Saturday, September 12, 2009

 

Lars Russell,
reading Finnegans Wake
in public

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Finnegans Wake Popcorn

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The annotated Finnegans Wake

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Enzymes, reverse transcriptions
& technogeneses
of Finnegans Wake



Friday, September 11, 2009

 

Jack Spicer

First poem for The Nation,

Second poem for Poetry Chicago

Book of Magazine Verse

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

 

This day, eight years ago, proved to be the very last day I thought of the George W. Bush administration as being relatively harmless. W had been in office less than a full year and, while his general incompetence was there for all to see, what was most striking about his administration was its very lack of any vision or overarching agenda. The cabinet member who seemed most poised to do active damage to society in general was the attorney general, John Ashcroft, whose hostility to the Constitution and preference for his own crabbed misreading of the Bible appeared primed to perform all sorts of mischief. I actually thought that Donald Rumsfeld’s garble about modernizing the military over at Defense might have the beneficial side-effect of reducing our economic dependence on military spending.

The contrast with the incoming Reagan administration two decades earlier was telling. Where Bush, like Reagan, failed to see that government is nothing less than the community’s own best expression of itself, which led W to appoint obviously unqualified people to head up programs and departments whose work he undervalued, Reagan actively sought to tear down large swatches of the federal government. Reagan deliberately provoked the air traffic controllers’ strike, knowing full well that PATCO was the least well-liked labor organization in the labor movement (its lack of solidarity with other unions set it up to receive too little help too late to save it). And Reagan’s slashing of social spending had, just this far into his first term, already begun to swell the ranks of his administration’s one true achievement – the creation of the homeless.

San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein had appointed me to the Census Oversight Committee for the 1980 tally of all Americans. My primary responsibility was to ensure an adequate counting of residents in the central city – the Tenderloin & South-of-Market – and the so-called “casual count” of San Franciscans with no fixed addresses. There were so few homeless people in San Francisco in 1980 that I knew who many of them were. There were a couple of food programs for the hungry at Saint Anthony’s and South of Market, but most of the homeless were mentally ill alcoholics who got enough money from Social Security to afford residential hotels at the start of any given month, but whose disruptive behavior would get them 86’d after just a couple of weeks. When the census identified 275 homeless people in San Francisco in 1980, Feinstein was flabbergasted & told the press that the number could not possibly be that high. I had the unhappy job of telling the press that the census was right. Little did either of us realize just how quickly Reagan would swell those numbers to well over 10,000.

But W had no such agenda. Reagan had wanted to be president because he wanted to change America. His vision of society was far meaner than anything we had seen before in my lifetime. Bush’s vision was no better, but he wanted to be president not out of any need to change anything, but just because his daddy had had the job and W was a poor, confused SOB still struggling to find his own identity in the shadow of overbearing parents. Reagan may have been in the earliest stages of the Alzheimer’s that was eventually to claim him – this was pretty obvious by his second term & the public diagnosis soon after he left office surprised no one – but Reagan had a theory of government & a purpose in his presidency, evil tho it was. W, on the other hand, was simply a mess.

What a difference a day makes. Like Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2006, the attack of September 11, 2001 found a federal government ill-prepared to respond, and an administration with no real clue as to what it should do going forward. Unfortunately, however, September 11 gave the floundering W administration a purpose, even the rudiments of an agenda.

An administration that puts incompetents at the head of agencies because it has no respect for their mission & work is sending trucks barreling down the road with no driver. September 11 raised the stakes enormously precisely because it the put the pedal to the metal on all of the most dangerous federal departments, those that conduct foreign policy & those that conduct war. If Al Qaeda wanted to destroy America, it could have done no better than to set those wheels in motion, which is what it accomplished in killing roughly 3,000 Americans in three locations on a single morning, all of which it achieved with a handful of suicidal young men & less than two dozen box cutters.

It is worth contrasting where we are today with where we were on September 10, 2001, and maybe even on September 10, 1981. The Obama administration has a comprehensive agenda, but not particularly one of its own making. The Republican regime left virtually every public arena in some state of crisis. The Obama administration is responding to as many as it can & very possibly more than it can hope to ameliorate in one or even two terms in office. It now seems evident that the two issues that will determine the future political capital of this administration – something that dwindles very rapidly regardless of which party is in office and whether or not it has a “friendly” congress – are health care and the economy. The two problems are deeply intertwined and the Obama administration’s primary hope in solving either lies in the fact that many businesses – which opposed all reform in the early 90s when Hillary Clinton et al attempted to resolve the health care crisis – now recognize its negative impact on them. Add to these problems the issues of the Middle East (including Iraq & Iran), the two lingering Bush wars & potential for the environment to make Katrina look like a walk in the park, and you get some sense of the overwhelming (literally!) number of crises that must be managed simultaneously.

