Monday, April 30, 2012


There are some days when I am just very, very happy to get home after a long day's traveling (two flights, via Houston), and find that there are fresh flowers upstairs and down; swordfish, salad, and a great bottle of wine for dinner, and a welcoming girlfriend and cats.  Well, two of the cats ... Bitzi remains a paranoid, feral embodiment of a blur of ginger fluffy perpetual motion.  Happy to be home, even if I'm about as much in focus as are the campanula.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

for those with new kittens

There seem to be kittens galore among my friends in Los Angeles: this is for them!  It's one of three paintings above a pet/garden store in Durham NC (dated 2008, so new since I was here, I think) - and I saw them when I was prowling around my old 9th Street haunts.  I'd forgotten - well, no, I hadn't for a minute - I was really happy to be back (despite my love of palm trees and desert - maybe I'm just happy anywhere) in the deep leafiness of North Carolina in the springtime, with (as I walked the 3 mile loop round Duke Golf Course woods) cardinals, and jays, and all kinds of large finches flying around, and a 6 foot rat snake sliding through the dead leaves.  S/he was very pretty, with a black body and a mottled grey and white patch under her chin - we could give her a good home back in LA since - whisper this - we've seen roof rats, once or twice, scuttling down the terrace rails at dusk, and leaping into the big cypress trees.  But it's not safe kitty hunting territory, forty feet off street level ... so that snake would come in handy.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


So why does one take notes on papers at conferences?  I could just sitting there looking rapt and intelligent, and project the illusion that I have a powerful memory.  But then, one would run the risk of appearing to be in a mindless trance.  Those last two sentences, admittedly, give something away from the start - that there's something performative about the activity.  Over and beyond that, though, it's an interesting activity to scrutinize.  Yes, I take notes of books and articles and authors that I have never heard of - but feel that I should have done.  If they are particularly interesting, there'll be a little star by them.  And there may be a star, too, round an especially thought provoking point - one that I think that I might want to go back to, and hi-jack when it comes to thinking about some of my own current research.  Here, though, is the relevance of keeping notes in a notebook (and no, it's not a Moleskine, but a Leuchtturm - more or less the same shape, but slightly smoother paper, and with numbered pages.  The numbers do it for me - one can then index one's entries more easily.  Because if something is especially useful to current research, then it goes on a different page, somewhere out of the chronology of the conference - one that says Flash! or Art and Internationalism, or whatever.  And (one of the whole points of coming to conferences), one can never tell what will, serendipitously, spark off some train of thought.

Over and beyond that - there are the papers one sometimes goes to because one might be teaching a text in the near future, or where a graduate one's supervising is giving a paper and one wants to give feedback.  Or one might just be staying focused - because how often does one, in fact, go back to one's notes?  I think that they would provide a significant intellectual archive, if only I had notebooks going back to my first History Workshop and Literature Teaching Politics conferences in the early 80s - not so much of what was said, as of what I might once have found worth noting down.  But what will I make, in - say - ten years time - of my evident need to record "obligations of an object" or "power of will" or "construction of realism."  They record presence, to be sure - so does my handwriting, so do my arrows and underlining and route maps - but all in all, I find it hard to be completely clear about what drives my decades' worth of this carefully practiced ritual.

Friday, April 27, 2012


This is a particularly fine hinge on a set of doors near the elevator on Floor 5 of the Washington Duke hotel.  It can also act as a neat metaphor for this blog, riffing off the way in which Amitav Ghosh spoke briefly about blogging during this afternoon's keynote address, comparing a blog entry to a Chinese picture, in which the word and the image can't be separated.

