Monday, August 31, 2009

Reality.. was, and is?

I'm preparing to take a flight (real... Continental Airlines) into my past... to the scene of the most powerfully iconic places of childhood and youth... have not been there in more than 50 years... other than----briefly for a few funerals (where both parents, paternal grandparents, aunt are all buried, on a glacial morain in a cherry orchard overlooking Lake Michigan) --and am in no way prepared to deal with the massive cognitive dissonance this will unleash. 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rat Beach, Willian Styron




From The New Yorker, July 20, 2009, William Styron's RAT BEACH




It is hardly possible to overestimate the importance for Western literature of the Iliad's demonstration that the fall of an enemy, no less than of a friend or leader, is tragic and not comic. With the Iliad, once and for all, an objective and disinterested element enters into the poet's vision of human life. Without this element, poetry is merely instrumental to various social aims, to propaganda, to amusement, to devotion, to instruction: with it, it acquires authority that since the Iliad it has never lost, an authority based, like the authority of science, on the vision of nature as an impersonal order.

  Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton, 1971. 319

I recalled this passage after reading William Styron's Rat Beach; published in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker, the story is from a collection of short fiction, "The Suicide Run: Five Tales of the Marine Corps," to be published in October. What I remembered was the observation at the beginning of that paragraph: "that the fall of an enemy, no less than that of a friend or leader, is tragic and not comic," but what struck me when I looked it up in Anatomy of Criticism, and what may have been the deeper association, was Fry's observation that in Homer, literature had found an authority "on the vision of nature as an impersonal order." This goes well beyond the capacity to imagine the humanity of the enemy, suggesting a vision which, not only rises above tribal identity, but is no longer anthropocentric: nothing less, in fact, than an imaginative striving for the real that aspires to the ontological. An astonishing idea.

My own discontent with what is generally accepted as 'realist fiction' is grounded in what I sense to be a profound failure to address or acknowledge, even implicitly, the problem of treating the appearance--the various guises (and disguises) of reality--as though they were, if not identical with the real, reasonably suggestive representatives. I've thought of this before in terms of unacknowledged artifice. This leads one to the idea that what we need is the application of an artful dose of metafiction, a skillful foregrounding of the artifice, an ironic confession of authorial deceit; but that only acknowledges the problem--it doesn't solve it. Rather, it moves the aesthetic question to another plane: literature as a form of inauthentic play.

Inauthentic? How am I going to justify such a retrograde, if not downright reactionary essentialist term? How does one measure 'authenticity?' One doesn't, at least, not as an aesthetic quality. This has to do first, with play, and with its role in creative work. Think about it. For children, play is serious business. It's more than entertainment; it's an imaginative engagement with the world, with reality, an engagement with no boundaries between the categories of knowledge. Whatever works: received ideas, narratives, experiences, memory, reason--and such hard evidence-based knowledge as they have gained though age and education--all come together to create what is, contrary to those adult infantilized notions responsible for Disneylands and the American Christmas--not at all child-centered, but an imaginative vision that leads out of childhood and toward a mature encounter with reality. There is a smooth transition from child's play to the work of a cosmologist or particle physicist. Each is grounded in a search for the real, for a reality that exists beyond the limits of the subjective, the tribal--or the anthropocentric.

I see that my complaint about commercial realist fiction is not that it disguises its artifice, but that it is too preoccupied with playing with conventions of the real to seriously play at encountering reality itself. I could make the same complaint about some metafiction or 'experimental' literature: two ways of evading the problem.

Rat Beach at first read is a fairly straight forward war story: the interlude before the battle: a first person reminiscence told at some unspecified time. I could see this as a slightly revisionist John Wayne movie or one of those sophisticated comic books: illustrated dreams, descriptions of individual heroics, stock characters (a clueless Admiral with a meerschaum pipe who all the Marines hate, a Colonel Timothy Halloran, "Happy Halloran" they call him... without irony--John Wayne would play Colonel Halloran... maybe without the handlebar mustache). "When I was seventeen," the narrator tells us in the first sentence, "bravado, mingled with what must have been a death wish, made me enlist in the officer-training program of the Marine Corps" There is a strong hint in the last paragraph that the mention of this death wish is like the revolver produced in the first scene of a play.