Perhaps the most distressing of these problems is the very one that reared its ugly head on September 11 – Al Qaeda, Afghanistan & what to do about failed states in general. This is the most distressing because it’s the area in which Obama has done the very least to distance himself from the failed policies of his predecessor. Indeed, reappointing Robert Gates secretary of defense was a move to inoculate Obama from attacks from the right. But Al Qaeda continues to exist & Afghanistan is hardly any closer to being a successful nation than it was when it was in the hands of the Taliban in 2001. After eight years of Bush administration incompetence dealing with these questions, Afghanistan looks like the very same problem to the US that it presented to the Russians in the 1980s. There will never be enough troops to solve this problem.

My sense has been Obama’s plan has been to back Gates’ approach to Afghanistan at least until such time as his administration has both health care & the economy back on track, but that’s a luxury that is paid for in American & Afghan lives alike. & Iraq comes after that. You can see the logic in that approach, even if it makes you cringe at its costs. But the problem is that all this hinges on the first two items in this sequence: health care & the economy. I have not been impressed at the failure of the administration to move the old guard of Wall Street out to pasture. If the cost of not panicking Wall Street further is the perpetuation of the system that collapsed last fall anyway, it may just be too high to pay. And it’s not at all apparent yet that Obama is going to be successful in impacting either the escalating costs of health care or the inability of millions of America to access it in the first place.

I do think that Obama has a vision of a better America, one in which people work together, rather than setting up one group or sector against another. But what Obama doesn’t have, at least not yet, is any real ability to control his agenda. There are too many crises all happening at once, thanks to W & his gang, too many chickens coming home to roost. If Obama can’t get control over this, and fairly soon, the failures of the likes of Robert Gates & Larry Summers inevitably will become his as well.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

 

Although Meg Ryan has been in over 40 motion pictures, her career to date has largely been defined by her starring roles in three huge romantic comedy hits – When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle & You’ve Got Mail – films so successful that everyone knows what you mean if you call something a Meg Ryan movie, even if Ryan is nowhere to be found in the credits. Although these films have made her a ton of money, this is too bad in the sense that Ryan is a brave and sometimes terrific actress whose career has been stunted by the typecasting of these films. But it’s been 11 years since Mail came out, 20 since Sally. When Nora Ephron, who wrote all three Meg Ryan superhits & directed the last two, was casting for Julie & Julia, she didn’t think of the 5’8” Ryan to play the 6' Julia Child, turning instead to the 5’6” Meryl Streep.

But somebody decided to release a Meg Ryan movie this summer, most likely producer/director Mark Waters, who appears to have developed (500) Days of Summer as a vehicle to promote the careers of director Marc Webb and actors Zooey Deschanel (you can catch her singing about how cotton is “the fabric of our lives” on TV these days) & Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the one-time child actor who played Tommy on 3rd Rock from the Sun). The only thing that's missing is Meg Ryan. This film, which could have been called When Sally Dumped Harry, so closely follows the Ephron formula that instead of Ryan faking an orgasm over lunch in a coffee shop, we have Deschanel & Gordon-Levitt hollering penis in a park.

The film’s claim to creativity lies in the premise underlying the parentheses around the number in the film’s title, Summer being the name of Deschanel’s character. The film jumps around the not-quite-17-months relationship from the day when Tom (the name of Gordon-Levitt’s role & the closest he will ever come to being mistaken for Mr. Hanks) first meets Summer until the day when the page finally turns on this affair & he meets a young lady named – you got it – Autumn. Each scene is preceded by an intertitle, the number of the day in the relationship in parens. This gives the film a hopping, happening-like feel that probably would seem fresher to me if I hadn’t seen effects like this for 40 years or more. But it is one way to tell a story to an audience with no attention span or one that might begin to get bored by the film’s clichés if it stretched out in chronological order. Just to keep it from being avant-garde or anything, there is a narrator (veteran voice actor Richard McGonagle) to keep us on track. That’s just one of a hundred ways this film holds back from doing anything too terribly risky with its material (the one “nude” scene is shot so close that Deschanel’s naked shoulder is blurred out of focus & we see just enough of her back to get the idea).

