Saturday, August 23, 2008

Books, Corporatacracy, McDonalds

So Barnes and Noble, the McDonalds of the book trade, backs down from absorbing Borders. The Boa with the elephant bump.

See this article on The Millions

I remember when Borders opened its first store in Philly. Relatively new at the expansion forced on any too-successful local business venture. There were vestiges of its Ann Arbor origins--the comfortable sofas and arm chairs, quite places to read in the stacks.

Of course, cost efficiency won out. All that gone. B&N, Borders... physical Amazon. Another Singapore Republic. Corporatacracy eviscerating every vestige of humanity. A plague. A drug we will use and reward the dealer and use and reward and use till we're all used up and the whole deck of cards comes tumbling down.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Right Balance

From Adam Gopnik's CRITIC AT LARGE piece on G.K Chesterton: New Yorker, July 7 & 14, 2008. Unfortunately, available online only as an abstract: HERE
"... Chesterton's point is that childhood is not a time of illusion but a time when illusion and fact exist (as they should) at the same level of consciousness, when the story and the world are equally numinous:... [Here's Chesterton on] watching puppet shows in a toy theater that his father had made for him."
If this were a ruthless realistic modern story, I should of course give a most heart-rending account of how my spirit was broken with disappointment, on discovering that the prince was only a painted figure. But this is not a ruthless realistic modern story. On the contrary, it is a true story. And the truth is that I do not remember that I was in any way deceived or in any way undeceived. The whole point is that I did like the toy theater even when I knew it was a toy theatre. I did like the cardboard figures, even when I found they were of cardboard. The white light of wonder that shone on the whole business was not any sort of trick...

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

A good review of Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Ron Silliman's Blog

Saw it tonight... as good as Match Point.

The first half, you have to pick up on the irony of the voice over.... a return of the old Woody Allen humor but way toned down into irony a lot of reviews take as absolutely straight. Then half way through the film, Penelope Cruz comes on with an explosion of energy that lifts the film to a whole new level... it would have been flat without her. She carries the film... and the acting all around is suburb. He's gotten to the level of Hitchcock--where he can mine his own conventions and give them little twists and turns in new directions. It's Annie Hall and Manhattan revisited... but reinvented... without Woody Allen in the center. He's not trying to be Bergman anymore. He's comfortable enough now to forgo the need to lean on the Masters--to let himself fade into the background and let his actors (and as always... his cinematographers and sound people) do the work.

The humor has returned in a very different form... not incidental that he's chosen European settings... it has the feel of a French romantic comedy... with a very dark, and very American edge. Yes, there's something of James here. Allen's Americans abroad phase. I heard echoes of Portrait of a Lady, of The Americans--but in a medium Allen has made his own. Allen has as strong a relationship to the literary sources he draws from as any film maker I can think of... but his translations are so purely redrawn into film... that I can believe that this is how he reads... as though he were watching a movie. For anyone who is not a film maker, that would be an insult.

For Allen, it's what and who he is.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Magic of Thomas Mann

But then, how does one distinguish "realist" fiction from... from what?

I've been reading, reading again, after many years, Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. This is not a reading, it's an experience--like a venture into another life. It envelopes me. I dream the dreams recounted in the book.

So strange, that this book made so little an impression on me when I first read it--almost 50 years ago. Not so with other works by Mann. Tonio Koeger, which I read in German in a class on German literature, Death in Venice... Perhaps because I was still working through having recently finished Hesse's Das Glasperlenspiel... with which it has more than a little in common, different as they are.

I couldn't begin to read this in German now, more's the pity. But the Lowe-Porter translation is quite enough.

It's not the conventions of realism that are the problem, it's the pretensions, the implied assumptions... which a great writer, like Mann, can take up and use and twist and subvert--quite eradicating any lines you might want to arbitrarily draw between the conventional and the avant-garde.

Realist Fiction and Propaganda

"Realism" in itself can never do more than confirm the received notions of the "real." The subversive power always resides in an aesthetic denial, in a refusal to bow to the current Lords of Reality--whatever their guise. What better illustration than this?

How "realist" fiction at best, becomes counter-propaganda, waiting to be taken up, as John McCain did last night--turning it into the real thing.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making Television in France

Linked from a comment on Found Things, Lulu Labonne's blog,
Earwig Sandwich--making television in France. Go to the first post (not that many yet) and read them all. Delightful, fresh observant writing.

Was going to quote the Fish Pomade story. No--you should go read it for yourself.

Added this to my Reader, and looking forward to following the story as it unfolds.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Literature, Sex, Politics: Priceless!

From the The Millions

And whatever you do, link HIS FINDINGS and check out the videos... especially the first one.

Composing in the Dark

Relax with a glass of wine. A good day. Off and running on a story I began months ago, but ran aground and put it away. Wrote some 700 words, then accidentally, stupidly, deleted them before I'd saved the file. Quite upset and angry at myself for a time, but sat down and easily recreated what I'd done in no longer than the time it took to type the words... and I type 90 to 100 words a minute when I'm relaxed and in the groove. . Then wrote another 300 words on my novel... which I'm more and more inclined to call Found Things.

I'm especially pleased with the story. I know precisely where it went wrong, and this by discovering how to make it right.

I call it Freedom Arms. Everything takes place in an enormous complex of apartments and condominiums. That's the world of the story. No reference to anything outside. There are strange rumors of dissidents, tenants in revolt, of secret cafés in sub-sub level basements. Tales of violence in distant wings. People disappear without trace. I started to write this in the usual "realist" mode, world-building. Background. History. How did this state of affairs come about.

