Until the first word is written everything is possible. Speech opens outward to the unconditioned, to consequences unintended, to freedom. Not so the written word. In speech, we are like a ship with the bone in its teeth the words trailing out behind us in a widening wake soon to vanish on the surface of a restless sea, We may, of course, erase as we write, circling back to a new starting point--speaking to ourselves, as it were; but that all comes to an end the moment the page is read, and in truth, even the freedom of erasure and revision is an illusion. Every word added to the next forecloses an infinite array of possibilities.
If you set out to tell a story you quickly find that you cannot go just anywhere. The more you write the more the words take charge, reducing the writer to a mere instrument playing out theme and variation over sets of ever more determinate patterns, and yet, it is seldom clear what those patterns are; they seem to generate ghosts, shades, douplegangers eager to mislead, eager to lure the story into featureless deserts, barren wastes where it will wander hopelessly lost.
Resist the temptation to give in, to surrender to passivity. Above all, resist the safe way out, the straight and narrow path to the finish. There is no safety. No easy way to end it. The very demons that seem so threatening may hold the answer. Run from them and everything is lost. Like the fire around Busirane's castle, it is there to pass through. How else will you be able to give Amoret back her heart? .
Friday, May 30, 2008
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/30/2008 07:43:00 PM
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/29/2008 10:22:00 PM
I just saw a report of a tornado in Kearney, Nebraska... on the Platte River where Sandhill Cranes gather in spring and fall migrations--and the site of Richard Powers', The Echo Maker.
Because I will never forget the tornado that destroyed the neighborhood where I lived, friends who lost parents, the devastation that drops from the sky... for the hundreds of unexpected visitors to this site because of this post... I assure you, the connection was more than a book. My heart goes out to those caught in the wake and to all of you concerned for the safety of relatives and friends .
Tornado links on this blog:
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/29/2008 09:55:00 PM
Sunlight on my face, backlights the rose, its leaves, its thorns. I sit and read. People walk past--their different walks, each to his or her own heartbeat, to his or her own rhythm.
For no reason... poems have their own reason, but need none: two poems of Laura (Jackson) Riding.
Have no wide fears for Earth:
Its universal name is 'Nowhere'.
If it is Earth to you, that is your secret.
The outer records leave off there,
And you may write it as in seems,
And as it seems, it is,
A seeming stillness
Amidst seeming speed.
Heavens unseen, or only seen,
Dark or bright space, unearthly space,
Is a time before Earth was
From which you inward move
Toward perfect now.
Almost the place it is not yet,
Potential here of everywhere --
Have no wide fears for it:
Its destiny is simple,
To be further what it will be.
Earth is your heart
Which has become your mind
But still beats ignorance
Of all it knows --
As miles deny the compact present
Whose self-mistrusting past thay are.
Have no wide fears for Earth:
Destruction only on wide fears shall fall.
The Way It Is
It falls to an idiot to talk wisely.
It falls to a sot to wear beauty.
It falls to many to be blessed
In their shortcomings,
As to the common brute it falls
To see real miracles
And howl with irksome joy.
Many are the confusions that fall,
Many are the inspired ones.
Much is there indeed contrary,
Much is there indeed wonderful,
A most improbable one it takes
To tell what is so,
And the strangest creature of all
To be natural.
From A Selection of the Poems of Laura Riding, Persea Books, New York.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/29/2008 08:58:00 PM
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Have finished the Douglas Parmée translation of A Sentimental Education. A lot to assimilate, the contribution of this book to what we think of as "realism." With a few qualifications, I think I was not so far off in my post on Madame Bovery.
Frédéric and Emma pursue impossible romantic dreams. It would be an inexcusable romantic gesture
to elevate their characters, to hoist them on a pedestal beside Werther. But what happens to that driving passion, brought down from the clouds and injected into Flaubert's flawed, middlebrow characters? Is the fault in the education? In the escapist novels Emma mistook for reality? Or in the characters he choose, like a Greek god who takes it into his head to experiment--to grant a gift to mortals too great for them to bear? In how many ways can they fail the gift?
If the object and goal is "love" --the answer would be: as many ways as there are people on earth. Had fate granted Moreau an early death for Arnoux, and he and Madame Arnoux had married... there would have come the time when, letting down her white hair, he would have been repelled, as he was in the end... but probably a lot sooner, and without the "Platonic" distance to shield him from the realization.
