San Francisco in Lit


The Literary City

Based on a similar map of St Petersburg by Vera Evstafieva and Andrew Biliter (**), this one places city-relevant quotes on a San Francisco map, where possible on the district the quote relates to. San Francisco Bay, cable cars, the Mission, the Tenderloin District and Chinatown are all name-checked in this map, which quotes following authors:

  • Alice Adams (Second Chances – 1988)
  • Isabel Allende (Daughter of Fortune – 1999)
  • Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – 1969)
  • Gertrude Atherton (The House of Lee – 1940)
  • Albert Benard de Russailh (Last Adventure – 1851)
  • Ambrose Bierce (The Death of Halpin Frayser – 1891)
  • Herb Caen (Herb Caen’s San Francisco – 1957)
  • Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – 1968)
  • Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – 2000)
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Dog – 1958)
  • Allen Ginsberg (Sunflower Sutra – 1956)
  • Andrew Sean Greer (The Confessions of Max Tivoli – 2004)
  • Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon – 1930)
  • Robert Hass (Bookbuying in the Tenderloin – 1967)
  • Bob Kaufman (No More Jazz at Alcatraz)
  • Maxine Hong Kingston (China Men – 1980)
  • Jack Kerouac (On the Road – 1957)
  • Gus Lee (China Boy – 1991)
  • Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City – 1978)
  • Czeslaw Milosz (Visions From San Francisco Bay – 1975)
  • Alejandro Murguia (The Medicine of Memory – 2002)
  • Frank Norris (McTeague – 1899)
  • Thomas Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49 – 1968)
  • Ishmael Reed (Earthquake Blues – 1988)
  • William Saroyan (The Living and the Dead – 1936)
  • John Steinbeck (Travels with Charley – 1961)
  • George Sterling (The Cool, Grey City of Love – 1920)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson (Arriving in San Francisco – 1879)
  • Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club – 1989)
  • Michelle Tea (Valencia – 2000)
  • Hunter S. Thompson (The Great Shark Hunt – 1964)
  • Mark Twain (Early Rising, As Regards Excursions to the Cliff House – 1864)
  • Sean Wilsley (On the Glory of It All – 2005)

Emily’s Hat


From Annie Finch at harriet:

I propose that what those of us who think about poetry will find most deeply startling about this piece of photoshopping, inspired by the “Aretha’s hat” post-inauguration website, is neither its humor (everyone knows Dickinson had a great sense of humor), nor the chronological workout it puts us through, nor even the implications about Dickinson’s political views. What is most profoundly startling, most unprecedented, is that the photo situates Dickinson blatantly in relation to another woman’s ideas. And this is not how we normally think of Dickinson.

Dickinson, after all, famously claimed that “she never had a mother.” This remark, with its combination of defiance and wistfulness, surely applies to the literary and intellectual as well as to the familial realm. Dickinson passionately admired Barrett Browning and hung her picture on her wall—but this fact is not part of the Dickinson myth, nor does it affect the way in which her poems are usually read. To think of the Emily of this portrait as not only digging on Aretha, but publicly sporting her affiliation with the older woman, does violence to the usual idea of Dickinson as the perpetual daughter, the rootless wonder, the eternal anomaly, sprung Athena-like from the brow of patriarchal culture.

I have written elsewhere online and in print about Dickinson’s relation to the long-forgotten “poetesses” who were the literary source of much that seems to us odd and singular about her. As Dickinson’s letters attest, these are the poets that she, now considered without question one of our greatest poets, most often read, learned from, and rated herself against. Wouldn’t you expect that the work of these, her influences, would be combed over, studied, valued, if only for its influence on her? And yet it is, in general, not even physically available to us (in dusty, gold-carved volumes sold for their bindings) —and if we do encounter bits of it, they are not poems written in a tradition we have any idea how to approach, to read, but only caricatures set up in contradistinction to her.  [more]

Politics & The Writer

From Carolyn Forché:

The word politics presents more serious difficulties, particularly in the literary culture of the United States, where the word is most often applied pejoratively, and where politics is regarded as a contaminant of serious literary work. Our poets, most especially, are relegated to the hermetic sphere of lyric expressivity and linguistic art, where they are expected to remain unsullied by historical, political, and social forces. I speak to you today as a rather contaminated poet, but my understanding of the political is in accord with Hannah Arendt’s: “To be political, to live in a polis [means] that everything [is] decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence. In Greek self-understanding) to force people by violence, to command rather than persuade, were pre-political ways to deal with people characteristic of life outside the polis.” Finally, we are discussing the writer with a politics—and of this I can only say that it would be difficult for me to imagine a writer or intellectual who would profess to be without one. I live and write, however, in the administered world of a Western industrial state, where communicative thought and action are inhibited; where money circulates more fluently than verbal forms; where democracy does not extend beyond the scope of its institutions; where “total communication yields endless debate in stead of change” (Otto Karl Werckmeister); in an economy so deeply dependent on military production that the national consciousness has been colonized by war; where armament and disarmament are simultaneously professed; where intellectuals find themselves “aesthetically oversensitized and politically numbed” (Werckmeister); and where the enlightened powerless occasionally produce works that are serendipitously drawn into debates beyond the literary sphere.

