Thursday, October 31, 2013

the raven

I was bopping around the internet tonight looking at possible causes of Poe's death, including that weird rabies theory, and found this:


Hallow-reads-ween-day!....okay, that needs work

What did you just finish reading?
I was disappointed in Nixonland for two reasons: since it was called, well, Nixonland, I thought it would be about the Nixon years, 1969-1974. The book goes into a fairly detailed account of how Nixon got to be Nixon, as well as anyone can attempt to chart that kind of pathology (lots of quotes from high school teachers and descriptions of high school photos). OK, fine. But then I realized I was 30% done (argh, Kindle) with the book, and Nixon wasn't even in the White House yet. Hell, Nixon wasn't even the Republican candidate yet. 40%.....50%.....since it's an ebook there was no way to flip forward and see when the book was actually about his Presidency. I think that finally happened at around 60%, but before that, there was a month-by-month, day-by-day and frequently an hour-by-hour breakdown of events in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969....The book became half-potted Nixon biography, half-potted sixties travelogue. I was born in 1970, so I've heard a lot about the sixties; people talk about hyper-nostalgia now, but my adolescence was spent nearly drowning in the backwash of Boomer memories. For all of 1988 Time went on a year-long orgy about 1968.  And every single cultural-hero-turned-pop-cliche shows up here: Bobby Kennedy. Abbie Hoffman. Tom Hayden. Jane Fonda. You know what, I have seen this movie before.
Then the book ends on the eve of the 1972 election (if you don't count the half-dozen pages of author bloviation about "I wrote this book because...." that follow). I can understand how a writer (or more likely, editor) might feel that Watergate would consume the book, since it's now the media lens we see Nixon through, or that even Watergate might require a second book all on its own, but this is just ridiculous. (And according to the good old Kindle substitute for pages, 'Loc 16102,' where the Notes begin, is 83% of the way through the book. So this is a book about the sixties, really. Yet another one. Just in case we didn't have enough of those.)
But really the truly dismaying thing about this book was how very poorly it was written. So poorly I wanted to seize Packer and Will by their lapels and shake them while demanding, "But why didn't you TELL me it was this hard just to READ?" Call it Dwight Garner syndrome. -- And yes, everyone thinks I'm always too hard on authors about this, but one example: Nixon goes on a "stature-enhancing trip to Asia." Clunky, but all right, fine. Then Spiro Agnew has "a stature-enhancing state visit to Asia." Nixon takes "stature-enhancing trips to Europe, South America, and Asia." At least it's equal-opportunity clunkiness: "And on Muskie's stature-building trip to the Middle East...." Frequently reversed sentence structure, poor word choices, dreadful pacing....all spells New York Times best-seller, I guess. (If there is ever an absolutely meaningless blurb in the shamelessly shallow world of publishing blurbs, "New York Times best-seller" is now it.) (Other heavily used phrases: "slow, soiling humiliation." Words like "oleaginous." And a sentence to chill the thickest blood at the beginning of the Notes: "Historians have produced outstanding Web sites devoted to individual events....")
In a way I guess reading this book wasn't unlike the reaction of someone who voted for Nixon back in 1972: seduced by slick packaging and oh-so-earnest recommendations, promising rationality and even-handedness, and then you realize the candy you've just popped in your mouth is actually a chocolate-covered spider.

As a break from the horror show of the Nixon Presidency, and because it's the most wonderful time of the year, then I got into some Poe. Frankly, I find The Dante Club hard to distinguish from The Dante Code, but Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow was quite entertaining: rather sluggish pacing (the book could easily have been cut by a third), and he couldn't keep up the first-person Victorian pastiche, but there were a lot of Poe references and in-jokes, and if you're a Poe fan, it's fun. It's certainly better than Patricia Cornwell's ravings about Jack the Ripper, or any of the endless Jane-Austen-and-Agatha-Christie-become-girl-detective series paperbacks. The book has almost none of the hallucinatory power of Poe's writing that seems to pin you in your chair like some kind of terrifying psychic centrifugal force.

Which might be a good thing, because then I decided to read "the Dupin tales," edited into "a self-complete novella" by, guess who, Matthew Pearl, who provides an adequate if slightly fawning introduction. And oh Jesus I forgot how these very stories scared me shitless as a kid (my parents, for some reason, gave me the complete, illustrated works of Poe when I was about eight years old. I read all of it, twice, and then was plagued by horrible nightmares for months. I asked my mother if we could bury the book in the backyard. She said no, and gave it to Goodwill instead).  Poe doesn't show us the actual animal (literally) slaughtering of the mother and daughter, but lingers over the details of the corpses, the girl savagely throttled and then stuffed up the chimney, her mother nearly decapitated with a razor....This is exactly why I don't much like horror: everyone else is going on about the costumes and the settings and style while I'm over in the corner gagging at what's been done to the inevitably female victims. And for some reason, in the trippy-ass story of Marie Roget/Mary Rogers (talk about contaminating fact with fiction, and vice versa) what's always haunted me is the way her own petticoats and slip were torn and shredded to bind her brutalized, violated body: A piece of lace was found tied so tightly around the neck as to be hidden from sight; it was completely buried in the flesh, and was fastened by a knot which lay just under the left ear. This alone would have sufficed to produce death....I slept with the light on. No, really. Christ almighty.

What are you reading now?
In a Strange City, by Laura Lippman, because it's about the famous "Poe Toaster" and I've always loved that figure. It's pretty good so far -- lots of local colour, amusing one-liners, and Tess Monaghan is a refreshing heroine, tough without being either feisty or kick-ass, weary, sexy and believable.

What do you expect to read next?
Same as last week (somewhat depressingly), Peter Ackroyd's Poe: A Life Cut Short, to ring in All Saints'/All Soul's days. Then I might read Little Women before bed every night or something, the way Shirley Jackson had to when she was writing The Haunting of Hill House. (And if you think I'm going to read THAT book anywhere near Halloween, you're nuttier than I am, and I take three medications so I can get out of bed in the morning.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

what I'm reading

It took me three or four tries to express the meaning of my realization: the Baron Dupin had appropriated the form of Auguste Duponte! The Baron had tautened the muscles in his face, had weighed down the ends of his mouth, had -- for all I could say -- used some spell of magic to sharpen the very contours of his head and adjust his height. He also selected his dress like Duponte's, in the loose cut of the cloth and dull colours. He left behind the jewelry and rings with which he was formerly adorned, and smoothed the wilderness of ringlets in his hair. The Baron had subtly, using observation....remade himself into a version of Duponte. ....Whenever he saw Duponte around the streets, the Baron could hardly speak without breaking into laughter at the brilliance of his newly instituted taunt.

An abomination, a conjurer, a swindler, masquerading as a great man!

He had also -- somehow -- I vow to you -- he had also transmogrified the very timbre and pitch of his voice. To parrot with precision that of Duponte's! Even the accent was adjusted to perfection. If I had been in a dark chamber, and had been listening to a monologue by this falsifier, I would have happily addressed the fiend as though he were my accustomed and true companion.

-- Matthew Pearl, The Poe Shadow

(rather silly good fun -- he can't keep up the Victorian pastiche too well, but Sherlock Holmes split into both a moody ratiocinator and flamboyant master of disguise, and a slightly hysterical unmarried Watson, are all entertaining so far. No real women in the book, but oh well)

'That's just a kid with a hand grenade.'

She returned to Washington Square Park. The mystery of it appealed to her tenacity. “There were days I just couldn’t work there,” she says “and then there were days I could. And then, having done it a little, I could do it more.” That’s the lesson artists should run with: do it a little, do it more. Fail better and better. “I take rotten pictures,” Arbus announces in the slideshow at one point. “I think that’s another important secret. I used to think that you could just take the good ones. You could just be terribly efficient, and you just wouldn’t play unless you took the good ones. But it doesn’t really work that way. It’s just the thing of doing it so goddamn much.”