The narrator was too young to be an effective leader and was sent by the Navy Department "for a year or two of physical and mental growth." Had he and his classmates been a year or so older, they would likely have been sent as replacements for the Marine Corps second lieutenants, who were killed or wounded as quickly as they arrived. Instead, he was a part of a diversionary force meant "to draw the Japs off balance." While the other divisions went ashore, they "steamed back to the safety, the calm, the virtual Stateside coziness of the island of Saipan, where we began to prepare for the invasion of Japan, and where I had ample time to reflect on both what I’d barely missed on Okinawa and Iwo Jima and what I was likely to encounter when I helped storm the fortress beaches of the mainland." This is the setting of the story. He is torn between a part of himself that regrets having missed the action of Okinawa, and greatly relieved that he had. The time in Saipan, which had been taken the year before, is given to an increasingly debilitating battle with fear and loss of self-esteem. Though he assumes his companions must share his feelings, , for all the joking and black humor about what is to come, this is not something they talk about. A dedicated aesthete before his enlistment, he sees in his two bunk mates--again stock movie characters: strong, athletic, agile--everything he is not. He finds Stiles beautiful--a hint perhaps of repressed homoerotic attraction contributing to his growing discomfort and self-reproach.

The evocation of fear, the atmosphere of the island, is effectively rendered.
I was so fucking scared, there on Saipan. The beach was still littered with the jagged metal junk from the American assault the previous summer, although you could always, with caution, pussyfooting among the rocks and debris, find a decent enough spot for swimming. The tents of our company bivouac were laid out alongside a dusty road that the Seabees had bulldozed through the coral after the Marine and Army troops had wrested the island from the Japs, months before we replacements arrived. A thousand miles northwest lay Okinawa, and the wounded from that battle were being transferred from huge floating infirmaries with names like Comfort and Mercy to the naval hospital not far down the coast from our encampment. Along the road, night and day, a stream of ambulances came with their freight: the gravely hurt, the paralyzed, the amputees, the head-trauma cases, and the other wreckage from what had turned out to be a mammoth land battle.
After long hours of training for battle they would lie in their tents and listen to those ambulances passing, one after another, making their way from the shore to the base hospital, reminders of what awaits them. The contrast he imagines to exist between himself and his fellow platoon leaders, and more so, between Colonel Halloran, a proven war hero whose natural leadership everyone acknowledges, makes him doubt not only his physical courage, but his ability to lead. When the stream of ambulances begins to let up they understand this as a sign that their time is growing near. One afternoon, they receive notice that everyone isto gather for a meeting. No reason is given, but they can guess. A date for the invasion has been set, but it must be kept secret. The beaches where they are to land have been selected, but they cannot release this information. A brigadier general speaks from the podium:
his gravelly voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “Gentlemen, we are faced with a difficult paradox. It would be reassuring if, after the destruction wrought upon the Japanese Army at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, it could be reported that the morale of their troops had been shattered, and their resources undermined, making the coming invasion easier on us. But the plain truth is—and our intelligence reports are clear on this matter—the Jap forces are, more than ever before, prepared to die for the Emperor, to fight to the last man.” He droned on. “More fucking blather,” I heard Colonel Halloran say. “Everybody knows the fucking Jap cocksuckers are a bunch of suicidal apes.”
Something in the language at this point caught my attention. I turned back to read again the passage where the name of the beach is explained.

I’d been there many times before and thus was familiar with the droll monstrosity on a giant poster that an engineer outfit had stuck up on a stanchion—a creation executed by some marine who had been a cartoonist in civilian life. It was a bespectacled squinty-eyed Jap soldier portrayed as a dementedly grinning rat. “Know Your Enemy” was the legend beneath the profoundly repulsive effigy, complete with shitty-looking cap, buckteeth, whiskers, pink watery eyes, a coiling pink tail, and—drawn with such subtlety that one didn’t immediately notice it—an elongated pink cock gripped in a hairy paw. It was this last detail, usually eliciting a slow double take, that got at everyone’s funny bone, especially the old-timers who’d been through the meat grinders on Guadalcanal and Tarawa and here on Saipan, and whose hatred for the Japs was like an ongoing lust. In keeping with the Marine Corps’s habit of uglifying, whenever possible, the names of the natural splendors it encroached upon, the poster had caused this portion of the shoreline to be called Rat Beach
 It isn't just the words. I remember watching cartoons during the war: the images--like the buck-toothed rat. And I remember overhearing conversations, and later, in school, some of my teachers (one in particular, a veteran of European campaigns, taught history in 8th grade and was later high school Vice Principal); he had no more love of Germans than the Island hopping Marines had for the Japanese: yes, German's were Krauts... but then there were always these codas: notes of respect for German discipline, intelligence, capacity for organization. They were not sub-human.