Which leaves me with an impression of Flaubert, not strictly as a realist--but an idealist, a conflicted idealist whose realism sees through the romantic delusions, but clings to, and drives his idealism to an even higher level, incapable of realization... but one that nonetheless, persists. Unattainable, at least, when tied to animal passions: love, politics. But left open for other possibilities? Other outlets... writing great novels, perhaps?
I normally resist reading the author into the work, but hard not to think of Flaubert's hopelessly romantic mother and practical, scientifically minded father fighting for his allegiance. If he wrote as though channeling his father's mind, it may only have been to hush the beating of his mother's heart.
‘Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we are wishing to move the stars to pity.’
— Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Have begun Musil's The Man Without Qualities. This may take the better part of the summer!
Fifty pages and I'm enthralled. What a wonderful complement and contrast to the other two great prolix modernists--Joyce and Proust.
Someday, someone will come along equal to the task--to compare the three. In generations to come, I have no doubt they will be read as a co-equal trinity of early 20th Century fiction.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/27/2008 10:50:00 PM
Abhidhanantar & Poetrywala, a reputed publishing house has published Path-breaking poetry in Marathi, English and translated works since the past one and half decade.
Abhidhanantar-a quarterly, is one of the most respected literary magazines in Marathi today. As a publishing house, Abhidhanantar has contributed immensely in giving Marathi a global presence by publishing significant contemporary poetry in Marathi. Its English imprint Poetrywala- has published books of poetry of established as well as fresh voices in English.
We are pleased to inform you that Abhidhanantar & Poetrywala is launching Poetrywala, a half yearly literary journal dedicated to serious literature and arts in English. POETRYWALA will provide the much-needed space for new creative and critical writing in Indian languages in the form of translations as well as original writings in English. We hope it will be highly instrumental in building bridges between existing cultures, regions, languages and nations. We would really appreciate your involvement in this endeavour.
We request you to send in your poems (in English), writings or essays along with your short bio-data for the first issue of Poetrywala. A consent letter from you to publish your work in Poetrywala would be mandatory.
** The subject of the first issue is -NEW WRITING IN INDIAN LANGAUGES
You can reach us via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or by post or courier on the address:
Abhidhanantar & Poetrywala
1701/1702, 6A- The Whispering Palms,
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/27/2008 11:01:00 AM
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Immediacy... language overcome, by music?
I've been thinking about poetry, about language.
From a recent post on Spurious
For a thinker like Kierkegaard, however, as a recent book has shown us, language is not truer than immediacy, and the loss of the latter in the act of expressing it leads to the mistaking of 'reality as represented' for 'reality as reality', even as consciousness, for the most part, is unaware of this duplicity
The direct--needled-adrenalin to the heart... of the Garifuna music. Why, what makes this impossible... from where I am?
I have a beer in a neighborhood bar. Watch the TV (don't own one)... and I sort of get it.
We live in the virtual equivalent of a Stalinist state. Yeah, I know--they don't (usually) come knocking on our doors in the middle of the night...if we're not the wrong sort of immigrants. They don't grab us on the street... if we're white, or properly middle class, suit-and-tie-professional blacks... but what we say, what we write.... they come for that, without our even seeing it.
They come. They confiscate. They use.
They turn whatever turns-on the popular mind... into an ad.
What did they do... in Poland, 1952? Czechoslovakia, 1957? Writers, artists--who wanted to assert themselves?
They learned to subvert the language in order to preserve it. They learned the art of indirection.
We live in--for all the superficial openness... if not for all--in as oppressive and mind-stifling a social and political environment as Prague, 1957.
No, we don't get hauled off and sent to Siberia (most of us... if we're the right sort )... but they don't need to do that.
Just make an ad... of anything. And it will do.
And you're on their side.
The problem then, if you want to write and think freely... on the one hand, you can make your ideas so complicated that only other philosophers will understand them... or care.
On the other?
Perhaps there is no more important task for a writer--in the heart of the Empire, the belly of the beast--than understanding in every detail, in all its subtle crudity, the rhetoric of received notions. And the application for the propagandists of power.