- Hilton Als on Diane Arbus

it's the most wonderful time of the year! CANDY

Two dear awesome friends sent me a huge care package of candies from BURDICK'S, OH, MY GOD. This was my favourite bit -- the chocolate box as a coffin. It's hard to make out, but it's resting on a copy of Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd (next in the queue).

....and speaking of stigma and shame!

Latuda antipsychotic site artwork:

They APPARENTLY changed it, because that banner is gone (bless you right-click-save-file!), and now the artwork on the tab for 'professionals' (non-crazy doctors) and 'our patients' (desperate crazy people and their even more desperate caretakers) is similar. Sort of. But this is still pretty awful:

And this is the page for patients (i.e. desperate whackos). Note the LACK of artwork-effect-ripped-off-from-Claire-Fisher, here. desperate bipolar whackos get NO artwork. EVER GET THE FEELING YOU'VE BEEN CHEATED

(You know, I also deeply resent the idea that we mentally deranged people slob around in ugly maroon hoodies and brown T-shirts. My T-shirts of Depressive Anguish and Suicidal Despair are stylishly black. With slightly less stylish food stains.)

George Eliot on happiness*

One has to spend so many years in learning how to be happy. I am just beginning to make some progress in the science, and I hope to disprove Young’s theory that “as soon as we have found the key of life it opes the gates of death.” Every year strips us of at least one vain expectation, and teaches us to reckon some solid good in its stead. I never will believe that our youngest days are our happiest. What a miserable augury for the progress of the race and the destination of the individual if the more matured and enlightened state is the less happy one! Childhood is only the beautiful and happy time in contemplation and retrospect: to the child it is full of deep sorrows, the meaning of which is unknown. Witness colic and whooping-cough and dread of ghosts, to say nothing of hell and Satan, and an offended Deity in the sky, who was angry when I wanted too much plumcake. Then the sorrows of older persons, which children see but cannot understand, are worse than all. All this to prove that we are happier than when we were seven years old, and that we shall be happier when we are forty than we are now, which I call a comfortable doctrine, and one worth trying to believe!

- letter to Sara Hennell, 1844

*unlike my girl Charlotte, or at least her creation Lucy, she does seem to think it something of a potato

into a shade

'There are no mails in a city of the dead.'

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


every day in every way, I am getting....

So much of therapy – most therapy – is built around deconstructing thinking that no longer serves us. I know this because I have been in therapy for almost two decades, and can therefore challenge almost any negative thought that I have with the “correct” thought; the one that would serve me better, if only it came to me naturally, or if I could internalize it. And yet this oh-so-familiar practice, which is also repeated in self-help books and personal development writing, seldom speaks of bringing such beliefs down from the intellectual mind to the depths of our (often) dark hearts. To know that I am a valuable human being, for example, is far easier to hold in my head than to internalize.

I doubt that I am the only one who feels this way. I’ve spoken to others who feel guilty because they continue to believe the “wrong” things. I know that I am not the only one who cannot hold a compliment and bring it to the marrow of my bones.

- Esme Wang

'Collage is an art of time, like poetry.'

'The background elements often depict possible pasts: people on go-carts, a scene in Rotterdam of men in bowlers, and the teetering, top-heavy trucks of the twenties. The foreground elements seem to express Ashbery’s elation or relief at having escaped those pasts to make the art he has made and keeps making.'

- Paris Review

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013


“All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”

- Lou Reed on his career

And from the 1989 interview:

You've always contended that your records are your version of the Great American Novel.
Yeah, when you play it all in a row. If you have the patience to follow it.

Do you think your "novel" would have made it as poetry or prose, rather than rock & roll?

It wouldn't have had a drum. It wouldn't have had guitars. So you wouldn't have gotten that physicality from it. That's kind of what I like about it.

'artist dies of exposure'

Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge. I now contribute to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which I am paid the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989. More recently, I had the essay equivalent of a hit single — endlessly linked to, forwarded and reposted. A friend of mine joked, wistfully, “If you had a dime for every time someone posted that ...” Calculating the theoretical sum of those dimes, it didn’t seem all that funny.

- Tim Kreider 

(Comment: "With every new book I write, the publicist of the moment earnestly advises me that the best way to get publicity is to do lots of free blogging and tweeting. Then she sends me a bill.")

this Halloween is something to be sure / especially to be here without you

Oh God, Lou, I will miss you so much.

(oh ghod, and all the news sites are talking about "Sweet Jane" and "Heroin" and "Walk on the Wild Side"? FUCK YOU, YOU IDIOTS)

Still, I have never thought of music as a challenge — you always figure, the audience is at least as smart as you are.  You do this because you like it, you think what you're making is beautiful.  And if you think it's beautiful, maybe they'll think it's beautiful.  When I did Metal Machine Music, New York Times critic John Rockwell said, "This is really challenging."  I never thought of it like that.  I thought of it like, "Wow, if you like guitars, this is pure guitar, from beginning to end, in all its variations.  And you're not stuck to one beat."  That's what I thought.  Not, "I'm going to challenge you to listen to something I made."....You make stuff because it's what you do and you love it.

- Lou on Kanye, July 2013

the reburial of Edgar Allan Poe, November 17, 1875

Poe was originally buried without a headstone towards the rear corner of the churchyard near his grandfather, David Poe, Sr. A headstone of white Italian marble, paid for by Poe's cousin Neilson Poe, was destroyed before it reached the grave when a train derailed and plowed through the monument yard where it was being kept. Instead, it was marked with a sand-stone block that read "No. 80". In 1873, Southern poet Paul Hamilton Hayne visited Poe's grave and published a newspaper article describing its poor condition and suggesting a more appropriate monument. Sara Sigourney Rice, a teacher in Baltimore's public schools, took advantage of renewed interest in Poe's grave site and personally solicited for funds. She even had some of her elocution students give public performances to raise money. Many in Baltimore and throughout the United States contributed; the final $650 came from Philadelphia publisher and philanthropist George William Childs. The new monument was designed by architect George A. Frederick and built by Colonel Hugh Sisson, and included a medallion of Poe by artist Adalbert Volck. All three men were from Baltimore. The total cost of the monument, with the medallion, amounted to slightly more than $1,500.

Poe was reburied on October 1, 1875, at a new location close to the front of the church. A celebration was held at the dedication of the new tomb on November 17. His original burial spot was marked with a large stone donated by Orin C. Painter, though it was originally placed in the wrong spot. Attendees included Neilson Poe, who gave a speech and called his cousin "one of the best hearted men that ever lived", as well as Nathan C. Brooks, John Snodgrass, and John Hill Hewitt. Though several leading poets were invited to the ceremony, Walt Whitman was the only one to attend. Alfred Tennyson contributed a poem which was read at the ceremony:

Fate that once denied him,
And envy that once decried him,
And malice that belied him,
Now cenotaph his fame.

Probably unknown to the reburial crew, the headstones on all the graves, previously facing to the east, had been turned to face the West Gate in 1864. The crew digging up Poe's remains had difficulty finding the right body: they first exhumed a 19-year old Maryland militiaman, Philip Mosher, Jr. When they correctly located Poe, they opened his coffin and one witness noted: "The skull was in excellent condition—the shape of the forehead, one of Poe's striking features, was easily discerned."

