Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back on 2018

Mural seen in Antwerp, Belgium June 2018.

Looking back on it, in many respects, 2018 was not a great year for me. Had lots of drama and bullshit in many of my relationships with those close to me. Suffered thru four months in the middle of the year where my across-the-street neighbor descended into a drug-addled psychotic collapse featuring, among other things: angry threats, kidnapping someone's dog, damaging property, going in neighbors' yards, lying down in the middle of a busy street, chasing random cars screaming, and even covering the entire outside of his home with creepy spray-painted screed of lunacy and racist, alt-right garbage. It was daily escalating insanity. This being the heart of heavily-armed Texas, every day it felt like the neighborhood might collapse into a Tarantino scene. Shit was a horror movie for a bit there. Seriously. Mercifully, that bullshit finally ended. He's gone and the whole neighborhood came together, so now we've got cool neighbors as friends.

In 2018 I also worked a lot, at a fairly challenging job, and spent an absurd amount of time commuting in heavy Austin traffic. With all that, it's always refreshing to assemble a piece like this and realize I also made the time to do a lot of the things I love. Writing this reminds me of what an awesome year 2018 was in many ways. I got to deliver lectures on Finnegans Wake at two universities this year, one in Florida, one in Belgium. I got to travel to cool places, read lots of cool books, write some things worth reading, watch good movies, listen to good music, meet cool people. Here's a brief recap of cool stuff experienced in 2018.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Album Review: Orpheus vs. the Sirens by The Hermit and the Recluse (Ka & Animoss)

Orpheus in Hades  (Beronneau, 1897).

"Judging from my cover, each chapter's a revelation" 
- Ka

An emcee who delivers even one artfully arrowed dart or whole song weaved of references from Greek mythology would be worthy of praise. What Brownsville rapper Ka did on my favorite album of 2018, Orpheus vs. the Sirens (a collaboration with producer Animoss under the group name Hermit and the Recluse), deserves accolades of the utmost extreme. This ten-track album must be the closest thing Hip Hop has come to James Joyce's epic novel Ulysses. Whereas Joyce structured the 18 episodes of his modern text Ulysses around the wanderings of Odysseus, the 10 songs of Orpheus vs. the Sirens follow the adventures of Orpheus accompanying the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Notice how the style of the title on the cover of Orpheus vs. the Sirens even resonates with the cover of the American edition of Ulysses, as seen below:

Sunday, December 9, 2018

More Notes on David Markson's "Notecard Quartet"

To an astronomer, man is but an insignificant dot in an infinite universe---said whoever. Though that insignificant dot is also the astronomer.---said Einstein. 
p. 433, The Last Novel

Before placing David Markson's spellbinding "Notecard Quartet" (namely, these four novels: Reader's Block; This is Not a Novel; Vanishing Point; The Last Novel) back on the shelf, I'd like to share a few more notes from my reading experience. (Page numbers are from the Dalkey Archive edition of Reader's Block and the Counterpoint omnibus edition of This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel.)

1. In one of the many online essays devoted to Markson and his quartet (though I'm currently unable to identify which one), an author suggested that these books, composed almost entirely of an encyclopedic range of historical facts, quotes, and what Finnegans Wake calls "scrips of nutsnolleges" (FW 623.32), are not intended to spring the reader off to Google the history and validity of each item. I mostly adhered to that approach, streaking thru the pages with a growing sense for the vastness of the anomalous, paradoxical, occasionally confounding historical record of artists and thinkers. On the occasions where I was compelled to look stuff up, a vertiginous awe accompanied the realization of just how much color and feeling (love, pain, passion, humor, anger, confusion) can be extracted from any of Markson's terse lines once drilled into.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Discovering David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress and "The Notecard Quartet"

Somebody is living on this beach.
- Wittgenstein's Mistress, p. 240

Quelqu'un vit sur cette plage.
[Somebody is living on this beach, French]

Alguien vive en este playa.
[Somebody is living on this beach, Spanish]
- Reader's Block, p. 178

