Sam O'Hana


Essays and Interviews

Public Engagement

Poet's Country




16:52 June 18th 2019

Here's a piece call "Lorem Ipsum" that I made during my time as a graduate student at The New School.

01:47 May 22nd 2019

Finished reading Carl Jung's Modern Man In Search of A Soul and had a copy of my passport Apostilled in preparation for the F1 visa application in August. Want to write more about Jung and will plan to do so soon. For the moment, worth writing down his notion that the creator bears no relation to the work of art. Why? Because the idiosyncrasies of the artist in the work are what detract from the work of art. It's Death of the Author but from a different perspective viz, the best work strikes at archetypal or universal images and motifs, rather than contingent or particular phenomena in the world.

Greatly enjoyed replacing the toilet seat in the apartment bathroom, installing storage shelves in the closet and generally getting the apartment in good shape for the start of the PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center. Efficiency is such a crucial element and I want to limit wastage as much as possible for these 4/5/6 years that are to come. In fact I can hardly wait to get my days back and my schedule under control. Currently the pay is good but my time is given almost entirely to work. The remaining hours are usually spent shoring up against damage and collapse: cleaning, shopping, cooking, sleeping, sorting, fixing, tidying...

02:00 April 20th 2019

Last night I attended the debate in Toronto between Slavoj Zizek and Jordan Peterson. Despite being the subject of much criticism and dismissal, it was a triumph. A great deal was expected of the “philoso-fight”, tickets for which became extremely scarce in the lead up, and it appeared to me that opinions on it were either that the debate was a waste of time or that one would thrash the other in a brilliant display of their righteous and inherent superiority.

There in fact was a lot to celebrate without succumbing to the urge to bay zealously for one side only. There were comparisons to the televised Chomsky/Foucault encounter that I think was largely a wash; both speak at cross-purposes for a solid 90 minutes without substantial insight or breakthrough. I can’t find evidence that Judith Butler, Jean Baudrillard, Gayatri Spivak, Paul Virilio, Ernesto Laclau or any other theorist of the left have ever been willing to discuss their profession’s seminal texts within the context of any intellectual tradition other than their own. A more relevant, though largely unappreciated precedent in these efforts was set by poet Allen Ginsberg when he appeared on William F Buckley’s Firing Line in 1968. Nonetheless, last night’s debate in Toronto was a two and a half hour journey of insight and inspiration. Those expecting either solely academic discourse or an evening of surface-level jousting of wits were disappointed– the debate’s spectacular theoretical breadth and depth was made possible by the overarching truth of the occasion; that it was, by design, entertainment.

While it may well seem reasonable to ask what kind of person might seek entertainment in a debate between these two public intellectuals, I suspect that if you have to ask, you’d be better served pursuing a different line of inquiry. Why, for example, have the academic press academic press deemed it poor taste to pay good money to watch a public debate while the cost of attending a single two-hour graduate seminar at an American university might exceed $500?* One might be forgiven for detecting a protectionist theme in the discourse surrounding public debate in which any discussion both popular and substantive taking place outside the walls of a university or learned society has become lèse-majesté in academia. What the Zizek/Peterson debate did, and what the internet has been doing on scale previously unimaginable, is to open up debate on crucial intellectual issues to anyone who can afford a $70 smartphone or $100 laptop– and that is how both men have attracted such wide audiences beyond the academic sphere. After the debate I spoke to several people doing work not affiliated with a liberal arts college– a welder, a real estate agent and a fitness instructor. It struck me that the makeup of people attending the debate was vastly more diverse than what would be found in a university setting. The pleasure and the significance of the debate was the wide access that was being provided to a discussion of complex ideas that had real-world significance. The intellectual monopoly of the ivory tower is being dismantled by the internet; perhaps we should expect such a transition to have its accompanying dissenters.

I do understand the claims of misogyny leveled against Jordan Peterson as well as those of anti-LGBT+ sentiment on the part of Zizek but I don’t believe either are guilty of sustained, intentional prejudice of this kind. I also believe that they do have the right to hypothesize and “speak experimentally”, that is to say, to explore the articulation of new ways to navigate social divides on subjects such as gender and sexuality. Claims that Peterson emboldens the “alt-right” are false and there is evidence online of him calling out such individuals with the criticism they deserve.

The content of the debate itself exposed a relative lack of preparation on Peterson’s side, and the ever-present potential of incoherence on Zizek’s. “Happiness: Marxism vs. Capitalism”, a theme perhaps dreamed up by a savvy PR agent at CAA or Penguin Random House was largely incidental to the larger spectacle of a veteran of the Marxist left via Hegel talking productively at length with a Lockean classical liberal. The result was a series of deeply satisfying momentary resolutions and antagonisms that didn’t need cheering for as much as quiet attention. One gets the impression that a series of new watermarks have been set for cross-political discussion and that the intellectual traditions of radical openness and dialogue have been reinvigorated for the internet age.

*In fact, even the– admittedly exorbitant– $1,500 charged for a front row seat at the debate comes to only $200 more than the cost of a single seminar session at one of America’s most expensive universities.

ALSO: It turns out that the story about Ted Berrigan in the first of these entries was false! I did hear however from Ammiel Alcalay and Anselm Berrigan recently that he used to operate a mimeo machine in the basement of the Poetry Project at St Mark's Church, which now may be housed somewhere in the CUNY system.

23:36 March 12th 2019

"Apparatus for Breathing Dephlogisticated Air", Wellcome Trust

22:45 March 6th 2019

First entry into a blog post that I’ve made myself. Feel that knowing how to use HTML and other languages is a useful skill for a writer. Like Ted Berrigan who had an entire Xerox machine in his apartment, at a time when they could approach the size of a small automobile. However that injunction to adapt to new technés is a warning; some poets did fall by the wayside by working too much on the structure that surrounded their work, rather than the work itself and while I feel like I am literally weaving myself into the internet here, I do notice how it has distracted me from questions of technique, style and form. Nonetheless, I consider this a triumph.

Ted Berrigan at the 1982 Jack Kerouac Conference. Photo Mark Christal.