I'm not accusing Styron of racism. I assume his intentions were honorable: he's bringing us back to the experience of those Marines in their own time, something we ought not to forget. No. There's nothing there that should be changed. What was bothering me, I think, was the subsumation of that war-time depiction of the enemy into a point-of-view larger than that of the characters... or should I say... no larger than that of the characters. Keep this in mind.

The last to speak is the Admiral with the meerschaum pipe. "I'll be a son of a bitch if it isn't Good news Crews," Halloran says, "the fucking windbag, he's going to feed us the same load of garbage." The Admiral describes the armada that will assemble to support the assault, the days of barrage from 16 inch gun, the waves of air strikes, the bombs, the Navy frogmen who will clear the beaches. None of this, they understand, will save them from the bloodbath. When the assembly breaks up, Happy Halloran, to relieve the tension, leads the battalion officers, platoon leaders, company commanders "and a major named Wilhoite" on a run over the sands of Rat Beach in a driving storm. They run, chocking on the rain, until they are exhausted and the clouds break and they fall on the sand under the light of a blazing full moon. Here is where Halloran (as John Wayne) gives the real dirt about what is going to happen to them. Lest we not recall King Harry at Agincourt, the narrator conveniently does, and reminds us. The greatest battle the Marines have ever faced, but they are the best trained, best prepared battalion in history, and though many will not return... etc.

What Styron doesn't have to remind the reader of, is the atomic bomb. Even without the roar of the super fortresses passing daily overhead on their way to Tokyo, the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would hang over this story, darken its every scene, until they become, in the absence of their mention, its true and deeply problematic subject.
The whole story is in past tense. In the beginning, we assume that this a memoir is told long after the war, but Styron uses the ending to dislocate the narration in time. They hve returned after the run on the beach. The narrator cannot sleep. He lies in bed drenched in sweat, heart pounding, imagining his last moments. But he is not thinking about the Japanese mainland:

Until this moment, I hadn’t allowed myself to rehearse the first detail of the plan that would lead me into the jungle. But now I let my arm fall to the side of my cot, and I touched with my fingers the cold metal of the carbine cradled in its rack above the flooring. Beneath my hand, the barrel of the weapon was oily and slick, and I caressed its surface for long minutes as if touch in itself were reassurance and consolation. Then I drew back my arm. The thought of that night filled my mind like an ecstatic heartbeat. What night it would be I didn’t know; I knew only that there would be such a night for certain, and soon—the night when at last I stole out of the tent and into the cricketing darkness, and there amid the hibiscus and the flame trees destroyed my fear forever.

Are we to understand this as irony, this story, ending in a dream of suicide only days before the war would end? I'm not sure. There is no closure, more a kind of closing in, an invagination of the point of view, a sealing off from time and history--whether biographical or social.

What does that ending tell us? Building on the anticipated horrors that would surely await those who went ashore, Hiroshima has one meaning, and only one: it was the alternative to suicide.
Through the prism of this story, it is not possible to think in any other way, in any other context. The 145,000 dead: men, women, children, animals... they do not exist in the same reality as that fearful man fingering his weapon on a sleepless night in Saipan, or in that of his companions preparing themselves for what can only been seen as suicide by other means.


Where is Homer's objective and disinterested element, without which "poetry is merely instrumental to various social aims, to propaganda, to amusement, to devotion, to instruction?" Where is the vision that releases us from the subjective, the tribal, the anthropocentric to a "vision of nature as an impersonal order?" Such a vision arises, not out of the point of view manifest in the narrative itself or of its characters: it is the vision of the larger contest, the vision that emerges from the author's imaginative play... stretching toward a reality which is always just beyond the content, the subject matter, beyond everything directly represented, a vision which comes into being through the reader--in our encounter with the work, our participation in that authentic play.

That is what I found missing in Rat Beach. Instead of an opening out into a greater reality, the story ensnares mind and imagination in a vision as narrow and limiting as propaganda. What is the nature of the fear that led to suicide? Reduced to a plea to belive in the neccesity of Hiroshima.
Not fear of death... but of inadequacy. And I cannot help but equate that with an aesthetic inadequacy. A failure that illustrates the limits of a too narrow reliance on the conventions of realism. Is that why Styron kept these stories from publication in his lifetime?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chapter and Verse: New Season Begins!

Aug 29: Lucy & Olsen 
Geoffrey Olsen is the author of End Notebook (Petrichord Books). He lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and works at the Cooper Union.

