The Salton Sea

I mentioned the Salton Sea in my previous post about Marisa Silver’s novel and I’ve just run across a documentary about the sea, Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, produced and directed by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer and narrated by John Waters. It is not a particularly innovative piece of documentary film making, but it presents a portrait of the place and its people that may be of interest even to people who haven’t been there. There is a political undertone having to do with the allocation of water from the Colorado River, but the film doesn’t do much more than mention it. I’ve also begun reading William Vollmann’s massive study, Imperial, which undertakes an exhaustive description of its eponymous California county, in which the Salton Sea figures prominently. Vollman’s 1000 page book was published with a companion volume of the author’s photographs, which I have also now got on hand. Going back to my roots, you might say — however parched and salt-encrusted they may be. Some people find Vollmann’s meandering prose irritating, but so far I am charmed by it. Give me another six or seven hundered pages & we’ll see!


1. Ed Mycue has a new chapbook I’m looking forward to reading, I Am a Fact, Not a Fiction.

2. I have just received my copy of Visiting Wallace, an anthology of poems inspired by the life and work of Wallace Stevens, and in which I have a poem. I am particularly gratified by this inclusion since the poem in the anthology is from my second book, Static, which disappeared without a trace on the day it was published. I’m fairly sure that most of the copies are still sitting in boxes in a basement in the northwest.

3. Your good news here.

A Notable Life

I had never heard of Adrien DeWind until I read his obituary in the NY Times this morning. (The older I get, the more I am drawn to the obits, with fear of personal extinction prompting me to recall the motto Samuel Johnson is said to have written on his watch dial: Work for the night is coming.) DeWind lived a long time and accomplished a great deal. I especially admire him as one of the founders of Human Rights Watch. Whatever one believes about rights — whether they are universal standards or arise only within specific social and cultural contexts — it seems indubitable that working to protect other people’s basic humanity is an admirable thing to do. What I find most moving about an obituary of this sort is that it marks the only kind of immortality I can believe in, that what one does in one’s life continues to ripple outward even after one is dead. For good or ill. In the memories of others, in the institutions one creates or shapes, in the written record one leaves behind. It’s little enough, of course, but it’s something, not nothing. Our lives are much longer than we imagine.


The NY Times reports that many Americans nap. I’m one of them. I always felt a little guilty about admitting to the habit until I went to Vietnam, where nearly everybody naps after lunch. Some of my Vietnamese friends even have little fold-up lawn-furniture-type beds beside their desks. (Americans, with the exception of college students, seem to have an aversion to sleeping in public, perhaps because we have sufficient physical space to be alone.) Americans don’t have the excuse of working in a hot country with limited air conditioning, but in any case napping seems a natural human impulse.

Note: Apparently, our primate brethern take naps and do so with their pals.

James Ensor

There’s a show at MOMA I’d like to see, of James Ensor’s proto-modernist paintings. I find my own aesthetic roots in the period of western art and literature that runs from the end of the 19th century through the First World War — the period of what is sometimes called High Modernism. The NY Times reviewer, Holland Cotter, calls Ensor “an aggrieved traditionalist with a pop culture itch,” words that I might apply to myself. Ensor also labored all his life away from the centers of culture where artistic reputations were made. Ensor strikes me as paradigmatic of modernism in his combining of high and low culture and his subversion of technique by technique. [A barely adequate Wikipedia entry here; Google image results here.] One loves the old modes and methods even when they are no longer viable and one is reduced to parody and pastiche.