The narrative of this film is built around the idea that Tom, trained as an architect but unable to find work in his field & wasting his youth writing greeting cards¹, is a romantic & believes that there is One Right Girl in the world for him. Tom talks about the One as if he’s stolen his lines from The Matrix. Summer, traumatized by the divorce of her parents during her childhood, is an anti-romantic. She’s in it, it being the relationship, because it feels nice, it feels right, at least right now. He’s cute, he’s willing to sing karaoke & have sex in the shower – a funny & very chaste little parody of a Hollywood stereotype there. But she’s not making a commitment.

At least until she does, but not to Tom, who at least uses the break-up to wake up from his funk at not being a real architect in a town of not-real architecture (LA). He quits his job and starts taking his portfolio out on interviews – that’s our happy ending, give or take. A more serious or thoughtful film might have looked at Tom’s lack of commitment to his career more carefully. Or set it in Chicago where they really could have explored the architectural visuals. The closest (500) comes to a real investigation of this is a short discussion of Los Angeles’ first skyscraper, looking rather short & forlorn amidst the multistory parking garages of the landscape. As the camera moves from the skyscraper to Tom & Summer, we can see John Portman’s Westin Bonaventure fuzzy in the background as if to say “we’ll talk architecture, but we won’t really talk it seriously.” That knowing wink, for me, was the best moment in the entire film.

A more interesting (and far better) romantic comedy to compare (500) with would be Once, the Irish musical about a busker & an immigrant girl who’s not willing to commit to a relationship because she knows (or at least hopes) that the father of her child will be joining her in Dublin. This too helps provoke the hero to take his career to another level, cutting a demo disc & heading off to London in hopes of making it big. The characters in Once feel real & their chemistry on screen is amazing – they did in fact get together for awhile after the film took off & won an Oscar for best song. The characters in (500) feel like they’re playing Meg & Tom, or maybe Meg & Billy (but mostly Tom) & while they’re both attractive & likeable & have okay chemistry, it’s romance by the numbers here & Nora Ephron did it better.

 

¹ Iowa City grads who’ve trooped down to Kansas City to work for Hallmark, please take note.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

 

Auden’s “September 1, 1939”
70 years later

Auden on David Jones’ Anathemata

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Barbara Jane Reyes on
Raúl R. Salinas

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Pierre Joris,
promoting Diasporic Avant-Gardes
edited by Carrie Noland & Barrett Watten

With a 20% discount offer
(an $18 savings!)

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Fernando Perez
on poetry vs. baseball

But can he hit a curveball?

Perez’ career stats

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Please don’t apologize for pissing me off”

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For Harry Potter with gratitude.
Truman Capote January 1978”

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P. Inman,
talking at the Other Room

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John Yau on Michael Gizzi

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T’he American Avant-Pastoral:
Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky, Ronald Johnson

Joshua Corey’s PhD dissertation, downloadable

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Jameson’s Atwood

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Pierre Joris’ recording
of KRCB’s David Bromige tribute

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LaChiPo” – a listserv
for Latino/Chicano poetics

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Poems from Uche Nduka

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Palindrome poems

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Bookishly appy with your iPhone

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The 10 most-pirated e-books

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Bed bugs in your review copy?

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Book Cell

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A gallery of images of
Eliot the editor

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Joyce Johnson’s Door Wide Open

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Eileen Myles on Can Xue:
needing to go wild to survive

Myles on poetry, madness
& Jimmy Schuyler

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Orhan Pamuk’s “Distant Relations”

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Naked Girls Reading

The naked book club

An article thereon

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Is a return to prudery in the offing

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Judd Morrissey’s
The Last Performance

Project information

Goat Island Performance

Morrissey’s website

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LitFUSE 2009:
a poetry festival near Yakima, WA
with George Bowering, Carolyne Wright, Charlie Potts
& much more

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Vispo on the road

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Advancing Feminist Poetics & Activism:
September 24 & 25 @ CUNY

The participants
(a stunningly all-star cast)

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Nada Gordon’s Interests

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Antique Roadshow” for books

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The half-read book

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How to prune your book collection

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Jane Satterfield back in the UK

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Michael Palmer:
“We must count in Babylon”

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Eliot Weinberger, modernist

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Rachel Loden’s Dick of the Dead

Rachel Loden & Kevin Prufer

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Allen Ginsberg’s Ted Kennedy

Joyce Carol Oates on Teddy

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Phillysound focuses on Garrett Caples

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September 18 in Lawrence, KS,
Stacy Szymaszek & Megan Kaminski
at the Wonder Fair

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Gertrude Stein’s
Tender Buttons
& Three Lives
online

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Who killed the bookstore in Salisbury, UK?
Oxfam!

