Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • TIM LANTZ, BECKY MANDELBAUM & TED KRITIKOS, Lawrence. Thursday, August 28, 7:00 p.m. Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sitting


America, you have issues around death.
Take www.duckskulls.com -- home of
the Original Intimidator Duckskull --
it’s a way of saying You think you can
get away just by flying, motherfucker?  
Banks & bosses will break my bones, but
if it flies, it dies, so don’t even think.
[Affect incredulous, cocky, vaguely
threatening smirk.]
                                  It’s not even real,
this duckskull, all one word. It’s made
in USA of polymer resin, handpainted
to look like an angry dead bird skull  
w/eyes. Angry b/c it’s dead? Or angry on
yr account, like a guardian ghostcock?

If I had an animal skull on my rear view,
to remind me of the fractional life
I control, I’d think I’d died & gone
to heaven. I do have an animal skull, but
covered with flesh, not even dead, so
out of la mode, out of the loop, out of
necro-everything: the empty swamp,
the truck, the me . . .

Sunday, May 25, 2014

An Encouraging Word

Some months ago, there was a "chain e-mail" making the rounds that asked you to send an encouraging statement, poem, dictum, proverb, etc. to the sender, and then send the message to 20 friends (who would then send you such a message). You may have gotten one from me, who knows. Anyway, here are the responses I received:

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"...thou canst not stir a flower without troubling of a star."

*

"When you really look into yourself you cannot say the body belongs to you. You are the result of two people and each parent had two parents and so on. All humanity is in you. You are what you absorb. You eat vegetables, fish, meat, and these are dependent on light, the sun, warmth… There is nothing personal in us. The body is in organic relationship with the universe… There is nothing personal in the heart, liver, kidneys, the eyes, ears or skin, nor in the elements which build patterns of behavior, thinking, reactions, anger, jealousy, competition, comparison, and so on."
                                                    - Jean Klein, Who Am I?

*

COLORED RAINBOWS

Dare to dream of colored rainbows
and fine "castles in the air" -
and a Sun that shines so brightly
making cloudy days seem rare!
When you aim to find a purpose
then your life becomes worthwhile.
You will dazzle those about you -
when you show your own true style!
Our dreams are not for keeping -
simply borrowed for a while;
to console us in adversity
and teach us how to smile!
Dream again of colored rainbows
and of bluebirds flying high.
You will overcome the obstacles
once you decide to try!

-unknown poet

*

ancient proverb, "be humble, for you are made of earth. be noble, for you are made if stars."

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“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

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"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
                                                            —Martin Luther King, Jr.

*

It isn't what happens to you that is important, it is, to put it simply, your response.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Extirpate Irony (??)

My response to this Salon article:

DFW Is Dead

We’re supposed to be unironic now; so I guess I better write about the neon-red tulip beds on a pastoral campus. From a distance, they look like a swath of red, and I’m glad the red isn’t blood. As far as I know: this isn’t on TV. Violets are supposed to be the drops of Attis’ blood, I heard. I’m staying unironic, talking about universal human values, like beauty, love, death, cash flow, not necessarily in that order. (Uh oh – watch it – I detect a hint of irony). Well, yes, but what created all this irony we’re swimming in in the first place? Bored teenagers? The seventh day? The seventh seal? Throw her a fish! (Come on, writer – this isn’t a joke. Help us change our lives without changing our income. Speak of the rigged markets, the artificial persons, the Heartbleed, but do so earnestly. Make your heart bleed. After all, there is no blood on your street) As though there were somewhere to go back to? As though sincerity hasn’t been commodified as well? “Being ignorant, comfortably,” dreaming of being apart from the Bourse. The Archaic Torso of Apollo lamp is set to medium-hi and says there is nowhere you are not observed. You must change your password. (OK – that’s it. I’m shutting this ^$*&*^%& poem down! Irony is so . . . 2008. We want something new, the next big thing, something that makes us keep wanting something new. We want to know what’s left in the bottom of the box).


