Saturday, December 30, 2006


photo by Jill Kramer

A Theory's Evolution

The Theory of Flawed Design is not a scientifically proven
Alternative to evolution. It is based on the everyday life
Experience that natural selection could not have produced
Such a catastrophic outcome. Optimists and the religiously
Inclined will naturally prefer evolution as an explanation,
Since ascribing Design to the state of humanity is almost
Unbearable. For the rest of us, we must continue to insist
That the theory of Flawed Design be taught cheek and jowl,
Neck and neck, mano a mano, with Mr. Darwin's
Speculations. The Theory postulates a creator who is Mentally
Impaired, either through some genetic defect or because of
Substance abuse, and is predisposed to behave in a sociopathic
Manner; although some Benign Flawed Design theorists, as
They call themselves, posit the radical alternative that the
Creator was distracted or inattentive and the flaws are not the
Result of Malevolent Will but incompetence or incapacity.

The above poem by Charles Bernstein ran on the op-ed page of yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer.


© 2006 by Charles Bernstein


Friday, December 29, 2006


Thus far, Jordan Davis, Eileen Tabios, and Joseph Massey have responded to my tagging them earlier this week, tho none of them followed the form exactly as I had been given it by J.P. Rangaswami, tagging other bloggers. Jordan & Eileen’s responses will surprise you, tho for very different reasons. (I ran into Jonathan Mayhew at the MLA yesterday, but forgot to ask him about this.)




The giant off-site reading at this year’s MLA meeting occurs tonight, at 9:00 PM at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, 251 South 18th Street, near the southeast corner of Rittenhouse Square. Readers for the two-hour event include:

Aaron Kunin
Adam Fieled
Sasha Steensen
Dennis Barone
Aldon Neilsen
Bill Howe
Bob Perelman
Brent Cunningham
Brian Kim Stefans
C. A. Conrad
Camille Martin
Carla Harryman
Caroline Bergvall
Cathy Eisenhower
Charles Bernstein
Christian Bök
Eduardo Espino
Elaine Terranova
Ethel Rackin
Evie Shockley
Frank Sherlock
Hank Lazer
Herman Beavers
Jena Osman
Jenn McCreary
Jennifer Scappetone
Joan Retallack
Johanna Drucker
John Wilkinson
Josh Schuster
Barrett Watten
Kathy Lou Schultz
Lamont Steptoe
Laura Moriarty
Leevi Lehto
Linda Russo
Linh Dinh
Loren Goodman
Mark Wallace
Matthew Cooperman
Michael Tod Edgerton
Michael Davidson
Nat Anderson
Nick Monfort
Norma Cole
Patrick Durgin
Peter Middleton
Prageeta Sharma
Rachel DuPlessis
Ron Silliman
Susan Schultz
Timothy Yu
Tom Devaney
Tom Orange
Tyrone Williams
Walter Lew
Will Esposito
Yunte Huang


Thursday, December 28, 2006


Keanu Reeves is under there, somewhere

A Scanner Darkly, which just came to DVD this past week, may be the most unusual “Hollywood” movie I’ve ever seen. Not because of the “rotoscoping” process through which the live action of actors is “painted over” via software, frame by frame, giving it a cartoon-like surface – Richard Linklater’s done that before, in Waking Life – but because A Scanner Darkly may be the first reasonably serious attempt at a faithful presentation of a Philip K. Dick novel.

And not just any Dick novel either, but one of his most autobiographical and well-known, the tale of the drug-addicted cop of the near future. Further, Richard Linklater decided to make a film about heavy drug use with a cast that includes, in the key roles, Robert Downey, Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder & Keanu Reeves (still taking the red pill, no less). Ryder’s father, who was an assistant of LSD advocate Timothy Leary (literally Winona’s god father), knew Dick during the author’s meth & psychedelics years, Harrelson has been active in attempts to legalize marijuana, and the fathers of both Harrelson & Reeves have done serious prison time, the latter for possession of heroin.