A few years later, the remains of Poe's wife, Virginia, were moved to this spot as well. In 1875, the cemetery in which she lay was destroyed, and she had no kin to claim her remains. William Gill, an early Poe biographer, gathered her bones and stored them in a box he hid under his bed. Virginia's remains were finally buried with her husband's on January 19, 1885, the 76th anniversary of her husband's birth and nearly 10 years after his present monument was erected. George W. Spence, the man who served as sexton during Poe's original burial as well as his exhumation and reburial, attended the rites that brought his body to rest with Virginia and Virginia's mother, Maria Clemm.


also got this, for four bucks! I am pretty excited about it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

readsday 10/26

Been putting this off since my brain has been feeling so blah, but 90% of success is just showing up, right? So here I am, showing up. (Also this is exactly why I have never been able to keep any kind of job, I can't even make a blog post on schedule, Jesus.)

What did you just finish reading?
The Unwinding, a fascinating if understandably flawed and cultural study, and Interesting Times, a less impressive collection of New Yorker essays, both by George Packer. Unwinding is so well-written a lot of the time I kept just kept reading, absolutely enthralled, even when I disagreed with Packer's political points or his occasional sexism got on my nerves (if a woman is fat, or 'stout,' or 'obese,' you can bet it will not only be noted but made part of her characterization. Did this happen with men? No). Interesting Times was a lot more focused on the Iraq war, so parts of it were unbearably tragic ("Betrayed" is included), and it was more in the New Yorker house style without the irresistible crackle and zing of Packer's own prose. A friend told me his memoir of the Peace Corps, WHICH IS UNFORTUNATELY NOT AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK, FSG, was also excellent. I don't want to read more about the Iraq war, especially since Packer was sort-of for it at the time, but I'll keep an eye out for his other books.

I also read Shadows, by Robin McKinley; I couldn't bear to read anything of hers in full after Sunshine, which I loved (and nearly all of my friends hated) but Elizabeth gave it a glowing review on Booklikes, and a good friend gave me the ebook, so why not. I don't know if I liked it quite as much as Elizabeth did, but the story was certainly very readable and quite entertaining. But, as E said, "If I didn't know anything about Robin McKinley, I would have said this is a perfectly fine young adult book, probably more on the younger side than the adult side." I had that same impression, of a 'younger side,' altho it's hard to think why. Shadows is sort of like Sunshine, set in a world where magic is illegal, with the same kind of tight family structure, a pack of supporting friends, animals, and really neat minor characters (including, I kid you not, an algebra book). But interestingly, it's lighter than Sunshine -- brighter, even, with much less blood and death, and a lot less darkness. Pro:  McKinley channels the voice of a bratty young teen quite well. Con: Unfortunately it is also the petulant-to-waspish voice of her blog, which I had to stop reading because it was contaminating my memory of her actual books. One problem was that while Rae's talent in Sunshine seemed organic to who she was as a person, and related to her actual supernatural ability, this heroine's ability seems more....accidental? Unrelated to who she is, her family, her environment? Hard to say. I'd recommend it, but not as a new purchase in hardback. As Elizabeth said, it's solid and straightforward (if a bit slight) (I said "a bit slight," not Elizabeth). (And it does not end on a forever-unresolved cliffhanger, which I know was a big turnoff for some friends who actually read McKinley's more recent novels.) It's a bit like....Sunshine's little sister. The Dawn to Rae's Buffy, so to speak.

What are you reading now?
For some reason I couldn't get into A.S. Byatt's short stories, I bounced off the opening of the Janeites book (which does really look very funny), and couldn't find Savage Beauty or What Lips My Lips Have Kissed or  A Little Original Sin, so I gritted my teeth and went for The Poe Shadow -- I know, I know, but I want to read something, I like Poe, and it's Halloween (i.e. Poe season!). It's OK so far (I'm 5% done, my Paperwhite informs me....God I miss being able to see how many pages I was into a book) and the first-person historical fiction voice, altho strained, isn't too full of anachronisms. It's no Measure of Night, though.

What do you expect to read next?
Maybe Peter Ackroyd's Poe: A Life Cut Short, because I at least know where it is, RIGHT ON MY GODDAMNED DESK. I might reread Dracula, or try a new book about Mary Shelley (I have several). It's the most wonderful time of the year!

ETA Got derailed into Nixonland instead, the gift of a very kind friend -- it's rather like Unwinding, sort of dubious or at least slanted cultural history, but amusing and entertaining -- not anywhere near as well-written as Packer's book, but still good. It reminds me of all those scary Paul Conrad satirical cartoons showing Tricky Dick as Richard III.

'women's wit'

"This autumn, Globe Education presents Women’s Wit, a season of public events exploring women in Shakespeare’s works, his world and the Shakespeare industry as it is today."

just bought this! it cost a dollar.

'I will turn every feeling to stone'

wanna grow up to be / be a debaser / eraser

And that, my friend, is the art of erasure, as it is enacted in your own life, and all lives: life is much, much more than is necessary, and much, much more than any of us can bear, so we erase it or it erases us, we ourselves are an erasure of everything we have forgotten or don't know or haven't experienced, and on our deathbed, even that limited and erased "whole" becomes further diminished, if you are lucky you will remember the one word water, all others having been erased; if you are lucky you will remember one place or one person, but no one will ever, ever read on their deathbed, the whole text, intact and in order.

- Mary Ruefle

three quotes

The best weapons are the stories and every time the story is told, something changes. Every time the story is retold, something changes.

- Sherman Alexie


I feel like various dead writers are dear friends of mine — from Woolf to Plath to Duras to DFW — their lives and lessons and warnings and urgings are constantly informing my own, challenging my own.

- Suzanne Scanlon


 I am all the book remembers of itself.

- Mary Ruefle

Friday, October 25, 2013

'To Elliott, With Love'

Though it’s the sort of thing that likely always happens, especially with artists who die prematurely, violently, and unforgettably, it still takes one by surprise; how the death hijacks the life, how everything gets read backwards from a terminus, how the life seems never to have existed without a death in it. It’s a soundtrack you can’t mute. It keeps imposing itself tendentiously. It narrows everything. It’s a fish-eye lens. There’s a funereal aspect to Elliott Smith that’s dislocating. But it’s false. It’s distorting. And from the start my impulse was to reject it. I wrote as if he was alive. I attempted to write in amnesia of the ending I already knew.

- William Todd Schultz


book of lamentations

Everyone I know is already passing this around, but I don't care, I want to quote it myself because it's just that awesome. "The newly published DSM-5" seen as "a classic dsytopian novel."

The narrative voice of the book affects a tone of clinical detachment, one in which drinking coffee and paranoid-type schizophrenia can be discussed with the same flat tone. Under the pretense of dispassion this voice embodies a whole raft of terrifying preconceptions. Just like the neurological disorders that appear at the start of the book, mental illnesses appear like lightning bolts, with all their aura of divine randomness. Even when etiologies are mentioned they’re invariably held to be either genetic or refer to other illnesses such as substance abuse disorders. At no point is there any sense that madness might be socially informed, that the forms it takes might be a reflection of the influences and pressures of the world that surrounds us.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

also going out to my girl J.

From Alan Lew's This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation:
Every year before the Days of Awe, the Ba-al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, held a competition to see who would blow the shofar for him on Rosh Hashanah. Now if you wanted to blow the shofar for the Ba-al Shem Tov, not only did you have to blow the shofar like a virtuoso, but you also had to learn an elaborate system of kavanot -- secret prayers that were said just before you blew the shofar to direct the shofar blasts and to see that they had the proper effect in the supernal realms.

