Archive for the ‘WOTD’ Category

of hosiery and other total institutions

October 6, 2006


friday at noon, or “how I came to borrow my lover’s socks even while she’s away for a series of days camping in separate tents with her mother somewhere in deep New Jersey”:

watching the mets game in a wisconsin ex-pat bar last night on the fringes of the west village, christopher street near a second floor where a grad student strike meeting was held months ago for a strike that failed to. hold, that is. feeling disaffected, more than a little disconsolate – unconsolable? – as is my wont after a day of reading, not writing, and not always even reading as one proved overmatched, again, by the bottomless lure of internet flânerie. but the mets were doing well in game the second of their march to yankees domination and my beer had heft and bite; a brewery based in red hook, my beer-wench who doesn’t drink beer patiently explained (actually she spoke to me a little bit as though I was hard of learning, an urban marginal, which, truth be told – and, yes, why not tell it? – was somewhat how I was feeling in any event so perhaps I was grateful). so as she outlined, the brewery was based in red hook, brooklyn but was not affiliated with the “red hook brewery” which is in fact owned by the tyrannical banalical “king of beers” and was based somewhere I don’t remember but in any event a long way from the ex-stevedores and cobblestoned roads that is the hopeful, decayed – exquisite deliquescence – land of the hook of rouge.

so plucky mets continue to pluck away at their midnight shea melody and my spirits – plucky betimes themselves – rose in kind. in-between innings I texted aforementioned girlfriend with the previously alluded to hosiery – she, presumably, in her solo tent under the trees (do even bears have cell signals now?) and me on my ex-wisconsin couch feeling increasingly more consolate.* or I whiled away the ad time reading in hard-won light about communist crimes and french intellectuals – another bottomless theme I suppose – and the less than enlightening debate: whose crimes were more execrable, whose blood spots more indelible: hitler’s or stalin’s? as is so often (always?) the case, the arguments had a tendency to cast more light on the argumentee than on the phenomenon ostensibly under discussion. exiguous** little minds, I thought, deploying my just gleaned word of the day (“deliquescence”*** was from last week).

the mets won, I exchanged a couple of desultory high fives with the other mets fans in the bar – one had an orange mets cap I rather envied – and then headed for “home” – tonight being my rarely occupied actual le brooklyn profond home seeing as best friend and red hook bed sharer was with the blackberrying bears. checked in with the phone hotline for the total institution of the MTA – New York’s public transit – to make sure my L train (the very consonsant inspires horror) would be running after midnight – it often isn’t – and was reassured by the presence of an absence of warnings, caveats, jeering that I’d make it home and could even stop for groceries on the way. I’m an organised guy. I mean, I make phone calls like this; I even have the number programmed into my phone. of course getting to the station – two bags of optimistic groceries now in tow – I discover the train is in point of fact not running. or not so much discover as surmise. because the MTA doesn’t tell you anything, or, say, shut down the platform. they just let you wait until someone – in this case, me (I’m into text) – reads the fine print and discovers in fact we’ve all missed the train. I strode munificently about the platform informing the patient, sheep-like brooklyn multitudes, a gentle word in the ear that was soon confirmed – here’s how the MTA communicates – by a cleaning employee a platform up hollering down that there were no trains and she didn’t know what we all thought we were waiting for. so, great, I trundled off to another train – the F for friendly – and came to the aforementioned red hook, grateful for my house key, and took over the girlfriend’s place even while she’s, well, far away. hence the wakeup here in chilly maritime glorious red hook – only this time without cuddly maritime glorious bedbody beside me – the long, leisurely breakfast and the need for socks. thankfully my lover has big feet. my dawgs are happily ensconced in a nice pair of game-show gleaming white sports hosiery. the MTA, and the yankees, be damned.

*1818 T. L. PEACOCK Nightm. Abbey 4 One morning..‘he woke and found his lady dead’, and remained a very consolate widower [With humorous reference to disconsolate].

**1654 tr. Scudery’s Curia Pol. 39 If they have any being, it is so exiguous, that it is scarce visible.

***1863 HAWTHORNE Our Old Home (1883) I. 259 The English..hurry to the seaside with red, perspiring faces, in a state of combustion and deliquescence.


“stay tuned!” or confirmation of the end of gravitas (Weltschmerz)

September 15, 2006

katie couric, like, so totally celebrates the end of her first week anchoring the manifestly unmoored cbs evening “news”:

“We’re trying to make the news more accessible, more compelling, more interesting, and we’re trying to give people a little hope, optimism and even a chuckle when we can.”

Quel mandate! Sure hope they can live up to it! To quote again from the formidable Ms. C’s blog: “As the late Karen Carpenter sang, ‘Close to you’, I mean, ‘We’ve only just begun.’ Wow, how hip am I?”

sigh. so, our super awesome (imported directly from German) WordOfTheDay? (and come on i just know you saw it coming and no it’s not “snide”): Weltschmerz, which the generally non-ebullient OED defines as: A weary or pessimistic feeling about life; an apathetic or vaguely yearning attitude. indeed. kudos, katie.

katie’s breathless first week

(thanks milloy)

BibliOdyssey (congeries)

September 14, 2006

fantastic scans from old books and a congeries* of what is referred to as “visual materia obscura“.

quite a stunning site.

