Monthly Archives: February 2006

A Gladwell Lecture

Is up at The New Yorker this week, and he starts off by talking about Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, their similarities and differences. I only mention because no one seems to have told Gladwell, who has clearly done his research here, about an album named Tusk and how it’s objectively better than Rumors. (It is not to Rumors as The Long Run is to Hotel California, by the way. It’s not like that at all.)


Also, how in the hell did “Linus Torvard, Norwegian hacker” get past the New Yorker‘s fact-checkers? Did the guy from Bright Lights, Big City get this one?

Perhaps It’s Only Because I Went to School There

But I think this

Mr. Lynch’s Neverland, whether it’s called Lumberton or Twin Peaks or Mulholland Drive, is by design timeless, fundamentally impervious to the grown-up perspective that lets most of us assimilate our experiences into something like a traditional detective story: a narrative that explains the past and allows us to move (however dully) on. The world Blue Velvet creates is static, an imaginative city of simultaneity in which everything, good and bad, is present all at once.

Misses Wilmington’s essential locality–its deep Southern weirdness and nightmares of history–in the film.

The Lebowski Cult: CFP for Distribution and Future Reference


Announcement and Call for Papers

The Lebowski Cult: An Academic Symposium
28-29 September 2006
The Executive West
830 Phillips Lane
Louisville, Kentucky

The aim of this small symposium is to invent a critical program equal to
the task of interpreting The Big Lebowski (1998) and addressing the
Lebowski cult that has quickly grown in its wake, both the legions of
more or less public fans as well as the cultural politics, resonances,
and after-affects of their fanaticism.

The 5th Annual Lebowski Fest (
scheduled to follow the symposium, September 29th & 30th, will be
included in the conference registration.

The organizers invite papers ranging in approach from the theoretical to
the documentary, from alternative historicism to cultural phenomenology.
Intellectually rigorous approaches that avoid the familiar ruts of
conference papers–inspired by the research methods of the surrealist
project, for instance–are particularly welcome on Lebowski and the
following topics:

Auteur Theory and Cult Film, the sixties and the nineties, Creedence and
The Eagles, Bob Dylan and Kenny Rogers, Logjammin and Gutterballs,
Fluxus and the Brunswick aesthetic, fans and audiences, the hard-boiled
and the postmodern, nihilism and existentialism, the Port Huron
Statement, Malibu, Busby Berkeley, Saddam, The Long Goodbye, Nixon,
bowling, Tara Reid, The Big Sleep, Vietnam, hippies, the Jesus,
language, citation, catch-phrases, cliche, coinage, dreaming, “smart”
films, irony, the last Western, Los Angeles, or what-have-you.

An abstract of about 500 words as well as a brief CV should be e-mailed
(in the body of the e-mail: no attachments) by March 1st, 2006, to both
Aaron Jaffe, Assistant Professor of English, University of Louisville,, and Ed Comentale, Associate Professor of
English, Indiana University,

As the symposium will be held in a local bowling alley, participants
should arrange to bring appropriate footwear or be prepared to rent on

Quine’s Digital Babel; Dennett on the Res Cogitans

I’m teaching “The Library of Babel” tomorrow, and I was pleased to find Quine’s piece from Quiddities (an elegantly written book) online. Dennett, who also mentions the Borges story in his “In Darwin’s Wake, Where Am I?” (citation available in my Citeulike directory), presents yet again the res cogitans as a “skyhook.” Has he ever addressed Chomsky’s response to this, that Newton’s demonstration of action at a distance actually rendered the concept of a body obsolete? I read Consciousness Explained (and an unpublished, to my knowledge, MS by Jameson on Dennett’s conception of allegory), and I don’t recall any mention of it there.

I’m becoming more and more fascinated by the blind Borges’s perception of America during his academic visits. How tall Texans would tell him things about parallels in his work he never thought of. The shadows of Austin, Baltimore, and Cambridge.

Briefly Corrected

Contrary to Phil Kloer, Flann O’Brien is neither “obscure” nor a “surrealist,” properly speaking. The previously mentioned book by Casares seems to me to be much more influential on Lost, though two things are worth noting here: a) I haven’t seen all of the episodes and b) the creative team is the same as that behind the execrable Alias and thus you can assume that there’s no coherent story-motivation other than to stretch it out as long as it’s profitable. (24 is unlikely to be cancelled in-season, for instance, though the first season [the only one I've watched] suffered conspicuously from contradictory details being decided at a later date.)