Monday, March 24, 2014

Apologia Pro Suo Curriculum: What Do English Majors Need to Know?

Earlier this semester, my Chair recruited me to teach English 308, "Introduction to Literary Criticism & Theory." Here is the description: "Study of significant problems in literary interpretation and methodology, in which basic critical principles and approaches are systematically examined and applied. These approaches might include, but are not limited to, feminism, Marxism, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies. Prerequisite: Prior completion of the freshman-sophomore requirement or its equivalent." 

I expressed my reluctance to teach an intro to theory course. I taught such courses at UC Berkeley and in the Netherlands, both times with mixed results, from my perspective. And having an office opposite that of a teaching assistant who was teaching it, I couldn't help but overhear his 308 conferences, and they produced a rather dismal deja-vu for me.

The faculty voted in 2009 to make this a required course for all English majors and reaffirmed that decision informally in a "retreat" last August. (Unfortunately, few of them want to teach the required course - hence the recruitment effort). After consulting my colleagues who had taught the course before, and after long thought about the state of our actually-existing English majors' knowledge, it was clear to me that a survey of literary theory had not worked well, would be pointless to repeat, and would divert attention from addressing our students' needs. So here is the course description I came up with:

"This course will help you develop essential skills that will serve you in good stead in English studies, in your college career, and in your career beyond college. We will spend as much time as it takes for the class to master each subject or skill before moving to the next. In Part One, you will study the following elements of the language, as well as their changes over time: (1.) Words: spelling, vocabulary, usage, parts of speech, etymology; (2.) Sentences: diagramming sentences, grammar, syntax & punctuation, types of clauses, common errors; (3.) Paragraph construction in the expository essay: parts to whole, sequential (logical) progression, transitions. You then will be required to produce a piece of writing that seeks a response from someone beyond the classroom (an actual job letter, fellowship or award application, letter to the editor, etc.). Part Two will require you to develop the skill of “close reading,” or explication. We will apply what we’ve learned about words, sentences and paragraphs to (1.) explicating sentences in contracts; (2.) explicating paragraphs in literary essays; and (3.) explicating poems. In this part, you will be required to write a close reading of a poem (5-7 pp.) using the knowledge acquired thus far. Finally, in Part Three (if we get that far!), we will explicate poems in their historical context. This specialized form of close reading will form the topic of the third and final writing assignment, in which you will explicate a poem in light of your own historical research. In addition to the three major writing assignments (which I will expect to be error-free), there will be weekly quizzes on each of the topics above, along with a mid-term exam and final exam." 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Concern was expressed that this description, emphasizing as it does sentence and paragraph structure and mastering one level of knowledge before progressing to the next, might turn students off of the course, and, by extension of the major. This is not an imaginary fear: the number of our majors is down almost half (!) since 2008. 

Here is my reply to the Chair (and several other Dept. leaders):
"I can try to re-word the description, but I don’t want to give the students the false impression that we’re not going to work with spelling, vocabulary, etymology, grammar, syntax, and paragraph construction. Hopefully, this will just be three or four classes of review of things they already know how to do. But I can’t guarantee that. It depends on the skill level of the students in the class. I’ve become convinced, by talking with people who’ve taught the class before, that we have to start at a more basic level – not literary theory, but close reading skills. And close reading skills presuppose reading skills.

"I realize that we’re all in the business of marketing, under the present regime. And in the short term, our market is the current students, and the product is the course schedule for next semester – esp. in our current sped-up, crisis-driven culture. Our assumption has been that we can attract students for the next semester – and maybe even majors – by offering courses with more popular subject matter under sexier titles, and perhaps that’s true. (If it is, we even might want to re-think requiring all majors to take a course titled “Intro to Literary Criticism” . . .)

"But long-term, there is a secondary market, which is the employer. I have to think that one of the reasons that fewer people are majoring in English is that they feel it puts them at a disadvantage on the job market. And maybe it does. But why would that be, at a time when many employers are asking for trainable people who possess basic skills? Surely people who can read and write better than their compeers would make competitive job candidates.

