Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ambrose Bierce's definition of an idiot:

"A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling."

Also, I was recently reminded of the original Greek meaning--a private person.

Recently I read the transcript of an official high up in the Bush administration, I can't remember his name, but trust me, he was pretty high, and when he was asked the question, "Do you think that George Bush would still decide to invade Iraq had he know what a disaster it would turn out to be?"

It's an idiotic question, to be sure. And yet, the official replied, "Yes."

Reality is generally as cryptic as a living nightmare, I agree, but aren't there certain limits?

I'm reminded of the machinist who, while demonstrating to a couple of co-workers how he happened to cut off two of his fingers, proceeded to cut off two more.

A cautionary story gone sadly awry.

At the end of history, though, even idiots have to say, "I must go on."


Friday, March 30, 2007


The Jargon Press edition.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

1450-1950 by Bob Brown

1450-1950 is a book of hand-written poems first published in 1929 by Black Sun Press. In 1959 Jargon Books/Corinth Books republished it. There are blurbs on the back of this trade paperback by: Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp, Carl Van Vechten, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Walter Lowenfels, James Sweeney, Gelett Burgess, Stuart Davis, and Caresse Crosby.

Caresse Crosby! That's what I thought: When was the last time you came across the name of crazy Caresse Crosby?

But this list of blurbists gets better.

Gelett Burgess. Turns out Gelett INVENTED the "blurb."

His blurb for this book reads: "It is the most original book I have read except THE LIFE AND ROMANCE OF AN ALGEBRAIST."

Yes, you can look it up but it turns out that Burgess is credited with inventing what we call "the blurb." This immediately leads to the next question: Who wrote THE LIFE AND ROMANCE OF AN ALGEBRAIST?

Or, as I initially wondered: Is this a real book?

In fact checking Burgess's blurb I discovered this: There really is such a book. However, Burgess got the title wrong. Here is the real title of the book he is referring to: MY SOUNDSPEED DISCOVERY EXPANDING INTO A CONSTRUCTIVE MEDLEY OF WIT & SONG: BEING A 4 YEAR AFTER-FLORESCENCE OF THE LIFE-ROMANCE OF AN ALGEBRAIST.

This elaborately titled book was published in 1895 by a George Winslow Peirce.

I don't have a copy of it now but I soon will.

I suppose other questions might arise. Was there really a Marcel Duchamp? A Gertrude Wittgenstein?

So much depends upon a name. William Carlos Williams Carlos William Carlos Williams.

Billy Williams. Ron Santo. Carly Silliman.

Pinker to Everson to Cioran.

Edgar Allejandro Pope.

O. Henry James Dean Martin Luther Van Halen.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Original Govenor's Mansion

Another picture from the 'hood. Just a short block away is this Helena landmark.

Today's Independent Record has an article on the on-going Rodney Street Renaissance:
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Friday, March 23, 2007

Dining out in East Helena

Patti and I are hosting Morgan Drake while his mother is in San Francisco for a Sleepytime Gorilla Museum concert.

We went to my old friend Jeff Wong's "Yat Son" restaurant this evening. Great food and wholesome atmosphere.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007


"An Essay on Writing and Meaning" by Robert Bringhurst (Gaspereau Press MMIV)

"Drop a word in the ocean of meaning and concentric ripples form. To define a single word means to try to catch those ripples. No one's hands are fast enough. Now drop two or three words in at once. Interference patterns form, reinforcing one another here and canceling each other there. To catch the meaning of the words is not to catch the ripples that they cause; it is to catch the interaction of those ripples. This is what it means to listen; this is what it means to read. It is incredibly complex, yet humans do it every day, and very often laugh and weep at the same time. Writing, by comparison, seems altogether simple, at least until you try."

Thus begins a chapbook length essay by the Canadian poet. Gaspereau Press is a publisher and printer located in Kentville, Nova Scotia. (

Reading this book is only 1/2 the experience. This book must be held in the hands to be fully appreciated. It is a tactile and visual experience as much as the intellectual feat of reading.

The forms of script we use to represent language. It's not something we think about often--or enough. This book is a beautiful introduction to meditation on this deep and fascinating subject.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This just in . . .

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed killed Jon-Benet

Arranged the disappearance of Natalie Holloway

& is the father of Anna Nicole Smith's child

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Email excerpt from Carl Dede in Reno, re: Baudrillard

"I wanted to contribute my hazy recollections of the Baudrillard conference. Of course I remember the French woman filmaker and the sado-masochistic porn film that was shown (copulating couple with him on top sticking pins in her ears). This was somehow intellectually meaningful and I attempted to give it merely cortexual attention....however my limbic system also responded approvingly.I attempted to mask my prurient reaction with a clinical air.
Then I remember a well-dressed man in black (Silliman?) standing at the podium and actually rocking back on his heels to deliver these impenetrable polysyllabic broadsides which issued from his lips as though from a machine gun. The sense of an intellectual cutting contest was in the air...we watched in amazement,but, in my case at least, without comprehension.
That was also my reaction to Eugene Chadbourne with his electric rake and rantings about "Uncle Ollie's playhouse" (Col. Oliver North). The bigwig intellectuals found him mystifiying and did not linger long. It was very loud.
In fact, the whole night was mystifying but exhilirating and somehow important but how? I remember being proud of you for throwing Chadbourne into the mix...the completely necessary touch of surrealism.
And speaking of surrealism what could be more surrealistic then Lutheranism?"