My reading recently has quickly ricochet'd through the later works of author David Markson, catapulting from Reader's Block (1996) through This Is Not a Novel (2001) into Vanishing Point (2004) on the way to The Last Novel (2007). My binge through this tetrad of experimental novels known as "The Notecard Quartet," styled as meandering strands of loosely linked bits of art historical data written as terse one or two line paragraphs (and originally composed by Markson on index cards), this began on the strength of persistent hints from my Santa Cruz pals Charlie and Luke to read Markson's postmodern masterpiece Wittgenstein's Mistress. My copy of that novel was acquired in Austin a couple years back when I happened to be at a bookstore with Charlie and Luke and they both suggested I'd dig it. They were on point. During a recent trip to Santa Cruz and the San Fran area I finally cracked open Wittgenstein's Mistress and zipped thru it enthralled. The impact of jutting single line paragraphs presenting one mental nugget after another over and over becomes a compulsive reading experience, oddly addictive. Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt compared it to a nutritional snack food for the mind.

To compose an impactful page turner out of a staccato of epigrams and ephemera with no chapters or conventional story elements was Markson's stated goal and manifested gift, repeatedly achieved over the latter stage of his career. After starting out publishing a handful of pulp western and noir novels in the 1960s including The Ballad of Dingus Magee which became a film starring Frank Sinatra, David Markson eventually began to move toward more experimental and original uses of the written word. In the mid-1980s he wrote Wittgenstein's Mistress, a story consisting of the interlinked mental fragments of a narrator known as Kate who seems to be the last person alive on earth. Persevering through 54 (!!!) rejections from publishers who found it either too unconventional or unfit to sell, Markson finally got Wittgenstein's Mistress published in 1988 by Dalkey Archive Press, thanks to the brilliant Steven Moore. The book garnered some laudatory reviews, most notably from David Foster Wallace who described it as "pretty much the high point of experimental literature in this country."

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Brief Note on "Marksmen": the Intricate Lyrical Design of Citizen Ka

Preparatory to an upcoming review of my favorite album of the year thus far, Orpheus vs the Sirens, by the Hermit and the Recluse also known as rapper Ka and producer Animoss (of the Arch Druids), I'd like to briefly make a note on a lyrical tactic from a different song involving these two. The song is "Marksmen" from Roc Marciano's 2017 album Rosebudd's Revenge, featuring Ka on the first verse and production from Animoss.

I love this beat from Animoss, it seems so odd and simple. The distinctive short looped sliver of lightly dribbling guitar string was shrewdly selected out of the original sample "Love Feeling" from Mecki Mark Men, the song title "Marksmen" partly an homage to them. The tiny piece of sound Animoss chose here, and how he deployed it in the beat, fascinates me. Only somebody in a crew with a name like the Arch Druids could have devised this sound.

I've listened to this song frequently the last few months while binging on some of the more recent music from Ka and Roc Marci. The more I've heard this the more things I've noticed in it. The track interests me for a number of reasons. Besides Roc Marci's verse weaved as an array of interlocking musical instrument references, what stands out to me is Ka opening with what seems like a hook over the beat's initial bridge and how he then transitions into the verse. It is that transition from hook into verse and especially the final bars of Ka's verse, that I want to focus on here. There's a fascinating bit of self commentary on the design of the verse itself.

At the end of Ka's verse he says:

"A true verse but too terse
I hope the hook grab em"

and then repeats "I hope the hook grab em."

There's no obvious hook on this track though and certainly the repetition of "I hope the hook grab em" isn't a hook. So what he's referring to here then is the slower delivered set of lines that open the song. Ka rhyming over the beat's precursory windup, beginning of course by saluting the production itself:

"To our production, much destruction for our appetite
With steel fist, if meal missed wasn't for lack of might 
We been binging, we purging dividends with snub nose 
My buds rose, my service citizens..."