Several Items

It was subtle of Borges’s prologue to place Louis-Auguste Blanqui among Origen and Augustine in the list of those who refuted the central conceit of The Invention of Morel. I am looking forward to reading the scholarly comment on this book, which I suspect hasn’t been satisfactorily explained. (Clute’s note in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, for instance, calls it a “successful search for immortality,” which requires an unusual definition of “successful” and perhaps even “immortality.”)

Chomsky somewhere remarks that bee communicationists have postulated that their dances contain information we can detect, but that the bees themselves cannot. I can’t immediately locate this remark or what inspired it (not, as far as I could see, in Hauser’s The Evolution of Communication), but you have to admire its elegance.

Heinrich Mann did a number of drawings in the style of Grosz. Gore Vidal’s remembrance of Orson Welles is the wittiest thing I’ve ever read by him, though the personals from the NYRB in the late 80s are not to be trifled with, entertainment-wise. Diana Reed Slattery’s The Maze Game (Deep Listening, 2003) seems indebted to the Hesse I was teaching last year at this time.

More books of literary criticism should have on the order of forty-six chapters. John T. Irwin’s The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story (JHUP, 1994) is one of the few.

Mascot Sequences

Number sequences, beloved of psychometricians, serve their purpose well enough, one supposes. But how about mascot sequences? For instance: Pirate, Mariner, Seahawk, Gator, Yellow Jacket. . .?

Lawless seafarer, lawful seafarer, aquatic bird, aquatic reptile, eusocial insect. . .solitary mammal? A feline of some type? (A social feline, no.)

Clancy suggested this might be ‘meme’-worthy.

Borges on Kipling, Etc.

I’m not sure if this one’s been done yet, but still:

Richard “Dick” Cheney was a friend to the poor.
He travelled with a gun in every hand.
All alongside this countryside
He opened a many a door,
But he was never known to hurt an honest man.

It was down in Harding County,
A time they talk about,
With his Service by his side
He took a stand.
And soon the situation there
Was all but straightened out,
For he was always known
To lend a helping hand.

All across the telegraph
His name it did resound,
But no charge held against him
Could they prove.
And there was no man around
Who could track or chain him down,
He was never known
To make a foolish move.

“The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows,” online in a couple of places, though I’m not sure about textual fidelity, is the Kipling story Borges mentions reading a hundred times before realizing a horrifying or banal truth, similar to the second paragraph of “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (Twenty Four Conversations, 109).

As a Satisfied Reader of David Kahn’s

The Codebreakers, I was alarmed to read this from James Bamford:

What greatly concerns me as someone who has written more about NSA than any other writer is that in the past, when NSA was allowed to operate in absolute secrecy, without oversight, it became a rogue agency. When the agency discovered that another author, David Kahn, was planning to include a chapter about the agency in his book on the history of cryptology, The Codebreakers , they secretly placed his name on their watchlist and began monitoring his communications. According to an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, they even considered breaking into his New York house to conduct “clandestine service applications.” It may never be known how many other authors and journalists were targeted back then. But with the Justice Department only willing to go after The New York Times whistleblower, and not the agency that continues to violate the FISA law, the ACLU lawsuit seems like the only way to find out who’s being targeted today.

Heisenberg’s Self-Stabilizing Reactor — Item

Probably one of the most fascinating books you’ll have a chance to read is Hitler’s Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall (ed. Jeremy Bernstein, Springer Verlag [2001]). From Heisenberg’s lecture to Charles Darwin:*

Such an apparatus stabilizes itself at a certain temperature. If one wants to fix the temperature of the reactor, this can be done by varying the amount of heavy water in it. If you have got enough uranium, more heavy water will raise the temperature.
As soon as we had the machine going, we could have made almost any intensity of radioactive isotopes. Because, just by taking enough energy out, you can raise the intensity as high as you want. (186)

Bernstein notes here that

This again is Heisenberg’s curious notion of reactor design–the idea that the reactor would stabilize itself at a certain temperature. The whole reason for having neutron-absorbing control rods is to shut the reactor off so it won’t run away. His belief that it would stabilize about control rods was a big mistake that could have had disastrous consequences. (186 n. 255)

I’m guessing that the physical details behind Heisenberg’s misapprehension here have been explicated or at least are reconstructable, though I remember reading somewhere that someone has argued that he was deliberately feeding the microphones a line of exculpatory bullshit (though how this follows, I have no idea). I wonder if there is a metaphysical imposition in this idea of self-stabilization, however.

Kenneth J. Harvey wrote to inform me of his satire in the TLS on the subject of Banville’s The Sea and recent audience controversies, a subject I find of considerable interest from a reader-response angle.

*Had this been that Charles Darwin and a séance, well, even more so.