Today with three friends I visited Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, a piece of land art near Corinne, Utah, that was built on the shore of the Great Salt Lake in 1970. It was an amazing experience! I had seen numerous pictures of the Jetty in art history textbooks, but it was wonderful to get to experience it for myself. The scenery surrounding the piece is beautiful (the sky is amazing in many of the photographs below), though it is made even more sublime by the presence of Smithson’s work, which is made out of natural materials while simultaneously epitomizing the artificial. The Jetty would still be a fascinating landscape if it had somehow appeared organically out of the lake, but I appreciate it more because it is, in fact, an intentional something, because it is art, because it is artificial. It makes the lake–which is impressive-sounding until you actually see it and realize that it is this weird, uncategorizable entity of liquid death, neither lake nor sea–more interesting. It is in the lake, but not of it. Anyone who has the chance to see it should. It is a worthwhile trip, one of the most exciting things I’ve done in years.
What follows are some selected photographs of the Jetty that I took while exploring it. They move in chronological order from arriving in the small parking lot just above the piece through walking onto the Jetty and around it to the extent possible (the innermost swirl was enough underwater to be unwalkable, though it was still visible) to walking back toward the parking lot. At the beginning of the day it was overcast, but several hours later when we returned to the car it was wonderfully sunny, as can be seen in the final photograph.
The Spiral Jetty from the parking lot in the morning.
The Jetty on the way down the hill toward it.
At the beginning of the Jetty.
The center of the Jetty as viewed from the beginning. Note how the lake reflects the sky.
Walking along the Jetty. Note that this is its widest point, and it is actually much narrower than it looks in aerial photographs.
Another view of the center of the Jetty.
The Jetty viewed from within its first spiral.
Sean standing at the center of the Jetty.
The Jetty in the afternoon.
Baker, Houston A., Jr. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.
This is a classic in the field of African American literary studies which keeps popping up in my reading, so I figured it was time to finally break down and read it.
Bought from Better World Books via amazon.com.
Duvall, John N., ed. The Cambridge Companion to American Fiction After 1945. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012.
This is another book that I ordered at Rocky Mountain MLA last month. I have enjoyed other volumes in the Cambridge Companion series, and American literature after 1945 is my academic specialty, thus I did not need any extra persuasion when I had the opportunity to buy the book at a discount. I am especially excited to read the “Fiction and 9/11” chapter, though the entire collection looks enjoyable.
I just updated the main photograph for the site (what Facebook would call the “cover photo”). It is a picture of one of my favorite shelves in the poetry section of my library. The photograph includes some of my favorite poets and one of my favorite books of poetry, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which is a beautifully reproduced combined volume of Blake’s engravings for Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience published by Oxford University Press.
Blake is followed on the shelf by Di Brandt, my second favorite poet after Frank O’Hara. I have all of her books (her first collection, questions i asked my mother, is still my favorite), as well as a selection of her poems edited by Tanis MacDonald. Gwendolyn Brooks is next. Her Selected Poems only goes through 1963, so I have several of her later collections as well, which I enjoy not only for their content but also aesthetically, as I am a collector of old Broadside Press volumes.
Sterling A. Brown’s Collected Poems, which I read for my Ph.D. exams and thus feel sentimental towards, follows. Ana Castillo’s My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems contains some enjoyable work, although I prefer her fiction.
Other highlights on the shelf are C.P. Cavafy’s Complete Poems, which I enjoy because of their unabashed homoeroticism, and Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman, which is one of the best single collections of poems that I’ve ever read. I read a lot of Lucille Clifton when I first began investigating poetry, and think of her fondly even though I haven’t returned to her work for some time.
I mentioned in a post on 15 November that I’m currently serving on the search committee for a job opening in my department. The position is for a fiction writer, so I’ve been reading lots of short stories which serve as the candidates’ writing samples. Much of the fiction is quite good, which is comforting because it shows that American literature is in a good place and that there is an up-and-coming generation of writers who will help it continue to thrive.
However, virtually all of the stories that I’ve read thus far–both realist and speculative, and by both whites and persons of color and across genders–have been about alienation, about failing relationships, about characters who have enough material goods to be happy, but are not. While it is true that it is usually more interesting to read about imperfect characters and scenarios than their opposite (e.g., the American literature from the 1950s that has lasted is also mostly about these themes), this trend gives me pause because of what it says about the current state of American life. What does it mean when the people who should be happiest because of their level of education and wealth remain dissatisfied?
Obviously this is not an original question, and the political side of me immediately wants to answer “Of course people aren’t happy! Capitalism has rotted their souls!” or something like that, but nevertheless it is always troubling when I am again reminded of it. It is difficult not to think that America is heading for a painful reckoning sometime soon. This status quo can’t last.
Kroll, Eric, ed. The Art of Eric Stanton: For the Man Who Knows His Place. Cologne: Taschen, 2012.
This book collects many of Stanton’s erotic drawings from the 1950s and 1960s, many of which appeared in Irving Klaw’s publications (Klaw is the man who made Bettie Page famous). It fits perfectly with my scholarly interests in the history of print culture and the depiction of sexuality in literature. In flipping through the book, it is clear that it reaches Taschen’s usual high production standards. I look forward to perusing it further.
Bought on amazon.com.
Léger, Tom, and Riley MacLeod, eds. The Collection: Short Fiction From the Transgender Vanguard. New York: Topside, 2012.
