I had NPR's Morning Edition to which I could listen and a presidential debate which I could ponder. I washed a few bowls, cleaned the cookie sheet of the remains of its tater tot crumbs, stuck my hand in a twelve-ounce glass, and, suddenly, the glass broke, and two fingers on my right hand were bleeding.

The cuts did not bleed profusely, but they bled all day. I had to stop washing dishes. I had to change the bandages three times in order to keep the cuts clean.

I expect to heal both fully and easily.

posted by Greg at 1:09 AM

Yesterdaytoday (history)

This is the more serious of two posts today. In response to my sarcastic late-night dismissal of Wallbuilders, whose founder my college Alma Mater has taken to call an "historian," one of our handful of readers charged,

Actually, what he's saying is that history has been censored by those who allow it only to be viewed through the lens of economics.

Either you don't understand what you've read or you've become a deliberately poor reader, in this case so that you could score a cheap political slam.
The purpose of this post is to respond to that reader qualitatively, if not in kind. I cannot claim that my response to you, reader, will be comprehensive. How could I? I do not know all history, nor is my academic training in historiography. However, I have spent the past five years studying early American literature in an historically-oriented department, and as a result I have a good sense of the critical directions that American studies have taken these past 100 years. What mistakes I make, the other Hermits, not to mention the Hermit spouses, will very easily correct. Reader, you were right to say that I was taking a shot at Wallbuildersand, in a broad sense, my shot was indeed politicalbut in no way was my shot a cheap one.

First, let's say what Wallbuilders leaves unsaid. Our reader restated Wallbuilders' complaint about American historians pretty concisely, but since what is at stake is the quality of my own reading, we'll stick to their words. Wallbuilders' dismay with the study of American history is dismay that economics have defined the expression of history. They write,

For over three centuries, historians presented American history from a broad perspective, but in the 1960s historical writers widely embraced what today is “economic view of American history” whereby economic causes are the primary and almost singular emphasis of study.

The polarity of their history of history's past 40 years cannot be ignored: on the one hand, there is "history from a broad perspective"more on that lateron the other hand, there is history devoted to economic causality. The poles are not exact because built into this history of history is an intellectual slipperiness. At this point in its definition the "broad perspective" is devoid of causality; the "economic perspective," however, is defined by it. The difference will ultimately prove a sham because Wallbuilders will later inscribe causality into the "broad perspective." But at this point, the difference is enough to demonstrate that Wallbuilders' dismay over economic history is in fact an anxiety of the influence of Marx and Engels.

In fact, Wallbuilders' complaint is not that the lens of economics censors out everything else; rather, it is that materialist studies dismisses the sort of history that Wallbuilders wants to tell. In order to explain what they want to tell, they cite nineteenth-century juvenalia-historian Charles Coffin (who is, apparently, a favorite of home-schoolers) as exemplar:

You will notice that while the oppressors have carried out their plans and had things their own way, there were other forces silently at work which in time undermined their plans - as if a Divine hand were directing the counter-plan. Whoever peruses the story of liberty without recognizing this feature will fail of fully comprehending the meaning of history. There must be a meaning to history or else existence is an incomprehensible enigma.
Coffin's narrative is a not-so-subtle appeal to the trope of American exceptionalism. While the powerful rule, his story goes, God works silently for freedom, until one day those who seek freedom become free (as in the American Revolution, the subject of the book Coffin wrote after this one). Coffin's, and Wallbuilders', intent is to represent America as God's proving ground. It is the story of John Winthrop's "Citte on a Hill" writ again, extension of "The Great Nation of Futurity" that John L. O'Sullivan projected in 1839. Wallbuilders' thus insists not on a "broader view" of history, but a narrower one. Where they dismiss the causality of economic forces, they embrace the causality of God. That may not seem narrower at first glance, but look again: what does God do? God, silent, undermines oppressors; presumably, God then sets free the oppressed. Causality is limited to God, and, specifically, causality is limited to the freedom that only God supplies. Moreover, that limited causality is focused on the exceptional nature of American existence. In consequence, to Wallbuilders the U.S. is the modern representative of this process (and by all suggestion, we are meant to see ourselves as suchcf. Wallbuilders' first and third goals). It is no misreading to say that Wallbuilders insists that the U.S. is God's gift to the world.