All the prospective shofar blowers practiced these kavanot for months. They were difficult and complex. There was one fellow who wanted to blow the shofar for the Ba-al Shem Tov so badly that he had been practicing these kavanot for years. But when his time came to audition before the Ba-al Shem, he realized that nothing he had done had prepared him adequately for the experience of standing before this great and holy man, and he choked. His mind froze completely. He couldn't remember one of the kavanot he had practiced for all those years. He couldn't even remember what he was supposed to be doing at all. He just stood before the Ba-al Shem in utter silence, and then, when he realized how egregiously -- how utterly -- he had failed this great test, his heart just broke in two and he began to weep, sobbing loudly, his shoulders heaving and his whole body wracking as he wept.

All right, you're hired, the Ba-al Shem said.

But I don't understand, the man said. I failed the test completely. I couldn't even remember one kavanah.

So the Ba-al Shem explained with the following parable: In the palace of the King, there are many secret chambers, and there are secret keys for each chamber, but one key unlocks them all, and that key is the ax. 

The King is the Lord of the Universe, the Ba-al Shem explained. The palace is the House of God. The secret chambers are the sefirot, the ascending spiritual realms that bring us closer and closer to God when we perform commandments such as blowing the shofar with the proper intention, and the secret keys are the kavanot. And the ax -- the key that opens every chamber and brings us directly into the presence of the King, where he may be -- the ax is the broken heart, for as it says in the Psalms, "God is close to the brokenhearted."

Iannis Xenakis: "Psappha" for solo percussion, performed by Ying-Hsueh Chen

this is going out to my girl J

from the 'say no to stigma' blog

After the general discussion, we routinely ask each individual, “What gives you hope?”

....In my view, hopelessness entails an unreasonable sense of certainty: The future will turn out badly. My favorite response to the question, “What gives you hope?” was this: “I can be surprised!”

Hopelessness is one reason that many depressed persons must rely on borrowed hope. There are many potential lenders of hope, and patients most often respond to our question (What gives you hope?) by referring to family members and other loved ones.

I needed you To run through my veins, like disease

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

from "Unnameable," Samuel Beckett

Perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.


To go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.

light up the cave

"The Fury Of Rain Storms," Anne Sexton

The rain drums down like red ants,
each bouncing off my window.
The ants are in great pain
and they cry out as they hit
as if their little legs were only
stitched on and their heads pasted.
And oh they bring to mind the grave,
so humble, so willing to be beat upon
with its awful lettering and
the body lying underneath
without an umbrella.
Depression is boring, I think
and I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave. 

sisters of mercy


Andreas Scheiger, Evolution of Type, Exhibit 14 & 20


'This letter-poem from around 1859 is decorated with a rose and signed, “Emilie.” The envelope for another letter still contains the remains of a 19th-century cricket.' (NYT)

She is -- Collected

Aww, true story, about four dear friends emailed me the news about Emily Dickinson's Harvard archive (FINALLY) with little notes like "I thought of you" or "I knew this would cheer you up" (I in turn passed it on to another dear friend who wrote an EED thesis: "LOOK LOOK IT IS YOUR GIRL") (THE EMILY FANS ARE A LITTLE EXCITED, OKAY). I even teared up a bit. All right, a lot.

Now, scholars and lay readers alike will be able to browse easily through handwritten versions of favorite poems, puzzle over lines that snake along the edges of used envelopes and other scraps of paper, or zoom in on one of Dickinson’s famous dashes until it almost fills the screen. 

“To have all these manuscripts together on one site and to have it so thoroughly searchable is extraordinary,” said Cristanne Miller, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a member of the project’s advisory board.

(Also, hilariously: “They have the furniture, we have the daguerreotype; they have the herbarium, we have the hair,” said Michael Kelly, the head of archives and special collections at the Frost Library at Amherst and a member of the online archive’s advisory board. Which prompted thoughts of actual scholarly hair-pulling....or

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

from 'A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles' by Millicent Dillon, Virago Press, 1988

(Paul Bowles:) "Her own method of work was at fault. The weight of the work was too heavy for her to pull. She didn't know how to get into training to pull such a heavy load all at once. What she wanted to do was more than she could do, more than perhaps anyone could do.
"She never had a sense that she had a body of work behind her. It was as if each new work she began was from scratch....She didn't want to have learned from past experience, because the past experience didn't come up to her expectation."

He remembers that she said to him, "Every word is like chiseling in granite."

(Jane Bowles, writing to her language therapist:) "I don't know whether or not I understood you correctly --- But it seems if I am correct --- you asked me to write compositions for you. I can not. Please try to find some other way. I cannot write a composition. If I could I would. I don't think I have been able to for years anyway --- and then a this time it is completely impossible. If it is a failure of the will --- then my will is sick --- it is not lazyness. I am trying to read and I must say that I am doing well in that. If I could write a composition I would find my way out. But there is such a thing as a failure of the will which is agony for the person who suffers with it. I did not suffer a stroke for nothing at my age at age --- and I have gone far away down the path of no return. I must have started down that path when I was very young. I know that you want me to write something different --- but I can't. I know that there are years of suffering ahead and that nobody can look into my brain."

(Jane Bowles): "Even if I could explain what it is that is missing it would help because I would still be where I am --- no better off. There are no accounts to settle."

There is something about daily life -- domestic daily life -- that resists narration in biography or fiction. It is a telling of another sort: Today I got up, I had breakfast, I read the paper, I went out....When tomorrow is today, again: I got up, I had breakfast....
Narration has the implication of a forward movement toward change. But daily life is the structure through which things can go on and on as they have been. It creates continuity without change, even as it allows the present to renew itself. It forms a background so habitual that it can be taken for granted. And the lives of others around us in our homes -- and even the domestic animals -- enforce that repetition and that continuity.
Before her stroke Jane had always lived in terror of the future. At the same time she had forced herself to go out and do that which frightened her. But there was also that in Jane that needed the security of daily life as a buttress against her terror. It is as if she always had a double narration in her life, the narration of the world of terror and the unchanging story which she had herself to create out of daily existence. She lived wth the sense of being on an edge between them.
Now, after the stroke, her daily life assumed a desperate urgency. What others could take for granted -- the habitual background of existence -- she had to patch together minute by minute each day. Any action or gesture could reveal the world she had to evade -- the world of her illness and the terror beyond the illness that the illness had come to replace. To the extent that these events and gestures were held safely within daily life, they guaranteed her own continuing existence. So that daily life, now, became her primary work.
To get back to work and still protect herself was what was necessary, to have her daily life and yet once again do what she needed to do, to give form to her imaginative life in language. But then, so much of her energy was consumed in allaying her fears of what was still to come. (What was still to come was never out of her mind for long, no matter how daily life held.)

(Paul Bowles, writing to Jane:) "Of course everything's a mess, but please forget the mess now and then each day, because otherwise you won't ever work. The mess is just the decor in which we live, but we can't let decor take over, really."

(Jane's doctor:) "It wasn't a matter of laziness in her that she didn't work. There was a basic instability. That was why she didn't read, why she didn't learn Braille. And the time became very hard for her to fill."

David Herbert went to visit Jane in the sanitorium. He brought her a group of excellent reviews of The Collected Works. "As reading was such an effort, Jane made me read them to her. She looked very sad and, for a little while, said nothing, then, hopelessly, she said:
"'I know you mean this kindly, darling, but you couldn't have done anything more cruel!'
"I was aghast.
"'You see,' Janie went on, 'it all makes me realize what I was and what I have become.'"

neuter / neutral

I could have gone with the old standby, “the masculine embraces the feminine,” and just called everyone “he.” This is, in fact, the choice made by Ursula K LeGuin when she wrote The Left Hand of Darkness (Which is awesome, and if you haven’t read it, it is my considered opinion that you should.) Years later, she expressed some dissatisfaction with having made that choice. It made the Gethenians seem to be all male, which they were not, and failed to convey their non-binary nature.

