I dreamed I couldn’t spell “Foucault.” People kept jeering at me–I kept getting these harrowing editorial reviews back, with “track changes” turned on and the whole document completely awash in red–but I couldn’t stop spelling it “Foucauld.” Even in the dream, I was like, why can’t I remember that this isn’t how you spell it? It was horrible. “I awoke bruised and muttering.”
I don’t even write about Foucault, in real life. But just now I had to put him in a footnote, and the dream came sweeping over me and I was filled with horror and shame.
The other day I went swimming in an ol’ swimmin’ hole near my house. My local friends told me about it. They spoke slightingly of it, saying it’s the hole where “everyone goes,” and that it’s “fine, nothing special.” I arrived to find something out of a 19th century painting, all bucolic hand-made bridges and gently sloping bluffs leading down into pools the exact depth and temperature you would ever desire, with soft sandy bottoms. And it turns out that the rural New England version of a terrible crowded “everyone” equals perhaps five people and one dog, and two of the people turned out to be people I knew. Apparently there are even better swimming holes, where no one goes, and you can be naked and have the dog off leash and drink beer. I can not imagine how I ended up in such a paradise.
These local friends, I have spoken of them before, they are very young. One of them just turned 26 and I made her a cake. When I told my dad how old she had turned he was disgusted. “MY GOD” he said, like imagining the age of 26 had become pure science fiction to him. He refers to these friends as “whipper-snappers.” They seem to also find our ancient ages exotic; they ask us fun questions like what was it like when the original Ghostbusters came out. I am starting to see why old people love telling stories about the 40s. It’s fun to blow younger people’s minds with what you were alive to witness. The original Ghostbusters is our moon landing. “I had never seen anything like it!” Suddenly the pop culture of our youth seems SO LONG AGO, for example the fact that I have actual memories of “Thriller” coming out. That seems like fucking Depression-era pop culture, now, quite frankly, like I’m talking about some Al Jolson song he sang through a megaphone. Now it is a cultural moment that I teach in my history classes, alongside Al Jolson. There is a whole chapter on “Thriller” in the textbook I use. And then I show my kids the video and I’m like ISN’T THIS FUCKING AWESOME CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS SHIT and they are sort of gently bemused. They really WANT to think it’s awesome but they just can’t. I would say this is the attitude of my students 90% of the time, whether it’s Baroque French opera or “Papa Don’t Preach.”
When you listen to Al Jolson records now, it is like when my students watch “Thriller.” It simply doesn’t make sense that this was a sensation that swept the nation and caused such uproar. It just sounds like a mediocre singer noodlin’ around. Al Jolson in today’s terms is an absolutely unimpressive performer, with no charisma, totally average looks, and a weak-ass voice. I swear to god, watching The Jazz Singer and trying to understand what all the fuss was about will make you feel like you are an alien from another land. Impossible that he was an international star, swilling champagne with Errol Flynn or whatever.
Now Errol Flynn, there is a superstar whose fame I can understand. That man was a stone-cold fox and charming to boot. Captain Blood? Get outta here
I like to imagine Kanye West coming to inhabit a cultural position similar to, for example, Frank Sinatra, simply due to changing times. Perhaps a day will come when young people will vaguely think of Kanye as a quaint old drunk who grandmothers love. Anything is possible, when it comes to history! Today’s cutting edge is tomorrow’s dull-ass knife you can’t even slice a tomato with.
Me, 50 years from now, playing “Black Skinhead” for my students: “No one had ever heard sounds like this before! And listen to how he addresses the uncomfortable ambivalence entailed in being a rich and successful black man in mid twentieth-century America!” My students don’t respond, because they are all listening to radical atonal bleeping noises on their in-brain speakers and thought-mailing dick pics to each other.
LOL imagine if I was still teaching in 50 years. LOLOLOL literally 90 years old, teaching Yeezus. OMG HA HA HA HA
I love thinking about time. And yet I have never successfully read “A Brief History of Time,” even though it was expressly written with the intention of stupid people reading it. “No one can read that book,” said my grad student whose father is a scientist. I was very comforted by this. I feel like you read the first page and you’re like “Whoa, yeah! Totally!” Then you turn the page and somehow instantly already you have no idea what he’s talking about. Like there’s a drawing of a cylinder with a rabbit in it and all these equations, out of nowhere. And you turn back to re-read the first page and fall uncontrollably asleep. And then you read those first two pages every couple of years, like “this time I’m gonna do it!” I still have this shit on my “soon-to-read” bookshelf.