Patrick Lucy is a member of the New Philadelphia Poets, a group committed to advancing poetry, space and community in Philadelphia. His work has appeared recently in the Corduroy Mtn and Ink Node (featured). His chapbook, WILLIAM, is forthcoming from Con/Crescent Press. Patrick's disembodied press & blog, _Catch/Confetti, produces poetry ephemera and comment. He lives in Fishtown and runs a web development company called Nimblelight.

Ryan Eckes will  be co-hosting with Stan Mir.

Stan's blog, Best Nightmare You Get,  can be found  HERE.




Sunday, August 16, 2009

WAR DANCES: Sherman Alexie


WAR DANCES
Sherman Alexie
The New Yorker
August 10 & 17, 2009

Sherman Alexie is most at home as story teller, and in War Dances he's at his best. The narrator (who we have no doubt is the voice of the author... but hold on to that thought) wakes up to find himself deaf in his right ear. Between accounts of clinic and hospital visits, MRI's that lead to an initial diagnosis of menngioma, he interleaves a second story about the death of his father (and a third about his WWII vet grandfather).
The associations are natural: anxiety concerning his own prognosis (is it benign? Is it cancer? ) reminding him of his father's last days. It turns out that the mennigioma is likely related to childhood hydrocephalus, which conveniently widens the range of the story to encompass the whole course of a life, from birth to death, transforming War Dances into a kind of meditation: the way a good comedian will use narrative and humor to lightly touch on matters easily crushed by more serious treatment. We don't need to have it pounded into our heads that a brain tumor is scary, that a child will carry in perpetual mourning the memory of a father destroyed by poverty, prejudice and alcohol; the reality will speak for itself.

The humor takes several forms. Self-conscious, self-deprecating, as in a conversation in the hospital while looking for a blanket for his father.
And then I saw him, another Native man, leaning against a wall near the gift shop. Well, maybe he was Asian--lots of those in Seattle. [...] Maybe he was Mexican, which is really kind of Indian, too, but not the kind that I needed. It's hard to tell sometimes what people are. Even brown people guess at the identity of other brown people.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey," the other man said.
"You Indian?" I asked.
"Yeah."
"What tribe?
"Lummi."
"I'm Spokane."
"My first wife was Spokane. I hated her."
"My first wife was Lummi. She hated me."
We laughed at the new jokes that instantly sounded old.
... or nervous black humor, as in a phone conversation with his doctor after waiting for the results of the MRI:
Alone and haunted, I wandered the mall, tried on clothes, and waited for my cell phone to right.
Two hours later, I wanted to murder everything, so I drove south to a coffee joint, a spotless place called Dirty Joe's. Yes, I was silly enough to think that I'd be calmer with a caffeinated drink.
As I sat outside in a wooden chair and sipped my coffee, I cursed the vague, rumbling, ringing noise in my ear. And yet when my cell phone rant I again held it to my deaf ear.
"Hello. Hello," I said and wondered if it was a prank call, then remembered and switched the phone to my left ear.
"Hello," my doctor said. "Are you there?"
"Yes," I said. "So what's going on?"
"There are irregularities in your head."
My head's always been irregular."
"It's good to have a sense of humor," the doctor said. "You have a small tumor that is called a meningioma. They grow in the meninges membranes that lie between your brain and your skull."
"Shit," I said. "I have cancer."
"Well," he said. "These kinds of tumors are usually non-cancerous. And they grow very slowly, so in six months or so we'll do another MRI. Don't worry. You're going to be O.K."
What about my hearing?" I asked.
"We don't know what is causing the hearing loss, but you should start a course of prednisone, a steroid, just to go with the odds. Your deafness might lessen if left alone, but we've had success with the steroids in bring back hearing. There are side effects, like insomnia, weight gain, night sweats, and depression."
"Oh boy," I said. "Those side effects might make up most of personality already. Will the 'roids also make me quick to pass judgement?  I've always wished I had a dozen more skin tags and moles."
The doctor chuckled. "You're a funny man."
  Three times in these passages the narrator points out the joke: defensive humor, but conscious, mindful, double edged. I really like this, the way Alexie turns the wit around--so the wit is there but less than the main point, never an end in itself. Irony de-fanged, like Woody Allen of Manhattan or Annie Hall.
  The story develops by episodes: short entitled scenes. MY KAFKA BAGGAGE, where he finds a dead cockroach in his luggage. SYMPTOMS: hearing loss, which reminds him of a story of a man who had cockroaches extracted from his ears. BLANKETS: ...for his father after his foot was amputated, shivering from cold in a hospital corridor.