"From my experience – and from speaking with students and colleagues – I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that it is precisely because our graduates can’t read and write better than others. In many cases, the reverse may be true. Sure, there are the award-winning students, but then there are the other papers in the stack. Indeed, my freshman engineers this semester are better writers than my senior English majors. One of the smartest among the latter recently complained that she was about to graduate from college with an English major, but no one had ever taught her grammar. Judging from her most recent close-reading paper, I believe it. (She said she’s taking 308 next semester; I said we’ll be studying grammar; she said “GOOD!”)

"I don’t know how we’ve gotten to this pass. I guess grammar isn’t taught in grade school or high school. And then perhaps most majors “test out” of 100 and 200 level English courses (which means they’ve skipped a crucial stage in learning writing and reading – composition - one that the engineers are getting). But it’s my impression that it’s long been part of academic culture to accept as a fact of life that most graduating seniors, even English majors, will not be able to spell, use words correctly, or construct grammatical sentences. I’m no longer willing to accept that. In fact, I think they should be able to do those things much better than the average of the student population. And this is the one English course they’re all going to take (ideally before they take others), maybe the last one they take that focuses on skills.

"Moreover, from the point of view of teaching literary criticism & theory – or literary anything – I think it is essential that people have a very good feel for the elements of language, in particular the one they are studying. There’s no point trying to teach people about Viktor Shklovsky if they don’t know the difference between syntax and semantics (let alone how they work or don’t). Gertrude Stein loved diagramming sentences because it revealed to her the inner workings of language (and probably led her to her conclusion that sentences are not emotional, but paragraphs are).

"My take-away from my experiences trying to teach theory, as well as my correspondence and talks with colleagues who have taught 308, is that literary theory presumes and requires a level of knowledge of the basics of language that most undergraduates don't possess. Moreover, it seems to me that learning more about (the) language - grammar and syntax, for instance - is an excellent preface to beginning to think about theory. I doubt that Saussure, Jakobson, Derrida, et al. would have meant much to me, had I not had a good grounding in grammar and usage (I also was fortunate enough to have studied Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Hegel and others before I studied lit theory, which not all undergrads are). Grammar, etymology, usage, spelling - that's what (post-)structuralism & continental philosophy are all about, and I can't imagine approaching literary theory without talking about all that.

"But even to do an old-fashioned new-critical close reading, you have to be alive to all those elements of language. I would contend that, unless you understand those workings, you’re not going to be able to make a convincing case about a Robert Frost poem or a Hemingway novel, let alone Stein or Henry James. Let alone be able to articulate that case persuasively. Indeed, I think it is helpful to know the history of these basics. I’m planning on having them read The Adventure of English, a recent history of the language aimed at a general audience, as well as Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, which is largely about the history of punctuation (and, hence, of grammar and style).

"So instead of following my (our) usual procedure, i.e., starting at the level of argument, then organization, using evidence, and (time permitting) style, I decided it could be productive to reverse this procedure, to begin with letters, words, then clauses and sentences, then paragraphs. At the same time, this approach will help students better understand the literary texts they read and then enable them to develop meaningful arguments about those texts.

"I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that no students are going to be interested in this subject matter or approach, or that they won’t understand the case I’m making here. They must be interested in language to be majoring in one. And I think a lot of them feel that their knowledge of the English language is not as advanced as they might wish (or they’re just interested in learning more). And this will definitely be a fresh approach for most of them."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It's entirely possible that I'm totally full of shit. What do you think?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Keywords for _Animal Form_, by Kiki Anderson

