…and this was the view when I got the call.
The syllabus: a psychogram of the instructor, a promise of what is to come. It is like the weather forecast for a whole semester, except a weather forecast that actually creates the weather.
A new op-ed I wrote about syllabi… read it here.
People have already started sending me their syllabi, real and imagined. These documents really can be portraits of the soul…
This weekend at Princeton, we hosted our annual Creative Arts and Humanities Symposium, designed to recruit the best high school students with an interest in the humanities and arts such as dance, music, theater, literature, and visual art. This year’s theme is “collaboration.” Six professors, including me, taught precepts in the morning to the hundred or so students who came to visit. The theme of mine was “The Exquisite Corpse” or le cadavre exquis, the parlor game beloved by the Surrealists. During our sessions, we talked about various avant-garde collectives, such as the Futurists, Dadaists, and Surrealists, and we analyzed an essay by DJ Spooky titled, “Totems without Taboos: The Exquisite Corpse,” the foreward to a book called The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game.
His essay’s starts with this ‘graph:
Database aesthetics, collaborative filtering, musical riddles, and beat sequence philosophies don’t exactly spring to mind when you think of the concept of the Exquisite Corpse. But if there’s one thing that I want you to think about when you read this anthology, it’s that collage-based art — whether sound, film, multimedia, or computer code — has become the basic reference frame for most of generation info. We live in a world of relentlessly expanding networks — cellular, wireless, fiber optic routed… you name it. This world is becoming more interconnected than ever before, and it’s going to get deeper, weirder, and a lot more interesting than even the data-stream-driven moment of this writing (NYC, at the beginning of the twenty-first century).
The students had some fascinating ideas about the role of their generation in managing the superabundance of information and history that asks constantly for their attention. How should artists respond to the dense swarm of traditions that preceded them? At the end of the session, we made our own exquisite corpses, a visual and linguistic hybrid of the original game. Images and phrases that could never have existed without this exercise materialized on their pages. Here they are (click for detail):
Two lines from two Erich Kästner poems caught my eye:
From “Eisenbahnfahrt” (Train Ride):
Die Landschaft kreist wie eine Platte
auf Gottes großem Grammophon.
The landscape circles like a record
on God´s great gramophone.
From “Monolog des Blinden” (Monologue of a Blind Man)
Meine Augen hatten im August
In August, my eyes had
their Death Day Anniversary.
The seven-week summer German School Program at Middlebury College in Vermont, with its strict German-only language pledge, produced a bumper crop of experiences. I wasn’t allowed to use English the whole time, so when I returned, I had to write it all down:
first person I met: my housemate D, who is in her 60s, is a huge fan of Rammstein, speaks some Klingon, is a retired forensics expert, and is preparing for a marathon, and thus runs several miles every morning (at 5 am or so) except Friday * the collective countdown to the Language Pledge (Spracheid) with the 100+ students in the 7-week program… a moment of giddy nerves for all * we signed away our English after that in a binding paper document * entering the lunchroom like a middle schooler, looking for a table that would accept me * strange to be back in the classroom on the other side of the desk * a handful of us lived in a little house at the edge of campus, which overlooked the Adirondacks
playing darts on first night with E in Two Brothers pub (known in the school as Zwei Brüder)… mingled with a couple in their 50s also playing darts… the lady was hanging on me, hugging me, trying to dance with me, getting frisky by the end of the night… E and I agreed, there was a feeling of possibility that night as we drank whiskey and threw darts in that dark basement bar, something like the feeling at the end of Linklater’s Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some * darts became the summer: cricket, around the world, taught to me by M(1) and 300, taught to us by CL * V’s special torero dart throwing style * many nights with JSH, M(1), M(2), JY, CL, AR, ER, and a host of others aiming our energies at the Volltreffer or bull’s eye * dancers on the dance floor seeped into our dart space * I blocked them, my back to their sweaty, gyrating bodies… they pressed in harder but finally listened when the darts whizzed past their tipsy faces… the DJ’s bass shook our internal organs around… it was always too much for JSH * funny evening upstairs playing with M(1), M(2), and JY, all of us teasing JY, who was honestly asking for it… the bouncer took our chalk away, so we began to write down our scores on paper using one of my Muji pens * mangled darts with skulls on them