(via the indomitable storyglot.

similarly quarried (our verb of the day), I’ve since taken note, by the irrepressible lifeinapanel.

great minds.)

*from the OED: congeries, A collection of things merely massed or heaped together; a mass, heap.


“you and I are on the other side of almost everything” (pellucid)

September 13, 2006

a thought that perhaps speaks to the essence of romance. isn’t that what the feeling is with another person, that conviction of making another world, un monde à part, not just separate from “almost everything” but in some sense actually against it? and isn’t that in part what becomes so addictive about being with the other person? here i’m paraphrasing the backcover blurb of a little novel by kundera called l’identité (written originally in french but readily disponible in english). much of it is a meditation on the nature of couples, of what we seek in joining them and what is thereby gained and, perhaps, lost. I read it a couple of months ago – the prose is typically spare and limpid – and find my thoughts often returning to it. kundera is lucid, life rendered pellucid* (to deploy our WordOfTheDay).

dears.jpg I was put in mind of kundera by that thought, “you and I are on the other side of almost everything”, which is actually a song lyric I heard performed last night by the dears (though it could be “on the outside of almost everything”. I’m awaiting clarification, but “truth is subjectivity” to invoke the lonely daneofmanynames so I’ll go with my ears.) hadn’t seen them in a while nor indeed any live music in a proper concert setting for some time. a really wonderful show – sound, lights, ride cymbal, hearts-on-sleeves, the whole thing – for which I wanted to thank them. it’s always good to be reminded what humans can do when they get together.

(a sidebar thought on kundera: for anyone with some intermediate manoeuvres looking to work on their french reading chops, kundera novels are a great place to start; plus he now writes in french and personally revised the french translations of his earlier novels. he’s almost minimalist in his prose; short, polished sentences. you’ll have to start by looking up a bunch of words but then find they keep recurring. also the chapters are short and the pages go by quickly. important to have that feeling of accomplishment. l’insoutenable légèreté de l’être. you have to admit it does sound even better in french.)

*from the OED: pellucid, 1. Transmitting or allowing the passage of light; translucent, transparent.

(entry composed and posted with breakfast # 2 en plein air in bryant park in the midst of the preening madness of fashion week. I think I was offered about 6 copies of the times style magazine as I tried to navigate the well-calved crowds. inside the park, by the carrousel, the bust of goethe looks on impassively. I’m tempted to write stoically. the sorrows of aged johann.)

les classes sociales pas mort (homogamy)

September 10, 2006

One of the chief questions that exercise the good social theorists (and which the others, aka apologists for the status quo, would rather see exorcised) is how power relations are reproduced in a given society. Once we dispense with the anodyne notion that we all start life from the identical starting line with identical chances of winning the race, we’re forced to consider what gets passed on from generation to generation, how domination and classes function, how much mobility, permeability, between classes really exists. Certainly money is central here, but it’s not the entire story. There is capital also in a much more diffuse sense; the so-called cultural capital (see Bourdieu) that affords the legatee a kind of unerring sense for how to get ahead, an ability to navigate social situations, an unquestioned feeling of at-homeness in a given milieu (say that of an elite academic institution or a corporate boardroom). This is partly how to account for the stubborn fact that, statistically, people born into a given class are far more likely to stay within that class than, say, ascend into a class above them.

This posting was sparked by my reading of a recently published French sociology journal article,* taking on the third way “flat” world thesis of a social world where class is supposedly becoming an increasingly less salient means of understanding daily life. The author introduced me to a new word – homogamie, or homogamy in English. Selon the OED, it’s a biological term – (a) homogamous condition; fertilization of a flower by its own pollen or by that of another flower on the same plant. As often happens, the biological term migrated to the social sciences (and often such migrations come with unacknowledged costs, i.e. reducing society to a depoliticized “natural” biological mechanism). Homogamy came up as the French author, armed with a battery of stats, demonstrated how class continues to dictate many life choices, perhaps even more so now than before, and that like continues to marry like, people from working class backgrounds tend overwhelmingly to marry other people from similar backgrounds, and people from the liberal and professional classes, for example, tend to an overwhelming degree not to marry people from the working class. To borrow a citation from the OED definition: 1947 Evolution I. 270/2 “The concept of homogamy or associative mating states that within a population the most similar individuals will mate with each other.” The children of such associative mating are then ever more likely to grow up and stay within that association, reproducing the same power relations that contributed, along with cupid bien entendu, to their parents getting married, either not questioning their privileges, or not imagining such privileges to be within their ken.

None of this is a straitjacket of course, but class matters and efforts to suggest it’s an outmoded discourse – bearing in mind, as Tony Judt points out, that the Left itself bears a lot of responsibility for this discrediting – tell us more about the agenda of the person making the argument than the phenomenon itself. Anyone doubting this could consult the most recent staggering numbers on income inequalities in the US and conservative attempts to gloss them, a theme of numerous Paul Krugman columns.

*Chauvel (Louis), « Le retour des classes sociales ? », Revue de l’OFCE, n°79, octobre 2001, Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Economiques/Presses de Sciences Po, p. 315-359.