I’ve noted before that short stories are often more susceptible to good film adaptations than are entire novels, because the richness of the latter always means a certain telescoping down of the project, while a short story often leaves the screenwriter & director with room to build in elements that ensure that the film works. Here, if memory serves (and it’s been decades since I’ve read the book, tho one of my sons may have a copy around here somewhere), it’s primarily the relationship between Arctor (Reeves) and his girlfriend Donna (Ryder), who is also, unbeknownst to him, his boss in the Orange County Police Department, that suffers here. But that’s a redaction on the order of those made, say, by Peter Jackson in translating LOTR to the screen – not impossible & regrettable mostly because Winona Ryder is better here than she has been in anything in years.

What we get instead are, first, an exceptionally paranoid narrative – right up there with David Cronenberg’s Videodrome & Alan Pakula’s Parallax View or anything by Bill Burroughs – in which the same organization that “cures” addicts of their craving for Substance D (a.k.a. Death) secretly produces it in vast quantities, “the flower of the future,” in its rural rehabilitation farms. Functionally, the corporation New Path is occupying virtually every position in the Substance D value chain: they’re even heavily enmeshed with the police. Indeed, it’s the old Burroughs junk as an economy equation all over again, but with something closer to crack than smack.

The second thing we get – and the best version of it since Trainspotting – is a deep inside view of the wrong side of drug use, the affect of addiction. A Scanner Darkly is almost a love song to methamphetamine abuse, with its paranoia, hallucinations, verbal tics, random gun use, hysteria, outright psychosis & disconnection with the body. Everyone has their own personal way of relating to addiction: Donna doesn’t like to be touched; Freck (Rory Cochrane) is isolated & suicidal, hallucinating bugs emerging literally from the pores of his body; Barris (Downey) verbally weaves loopy conspiracy theories around his constant paranoia; Luckman (Harrelson) isn’t in touch with his own paranoia until it suddenly bursts through his loopy persona & he dissolves in hysteria, which does more than once; Arctor (Reeves) can barely imagine doing anything at all. But when asked, everybody has the same answer to the question about their drug use: How much are you doing? Not that much. The interactions of the druggies represent some of the best ensemble theater I’ve ever seen in a picture.

The premise of the narrative that operates through this cast is simple. In a world of near total surveillance, where 20 percent of population is addicted to Substance D, including most of the cops dedicated to the arrest & prosecution of dealers & users, nobody can trust anyone. One way around this is that cops use not just pseudonyms, but dress in constantly changing holosuits, ongoing collages of images that make it impossible to settle on one or two, giving the individual a sense of being a “vague blur,” halfway between a David Salle painting & a TV constantly flipping channels before you can quite identify what you’re seeing. The cops do all this with one another at the station, or when representing the department out in the community, so only a few superiors ever get to know who their fellow officers might be. Arctor, a cop using the pseudonym Agent Fred, as well as an addict, is the given the job of investigating and arresting himself. Why he’s investigating himself & what it will lead him to find won’t become clear until the final moments of the picture.

What pulls these two domains together – the aimless & disjointed one of Death heads riffing on their fears, the twisty little noir plot an efficient engine of narrative motion – is the rotoscoping process that transforms live action into an instance of cartoon. One of my sons saw it as integral to the film’s message – they’re there but they don’t seem real. Not unlike Arctor’s wife & two kids, a world of family values that he rues turning his back on, but which may never have existed. Rotoscoping, which has been making its way into commercials over the past year, requires 500 hours of labor for each minute of film. It’s really essential for the special effects – especially the holosuits – but it’s here more for what it does for the story.

