The Art of Tetman Callis

Some of the stories and poems may be inappropriate for persons under 16

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Not all it’s cracked up to be

June 25th, 2017 · No Comments

“There are few more durable illusions in American life than the omnipotent presidency. For fear of appearing weak, incumbents rarely draw attention to the minimal powers accorded them by the Constitution and established practices of American government. Their critics in Congress and the public avoid mentioning this inconvenient fact because letting the executive off the hook never serves their purposes. Yet anyone who has worked in the White House knows that the office has remarkably little real power, not only when it comes to dealing with Congress and the judiciary but also in running the vast, unwieldy contraption that is the executive branch. A President relies on the loyalty of his appointees in the agencies to overcome the inertia and ingrained predilections of civil servants and the uniform military.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

→ No CommentsTags: Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon · Politics & Law · The American Constitution · The Forever War

Making sense of it all

June 24th, 2017 · No Comments

“The political and the non-political, freedom and restriction, fairness and unfairness, ideas and their consequences: these distinctions are all indispensable but contingent. They are working distinctions. We can’t do without them, on pain of intellectual and social incoherence. But what content we give them is determined by our fundamental goals and values, our deepest sense of how things are and who we are. It’s no use saying that there’s no disputing about such questions. Either we discuss them publicly or they’re settled, for public purposes, without discussion.” – George Scialabba, “Debating P.C.”

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Making art safe

June 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

“Contemporary society, and in particular contemporary criticism, has tamed the arts, gradually deprived them of their prophetic and subversive possibilities. There’s no place in modern life for the mystical or the unpredictable; the arts have been institutionalized and are now managed by a cultural bureaucracy of scholars, critics, patrons, businessmen, and publicists. . . . The techniques of modern management are various: the blockbuster phenomenon and the star system, with their accompanying publicity machines; the centralization of public patronage; the recruitment of artists into universities.” – George Scialabba, “The Arts Without Mystery”

→ No CommentsTags: Economics · George Scialabba · Lit & Crit

It’s a free country

June 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

“A four-letter word beginning with ‘f’ has tragically corrupted the minds of countless innocent Americans. I mean ‘free,’ in the expressions ‘free market’ and ‘free enterprise.’ It is a glorious word, of course, but its association with these morally neutral abstractions generally serves to obscure their often harsh and irrational consequences.” – George Scialabba, “The Market System”


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All you need is

June 21st, 2017 · No Comments

“Literature has always been about love; the modern novel has been about love as a problem. More precisely, about love as one instance of the fundamental modern problem: autonomy, individuality, selfhood. Enacting one’s identity, living up to one’s inherited role, offered premoderns plenty of scope for literary heroism; but devising one’s identity, choosing one’s role, is a peculiarly modern difficulty. It has been the burden above all of modern women, the response to which has included several waves of feminism and a line of great novels: Wuthering Heights, Daniel Deronda, The Portrait of a Lady, The House of Mirth, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Women in Love, To the Lighthouse, The Golden Notebook, Wide Sargasso Sea, and others by Meredith, Gissing, Forster, Cather, and more. These novels show women — and men — struggling for self-knowledge, self-reliance, or self-definition against the weight of traditional expectations and dependencies. The terrain of this struggle is love-and-marriage, which is where — at least in the world in which those novels take place — most people have their deepest experiences and meet their most significant fates.” – George Scialabba, “The End of the Novel of Love”

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To be disillusioned

June 20th, 2017 · No Comments

“We read the late novels of D.H. Lawrence or the cantos of Ezra Pound, aware that these are works of enormously gifted writers yet steadily troubled by the outpouring of authoritarian and Fascist ideas. We read Bertolt Brecht’s ‘To Posterity,’ in which he offers an incomparable evocation of the travail of Europe in the period between the wars yet also weaves in a justification of the Stalin dictatorship. How are we to respond to all this? The question is crucial in our experience of modernist literature. We may say that the doctrine is irrelevant, as many critics do say, and that would lead us to the impossible position that the commanding thought of a poem need not be seriously considered in forming a judgment of its value. Or we may say that the doctrine, being obnoxious, destroys our pleasure in the poem, as some critics do say, and that would lead us to the impossible position that our judgment of the work is determined by our opinion concerning the author’s ideology. There is, I think, no satisfactory solution in the abstract, and we must learn to accept the fact that modernist literature is often – not in this way alone! – ‘unacceptable.’ It forces us into distance and dissociation; it denies us wholeness of response; it alienates us from its own powers of statement even when we feel that it is imaginatively transcending the malaise of alienation.” – Irving Howe, “The Culture of Modernism”