The greatest problem with all of this is that it's solipsistic history based on an eschatological hubris that argues, because we are at the end of history, all of history has been geared to create us. They have at stake a very personal, very real ideology: they have linked their nation to their god, their god to their nation, such that the failure of the one is the failure of the other. They of course will admit that the nation has been mistakenhow could they not? They know humanity. But because they want it, they look to history to prove to them that they are right. Wallbuilders' history is a narrative of themselves inscribed between the covers of the Revolution and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

That's not to say that other history isn't solipsism, too. But it does bring us back to materialist history. One of Marx and Engels' primary purposes was not to commit a similar mistake. So they examined history dialectically. What they described was a critique of economic systems that was broadly comprehensive and thoroughly incisive. Their work, whether scholars agreed with it or not, influenced historians almost from the moment they published. So we can now read, for example, Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalismas broadly critical a thesis as Das Capital, but absent the economics; so we now have the work of Eisenstein, of Freud, of Foucault. What they all have in common is that they attempt, through technology studies, through psychology, through social history, to study the world, if not absent themselves, then with the concentration of others. History since the 1960s has not been overwhelmed by theories of economics. To believe it is to chase a red herring. History since the 1960s has flowered like a spring garden. Historians study technology, social behaviors, values, political arguments, psychology, hermeneutics, the history of science, the spread of culture, the course of nationalism, the possibility of cosmopolitanism, the development of empire, the march of modernity, the ghettoization of the third world. Of American history in particular, historians study everything from the print culture of the Chesapeake Bay colonies (David D. Hall) life of an eighteenth-century servant (Laurel T. Olrich), rhetoric of sentiment (Andrew Burstein) to the radicalism of the Revolution (Gordon S. Wood), to the westering of the mid-nineteenth century (Lillian Schlissel, Patricia Limerick) to the causes of the Civil War (J. A. MacPherson) to the Democratization of American Christianity (Nathan O. Hatch). You name the topic; the topic is studied. The difference between those historiansespecially the good onesand Wallbuilders? Good historians seek to diminish, not to emphasize, their own solipsisitic ways.

The shot I took at Wallbuilders, dear Reader, was not a cheap one. It was one paid for by all who suffer at the injustice of exceptions. Millennia ago God's chosen nation fell, as the prophet said it would, like a giant statue destroyed by a stone. Whether God promised another prior to Jesus's return is a disputed claim which the likes of Wallbuilders never bother to worry about. They should, however, because their answer to that question makes all the difference in whether their efforts are truly God-directed or whether they are simply acting as pawns for national zealotry. Until they do make a decision, then, I leave you with Shelley's "Ozymandias." It was prophetic in 1818, as it still is, today:

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

posted by Greg at 1:02 AM

Friday, October 08, 2004

do I want a paternity test?

posted by Chris at 5:00 PM

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Feeling Stomacky

I don't want to upset the other Hermits' bona-fide entries into bourgeois sensibility, but what's with all the bourgeois sensibility around here? From tips for how to correctly mow the lawn, to the newest hip products for raising baby, I feel like I'm ironing my husband's underwear trapped under the watchful gaze of All My Children. How is a dirty, malnourished, world-weary, soon-to-be-ex graduate student supposed to feel vindicated, when the revolution comes, and all his Hermits have been cowed by the weight of what's "acceptable" to the neighbors? Where is the resistance, Hermits? Is it on a placard in your yard? Is it written on baby's Huggies? Is it in your hearts?

Can you not find it? Then I have located the resistance for you. Point here: Click. Revive the revolution! Vive la resistance!

posted by Greg at 6:17 PM

Monday, October 04, 2004

american education

at the moment, i don't know if i have that much to write...i may surprise myself. also, i don't how much it will interest our two non-academic readers...but, well, i will save us all from my self-deprecatory comments.

i've given my first test in lit. unfortunately, i don't have any of my old undergrad exams to remember how they tested. it seemed to my multi-lingual (6 *&^$ languages) bulgarian student very easy. at the moment, she is wondering where the education is. this comment wasn't necessarily made in reference to my class but to a prof who gave a take home test in which one of the questions was "what are the 3 principles discussed on page 75 of your textbook?"

i wish i could express it better than this, but the question that has been with me this semester as i teach my first classes as dr. j, is not the purpose of literature but the process of teaching literature. how do you teach it? what are we to expect of our students? etc.

on the one hand, since it is a foreign language, there is still very much an element of foreign language teaching. but more concretely, and at the same time, very much less so, how do you teach reading and writing and literature? and how do you test this stuff?

posted by Jeremy at 11:26 PM