There was, as I saw it, one more possibility–I could use “she” for everyone. This would have the same disadvantages as using “he” with the advantage of not being the oh-so-common masculine default.

....Problem solved. Pretty much. Except, my solution didn’t only fix my mechanical problem, it suddenly made the fact that there was a default visible. The thing about defaults is, they’re automatic. Most of the time you don’t even think about them. They just seem quite obvious and natural. Using an unusual default, particularly one that’s close to but not exactly like the usual one, really highlights the fact that there’s a default there to begin with. And suddenly neither my solution nor my initial problem seemed simple at all.

- Anne Leckie on her novel Ancillary Justice

I may just see this documentary in a theatre.... stick it to Assange.

Another glaring hole in the Hollywood film is the allegations of the two women whose complaints resulted in sexual assault charges against Assange (they’re not broached in “The Fifth Estate”). As is far too common the case, the voices’ of these two victims were all but silenced amid the Wikileaks fanfare in real life; trumped up as honey traps and conspiracies meant to derail a politically unpalatable organization. This was no mistake. That’s exactly how Assange intended it. Perhaps the most galling of many revelations about Assange — beyond the multitude of “noble lies” and manipulations he orchestrates — is how he intentionally and unnecessarily co-mingled his personal legal battles with Wikileaks’ image to mislead the public for his own benefit and to the detriment of the Wikileaks cause. The live interview with one of the victims, Anna, and the backlash she faced is predictably heartbreaking.

Do Yourself A Favor: See Wikileaks Documentary 'We Steal Secrets' Instead Of Hollywood's 'The Fifth Estate'

the silenced generation

You know, I read articles like this, and half of me wants to weep for her, and the other half is thinking bitterly: welcome to the fucking club. What I'd like to know is where was all this Grand Concern about college grads having to work at Whole Foods or Mickey D's when I graduated from college (92), and then from grad school (98)? Now that it's the Millennial brats of the Boomers who have to face a shitty economy with declining demand, suddenly it's a Terrible Thing. We were the slackers, the twentynothings, the wastoids, the irony addicts stoned on our own apathy. Supposedly. If we didn't have great jobs and health insurance and starter homes, it must be because we didn't truly want them. Because obviously if we had wanted them, we would have worked hard enough. Every single cultural analysis I've ever seen still refers to the Clinton terms as "the boom years." Even Packer in The Unwinding. No, not for everyone....but apparently, it was a boom for the people who mattered.

I was in the 99% before it was trendy! //hipster

Monday, October 21, 2013

Seated Wadjet. From Egypt. Late Period


divine felines

If current trends continue, in just a few years all of contemporary culture will be nothing but an unending stream of cat pictures. Newspapers desperate to survive will publish only adorable kitten photos; social networks will strain under the weight of shorthairs and Siamese. The art world is already getting in on the act: witness the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis hosting an internet cat video festival (it drew 10,000 viewers in one day), or White Columns, the avant-garde New York gallery, laying on The Cat Show, featuring "purr-formers in residence".

- The Grauniad


(There was a delightfully snarky website ((of course I can't find it now)) which once wrote, "It is often called the Citizen Kane of horror films, but no one calls Citizen Kane the Wicker Man of mainstream films...." And there are some great filming details, like this:)

"Autumn" was turned into "summer" by employing fake plastic apple trees and by decorating the real bare trees with imitation blossom. Locals were recruited to fill out the crowd scenes, and pupils from a ballet school helped with some of the dance routines – everybody being kept warm with industrial fan heaters.

Robin Hardy, director:  The final scene, the sacrifice, took place in Dumfriesshire. The wicker man was enormous. The stunned look on Howie's face when he first sees it wasn't acting – up until then, Edward had only seen drawings. He clambered in and we set it on fire, filming from the inside. There was a goat inside there, above us. Understandably concerned about the fire, it pissed on us.

....any extra inanity just adds to the film's overall phantasmagorical weirdness. I mean, this is a film where Christopher Lee spouts odd Pagan poetry over lovingly photographed snails intertwined in the act of mating. And yes, those snails, like the talk of apples, are there for well-calculated reasons. 

the passing tense

Walking the streets of New York City, I was amazed and baffled and somewhat horrified at the percentage of people strolling blithely along with their attention on their "mobile devices." At least a third, minimum, in any crowd, at any given time. When and how did this happen? And I had two thoughts that I paused to write down (pencil, paper): 

 ~ How can there be a future when all moments are compacted into the present? 

 ~ In a state of perpetual communication, how can there be reflection?

- Caitlin R. Kiernan

(This is one of the many reasons I don't have an iThing. Well, that and I'm broke. Probably mostly because I'm broke. But even were I not broke, shelling out $600+ for a shiny distraction device not me.)

(Also I got endless shit from people while growing up for walking and reading at the same time! Now that's what EVERYONE is doing. Sort of.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

just bought his book, paid real money for it and everything

 Packer on Trollope and modern times:

....When Brehgert proposes to a young Englishwoman who’s overestimated her own worth for too many years to be picky, the reaction is nearly universal horror, but she’s more pragmatic: as long as the man is rich, why should anyone care about his religion? Greed can be the leading wedge of freedom.

Something similar is true of the glittering capital of an American empire perched on a speculative bubble. There’s no limit to the money accumulating at the top of New York (and other centers of wealth), no limit to the fascination it exercises over the rest of the country. Every time it seems as if the tide of fantastic wealth is going out—after 2008 was the most recent moment—it surges back, higher than ever. Greed is eternal, but when the money flows as plentifully upward as in London circa 1873 or New York circa 2013, and is as unequally distributed, it becomes a moral toxin, saturates the world of culture, makes relationships more competitive, turns desire into the pursuit of status, replaces solid things with mirages. 

Finished The Unwinding, which was pretty fucking awesome (yeah, I didn't like how he wrote about Oprah or Alice Waters, and there aren't enough female characters in the "unknown" profiles either -- on the other hand, his portrayal of Tammy Thomas, being as resolutely heroic as three firemen just "doing what she needed to do," repeatedly made me cry); zapped over to Amazon, yes please do deliver some bits (bytes?) to my Paperwhite for under $10, now immediately on to Interesting Times. Brave new library. This is what I do instead of watching TV (it's also now what I do instead of updating GoodReads. Hi ho).

I really sort of love* this guy -- eagle-sharp vision, a gift for style, and right there with the 'telling detail' every time. The "Tampa" chapters in Unwinding were terrifying yet riveting -- a real horror show, never mind all that Supernatural/Hannibal TV crap.

*Trying to de-Gawkerize/un-Awlify my online style, bear with me.

Andrew Bird, "Orpheo Looks Back"

from the "Here's What Happened" film, deluxe CD of Break It Yourself.

I fucking hate comics but yes, okay

Saturday, October 19, 2013

what an actual critic (with both a brain and a vocabulary) writing about Alice Munro looks like

Fate is another of the ancient preoccupations that Munro revives in a modern setting: the way human beings find meaning in sequences of seemingly random events, or come to believe, retrospectively or projectively, that their lives are following a preordained pattern. Munro’s narrative technique is subversive of any such conviction. Her stories proceed through hiatus and interruption. She lays down discrete blocks of narrative within each story, like stepping stones, requiring her reader to jump trustingly from one to another, until some surprising destination or other has been reached. These gaps are what account, in part, for the sense of interpretive freedom that her texts convey: their spaciousness and openness to the unexplained or unexplainable. The reader who is tempted to look up from one of Munro’s stories and ask: “But where is all this going, what does it mean?” should remember Edith doing her Latin homework at the kitchen table at the end of “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”: 

“Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi – ‘You must not ask, it is forbidden for us to know –’ She paused, chewing her pencil, then finished off with a chill of satisfaction, ‘– what fate has in store for me, or for you –’ ” 

- Ruth Scurr, "The Darkness of Alice Munro," TLS 2011


Jeanette Winterson on Oscar Wilde's fairy tales:

Wilde had a streak of prophecy in him. The children's stories can be read as notes from the future about Wilde's fate. It is as though the little child in him was trying to warn him of the dangers his adult self would soon face. "Every single work of art is the fulfilment of a prophecy", he writes in "De Profundis".

