Scenes of Liberation

After last Tuesday, I’m still overcome at moments with a joy that almost shames me in its flagrant idealistic optimism.

In the NYT op-ed piece It Still Felt Good the Morning After, Frank Rich captures well many of my feelings. This one line, however, is the very kernel of them all:

The festive scenes of liberation that Dick Cheney had once imagined for Iraq were finally taking place — in cities all over America.

I am deeply hopeful.

Toujours Gai, or Why I Love Don Marquis

Archy & Mehitabel book cover

At the recent semiannual Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale, held in in one of the vast hangar-like buildings in Magnuson Park’s old Navy complex, I happened to pick up for a few dollars a copy of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis, a 1939 edition peppered with drawings by Herriman of Krazy Kat fame. A delightful discovery! A collection of wry, sardonic, funny-sad free verse poems, tapped out on a typewriter by Archy, a “vers libre” poet trapped in the body of a cockroach. Archy often writes of his friend Mehitabel, a spirited, capering—and sporting—lady-cat. What she calls her motto, and what we might, in our present day ecumenicalism, call her mantra, has been jangling around my head like the brass bells on the back of a shop door: “Toujour gai kid toujours gai.” Continue reading

Reading James Agee


For the fiction section of Harper’s December 2007 issue, the editors presented lost passages from James Agee’s A Death in the Family. The novel is not one one I’ve yet read, but it’s now on the short list.

The narrative voice flows with a pleasing but peculiar tempo and tone, with drawn-out sentences as if the young boy through whose eyes we are looking is pattering on, at times to the point of breathlessness, about the novel world around him, at times puzzled, at others exultant.

It was a long way out to Chilhowee Park but even the ride out there was fun because the streetcar was all open. Continue reading

Joel Agee Essay on Memory, Memoirs, and Fiction

An army of truth tellers has conquered large numbers of the dwindling faithful who still read books. Confession, in print and on TV, is fast becoming the primary public mode in which human interiority speaks and is heard. The self-avowed lies of fiction are no longer in fashion. Everyone is writing memoirs. Subjectivity and imagination, it seems, are slipping the border into the non-fiction columns, where they live as quasi-illegal aliens, poorly housed among the facts, performing thankless but necessary labors. Continue reading

Network Effects, Read-Write Cultures–Thoughts on Lessig Lecture

On Friday, the University of Washington hosted a free lecture with Lawrence Lessig, nominally a Stanford law professor but in substance an articulate, compelling, and engaging writer and speaker on issues relating to creativity, intellectual property, and politics.

In spite of the melba-toast texture of the topic, “Is Google (2008) the New Microsoft (1998),” what an engaging and (unexpectedly) empassioned talk it was. Continue reading