the Big Dipper hung over our heads the whole summer… I see it hovering there in the night over the black silhouette of the Adirondack Mountains outside my window * my car had been sitting for many days untouched at the edge of the woods and when I opened the door, a litter of baby mice fell onto the ground (an image of horror) … their mother had built them a nest in my car door… I scooped them up with a yellowed Yale Daily newspaper I found in the floorboard and laid the three of them gently in the grass in the shade, hoping their mother might find them there… they writhed slowly and sleepily… I came back later and they were dead… I found another one that afternoon in the car, already dead I think… I laid him next to a tree outside McCullough and came back to find a small skeleton with flies nibbling at it * as I drove to run errands, a black salamander stared at me from the crack between the hood and windshield * watching the cloudscapes that were too strange to be natural * muggy days * the cotton candy trees * chipmunks everywhere * rabbits that come out at sunset and dine on the same stretches of grass * the strange dusty grey grasshoppers with black and yellow wheeling wings * queen anne’s lace * squirrels with white chests * monarch butterflies the size of your hand * atmospheric perspective provided by the mountains
getting caught in a violent storm with JY… sun and then suddenly torrential rain and wind that broke branches all across campus… we made it to an empty foyer in McCullough Student Center and sat in comfy chairs, soaked to the bone, hair dripping, shirts translucent, and did what we had met to do: read Nietzsche together… learned words like Zwiespalt, talked about the fate of Europe * CB pushed my bike in the dark to make me go faster… felt like middle school * enjoyed sitting twice at American Flatbread with different configurations of people, feeling inexplicably euphoric to be there both times… first crew, in the dark at a picnic table next to the fire circle: me, F, GL, AN, M(3), M(1)… we told jokes and realized M(3) is hilarious but has only a small range of facial expressions… he was a trapeze artist, did improv with the Upright Citizens’ Brigade, and is a lawyer in Brooklyn * second crew, in the daylight, under the tarp as the rain and sunshine took turns: me, F, JSH, RC: we drank grapefruit Radler and ate a fennel sausage/goat cheese pizza that made me happy to be alive and have a tongue * arguing with JY about the exhibit our class curated on the refugee experience in Germany, secretly loving the fieriness of the dispute * JY’s imitations of level-1 students: “Ich… schlaf… Hausarbeit… Essen!… müde” * talking a lot with M(1)’s girlfriend MG, performance artist from Austria living in L.A…. we sat outside in the sun at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café talked about film and the eroticism of Chantal Ackermann’s meatloaf scene… the laughter from the native speakers at Mr. Up’s (Herr Up’s) – F and MG – as JSH described his one experience flying first class, which was “wahnsinnig geil” * D began screaming bloody murder at 5 am… a mouse in her room… this happened after she screamed bloody murder a week or so earlier when she found a tiny cricket in her room… I rescued it and delivered it safely outside, not killing it because D is a Buddhist and does not kill living things * talking Weltschmerz with JY * sitting on boulders in the dark with M(1) at 3am talking about tough stuff * picnic on a hill at sunset at the Middlebury Farm, Adirondacks cradling us… strawberries, too many cheeses and beers… we passed around the megaloaf JSH found at the co-op and smeared it with various spreadables… RC had an Opinel knife with which we lopped off chunks of goat cheese… we talked about the process of ungendering the German language * the all-language-schools dance party in a giant sweaty gym that somehow looked as though it were outside, the way the lights were draped like garlands on the ceiling… dancing all the sweat out into the air, then bursting outside into the cool cigarette-smoke-filled air, ricocheting from circle to circle * spoke with strung-out intense-looking local dude with long blond ponytail, camo pants, as he was reading a book about Army survival… was nice to me from then on * Talent Show: M(2) and I sang a medley of Dirk von Lowtzow’s “Charlotte” and Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Völlig losgelöst)”… I played