That being said, I greatly wanted to take issue with him for laying into a sentence that I think I'm responsible for in the program, and that I certainly used in my Presidential Address (well, my short presidential intro-speechy-thingy, the main point of which was to praise Nancy Armstrong to the skies for all she's done in promoting this conference and the coming-into-being of the Society for Novel Studies) - that is, a claim that "the novel is the dominant literary genre of our age."  By "literary," I meant "print form" - in true spirit-of-Williams-and-Hoggart etc form I include The Hunger Games and Twilight and Harry Potter - not, necessarily, the high literature, or the "literature with a claim to being called literature" that he seemed to think (somewhat contentiously) is, in its fictional form, in decline.  He'd propose the ascendancy of the memoir - true, but surely not supplanting the novel?  He seemed to mean "the middle to highbrow novel that sells commercially," which isn't quite my understanding of the genre - even if it is, of course, what most people have been talking about to date.  All the same, he was a hugely engaging speaker - even if I think I'm on one side of the literature hinge, and he on the other.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


This - sitting in front of me at LAX - was so neatly symmetrical that I couldn't resist.  I think the man sitting next to me thought that I was a very incomprehensible fetishist, to say the least.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

the pointing finger

Seen from the car on the way home - on Vermont - and apparently far more admonitory than inviting.  Why haven't you done [fill in the blank]?  Why haven't you written to [blank]?  Why are you leaving town to go to a conference, when you should be [blank]?  Clearly, I have a very low threshold beyond which I can be made to feel guilty with sins of omission.  Maybe it's that all too personalized letter K that's getting to me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


It had to come: one day, I'd walk onto campus and the Reflecting Pool would fail to give back.  I suspect that something Bad happened at the Book Festival - an author hurled himself in, after not a single member of the public wanted to buy a signed copy of his chapbook?  An incensed reader tore up page after page that she found repellent, or boring, or wrong?  Too many children paddled and peed in it?  Whatever happened, it's been left slightly smelly, full of puddles, and having, I hope, its drains pumped.

I spent a chunk in the middle of the day at a committee where we were discussing the mentoring of post-docs, and the ethos of Self-reflection was much lauded and promoted.  That seemed to mean sitting down with one's mentor at the beginning and end of a year (yes, indeed, with all kinds of other contact in between), and setting out what one hopes to achieve, and how far one's managed to fulfill one's expectations.  Academe is so very, very different from when I started out - a mentor?  I certainly never had one of those.  I barely had a dissertation director - at least, not a very functional one, even if he was a lovely and charming and intelligent person - and I'm sure that the concept of mentoring never crossed his mind, although he did once or twice give me a glass of very good claret in his classical music filled room before taking me in to college lunch - and I counted myself extremely fortunate.  There was, first, another, tougher director for a year, until he retired, who saw me at his home in the evenings, and berated me for calling the middle classes the middle class, and poured me three glasses of whiskey, one after the other, so I can't remember whatever else he might have said.  All the same, I'm sure it didn't include the word "mentor." Certainly, the concept of self-reflection never remotely crossed my mind, except in the ordered form of a to-do list.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cat One

It can, admittedly, be hard to know what Lola is thinking at the best of times, and this probably isn't the best of times for her.  But how does one judge the effect of absence on a cat who has been used to a bossy, male, older-by-a-few weeks cat for almost all of her seventeen years?  For now she is Cat One.  It's very sad to see that she looks even more melancholy in a photograph than she does making her slow, somewhat arthritic progress around the house.  She's displaying no apparent signs of a new lease of confidence.  To be sure, she's eating, and drinking, and not overtly pining.  But what is going on in her little tabby head?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

my oldest friend

Ah, any of you out there who thought that you were my oldest friend (two of my three cousins apart, I guess), have to stand aside - here's Veronique, whom I've know since 1957, when, admittedly, she was in diapers, and the experience of being invited to watch her Being Changed put me off the idea of having children for life ... She's the daughter of my mother's best friend at high school, in Birmingham, who married a Frenchman, and they became a kind of - not exactly surrogate family, or surrogate parents, but made Paris and the Ile aux Moines, in Brittany, a kind of surrogate home for some years.  It was with Veronique that I stayed in 1988 when I first came to Los Angeles and fell in love with the city (reading Rayner Banham and Hayden White, oddly but profitably, at the same time, I thought of it as the city of perpetual self-reinvention).

