A Fool in the Forest

A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.

As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7

L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Les Fleurs du Mal, “Correspondances”

Friday, December 05, 2003
A Leisurely Observation

From Maine-based attorney Scheherazade Fowler, attending a bankruptcy conference near Palm Springs:
One of the things I enjoy about resorts is the concierges. They are like reference librarians for the frivolous and self-indulgent.

"Goodness is in me, and also grayness, and as well I loafing here am yet a poet"

Terry Teachout and Our Girl in Chicago had an ongoing discussion recently on the subject of writers and artists who are clearly important/great, but to whom they have never warmed.  I think the most recent round was here, and it in turn will link you back through the series.  In a similar vein, I have been revisiting one of my own particular blindspots recently: Walt Whitman.

I have been trying to grapple myself into more enthusiasm for Whitman for more than a quarter century, without success.  When I was an undergraduate English major at Berkeley in the 1970's, I took a poetry course taught by Ron Loewinsohn -- a gentleman notable for a number of things, but I'll confess that I took his course in large part because Richard Brautigan had dedicated Trout Fishing in America to him.¹  The class was an odd cross-pollination incorporating a survey of [mostly] American Poetry -- starting at Poe and Whitman and proceeding by way of Pound, Eliot, Williams, Stevens [Hart Crane was on the syllabus, but we never actually read him], before leapfrogging via (inevitably) Sylvia Plath to then-contemporary work by Ted Hughes, James Wright and Gary Snyder -- with poetry writing exercises thrown in.  One of the running themes of the class was the notion that the history of American poetry is really the history of a competition between the approach of Poe (this would be the oft-maligned "school of quietude," I suppose) and that of Whitman.  Loewinsohn was pretty squarely on the side of Whitman, but he tried to give the alternative strain a fair shake.  For my part, I was happy the day we put Whitman behind us.

Then and now, Walt Whitman simply does not Work for me, and it is not because (as even his supporters usually admit) he produced as much really mediocre work in his career as any major poet this side of Wordsworth.  No, my problem is with what most agree are the genuinely good poems he produced, and above all with the core of the Whitman oeuvre, the "Song of Myself."²

I can recognize lines and passages in which Whitman did very well indeed.  That long line of his, with its wholloping caesura smack in the middle, can be a fluid and powerful instrument, and his wide-ranging vocabulary is often effective in providing the sort of "music" that might otherwise be provided by, say, meter or rhyme.³  But those lists, those lists!  "Song of Myself" seems above all a List of Lists, and each item on each list seems to require a counterbalancing item within that list or in another list.  And Whitman is constantly proclaiming how all-encompassing he is: Not only am I This, I am also That, And I am This Other Thing, and Something Else Again.  And on and on.  And on.

Just as including every possible frequency only produces white noise, Whitman's efforts to include everything produce the impression in this reader that his poem is ultimately about nothing . . . or it would produce that impression if one could only stay awake through whole wearying incantatory thing.4

There.  I've said it and I'm glad.

¹ I revisited Trout Fishing over the summer, and found that it holds up surprisingly well.   Whatever his weaknesses as a person (mostly relating to alcohol), Brautigan could turn out sentences that are a pure pleasure to read, even if they are not exactly freighted with deep significance.

² Digression and Speculative Exercise: Did it strike anyone else that President Clinton's List of 21 Favorite Books, so provocative of much comment elsewhere, listed only Eliot and Yeats as favored poets, pointedly omitting Whitman's Leaves of Grass, a copy of which Mr. Clinton famously presented to a blushing young intern of his acquaintance?  Would Leaves have made the President's list in, say, 1996 and, if so, which of the works currently included has replaced it?

³ I know that when I've written about poetry previously I have tended to focus on strongly metric or rhyming work, but I do not have a particular bone to pick with free verse as such.  A poet who rejects the use of those tools is doing hirself no favors, but some at least have succeeded by other means.

4 Aaron Haspel quoting Yvor Winters, taking Yeats to task, provides a relevant observation:
'The bardic tone is common in romantic poetry; it sometimes occurs in talented (but confused) poets such as Blake and Yeats; more often it appears in poets of little or no talent, such as Shelley, Whitman, and Robinson Jeffers.  For most readers the bardic tone is synonymous with greatness, for through this tone the poet asserts that he is great, in the absence of any (or sufficient) supporting intelligence.'
I am also reminded of God's complaint when he appears to King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
God: What are you doing now?
Arthur: I'm averting my eyes, O Lord.
God: Well don't. It's like those miserable Psalms -- they're so depressing. Now knock it off!

O, O, O, That Ozzy Man-Dizzyin' Rag!