I add the ellipsis at the end there because this transitions directly into the first lines of the verse, "My service citizens... Cain and Abel my rapping plight." I believe when Ka mentions he hopes the hook grabbed em he means I hope the listener is drawn to the hook and the clever triple entendre I built there. He draws our attention to it and by doing so gives even another layer of meaning to it.

The first connection that stands out is to the film Citizen Kane, wherefrom the "rosebud" of the album name Rosebudd's Revenge came, with allusion to it in "My bud's rose" and the aural sound of "My service citizens/ Kane." Of course there's also the allusion to the Biblical twins Cain and Abel. And to service citizens cain would be to serve dope to the citizenry, Ka often invokes the economy of crack cocaine cooking and dealing. (Using this last angle then "My buds rose" would also be cooking crack like baking bread, rising yeast.)

So already that quick transition from the final line of the "hook" into the first line of the verse has at least three references:

- Citizen Kane
- Cain and Abel
- Selling crack

He doesn't have to say much in order to invoke these, it's basically all stuffed into one line or one and a half lines. That alone is extremely clever. The creative tactic of directly feeding from the "hook" into the verse, that alone is cool too.

Then to actually make a reference to this "hook" and confirm that the opening is a hook while also explicitly hoping the listener picks up on what he's doing in the hook, you catch the last trick he embedded here: that line "I hope the hook grab em" refers to the hook which hook's right into the word "cane" after all. He hopes to hook you in as with a cane. Or to get citizens hooked on cocaine. Or provide a service to the citizens in the form of cooked verses, an addictive crack of intriguing lyricism.

This little bit of ornate lyrical design, finishing the verse by sending the listener back to the beginning to focus on what he planted there while layering one last bit of meaning onto that part of the song, is just the type of lyrical craftsmanship I've come to associate Ka with. Much as with dudes like DOOM and GZA, Ka is a writer intensely devoted to devising the cleverest turns of phrase, puns, and triple/quadruple entendres with every chance he can get. It is the artful verbal tricks deployed in the hooks throughout his newest album Orpheus vs the Sirens that intrigue me the most about that record. Fitting, then, that I've been so preoccupied with this clever lyrical device from Citizen Ka attempting to pull the listener in with the hook of "Marksmen."

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Book Review: Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day is Lit!

Last summer, topping off a binge of reading Thomas Pynchon books, I set forth on the long, arduous, and vastly entertaining excursion of reading his 1,085-page epic, Against the Day. Almost a year later, I'm still preoccupied with this multifaceted meganovel. Before putting the cinematic cinderblock of letters back on the shelf for a while I've got some thoughts I'd like to share on it here.

Mainly, I must declare that Against the Day is Lit!!! As in, Against the Day is Literature in extremis! Literary, narrative worlds taken to extreme levels of world building, as Bruce Allen of Kirkus Reviews captured it, "Pynchon is both wordsmith and world-smith." The book is all about journeys traversed around the world, and it is told in a bountifully rich style of extremely erudite yet comedically committed prose that serves to weave a vast interconnecting network of literally hundreds of characters across the span of a few decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century.

It's also Lit as in Bonkers as in yo this book is lit af. (Millenial slang for "yo it's wild as fuck!") In Against the Day, Pynchon takes risks, letting the imagination expand in full flourish of zany, unpredictable explosive interactions and storylines, straining the limits of credulity as he works within the genre of what Wikipedia calls historiographic metafiction or metahistorical romance. The powerful electrical experiments of Dr. Nikola Tesla himself make up part of the story, mixed with the ominous tensions of turn-of-the-century political revolutions and the buildup to World War I, witnessed by a team of globe-trotting, time-traveling aviator adventurers (the Chums of Chance), with the overall storyline centered around a decades long struggle between the family of a murdered anarchist bomber (Webb Traverse) against a merciless robber baron/cartel boss (Scarsdale Vibe). It is the grandest manifestation of Pynchon's consistent theme of the struggle throughout history between what he labels the elect vs the preterite or the rich and powerful vs the common man. Serious, important historical stuff. But as Steven Moore noted in his review, the book's Marxist melodrama is laced with the comedic strain of Groucho Marx. Since this is Pynchon in full force, the novel is completely bonkers, often hilarious or silly, and sometimes ridiculous in its sexual excesses.