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The silence of the lambs

June 19th, 2017 · No Comments

“A number of gravestones lie fallen; the grass is rank. This is the burial-site of Russian infantry who died at the approaches to Weimar when the war was virtually over. No more, I reckon, than thirty or forty graves. A fair number are those of boy-soldiers, aged sixteen or seventeen, out of the Asian steppe, out of Kazakhstan and Turkmenia, done to death in a land and language of which they could have had no notion, by the insensate, robotic resistance and military skills of a moribund Reich. This unnoticed graveyard makes manifest the moronic waste and waste and waste of war, the appetite of war for children. Yet it expounds no less the mind-numbing affinities between war and high culture, between bestial violence and the noon places of human creativity. The bounds of Goethe’s garden are minutes away to one side. The alleys familiar to Liszt and to Berlioz skirt the rusted gate. There is rest here, but no peace.” – George Steiner, Errata: An Examined Life

→ No CommentsTags: Politics & Law · The Second World War

You’ve been warned

June 18th, 2017 · No Comments

“A little learning is a dangerous thing, though not nearly as dangerous as a lot of it.” – George Scialabba, “Errata”

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Day of locusts

June 17th, 2017 · No Comments

“Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One has only to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars, and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative pictures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts, and mass media! And add to all this the system of usury which fuels man’s voracity for money and engenders vile methods for its accumulation and investment, in addition to fraud, trickery, and blackmail dressed up in the garb of law.” – Sayyid Qutb (quoted by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in The Age of Sacred Terror)

→ No CommentsTags: Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon · Economics · Politics & Law · The Forever War

The extent of it

June 16th, 2017 · No Comments

“Life is short, the arts long, opportunity fleeting, experience fallacious, judgment difficult.” – Hippocrates of Kos

→ No CommentsTags: Lit & Crit · The Ancients

Try as we might

June 15th, 2017 · No Comments

“You should know that there is little you can seek in this world, that there is no need for you to be so greedy, in the end all you can achieve are memories, hazy, intangible, dreamlike memories, which are impossible to articulate.” – Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain (trans. Mabel Lee)

→ No CommentsTags: Lit & Crit · Verandah

Apples and oranges

June 14th, 2017 · No Comments

“The leading British conservative of the 19th century, Benjamin Disraeli, was a legendary wit and a successful novelist whose books are still worth reading. The leading American conservative of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan, was an amiable duffer with a head full of old movies and a shoebox full of old newspaper clippings. The leading British liberal of the 19th century, William Gladstone, read 20,000 books in his lifetime, wrote extensively on Homer, Dante, modern literature, and theology, and was both the greatest financial expert and the greatest orator of the age. The leading American liberal of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt, was an amiable dilettante with shrewd political instincts and a dash of noblesse oblige but no political or economic ideas to speak of.” – George Scialabba, “Gladstone”

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The great leveller

June 13th, 2017 · No Comments

“War brings out the worst in everybody. No matter how honorable you are in carrying out your cause, things happen that you feel ashamed of later on.” – Maurice Greenberg, “We Were So Naive”

→ No CommentsTags: The Forever War · Verandah

A well-founded opinion

June 12th, 2017 · No Comments

“The rejection of facts; the rejection of reason and science—that is the path to decline.” – President Barack Obama, Rutgers University Commencement Speech, 2016


→ No CommentsTags: Economics · Politics & Law · Verandah

Scintillating information

June 11th, 2017 · No Comments

“Scintillation is the term used to describe communications disruptions caused by high-altitude nuclear explosion.” – “Army Weaponry and Equipment,” 1991 Army Green Book (ed. L. James Binder, et al.)

→ No CommentsTags: The Forever War · Verandah

Let’s get this straight

June 10th, 2017 · No Comments

“The only vital national interest, by definition, is survival. States cease to exist if they fail to safeguard that essential. Serious threats to survival therefore compel stringent countermeasures.” – John M. Collins, U.S.-Soviet Military Balance, 1960-1980

→ No CommentsTags: Politics & Law · The Forever War

It’s not in the budget

June 9th, 2017 · No Comments

“Generals are a happily blessed race who radiate confidence and power. They feed only on ambrosia and drink only nectar, except when they are drinking bourbon. In peace, they stride confidently and can invade a world simply by sweeping their hands grandly over a map, pointing their fingers decisively up terrain corridors and blocking defiles and obstacles with the side of their hands. In war, they must stride more slowly because each general has a logistician riding on his back and he knows that, at any moment, the logistician may lean forward and whisper, ‘No, you can’t do that!’ ” – Anonymous, “How Many Logisticians Do You Want?” (quoted by John M. Collins in U.S.-Soviet Military Balance, 1960-1980)

→ No CommentsTags: Economics · Politics & Law · The Forever War

Sounds like a plan

June 8th, 2017 · No Comments

“The best defense against nuclear weapons is to be somewhere else when they detonate.” – John M. Collins, U.S.-Soviet Military Balance, 1960-1980

→ No CommentsTags: The Forever War · Verandah

Sweet dreams are made of these

June 7th, 2017 · No Comments

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head.” – Tim O’Brien, “The Lives of the Dead”

