Monday, May 21, 2007

2 Poets, 2 Assassins

Film theorist Phil Rosen (born in Paterson) suggested I read About Paterson: The Making and Unmaking of an American City (1974). The book starts like a noir thriller: “Main Street is paved in the torment of all roads that stretch between an unusable past and a future unfounded” (28); “Most revealing of Paterson’s character, the city has been home to two major American poets and two assassins. [Angelo Bresci and Talmadge Hayer] While there is no Bureau of Vital Statistics on Poets and Assassins in Washington, it seems safe to say that Paterson is the only American city with this distinction. Nor is it an accident. For Paterson is a prototypical American city, reflecting the fierce strains of hope and despair, of triumph and defeat, of myth and reality that are the enigmas of the American dream.”(13) The author Christopher Norwood seems a noir hero herself; yes, dude is a chick, and to see her photo on the back after reading the hard-nosed, brutal details inside is surreal (she was in 2005 nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work with AIDS in the South Bronx). Even though she admits that Paterson is a sort of impossible object, “probably beyond description,” she gives deep detail of backroom deals, machine politics, mob control, and the city left behind (“sliced in half by the Passaic River, like a piece of old toast”—hey, I thought it was beyond description!). Placing Paterson in the sixties and seventies at the ass-end of a long history of urban neglect that goes back to a particular prejudice of the founding fathers for the rural, Norwood shows how Paterson is just the most extreme case of how the focus of money and resources in the suburbs, where there is less need of them, rots out the city and turns it into a human rights nightmare. Most interestingly, Norwood describes the accompanying problem of hysterical pride that has tended to blind people to the deep problems of the city, or is perhaps a calculatedly ideological blinder. She writes that between the Great Strike of 1913 and WWII, the only attempts to make the city a better place to live included absurd measures like the Women’s Republican Club vowing to knock the hats off of anybody who didn’t salute the flag (sound familiar?). When she starts to describe her contemporary moment, this almost rosy-noir past becomes tragic and ponderous, and we see Paterson as a trap; it may even be a black hole into which all of America has been sucked. Of course, I don’t know the gritty details of what’s happened in Paterson since 1974—I-80 did eventually get built through it and this long-awaited last link of the transcontinental interstate was supposed to be a deliverance.

In general, though, there is certainly a lot of hysterical hat knocking going on everywhere, the Sopranos have become pop cultural heros, and well, given that Paterson was home to the 9/11 assassins, I’m waiting for my quota of major Patersonian poets to even out the score once again. But if Norwood’s history is any guide to the future, don’t hold your breath. (Note: Bernard Kerik does not count.)

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Catch Up with the Impossible Object

Index update (6/19/06-5/13/07)

Video entries
Pat(t)erson: Two T’s or One? video only . . original entry
Loof for the Nul video only . . original entry
A Dissonance in the Valence of Uranium video only . . original entry
Paterson: When You Know! video only . . original entry
Outside Myself There is a World video only . . original entry
Mystery Mountain, Part One video only . . original entry
A Thousand Automatons video only . . original entry
Mystery Mountain, Part Two video only . . original entry
Make A Song Out of That: Concretely video only . . original entry
From a Roseate Past video only . . original entry
Mighty Alternative Media video only . . original entry
1896, Passaic Falls video only . . original entry

Audio entries
Radiophonic Paterson Mix #1 audio only . . original entry
Sam Patch! audio only . . original entry
Make A Song Out of That: Concretely audio (with video) . . original entry
Buried Heterogeneity: Lytle Shaw on Paterson original entry (with audio links)
What There Is: Amelia Arenas on Williams original entry (with audio links)
The Wonder Years: Carole Maso on Paterson original entry (with audio links)

Interpretation and commentary
“No Ideas but in Things” or “Under the Concrete, the Ocean”? original entry
White Flights original entry
Notes on the Paragram: Poetry and Comedy 1 original entry
Notes on the Paragram: Poetry and Comedy 2 original entry
Rigor of Beauty original entry
From One Old Coconut to Another original entry
I Never Told You To Read It original entry
Between Athens and the Amphioxus original entry
Bulkeley, Hunt, Williard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint original entry

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

1896, Passaic Falls

"The past above, the future below
and the present pouring down: the roar,
the roar of the present, a speech--
is, of necessity, my sole concern ."