For example, flipping open the book at random, on page 384 we encounter a freedom fighter in the Mexican Civil War named El Ñato described as an "energetic presence" dressed in an "officer's jacket from the defunct army of some country not too nearby" with a ridiculously oversized parrot perched on his shoulder, "so out of scale in fact that to converse with its owner it had to lean down to scream into his ear." Then we meet the parrot:
"And this is Joaquin," El Ñato smiling up at the bird. "Tell them something about yourself, m'hijo."
"I like to fuck the gringo pussy," confided the parrot.
Later on when one of the main characters is about to strangle the insolent parrot, Pynchon describes El Ñato "sensing psitticide in the air." Parrots being of the Latin order Psittaciformes, Pynchon invents a clever word for parrot murder.

And finally, the novel is also Lit in the sense of Illumination. One of the main preoccupations of Against the Day is Light. The novel is full of newly lit cities, luminous prose, an ever expanding glow of creativity and proliferant storylines intent on covering everything under the sun. The force of the Tunguska event plops upon the text with "A heavenwide blast of light" (p. 779) that leaves the sky over the European continent alight for weeks. The light-refracting crystal Iceland Spar is a recurrent element in Against the Day. We experience frequent digressions into philosophical, scientific or occult contemplations of Light itself, as in the scene where the young genius mathematician/engineer Kit Traverse argues with his cynical brother Reef on science vs mysticism, pointing out how wireless waves were complete "bunk" not very long ago, then he reminds us: "Seems every day somebody's discovering another new piece of the spectrum, out there beyond visible light, or a new extension of the mind beyond conscious thought, and maybe someplace far away the two domains are even connected up." (p. 670)

To illustrate the ways in which Against the Day is totally lit, let's further expand on each aspect of its lit-ness:

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Healing Ingredients for Hard Times

Greek street art from here.

"A middenhide hoard of objects!" 
- Finnegans Wake, p. 19

"To clean and tidy up Matter...
To put back all the things people cluttered up
Because they didn't understand what they were for...
To straighten, like a diligent housekeeper of Reality,
The curtains on the windows of Feeling
And the mats before the doors of Perception...
To sweep the rooms of observation
And to dust off simple ideas...
That's my life, verse by verse."

- Fernando Pessoa (as Alberto Caeiro), 17 September 1914 
(from A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems, p. 56)

Besides the increasingly entropic, sad and infuriating thunderstorm of drama unfolding daily in the news, my closer circumference has also been racked with scary, turbulent, and unpredictable drama lately. The tension of the times is inescapable, it seems.

Besides the weight of experiencing people close to me fighting life-threatening illnesses, family friends passing away, and cherished friends leaving town, the last few months have featured the misfortune of a nearby neighbor exploding into a dark psychotic and meth-aided breakdown bringing nerve-eroding levels of disturbance and threat to my immediate community. My strong woman is terrified, deeply rattled, and my infuriated Italian Staten Island dude energy is trying to force its way into the situation. Plus it's Texas so the entire neighborhood is armed. Dealing with all of this has been rough.

What's helped me keep my head on straight is regular indulgence in the following ingredients: reading the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, exploring the music of rapper Ka, vibing off daily doses of Fela Kuti or lines from Finnegans Wake, and both watching and playing lots of baseball. Here are some thoughts on all of those.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Rōnin Joyce Scholar, Thought to be Dead, Resurfaces and Other Reports Following Bloomsday 2018

Illustration of Finnegans Wake page 15 by Peter O'Brien from here

Recently I returned from a phenomenal trip to Antwerp, Belgium where I got to partake in the 26th International James Joyce Symposium. The experience was a great one for a litany of reasons, not least of which because it was a relief to be away from the horrifying moral and ethical disaster zone of America for a while (had the same experience last year on my visit to Toronto). It was also a heartening and enjoyable experience getting to convene with so many fellow Joyceans from across the globe. I met and hung out with so many cool people from such a diverse range of places and backgrounds in the span of a week. (Just at the reception dinner I hung with folks from Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Singapore, the World Cup on everyone's minds.) And all of us share a passion for literature, especially Joyce. (The funniest line from the opening talks was a city official who opened with "a quote from the greatest novelist of all time, Thomas Pynchon.")