It's most strange, when one thinks about it, that Joy Flint (Parker) and Gwen Pascal (Rooke)'s daughters should both end up in Los Angeles, but it gives me a very deep if curious sense of continuity.  We don't see as much of each other as we might; we live at different ends of the city, but we had a fun hike today up the Los Liones trail at the beginning of Topanga Canyon - amazingly lush, and with billowing clouds of mist sweeping in from the sea.  Thank goodness - this would have been murderous on a hot day, especially with someone whose idea of fun is a "speedy triathlon" - I had no idea such things existed.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

drying off

Sometime yesterday there was a thump: LucyFur had decided to do a little rearranging of Alice's desktop, and the bowl of stones and shells went flying.  Luckily no damage was done ... but I imagine Alice must have thought that this presented a golden opportunity to wash the dust off these little geological tokens.  When I came in from a trip to Whole Foods, there they all were, lined up drying on the stove top.  It's a curious array, to me, of meaningfulness (for they must all have had an origin, been picked up from beach or mountainside - quite likely I was there for the gathering of some of them), and objects that bear, in fact, no memorialising function to me whatsoever.  I suspect that this would have been true even of pebbles that I'd gathered myself - pocketing them thinking that I'd remember a particularly gorgeous day, and then completely forgetting where they came from.  I once visited a colleague in Berlin, and he and his partner had little heaps of sand or soil and pebbles neatly set out in different parts of their living room, each of them labelled with the place that they'd come from, whether the Australian outback or a British stream bed - which struck me at the time, and does still, as requiring not just organization and discipline, but tolerance for very heavy luggage.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Fountain base; book festival tent; fluorescent green traffic cone.  I have great hopes for the future of traffic cones on campus: today's Daily Trojan had an article about the meetings that have been taking place to establish regular bike lanes at crucial parts of the campus.  It didn't surprise me at all to read that in the last year, 25% of students claim that they (as pedestrians) have been in collision with a bicycle: it didn't mention the number of faculty and staff who might have been similarly impeded.  Let us hope.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

red stripes

The title of today's post sounds as though it should be celebrating Jamaican beer - but no: it's another getting-ready-for-the-book-fair shot: some kind of poles against white tents.  It's also a homage (an homage?) to yesterday's discussion at the Objects of Knowledge seminar - led by Nancy Lutkehaus - when we were talking about the display of "primitive" objects in art museums.  I brought up the wonderful exhibition that I saw at the Seattle Museum of Art on Stripes - everything from photographs of blinds to Agnes Martin swathes of different pale greys to Aboriginal painted boards.  (Yes, I know that there's a Michel Pastoureau book called The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes, which I haven't read, and should ...).  I definitely think that there's a great deal to be said for shaking up our perceptions through organizing exhibitions through formal characteristics (with, indeed, more customary contextualization readily to hand) - it stimulates our own imagination to think Why Stripes?  How do they organize space?  What do they say about regularity and irregularity?  About light and shade, bright and dark?  Are they camouflage?  Do they create false ideas of symmetry?  Do they represent a desire for symmetry? - and so on.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

chairing - a variant

Chairs in the evening sunlight - waiting for the Festival of Books.  I don't suppose that authors are going to sit up there like a carnival King and Queen on a rackety table, so I'm not quite sure why all the seats were positioned in this way - to avoid rising damp?  There was a security guard making sure that no students tucked them under an arm and raced away on a skateboard.  As for the other kind of chairing - oh, memos ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This isn't a boating lake that's suddenly grown up in the middle of campus - no regatta here, despite the tents.  The canvas that's sprouted up everywhere heralds the Los Angeles Festival of Books this weekend (Alice is speaking on Sunday); that canoeing figure - actually, it's the reflecting pool again, and if one crouches down low enough when a maintenance man is speeding past on one of those little utility carts, trompe l'oeil is easily achieved.

