“The Merest Psitti(a)cism”

Scott McLemee has a nice retort to the backwash from his recent lampooning of the MLA. (Ahem, Scott. There is no way to link to a particular entry on your blog. One must link to the blog entire. Ahem.) Lost in the kerfuffle about the difficulty of literary theory, he writes, is the fact it isn’t, really. Much of it is “the merest psitticism,” he writes. (But wouldn’t that be “psittacism” with an a? In a previous life I was a copy editor.)

Extra Biscuits

Today I learned from Emily Nussbaum that over 95 percent of blogs are written by people age 29 and under. Thus mine is rare and special. I also learned that if I were a teenager, I would be more
Miscellaneous in format. In that spirit I offer a mix tape, or rather, a list by which you might assemble one. (Aside in blogese: The other day I noticed that if you link to anything with the string mp3 in the URL, within twenty-four hours the spider of the RIAA deposits a nit in your referers page. Scary.) This is not a “top ten,” I hasten to assure Luke Menand, and anyone else who finds them upsetting. The title of this mix is “Extra Biscuits.”

  1. Ben Kweller, “I don’t know why (L.A. unmixed),” from his website
  2. Belle & Sebastian, “Jonathan David,” from Jonathan David
  3. Blur, “Girls & Boys,” from Parklife
  4. The Decemberists, “Grace Cathedral Hill,” from Castaways and Cutouts
  5. Johnny Cash and Will Oldham, “I See a Darkness,” from American III: Solitary Man
  6. Fountains of Wayne, “The Senator’s Daughter,” from Utopia Parkway
  7. Serge Gainsbourg, “L’anamour,” from Comic Strip
  8. Norfolk & Western, “Terrified,” from Dusk in Cold Parlours
  9. The Wrens, “Boys, You Won’t,” from The Meadowlands
  10. The Three O’Clock, “Tomorrow,” from Sixteen Tambourines

  11. Radiohead, “Exit Music (For a Film),” from OK Computer

Staying Paid

This past Friday, a friend who I hadn’t heard from in a few years called me in the late afternoon to ask whether he’d see me in court on Tuesday and, by the way, would I mind sharing the phone number of my lawyer? I had to ask him what he was talking about.

It turned out that I was being sued by Robert L. Geltzer, trustee for the bankrupt estate of University Business LLC, the company that once owned Lingua Franca, a magazine I wrote for. I had never received a summons, and I had a hazy notion, from watching television, that this meant I didn’t have to show up in court. On the other hand, now that my friend had called, I did know about it. On the third hand, it was extremely short notice.

Here’s the background: Before Lingua Franca and its sibling University Business declared bankruptcy in April 2002, the magazines paid me and several dozen other freelancers a portion of what we were owed. (In my case, it was the last dribble of payment for an article I wrote on the evolutionary psychologist Ellen Dissanayake.) Geltzer is suing to get this money back.

I spent the weekend in a low-level panic, calling friends. On Monday I called the courthouse, where someone in the Records department confirmed that I was being sued. At the end of the day I still didn’t know where I stood. More or less at wit’s end, I called Geltzer’s office and let them know that I had never received a summons. Someone named Mark Bruh claimed it had been sent by plain old mail to an address where I no longer live. He promised to send a new one to my current address and not to seek a default judgment against me. Unexpectedly, to legally clueless me, I had won a little time.

So I didn’t go to court on Tuesday. I still haven’t received a summons or obtained any formal legal advice. But according to friends who did have time to put together a response to Geltzer’s suit and did attend the pre-trial conference on Tuesday, the judge took a dim view of Geltzer’s efforts to collect from small creditors who had merely been paid for work they had done. Other freelancers being sued by Geltzer should know that the Authors Guild may be able to offer some legal assistance; their number is 212-563-5904.

UPDATE (1/12/04): The New York Times has run an article on the lawsuits.

FURTHER UPDATE (1/14/04): The Village Voice has also run an article on the suits.

I Don’t Make the News, I Just Report It

Currently the best song is “Grace Cathedral Hill” on the album Castaways and Cutouts by The Decemberists. You can download it here (scroll down), where you can also buy it. In other songs (though not this one), the band uses such words as gunwales, boatswain, stevedore, and even mˆsallied. Nineteenth-century nerds will not be able to resist. Nor will anyone else because they are very, very talented musically as well as lyrically. Currently the best line in a song is

An ocean’s garbled vomit on the shore
Los Angeles, I’m yours

which is from their album Her Majesty the Decemberists. And here is the band’s website and here is the fansite. You see how lost I am.

Let’s play Master and Commander

The age-of-sail nerd in me loves the detail in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. And surely I’m not the only such nerd grateful to hear eight bells rung, to observe a beating to quarters, to see the decks being holystoned, and to appreciate that the left side of the ship in 1805 would have been called “larboard,” not “port,” because Captain FitzRoy (Charles Darwin’s half-mad companion on the HMS Beagle) hadn’t yet suggested renaming it so that it didn’t rhyme with “starboard.”

The Melvillean in me noticed how much was borrowed from his novels, or at least borrowed from the sources that Melville borrowed from. The young midshipman’s anxiety about the “last stitch,” the needle passed through a corpse’s nose after it is sewn into its hammock, is straight out of White-Jacket, chapter 80. On the other hand, Melville would probably have loathed the movie, because only the officers are fully conceived characters. The common sailors are no more than congeries of cliches: they work heartily, sing jollily, believe superstitions, and prefer tough discipline without quite understanding why it’s good for them. There are some indications about the tension between the sailors and the midshipmen—the very young men of a superior social class, out of whom officers are groomed, and whom, even in their tadpole stage, the sailors must obey. But the late battle scene in which a blond twelve-year-old midshipman commands a score of adult sailors seems to be a kind of fantasy about concord between the classes; given the same material, Melville would not have failed to exploit the ambivalences. After all, in White-Jacket he refers to midshipmen as “boy-worms.”