The conference itself was like guzzling from the intellectual and artistic firehose; full days of fascinating papers, lectures, thoughtful convo, incredible artwork, and finishing with recorded Finnegans Wake readings every night outside a pub.

I will have more to say about the conference some other time and place. Here and now I'd like to briefly highlight some of the recent Joyce-related news and nuggets that have popped up lately with Bloomsday 2018 happening last weekend.

John Kidd, a Rōnin of Joyceania, Resurfaces

An exiled, wandering rōnin of Joyce scholarship thought to be dead for many years, John Kidd, suddenly popped up in a NY Times profile that read like a Coen brothers movie---with this news arriving at that same time (June 12, 2018) the Joyce nerds of the world had descended upon Antwerp for a symposium (June 11-16th) whose opening lecture was delivered by Hans Walter Gabler, one of Kidd's opponents in the so-called "Joyce wars" of the late-80s and 90s.

John Kidd had risen to fame in the 80s as a young Ulysses scholar who challenged heavyweight Joyce authorities over mistakes in their supposedly official "corrected" texts and won the respect of his peers, promising to roll out his own corrected edition of Ulysses until he supposedly lost his mind, rumored to be dead broke and conversing with pigeons and squirrels before he disappeared into oblivion. I wrote about his bizarre tale back in May 2010, under the impression that "Kidd died in his early 50s with his highly sought-after edition of Ulysses unpublished." Almost a year later a commenter chimed in: "I don't think John Kidd is dead." More than a year after that, another commenter declares: "Alive and alive indeed!!!" And after another year: "He's in Brazil."

The NY Times piece doesn't mention this space sadly, except for referring to digging around obscure blogs and "stray comment sections," but I found it a fun and fascinating story that feels like a film. Kidd at his apartment in Rio de Janeiro shown surrounded with stacks of books and paintings, rocking long white hair, belly protruding out of a Hawaiian shirt:

Jack Hitt paints the picture well:

John Kidd, who is 65, is well above 6 feet tall and comfortably carries the emerging evidence of many a fine dinner. He no longer has the tidy short blond hair of 30 years ago. It’s now grown out snowy white and halfway down his back, deep into Gandalf territory. He’s a devoted fan of loosefitting Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops and shorts. ...
 Right off, he wants to talk about that Boston Globe article with the pigeons. His outrage is still raw. He’s particularly miffed that he was called “broke.” He wants me to know he’s flush and always has been. He has, at the ready, a notarized letter from Fleet Bank in Brookline dated 14 years ago, stating: “six months avg balance in this checking account has been $15,618.00.”
The story at one point involves the main characters fleeing knife-wielding thugs in the streets of Rio, because of course.

I enjoyed the bits of literary info highlighted in the piece---Kidd praising and recommending Fernando Pessoa's poetry collection A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe (a copy of which has remained here on my desk for months); discussions about what Kidd calls "antic" novels like Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy; and Kidd's devotion to translating an obscure 19th century Brazilian novel, The Slave Isaura.

The piece notes how, in the wake of Kidd's disappearance, the world of Joyce scholarship eventually shifted toward accepting the Gabler edition of Ulysses that Kidd poked so many holes in. Certainly that sentiment was on display in the opening remarks of the Antwerp conference where Gabler received an adulatory introduction before he delivered a presentation on the insanely tedious difficulties involved in trying to derive an authoritative edition of Ulysses. He actually brought up the Joyce wars at one point, sort of brushing it off as drama nobody wanted to hear about.