Seen One, Seen ’em All

From Terry Eagleton at the London Review of Books:

Romantic literature, with its cult of the poetic personality, might seem just the opposite of this. Yet the Romantic poet’s richly particularised voice is largely a way of giving tongue to the transcendent. From Wordsworth to D.H. Lawrence, one speaks most persuasively when one articulates what is not oneself, whether one calls this Nature or the creative imagination, the primary processes or the dark gods. The self runs down to unfathomably anonymous roots. Men and women emerge as unique beings through a medium (call it Geist, History, Language, Culture or the Unconscious) that is implacably impersonal. What makes us what we are has no regard for us at all. At the very core of the personality, so the modern age holds, vast, anonymous processes are at work. Only through a salutary repression or oblivion of these forces can we achieve the illusion of autonomy. Anonymity is the condition of identity.

It is this bleak doctrine that Modernism will inherit, as a cult of impersonality takes over from the clapped-out Romantic ego. For Romanticism, the self and the infinite merge in the act of imaginative creation. To surrender oneself to dark, unknowable powers is to become all the more uniquely oneself. One must lose one’s life in order to find it. For one strain of Modernism, by contrast, the self is displaced by the very forces which constitute it – unhoused, scooped out, decentred and dispossessed. We are no more than the anonymous bearers of myth, tradition, language or literary history. The only way the self can leave its distinctive thumb-print, from Flaubert to Joyce, is in the fastidiously distancing style by which it masks itself. Language itself may be authorless; but style, as Roland Barthes claims in Writing Degree Zero, plunges straight to the visceral depths of the self.

Another strain of Modernism turns back to subjectivity itself, as if by way of refuge. The self may be fitful and fragmentary, but there is something we can rely on in the immediacy of its sensations. And though the essence of selfhood is now elusive, there are certain rare moments in which it can be fleetingly recaptured. Postmodernism, by contrast, rehearses the Modernist tale of the unhoused, decentred self, but without the consolations of an essential self. There never was such a thing, for Barthes any more than for David Hume, and we are doubtless all the better for it. What looks like a loss is actually a liberation. Unity is an illusion, and consistency is more a vice than a virtue. Postmodernism is full of personality cults, but they know themselves to be groundless. Like commodities, individual selves are basically interchangeable. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Read the whole thing here

Blue Met

From the festival website:

Blue Met?
The world’s first multilingual literary festival – and the best five-day literary party there is. In 2008, Blue Met gathered about 350 writers, literary translators, musicians, actors, journalists and publishers from Quebec and from all around the world for five days of literary events in English, French, Spanish and other languages.

Theme 2009: Words that Matter

Words do matter, today more than ever. Times of turmoil are times of danger, as we lose much of what we have valued. These are times of opportunity as well, as we rethink what we have taken for granted, discriminate between what matters more and what matters less, and create anew. The 11th Blue Met brings you words worth writing, works worth reading, writers worth quoting, texts worth teaching – all kinds of words that can make the world a better place. And what are those words? Inclusion and diversity, for a start. Fighting words. Respect, commitment, quality, innovation. And fun! 

The Brain and the Doppelgänger

From David Biro at the Literature, Arts and Medicine blog:

One of the most exciting, recent discoveries in science has been the mirror neuron. First isolated in monkeys and later found to exist in human beings, these neurons (and groups of neurons) are active not simply when we are moving and emoting but when we observe others moving and emoting. Our brains, as it were, re-enact or mirror the movements and emotions of other people as we watch them. Although scientists are still working out the implications of this extraordinary finding, it is almost certain that the brain’s mirroring system contributes to the profoundly social nature of human beings and may well be responsible for many of our greatest collective achievements: language, social institutions, and culture (4).

Many scientists also believe that neuronal mirroring can reflect in two directions, illuminating both the external world (of others) and the internal world (of self). By constantly observing and imitating others, we not only learn about them but about ourselves: How we see and think of ourselves; the meanings we ultimately give to our most intimate and “unsharable” experiences like pain; indeed the ongoing project of human creation in general as it works to fill the world with things that possess the capacity to reflect our humanity (5).