Awful. Bad on so many levels. If nothing else, I would have to anchor it in time: past, future... absolutely Wrong. I almost tore it up and threw it away.

I took it out on Saturday and began to rewrite from the beginning. It's first person. Why would the narrator have any need to "explain" the obvious? We seldom give thought to those things that make up our world. Let it all be... at best... suggested. Mostly, just left in the dark.

It made me think of how science fiction and fantasy have this in common, this world-building. Historical fiction, too. The more "historically accurate" the fiction, the more it is really in the same class as science fiction and fantasy. I don't hold this against those forms, but it is absolutely not what I want to do.

And if we don't, for the most part, see our world... but merely live within it, a clearly defined fictive world will be nothing like any world that anyone has ever lived in... other than through fiction. Propaganda. Historical narrative.

Here is the way out--or a way out--of what I've been trying to get away from in my short fiction. Here is one part of the convention I can choose to dispense with. Interesting, in dispensing with "world building, I find that I've cut myself loose from stylistic conventions used in earlier stories. Description-- takes on an entirely different function. All that stage-setting, the attention to little set pieces...the melody announced by the violins taken up by the flutes, raised to a pitch by the horns, turned elegiac by the oboes. Instead, an acapella solo, a voice singing to itself. Singing to itself to be overheard. But with a rather poor sense of pitch. Going regularly off-key.

The great advantage, the source of my excitement--is that it keeps me in the dark. I can't see more than a few words ahead of me. The pleasure of discovery.... recovered.

Found things.

Not me.

More than me

... and maybe... this, of course, remains to be seen... or rather, found, found out, by others...

not mine

De Quincy and Freud

I've been reading Thomas de Quincy's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. An antithetical Augustine. I find it quite strange that in The Interpretation of Dreams, with its extensive bibliography and lengthy "history" of dream interpretation, there is no mention of de Quincy--an omission that could hardly have been accidental.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Found Things

from The Psychoanalytic Field.

Links to posts on other blogs and websites, these too, are found things. They do not come from me, they are other and more than what I've experienced or thought, and they are not mine. Precisely why I... and I would venture to say, why we post them.

There are degrees of "foundness." A link that reinforces an opinion or idea I already entertain is only weakly "other;" dependent on style, freshness of expression, a change in perspective, a view from a different camera angle. Tainted by the role I've assigned it: "look at this, this is what I believe, this is my idea of things as well."

I have a folder of "Found Things." Scraps of paper with children's drawings, enigmatic lists: a letter from a young man in prison to a younger friend, advice in urban black vernacular: and this note written on an index card.

Clean the toilet and anything else you did not clean in the bath room you have my work number and I don't understand why you could not call me at work to find out where the toilet brush is. Even still I don't understand why you did not clean the outside of the toilet. You live here just like I do and since I don't have a problem with cleaning up and doing other things pertaining to the apt. I should hope you would not either. You were home all day and I don't understand why the bathroom is not completely clean.

Here is a fragment of two lives, charged with feeling: anger, disappointment, household resentment... and humor! Simply because it has nothing to do with me. Entirely outside of my life. There is a kind of... mystery would be the wrong word--too strong, the wrong associations... wonder... it sets my mind to wonder, launches me on courses that are never fixed, like a Kafka parable.

I look forward to new posts on Psychoanalytic Field. I experience them as "found things." They don't make me "think," If I were a serious student of psychoanalytic theory, perhaps. Then I would be obligated to "think" about Abou-Rihan's explication of Winnicott. More a kind of play. Following the synoptic circuits, the associations set loose by their reading... the kind of play that opens into my writing. And isn't that what we hope for in imaginative writing... to pull out of ourselves something no longer me, more than me, no longer mine?

There it is. The pleasure of "getting it right." When the work is complete, it no longer matters. As an object to market, as something we would like to use to gain the good opinion of others--all of that, yes--but not for what it is, what is was as we worked on it.

Not me. More than me. Not mine...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Richard Crary on Human Smoke

Any book that can provoke a response as deeply considered as Richard Crary's Notes on Human Smoke should earn a place on anyone's reading list.

What is the meaning of World War II? What does it mean to you? Is it proof that evil exists? That some enemies are simply intractable? That intervention is sometimes necessary? Was it a war of liberation? Does it stand in as an example, or perhaps the example, of the "just" or "good" war? If so, does it matter how the war was fought? Do the political aims of the Allies matter? Should we be in any way concerned with the ways in which these political aims determined the nature of the war, or its length? Does the unquestionably horrible nature of the Nazi regime render all such questions moot? Some of them? Was total war the only way to defeat Hitler's war machine? Did the Allies have any way of knowing either way? What was the role of big business in the build-up, on all sides? How much of a monster was Churchill anyway? What did FDR know in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor? What US actions led to the attack? Does the nature of the Japanese regime justify all subsequent actions taken against Japan?

These are just some of the questions that come to mind when I think about World War II. I'm pondering them today in connection with Nicholson Baker's book Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. I'm presenting them, not to answer them, or even address most of them, but because I think they are particularly salient to this book, which I think has been aggressively, if not intentionally, misunderstood by much of the major review press.

Read the rest on The Existance Machine

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cranford , New Jersey

I knew someone from Cranford
My first trip east. 1959
Eighteen. Eight-hundred miles in a 47 Plymouth
Delivering her grandmother's car from Chicago

Met again years later but she was in love
with Richard Nixon
right up to the final V-for Victory
under the blades of the black helicopter

This is not a poem. Someone from Cranford has been visiting the Barking Dog. But they/he/she never stays.
A ghost of summers past