Both Sides, Now

Joni Mitchell’s song “Both Sides, Now,” has haunted me since the first summer I worked as a roughneck in Eloy and Wickenburg Arizona. Cloud illusions, life’s illusions — she knows the other, real, troubled side and still, it is the illusions she recalls. A good memory for an old man growing more cynical every day.

2 August 1972, Seal Beach, California

     The rig is being moved and on our off day I have travelled with Steve, our derrickman, to visit his sister. I wake up early, sit alone in the kitchen, watch the light through the lens of Joni Mitchell’s song “Chelsea Morning,” sniff the fragrant yellow skin of a lemon, gaze out the window at “rows and floes of angel hair” . . .

And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Yesterday morning the clouds reminded me of rows and floes, of angel hair, of feather canyons.








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Der Himmel über Utah Valley


The evening began with an explosion of light. Hottest May 5th on record.


The sun set, accompanied by cloud flourishes.


This was the moment I knew it would be an evening of delight. Joy.


Clouds blushed to the northeast.


Visual music. Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro trading fours. Marc Ribot and Henry Grimes. Evans’ piano and Ribot’s guitar and the brilliant bass notes.


Cloud study.


Clouds gathered from the south. Virga and sheet lightening. Minutes later a muffled boom.


A final slice of light, lightening, virga, and the night thickened to liquid black, vibrant black, savory black.


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Another Dose of Immortality

watercolor of barbed wire

[watercolor by John Abbott]


Horror Vacui


The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.

–Walter Benjamin


1 January 1993, Orem

His feet are livid, I wrote. His face is drawn, an open eye leers upward. My own leering eye hunts images from the past and when they flash up delivers them to my inadequate pen.


6 January 1993, Orem

Dream: I was beating up John. I was on top of him, pounding him, blind with rage. Then pain! My testicles! John had grabbed my balls. He controlled me. The turnabout was inconceivable.

In a second dream I searched for John in downtown Farmington. I found him working in a small pizza place, and we talked for a minute before he had to return to his dough. I walked through town looking for Dad. I found him sitting at the counter of a café drinking a cup of coffee. He looked like a derelict, his shirt torn, thin stubble scattered across his drawn face. He was embarrassed to be seen with coffee.


7 January 1993, Provo

Nearly a foot of snow during the night. I’m in the cave of my office, a single light burning, snow falling softly outside.

“A boy he picked up in his Alfa Romeo sports car ran him over with it and left him helpless in the dust. . . . Pasolini spent so much time in the lower depths because he found them ethically preferable to the heights.” So writes Clive James in the New Yorker. I’m afraid I have been seeing John as the victim of a sordid accident, in some romantic way more moral than the rest of us. Ten years ago Žarko and I argued about Pasolini. In response to what he called my moralizing, Žarko maintained that an artist can’t restrict himself. As soon as you refuse to experience everything, he told me, you close yourself to the sources of art. Pasolini is profoundly subversive, as is art. If you can’t stomach Pasolini, you’ll end up a repressed, reactionary, unfulfilled, narrow-minded, bitter, bourgeois shell of a man. I responded that his string of adjectives exemplified moralizing.

A wall always separated me from John. I have been distant from other siblings as well, from my parents, from my wife. From myself. The wall metaphor is misleading, I think. There is no wall. I am the wall. To reach my brother I must destroy myself, must risk obliteration as the self I have become. And what will rise from the rubble? It won’t be a wall.

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Article on Our Mendel Translation in Forbes

Interesting that Forbes would pick up on this:

One of the great ‘what if’ questions that has fascinated historians of biology is how differently Darwinian evolution would have been received had Darwin known of the work of Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk who is now considered the founder of the science of genetics. Darwin published Origin …


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Literary award for Zarko Radakovic

Major literary award for Zarko’s novel Kafana / Tavern. Congratulations, my friend!


Zarko Radakovic is the winner of the literary award “Biljana Jovanovic” awarded by the Serbian Literary Society. Radakovic has received recognition for his book “Tavern”.