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A map of indie bookstores
in the Bay Area

In list format

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Michael Theune reignites the poetry wars
using the old sucker punch
of denying any SoQ/post-avant split
to then attack the post-avant

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Dean Young
on the Tony Hoagland-effect

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Translating quietist poetry into Arabic

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Ange Mlinko:
“The flexibility of language is its greatest asset”

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Jerome Rothenberg:
a return to the book

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“When I see books
I see an outdated technology

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A site just for library book sales

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MFA poems with barcode traces?

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How not to sell your novel

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Introducing Botsotso

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Michel Foucault’s
Speaking and Seeing in Raymond Roussel
(reg. req.)

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Economy & the haiku

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Poetry & Self-Exile
(reg. req.)

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September 12 in Baltimore:
Doug Lang & Tina Darragh

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Lorine Niedecker in Brazil

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Meaning & the modern

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Michael Greenberg’s short essays

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Little Fibonacci poems

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Nick Cave:
The Death of Bunny Munro

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The other Munro
removes book from Giller competition

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Awards, literary & otherwise

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Hugo Ball & language poetry

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Charles Bernstein talking with Ken Jacobs

The Day the Moon Gave Up the Ghost

Painted Air:
The Joys and Sorrows of Evanescent Cinema”

Jacobs reading “Painted Air”

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Remembering The Holy Barbarians

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James Finnegan’s
Ars Poetica Library 2009

By way of explanation

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Google offers 1,000,000 ebooks

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Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXX

Waiting for William

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Close-reading of non-existing texts

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Charles Alexander:
The book stops here

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Jeanie Thompson’s
The Seasons Bear Us

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Talking with Dick Jones

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A blog on the WPA Writers Project

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Wanting to be the Christo & Jeanne-Claude
of the written word
(Isn’t that what Kenny G does?)

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Gloompot in Algiers

Talking with Paul Bowles, 1952

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A novel about poetry
“that’s actually about poetry”

Inside Nicholson Baker
you’ll find Nicholson Baker

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Can there be a “national literature”?

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Kooks & poets

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Discursive rules of the underworld

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Another WWI poet goes online

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Patricia Smith’s “Ethel’s Sestina”

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Fred & Susan Chappell reading

Fred Chappell’s “nested” poetry

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Doctorow’s pack rats

The collectors

blindness and insight

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Fat Ulu & Kumu Kahua’s
The Statehood Project

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Paul Siegell’s jambandbootleg

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Reconstructing Carver

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A Swiss army knife of contemporary fiction

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Arts offer an easy target
as states cut budgets

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Barry Schwabsky on Dan Graham

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Store,
by Kate Watson-Wallace/anonymous bodies

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The Plum Academy:
An Institute for Situated Practices

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John Clare:
identity theft in Union, NJ

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Must we vote for poets?

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Wendell Berry
& “The Peace of Wild Things”

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New star writer at
the House of Mouse

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The camera arts & Hollis Frampton

Frampton’s films on Ubuweb

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What’s not inside
Warhol’s time capsules?

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The appropriation show

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The curious success of
Simon Crump’s Neverland

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Motivations for creating derivative works

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Salinger “sequel” sucks,
says the judge

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Bedri Baykam
at Alphonse Berber Gallery

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Annie Leibovitz’ $24M debt
is due today

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Robert Frank’s “elevator girl” comes forward

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A Guy Webster retrospective

A gallery of his work

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Fighting over Frida

A gallery of attributed works

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Saving modernist architecture,
one house at a time

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Lola Schnabel’s gypsy jamboree

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Postmodern Bach

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The Gonzales Cantata

The trailer

Rachel Maddow, music critic

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Fred Frith:
The acoustic occupation of space

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Analyze you, categorize you

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Literate rockers

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Putting Yeats to music

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Joe Maneri has died

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Talking with Quentin Tarantino

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Top ten books about Lenin

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In a Materialist Way
Pierre Macherey’s selected essays
(reg. req.)

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Ray Brassier:
Alien Theory:
The Decline of Materialism
in the Name of Matter
(reg. req.)

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Corporate bulimia on Wall Street

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CLR James & African-American Liberation

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UC Faculty walkout – September 24

AAUP endorses walkout

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