Saturday, October 20, 2007
"TO WANT IN HELL, THAT HAD ON EARTH SUCH STORE"
Mon. 15th featured a lecture by Tony Grafton on the historical figure of Faustus. I went, because I'm a Faustus fan from way back -- not Marlowe's, not Goethe's (or not just), but the actual Faustus. Grafton was trying to define exactly what "a magus" was to the mind of the time. The most interesting part of the talk was that a humanist might be considered a "magus" because of the odd learning, the relation to ancient texts and esoterica. Looking around the reception after, I saw more people who attended the FW reading group at one point or another than I have at any other gathering -- magi indeed!
Tues. 16th featured a reading by poet Charles Bernstein at the Beinecke. I've never heard Bernstein read before and it's a treat. He has a loud, somewhat hectoring voice to begin with -- and when he uses the mike for booming effects and sibilance and so forth -- it's pretty effective. In fact I can't recall any other reading at Yale that was to the same degree a reading: a performance of the poetry, a deliberately crafted aural presentation of verbal material. Some of the poems were rather odd: like one in which he read the variety of symbols that come with spam emails; my favorite was probably one that was delivered litany-like with him doing both a celebrant and respondent's voice, as it were. Elsewhere language had the requisite force of an object, something that makes more use of structure and sound than it does of sense.
After the reception, I was off to another event: the Marxists Reading Group's guest speaker Vijay Prashad to discuss his book, The Darker Nations. Brilliant, incredibly verbal and knowledgeable guy, completely unpretentious. Though I didn't read the book with the group I did want to hear what he had to say, but as I expected his work partakes of that element of the Marxist Study Group that I tend to avoid readings and discussions of: the particularized, localized discussion of political praxis. I'm hoping the next book they read is more theoretical. (Forgot to mention: between events, with two glasses of wine in me, I browsed Labyrinth Books and actually bought things -- a translation, with Latin, of Catullus (must've been the Grafton influence), Ashbery's latest, A Wordly Country, still in hardback (they didn't have Bernstein's Girly Man); and a book by Morris Berman called Dark Ages America -- it looked like fast and fun cultural studies critique of the 21st century, which is what I was in the mood for. You need books like that during an election year.)
Wed. 17th my class -- a freshman writing seminar -- meets, and we've been talking about E. O. Wilson's book Sociobiology and the debate it occasioned back in the late '70s. So happens Wilson himself was on campus to receive an award from the Peabody Museum. I went to his "fireside chat" (sans fire) with fellow awardee Peter Raven. Both talked mainly, as biologists must, about the depletion of bio-diversity in our era and the harmful effects it will have for the biosphere that we humans are historically best adapted to.
Wed. night I had dinner and Anchor Steams with a friend who asked if I could tie together the various events. Here goes: the idea of the magus as the learned man-necromancer-magician of the Renaissance is that person who is savvy toward the best technology of the day, as well as the most esoteric knowledge of the past: in the future, this figure will be the person who can create -- on the other side of the next "dark ages" we may get to eventually, especially as it doesn't seem "the darker nations" present any viable alternative -- the virtual reality that will replace the declining-out-of-sight biosphere we knew and loved. And Bernstein's computer-symbol poem will be the precursor for the lyric poem of that age...