In our cultural circles, Zarko Radakovic is known as a translator of Peter Handke, and, more essentially, as an authentic and provocative prose writer whose poetics the novel “Tavern” has brought to perfection. A walk through the story of avant-garde art in the second half of the XX century takes place, apparently and really, in the pub: the “holy city” of European culture and cult site of the local life. In this walk Radakovic consistently undermines conventions and canons of literature, and in terms of subject, style, the relationship between art and reality, between the writer and literary hero, the writer and the reader.


Žarko Radaković dobitnik je književne nagrade „Biljana Jovanović” koju dodeljuje Srpsko književno društvo. Radaković je priznanje dobio za knjigu „Kafana”.

Odluku o dodeli nagrade jednoglasno je doneo žiri u sastavu Ljiljana Šop (predsednik), Srđan Srdić i Marjan Čakarević.

Žarko Radaković je našoj kulturnoj javnosti poznatiji kao prevodilac Petera Handkea, nego kao autentičan i provokativan prozni pisac samosvojne poetike koju je u romanu „Kafana” doveo do mogućnog savršenstva. Šetnja kroz priču o avangardi u našoj umetnosti druge polovine XX veka odvija se, prividno i stvarno, u kafani, „svetom mestu” evropske kulture i kultnom mestu ovdašnjeg života. U toj šetnji Radaković dosledno podriva konvencije i kanone književnosti, i kada je reč o tematici, stilu, odnosu između umetnosti i stvarnosti, između pisca i književnog junaka, pisca i čitaoca. (Tanjug)

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Keynote Address for the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters

On Friday, April 7, 2017, I’ll have the honor of speaking at the annual conference of the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. They are meeting this year on the UVU Campus.

10:30 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.

O.C. Tanner Lecture

Enlightenment in Dark Times: Literary Responses to Unsettling Events in Historical Germany

Dr. Scott Abbott, Utah Valley University
Ragan Theatre, Sorenson Center

weaver march
Käthe Kollwitz

Scott Abbott is Professor of Integrated Studies, Humanities, and Philosophy at Utah Valley University. His Ph.D. in German Studies is from Princeton University. Books include Fictions of Freemasonry: Freemasonry and the German Novel, two books with Serbian novelist Žarko Radaković—Repetitions and Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, and a book with botanist Sam Rushforth—Wild Rides and Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes. A book of fraternal meditations after the death of his brother John of AIDS, Immortal for Quite Some Time, was published by the University of Utah Press in 2016. A book about the construction of meaning of barbed wire, written with his wife, historian Lyn Bennett, will appear in the fall of 2017 with Texas A&M University Press. He has translated several works by the contemporary Austrian writer Peter Handke, and with geneticist Daniel Fairbanks he recently published a Darwinized translation of Gregor Mendel’s article “Experiments on Plant Hybrids.

2017 Annual Conference Program FINAL[1]

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sittin’ on the dock of the bay

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The 3 Million Majority March Band: NYC

From The New Yorker, 20 March 2017

When the song was over, a guitarist named Barry Komitor asked Tom Abbott, a clarinettist, about his plans for after the demonstration. “I’m gonna go eat some soup. And then I’m going to take off my overcoat and wear this tux,” Abbott said, revealing the outfit underneath. “I’m playing a party for a rich person in SoHo.”

. . .

By 3:30 P.M., the assemblage had made it to Central Park. The marchers were continuing west to Columbus Circle, but the musicians were ready to call it quits. Spit had frozen in some instruments — “You see the ice?” Abbott said, pointing to frozen rivulets inside the bell of his clarinet.

…see the whole piece in the New Yorker here:

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NYRB, my response to a defamatory review

The letter appeared in the latest issue and the response just repeated the reviewer’s initial inanities.