uke and we harmonized, all pretty … MT solved a Rubix cube in under 15 seconds (more like 10) and told me later he taught himself how to do it by watching Youtube videos… CL thumped the hollow of his cheek and made the German national anthem come out * the airing of grievances at Fire and Ice Restaurant with AK and F… we sat in the theme room called “The Library,” then we sat at the bar with locals who wondered why three giant Germans were sitting in their bar * M(2) and I rehearsed at our picnic table in the shade under the pine trees behind McCullough… once he didn’t wear any shoes as we walked over there, which I found highly agreeable… we talked about how much better it is when you can smell a person’s body rather than only perfume, cologne, deodorant, etc. etc. cough cough wheeze… The breeze toyed with his hair that goes down to his belt… his hair is always in movement, like that of Botticelli’s Venus * I took a few bike rides around Lake Champlain in Burlington and rode out on the Causeway, a long strip of land with just enough width for a couple of bikes, then only lake on both sides… I ate cheap hotdogs, visited the 90s coffee shop relic Muddy Waters, and found the completely shitty motel where I stayed in 2003… still looks exactly the same * SL’s Loriot evening… 30 or so of us watched classic Loriot clips like “Das Bild hängt schief,” “Bello, der sprechende Hund,” “Badewanne” and more… stomach ached from laughing * a couple of times I played romance translator between AM and a guy in the Spanish school and again between RV a guy in the French school… the ladies were interested in them but couldn’t speak Spanish or French so I translated between German and these languages, which was a new strange experience * visits to Middlebury Chocolates, just to drink the hot chocolate with whipped cream, first time with P and SP, then with tons of people from the Deutsche Schule who all began to yell “Deutsche Schule!” with excitement when I walked in the door * talking German and Russian punk music with G * watching K freak out over insects * we spent an hour on the radio… members of each class told about their experiences and said their favorite German words… Mine: Lebensabschnittsgefährter, CL: Scheissmachen, JSH: Lieblings, AM: Mannfleisch… the Middlebury Radio studio (WRMC 91.1 FM) is a perfect hang-out spot… we crowded in there and slouched on the sofas, listening to who was on the air, flipping through the enormous CD collection, analyzing the abundant indie stickers and posters * the night everyone watched Fritz Lang’s M, we went to 2 Brüder and I used the dart chalk to write the letter “M” on my hand and I stamped it on E’s shoulder… It was there the next day, too, signaling him as the Mörder * meeting my new cat friend behind the Hebrew School * so many movies over the summer… Fassbinder, Farocki, Er ist wieder da, B-Movie, und so weiter * adopting RV as my daughter… we really played the roles well… nice to be someone’s Mutti * standing in the field with F looking at constellations and waiting for stars to fall on our heads * sitting on La Force terrace as SL explained to me the Berlin background of the Ton Steine Scherben song “Rauch-Haus-Song” * meeting the cool German lady S and her American husband T and Orlando, their fluffy black giant dog with throat problems… they don’t lock the doors to their house and they lent us a bicycle for F * D cried so hard in the lunch room when I gave her a Rammstein t-shirt (from their album Sehnsucht) as a gift * sitting with JY under the terrace umbrellas during a downpour, talking about refugees and what Europe will be * all summer, I belonged everywhere and nowhere, floated between social circles and felt free and loved at the same time, the balance I always need * sitting with F at A&W drive-up burger joint, eating burgers and drinking root beer floats and talking with an ex-military biker dude with lots of tattoos who told us about the heroin problems in Rutland, which we saw for ourselves when we drove there an hour later * making psychoanalytic readings of the other language schools based on what the students looked like… The Russian School is the most hardcore * JY’s imitation of French people speaking German * debate over whether E should have left his vest open or closed during the opera “Das Serail” * going on a bike ride with MZ… it was too hilly for me… he fell off his bike and scratched it up * driving to Silver Lake with F… jaw-dropping vistas… hiking up the mountain to see the waterfalls… finding Rattlesnake Ridge and imagining their heads peaking out of all the holes covered with dead pine needles on the craggy ground…aching muscles in the days that followed * watching my hair turn rusty red and my arms turn brown throughout the summer * seeing