Signs of spring, indeed ... today was the last class for which I'll really have to prepare until the very end of August.  Can that be true?   I still have the rhythms of the British academic year graven into me, and they don't match up easily with a LA day with temperatures in the 80s, jacaranda blossom on the trees, and students wearing very short shorts indeed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

114 miles

away - this was a pretty good view to wake up to!  And a great coffee shop just down the road, and a drive home that would have been a good deal easier if it hadn't involved the Coachella morning traffic racing back down the 10 to Los Angeles (though A. did an extraordinarily valiant driving job).  And a full day and evening's work - but oh, it's a desolate house here without Emmett, and at least two of the three other cats baffled and upset at his absence.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

bombay beach

For years now I've been obsessed with the idea of going to the Salton Sea - a large inland salt sea, or rather, water that hasn't gone away, yet, since the first decade of the C20th when the Colorado River overflowed.  It's an environmental disaster - full of fertilizer run off, so salty that just about the only fish in it are tilapia, drying up a little more every year.  It's the site of amazing photographs by Richard Misrach and others, and of course I went looking for the abandoned motels, the burnt out trailers on the sands - all the signs of the failed enterprise that was its attempt at resort existence in the 1960s ... what I did find (after I'd driven under the private jets flying in to Coachella) was a lot more agriculture (including date palm farms) than I'd expected, and that it was very hard to get a proper look at the SS when one's being careful of anonymous white semis being driven up from Mexico on a narrow road.  The western side is much easier that the eastern - but I was looking, first of all, for the wrecked community of Bombay Beach.
It struck me, though, that if I was wielding a camera, what would I be looking to do other than a form of rephotography.  But there was a small gang of feral looking children - no one else in sight at all - that rather made me apprehensive of finding somewhere to park and heading off in search of the unpicturesque shore. It's one of the poorest communities in Southern California, apparently - not a place to leave a Lexus with New Mexican plates unattended, I think - and as well as looking desolate, was full of burnt out meth-lab looking shacks.  So I limited myself to the rusting mail boxes, and shook my head at my inability to do poverty porn.   The real Bombay Beach - or Mumbai Beach, I suppose - is a whole lot more salubrious.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

desert spring

Greetings from Joshua Tree National Park, which is magnificent in its wildness (I can't believe that we're just 150 miles or so from Los Angeles, here).  I find large spaces very consoling - at some quite basic level, they remind me that the world is a lot bigger than I am.  And one could draw a good number of cliched consolatory parables, if one wanted, from flowers blooming in a barren land, etc.  It was also freezing cold, which is not a concept I associate with Southern Californian desert.  Above, cholla cacti in bloom, and below, the strange ocotillo plant - which apparently grows and loses leaves up to five times a year, depending on whether it gets water or not.  And it has red flowers, too, which seemed suitably wild and defiant against the racing dark clouds in the sky.

Friday, April 13, 2012

sad view

I'll spare you all the final pictures of our dear Emmett, this morning, before we took him, in all his bravery, to the vets.  We've come away to the desert for a couple of days R&R - we were scheduled to, anyway, but didn't know whether we would get away, or not.  But it's hardly the sunny idyll that we'd hoped for, so far ... nonetheless, the cold, gusty, rainy, cloudy weather seems just about right for today.  Maybe this view from our room (we move on tomorrow) will dawn pale yellow and sunny.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The King

It's very hard.  We know his time is up.  Does he know?  What does he know?  We have to balance that fine line of knowing that he still has some enjoyment in life, and - well - fearing that he doesn't.  Yesterday I was still a believer in his intrinsic toughness, his ability to keep going, his capacity to feed my own attempts at magical thinking.  This morning, he seemed to have crossed over that line - not into unhappiness, but into a certain discomfort, and inwardness, and his bounce has gone.  So tomorrow - ah, tomorrow.  It's too sad to write.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Emmett's ear