Yet throughout the lecture and the relatively quiet Q&A afterwards, I kept thinking that so many people in the room must be pondering what I'm pondering: "What ever happened to John Kidd?" And then the next day this piece pops up, sending ripples among the attendees. It must have made an impact in the States because many conference folks, myself included, had friends and family coming out the woodwork to send them this NYT feature.

Perhaps the buzz around this surprise profile will reinvigorate interest in bringing out Kidd's edition of Ulysses, but more likely, as the article hints at, it'll never see the light of day. Though a draft version, complete with Kidd's introduction, apparently exists somewhere, its fate got all tangled up in the bureaucratic webs of editors and lawyers and it is now likely dead. Discussing this story with Tom Jackson and Michael The OG over at the RAWillumination blog, it occurred to me that I own 4 copies of Ulysses, but I don't have the Gabler edition. As Gabler himself emphasized at the end of his talk, Ulysses remains an open text.

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Artist Peter O'Brien's Efforts to "arabesque the page" (FW p. 115)

Among the many great works of Joyce-inspired artwork on display at the Antwerp conference was the ongoing series of illustrated annotated Finnegans Wake pages being produced by Peter O'Brien of Toronto. Here's a glimpse at the exhibit in the old stone hallways of the University of Antwerp building:

O'Brien recently wrote a feature in the The Globe and Mail discussing his the project and his 40 years of reading the Wake, sharing insights into some of the pieces, as in this note about page 204: "I asked a friend to make two footprints on this page, first at the bottom and then at the top. Only later did I see the word “Barefoot” imprinted on the page."

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Massive Chronology of Joyce-Inspired Music Published

"History of James Joyce Music" illustration by Sara Jewell.

Derek Pyle and Krzysztof Bartnicki of "Waywords and Meansigns" published a vast chronology of all the Joyce-inspired music they could find. It's a rich and fascinating resource you will want to explore. Here's some further info from Derek Pyle:

A lifelong inspiration to composers such as Samuel Barber and John Cage, Joyce's influence on classical and avant-garde music is well-known. Yet his massive impact on popular music is rarely acknowledged. “Joyce had a profound effect on members of the Grateful Dead, and his works served as major muses in the Southern California punk and indie scene,” explains Derek Pyle. “Joyce even inspired a number-one dance hit: Amber's 'Yes!'” 
The History of James Joyce Music highlights Joyce's legacy in the works of well-known musicians and composers like Leonard Cohen, Joanna Newsom, Tōru Takemitsu, and Karol Szymanowski, but the history does not stop there. Included in the history are dozens of obscure musical works from underground and niche musicians, ranging in genre from minimalism and metal to folk and noise.

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The Pantheon

Over at my "Finnegans, Wake!" blog I just shared the full version of the presentation I delivered at the Antwerp conference. This piece outlines a litany of notable Finnegans Wake enthusiasts from all corners of art and culture, sharing their testimonies on behalf of Joyce's neglected magnum opus.

Click the link below to read the piece:

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Stepping Away from Joyce

The Sydney Review of Books has a new piece by Gabrielle Carey, "Breaking Up with James Joyce" explaining her decision to cease studying Ulysses, the Wake, et al after 40 years as a Joyce scholar. She cites other readers who reached similar ends after decades of puzzling through Finnegans Wake. It seems these folks have never been able to find what they're looking for.

Perhaps they've discovered what Joyce meant when, toward the end of his life, he wrote to his son: "Here I conclude. My eyes are tired. For over half a century they have gazed into nullity, where they have found a lovely nothing." (Ellmann, Collected Letters)

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Speculating on the Story of Lucia

Lucia Joyce, the apple of her father's eye and a gifted-yet-cursed artist herself, continues to be a ripe source of interest for authors and artists. The Irish Times put out a couple pieces on Lucia recently: Deirdre Mulrooney drew attention to Lucia's dancing career (Mulrooney is working on a documentary film about same) and Sean Hewitt reviewed a recently published novel, Lucia by Alex Pheby, calling it "a searching and fascinating book." Don't forget about the film James and Lucia with Game of Thrones star Aiden Gillen set to play James Joyce that is still in production. I shared my thoughts on Lucia and Finnegans Wake a few years ago here.