How? to avoid them.
... to defy
syntax, grammar, "logic" ... in the name of reclaiming...
syntax... grammar... logic.
The difficulty takes different forms in prose and poetry. For poetry, we confront this on a more basic linguistic level. In prose, in story telling... it's the syntax of narrative itself--one step up.
Storytelling... how to tell a story... a story, not an ad? That can't become an ad? ... or if not that, with sufficient subversive power to undermine and scramble the kidnapped message?
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/25/2008 10:14:00 PM
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
New members of our society of lifelong cloud watchers.
May 20, 1957. F5 Tornado, Kansas City, Missouri
Scroll down for photo of aftermath, links and credits to photos.
If you were there, you are encouraged to add your memories to the comments below. There are other first hand accounts HERE and HERE
On the afternoon of May 20, 1957 I remember walking South on 109th Street, beside me, a class mate and next door neighbor, Larry Perkins. The street ends at the end of the block. We are at the crest of a long ridge--the "Heights" of Ruskin Heights. Below us, the football field, gymnasium and auditorium and the long brick class room corridors of Ruskin High School. Even now, I don't have to close my eyes to see the sky. I can feel the heat, the humidity.
I was 15. We had moved to Kansas City from Chicago in 1952. In one of my earliest memories, I was huddling in a storm cellar in Norman, Oklahoma where my father was stationed during the war. Cradled in my mother's arms. Tornado.. The beginning of a life long fascination with storms.
I was a voracious reader, loved books on animals, on science, and had a head full of ideas about tornadoes and how they formed and the conditions that spawned them--not all of it accurate, I'm afraid--but at 15, who would know? It was the perfect weather for these classic spring storms. In fact, before dark, there would be 51 recorded touchdowns. The Ruskin Heights F5 would be the strongest. I spent much of the late afternoon and evening outside watching the sky. I wanted to see what the real thing looked like. Hoped I might catch a glimpse of a hook dipping down from the back wall of an approaching super cell, a writhing, serpentine tail of cloud. The radio had predicted the possibility of severe storms. I was ready and waiting.
Where did we go, Larry and I?
No memory at all. Perhaps to the strip mall--the one where so many were caught when the super market roof fell in on them. But that was hours later. My next recollections leap forward--well after 7:00. There's been a sighting somewhere near or past the Olathe Navel Air Base. Our neighbors to the north, the Settles--J.B, was a reserve flier. Cougar jets--so the Olathe sighting brought it home. When you hear a place name on the radio that you know, that has emotional resonance--you pay attention.
My parents had gone shopping--driven to Sears with my younger sister, Peggy. I was alone in the house. I put the radio in the doorway so I could hear it and went back and forth, from front yard to back, watching the darkening sky to the south and west. Reports put the funnel, now confirmed, on a path headed directly toward us. Southwest. From my reading, I assumed all tornadoes came from the southwest. Trace my finger on a map... we were at the center of the bullseye.
Find a place of shelter on the opposite side--so I had read. That would be our garage. I took the digging forks and garden implements from the wall and put them in a large wooden tool chest. Not good to have pitch forks flying through the air, I thought. Gathered several blankets and lay them against the southwest wall of the garage, ready to wrap myself in at the last moment. Flying glass, I'd read, was a danger.
I had a Kodak Brownie camera. It was already dark for taking pictures--a great column of cumulonimbus clouds blocked the sun; I grabbed a chair and left my camera there. At the last minute I might get a shot of this thing. Those old Brownies--to take a time exposure, you had to hold the shutter switch down by hand. The chair was to keep the camera steady.
Memory: standing in the back yard. The first sighting. Neighbors to the east--pointing to the south. Nothing. Then lighting strikes would illuminate the thing... nothing like I'd imagined. No little hook dipping down out a cloud. No serpentine tail.... something immense, vast. Black at the base. A skirt of debris thrown up. And as it came closer--dropping out of the cloud wall, the sun low in the sky shown against it--like white whipped cream!
It was beautiful... and all the more awesome for its beauty. Forget Mount Blanc--if you want the Romantic Sublime, there it was!
A swirling column... that as it grew closer-- you had to turn your head to see one side and then the other--a straightforward glance wouldn't take in the whole of it... too close... ran to the front of the house for my last-chance snapshot... held down the shutter--when around the corner, there was my parent's car--doors flung open at they approached--voices calling to jump in.