(One of the few good things about the mysteriously-DOA Wilde starring Stephen Fry was its framing device, voiceover narration from "The Selfish Giant."  Intriguingly, Wilde's wife Constance might have helped write it.)

Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke:

So, though we're used to reading about the lives of the great artists, writers and thinkers, this book is not about them. On the other hand, though we're increasingly drawn to what Woolf called "infinitely obscure lives" that "remain to be recorded", this is not a project of recovery. The idea, appealingly, is to think about women who became well-known for being terrifically good at what they did. They were professional pioneers of the 1950s, respected by their peers and remembered admiringly, perhaps not by millions, but certainly by those working in related fields. They were all career women when that was rare, and today's working women are in their debt.

Prehistoric cave prints show most early artists were women. A friend of mine dryly commented that now of course various scientists and art critics will re-evaluate the cave drawings as lesser -- or, dare we say, even as "chicks sitting around thinking about how they feel about their relatives"?

That Winterson piece also has a gorgeous illustration of Wilde as his fairytale character the Happy Prince by Grahame Baker-Smith:

And a late-breaking addition: We also had, on Gloucester Road, a Partridge’s store that sold all the American foods I missed: Skippy peanut butter, Toll House chocolate chips, breakfast cereals consisting mostly of fluorescent marshmallows. 

are you fucking kidding me

(Best dry comment: "I still say that Americans should be given a simple test before they are issued a passport. If peanut butter is essential to their well-being, they (and the host country) would be a lot happier with their staying home.")

#seriously #are you kidding me #oh my God you went to London #and ate peanut butter #and got paid by the NYT to write about it #so angry resorting to hashtags #Tumblritis

why does Laura Miller have a book-reviewing job?

From Salon:

Munro writes what many people refer to (scornfully) as classic New-Yorker-style short stories. They’re naturalistic fiction about the domestic and personal relationships of very ordinary people, usually women, most of them born and raised in provincial Canadian towns. I freely admit that this sounds fantastically boring, and even when a writer friend I respected deeply gave me a copy of “Friend of My Youth” many years ago, I neglected to give Munro a try. The short story form (in prospect, at least) has never appealed to me, and after a dire childhood encounter with “Little Women” — foisted on me by female relatives — I developed a lifelong resistance to fiction in which, as my teenage self once put it, “people just sit around thinking about how they feel about their relatives.”, that's not what Little Women is about, for one thing (Home Front war stories? American history? One of the few Bildungsromans about a young female author we have, period? Need I go on?). And a novel written by a female author in the mid-nineteenth century is totally just the same as short stories written by a female author in the late twentieth century! Women writers, all the same, engrossed in their little pieces of ivory and lace-making and visiting cards, right? Massachusetts is practically Canada anyway!

If I felt like it I could sum up, say, Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, speaking of getting Germanic, as "people just sitting around thinking about how they feel about their relatives," but I won't.

(Hot damn, this could be a new genre of literary criticism. Ulysses: "A man just sits around thinking about how he feels about his wife." Lolita: "A man just sits around thinking about how he feels about a young girl." Portnoy's Complaint: "A man just sits around thinking about how he feels about women. Lots of women." And so on.)

I would say something about a highly-ranked female literary critic feeling the need to somehow entice us into reading a female Nobel Prize winner (like the Nobel Prize won't do that all by its lonesome?) by bashing another female author using some of the most sexist cliches about female writers ("boring," "provincial," "ordinary," "domestic," "feelings," "relatives") but it's too depressing. And enraging. And predictable. Really, this piece isn't saying much more than "So you might have thought Alice Munro was boring, hunh? I did too. But then I wised up! And look, Salon is on record as publishing me over a decade ago being wise about Alice Munro. So read her! Like me." Because really, what we need to know about Alice Munro winning the Nobel is....that Laura Miller thought she was worth reading before that.

(Did....anyone think Alice Munro was like Louisa May Alcott? No, no, not Laura Miller, smartasses. Besides her.)

So instead of actually writing anything about Munro this piece is....Nobel-Prize-propelled clickbait for a review from 2001. Why are so many magazines doing this right now? Is it really that hard to generate new content nowadays? Shit, give me a byline and I'll produce a whole new piece about Munro for nothing but love! I won't mention my former reviews or my respected writer friends or my adolescent tastes even once!

.....then again, if "people just sitting around thinking about how they feel about their relatives" is a sample of Miller's critical thinking skills, or lack thereof, maybe we're lucky she's not writing new reviews.  Dodged a bullet there, Alice.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Suspiria de Profundis

Therefore it is that Levana often communes with the powers that shake a man`s heart: therefore it is that she dotes on grief. "These ladies," said I softly to myself, on seeing the ministers with whom Levana was conversing, "these are the Sorrows; and they are three in number, as the Graces are three, who dress man`s life with beauty; the Parcoe are three, who weave the dark arras of man`s life in their mysterious loom, always with colours sad in part, sometimes angry with tragic crimson and black; the Furies are three, who visit with retribution called from the other side of the grave offences that walk upon this; and once even the Muses were but three, who fit the harp, the trumpet, or the lute, to the great burdens of man`s impassioned creations. These are the Sorrows, all three of whom I know."

- Thomas de Quincey

I made a good run just a little too slow And they overtook me in Jericho

'In other words, your average Pinterest board or inspiration Tumblr basically functions as a longing machine.'

“Curation” does imply something far more deliberate than these inspiration blogs, whose very point is to put the viewer into an aesthetic reverie unencumbered by thought or analysis. These sites are not meant (as curation is) to make us more conscious, but less so. That might be O.K., but it also means they have a lot more in common with advertising than they do with curation. After all, advertising trains us to keep our desire always at the ready, nurturing that feeling that something is missing, then redirecting it toward a tangible product. In the end, all that pent-up yearning needs a place to go, and now it has that place online. But products are no longer the point. The feeling is the point. And now we can create that feeling for ourselves, then pass it around like a photo album of the life we think we were meant to have but don’t, the people we think we should be but aren’t.

- Carina Chocano

my first copy (still have it)




Those are some of the worst costuming decisions I have seen in A WHILE, and I'm not just talking about Dickon there. Why is everyone draped in burlap? Why does the armor look so, so....what the hell is Aumerle wearing in that, it looks like a bathrobe and hoodie over a sleep T-shirt, my God.  And did they have no money to spend on a goddamn set? Or even proper lighting?

This is worse than the completely distracting costumes McKellen wore in Edward II and you know, that was 1970, plus at least McKellan wasn't topped off with what someone managed to wrangle out of Farrah Fawcett's 1978 Avon brush set. Christ almighty.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

D’Aulaires’ Babies

As children, we tend to remember particular versions of myths as if they were the definitive ones, only later to discover that there is no such thing as an “original” myth or fairy tale, but, instead, thousands of variations passed down through literature and oral tradition. I first read about Orpheus in “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths,” a sumptuously illustrated book that I pored over nightly. In that book’s version of the story, “the fluttering souls hushed” when Orpheus entered the realm of the dead and begged for his bride. Even “Hades, the pitiless king of the dead … was so moved by the music that tears rolled down his sallow cheeks.” As a child, I never understood why Orpheus doubted Hades’s promise to send Eurydice back to the world behind him—the pitiless king had wept, after all, upon hearing Orpheus’s music. But my confusion at Orpheus’s faltering was quickly replaced by horror when the Dionysian nymphs entered the scene, yelling and wild. “The river stopped its gurgling to listen,” the d’Aulaires write, “for the haunting voice of Orpheus still issued forth from his dead lips when he floated down to the open sea.” Thus the story of Orpheus was imprinted upon me....