Thinkers like Sartre, Foucault and Lacan may have been exquisitely prescient. Mimesis may well turn out to be a prerequisite or stepping stone to self-knowledge. We observe, reproduce, impose patterns, and thereby understand. We can do this with objects that happen to cross our field of vision…  But we could also do this on a more sophisticated level. If a potential doppelganger doesn’t exist we can invent one … as many artists do in their poems and paintings. After finishing his masterwork, Flaubert is famously reported to have said of his creation: Emma Bovary, ces’t moi. The re-production leads to recognition. The same thing that painters do perhaps more self-consciously in their self-portraits and in the case of Frida Kahlo, her double self-portraits. Here the dictum of philosopher Nelson Goodman is most transparently realized: Comprehension and creation go on together (6).

Read the whole thing here

Queerness & Disability

A review by Margaret Spelman:

Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability examines contemporary culture, yet its argument is rooted in the nineteenth century.  During that century, the notion of “normal” came to dominate medical and social discourses, and the effects of this shift are still felt today.  Lennard J. Davis conducted an extensive study of the rise of “normal,” showing that while it was initially a mathematical (statistical) term, in the 1700s it began to denote an idealized bourgeois position.  Davis explains:

The average man, the man in the middle, becomes the exemplar of the middle way of life … [an ideology that] saw the bourgeoisie as rationally placed in the mean position in the great order of things.  This ideology can be seen as developing the kind of science that would then justify the notion of a norm.  With such thinking, the average then becomes paradoxically a kind of ideal, a position devoutly to be wished.(1)

Davis’ analysis is worth quoting at length here because it provides the link between normality and class that undergirds McRuer’s book.  Although its subtitle identifies the work’s focus as “cultural signs of queerness and disability,” Crip Theory is at heart a critique of neoliberal and capitalist ideologies which construct middle-class, white, straight, and able-bodied as positions devoutly to be wished.  Its title could make it seem a “niche” study, but Crip Theory is in fact an expansive argument showing that every institutional context, local and global, relies on queerness and disability to support the ways it distributes power and access.  Often oppressive, these institutions are also sites where dissent breaks out — or, to use McRuer’s phrase, where “crip reality keeps on turning” (63).

Inversion Therapy” by Margaret Spelman, a review of Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability

Roberto Bolaño

From n + 1:

[Roberto] Bolaño’s reputation among Spanish speakers is secure, but his significance to us can’t be what it is to them. The same goes for Borges, the model Bolaño most often invoked. For Spanish speakers the importance of Borges is not confined to the black metaphysical jokes purveyed in his mind-bending fables. Hispanophone readers often describe a sense of their language as dripping with high-flown inclinations; literary Spanish tends to become humid with rhetoric and profuse with metaphors, something easy to see in modern poetry from Lorca onward. So Borges in his own language counts as a champion dessicator; he pushes Spanish toward the hard, cold, and dry. Even so, he strikes us as rhetorical enough. It fell to writers like Bolaño to complete the dryingout of literary prose already accomplished in other languages by writers like Hemingway and Camus. Bolaño can write page after page without indulging in a single metaphor, or adding a dab of rhetorical color to the account of a dinner party or a murder. Of course you can find perfect sentences in Bolaño, and crazy metaphors too, but for the most part he proceeds as if literature were too desperate an enterprise to bother with being well written. The rationale for his antieloquence belongs to the internal dynamic of any modern language: an idiom encrusted with poeticisms needs a solvent bath. But for Latin Americans of Bolaño’s generation there may also be political grounds for preferring writing degree zero to purple haze. One more disgusting feature of the Argentine junta (it is Argentines who predominate in Bolaño’s gallery of imaginary Nazi writers) was the generals’ magniloquence.

Our problem in America is hardly that our worst politicians speak too well, or that we lack for plain stylists. What is our problem, then—to which Bolaño seems a solution? American critics and regular readers alike usually don’t care for sweeping literary-historical arguments. And yet in recent years we have been celebrating [W. G.] Sebald and Bolaño as if we really do believe in some big metanarrative about the novel—one that proclaims that, even post postmodernism, the form remains in crisis. Sure, Sebald and Bolaño deal with fascism, and both died at the height of their powers. More decisive is that neither fiction writer writes as if he believes in fiction. Our canonization of these writers implies a sense, even a conviction, that you can’t be a really important novelist anymore unless you can’t really write novels.