But our dog! Our little honey colored cocker spaniel, Kitty (my dad liked Gun Smoke... )... I ran in the house, my mother's voice screaming at me to hurry, grabbed the dog, jumped in the car on the run. The tornado, by now a monster above us, the sound of it--not like a freight train, as I'd read... but something that seemed to well up from the very earth, the deepest organ notes--I thought of a recording we had of Albert Schweitzer playing Bach. In the Book of Job, this would have been the little finger of God.
At the south end of the block, a park... where most of the wreckage would later be buried. "Turn at a right angle!" I cried... remembering what I'd read. But my father at the wheel heard, turn right.
Directly into the path of the storm.
Behind us... and I'm not sure of this part of my recollection, there were two more cars--all of us going full accelerator, peeling away to out-race this thing, and then we were showered with debris, a clattering against the roof and windows, the car shaking--speeding into absolute blackness... and then it began to clear.. and we could see again, and we slowed down.
Behind us... no more cars. We never knew what became of them.
For hours, my father and I wandered through the ruins, following calls for help from those caught beneath the debris. People wandered like living dead, studded with roofing nails, bleeding and dazed. The sound of water gurgling out of severed pipes, the sweet smell of natural gas. It was not easy to find our own street, our house... which fared better than the Perkins' next door: nothing left but the concrete slab. (I attributed this to my having left all doors and windows open... the myth/theory of the day, that the sudden drop in pressure contributed to the destructive power of the wind) . Behind our house, to the east--devastation as far as you could see.
I close my eyes... 51 years and counting. And I see the sky, that wall of cloud. I still have dreams. But they have grown strange. It comes again and again. It has taken my parents, taken friends, lovers.. those who never came close to that storm. And soon enough, I know... It will come again for me.
Carolyn Glenn Brewer's book on the Ruskin Heights tornado: Caught in the Path>
Scroll down for photos.
NOAA : meteorlogical data, maps, graphs. Scroll down for photgraphs of the tornado in formation, and post-storm damage.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/20/2008 10:30:00 AM
Friday, May 16, 2008
I sit in front of the house late in the afternoon, reading, greeting neighbors as they pass. I look up, ask myself: what do I see in the scene before me that is new, that I've never seen before? Nothing is ever the same--if only we learn to see in the moment. This is what I tell my students. Shouldn't I try to be as good as my word? I open my journal: an exercise in awareness.
Views from the front steps:
Morris Street, South Philly
May 13, 2008
on sky crossed
blue or brick
or green tendriled
porch rail vine
lintels painted white
a dandelion parachute
nods in passing
in lieu of heart
Rose leaves in threes
in trembling semaphores of air
who cannot hear
the song, but note
the time and mark
a wise man sees
this riverwash of words
of wing on wing
neither crow-like churns and rows but
on moving battlements
climbing castled column
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/16/2008 08:45:00 PM
Friday, May 9, 2008
It was all over. The Reich was finished, Hitler dead, his charred jaw bone all Russian pathologists could find of him in the smouldering ruins of Berlin. Hundreds of miles to the south, in Austria, an SS unit prepared to stage its own private apocalypse.
On May 7 1945, they arrived at Immendorf Castle in southern Austria. The German soldiers already billeted there were ordered to leave. That morning, German forces in Austria had signed their surrender, to take effect the next day; for these SS men, it was the last night of the war.
Klimpt was more than gold leaf and erotic glitter. The article linked above shows him as an artist close in spirit to Nietzsche, and to his Viennese contemporary, Sigmund Freud.
Klimt ... had a passion for Greek art and mythology. But instead of celebrating the rationalism of the Greeks, he evoked their dark side. A profound influence on his work was Friedrich Nietzsche's 1872 book The Birth of Tragedy, which argues that Greek tragedy grew out of music, the purest of the arts because it taps into the deepest, most primitive parts of the psyche (the book is addressed to his friend Wagner, whose music famously does just that). Klimt dramatised this radical theory of art in two paintings, Schubert at the Piano and Music II, painted as a pair in the late 1890s: in the former, Schubert gives a drawing-room performance; in the latter, the more primal image of a Greek lyre-player is flanked by mythological monsters. Both paintings were burned in 1945.