It's no good pretending that Emmett is going to be with us all that much longer: his kidneys have been giving out for several years, and he's kept going by a miracle kitty feline medicine called Calcitriol, and weekly hydration, and shots of epigen (which are illegal, I think, if you're doing something like bicycle racing, but which are great for building up iron).  The last few months, though - and the last few weeks, especially - he's got thinner and thinner, and more and more weak in the legs. But we're enjoying his presence - usually a gently sleeping presence on the sofa - while we still can.  And today I realized that I didn't know if I had an image of his distinctive ear (and didn't, even with several goes, get it quite right with the macro lens ... so hard to focus in the twilight).  It's a very distinctive ear: it looks as if something like a large rat took a bite out of it, but in fact it shows that when he was first captured as a little feral kitten, he was neutered, and the ear clipped so that were he ever out in the wilds of The Valley, or elsewhere, again, he wouldn't have to have any more surgery.  He is such a special cat, but it's not at all unfitting to his feisty personality that he has what looks like a serious fighter's ear.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

dog tired

Seen at the vet's, first thing this morning ... I know how this guy feels.

Monday, April 9, 2012

pool, again

Really, I ought to ration the number of pictures that I post of my walk from carpark to office - but I never stop marveling at how beautiful it can look ... on another flat-out day (only a large stack of travel grant applications to read before bed-time, and some emails to respond to, and a report to finish writing, yet to do), it's a huge bonus ...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

lost and found

I am so extraordinarily relieved to see this scarf again.  It emerged, quite suddenly, this morning, from a hangar in a hall closet, where I swear I'd looked five times before.  It was one of the things that (missing for weeks, for months, even), I thought that I'd left in Santa Fe, and since failing to find it there on Friday, I've systematically been going through drawers, through other closets, through bags ... getting more and more despondent (the scarf was a present from Alice last fall, and it's Japanese, and subtle, and softish, and liable to snag on things, so I'm very, very careful with it).  I found a brooch that I'd also thought I'd lost; I found a Tate Gallery t-shirt with a John Martin engraving on it, and several other stray objects - but no sign of the scarf.  I'd just come to the gloomy conclusion that I must have left it in my hotel room at the MLA - when Lo!

The onions and garlic are irrelevant: they just looked good in the afternoon sun.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

the last baguette

Here is a sad object - or two pieces of the same object - salvaged from the freezer at Cuesta Road, and carried back to Los Angeles.  These are the final remnants of a Real Food Nation baguette.  I have to say - Alice is more of a bread eater than I am, and these belong to her, and she will feel the loss of RFN baking more acutely than I.  But symbolically - I commemorate these in a synecdochal fashion.  Yesterday, when we drove past, it all look very shut up and bare, with a mysterious amount of minor engineering activity taking place outside.  Rumor suggests that someone may lease the space, may try and run the same kind of enterprise with the same organic emphasis - but we'll wait and see and hope.

Friday, April 6, 2012

two necessary stops

... though in fact, there were a couple more brief touch-downs: our house, to pick up a couple of things, and to remark on (a) how beautifully its temporary resident is looking after it (and since he's a contractor, to gaze with pleasure at the mending of the garage ceiling, and (b) how well the tumbleweed is growing so early in the season.  Hmmm.  And then Harry's, for a quick lunch, before the very necessary trip to the hairdresser (and how could one not appreciate a hairdresser whose salon looks like Edward's does - see above).  Whilst I was there, Alice was having her acupuncture; whilst she was there, I made stop 2: Ohori's (below), for four pounds of Sulawesi coffee beans.

And now we're back in LA.  Yes, I know that there are hairdressers in Los Angeles.  Yes, I know we can easily order Ohori's coffee by mail, and do.  And yes, I know that a 24-hour trip is a little crazy, even if a very sane use of air miles.  But it was enormous fun ...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

frequently flying

Yes, I know as well as you do that the privilege of being able to watch the setting sun from the Admiral's Lounge at LAX, sipping a free gin and tonic, comes at a price ... that of flying a great deal (and this time it's a quick 24 hour hop to Santa Fe - thank you, air miles).  But things reached a height of new privilege-in-return-for-giving-AA-a-lot-of-money today.  I've reached that level of apparent total trustworthiness that I've been cleared for the super fast security lane - the one where you don't take your shoes off, or your computer out of your bag (no shocks!!), and you leave your mini tube of toothpaste in there, too.  That is, unless you've forgotten to bring it ... 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