1896 Edison film of Passaic Falls. More info.
Thanks to Dan Streible for pointing this out.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

No Socially Shared Metaphysic

Flux Factory has just released its schedule of free tours, parties, meetings, and readings to take place during its happening in Paterson this June. Among other things, I will be hosting Paterson reading group, with meetings and tours throughout June (download the schedule for dates and info.)
The purpose of Flux Factory is to use this month--in cooperation with inhabitants of Paterson--to conceive of a monument for the city. In conceptualizing some kind of urban monument, my two blogs collide. On "The Woonasquatucket Primitive," I already expressed my cynicism at the unchecked proliferation of monuments of all stripe in the Providence riverwalk area, in deference to the more modest interventions of an anonymous artist I recently discovered to be a homeless man. Will this Paterson monument be a "real" monument? Such a thing could provide some sort of sense of public meaning, even though, as Richard Serra pointed out in reference to his anti-monuments "there is no socially shared metaphysic." The last time I was in Paterson, we discovered a depressingly perfunctory tombstone behind chainlink fence commemorating the underground railroad: at the very least, something like this should be given the dignity that is misdirected onto the Lou Costello statue. But a monument is surely a luxury, and perhaps would even be construed as a sign of corruption or frivolity in a city like Paterson, which would be better off investing in the future than the past. It has been suggested that Flux buy a cheap house for urban youth programs. Or, in the end, given that they call themselves "flux," the happening itself could be a kind of dematerialized monument, based on the heightened interactions of people who would not normally have met. The impulse to memorialize in Paterson will undoubtedly meet with a score of paradoxes and ironies. In fact, this preference for future growth over historical past is perhaps based on a false distinction. As Robert Smithson pointed out, New Jersey is precisely the place where the future fails, and its landscape memorializes the ruin of impossible utopian projects.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Bulkeley, Hunt, Williard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint

A couple weeks ago, I bought a used copy of Emerson's selected works for 3 bucks. I been thinking of having something like this in my bookshelves for years, and 3 bucks could not be beat. However, what sealed the deal was opening the book to the poem Hamatreya, the opening of which immediately struck me as a precursor to Paterson:

"Bulkeley, Hunt, Williard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood"

Like the historical passages of Paterson, I was stuck by both the poetry and intractability of actuality, here embodied in the names. I wonder how far back we can find examples of this preference for historical quiddity rather than mythological abstraction in poetry. My sense is not farther back than Emerson (oh, wait, there's the Homeric catalogue). In three lines, Emerson creates the agricultural cosmos that in the end he delivers back to the earth. It would seem that he brings up these names only to belittle their importance in the face of death and larger meaning. But, the paradox is that they have made it into the poem afterall (and can now be Googled).
When I finally sat down with the poem, another significant relation to Paterson became clear. The first part of the poem has long lines in blocks, and ends with

"Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth says:--"

This lovable Victorian colash sets off a section called "Earth-Song," which, like the unannounced, song-like breaks in Paterson, is formatted on the page with much shorter lines, as if to force a distinction between lyrical poetry and prose within poetry itself. The Earth-Song, like the sounds of Williams' falls, encourages a leveling of distinctions and a giving over to a song which is noise, silence, nothing, void, mute, chill.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

The Wonder Years: Carole Maso on Paterson

Novelist Carole Maso was born in Paterson, NJ and in many ways is a writer deeply informed both by the stylistic licenses Williams took, as well as by the aura of his presence in her first city. Maso talks of Wonderbread trucks, grammar school pride, Armenian silk workers, and other Patersoniana in this recent interview, again fairly unedited. I regretted later on not asking her about how she felt about the Marcia Nardi passages, especially after reading her say in another interview: “Only a college-educated white man can write enormous, sloppy, sometimes unreadable books and be labeled a genius. If a woman attempted such a project she'd be laughed or scorned or ridiculed off the scene. Or worse, ignored.” I did later see her at a reading, and we briefly talked about how Williams was canny to fess up to such power dynamics by including the Nardi letters to him, warts and all.
Maso talks about her upbringing in Paterson: (3 min. 24 sec.)
Moving through a modernist masterpiece: (4 min. 25 sec.)
Hardship in Paterson: (3 min. 9 sec.)
Paterson and Paterson: (1 min. 56 sec.)

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