I attended a reading featuring six of this book’s contributors last night, and it was probably the most enjoyable reading I’ve been to in the past decade. The stories were both funny and powerful, and the collection is apparently the first collection of transgender fiction to be published in the United States (which is surprising, but that’s what the editors claim), so I was happy to buy it. The best part of the evening was discovering that one of the contributors, Casey Plett, was raised Mennonite in Manitoba! It is always exciting to discover new Mennonite authors, but it is especially exciting to discover new queer Mennonite authors because I am currently working on an essay about the intersection between queer theory and Mennonite literature.
There is a fascinating, impressively-researched article about David Foster Wallace’s relationship to religious faith by Ervin Beck in the latest issue of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing. Wallace is one of my favorite writers, and Beck is a former professor of mine and one of the most important mentors that I’ve had, so I was very excited to read the article this afternoon. Despite its sectarian-sounding title (“David Foster Wallace Among the Mennonites;” Mennonites [including lapsed Mennos such as myself] love to talk about famous people’s connections with Mennonites, with Rembrandt being the most common example. Contemporary examples of celebrities who are either Mennonite or had/have strong Menno connections include Phyllis Diller, Newt Gingerich, Matt Groening, and the Canadian authors Rudy Wiebe, Di Brandt, and Patrick Friesen), the article is of interest for anyone who enjoys Wallace’s work or is interested in contemporary fiction. As is well known, Foster lived a tortured life, struggling with mental illness and constantly feeling that his work was never good enough despite its brilliance. Beck’s article does a beautiful job of sensitively addressing these issues and the role they played in Wallace’s interactions with his Mennonite acquaintances. This is no surprise, as Ervin is one of the sweetest, kindest persons I have ever had the privilege to meet.
There’s a fantastic story by Bryan Curtis on grantland.com about Marv Albert’s childhood preparations to become a sports announcer here. It’s essential reading for anyone who cares about sports media. I knew that Albert was quite young when he began calling Knicks games, but I didn’t realize he began when he was only 21! I grew up watching him as the studio host for NBC’s baseball Game of the Week and listening to him announce football on NBC and the Knicks on WFAN. I remember him returning to announce game seven of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals on the radio even though by that point Howie Rose was the Rangers’ normal play-by-play man. Albert is a national treasure, and Curtis’s article gives him the honor that he deserves.
Atwood, Margaret. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. 2011. New York: Anchor, 2012.
I ordered this book at Rocky Mountain MLA last month, and it arrived yesterday. I enjoy Atwood’s fiction and her germinal book on Canadian literature, Survival, and I have been reading more and more science fiction (the “SF” of the title, which is the accepted term in the field, never “scifi”), so I’ve been thinking about buying this book since it came out last year. I finally bought it at the conference because it was available at a sizeable discount.
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 3rd ed. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009.
I just received a desk copy of this book from the publisher. I’ll be using it in my Literary Criticism and Research course next semester. I’m drawn to it as a teaching resource because it is recent, comprehensive, and reasonably priced (around $20.00 new) rather than being priced like a textbook. Kudos to Manchester University Press for taking the high road and caring about student budgets.
On another note, I haven’t written in nearly a week because I’ve been busy reading applications for a job opening in my department. This is the first time I’ve ever served on a search committee; it’s so fascinating! I am enjoying getting to learn about other people, reading their writing, and seeing how they approach the elusive, mysterious genres of the C.V. and the cover letter. I love encountering other’s ideas about what they think an academic should be.
Cortázar, Julio. Hopscotch. 1963. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Pantheon, 1966.
I will be teaching Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters next semester, and its blurb claims that it is inspired by Cortázar’s novel. So I thought I would read it as research for teaching Castillo. Hopscotch is nearly 600 pages long in the edition I bought, and The Mixquiahuala Letters is less than 200, thus I assume that the inspiration is thematic rather than formal, which makes me sad since my favorite thing about Castillo’s book is the way it requires the reader to play a role in forming the text by choosing from three different reading paths.
Scott, Darieck. Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination. New York: New York UP, 2010.
I bought this book because it touches on two of my favorite research interests: it has a chapter on Samuel R. Delany and also examines BDSM in African American literature as a whole. I can’t wait to read it!
Both books purchased on amazon.com.
I just finished reading Salman Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton, which is primarily about the years after the fatwa was issued against his life in 1989 in response to the publication of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie writes eloquently about his most depressing emotional moments during the thirteen years when he had to live under police protection, but he also offers beautiful, inspiring tributes to all of the people (especially his protection team and many of his fellow writers) who supported him, as well as offering the book as an impassioned defense of free speech. Happily, most writers were both privately and publicly supportive of Rushdie, including Don DeLillo, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Buford, Martin Amis, and Kurt Vonnegut, though a few–including, sadly, Roald Dahl–were not. Shamefully, The Satanic Verses‘ publisher, Viking-Penguin, refused to issue a paperback of the novel, though they kept the hardcover in print. Many bookstores (including many stores in the U.S., who took out an ad in the New York Times when the novel was published here to say that they would stock it), courageously made the book available to the public even though several were bombed by religious fundamentalists.
Joseph Anton is a masterpiece, and is necessary reading for anyone who cares about literature. It should finally persuade the Nobel Prize committee to award Rushdie their literature prize. It is over 600 pages long–Rushdie’s joyful prolixity surfaces once again–but every page is compelling and intense. I found that I was only able to read about seventy-five pages of it per day because it got me so worked up, but this visceral reaction is a testament to Rushdie’s gifts as a writer. He is a hero for anyone who truly cares (i.e., not most American politicians) about freedom.