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The prolific blogger and musician Steve Fly has created an app program that allows you to sample and mix sound effects, music, etc with clips of Robert Anton Wilson talking about and reading from Finnegans Wake. Fly deployed these versatile blends to perfection in a live performance in Antwerp on Bloomsday, putting BloomJamm to great use and inspiring attendees to do the same. You can download BloomJamm from Steve's website and here is a sample of the program:

Friday, March 30, 2018

MLB 2018 Season Predictions (Part 2)

Gazing at the future thru the crystal ball...

Continuing the altogether futile and pointless exercise of predicting how each division will shake up and providing an Over/Under selection against Baseball Prospectus' 2018 win projection for each team, this time in the National League.

There's quite a bit of monotony here---the Dodgers have finished atop the NL West every year for five years running and they are an easy bet to win it again in 2018. The NL Central crown has gone to either the Cardinals or Cubs every year since 2013. The Cubs, Dodgers, and Nationals were NL division winners each of the last two years and are all favored to do it again this year. Certainly seems there's a lack of parity, but admittedly I enjoy the intrigue it creates since any challenger(s) to the hegemony of the Dodgers-Cubs-Nats stronghold tends to be a fascinating underdog, like the Mets in 2015 or the Brewers last year. I also enjoy the October rivalries that have developed between the Dodgers-Cubs-Nats and their respective stars. Parity be damned if it means we get to witness the game's elite players---Kenley Jansen facing Bryce Harper with a series on the line comes to mind---deciding the most high stakes ballgames.
NL East

1. Nationals
PECOTA: 89 wins
My pick: Over

These picks represent what I objectively expect to happen---what I would bet on---not how I want it all to shape out. Personally, I dislike the Nats about as much as I dislike the Yankees. They're the key rival to my beloved Mets. Their lineup features Daniel Murphy, a former beloved Met who immediately became an All Star once he joined the arch rival Nats. Bryce Harper is entertaining to watch but he's also a perfect baseball villain. I dread my Mets having to deal with the relentless pest Adam Eaton all year. And the game's most dominant pitcher besides Clayton Kershaw, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, stands atop one of the best rotations in baseball. It seems they may have finally addressed their one weakness, the bullpen, too. Much as I hate the Nats and will heartily root for their downfall, that roster is just too deep, the dominance of that core too imposing to not expect them to win the NL East again and try to finally, at long last, make it past the first round of the playoffs! That last part I wouldn't bet on, though.

2. Mets
PECOTA: 80 wins
My pick: Over (Wild Card)

Last year was a sad one for Mets fans---everyone got hurt, beloved players (Granderson and Duda) were traded away and the promising pitching staff imploded, finishing with the second-worst ERA in the NL. Thankfully, Sandy Alderson responded with big changes: he brought in an entirely new medical staff, about which...we'll see; added some sluggers in Todd Frazier and the returning Jay Bruce; bolstered the bullpen with Anthony Swarzak and picked up a perfectly reliable innings-eater to hold down the back of the rotation in Jason Vargas. The main reason I have high hopes for the Mets this year, though, besides the irrationality of my fanhood, is the addition of Mickey Callaway as the new manager, replacing Terry Collins. Callaway earned accolades for his handling of the Cleveland pitching staff the last few years, guiding them to one of the best overall performances by a starting rotation in baseball history last year. The Mets success depends entirely on their immensely talented starting rotation---if Callaway can get this staff to do their best work the way he did in Cleveland, the sky is the limit for the Amazins.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

MLB 2018 Season Predictions (Part 1)

Photograph by Don Hamerman.