- Kate Bernheimer

....maybe if I see the movie again I'll like the book better


Oscar Wilde was born (1854), and Jane Eyre was first published (1847)! Now those are two pretty damn awesome events.

'Hello, birdie!'

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Connie Sun, "Restoring Faith in Humanity"


'this is not about food': hunger-strikers at Guantánamo Bay (the Guardian)

Neil Gaiman on reading

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end … that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

- via

reading - Wednesday!

What did you just finish reading?
Flamethrowers - was not that great, mostly because way too much of it was about the early eighties New York art scene of macho assholes, i.e. warmed-over Tama Janowitz, and I wasn't that big a fan of Tama when she was piping hot as a New York street pizza. The chapters about the narrator growing up in NV and seeing revolutionaries in Rome were great, though. I would have happily read many pages about Italy in the early eighties. I can tolerate assholes if they're Rothko or Cornell, but NYC too-hip-for-the-gallery art-as-performance just bores me. Also, Dwight Garner praised the dialogue, which BAFFLED me, because people go on far too long in a far too literary manner. One guy tells a terrible story at a DINNER PARTY which goes on for, I shit you not, about ten pages. It's like he thinks he's in Atlas Shrugged.

Cartwheel - was really good! You see from everyone's quite distinct POV except two major characters, which seemed off as I went along but then was explained basically by Plot Reasons near the end, but other than that, the pieces were really nicely joined together. The writing itself was very good, often terribly funny, especially the smartass quips of a damaged hipster boy grieving for his parents. The story is about how learning to see outside yourself is crucial to empathy, which sounds ABC After-School-Special-ish but was very well-done, and the book is partly an exercise in empathy itself -- everyone is 'sympathetic' (not likeable, or, God help us all, someone to root for): the accused, the murder victim, the parents, the prosecutor. Unlike Flamethrowers the dialogue in this book sounded like words spoken by real people. duBois wobbled a little on the did-she-or-didn't-she question, but the book was grounded enough in the mystery of real human experience, if that makes sense, that it wasn't annoying. More a literary novel about a crime than anything with genre trappings, which was fine. About the idea of dangerous American innocence, 'arrogant naivete' - the old Jamesian question I guess. But written in sentences you can actually read.

Room with a View - oy. Still not clicking for me, all these years later. It's like seeing an old college acquaintance at the ten-year reunion lunch and realizing you still detest them. I had to pretend this was maybe written by very early Virginia Woolf, because otherwise it sounded terribly arch. Lady Bracknell picks up a pen. And weirdly misogynistic, in a way (not anything specific -- it just sort of kept putting my hackles up). However, this was pretty well redeemed by having Emerson the Younger be a Manic Sparkle Pixie Dreamguy for Lucy (I adore Lucy). I have read some weird literary criticism about Lucy being a female authorial self-insert, and didn't Forster say he would no longer write fiction because he couldn't write het romance, and then we go off on the question of empathy again, and what about trying to write outside yourself? but at what point does denial of your own experience in order to conform to expectations, literary and social, become too creatively stifling? -- and would David Gilmour call Forster a Manly Man? Now that is really what we all want to know.

What are you reading now?
A truly terrible true-crime book about Amanda Knox.
No, really.

What do you expect to read next?
Another truly terrible true-crime book about Amanda Knox.
No, really. -- I know, I know. It's a sickness.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

from 'The Tutelage of Charlotte and Emily Brontë' (Harper's)

The most obvious difference between the two manuscripts is that Emily’s is free of corrections by Heger, while his markings appear on all three pages of Charlotte’s essay, so that, between the lines, a master–pupil dynamic emerges. In 1856, he told Elizabeth Gaskell, the novelist who was writing Charlotte’s biography, that he “rated Emily’s genius as something even higher than Charlotte’s.” Still, throughout the months both sisters spent at the pensionnat, Heger paid much more attention to Charlotte’s work, possibly because, unlike her disaffected sibling, she responded with flattering compliance. The more he critiqued and corrected her writing, the more she attempted to please him. (As she later wrote in a poem, “Obedience was my heart’s free choice/ Whate’er his word severe.”)

- Sue Lonoff de Cuevas

A page from Charlotte Brontë’s homework for Constantin Heger

A page from Emily Brontë’s homework for Constantin Heger

Monday, October 14, 2013

still seething about Dwight Garner

He really is just such a terrible reviewer. I feel almost personally tricked by him, and look, I know this is unreasonable! But he raved about two or three books, I read them, and HATED them, and it became almost weirdly personal. Why does this man still have a job. Any job involving books! He shouldn't be allowed to do volunteer shelf-reading in public libraries. Seriously.

Listen. Do you know how I first got into Jean Rhys, whom I adore? I read a review in Hugging the Shore, by John fucking Updike, of her autobiography. He didn't really understand her at all and paired her with a William Burroughs book (what the fucking hell) and certainly never realized he was privileged to talk about, for money, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, but you know what made me actually drop his book, run out and buy her autobiography, and shortly after that, everything she had written? He quoted a lot of the book. Paragraphs, at length. He did windily extemporize his distended opinionata upon the helpless page, sure, he was Updike, but I also got a sense of how she wrote. And it was marvelous. I think he even says it in some little uptight Reviewing Credo collected in one of those scarily massive paperweights-for-hurricanes-thick collections* of not only his laundry lists but lengthy descriptions of his used hankies**: that even if you, as reviewer, don't like the book, the writer, the writing, his mother, whatever, you have A Duty (God this sounds antediluvarian) to impart (now I sound antediluvarian) what the writer, well, writes like. And he included enough wonderful Rhys quotes (including that amazing description of how she began her writing life) that I thought, I must have more. I must read her. I must know her. Updike was a terrible reviewer, but at least he reviewed.

What does ol' Dwight give us of Kushner's, in that NYTBR piece? Little snippets.

"It was Pat who moved me."
"I was the one shopping for experience."
"I was the girl they expected things of."

Does he show you there are so many long-winded monologues by sexist men that you will want want to reach through the book and snap them on their pajamas, and some deadly nonfiction-in-disguise chapters about how rubber is made, and at least four joyless sex scenes where Sandro-the-asshole gives Nameless "hand jobs"? No, no he does not. He focuses on crafting bad jokes like "Ms. Kushner has long since burned down whatever resistance you might have."

Dwight, you card.

What are we supposed to get from "Her prose has a poise and wariness and moral graininess"? What? Well, we readers get screwed over, that's what. Kushner gets a blurb. Dwight gets a paycheck. And someone else gets a couple dollars credit at Half Price.

*You think I'm joking, go into a bookstore -- hurry! they're quickly evaporating -- and try hefting one of Updike's Late Collecteds, More Matter or Still More or Even More of My Consciousness, one of those. You'll give yourself a hernia.

