musings on language

Reading Jerome McGann on Clark Coolidge : wandering Copenhagen, journeying to Manchester via Frankfurt…

The twinned experiences of reading and thinking about poetry and poetics within the multilingual flow of heard languages in travel has got me thinking about language, language use, and language learning and teaching in new ways. It also has me wondering about the difficulty of learning and teaching other (“foreign”) languages — and wondering why we seem so insistent as students and teachers about this notion of difficulty. All around me, inside me too, the ubiquity of code-switching in the multilingual flow is primary. Inner life, in own words, English and Japanese. Copenhagen’ dominant background is Danish, bilingual (Danish/English) signage, and code-switching on demand, with English loan words sprinkled through everyone’s speech no matter their origins, mother tongue(s), and multi-lingual competencies. This seems — at least in over-heard casual conversation and public interactions — the same for everyone: Americans to British to Danes to Germans and Swedes, Africans, Thai, Turkish, …. all. In global business and travel this seems merely necessary and normal. We need to communicate with each other for instrumental purposes and so without worrying about the finer points of how to develop our language learning strategies, reading skills, improve our vocabulary learning techniques, etc. we just get on with language life, step by everyday step.

If a finer (more discriminatory) understanding of difficulty in language/language use is to be encountered and embraced, won’t this happen in the domains of the arts and sciences? For example, say, in poetics, philosophy, or computer programming? If there is a point to my meditation it is not to attack the anxieties and concerns of language learners and teachers, but to seek a better understanding of our real responsibilities through a more rigorous analysis of how we handicap ourselves in our educational institutions.

Note: McGann, Jerome. The Point Is To Change It: Poetry and Criticism in the Continuing Present, University of Alabama Press, 2007.

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Eija-Liisa Ahtila

One of the unexpected benefits of my short stay in Copenhagen is having discovered the work of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, a Finnish video artist and photographer, awarded the Artes Mundi prize in 2006. Ahtila describes herself as a slow worker, and shows new works at longish intervals. Her current exhibition at Copenhagen’s GL Strand, runs through October 21, and includes her prized installation from the 2005 Venice Biennial, The Hour of Prayer and a new work, Fishermen which makes its debut with this show. In the interview with Anne Kielgast published in the exhibition catalog Ahtila notes how she is drawn to telling stories in in her works, but that she aims “at breaking the usual chronology of events and try(s) to structure things in a new way.”

One of the way she does this is using multiple screens. In The Hour of Prayer, for example, she uses four screens, sometimes showing different scenes, sometimes show the same scene, and at other times showing in two or more screens panoramic views. The Hour of Prayer is scripted in English and the narration done by an actor, the text and images complementing each other, but the text and the image sequences do not lead viewers to closure, rather requiring us to construct our own readings of the narrative. She concludes the catalog interview by saying,

I don’t think my works are especially painterly – no. What probably comes from the art side is that I trust the audience’s ability to see, hear, and think.

More than anything, Ahtila’s installations have become poetic mysteries for me. I knew after my first visit yesterday that I would have to return, and would return again and again, just as I re-read my favorite poems. Made my second visit today, but will be moving on the UK tomorrow, so have to mediate on the stored up images, and on the catalog stills from here on out.
I’ve made a small effort to learn more about Ahtila’s work on the web. There are a few good things out there:

  1. an Adrian Searle article from The Guardian (2002);
  2. a BBC Wales piece reporting on The Hour of Prayer and the Artes Mundi award; and,
  3. most impressive of all, her collected Cinematic Works on DVD, and a study of her works by Taru Elfving, et. al. – both from Crystal Eye, Ltd. – are available from Amazon.
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end of term release

Our first semester exams finished 1 August, but I was busy with marking, reading through student portfolios, writing up reports, committee work, etc. through 17 August. I failed, yet again, to make much progress cleaning my office, but I left Miyazaki on Monday the twentieth, and am now enjoying a working holiday. I have research reading & writing to do, but out of the office and out of the classroom for a solid five weeks makes this a real release. In Copenhagen until tomorrow morning, then will stay in the UK for three weeks, with stops in Maine and NYC before I return to Japan on the 25th of September.

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Hic & Nunc at the Boulder Fringe

My sister Jessica and her partner Barry Oreck are performing at the Boulder Fringe Festival. They’ve got three more shows this coming weekend, Friday – Sunday. For more info, check out their page on the festival site.
Hic & Nunc

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Seyhmus Dagtekin

Yet another reason to be grateful for Pierre Joris’s return to more active blogging. Inspired by Pierre’s account of Dagtekin’s reading in Paris, I googled the poet, was was pleased to find his page at the French publisher site, Le Printemps des Poetes. I have no French, but very much enjoyed the excerpt from LE VERSANT OBSCUR DES CORBEAUX, and the accompanying sound file.