Philosophy, the first to be finished, was an explicit Nietzschean manifesto. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche argues that western culture is driven by a superficial confidence in facts and a coarse drive to manipulate the world: this "optimistic" rationalism, he writes, must now give way to a tragic sensibility that accepts the uncertainties of our perceptions. In other words, while science as it was understood seemed to offer certainties, Nietzsche championed a more subjective understanding of the world. Klimt's Philosophy makes this idea movingly visible with its great, agonised column of human bodies - loving, longing, being born and dying. The universe through which they cascade is a vertiginous empty space dotted with stars.
Of course, I know this painting only from looking at a black and white photograph of it. Philosophy is gone forever - burned in 1945 along with Medicine and Jurisprudence, paintings that express the same pessimistic view of the world.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/09/2008 10:11:00 PM
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/09/2008 12:36:00 PM
Monday, May 5, 2008
I've been reading Peter Handke's On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House. I finished it this afternoon. As I read the last few pages I found myself surprisingly moved.
Why? Why was I surprised?
From the first page I could see that this would be an intellectually engaging read, aesthetically challenging--a book which, because it would not lend itself to easy classification, would resist easy judgement. I expected, that is to say, a mostly cerebral experience. It was certainly that, but that I found it deeply moving--like listening to music, was unexpected. I don't begin to understand the how and why of it. I'm not one to think of reason and emotion as contradictory. I have not idea how to go about writing a review, but a few things occurred to me on the walk home from the café where I'd been reading, thoughts I wanted to put into words.
I was going over those parts of the novel where the journey of the pharmacist of Taxham grows increasingly fantastical. Perhaps it's because the fantastical elements are so material, so concrete, nocturnal wind and dust, labor and sleep, bicyclists and the turning of the seasons--though space and time come a bit unhinged--or at least, uncertain, there is no release from heat and cold and gravity, so I found myself resisting a recurrent impulse to dispel in afterthought the fantastical... the perfect word.. dis-spell: to dispel the spell, to read those passages the way some scholars in the earlier generations of "scientific" biblical critical studies would reduce everything uncanny, otherworldly, miraculous--to something that better fit their notions of reality. Because they couldn't give up their idea that the Bible was in some form, true, revealed or otherwise, and they had accepted scientific methods and views--then the parting of the Red Sea... must have really been a low tide in the Sea of Reeds. It did not occur to them what an egregious misreading this was of the story as written. As though we were to posit, as serious criticism, some spurious but truthy sounding "scientific" explanation for Krook's spontaneous human combustion in Bleak House, or insist that we better understand Macbeth if we make the witches nothing more than projections of his pathological ambition. That they may be--but for the play to come alive, they are very much--really witches! No, the meaning of the crossing of the yom, of the flight from Egypt. is just what it is in the Passover Seder--a nes, a miracle. This is only a problem if you insist on confusing how a story "means," with how we understand the physical universe.
Nonetheless, I found myself at some point relating the fantastical journey to the blow on the head--as though he were telling this story to the narrator who is interviewing him... say, after recovering from surgery? Recounting a delusional episode? Those things hadn't really happened... such is the hold, the subversive hold of realist narrative, that--even knowing better--we do no easily let ourselves read a story on its own terms.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/05/2008 08:25:00 PM
Kendall had never wanted to live like his parents. That had been the whole idea, the lofty rationale behind the snow-globe collection and the flea-market eyewear. But as the children got older, Kendall began to compare their childhood unfavorably with his own, and to feel guilty.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/05/2008 02:29:00 PM
Sunday, May 4, 2008
The Great Experiment
The New Yorker, March 31, 2008
Jeffrey Eugenides' story
In Leaving for Kenosha (see my review HERE), Richard Ford foregrounded a day-in-the-life of a family set against the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. While their story forms a discrete part of the disaster, it is never a offered as a microcosm pretending to represent the whole. The experience may be shared, but it is not shared as a continuum; the whole is not only greater than its parts, but its reality cannot be inferred from them. Jeffrey Eugenides' "Great Experiment" also deals with the relationship between collective and individual experience, but here, the individuals are presented more as manifestation of their social condition. I'm going to hold the opening paragraph analysis for the end.