It was a long time before I realized that in this country (and probably in a myriad of science fairs and other forms of convention world-wide), a poster display didn't mean lots of fun artistic display (although, obviously, it might include this) - rather, it signifies work-in-progress with a greater or lesser amount of visual appeal.  So outside VKC today was a Poster Display - nothing caught my eye until this easel (ok, probably not yet occupied, but I'd love to think that this was the actual display), asking "Is EMS Colorblind?"  Good question.  Even better when one doesn't know, quite, what EMS stands for.  At USC, surely, it's the Empire of Early Modern Studies.  But I suppose, more prosaically, it might be Emergency Medical Services.  Or maybe Event Management System, or Extra-mural Studies, or Educational Management System, or Earthen Manure Service.  OK, I got that last one from Wikipedia, when I was checking to see if I'd overlooked anything obvious.   Clearly, the question has to be posed in monochrome.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


The Clothesline Project started back in 1990 - I hadn't known that it was so long-lasting - back on Cape Cod: an annual hanging out of t-shirts with messages protesting against violence against women.  It happened annually at Rutgers, too, but usually coincided with grey and damp weather, so that it also looked like a protest against violence against t-shirts.  Here, in true t-shirt land, the messages (very many of them having to do with issues of consent in student date-rape territory, or simply with the right to dress and present how one wants) seemed the more poignant because of the flagrant cheerfulness of the sunshine, and hence a real reminder not to be seduced by the unreality of our pretty campus: bad stuff happens here too (indeed, one only needs to look at the Crime Notes in the Daily Trojan to be aware of this ...

Monday, April 2, 2012


The chair-shadow works well - it stands in for what's present, but can't be given material life in blog-words.   Looking at Wells's The Invisible Man for tomorrow, plus some writing on voice, ventriloquism, and air by Steven Connor, makes one think about the connections that exist between invisibility and sound, or silence and object hood.  Chairing - that was the trouble at Rutgers, too, when it came to blog writing: it takes up whole swathes of one's day, and then one can't really share the experience publicly.  That isn't meant to signify that anything worthy of momentous secrecy or discretion takes place on most days - far from it.  But one can't talk about - except in the broadest, blandest terms (a) a meeting with a new potential dean (b) a meeting with a - I can't even find the right adjective - a graduate in need of conversation (c) a colleague, ditto (d) a meeting with the current dean - and so it goes.  Somewhere in all of this was an enjoyable hour and a half doing orals prep with another grad (the first and last time, I imagine, that I'll ever juggle Pudd'nhead Wilson, Leaves of Grass and The Time Machine on the same occasion).  As I said to the current dean - I was so glad that one particular hat that I wear doesn't carry a course release with it, because I can't be alone, among chairs, in finding that hours spent teaching, in whatever form, are a release in themselves.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


It's 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning; it's time for the weekly Skype to Wimbledon.  It was so warm and sunny there that the computer was taken outdoors to give us a tour of the garden - the proliferating primroses, the fallen magnolia petals, the birdsong.  It was so pretty that I wished I knew how to take a photo from the screen (have since found out, so I'll try it next week) - but instead had recourse to my camera.

I used to think that one would never, ever be able to See The Person One Was Talking To - that seemed like far-flung sic-fi invention - a visual telephone?  And I used to swear, adamantly, that I'd never want such a thing, even if it were available.  But of course it's wonderful to be able to see my parents each week - and judging by this, a still photo wouldn't do justice to how they look (and this was the best of three attempts ...).  And the visuals supplement the news - this week, the major event was the fact that a neighbor's tortoise had had her foot bitten by a dachshund.  I have known that tortoise since I was 7 - it belongs with the house opposite - so I do indeed care about this fact, even if, as news go, I recognize that it may appear as less than epic.  To be honest, each time we call, I'm just so very glad if this constitutes the nature of a headlining news item.

Had I not been intending to use this image all day, I'd have found something to say about the latest more-than-street-art posting near the Silver Lake Reservoir Dog Park, which neatly complicates the whole question of landscape/seascape/escapism.