Friday, July 25, 2008

Eric Hobsbawm, On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy

Hobsbawm's On Empire is a rather pedestrian presentation of the tottering, unstable American empire; an "empire" deserving of the quotes, unlike any that has gone before (because it exists in a world unlike any that has gone before). In very simplistic terms, then, it seems to me that the history Hobsbawm presents -- more often than not in glancing comparisons to the past British empire -- is of limited use for anything other than setting off how the times are so very different.

Ah, but what is history "for" after all... Lordy, it's too early.

In setting off the times and the American "empire" from others that have gone before he succeeds rather well. There are, too, touchstones that Hobsbawm returns to time and again that bear keeping in mind: that inter-state wars have largely fallen by the wayside, that armed conflict tends to be on a smaller scale, yet its impacts on civilian populations has magnified; that there is no territorial underpinning to the American "empire," it being instead largely a matter of force projection than territorial coherence, or even incoherence (and thus, any pax Americana is necessarily an attempt to impose or keep the peace without, whereas in the past -- for instance, pax Britannia -- it has referred to a peace the within the empire, albeit a peace that has been aided by peace without).

But not surprisingly for a book of collected addresses, it doesn't quite hold together. Nor, I suppose, should it be assumed that it will. Too bad, on the whole; though not a bad read. It has left me with a few things to think about... if no great insights.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Charles Bukowski, Bone Palace Ballet

Back to one of the old stand-bys. Bukowski.

I find it impossible to "date" his work -- early? late? somewhere in-between? It all seems in-between: between worlds, times, memories, moments. And that's probably the great draw. In fact, I'm sure of it. Feed the inner-rebel, the angry young man, and yet maintain a bit of the dilettante sensibility: sleep with whores and go home to Mahler; get drunk and fight and go home to the typer and hammer out a bit on Dostoyevsky.

But there's something a little different about Bone Palace Ballet. Not on the whole. But he writes of his daughter and far more of his wife than I can remember in previous books. ("In previous books" only in the order of my reading -- "in other books".) And of his age -- though there is less surrender than simply the fact in it.

And he does have perhaps the most unblinking assessment of wannabe writers I have read anywhere:
"the weak"

are always proclaiming that
they are now going to concentrate
on their work, which is usually
painting or writing,
it is known, of course, that they have
talent, they simply haven't... well...
And on he goes. Oh my... ouch. Truly. True. For some? For most? For many? For me?

For me? No. I hope. Still. Ouch.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Calvin Trillin, Deadline Poet: My Life as a Doggerelist

I've always really enjoyed Trillin's work. While I haven't read any of his food books (for which he is widely... known? published?), I developed a taste for his memoirs and reportage (of which the most recent that I've seen is "The Color of Blood" and "Capital Fellows" -- in issues of The New Yorker from the past months) and thoroughly enjoyed his novel, Tepper Isn't Going Out.

I never was one for his "Deadline Poet" schtick, and I don't think it's just because of my own pretensions as a poet. I don't, for that matter, think my pretensions have much to do with it. It just... Well, I didn't think his "doggerel" (his word; I'd probably use, in my pretension, "light verse") was all that funny.

But I was at a poetry reading with a friend, was looking for something light, saw Trillin's Deadline Poet sitting by the elbow of the arm that held the hand which held my head as I half paid attention and half reflected on the pretensions of these other poets, and thought: what the hell, I like his stories.

Ugh. Nothing.

It's not just the (Trillin-tagged) gray, bland quality of the Bush I years (around which most of the book and Trillin's doggerel revolves) but there's just nothing to it all. The core -- the verse -- never much appealed to me but I suppose I expected or hoped the stories around it all to redeem. John Sununu? C. Boyden Gray? Early Clinton (Bill)?

I don't know, maybe I've become too earnest. But it left me cold. At least it's finished. And on we go.