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« Postmodernism for Dummies | Main | Guest Posting -- Charles Sestok »

August 27, 2003


Friedrich --

* In the great New Urbanism debates, it's now Haspel vs. Sucher. Well, not really: Aaron and David are playing on the same team: better buildings, better neighbhorhoods and better cities, please. But how to get there? I've written before about the quandary: while I'm no fan of burdensome regulations, I still find it hard to deny that many of the country's most attractive cities are heavily zoned. In a posting here, Aaron is working towards a purely-libertarian approach; in the posting's comments and on his own blog (here), David takes a seasoned-realist stance. My own view of what to do? Boils down to two words: "beats me."

* Brian Micklethwait, noticing that his ears open up to classical music when he's playing computer Solitaire, does some musing about brain processes here. Amusing and thoughtful reflections that are of special interest to me, married as I am to a Solitaire-lovin' classical-music buff.

* Have you heard of the poet/novelist/critic Thomas Disch? He's amazing, as well as amazingly undersung. I'd write a long, rhapsodic posting about him but for one thing: I have zero feeling for the kind of fiction he writes, which is sci-fi and horror. So I'm simply no judge. But I certainly think he's a major poet -- wicked and informal even while playing sly changes on traditional forms. I never have the sense that I'm doing my dreary lit duty when I read his poetry; instead, I think, "Wow, accessible yet sophisticated! Cheery yet perverse! What fun, and how cool!" I also think he's a major critic. "The Castle of Indolence," his collection of pieces about contempo poetry (buyable here), is a joy: full of terrific evocations and descriptions, as well as informed jabs at how academic and ingrown the poetry world has become. (Do you find most writing about contempo poetry as perplexing as I do? The critics seem off in their own hyperrefined ozone, listening to music mere mortals can't hear.) He's also written some first-class art and drama criticism -- hard to believe that he hasn't become better-known as a reviewer than he has. As for the fiction? Well, I know that he's prolific, and that he was well-known as one of the counterculture pop-culture buffs who tried to make sci-fi more hip and contempo back in the '60s and '70s. I've read a few of the books and was impressed, but don't trust me on this. Still, a tip of the hat to him. I'm apparently not the only Disch fan who's in this position. I was talking to a composer friend a few months ago. "I think he's probably a really major figure even though I can't read sci-fi," I frothed. She looked thoughtful for a few seconds and said, "You know, I can't read sci-fi either. But even so I think you may be right." In any case, I bet that you won't regret reading this interview with him here, or exploring this excellent fansite here.

* Arts and Letters Daily (here) runs a link to this piece here about Viagra. Have its powers been oversold? Is it even a solution to much of anything? Overshare alert: turn back now if you don't want to know a little too much about the Michael Blowhard groin and innards. Fair enough warning for all? OK, here goes: as someone who's been through treatment for prostate cancer, I've given Viagra a number of tries myself. 30 years ago, prostatectomies left men impotent -- the surgery as it was then performed cut a bunch of key nerves. These days, many of those precious nerves are spared and you're left in much better shape. Even so, there's quite a change. (In my case, I've been left with what I'm guessing is the erectile zing of a 75 year old, sigh.) I tried Viagra about ten times before I gave it up. Partly for the usual reasons: the how-to-time-it question, the druggy rim of blue light around objects, and the headache afterwards, which was quite a price to pay. But I gave it up mostly because of the erection-sensation itself. There the little fella was, standing at somewhat better attention than he usually manages these days. But, but ... There was this feeling of disconnect between the two of us. I recognized the usual sensations but felt like I was experiencing them from outside rather than inside. They weren't "me"; instead, they felt like they were being beamed in. I felt, in a word, like I was having someone else's erection. Peculiar and fascinating, and (sad to say) not at all erotic. Incidentally, if anyone out there has questions about what it's like to go through treatment for prostate cancer, I'd be happy to respond by email.

* Writing from Toronto, Brian Hunter points out that the Canadian journalist/thinker/personality Robert Fulford has a web presence here. (Fulford's a columnist for the National Post, here.) In his email, Brian compared Fulford's p-o-v to 2Blowhards', a wildly-overgenerous comparison that I'm not going to neglect to pass along. Be sure to give Fulford a try -- anyone who enjoys, say, Mark Steyn or Arts and Letters Daily is likely to enjoy Fulford too. He's terrific: open-minded, perceptive, brilliant, and searching, and with an enviable verbal ease too. An iconoclast and a smoothie -- I can't think of an American cultural commentator who's in his class. Many thanks to Brian Hunter for giving me a nudge.