Kendall is a forty-five year old editor of a small, non-profit publishing house, called the Great Experiment, after a passage from Alexis de Toqueville. The owner, Jimmy Dimon, is an octogenerian former pornographer turned advocate and supporter of free-speech and civil liberties. The great experiment, of course, is America, and Kendall finds himself locked out of what it has become since 1831 when Toqueville made his pilgrimage through the young republic. In his twenties, Kendall had been a promising poet and intellectual, but he has grown tired of doing without; unable to afford health insurance or to make the improvements his wife dreams about, he wonders where his life has gone wrong. Over mini-barrel tumblers of Scotch at the Coq d'Or, Piasecki, Jimmy Dimon's accountant plants the fateful seed. "If you and I weren't so honest we could make a lot of money." Piasecki had been fired along with eighty-five thousand other employees of Arthur Anderson.
“I don’t know,” Piasecki said. “It’s just that, once you’ve been screwed like I’ve been, you start to see things different. I grew up thinking that most people played by the rules. But after everything went down with Andersen the way it did––I mean, to scapegoat an entire company for what a few bad apples did on behalf of Ken Lay and Enron . . .” He didn’t finish the thought. His eyes grew bright with fresh anguish.
So begins the slippery slide. The shinny apple is dangling from the tree and Kendall is ready to take a bite. He arranges for another meeting at the Coq d'Or. How is it done? Piasecki lays out the plan. Set up a dummy corporation, invoice the publishing house. In a year or two, dissolve the company. Good for $500,000, maybe a million each. Keep cool. Don't be conspicuous. Jimmy Dimon never checks the figures--too busy spending his money on Viagra and whores. They file incorporation papers for a storage company, then bill Dimon for storing books that were never printed. Kendall is careful. His money goes to restoring the interior of his Oak Park house, visits from a Venezuelan maid--nothing too visible from the outside.
They have, of course, underestimated Dimon. At the end of a phone call in January, he tells Kendall that he's been looking at Piasecki's accounts.
"...The numbers look funny, " he tells him.
“What do you mean?”
This plot is layered against a running social commentary, for which it serves as both illustration and object lesson. Toqueville provides the binding interface. Jimmy Dimon "has decided that that what the country needed was a super-abridged version of Tocqueville's seminal work, culling all of the predictions the Frenchman had made about America, but especially those that showed the Bush Administration in its worst light.". Working on this project has had the double effect of making him think about America, about what it has become, and at the same time, increasing his feelings of alienation, loosening his sense of identity with the country, and with it, his moral anchor. The business pages of the Times and Tribune were instructive.
" Here you found the pension-fund manager who'd siphoned off five million, or the Korean-American hedge-fund genius who vanished with a quarter billion of Palm Beach retiree money and who turned out to be a Mexican guy named Lopez. Turn the page to read about the Boeing executive sentenced to four months in jail for rigging contracts with the Air Force. The malfeasance of Bernie Ebbers and Dennis Kozlowski claimed the front page, but it was the short articles on A21 or C15 detailing the quieter frauds, the scam artists working in subtler pigments, in found objects, that showed Kendall the extent of the national deceit.
Then from Toqueville:
... I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men and where a profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property. But wealth circulates with inconceivable rapidity, and experience shows that it is rare to find two succeeding generations in the full enjoyment of it.
That clinched the deal. He was on the phone with Piasecki in an instant. A good man undone, not so much by his own greed, as by an irresistible climate created by the greed of others, a climate that demanded complicity as the price for belonging. Once American politicians had denied that the United States was an empire. Now every accepted it. Everyone was pleased. "Victory was what counted, power, muscularity, doublespeak if necessary. You saw it in the way people drove..."
Everyone knew what he wanted and how to get it. Everybody you met was nobody's fool.
One's country was like one's self. The more you learned about it, the more you were ashamed .
* * *
Here is my impression of the opening before reading the rest of the story, with added commentary.
As I explained in my Priliminary Remarks, and a HERE, typographical paragraph breaks can be misleading. Here, the minimal opening unit covers eight typographical paragraphs, and even then is not complete.
“If you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich?”
Proves to be an ironic epigraph--Kendall's failure to reverse the order of the conditional will be his undoing.