Milwaukee's Mitzvah Chaps does it again, under the aegis of (KU MFA) Robert J. Baumann. Coming soon: Animal Forms, words by Kiki Anderson, art by Madeleine Leplae. Anderson's poems: emotionally charged moments; economically rendered; precise details (to do so); hypotactic sentences, paratactic pages. Gorgeous colloquial language sculptures. Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia. Leplae's etching plates (say that out loud) are equally amazing: familiar animal forms; antique-modern; 19th c. neolithic. Gorgeous (also). Production values: make you want to own. Bravo Mitzvah.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Blog Tour: My Writing Process (such as it is)

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Many thanks to the fabulous David Lazar for inviting me to join this discussion re: writing as present-progressive verb. You really must read David's new book, Occasional Desire, which, unlike most "creative nonfiction," is composed of essays - indeed, essays that are entertaining! He is also editor of the indispensable journal Hotel Amerika and is a Professor of English at Columbia College Chicago. 


1.) What are you working on?

That’s a rather pointed question to pose to a writer. What the hell am I working on?

My “Big Project” is a trilogy of books about my mother’s life and times (and a lot of other things besides, like history in general, US in particular; time; gender; epistemology, etc etc). This is a follow up to my last book, Things Come On (an amneoir) [Wesleyan UP – now available in paperback! Woo-hoo!]

I’m also revising a poetry collection, working title: Extinction Canceling Button.

And I’m writing a book chapter about documentary poetry for a critical collection on 21st c. US political poetry.


2.)  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Uh . . . it doesn’t have one? It doesn’t even establish one. I’m talking about this Big Project: it mixes and invents genres, uses whatever is ready to hand. One volume is inspired (loosely) by scrapbooks; another, by the archive; a third, by the newspaper. There’s verse, prose, dialogue, reproductions, headlines, photographs in each.

In terms of content, you could say it’s biograpahy/memoir/history. Indeed, the point is to think about those three genres as mutually constitutive: a small life as a tour through a big history, documentation merging with memory, all one text. The point is that you could write a trilogy of books about anybody’s life. My mom wasn’t famous – though she did work as Sen. Albert Gore’s secretary during the 1950s, which just makes her a famous-person enabler. But that’s an interesting perspective: from the wings. And doubly offstage, as a woman artist.

The poetry book is built around several voice-based serial poems, broadly on the theme of schizotheology, in a neo-necro-pastoral mode. I don’t think that’s ever been done before, do you?

The book chapter is, well, academic criticism. But it’s on a topic that hasn’t gotten much ink. And I think criticism/theory can and ought to be more interesting to read – more “creative” – and that’s what I’m moving towards.


3.)  Why do you write what you do?

Because I can’t help myself.


4.)  How does your writing process work?

And does it? Another pointed question!

As to the Big Project: bricolage. “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT,” to which Olson adds “this possible corollary, that right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand.” To me, that corollary sounds like “There is only and exclusively one possible person for me, in all the whole wide world!” – a belief which has diverted billions of dollars of capital into the pockets of divorce lawyers.

I got yr corollary right here: throw it against the wall and see what sticks. But the writer has to do the throwing, even if she doesn’t use any of her own words in the text. One chooses one’s content, and the more moving parts, the more possible combinations.

If you’re working with existing texts, as I am, part of it has to do with which of those texts seem most compelling. In Things Come On, it turned out to be hearing transcripts and a medical chart – and those things largely suggested the structure of the book. Likewise, using scrapbooks, archives, and newspapers as research sources suggested broad structures for the others.

Then again, I’m revising the hell out of all of them. It’s not like Michelangelo “finding” the form in the marble. It’s more like a potter shaping something that’s in motion, in response to the shapes that are emerging in her hands. And then collapsing it all and doing it again. That sounds more organic than it is. But then all metaphors are.

As to the serial poems, I try to hew to Jack Spicer’s injunction to listen to “The Outside” – that is, to try not to find the perfect words to ex-press my inner truth, but rather to trust that I’m receiving something more important as words come into my head. And I collect phrases, sentences, etc. I have a “word collection” that I draw upon as the bricks for poemlets – then I put in new words to form the mortar. 