several of the men get a haircut midway through the summer… CL got a wide mohawk and JSH lopped off his red curls and replaced them with a shaved head * each day watching MZ eat a dinner plate full of mandarin oranges, or a whole watermelon, or 20+ bananas, no exaggerations * being completely insulated from the outside world of politics, war, terrorism, etc… so nice to have missed the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and the Olympics, and the back-and-forth between Hillary and Trump… What a gift, what a freedom * realizing I’ve actually been more German than American for some time now * loving my new bike so much * making small pilgrimages to the places on campus charged for me with meaning, from my stays in the summer of 2003 and 2004 * discovering Sirius XMU Old School radio show with Jenny Eliscu * wore a single braid hanging down behind my right ear all summer… it makes beautiful people come and play with it while they talk to me… and M(2) said I look like Anakin Skywalker, which is ok, I guess * watching with delight as all the little summer romances folded open * ached all summer to write in my journal in English *
7 am alarm each weekday… the fog of moths, beetles, flying insects, mosquitos that clouded around our screen door on nights when I would come home from the bar at 2am * eggs of some form for breakfast every day, my favorite being fried… also pancakes with syrup… a KIND nut bar during class breaks… the strange coffee stained my dog teeth over the summer with strange brown striations * sitting at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café to do my homework… the air conditioner sometimes blew out white steam… blueberry, blackberry, raspberry muffins with crunchy sugar on top, an espresso delivered by the nice shy guy… saw the red-head with the nose ring sing at open mic night in the 2 Brothers basement with her man * Wednesdays: Stammtisch at Mr. Ups (Herr Ups) and then darts at 2 Brothers * reading our daily paper the Tagesblatt, laid out for us at lunch * biking by myself at sunset up to the football field nestled before the mountains… sitting alone, thinking there * during hour break between Berlin course and lunch, I always went to the Crossroads Café in the Grille and ordered an espresso and a chocolate chip cookie from the sweet slow girls that work there… looked at the stage where I saw Hillary Hahn play a “concert pieds nus” with her violin in 2003… could almost still see her standing there… the stage is frozen in time… I remembered that the Grille used to be swimming pool * the young guy at the Midd convenience store with the hat and scruffy hair always played the best music * watching German documentaries on ARD Mediathek before sleeping… one on Goths and one on exhausted mothers called “Mama hat Burnout,” among many others * knocking on the desk instead of clapping after each class presentation * singing “Zum Geburtstag viel Glück” for each birthday in the cafeteria at lunch * drinking prosecco or whiskey all summer * dozens of armbands collected over the summer from the bars… they check your ID and delicately lace the untearable plastic/paper band around your wrist… always a strangely sensual moment * eating greasy chicken fingers at the Grille, with honey mustard and barbecue sauce * sitting alone in a booth there as various friends from the German School stopped by to chat for 5 minutes or 2 hours * washing clothes on Saturday or Sunday mornings and eating long brunches in the cafeteria * had a fixed uniform over the summer: black leather boots from Trippen in Berlin, sheer tights, black clothes or weird prints *
admired the special features of each new friend: JSH’s special way of saying, “Ach, ok!” when he understood something new… his obsession with the Vergennes coffee/pastry joint Laundry… he built his own kite and flew it with the mountains in the background… his jean shirt that slowly disintegrated over the summer, a new hole each week… it was a Kunstwerk, we decided * AR and ED’s angelic curls * PU’s earrings and freckles and soft voice * M(2)’s hovering locks * CL’s slight frame + mischievous smile + cigarette rolling fingers + restless bouncing knee in class * RV’s intricate braids and button-like beauty * SP’s self-made clothes, tangly frame, fringy bangs * AM’s drawn-out lashes and Jesus tattoos * G’s cool style and interest in punk * MC’s softness and dramatic gestures * the Southernness of so many students… Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Virginia… all were well represented * EM’s joy-filled smiles and “what are we, chopped liver?” humor * JY’s all-knowing smirk and touchable-looking hair that I never touched * AK’s resistance to gravity… his head hovers high above the others… photographers have to back up to fit him in the frame… his mischievous tendency and his love of “Absolutely Fabulous” * E’s nervous gestures and restless body and ever-dilated pupils… his eyes in eyeliner * H’s almond eyes and stunning beauty * P’s dimples and wooden cross * K’s tough-guy shirts and sunglasses worn indoors * AB’s magnetic eyes, where storms brew, as JY noticed * T and little T’s perfection as heavenly mother/son unit * CR’s daily can of sardines at mealtimes * JL’s thick Russian accent in German * RB’s freckles and brown eyes… I always melt for brown eyes *