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The Hillary Exception

Over at the TPM Cafe, Ari Berman discusses the ties between big capital and politics-as-usual, a response to notices of his recent piece in The Nation, “Hilary, Inc.” Nails it.

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Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

James Wood has a delicious review of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in The New Republic. Here’s his in-a-nutshell description of dirty realism:

This was a prose of short declarative sentences, in which verbs docked quickly at their objects, adjectives and adverbs were turned away, parentheses and sub-clauses were shunned. An anti- sentimentality, learned mainly from Hemingway, was so pronounced as to constitute a kind of male sentimentality of reticence.

Although apocalyptic, dystopian memories include nuclear attack drills in elementary school, fear of racist violence during the sixties, and the horrors of Vietnam war news, my strongest associations with post-apocalyptic futures link my memories of working as a logger and firefighter with the Mad Max films that were first released in those years. (The New Republic articles are available only to subscribers, but teasers are available.)

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Poethical Retallack

Digging, sorting, scrounging around in search of strategies for articulating a poetics/theory of/for autonomous learning and teaching found Joan Retallack’s contribution to Jacket 32, “What is Experimental Poetry & Why Do We Need It?”

Consider this description of being in responsive flow:

The chaotic interconnectedness of all things, the dynamic pattern-bounded indeterminacy in which we find ourselves, in which we must somehow find/make patterns among contingencies not intelligently designed for our convenience alone, leads to the pragmatic necessity of ingenious experimentation as wager on the possibility of a viable, even pleasurable future together in this world with all those others.

…segues to yesterday’s post… and in the surf-trail turned up Gerald Brun’s brilliant review essay of The Poethical Wager. Another treasure for the must read stack.

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poetry and pedagogy

Ron Silliman included a link to a Barbara K. Fischer review of Poetry and Pedagogy, edited by Joan Retallack and Juliana Spahr, the other day. Haven’t read the collection of essays yet, but it’s clearly a must as I’ve been slowly plowing the same fields, inspired by the same notions suggested here the last couple years. From the publisher’s description:

The largest challenge facing Liberal Arts and Sciences today is how to deal with the rapidly changing and increasingly complex world that all the phenomena under the label globalization have created. This world is ‘multi’- many things: cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial, etc. Over the last few decades, on a daily basis, some ‘we’ or another has found itself face to face with not the other but with many others, with not one language practice, but many. Educating for this world is the most pressing challenge we face. The raison d’etre for Poetry and Pedagogy is the belief that poetry is the linguistic laboratory of the times in which one lives. It is the genre in which our habitual language practices are daily stretched, challenged and reconfigured. The collection gathers together the work of a number of scholars, poets, and teachers on the challenges and productive possibilities that arise when teaching contemporary writing.

Also published by Palgrave-Macmillan, Tim Woods’s Poetics of the Limit (now listed as out of stock), an invaluable reading of the ethical turn in Zukofsky’s writing, helping me to theorize a poetics for autonomous learning and teaching.

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A reading test

Geof Huth has published “A reading test” on his Visualizing Poetics blog. logo-like glyph…. he’s requesting comments, which he’ll then summarize and evaluate when he explains the text in a few days.

Don’t reckon I’ve many readers as this blog space has been mostly dark for the last thirteen months, but having had the past couple of days off, “Golden Week” here in Japan, I’ve been mostly reading and sleeping, and thinking about writing. Old tinderbox friends Alwin and Doug Miller have gone silent recently, and Pierre Joris, too. Pierre hasn’t posted for two months, just before embarking on a trip to Europe. I miss his perspectives, so it feels like time to either shut down, or loosen up and add to the living web whether I have many readers or not.

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WinK & WinM

Today Joe Tomei & Rick Lavin are giving a talk today at KouritsuDai on using Blogger in writing classes. I wonder what the advantages of Blogger might be over using other blogging engines or even a dedicated server.

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Poetics, music, space

more on poetics and music in open forms from Barrett Watten, the text of the talk Watten gave at the symposium two weeks ago.

Braxton in the air, though still underground. Check out the 2001 interview with Fred Jung from Jazz Weekly. Good comprehensive intro on the Wikipedia Braxton page.

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blackbird in juniperThere’s a male blackbird in a juniper perhaps 8 meters from my B&B window here in Harrogate. I can’t ever remember hearing the common blackbird sing before. Perhaps that’s because other than last spring’s visit to Cardiff, my only real stays in the UK have been too short, or in the winter. Have a listen, courtesy of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. What magic!

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the intention economy

Doc Searls has a really interesting piece on “The Intention Economy” up on the Linux Journal site. It’s a good, old-fashioned common sense critique of the marketing jargon that’s got most of us trapped in mind-rotting rhetorical fantasy lands. Bad for the soul, bad for the earth, and ultimately bad for business. Hoo hah!