Nearly two decades into the 21st century, Baseball has evolved into something weird. Last year was the first time I can remember that I began to lose interest in the sport. It's been one of my favorite things, period, for as long as I can remember. Last year that started to change.

The ball is clearly modified in some way to cause a great deal more home runs. It makes the game feel cheapened. Records are being shattered. Yes, we've been through something like this before with the steroid era, but it feels worse now since it's so obvious to all observers that the league itself is responsible. There are not many things that can make me feel unenthused about baseball. I don't even mind the long games that much. But a baseball game becoming a sideshow full of bizarre, fluky home runs and endless strikeouts is just not entertaining to watch.

A quiet offseason during which nearly a third of all clubs made clear their lack of intent to significantly improve their chances made things even more unsettling. As the league itself floats the idea of making catastrophic changes to the rules (allowing teams to select any three hitters to bat in the 9th inning; starting extra innings with a runner in scoring position automatically), it seems baseball is on the verge of becoming something unrecognizable.

Despite all that, the irrepressible joys and expectations of spring have me excited for the upcoming baseball season, hopeful for my Mets and A's and intrigued to see some of the newly reconfigured teams like the Angels and Brewers.

As usual, I've thrown together some thoughts on each team with a prediction for where they'll finish. This includes an Over/Under pick against the projected win total generated by Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system. (A pointless exercise for multiple reasons, sure, but that hasn't stopped me from doing this for the eighth consecutive year.)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Eugene & Erró

Here are some paintings from two 20th century artists whose work I recently caught wind of---the Russian surrealist Eugene Berman (1899-1972) and Icelandic postmodernist Erró aka Gudmundur Gudmundsson (born July 19, 1932).

Some of Eugene Berman's work reminds me of Dali's desolate haunted dreamscapes.

The works of Erró on the other hand are abundant kaleidoscopic collages of pop culture and modern media. Famous works of art commingle with comic book heroes, Disney cartoons, and the imagery of popular advertisements in his all-encompassing feasts of visual consumption. His work feels like a perfect representation of what postmodernism claims to be---sampling from all available art forms, the raw materials deconstructed and reorganized, juxtaposed and arranged to make one see it all in a new way.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Instrumental: "The Gate" by Dirty Art Club

From their latest album Basement Seance

What Goes On

Looking over at the Blog Archive for "A Building Roam" one notices that in the eight full years of its existence, the number of posts has steadily declined:

Obviously I must have been really excited to have a place to channel my writing when this thing first got going back in 2010. Don't know how the hell I managed to post 119 times. I guess because I was working part-time in those days, unwilling to fully jump into the rat race and content to barely scrape by money-wise. I hoped the practice of writing this blog would lead me to a writing career. The biggest drop-off happened in 2013 when the total number of posts fell by more than half from the previous year. A few reasons for that: that year I met the girl who would become my fiancée; started working full-time; and started writing a second blog. Since then my blog posting has slowed down considerably. 

I have no plans to shutter this place, though. In fact, I've got many ideas in the pipeline. Another noticeable reason for the decline in activity here is I've put more focus on writing longer, more thoughtful posts that are more like essays, rather than just posting video clips or music or article links or quotations or other brief snapshots of the moment. But I do have a backlog of those things to share here as well. 

There are many other reasons for this blog being quiet of late. Most importantly, my writing energies have been invested in other projects---not just the other blog, but also two books I've been chipping away at for years now. They both seem stuck in a state of being half-finished no matter how much work I put into them. It's looking like I'm going to be presenting a paper at a James Joyce conference in Antwerp, Belgium in a few months, so I'm working on that too. I'm also working full-time at a challenging job, dealing with a torturous daily commute, managing a bi-monthly reading group, taking care of chores at my house, being present in a relationship, reading as many books as I can, watching lots of sports, exercising irregularly, and occasionally relaxing or socializing. All that and I'm trying to maintain a balance of staying aware of what's going on in the world without losing my mind. 

All of which is just to say---there's plenty more to look forward to in this space so please stick around!