Anyway, here is a section of No Soap (v. 1 of the B.P., as free PDF) - a portion also appeared in Hotel Amerika; and here is a section of Griefing on Summit (v. 2). For poems, see earth day suite, published by the great Beard of Bees Press, also in Chicago, also as a free PDF.

[pause]

Is that it? Are we done? . . .

OK! Well, now that you’ve suffered through the warm-up act, here are the headliners for Feb. 17:

TONY TRIGILIO’s newest books are The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood), Book 1 (BlazeVOX Books, 2014); White Noise (Apostrophe Books, 2013); and, as editor, Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments (Ahsahta Press, 2014).  His other books include the poetry collections Historic Diary (BlazeVOX, 2011) and The Lama’s English Lessons (Three Candles Press, 2006); the chapbooks With the Memory, Which is Enormous (Main Street Rag Press, 2009) and Make a Joke and I Will Sigh and You Will Laugh and I Will Cry (Scantily Clad Press, 2008); and two books of criticism, Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012) and “Strange Prophecies Anew” (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000).  He is co-editor of the anthology Visions and Divisions: American Immigration Literature, 1870-1930 (Rutgers University Press, 2008).  He directs the program in Creative Writing/Poetry at Columbia College Chicago and is a co-founder and co-editor of Court Green. Tune in next Monday to Tony's website.

BEN CARTWRIGHT’s poetry and prose poetry have appeared in Sentence, The Stinging Fly, Parcel, and Midwestern Gothic.  He was awarded the Ana Damjanov Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and won third place in the 2012 Atty Award poetry contest, judged by Margaret Atwood.  Ben records poets reading their work for his Kansas Blotter poetry archive, and his recordings of the poets Kenneth Irby, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Fred Moten have been added to the PennSound archive.  Ben lives in Topeka, Kansas, and teaches creative writing and literature courses at the University of Kansas. Tune in next Monday to Ben’s Blog


LEA GRAHAM is the author of the poetry book, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011). Her poems, translations and reviews have been published in Notre Dame Review, Southern Humanities Review and Fifth Wednesday. She is a contributing editor for Atticus Review’s feature, “Boo’s Hollow,” which showcases poets writing on place.  She is an Associate Professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Her entry will appear on the Atticus Review web site (somewhere - stay tuned!).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Questions & Observations for the Post-English-Major/Marketized-University Era in the Suburban Midwest


“The Customer’s always Right.”  - popular apothegm


College enrollments are declining, and those in the humanities, including English, are plummeting. This seems to me to be a result of the post-2008 economic collapse: fewer people can afford college, and those who can go into engineering and accounting, rather than literature. We have to do some serious sales to get people to be English majors. How to respond to this new reality?

- Do I need to be more entertaining in the classroom? How?
            - Should I start using PowerPoint all the time, showing more films, etc.?
            - Switch to large lectures and play up the performance aspect?
            - Do more in class w/computers (and let them check What’s App, porn, etc.?)
            - How do I “sell” my subject more effectively?
- How improve my effectiveness at teaching writing? What does the New Student positively respond to, in composition instruction? And does it really teach them to write?  

- How much can I realistically expect them to read (in a particular level)?
            - Teaching more lower-division courses means smaller assignments (?)
            - If I rely more on media produced by others, I can decrease the amount of   reading: since we
              won’t spend as much time talking, we won’t need as much to talk about.
            - If we want to attract English majors, we can’t go too hard on them. We want them to have a
              pleasant, relaxing experience.

- We’ve got to give the customer what they want. But we also have to sell it. (we’re beyond edutainment; this is edvertising)
So:
- Assign what I think that they should know about a given topic or what I think they will want to read/watch that’s related to that topic?
            - Any polling data of students on this issue?

The real problem is time. For instance, we don’t have enough time between when our course assignments come out and when our book orders are due to really think about and research how we might overhaul a particular course.