The whole thing is here

Books by and about W.G. Sebald at

Books by Roberto Bolaño at

Feminists in the ’70s

Judith B. Walzer in Dissent:

How do we know when something starts or when a new phenomenon becomes a major trend? We don’t have a “big bang” theory for the “second wave” of the women’s movement. The common wisdom has been that it began when women who were active in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s took a good, long look at their radical male comrades and began to question their own subservience. “We do everything they do,” they thought, “organizing, writing leaflets, marching, demonstrating—and then they think we should do the laundry? What’s that about?” They wondered why they weren’t running the show. But the roots of the movement go back even earlier. Again, popular opinion tells us that there was a buildup for some time, at least since the time of the Second World War, when women had to pitch in and were needed for essential work in the “outside” world.

In much the same way, we assume that the burgeoning interest in women’s literature did not burst forth from the “second wave” in its early days. This interest, too, must have been forming slowly. It took time for the ideas of the new movement to stimulate new attitudes and for these in turn to create powerful connections to intellectual life and academic fields. Yet even without the stimulus of a popular movement, scholars and critics must have been thinking about women and literature and puzzling over the odd ways in which women writers were categorized, shunted off the main line, ignoring that among them were some of the most important writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the 1970s a number of books were written to reappraise women authors and the literature they produced. For the most part these books focused on nineteenth-century Britain (to a lesser extent on the United States and France) and they clearly “started something.” The work of women writers was taken far more seriously in this criticism than it had been before. Its sources and content were examined with the assumption that they had both literary and cultural value. After these critical works it was no longer possible to claim that women’s literary work was tangential to the “tradition” or marginal or derivative. At the same time, and even more important, it became impossible to maintain that you did not have to pay attention to the gender of an author to understand her work, that you could pretend that she had not had characteristic experiences as a writer and as a woman. It became harder and harder to sustain habitually dismissive and narrow responses. In effect, these critical works created a new field. The field asserted itself on the literary scene, and after that, work in this area grew so rapidly and with such vitality and scope that it seems unfair to focus on only a few books written at the start of this period.

But four books seized my attention—then and now—and seem of major importance. They were published from 1975 to 1979: Patricia Spacks’s The Female Imagination (1975), Ellen Moers’s Literary Women (1976) Elaine Showalter’s A Literature of Their Own (1977), and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic (1979).

via wood s lot

Democrat Sexists

When I began blogging nearly two months ago (seems longer), I was committed to focussing more on arts and literature (poetry) than politics and more on Canadian politics than US politics, just because the arts are closer to my heart and we can always use another Canadian blogger (I thought) to push back the sometimes overwhelming focus on Americana.

I knew that I would be focussing my political blogging on issues related to the US war in Iraq because the injustice of that war and of the many things that have flowed from it – illegal detainees at Guantanamo, the rendition of human beings to countries where they would be tortured, the illegal use of torture by the US when questioning their detainees, the detention of child soldiers, violence against women in its many forms, including against US mlitary personnel and private employees – it goes on.

And I have ended up with a focus on the war and all that flows from it.  But I’ve also found myself unexpectedly caught up in the US election cycle.  This is not because I think the election is, on its own, particularly important.  I want a Democrat to win, because I think it makes a difference.  I don’t care which Democrat wins because I don’t think it makes a difference.  I would prefer that Americans (and the rest of us on lookers) could focus on more constructive issues and movements for change.

But this election has caught and held my attention.  The Obama/Rev. Wright issue and racism, yes.  But primarily the unprecedented unleashing of misogyny and sexism with respect to Sen. Clinton.  There should be no one left within the purview of the American news machine who can honestly deny that this hateful outburst has cast a shadow on her campaign (though I have no doubt that some still do deny it).  I’ve been saying for some time now that the pervasive air of misogyny has hurt not just Clinton, though it has absolutely without doubt changed the outcome of the campaign, but has hurt ALL women who live in this environment.

When the concept of sexual harrassment in the workplace was being developed, the idea of “cold climate” at work and “poisoned environment” came along to describe the way that sexual harrassment and inequality hurt not just its victims, but all women working in those environments.  The North American ecosystem is poisoned in so many ways it’s difficult to calculate.  Green house gases, global warming, pollution, destruction of natural resources, exploitative global capitalism, racism, yes, and now the terrible poison of sexism.

Of course, the sexism and misogyny was there before this US election and anyone who cared to know it could find many examples.  But the Clinton candidacy has provided the “opportunity” for a virtual firestorm of hatred which many of us will not forget in our lifetimes.  I am an older woman and have pretty much finished my time in the public/political sphere.  I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were a younger woman looking to take my place in the world.  This is a shocking state of affairs.