I have a cascading series of bookshelves themed by the strength of my intention to read the things on it. The shelf nearest to my face has all my reference works on it, books I use constantly: the Oxford History of course, the Encyclopedia of Political Economy, the Writer’s Thesaurus, a bunch of Strunk’s source anthologies. The shelf above that has canonical shit from my discipline that I have actually read; it sits above me sort of like a protective aura, my forebears blessing me, ostensibly. The shelf to the right of my desk has the books I’m currently working with for whatever project I’m working on (this shelf has a corollary “shelf” which is “the entire floor of my office”). Then over on the wall of my office is a bookshelf with all the books I’m definitely going to read when I get some free time. Here is a sample:
- book about music printing in the first hundred years after the invention of the printing press
- book about martyrdom in the 16th century
- book about Duke Ellington
- Nancy Mitford’s book about Louis XIV
- source anthology of documents relating to UFOs and aliens, dating back to the 18th century
- Philippe Ariès’s 1,000 page cultural history of death, one of the few books I would sincerely refer to as “magisterial,” and which I read a few chapters of every once in awhile (I find it comforting)
- The satirical “history of England” Jane Austen wrote for fun at age eighteen (“contains very few facts”), which I have in facsimile
- book about Mary Shelley
- another book about Mary Shelley specifically about Frankenstein
- this amazing cultural history of madness told through the eyes of institutionalized people from the past several centuries that I have been meaning to read for ten years
- two books about the diseases that are allegorized in 19th century operas
- second volume of Cosima Wagner’s diaries (the first is on the shelf by the bed, indicating that I am ACTUALLY reading it, unlike all these other books I own)
- volume of Clara Schumann/Johannes Brahms letters, too sad
- Maynard Solomon’s “Mozart” and “Beethoven,” which I have read parts of but which I have this fantasy that someday I’ll sit down and read cover to cover, obviously this will absolutely never happen
- several books about serialism that I intend to read one day, believing that once I have done so I will understand serialism and be able to actually teach it to my grad students instead of pretending to teach it
- book about equal temperament
- book about the reception history of Beethoven’s 9th
Then out in the living room there’s, like, all of Proust or whatever. Like, AS IF.
The final “shelf” is a cardboard box in the attic. Maybe mice will eat everything on that “shelf” and I won’t have to feel guilty about it anymore (please don’t let us get mice).
Does anyone know anything about blueberry care? This blueberry bush is probably 10 years old–it’s 7 feet tall–and I don’t know if I’m supposed to water it or not, and, if so, how much/how often. It was doing great on its own with no care whatsoever–it produced many quarts of blueberries and all was going swell–but now all the unripe blueberries are just sort of shriveling on the bush. Does it need water?? Help. I guess I could google this.
Here is a confession. As previously mentioned, I have had an unusually hard and dramatic summer. So, in the spirit of today’s stupid “self care” trend, I spent A LOT of money on a really amazing cutting board. A cutting board! Just a piece of wood! I actually drove out to a place in the woods that sells only cutting boards and nothing else, that this guy makes by hand from fallen trees, and I bought the biggest one he had. It is beautiful; it has completely transformed our kitchen. And honestly, every single time I use it I feel happy. Is this a good or a bad story, or both? I think mostly bad. My personal happiness is not much of a justification for doing anything. But I did it anyway, because I wanted to. And that’s the story of America
Right now I am supposed to be reading a bunch of books on mortgage lending policy, for this chapter I’m writing. My book is hilarious. Every chapter requires me to delve into a completely different discipline. The history of labor formations in the U.S.; urban planning and the history of real estate investment; education philosophy/policy; participatory theater; philosophy of individualism; the rise and formation of the surveillance state; and the modern history of conceptions of time. Many people have tentatively asked me “so…is your book about…music?” and I am like “yes”
I also need to make an appointment to get yet another fluoroscopy on my hip. I drove to Boston to see a specialist, which cost $60 and took six hours all told, and he looked at me for 45 seconds and told me to get an MRI because that’s the only way he can tell what’s going on. So now it is more scheduling and more trips to Boston or wherever. And my insurance wants me to use this new service where you type in the procedure you need and it tells you the cheapest place to get it done, and it just feels weird. I’m gonna go to some random hospital in Holyoke and let them poke around inside my hip joint because it’s cheap there? What is this world! I am so sick of this shit. There are worse things and I should be glad this is not one of those worse things. I am glad, for sure. It’s just a bummer how bad America sucks, I mean, come on, we’re all thinking it.
I think the only people who like America in its current iteration are wealthy pro-business centrists, the worst people in the world. You know you’re doing something wrong when only wealthy pro-business centrists approve of you.
Did you hear that the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking? I saw the headline and was like, huh, that was unexpected
Other top stories in today’s paper involve ice cream (locals discuss whether they prefer hard scoop or soft serve–this is the front page, above-the-fold story); the guy who writes the nature column asks us to think about how amazing and beautiful flies are; and a lady who grew an entire corn crop without using any machinery or fossil fuels is pictured holding a pitchfork.
We are watching the awesome 6-hour Wim Wenders movie “Until the End of the World” and it’s great. There’s my recommendation for today. Also why not get some Sheila E albums? It can’t hurt.