last Stammtisch… water dripped from the roof all over P’s crotch as he and I talked about Kafka, each giving our own readings of the short story “The Vulture”… I said that today we could read the story through an “Occupy Wall Street” lens… the vulture is Wall Street, the person killed by the vulture is the people, and the person offering get a gun to shoot the vulture represents the politicians… Wall Street drowns in the blood of the people it devours * going-away brunch at the Diner (Stufe 4)… happily ate crispy bacon and poached eggs * gave V a spontaneous ride in my beater car since he hurt his foot playing soccer and was on crutches… the water from his ice pack dripped all over his crotch * banquet on the final night * decadence (salmon, roast beef, Sacher torte too chocolatey for language) tears during the countdown back to English… when we got to 3, tears welled up in EM’s eyes, caused mine to tingle and drip, which caused RV to weep, and which triggered P’s inner sobbing * strange to hear people in English when you’ve only heard their voices in German for seven weeks * P’s voice is higher, my accent surprised everyone with its Southernness; they were speechless * touching words on the last night from so many, but especially from MK, EW, and KP * walking in the dark from Atwater to 51 Main with JN who looks like Dalida as she asked me questions about our French program, which she had taken the time to write down and print out and which she lit up with her smartphone… she told me about her work on Salomé and other projects… something very nice about this moment * bouncing from table to table in 51 Main, silliness with JC, SP, EM, P, ED, RV * argument outside whether the moon was full, as a group of six or seven of us stood on the bridge over the waterfall, two sharing a cigarette; someone’s moon app said the moon was full, but to our eyes, one edge was blurry * saying goodbye to JY under the pine trees and watching him walk off in the dark and wishing he would come back * we all sat on boulders under the pine trees and moonlight and sang songs until 4:30 am outside AK’s house… a pagan non-orgy ensued… K wore a pink tiara and his fingernails were painted red… E played guitar for hours without bloody fingers… many classics, but also songs I didn’t know… E picked me up to crack my back and I thought something might have snapped but it was good… as M(2) read my right palm, K massaged my left palm and praised my wrists and went on a strange monologue about Nausicaa’s forearms in The Odyssey * “The Dangling Conversation” got marked in my head by the moment we all sang together out there in the dark * verged on crying as I cleaned out my dorm room and the song “Sharazan” (Abramo Allione’s version) came on * being nearly moved to tears by CL’s poem “Der Sommer in Middlebury”… a favorite line from it: “Hafebrei und Spiegel Artikel / Spiegelei und Jirgl / Welcher wird Heute besser verdaut” * as I drove back to New Jersey from Vermont, my car broke down half way in Saugerties, NY… smoke poured from the engine and neon green liquid (antifreeze?) was splashed all over the inside and had begun streaming out from under the hood in jagged little rivers or spidery streaks… sat on the edge of the road for an hour and a half near a Howard Johnson’s hotel and wrote all this stuff down as sweat soaked my shirt… the tow truck guy brought his wife along… the air conditioning in the cab was like a freezer, so cold my goose bumps nearly broke open
Unintentional summer soundtrack
“Auf Wiedersehn, My Dear” (Comedian Harmonists)
“Albatross” (Fleetwood Mac)
“Rauch-Haus-Song” (Ton Steine Scherben)
“Lay Lady Lay” (Ministry)
“Charlotte” (Dirk von Lowtzow)
“Major Tom (Völlig losgelöst)” (Peter Schilling)
“Baker Street” (cover) (Rogue Wave)
“Kaltes Klares Wasser” (Malaria!)
“Gute Nacht (Winterreise)” (Schubert)
“Jalouse” (Mademoiselle K)
“The Death & Resurrection Show” (Killing Joke)
“Somebody Saved My Life Tonight” (Elton John)
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (Bauhaus)
“The Dangling Conversation” (Simon and Garfunkel)
“Sharazan” (Abramo Allione)
The Other Serious is now available in paperback.
A new op-ed piece today on the problem of rootedness: “Clinging to Our ‘Roots’“