It was the city that wanted to know. Chicago, refulgent in early-evening, late-capitalist light. Kendall was in a penthouse apartment (not his) of an all-cash building on Lake Shore Drive. The view straight ahead was of water, eighteen floors below. But if you pressed your face to the glass, as Kendall was doing, you could see the biscuit-colored beach running down to Navy Pier, where they were just now lighting the Ferris wheel.
The characters are manifestations of "the city." And not only the characters in the story, all of us. You too, dear reader, as you would know if were to press your face to the glass like Kendall. Inside/outside. Cut off. Floating above the "real" world.
The gray Gothic stone of the Tribune Tower, the black steel of the Mies building just next door—these weren’t the colors of the new Chicago. Developers were listening to Danish architects who were listening to nature, and so the latest condominium towers were all going organic. They had light-green façades and undulating rooflines, like blades of grass bending in the wind.
There had been a prairie here once. The condos told you so.
Parentheical commentary. What follows breaks the sequence, but not decisively: neither subordinate to the sentence before the comment, nor structurally coordinate with any sentence before it, but parallel and continuous with the image of Kendall, face pressed to the glass.
Kendall was gazing at the luxury buildings and thinking about the people who lived in them (not him) and wondering what they knew that he didn’t. He shifted his forehead against the glass and heard paper crinkling. A yellow Post-it was stuck to his forehead. Piasecki must have come in while Kendall was napping at his desk and left it there.
The Post-it said: “Think about it.”
Thinking about the conversation that led to their attempted scam.
Kendall crumpled it up and threw it in the wastebasket. Then he went back to staring out the window at the glittering Gold Coast.
Gazing. Wondering. Staring out the window at a world to which he does no belong.
Sentences: 14 17.64 wps avg.
Suggests story that follows will be heavy on sociological/ economic setting, status and belong... from a POV above the fray...
Narrative Time: present
Voice: unlimited third person. Voiceover to a documentary.
Language: conventional exposition (?)
This completes the exposition for the plot, but not the contextual setting--the devolution from Toqueville's America to twenty-first century Chicago in its "late capitalist light," the world Kendall and Piasecki and Jimmy Dimon inhabit, a second layer which they do not so much represent, as are themselves its manifestations. The next five paragraphs ( Typographically set apart by white space and double-line height initial capital letter) form something close to a second opening, continuing to add to Kendall's back story in the beginning, but essentially devoted to Toqueville, the "Great Experiment," political historical observations--culminating in a then-and-now comparison consisting of a long quote from Democracy in America and the following paragraph.
In these, as in the forests of the Old World, destruction was perpetually going on. The ruins of vegetation were heaped upon one another; but there was no laboring hand to remove them, and their decay was not rapid enough to make room for the continual work of reproduction. Climbing plants, grasses, and other herbs forced their way through the mass of dying trees; they crept along their bending trunks, found nourishment in their dusty cavities and a passage beneath the lifeless bark. Thus decay gave its assistance to life.
How beautiful that was! How wonderful to imagine what America had been like in 1831, before the strip malls and the highways, before the suburbs and the exurbs, back when the lake shores were “embosomed in forests coeval with the world.” What had the country been like in its infancy? Most important, where had things gone wrong and how could we find our way back? How did decay give its assistance to life?
There is the question that binds the story line to the documentary background: how can the decay of the Great Experiment give assistance to life? A question this story is not able to answer.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/04/2008 08:05:00 PM
Friday, May 2, 2008
What is a "professional" writer?
This came up at Metataxu Cafe. A question in the profile:
What is your profession?
They give you a menu... but only one choice... from a list.
Nope. One or the other.
So I ask, how can I claim to be a "professional writer"... if I don't earn my living by writing?
...what about Kafka? What was he?
Certainly there's more to this than earned income.
And what's wrong with being an amateur--one who writes out of love and need?
A professional, at least, can say... I'm no dilettante.
And is there an advantage to being an amateur?
That one's easy. No one can call you a who...ahem... "hack".
Then...what is a dilettante, but a professional amateur?
And what is a hack, but an dilettante... who does it for money?
Like Camus said, let us be neither
... nor executioners.
Posted by Jacob Russell at 5/02/2008 08:39:00 PM