When will it end? Not quite yet, I'm afraid:

From the American Poets Project's new collection of light verse, American Wits, comes one more Ozymandias variant, this one by Morris Bishop:
Ozymandias Revisited

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Also the names of Emory P. Gray,
Mr. and Mrs. Dukes, and Oscar Baer
Of 17 West 4th Street, Oyster Bay.

Thursday, December 04, 2003
Oh Show Us the Way to the Next Whisky

And to think they call it The Dismal Science!

Gentle readers, I give you The Malt Whisky Yield Curve.
Revisionist Economic History

This past summer, you may recall, there was a terrible incident at the weekly Farmer's Market in the city of Santa Monica. An elderly gentlemen somehow drove his car through the crowd, killing 10 and injuring more than 60. The incident received a lot of coverage, and inevitably led to innumerable editorials along the lines of: "Should the Elderly Be Allowed to Drive, or Should We Just Lock Them In Cages and Have Done With It?" You know the sort of thing I mean.

Today, the Los Angeles Times offers an update on the ongoing investigation here. The only reason I link to it is the headline. Whoever writes these things for the Times was apparently under the impression he was working on a story for the Business section, because he/she has offered a new and outlandish explanation for the bursting of the dot.com bubble. The headline?
Driver Error Blamed in Market Crash

Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Cross-Blog Traffic

As does many another earnest scribbler, I am in the habit of checking my traffic and referrer logs many more times in a day than I can safely admit. I have had Site Meter running here for some six months. Last week, frustrated with the lack of detail provided by the tracking mechanisms that are incorporated into TypePad (a package with which I am otherwise well pleased and to which I keep telling myself I must get around to transferring my Fool-ish persona), I finally installed a meter on my TypePad-based legal site, Declarations and Exclusions. Now I have two sets of statistics to check on an ongoing basis, just in case I find myself with time on my hands.

Comparing traffic patterns between the two sites has been intriguing. To my surprise, something like 95% of the traffic at Decs & Excs is generated by search engines (Google and Yahoo principally), while the percentage of search engine referrals here is closer to 50%. The other half of my traffic here either derives from those much-appreciated links on other sites or comes with no referral information at all -- which I take to mean that the visitor is a true hardcore Fool reader who came here directly and on purpose. While D&E is receiving somewhat higher traffic than this site, both remain small potatoes indeed in the larger scheme of things. Not that fame and glory have been the goals of these projects, mind you.

So what have we learned? Extrapolating from this admittedly unreliable statistical sample, I have to suspect that the overall audience for a legal weblog is moreso an "audience of opportunity," readers who arrive because they were looking for some sort of substantive information on some topic that happens to have been mentioned. The audience for a cultural weblog -- and I suspect this to be true for political sites as well -- is more likely to include readers who make a regular, perhaps daily, habit of reading either weblogs generally or, better yet, the pages of particular weblogologizers. And the readers in that latter group (you know who you are, bless you all) are the ones to be prized.

Ha! Who says attorneys have no grasp of the obvious?
The Links Ascending

Warming up to posting something more original, here are some random items of note from the past few days to be found Someplace Other Than Here:

♣ There are hours of middlebrow family fun to be had with Mr. Picassohead. Hang them on your wall! Fool your friends! [Via Professor Volokh of UCLA School of Law, doing my alma mater proud as usual.]

♣ And speaking of UCLA School of Law, Professor Stephen Bainbridge explains what's going wrong at the Disney Company, what with Roy Disney's resignation from the Board and such, before displaying a bit of resignation of his own:
What's the solution? As a lawyer, I'm trained to find an answer to any legal problem. As a law professor, I'm trained to write articles that conclude with a proposed legal reform that solves some doctrinal or policy problem. As I get older, however, I've concluded that some problems have no answers and I'm ok with it.
The Professor's site is worth a regular visit because he offers not just corporate legal insights but insightful Wine Tasting Notes as well.

♣ Any number of others have linked it, but perhaps you have missed this spiffy profile of Bill Watterson, the J.D. Salinger/Thomas Pynchon of comics artists.

♣ A C Douglas trots out his remarkably convincing Herman Melville ventriloquism act whilst waxing all rhapsodic-like over Moby-Dick (as well he might).

♣ The P. B. Shelleyathon continues with K. Silem Mohammad's reconnaissance in depth of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty." Very few stone heads are in evidence, and nary a trunkless leg. [Link via Mike Snider.]

♣ A final note of gratitude: it's buried deep in a particularly thick and tasty "Elsewhere" post, but this Fool is thankful for his first-ever link from a Blowhard. One never knows who might be reading one, or what might catch their fancy, do one?
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Neglectful Of His Post

Begging your pardon, gentle readers, but a combination of deadlines for appellate briefs, court hearings and the like is keeping me on the jump. More substantive remarks will resume when possible, most likely sometime Wednesday. If you've an interest in that sort of thing, there have been a number of new items appearing on this Fool's law-related site, Declarations and Exclusions.