→ No CommentsTags: Lit & Crit · Tim O'Brien

What it takes, what it makes

June 6th, 2017 · No Comments

“By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others.” – Tim O’Brien, “Notes”

→ No CommentsTags: Lit & Crit · Tim O'Brien

Pretty as a picture

June 5th, 2017 · No Comments

“For all its horror, you can’t help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons. You crouch in ambush as a cool, impassive moon rises over the nighttime paddies. You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the harmonies of sound and shape and proportion, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rocket’s red glare. It’s not pretty, exactly. It’s astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not.” – Tim O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story”

→ No CommentsTags: Lit & Crit · The Vietnam War · Tim O'Brien


June 4th, 2017 · No Comments

“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” – Tim O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story”

→ No CommentsTags: Lit & Crit · Tim O'Brien

Tell it like it is

June 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.” – Tim O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story”

→ No CommentsTags: Economics · The Vietnam War · Tim O'Brien

The connection

June 2nd, 2017 · No Comments

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” – Tim O’Brien, “Spin”

→ No CommentsTags: Lit & Crit · Tim O'Brien

Shrapnel of being

June 1st, 2017 · No Comments

“What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end.” – Tim O’Brien, “Spin”

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Reasons to live

May 31st, 2017 · No Comments

“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment.” – Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”

→ No CommentsTags: The Vietnam War · Tim O'Brien

In dreams begin responsibilities

May 30th, 2017 · No Comments

“During my first month back I woke up one night and knew that my living room was full of dead Marines. It actually happened three or four times, after a dream I was having those nights (the kind of dream one never had in Vietnam), and that first time it wasn’t just some holding dread left by the dream, I knew they were there, so that after I’d turned on the light by my bed and smoked a cigarette I lay there for a moment thinking that I’d have to go out soon and cover them.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

→ No CommentsTags: Michael Herr · The Vietnam War

The company one keeps

May 29th, 2017 · No Comments

“All kinds of thieves and killers managed to feel sanctimonious around us; battalion commanders, civilian businessmen, even the grunts, until they realized how few of us were making any real money in it. There’s no way around it, if you photographed a dead Marine with a poncho over his face and got something for it, you were some kind of parasite. But what were you if you pulled the poncho back first to make a better shot, and did that in front of his friends? Some other kind of parasite, I suppose. Then what were you if you stood there watching it, making a note to remember it later in case you might want to use it? Those combinations were infinite, you worked them out, and they involved only a small part of what we were thought to be. We were called thrill freaks, death-wishers, wound-seekers, war-lovers, hero-worshipers, closet queens, dope addicts, low-grade alcoholics, ghouls, communists, seditionists, more nasty things than I can remember. There were people in the military who never forgave General Westmoreland for not imposing restrictions against us when he’d had the chance in the early days. There were officers and a lot of seemingly naïve troops who believed that if it were not for us, there would be no war now, and I was never able to argue with any of them on that point. A lot of the grunts had some of that sly, small-town suspicion of the press, but at least nobody under the rank of captain ever asked me whose side I was on, told me to get with the program, jump on the team, come in for the Big Win. Sometimes they were just stupid, sometimes it came about because they had such love for their men, but sooner or later all of us heard one version or another of ‘My Marines are winning this war, and you people are losing it for us in your papers,’ often spoken in an almost friendly way, but with the teeth shut tight behind the smiles.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches (emphasis in original)

→ No CommentsTags: Michael Herr · The Vietnam War

The bullshit circus

May 28th, 2017 · No Comments

“It was characteristic of a lot of Americans in Vietnam to have no idea when they were being obscene, and some correspondents fell into that, writing their stories from the daily releases and battlegrams, tracking them through with the cheer-crazed language of the MACV Information Office, things like ‘discreet burst’ (one of those tore an old grandfather and two children to bits as they ran along a paddy wall one day, at least according to the report made later by the gunship pilot), ‘friendly casualties’ (not warm, not fun), ‘meeting engagement’ (ambush), concluding usually with 17 or 117 or 317 enemy dead and American losses ‘described as light.’ ” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Not proud of it, either

May 27th, 2017 · No Comments

“Somewhere on the periphery of that total Vietnam issue whose daily reports made the morning papers too heavy to bear, lost in the surreal contexts of television, there was a hideous war and all kinds of victims. But there was also a Command that didn’t feel this, that rode us into attrition traps on the backs of fictional kill ratios, and an Administration that believed the Command, a cross-fertilization of ignorance, and a press whose tradition of objectivity and fairness (not to mention self-interest) saw that all of it got space. It was inevitable that once the media took the diversions seriously enough to report them, they also legitimized them. The spokesmen spoke in words that had no currency left as words, sentences with no hope of meaning in the sane world, and if much of it was sharply queried by the press, all of it got quoted. The press got all the facts (more or less), it got too many of them. But it never found a way to report meaningfully about death, which of course was really what it was all about.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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