CHRISTIAN KIEFER

I tell you now: there are no epiphanies.

Category: writing (page 4 of 4)

From my reading

I’m wrestling with thorny French post-somethingist Jean Baudrillard.  The excerpt (below) is from William Merrin’s Baudrillard and the Media. It’s following up on Durkheim’s and Mauss’ discussion of the gift exchange process by which some cultures give material good away (as gifts) rather than accumulating them:

Mauss saw the gift as having been historically swept aside by the victory of rationalism and mercantilism.  In raising the principles of individual profit, utility and formal contractual relations these had turned humanity from a collective being into an ‘economic animal’: a Homo oeconomicus that was little more than ‘a calculating machine.’  However, in arguing that the ‘ancient principles’ of the gift had not been completely superseded and in seeing them as reappearing in our society ‘like the resurrection of a dominant motif long forgotten,’ Mauss develops a genealogy, adopted by the Durkheimian tradition and found again in Baudrillard.  This genealogy sees a mode of relations destroyed by the modern west which replaces it with an inferior, individualized mode, while retaining a belief in the continued presence and possibility of this collective mode as a radical principle opposed to and capable of transforming the contemporary world.  If ultimately Mauss’s hopes for a limited reform of capitalism through the gift are unconvincing, his desire to return to its principles and to another, deeper mode of existence carries more weight. (14)

I’m not sure what to do with this yet in terms of my own project, but it’s an interesting idea.

Cowboys and Ron

I’ve been reading much about and by Ronald Reagan in an effort to craft another chapter for my dissertation-turned-book project.  The rhetoric is interesting and sometimes amazing.  Here’s Reagan speaking in Oklahoma City at a fund-raising luncheon:

But I always get a thrill out of coming back to the home of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. I seem to remember a famous country and western song warning mothers not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. The song forgot to say that cowboys can sometimes grow up and be President.

Reagan’s use of “cowboy” rhetoric is essentially what I’m focusing on in my work here.  Reagan used it as a kind of magic trick.  Of course, he wasn’t a cowboy by any stretch of the imagination, although, like our current President, he owned a “ranch.”  Calling Reagan a cowboy is like calling me a mechanic because I once changed my own oil.  

Nonetheless, Reagan used the cowboy angle very specifically to collect some working class credibility.  The truth is that, despite the careful crafting of his image, Reagan was very far from “working class” for virtually all of his adult life.  Some would see through this rhetorical ploy, of course, but many many more took hold of it as a kind of image.  Reagan’s embodiment of a more simple America fell in exactly the right moment in history: a 1980s desperately searching for some kind of foundation.  

In the midst of this, of course, come a slew of counternarratives, which form the basis of my actual book: McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove (which is both in line with Reagan’s vision of the cowboy and far, far from it), Welch’s Fools Crow, Harrison’s Dalva, etc.

Winter’s Tale

I may have misspoke on my previous post about Winter’s Tale.  The greatest book ever?  Nope.  Still quite effective though.  When you’re in the middle of it, it’s seems impossible that there are any other books in the world, but it partially disintegrates under the weight of its own sometimes histrionic use of magic realism–or rather the magic that I found so quaint and appealing during the first 1/3 of the book seemed increasingly silly during the last 1/3.  So a bit out of balance.

On to Invisible Cities.  Ah gods.

Winter’s Tale

Fuzzy and tired.  Is Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale the best novel ever or am I dreaming?

Draft

sometimes the faces
from the day’s melt
come to me in dreams:
white and hot as god.
and I speak to them.
they tell me
of the other side
where everything is
cool and dark and soft.
they tell me
I already know the rest.

Coffee

Sitting at the coffeeshop down the street from my house grading.  I’m doing 100% on-line teaching right now and the logistics of it are quite complex and difficult.  In a physical classroom you are handed a stack of papers and can clip them together or rubber band them together.  If they’re not in the rubber band or clip, you didn’t get them.  With digital you’ve got lots of individual files everywhere and are faced with “but I e-mailed it to you,” which is the modern equivalent of the dog ate my homework.  Egads.

After the full court press of the Presidents mixing + SXSW + the subsequent flu, I’ve been eschewing music and having been writing again (and occasionally recording other people).  Here’s a recent draft of something new.  Much of the language needs work.  Tendrilous?  I don’t think so, but haven’t developed an alternative.  Poetry isn’t like riding a bike.  If you don’t keep up the practice it does, in fact, start to wane.

I think I was on an Ophelia kick.  Weirdly I wrote this a week ago and last night was reading Brautigan and he has various Ophelia poems mixed in.  Some quiet beautiful.  Not as icy as this one, though.  If this is even about Ophelia.

 

NO TITLE YET

Shells in the snowpack
and occasionally
the bright orange of a fish.
Tendrilous seaweed
bulbing out in the clear ice
by the bridge footing.
And you too
red hair caught back
and eyes open.
So silent. 

Southwest American Literature

Ah.  In the mail today, two copies of the new issue of Southwest American Literature featuring a scholar essay by yours truly on Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry and their various uses of the West as a literary genre.   I focus on two barfights–one in the text(s) of each author–and blow that up into a greater issue of reader response.  In fact, reader response seems increasingly important to the study of Western American literature, even though in the larger world of literary criticism it’s gone the way of the dodo.  On the other hand, Western American lit has gone the same way in the eyes of the litcrit scene (with the possible exception of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian) so perhaps it’s a perfect combo.  

This essay of mine has been, by the way, extracted from my dissertation.  I’m still in the epic process of trying to put that together into some kind of book manuscript.  Like most first drafts, it’s just not that good–or it’s good enough for a Ph.D. (I guess that’s pretty good) but not really good enough to stand in the larger field  of international scholarship.  Not yet, but it’s making progress.  The SWL piece is a solid freestanding excerpt and I’m trying to get another chunk together for publication for Clio: A Journal of Literature, History and the Philosophy of History.  Now doesn’t that sound fascinating?  In any case, it does for me.
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