I had forgotten about that woman. Maybe she was there with Kroker? (Another strange guy.) There were a LOT of crazy people there. Many presenters and participants. There may have been a vague sense among many, asking themselves, Is anyone going to stand up and say something sensible? But the odds seemed against it.

Herbert Marcuse gave a lecture in Missoula in the early 70s. It created a stir in the air, and was well attended, yet, was a very academic and staid affair--as philosophy tends to be. It was the genius of William Cholupka to invite Silliman to respond. If it had been an actual academic's rebuttal the event would certainly been drained of all energy.

I'm not sure Carl is remembering Silliman. Did he wear black? There were a lot of people dressed in black. I like the analogy of a "cutting" session, though. Silliman's rhetoric aside (" . . . I decline to slay Baudrillard . . .") he was sharp and, as the saying goes, cutting him a new one. But well-dressed? I'd guess sneakers and a tweed jacket--Bay area gear.

Trying to remember that weekend I'm alarmed at how little I remember. Our lives are the stuff that conferences are made of. Dust in the mind.

Ideas don't total up like hotel bills and bar tabs.


Silliman writes: " . . . I once watched Arthur Kroker slay Fred Jameson in Lawrence, Kansas . . ."

I thought Jameson was the real deal? He introduced me to the Russian theorists (as did the Lang====uage poets) for which I'll always be grateful. Why would anybody want to gun him down?

No, Carl. The answer is not "Just to watch him die."

Monday, March 12, 2007

"The past sure is tense"

Haven't listened to Capt. Beefheart in a decade or two, but then I stumbled on a 2 CD anthology, THE DUST BLOWS FORWARD, put it on and was blown backward into the present. The recent upheaval of the bookstore move also unearthed this old issue of Rolling Stone reproduced here.

Beefheart is a great American poet, and his delivery is often perfect.

Meanwhile, I'm responding here to a question by Kirby Olson from the Silliman blog comment line, just so I don't clog up that blog any more than necessary.

To wit:

Kirby Olson said...
Bill borneman, could you give more details from your memory on the ensuing conversation that took place? Who was there, and what was the general buzz?Ron's talk is so dense that delivered orally it must have been almost impossible to follow. I read it twice, slowing way the heck down and lingering over sentences, and still I don't think I understand it.What did people get from that night?

Kirby: I didn't get much out of either talk that night, but reading Ron's response today, I think he was right on. Yes, this stuff is dense. It takes a while to become acquainted with the form of discourse taking place, but today it seems pretty lucid to me. Silliman went a bit over the top with his urination metaphor, but then his point was that Baudrillard was completely awash in his metaphorical discourse while presenting it as philosophical writing. I think most people left the auditorium shaking their heads, wondering what they had witnessed.

Then Kirby says:
At any rate I wonder what people said in Montana in 1989. I take it most people were socialists? I've only been in Missoula once -- on a road tripp -- had a baked potato and a rainbow trout at a very good restaurant for 4.95 in about 1985.Hard to imagine many socialists in that place, but perhaps the university milieu was different. I thought that Montana was kind of Heideggerian at least in its philosophy department.
Bill: No, there were very few socialists in the audience. The guy who set up the whole presentation was in Missoula only very briefly and was something of an anomaly. The whole idea of bringing in Silliman as a respondent was unusual in itself and fairly subversive. And Eugene Chadbourne as the "entertainment?" It was all kind of crazy.
The two major philosophers to teach at Missoula are Henry Bugbee and Albert Borgmann. The latter is indeed a Heideggerian; the former a mystico-existentialist about whom I wrote an essay in the anthology WRITING MONTANA.
Finally, I'm wondering this. How can someone be both a surrealist and a Lutheran? I myself was raised as a Lutheran in a small farming community in northern Illinois. I lost my faith way early, when I was 12 or 14. Subsequently, I discovered Surrealism, along with any number of --isms, but it seems implausible to shelter one cranium under the two disparate umbrellas of Surrealism and Lutheranism. Initially, I thought you might be joking, but it seems you are completely sincere. How can this be?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Red residue.

Yesterday, Ron Silliman posted the entirety of his 1989 response to Baudrillard's Missoula lecture, as promised. It's a lucid critique, as fresh and raucous today as it was almost 20 years ago.