* Did you ever follow the Kathy Boudin story? She's a former Weather Underground gal who got nabbed during a robbery that resulted in some deaths. (I got fascinated by the case because I spent some time on it -- in a very insignificant way -- as a reporter.) During her jail term, she's been a model prisoner -- should she be released now that 22 years have passed? As it turns out, Susan Braudy, a former college dorm-mate of Boudin's, is now publishing a book about her, and Braudy's take on Boudin seems to confirm my own hunches from 'way back: Boudin's a spoiled, guilty upper-middle-class woman whose romance with radicalism and black militancy had little to do with politics and much to do with her own psychic travails. (Daddy, a prominent lefty lawyer, was apparently chronically unfaithful to Mommy, and even seduced some of Kathy's friends.) David Kirkpatrick discusses the story with Susan Braudy for the NYTimes here.

* I'm fascinated by accounts of blind people who regain their sight, which always seems to be an overwhelming, and not necessarily positive, experience. I remember the case of one man whose sense of himself was so shaken that he retreated to a dark room; another man was terribly upset to realize, on regaining his sight, that some of the people and things he loved best weren't beautiful. (Which suggests that our sense of beauty is to some extent built-in, doesn't it?) Lisa Appignanesi in the Independent (here) writes about the case of Michael May. "The problem for him was and remains interpreting what is seen, making sense of shapes and colours, let alone shapes and colours in motion," she writes. "After two years of sight, May, once a fine blind skier, still can't ski easily with his eyes open. Nor can he recognise his wife until she speaks."



posted by Michael at August 27, 2003


Disch is a frustrating individual. I read SF chronically, but can't stand most of his fiction (Camp Concentration being a glaring exception).

What little poetry of his I've encountered (most in a series called A Child's Garden of Grammar) has been splendid. ("Not/that nasty little snot/must always disagree/if you say that something's so/he'll say it cannot be")

His essays on SF and the culture at large range from pretty darn good (The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of) to ignorant smear jobs (he wrote a sneering piece on Heinlein's Starship Troopers that commented on scenes that are in no edition of the book I've ever read).

He's always struck me as an exceedingly talented jerk.

Posted by: Ian on August 27, 2003 9:15 PM

"Boils down to two words: "beats me."

Not quite. 2BH is part of the solution.

As Winston Churchill said, (and I paraphrase while Wi-Fi'ing from a tavern) "First we build with words and then with bricks." The TALK, the WORDS on 2BH is a very valuable part of creating the shared cultural values out of which grows the landscape. I mean it.

My quick glib insensitive answer when I am asked "What can I do?" is to say "Go buy some property and develop it." (Or DON't develop it if that is your preference.) And I do indeed mean that. That would be the ideal. Let a thousand points of light bloom. (Listen up you libertarians.)

But for most people, especially in large (hence very expoensive) metropolitan areas, that is simply not realistic. So second best but still EXTREMELY excellent is "TALK ABOUT IT."

In the long run, it is our commonly-held expectations that determine our world. And that is molded by conversation.

Posted by: David Sucher on August 27, 2003 11:38 PM

The article about Michael May was very interesting. I worked with a blind gentleman at one point and it fascinated me that he could not tell the difference between a square box and a rectangular one although if I shut my eyes and he handed me boxes at random, I could. It came up because he was an avid baseball fan and we were talking about the diamond. Very interesting experience.

Posted by: Deb on August 28, 2003 2:04 AM

Just in case you haven't noticed yet, The Guardian is featuring Mike May's diary, here. (Via Arts & Letters Daily)

Posted by: Srdjan Keca on August 28, 2003 8:46 AM

Sorry 'bout that. Here's the link:,3604,1029268,00.html

Posted by: Srdjan Keca on August 28, 2003 8:47 AM

Thanks, Srdjan, for the link to excerpts from Mike May's journal (and Michael Blowhard, of course, for the Independent link in the first place!). Here is Mike May's full, online journal (no, it's not a 'blog!).

Posted by: Dixon on August 28, 2003 10:34 AM

Re: diary
Don't miss the questions about how sighted people can go around looking into each other's eyes.

Posted by: j.c. on August 28, 2003 4:22 PM

Disch is still writing some pretty dark and funny stuff. The other writer (a Disch contemporary) in this vein I like is John Sladek, an expat American SF satirist who lived in Britain for a long time (died fairly recently).

Posted by: Dave F on August 29, 2003 7:37 AM

I met Tom Disch at the first West Chester Poetry Conference. He was a lot of fun: large, tattoed, cantankerous, and queeny. People either loved him or hated him. He's a master of tricky little French verse forms like the triolet, believe it or not. But he taught a workshop in which he bruised a couple of fragile young egos, and he was never invited back. The next conference was a lot duller without him.

Posted by: Alan Sullivan on September 1, 2003 8:55 PM

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