Monday, June 30, 2008

Glossing is a Glorious Thing -- Conference CFP

Glossing is a Glorious Thing: The Past, Present, and Future of Commentary
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
April 9-10, 2009

Keynote Event
The Future of Commentary, a roundtable discussion with:
David Greetham (CUNY)
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford)
Jesús Rodríguez Velasco (Columbia)
Et al.

Sponsored by:
The Graduate Center and the Ph.D. Program in English, CUNY
Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary


Il y a plus affaire à interpreter les interpretations qu'à interpreter les choses, et plus de livres sur les livres que sur autre subject: nous ne faisons que nous entregloser. Tout fourmille de commentaires; d'auteurs, il en est grand cherté—Montaigne

[There is more to-do interpreting interpretations than interpreting things, more books on books than on any other subject: we do nothing except gloss each other. Everything swarms with commentaries; of authors there is a great lack].

Montaigne’s critique, which does not exclude his own Essais, is emblematic of the ambivalent status of commentary in modernity. Commentary is both an outmoded form of textual production tied to premodern constructions of authority and an indispensable dimension of scholarly work. This ambivalence is most conspicuous within the humanities where the commentary genre, like a popolo minuto of the academic city-state, holds an explicitly subordinate position beneath the monograph, the article, and the essay, however much, and maybe all the more so when, work of these kinds is constituted by commentarial procedures.

But there are clear signs, both intellectual and technological, of return to and reinvention of commentary. Several humanistic auctores of the last century have worked innovatively within the genre: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Martin Heidegger’s lectures on Hölderlin’s “Der Ister,” Roland Barthes’s S/Z, Jacques Derrida’s Glas, Luce Irigaray’s An Ethics of Sexual Difference, J.H. Prynne’s They That Haue Powre to Hurt; A Specimen of a Commentary on Shake-speares Sonnets, 94, and Giorgio Agamben’s The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, et al. In The Powers of Philology, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has described the material situation in which commentary may become ascendant: “The vision of the empty chip constitutes a threat, a veritable horror vacui not only for the electronic media industry but also, I suppose, for our intellectual and cultural self-appreciation. It might promote, once again, a reappreciation of the principle and substance of copia. And it might bring about a situation in which we will no longer be embarrassed to admit that filling up margins is what commentaries mostly do—and what they do best” (53).

This conference proposes a dialogue about the past, present, and future of commentary, not only as an object of intellectual and theoretical inquiry, but also with regard to commentary’s practical potentialities, to its place within the evolution and becoming of academic labor in the lived present. The prospect of a “return” to commentary, whatever forms it may take, renders conspicuous and questionable some of the most hallowed and taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of scholarly practice, for instance: the distinction between primary and secondary text; the primacy of noesis over poesis, or thinking over making; the synthetic, thesis-driven, and polemical character of understanding; and so forth. Presentations that engage with such implications are particularly welcome. Please submit 250-word abstracts by October 1, 2008 to Word attachments preferred.

Organizers: Nicola Masciandaro (, Karl Steel (, Ryan Dobran (

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Now is a good time to start bothering about

Now is a good time to start bothering about
What is happening, what anything is about.

The sound of a small question not going away.
Maybe you hear it too. Now what is it about?

Half the day was walking between ruins and tombs,
Being now with others before death, out and about.

One asks why animals woof and weep at doomsday?
Not for themselves, for a now no longer about.

This morning a spider floats subtly in my room.
Then as now, no idea what the dream is about.

Robbie Basho has a loving way of sounding,
Like a dead man who now knows what life was about.

Nicola is much less interested in talking
Than wondering what he is now talking about.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

If not opening a more radical wonder

If not opening a more radical wonder,
Then only fancier blindness not real wonder.

It was hard to hear them speak about everything
And not for a moment at their speaking wonder.

What does Blake say about the doors of perception?
I forget, something I think concerning wonder.

When I met you aeons, a few moments ago,
There was so much that there was no time for wonder.

Humanity will not save itself from itself,
But it may keep prying open gates of wonder.

I adore your hatred of teleology,
But about the beauty of its end, I wonder.

Standing before the world and this evening in it,
Nicola is struck by unsayable wonder.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My neck cut free from the millstone of unused lore

My neck cut free from the millstone of unused lore,
A head floating far far above the ocean floor.

Adventure, event, avenir. A first coming
Of the never-ending quest forever in store.

Interdimensional many-tentacled beasts
Fill the mere outermost surface of so much more.

The bottom feeder’s facts have a tasteless flavor,
Nutrients minus the sweet life that food is for.

Two ways out of the matrix of mentality:
Get too big for the net or so small it’s a door.

Madness: the last resort of not, not the result
Of seeing that . . . that face of the thing you abhor.

Nicola takes an oath: to breathe words in desire
For direct knowledge of what he cannot ignore.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The bodies are here only because selves are here

The bodies are here only because selves are here.
Wake up Cartesians and see every there is here.

Knowing this is neither meaning nor something else,
A kind of stretching into the middle of here.

Do not let death delimit you, make you normal,
Freeze for an instant the fact of your being here.

Forget now, once, and for all the life of the mind.
Life is always already thoughts, the place of here.

The impossible is inevitable. Hear
Your heart scream this in the irreparable here.

The tricky part is welcoming now what is known,
Like Augustine wrestling to will his whole will here.

The one cause of these imperatives? Nicola
Simply cannot face what keeps making him stay here.