Friday, July 31, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kindley Writes Again

My review of Destry Rides Again — the first of a few contributions to Notcoming's Women of the West series — is online now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Weather of the Weathermen

"Take for example the case of weather forecasts. Every day, often several times a day, many millions of people talk about the weather, make predictions, cite proverbs, inspect the sky. Among them, a large proportion listen to weather forecasts or glance at satellite maps of their countries on TV and in newspapers; quite often, people make jokes about weathermen who are, they say, 'always wrong'; many others, whose fate has been linked earlier to that of meteorologists, anxiously await forecasts before taking decisions about seeding plants, flying planes, fighting battles or going out for picnics. Inside the weather stations, running the huge data banks fed with satellite signals, controlling the reports of the many part-time weathermen scattered over the planet, sending balloons to probe the clouds, submitting computer models of the climate to new trials, a few thousand meteorologists are busy at work defining what the weather is, has been and will be. To the question 'what will the weather be tomorrow?' you get, on one side, billions of scattered commentaries and, on the other, a few claims confronted with one another through the telexes of the international Meteorological Association. Do these two sets of commentaries have a common ground? Not really, because, on the one hand, the few claims of the meteorologists are utterly lost among billions of jokes, proverbs, evaluations, gut feelings and readings of subtle clues; and because, on the other hand, when time comes to define what the weather had been, the billions of other utterances about it count for nothing. Only a few thousand people are able to define what the weather is; only their opinions literally count when the question is to allocate the huge funds necessary to run the networks of computers, instruments, satellites, probes, planes and ships that provide the necessary data.

"This situation creates a rather curious balance account: the weather and its evolution are defined by everyone on earth and the few weathermen provide only a few scattered opinions among the multitudes of opinion, taken more seriously in only small sectors of the public — the military, the ship and air companies, agricultural concerns, tourists. However, when you put all these opinions in one balance of the scale and in the other the few claims of the meteorologists, the balance tips on the side of the latter. No matter how many things are said about the weather, no matter how many jokes are made about the weathermen, the weather of the weathermen is strong enough to discount all the other weathers …

"A handful of well-positioned men of science may rout billions of others. This will happen only, however, as long as they stay inside their own networks, because, no matter what the meteorologists think and do, every one of us will still think it was a hot summer and make jokes, the morning after, about the weather forecasts which were 'wrong as usual' … [M]eteorology 'covers' the world's weather and still leaves out of its mesh almost every one of us."

— Bruno Latour, Science in Action (181)

Friday, July 24, 2009


"[I]n practice we tend to get in literature immature intellect tampering with imagination and in criticism immature imagination tampering with the intellect. Tampering, I think, is a very deep instinct; we see it in monkeys and in kittens, and in all the young parts of ourselves and also in all the senile parts of ourselves. You have a chance at an intervening maturity where you wouldn't go quite so far as tampering, but it doesn't turn up much."

— R.P. Blackmur, New Criticism in the United States, 26

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Great Dictator

“It is worth noticing about literary dictatorships that they only partly work. There is no police power in this dictatorship, only the power communicated through fashion, and fashion is impervious to what lies in the realm of tedious or too laborious change.”

— R.P. Blackmur, "In the Hope of Straightening Things Out," 168

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bad Allegory

"Bad allegory, even to the allegorist, comes very soon to seem not worth doing; which is why charades and political parties break down."

— R.P. Blackmur, "The Craft of Herman Melville: A Putative Statement," 131


"It was as failure both in perspective and lesson by lesson that Adams himself saw his education. Success is not the propitious term for education unless the lesson wanted is futile. Education has no term and if arrested at all is only arrested by impassable failure. Surely the dominant emotion of an education, when its inherent possibilities are compared with those it achieved, must strike the honest heart as the emotion of failure. The failure is not of knowledge or of feeling. It is the failure of the ability to react correctly or even intelligently to more than an abbreviated version of knowledge and feeling: failure in the radical sense that we cannot consciously react to more than a minor fraction of the life we yet deeply know and endure and die. It is the failure the mind comes to ultimately and all along when it is compelled to measure its knowledge in terms of its ignorance."

— R.P. Blackmur, "The Expense of Greatness: Three Emphases on Henry Adams," 80

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Deeper Into Blackmur

From an interview with Pauline Kael:

S: Did you read people like Shaw or Lionel Trilling or R.P. Blackmur with pleasure?

PK: Oh, sure, I read them all. I read Blackmur with a great deal of pleasure. I probably identified with him [more] than with any other critic. I can't explain that to you now, but Blackmur, when I first read him, just struck some chord with me, and I read all the authors he talked about.

I was living with a young poet named Robert Horan at that time. And we were reading Blackmur together and being excited about him. …

You make discoveries in the arts with other people. Robert Duncan was a very good friend of mine, and we explored a lot of things together. We had our biggest talkfests in the late '30s. Later, when we were on different sides of the country, we would write letters to each other. We would read the same books and exchange impressions and ideas. And then we would get together somewhere and talk for forty-eight hours straight. (Laughs)

Friday, July 3, 2009

In Praise of Old Tricks

"When he learned about his son's acquisition of the chateau it struck him as a transgression against limits all the more sacred for not being legally defined, and he rebuked his son even more bitterly than on the many previous occasions he had found it necessary to do so, almost in terms of prophesying a bad end of which this purchase was the beginning. The basic premise of his life was affronted. As with many men who achieve distinction, this feeling was far from self-serving but consisted in a deep love of the general good above personal advantage — in other words, he sincerely venerated the state of affairs that had served him so well, not because it was to his advantage, but because he was in harmony and coexistent with it, and on general principles. This is a point of great importance: even a pedigreed dog searches out his place under the dining table, regardless of kicks, not because of canine abjection but out of loyalty and faith; and even coldly calculating people do not succeed half so well in life as those with properly blended temperaments who are capable of deep feeling for those persons and conditions that happen to serve their own interests."

— Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1, trans. Sophie Wilkins, 10