Scott Abbott, reply by Adam Kirsch MARCH 23, 2017 ISSUE of the New York Review of Books
In response to:

The Stranger in Love from the February 9, 2017 issue

To the Editors:

Adam Kirsch’s review of Peter Handke’s The Moravian Night [NYR, February 9], like Joshua Cohen’s review of the novel in The New York Times, rightfully relates it to Handke’s previous work set in the former Yugoslavia, but (like Cohen) Kirsch is so obsessed with reading through that lens that he pays scant attention to other aspects of the novel at hand.

Kirsch’s case against an author he describes as a self-righteous, obstinate, proud nationalist and as an anti-Semitic Serb lover leads him to misread a scene at a world convention of Jew’s harp players during which each musician plays his or her national anthem. Because he wants to brand Handke as a nationalist, Kirsch doesn’t quote the rest of the section in which the performances of national anthems raise the protagonist’s ire: “abusing the jew’s harp to play mendacious harmonies: that was impermissible”; the national anthems are a kind of “melodic demagoguery.”

With a defamatory purpose that veils other aspects of the text, Kirsch ignores the language of a novel that is about language (Handke describes his work, all of his work, as “a slow, inquiring narration; every paragraph dealing with and narrating a problem, of representation, of form, of grammar—of aesthetic veracity”). Let me give just one example of Kirsch’s blindness in this regard. When describing the work’s search for narrative experience that manifests itself in seconds rather than in minutes or hours, Kirsch quotes this sentence from the translation: “The seconds that mean both what comes after something, what follows it, as well as the primary thing, the thing that precedes it, that combines what precedes and what follows.” The translation makes little sense as it misses the fact that it is the seconds that combine (unify) the before and after, not the singular “thing that precedes.” Kirsch quotes the mistake without batting an eye. The translation, as a matter of fact, is riddled with mistakes and awkward phrasing, but that is uninteresting to a reviewer intent on castigating a writer for attending the funeral of Slobodan Milošević. (For specific examples of problems with the translation, see my review of the translation in the December Open Letters Monthly.)

Kirsch marshals his case with great certainty, claiming that Handke defends Austrians and Germans and Serbs as “great peoples” scorned by others for their war crimes. Because Handke works dialectically, critics like Kirsch easily find objectionable statements in his work. That they settle on the problematic statements without the dialectical context marks them as ideologues rather than readers. “Austria,” Handke once wrote, “the lard that chokes me.” Critics who don’t have the patience or capacity to read give me that same feeling.

Scott Abbott
Professor of Integrated Studies,
Philosophy, and Humanities
Utah Valley University
Woodland Hills, Utah

Adam Kirsch replies:

Scott Abbott criticizes my reading of The Moravian Night as ideological, but it seems to me that the novel demands to be read in such terms. It is hardly possible to understand Handke’s book, which is primarily set in Serbia and advances an unmistakable critique of liberal European modern life, without reference to Handke’s past interventions in Yugoslav politics. If Mr. Abbott and other admirers of Handke object to a reading that attends to the ideological dimension of the book, perhaps that is not because the ideology isn’t there, but because they would be hard put to defend it?

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Feature article on Immortal for Quite Some Time

For the Salt Lake Tribune, Ellen Weist read my book in conjunction with Brooke Williams’ new book and, I think, they make a good pairing.

Maybe it’s part of the work of a writer to dance with those who have passed on.

If you turn over the dirt at a place where something has happened, you’re stirring up history, as the poet Joy Harjo wrote.

Or maybe literary inspiration can be captured by that famously quoted idea of writer William Faulkner, about how history isn’t really dead, or even really past.

That’s the metaphorical link between two recent memoirs by Utah writers Brooke Williams and Scott Abbott, whose lives are shadowed by dead relatives.

Williams’ ghost is his great-great-grandfather William Williams, who died in Wyoming along the Mormon Trail. In contrast, Abbott is haunted by someone he once knew well, his younger brother, John, who died at 40 in 1991 of complications from AIDS.

For the rest of the piece, click HERE

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