It's not even necessary to know what Baudrillard said that night to appreciate the essay. Essentially, Silliman is responding to the entire project of "French 'theory'" which was at that time invading the republic of American "Letters."

Baudrillard never became a philosopher in the sense of Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Lefebvre, etc., and, by that time he was writing purely delerious books like, AMERICA. So he was something of an easy target. I think that's why some of us felt a little sorry for Baudrillard that night. Silliman points out that Baudrillard is no more a real philosopher than a transvestite is a real woman. Power and capital are real, no matter how MATRIX movie-like the world has become. Baudrillard, the supposed exposer if poseurs, turns out to be a poseur, himself.

I think Silliman was right to "out" Baudrillard that night. Sure, it was a little embarrassing, a bit impolite. But Baudrillard's glib dissolutions of the world into pure theory do present a serious distraction to committed social activists.


Meanwhile, back in Helena at that time, we formed the ironically titled Baudrillard Study Group. Actually we devoted our time to reading, paragraph by paragraph, aloud, THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE, by Guy Debord. This process lead to many evenings of lengthy discussion, and probably would be as interesting to pursue today as it was then.

Remarkably, the world has become even more "spectacle-driven" than Debord's radical 1960's imaginings. Baudrillard's writings, while being derivative of Debord's critique, never expanded upon or even made use of Debord's more substantive, historical analysis.


What is the modern nationstate? How does it use and modify "power?" By what means does it commingle with capital to transmogrify the "means of production?"

Silliman seems to be onto something in 1989 when he writes: " . . . we have failed to sufficiently recognize the state as an instrument of power. Where once it served to protect capital by providing a wall of nationhood around its markets, now it serves a very different function: to limit the potential of anyone, including the state, to threaten capital."

Today we call this "privitization." Which means that the "owners of the world" will not be satisfied until they also own what is now owned by "the public."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sally Timms & Jon Langford at the Myrna Loy Center

Last week was busy with Jon Langford in town from Tuesday through Saturday. This photo is from his concluding concert where he presented "The Last Executioner's Song," a multimedia perfomance about murder ballads held together by a sketchy history of Jon and Sally's band The Mekons.
My familiarity with the Mekons was almost nil, but I did have one cassette ("New York", on Roir) which I dug out when I heard he was coming to town.
But still this didn't prepare me for what Langford is up to today in his art and music.


This show, which was commisioned by a Milwaukee arts organisation, is a distillation of the work Jon has been involved with along with activists against the death penalty in Illinois.

It's a spirited, well-crafted show. Lovely and Hell-raising, celestial and down home. That's sputnik in the background, an image from one of Langford's paintings.

Sally Timms, looking like a widow from Deadwood, won everyone's heart with her angelic, yet, fully-embodied voice.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

In 1989 Baudrillard came to Missoula, Montana. He delivered a lecture at the university. Ron Silliman was invited to work up "a response," and after Baudrillard delivered his incomprehensible ideas Ron did a kind of stand-up critique. As I recall, the gist was that Baudrillard was a "transvestite of theory." What did he mean? Perhaps you had to be there.

As was Eugene Chadbourne. Sylvere Lotringer. Rob Smith.

This was the era of Baudrillard's THE ECSTASY OF COMMUNICATION. Other titles in the Autonomedia "Foreign Agents Series." IN THE SHADOW OF THE SILENT MAJORITIES. SIMULATIONS.

" . . . the dissolution of TV into life, the dissolution of life into TV . . ."

Yes, the process has been going on for some time now.

"YOU are news, you are the social, the event is you, you are involved, you can use your voice, etc."

Baudrillard was writing about this form of "objective irony" 30 years ago. Last year Time magazine's person of the year was: YOU.

Baudrillard was born rolling over in his grave.

Now that he's out of the cradle of the earth I'm sure he's endlessly rocking on.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The perceptible world.

"Let us imagine that the sight of the things that surround us is not familiar, that it is only allowed us as an exception, and that we only obtain by a miracle, knowledge of the day, of human beings, of the heavens, of the sun, and of faces. What would we say about these revelations, and in what terms would we speak of this infinity of wonderfully adjusted data? What would we say of this distinct, complete and solid world, if this world only appeared very occasionally, to cross, to dazzle, and to crush the unstable, incoherent world of the solitary soul?" (Valery)

A notion similar to Emerson's proposition supposing we were only allowed a glimpse of the starry heavens once every few generations.

Valery supposes: What if the entire perceptible world was a rare occurence?


But then, isn't this the case?

We only perceive the random residues of an arbitrary world we will never really know.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

This just in.

" . . . music is a way of manipulating material . . ."

John Zorn


I've been listening to the podcasts of British poet Tom Raworth.


A vast mine of beautiful stuff.
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