**You still think I'm joking. Updike wrote a poem about one of his turds. No lie. The New Yorker published it. No, really. It wound up in The Best American Poetry. Don't doubt me.

if I were still on GoodReads this would be a status update?, it's certainly not a review.... ("The Flamethrowers," Rachel Kushner)

Reading The Flamethrowers -- I had resisted it for a good long while (too well-reviewed, too famous, too everywhere, it's obviously no good, even if it's any good I'll be much too jealous to appreciate it, this is why I don't read Franzen* but it's even worse when it's one of those under-thirty Wunderkatzen) (....okay it's worse, I looked her up and she's two years older than me) but someone gave me a copy free gratis, so what the hell. I've been reading a number of disconnected books about young women and Italy for some reason: Room with a View, Cartwheel, three increasingly-terrible true crime quickie jobs about Amanda Knox (going from Bad to Terrible to Very No Good, like the beds of the Three Bears), and now this.

-- I suppose I should reread Daisy Miller, except I was barely able to finish it in the first place, decades ago ('"My dear young friend," said Mrs. Walker, taking her hand pleadingly, "don't walk off to the Pincio at this hour to meet a beautiful Italian"'). No, I guess the James that belongs in this messy bundle, not even gathered-together, but chaos seen as a pattern like fallen yarrow sticks, is Princess Casamassina, which I have around here somewhere. I remember Louise Bogan loved it. (Useless literary trivia I have stored in my brain instead of phone numbers: a moment from the fantastic Louise Bogan biography by Elizabeth Frank, probably long out of print by now, someone catching a glimpse at a New York City literary party of her sitting in Hart Crane's lap. I wish I had a photograph of that moment, I'd frame it. At least the people at the artsy New York parties in those days dressed better.) I'm reasonably sure there won't be any women falling in love with men who finger them through draped public art displays in a James novel. Reason enough to read him.  Where's my goddamn copy, I guess I can download a free version from Gutenberg, oh ghod, the waking nightmare of Jamesian sentence structure....

I skimmed maybe a third of this, especially the early bits: the seminal (ho, ho) scene with Ronnie-the-asshole in the Chelsea Hotel (what, really?), the bits about the guys making tires oh God what is this John McPhee or something, the really bad bits about the 'motherfucking' fake revolutionaries (if you're going to rip off Stokely Carmichael's line do you have to give it to a white guy who's also in the art scene?). The vague, limp, artfully artless disaffectedness inherited from Tama Janowitz, back when Tama Janowitz was not a joke, a joke without a punchline. The old boredom of how do you portray the macho art scene without glorifying macho assholeness (short answer: you can't). The parts set in Italy were very good: the terrible not-mother-in-law, the grasping rich, the revolutionaries -- when Kushner wrote about the street protests the pages (virtual, on the Kindle, look it's metaphorical) came alive, you could smell the gasoline, the lemons, feel the heft of the passed guns.

-- And then it turned back into a book about what it's like to be a pretty young American girl all the men want to fuck and all the women hate because the men want to fuck them. What the hell. Can't we have a book about the woman artist for once? Diane Arbus or Lee Miller or Lee Krasner? They were all there too, you know, we were there, we were....Joyce Johnson even wrote a wonderful book about it, Minor Characters, that book in particular about the women Beats, but really the eternal female artist, the Woman Question: the missing in action, the abused and the disappeared, the lost and forgotten. Why am I reading about Ronnie-the-asshole and Sandro-the-asshole and Stanley-the-asshole? It's not even like they're good artists. Is that the point? What the point is, is now I have to read another three pages of Ronnie-the-asshole lecturing the Nameless Female Narrator (Daphne du Maurier wants her bit back) in order for Nameless to 'realize,' "I was the girl on layaway. And it wasn't Ronnie who'd put me on layaway. It was something I had done to myself."

And I'm just like, After all those pages about sexism and macho assholes and cheating men, the insight is, I have done it to myself? Oh, fuck you. Is this where feminism really and truly, after the skirted Suit Dresses with the little plaid bows of the eighties, after the Do Me Fuck Toys of the nineties, the Mommy Track quislings of the 00s, after-after-after, ends up, after all? In the slick women's magazine advice columns of I have done it to myself? Fuck, what about Italian feminism? Does Nameless have to fuck the distant cool male revolutionary? Can't she for once wind up in the kitchen, if not the barricades, instead of the bedroom, talking to the women, instead of fucking the men? What about Leopoldina Fortunati? -- Wait, is the revolutionary's girlfriend who hates Nameless seriously supposed to be directing Radio Alice? Is Radio Alice seriously only going to get half a sentence? Are you truly not going to include a reference to Carla Lonzi's glorious "Let's Spit on Hegel"? (Shit, now I want to write a novel about radical Italian feminists in the seventies just to include "Let's Spit on Hegel." Spitting on Hegel: best fucking idea ever.)

It's like Fear of Flying redux: Nameless films the revolution (At last! I thought. All the themes of the book are coming together!), but then loses her camera, fucks the male revolutionary, and then goes home, just like Isadora Wing ran off with one man only to return to another. But at least Fear of Flying had some feminism in it; it had to, it was written in 1973. -- Even Tama goddamn Janowitz didn't go that far. It was something I had done to myself. Christ almighty. Why not just go ahead and paste in a Ryan Gosling meme, while we're at it.

-- And yet, Kushner's prose style is skilfull enough, and she's good enough at making basically-nothing-happening seem interesting for long stretches that I didn't mind there wasn't much actual plot, more a coalescence of themes, a collection of images, word-collages: bikes, girls who ride bikes, the men who fuck girls who ride bikes, revolution, sexism, conceptual art, actual street art, poseurs, ignorance, naievete, pretentiousness. Innocence and experience. The workers and the profiteers, the artists lusting after fame, becoming part of the New York money machine. The true theme: exploitation. Nameless' narrative voice is indeed good, even though the dialogue is bad, stiltedly literary and impossibly long, "bookish" (the anti-me, Dwight Garner, of course fucking zeroes right in on that: "One of the best things about this book, though, is how much it gets out of Reno’s own head. The dialogue pops; many of the best observations are doled out to supporting characters." OH MY GOD. NO. If I just buy everything Dwight Garner hates sooner or later I'll probably find my new favourite book) (it's certainly not this one).

-- What kind of book is this? It's a book in which an anecdote about Georgia O'Keeffe (spotlit first by Joan Didion, so, not very original there) is told by the asshole male artist love interest without even naming her at all. That's what kind of book this is. It's like Radio Alice barely getting a mention, and going nameless, too, like the heroine. We have had enough of nameless diminished women.


In Texas there was only the horizon she craved. In Texas she had her sister Claudia with her for a while, and in the late afternoons they would walk away from town and toward the horizon and watch the evening star come out. ‘That evening star fascinated me,’ she wrote. ‘… My sister had a gun, and as we walked she would throw bottles into the air and shoot them. I had nothing but to walk into nowhere and the wide sunset space with the star. Ten watercolors were made from that star.’ In a way one’s interest is compelled as much by the sister Claudia with the gun as by the painter Georgia with the star, but only the painter left us this shining record. Ten watercolors were made from that star.


She told Sandro she had gotten the idea for her most important cycle of works when she was walking with her sister on an empty Texas plain one summer evening, a single star in the sky above them. They were teenagers. This was before cars, before World War One. “My sister had a gun and kept throwing bottles up in the air and shooting them,” she had told Sandro. “We walked under the big empty twilight and that star.” There had to be an element of chance. But also precision. An occasional dead-on hit. My sister had a gun.

(Dear Dwight Garner: this is the reason that you think the book sounds like Joan Didion. And why the hell am I still reading your reviews, anyway....)

*I don't read those terrible prize-baiting "Ten Under Forty" or "Twenty Under Thirty" or "Thirty Under Ten" collections on principle. The principle being, I want to live until I die of old age and not spontaneously combust in raging jealous despair. Look, I never said I was a good person.