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the rush to war

The unsurprising but no less tawdry evidence of the a lack of good faith in democracy by Bush and Blair, reported in the New York Times March 27, is given historical context by “The Founders Never Imagined a Bush Administration.” Thanks to Josh Marshall for the link.

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discovering new music blogs

Ron Silliman has a brief post about Anthony Braxton’s recent set of sessions at the Iridium. He links to the reviews posted on night after night by Steve Smith, a New York music writer. Also mentions the Current Free Practices in Music and Poetry symposium, which sounds like it would be a wonder to attend. But even if I dropped everything and hopped on a plane I wouldn’t arrive on time. Wonder what sort of proceedings or digital archives might become available. For now, I’ll content myself with virtual content: check out the bibliograpy/discography.

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digging the lit links

Followed a link from ReadySteadyBook to an essay on Nancy Armstrong’s How Novels Think by Miriam Burstein. Ms. Burstein’s study of the history of the novel, specifically in relation to identity, consciousness, and literacy, resonates in a thousand directions and can serve as a touchstone for at least hundreds of potential studies encompassing the teaching of literature, access to education, autonomous learning, the history and traditions of self-study, empowerment in social, cultural, economic, and political contexts, and on and on.

A most interesting link in Burstein’s essay is to The Classics in the Slums by Jonathan Rose. Rose’s piece is an exploration of the history of working class auto-didacts, mostly in the British tradition, and of the irrelevancy of the lit-crit/MLA perspectives on literature for a boot-strap theory and practice of intellectual self-improvement. Curious about City Journal, a site I’ve just encountered for the first time, I decided to explore a bit.

A quote from Peggy Noonan proclaiming City Journal “the best magazine in America” led me to dig a little deeper, and according to the Daily Telegraph, it is celebrated as “the Bible of the new urbanism.” Hmmm… I wondered, and scrolling down a bit revealed William J. Bennett at the head of the Publication Committee. Hmmm… I’ll keep reading, but will mind the gaps and the agendas.

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critical moments in academic writing

Pennycooks’ “Critical moments in a TESOL praxicum” is fascinating on several levels:
1. It takes one episode in the life of a teacher trainer, and seeks within the whole of that experience, including the train journey from Sydney to an outlying Asian majority suburb, as its primary subject.
2. The essay is framed by the train journey, an obvious though nonetheless effective analog for teacher development at all levels. It is also an example of the “narrativized, quasi-ethnography” (343), which can be a refreshing change from the standard applied linguistics fare. Of interest here too is the fact that “experimental” or “creative” academic texts are not very new at all; the topic has been explored by post-modern theorists and applied linguists for decades. And yet this sort of text still seems new against the sere background of realist, empiricist, positivist texts. (No wonder so many smart people stay as far away from the academy as they can!)
3. It seeks, particularly in the final “reflections” section, to come to terms not only with the search for “critical moments” in which awareness of a pedagogical issue may be raised, but also with the simultaneous awareness that the process is inevitably messy, unfinished, and that all we can do as teachers is to sieze upon epiphanic moments, meditate on them perhaps in the same way that we can, by re-reading, come to love a poem that we may never fully understand, and keep searching.
4. It furthermore expresses a certain wistfulness for the hands on, at-the-chalkface, in the trenches metaphors through which teachers construct their identities and establish pathways of communication with their students. This suggests a subtle resignation or fatique, perhaps, with the distance from the ordinary classroom that having achieved academic sucess has created.
Citation: A. Pennycook, “Critical moments in a TESOL praxicum in B. Norton and K. Toohey (eds.)Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning (2005), Cambridge UP.

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Stephen Vincent’s “Tenderly #6 or The Gertrude Improvs”

Stephen Vincent published Tenderly #6 or The Gertrude Improvs on March 8. Its mysterious music captured my attention almost immediately, and I’ve gone back to his blog on daily basis to re-read. I could of course copy and paste the text of the whole poem onto my computer and re-read at my private leisure, but I’m enjoying the virtual visiting, as if I were in the room and could hear the poet reading his own evolving text. It helps, of course, that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Stephen, and seeing his way of interacting with others, in addition to the pleasures and challenges of his texts and photographs.

Here, in “Tenderly #6” — and I’m still struggling to understand how this poem works — alliteration, enjambment, and the syncopation of the text achieve a unity that is as fascinating in its precise constraints as the soaring meditation on language, politics, and history through [a sort of] window on Cheney’s quail shooting incident.

Great stuff!

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Happy New Year

Not that I’m feeling glum, but 2005 was a very exhausting year, so I’m hoping I can increase the intelligence of my game plan and do better in the coming twelve months. I’ve been enjoying, with the exception of a rather sore back, some extreme New Year’s cleaning, helping my youngest daughter move into what used to be my study, Reorganizing, and vacuuming up the cobwebs, does seem good for the mind and the soul.

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