Linklater, whose last four films include the terrific little romance, Before Sunset, Bad News Bears, Fast Food Nation & this, is – along with Steven Soderbergh – one of two Hollywood directors who seem ready to take on anything. There are risks in that – Soderbergh has made both great movies & total dogs and I can’t envision the circumstance under which I could be persuaded to watch the Bears remake. Scanner Darkly isn’t the best film ever made & it seems almost gratuitous to call it science fiction. But whatever it is, it’s one of the best of those, and that makes it eminently worth watching.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I’ve been “tagged” by J.P. Rangaswami to reveal 5 little known things about myself, and then to tag five other bloggers. Here goes:

1)      I may be the oldest person named for the 40th president of the United States. I’m older than Ron Reagan, Jr. Of course, Ronald Reagan wasn’t president yet when my mother latched onto the name, he wasn’t even the head of the actors union. My mother thought he was a non-starter as an actor & that all that would remain soon enough was this wonderful first name. She used to tell me (and everyone else) this tale regularly when he still hosted GE Theater and did Borax commercials in the 1950s. When Reagan ran for governor, my mother stopped telling the story. When he ran for president, she started denying it.

2)      On the morning of my second day on my first job post-college, I successfully negotiated the peaceful surrender of an escaped convict from San Quentin.

3)      I learned how to use computers (1982) before I learned to drive (1988). An everyday occurrence nowadays – my boys were gaming before they were four – but unheard of in my age cohort. [However, poets not driving, e.g. Robert Duncan or Jack Gilbert, or being slow to learn, like myself or David Bromige, is not as uncommon as you might think. When I finally took my first real driving lesson, my instructor had just come from a student named Ishmael Reed.]

4)      I’m the son of a cop. My father served on the Oakland and Albany police forces in the late 1940s & early ‘50s. Neither job ended well.

5)      My secret guilty pleasure is the TV series Mythbusters, which follows a team of special effects artists checking out such life-or-death questions as what is the role of nucleation in the effect of Mentos dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke. Among other things, Mythbusters need for safe places to wreck cars, explode any manner of items or pulverize the show’s cult mascot, crash-test dummy Buster, forces it to use the best locale shots of the Bay Area since the early days of Streets of San Francisco.

My five tags here go out to Jonathan Mayhew, Eileen Tabios, Jordan Davis, Joseph Massey and K. Silem Mohammad.


Sunday, December 24, 2006


An Appeal for Paula Gunn Allen


The Paula Gunn Allen Fund has just been established to provide financial assistance to Paula, whose car, double-wide trailer, clothes, appliances, books, and papers burned in a fire in mid-October.

Evidently, some oily rags, stored in a shed on her newly built deck, ignited and burned her house and car. Paula, who was in the house when the fire started, suffered smoke inhalation and was briefly hospitalized after the fire. Two weeks later, her landlady found Paula unconscious on the floor of her temporary apartment. Hospitalized again, Paula was in a coma for at least six days and in the hospital for two weeks. Since returning to her apartment, she has responded well to physical and lung therapy and her spirits are better than they have been in some time. As of today, she can walk ten steps without a cane.

This has been a hard year for Paula. Just before the fire, she had successfully completed radiation therapy for lung cancer, which doctors found in its early stages. The treatment, however, debilitated her.

Paula has given us all so much over the years through her creative and scholarly writing and her direction of the 1977 NEH-MLA Summer Seminar in Native American Literature. Your donation can help her rebuild her life.

Send your donation to The Paula Gunn Allen Fund, Account No. 0129540739, Bank of America,
228 North Main Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437. (Include "The," which is part of the fund's legal name). The donation is not tax deductible.

Paula also needs copies of books containing her essays or poems because hers burned in the fire. Fortunately, she had deposited most of her papers in the library of the
University of Oregon several years before the fire.

Receiving notes and cards from her Native literature colleagues will lighten her spirit. Mail can reach her at
5601/2 North McPherson Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437. She will probably be at this address for at least the next six weeks, until her lot is cleared of debris and a different trailer is placed there.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me. Patricia Smith and others are planning some events to help raise funds. I will inform you about these as plans are finalized.

For health reasons, I am not coming to MLA this year. Happy holidays.



A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff
Professor Emerita of English

University of Illinois at Chicago
Home Address:
300 Forest Avenue Oak Park, IL 60302-2012
Home phone: 708-848-9292; Home fax:708-848-9308


Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Creative Writing, IAIA
83 Avan Nu Po Road.
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87508
505-424-2365 office


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