The only redeeming quality of the firestorm of misogyny to which we have been witness is the fact that it is all out in the open where, I hope, we can fight it.  In order to fight it, we must name it.  That has become important to me.  I have posted many items relating to the misogyny that has been tarred and feathered all over Hillary Clinton.  Others have done a more thorough job.

At Feminist Law Professors, Ann Bartow gives a taste of the best of the best, beginning with Erica Barnett‘s rundown of slurs against the Senator made by DEMOCRATS:

I’ve said it before-but because some Slog readers seem to still think I believe any attack on Clinton is a sexist attack, I’ll say it again: The misogyny from the media, from supposedly liberal blogger doodz, commenters on this blog, and just about everywhere during this campaign has been despicable. This kind of shit ought to be behind us: Hillary Clinton is a bitch. A big ol’ bitchy bitch. And a cunt. A “big fucking whore.” Fortunately, you can “call a woman anything.” She’s “Nurse Ratched.” She’ll castrate you if she gets a chance. She would like that. She’s a “She-Devil.” She’s a madam, and her daughter’s a whore. She’s frigid, and she can’t give head. She’s a “She-Devil.” A lesbian. A nag. When things get tough, she cries like a big dumb GIRL. In fact, she’s just that – a “little girl.” In FACT, she wants to “cry her way to the White House.” To be, ahem, “Crybaby-in-Chief.” That proves that she’s not tough enough. But she’s also not feminine enough. She’s “screechy.” She’s an “aging, resentful female.” She’s “Sister Frigidaire.” She really ought to quit running for President and stick to housework. She basically spent her entire times as First Lady going to tea parties. She’s a monster whojust won’t die. In fact, she really should just die. You can buy a urinal target with her face on it to express what you really think of her. OMG she’s got claws! She’s crazy. In fact, she’s a lunatic. She’s petty and vindictive and entitled. She’s a washed-up old hag. She’severbody’s first wifestanding outside probate court.” She’s a “scolding mother.” She’s shrillshrillshrill. She can’t take it when people are mean to her. She’s a hellish housewife.” She’s Tanya Harding. She CAN’T be President, what with the mood swings and the menses.Any woman who votes for her is voting with her vagina, not her brain. Women only like Hillary because she’s a fellow Vagina-American. And because they vote with their feelings. Frankly, anyone who still thinks we need “feminine role models” should get over it and move on, already. Oh, and men who supporters are castratos in the eunuch chorus. You shouldn’t make her President because she wants it too much. She’s totally just banking on support from ugly old feminists. And she looooves to play the victim.” She cackles! And cackles. And cackles. It’s like she’s a witch or something! She’s definitely“witchy.” And now you can buy her cackle as your ring tone. Her voice, too, is “grating”-like “fingernails on a blackboard” to “some men.” She’s hiding behind her gender. She isn’t a “convincing mom” because she’s too strident. She never did anything on her own. Her husband keeps her on a leash. She hates men. Her campaign is a “catfight.” She makes people want to kill themselves, is like a “domineering mother,” and is cold. And OMG she has boobies! All of which are reasons to hate her. (And boy, could I go on.)

Oh, and if you even mention any of this, you’re either silly or a bad person.

So yeah, while I’m ready to get on the Obama welcome wagon, I’m also angry. And I’m not ready to “get over” the blatant, ugly misogyny that so many Democrats-Democrats!-have displayed throughout this campaign, thank you very fucking much.

Yes and if Sen. Clinton mentions ANY of this, she is playing the victim, playing the gender card.  Cheating?  Being manipulative?  Trying to get the “sympathy vote”?  WHAT sympathy vote?

Ann Bartow points to the great post by Echidne about why all this is so important, outside the campaign itself.  And also to Historiann, and to the likelihood that Michelle Obama has been and is likely to be the next candidate for this hateful vitriol, Bartow directs us to What About Our Daughters and on the role of supposedly Liberal Doodz, here

I’m a Canadian and for some reason, the US won’t let me vote in their election (though it likely affects me as much as it affects “them”).  But I have said before and I say again, it is reprehensible that Barack Obama hasn’t spoken out on this ugly issue.  A failure of leadership.  And I couldn’t vote for him.  Nor could I vote for John McCain.  This issue is always cast aside as being not as important as the economy, the war, health care  etc.  It is.  It is inextricably intertwined with those “more important” issues.  Women, after all, represent a large portion of the economy, they are at war and their sons, brothers and husbands are at war, they are not only affected by the messed up health care system as are men, but they suffer in varying degrees from lack of access to birth control, abortion etc., and, they are the primary health care givers, pubicly or privately.  It is perilous indeed to ignore the “national conversation” about “women’s place” that has taken place over the last months.