Moreover, we’re too busy teaching to radically alter our teaching. If we take time to learn new (or not-so-new) technologies, techniques, and pedagogical theories, it’s usually on break (or sabbatical, if we have them), which is also the only time to get any appreciable amount of research and writing done. So it’s back to research vs. teaching, esp. if teaching is not your area of research, or if your area of research is not one that students want to study (e.g., any type of poetry from any era).

There are, of course, good reasons why all this should be so: the students that are left in the university are working more hours to stay there. But then, on-line courses, which should theoretically be less time-consuming, have abysmal retention rates. The ultimate problem is that the ultimate "consumer" (i.e., employers) have a different set of desires than the immediate customer (i.e., the student). But if the ultimate consumer isn't satisfied, then the value to the immediate customer diminishes. If the student is the customer, and the customer's always right, then the student is always right. All I can say is that I'm glad my teachers didn't believe that.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

From "New Year's Eve," by Charles Lamb

"Of all the sound of all bells--(bells, the music nighest bordering upon heaven)--most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year. I never hear it withoiut a gathering-up of my mind to a concentratio0n of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelvemonth; all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected--in that regretted time. I begin to know its worth, as wehn a person dies. It takes a personal colour; nor was it a poetical flight in a contemporary, when he exclaimed

           I saw the skirts of the departing Year."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

After the future, a lot of things don’t signify:

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grades, literature, publishing, networking, money, an individual’s inaccurate opinion of himself, another’s accurate opinion of me, politics, careers (remember those?), price-points, extinction of non-food species, credit ratings, deadlines, immaterial definitions of success and failure, deadlines, software compatibility issues, 401k’s (boy do those really not signify), trying to impress people, weather events that don’t knock the power out, “people with influence,” blogs, predictions, deferred gratification, losing sleep, prevention, resistance, engagement, participation, energy, the “news.”

Replacing the car’s wiper blades still signifies.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Dying Elephant in the Middle of the Room

The one that no one really talks about: namely, that it's over. Democracy is over - has been for some time, in fact. The middle class is over, as is economic stability of any sort. Nature isn't over by a long shot, but it's changing a whole lot, very quickly, in ways that will disrupt everyone's life. People acknowledge that things are bad; but we keep behaving as though the future were going to be just a slightly worse version of the past. So people take on another job, looking forward to the day when things will start looking up; or they put money in their retirement accounts; they try to advance their careers; they try to raise their kids with essentially the same values and expectations they have. It's going to be more competitive to get a good job, but you will still be able to get a good job. A college degree will help you get there. If the Democrats can regain the House, then things will change in a big way!

But what if all that is self-delusion.

I recently read a couple of texts that take that premise seriously. The first, by Roy Scranton, "Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene," takes a rather philosophical approach - Stoic, even. He takes as a given that self-delusion is a bad thing; for him, there seems to be a certain nobility (or beauty?) in facing up to the facts.

The other, After the Future, by Autonomist theorist and activist Franco Berardi, posits that the future, understood as the possibility of progress, is at an end. There has been a "mutation," produced by finance capital, neoliberal politics, necroculture, and permanent natural changes, that prevents people from forming links of solidarity ("subjectivation") with one another. This is particularly true, according to Berardi, of the "cognitariat," those knowledge-workers in Palo Alto or Bangalore, who are ostensibly instantly and integrally interconnected. Instead, digital connections reinforce the culture of the cubicle.

Berardi does not end on a totally hopeless note. Rather, he believes that economic collapse will necessitate subjectivation, in the interests of survival. Moreover, the powerlessness of the individual may encourage the withdrawal of individuals from active participation in the economic and political systems that have led to this mess. The task now is to (a.) forget about the future as deferred gratification; pay attention to the present, and see what possibilities arise. Be willing to be surprised by new and unanticipated possibilities; and (b.) imagine what he (after Marx) calls the "general intellect" - that is, a self-consciousness of the collective intelligence of humanity.

There used to be these bumper stickers that said "I feel much better ever since I gave up hope," or something to that effect. Maybe hope is the problem, in fact.