DOCTOR's OFFICE
HYDROCEPHALUS
CONVERSATION
WOLD PHONE CONVERSATION, 3 AM
VALEDICTION
BATTLE FATIGUE
OPHANS
COFFEE-SHOP NEWS
MENINGIOMA
DRUGSTORE INDIAN
EXIT INTERVIEWE FOR MY FATHER
REUNION.

These marked divisions allow for some deviations from straight story telling. EXIT INTERVIEW takes the form of an imaginary Q and A, son to father. It begins with what amount to one or two line jokes:
* True or False: When a reservation-raised Native American dies of alcoholism, it should be considered death by natural causes [...]
* Is it true that the only literary term hat has any real meaning in the Native American world is "road movie"?
.
These become increasingly personal and emotionally resonant.
* Sir, in your thirty-nine years as a parent you broke your children's hearts, collectively and individually, six hundred and twelve times, and you did this without ever striking any human being in anger. Does this absence of physical violence make you a better man than you might otherwise have been?
* Without using the words "man" or "good," can you please define what it means to be a good man?
In the middle of EXIT INTERVIEW, Alexie has inserted a poem and follow-up commentary.

· Your son wrote this poem to explain one of the most significant nights in his life:

Mutually Assured Destruction

When I was nine, my father sliced his knee
With a chainsaw. But he let himself bleed
And finished cutting down one more tree
Before his boss drove him TO EMERGENCY.

Late that night, stoned on morphine and beer,
My father needed my help to steer
His pickup into the woods. “Watch for deer,”
My father said. “Those things just appear

Like magic.” It was an Indian summer
And we drove through warm rain and thunder,
Until we found that chainsaw, lying under
The fallen pine. Then I watched, with wonder,

As my father, shotgun-rich and impulse-poor,
Blasted that chainsaw dead. “What was that for?”
I asked. “Son,” my father said. “Here’s the score.
Once a thing tastes blood, it will come for more.”


· Well, first of all, as you know, you did cut your knee with a chainsaw, but in direct contradiction to your son’s poem:

(a) You immediately went to the emergency room.

(b) Your boss called your wife, who drove you to the emergency room.

(c) You were given morphine, but even you were not stupid enough to drink alcohol while on serious narcotics.

(d) You and your son did not get into the pickup that night.

(e) And, even if you had driven the pickup, you were not injured seriously enough to need your son’s help with the pedals and/or the steering wheel.

(f) You never in your life used the word “appear,” and you certainly never used the phrase “like magic.”

(g) You think that “Indian summer” is a questionable seasonal reference for an Indian poet to use.

(h) What the fuck is “warm rain and thunder”? Well, everybody knows what “warm rain” is, but what the fuck is “warm thunder”?

(i) You never went looking for that chainsaw, because it belonged to the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and what kind of freak would want to reclaim the chainsaw that had just cut the shit out of his knee?

(j) You also agree that the entire third stanza of this poem sounds like a Bruce Springsteen song, and not necessarily one of the great ones.

(k) And yet “shotgun-rich and impulse-poor” is one of the greatest descriptions your son has ever written and probably redeems the entire poem.

(l) You never owned a shotgun. You did own a few rifles in your youth, but did not own so much as a pellet gun during the last thirty years of your life.

(m) You never said, in any context, “Once a thing tastes blood, it will come for more.”

(n) But, as you read it, you know that is absolutely true and does indeed sound suspiciously like your entire life philosophy.
This is good to keep in mind when we're tempted to too narrowly identify the narrator with the author. What we are reading is not a memoir, not a representation of remembered events, but a writer's response to them, a reconfiguration pointing, not back into the past replayed, but into life beyond nostogia; an artful betrayal of naked reality that frees us from it--to live and breath in the present, prepared again to step forward into a still unconditioned future.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quan Yin



Kansas City, Missouri. Nelson-Aitkins Museaum of Art.
Quan Yin.

My Vision... 12 years old. She..he...she...
For me... she. For my friend, who I'd dragged to this visit.. .almost didn't gain entrance... male... equally enthralled.

I took classes here every weekend. Students were alowed to roam the museum at will after. Came with my friend on a weekday--they wouldn't let us in. Too young. I broke down in tears, begged, fell to the ground... one of the class instructors recognized me... told the guards to admit us.

I played guide... waiting till last to show him the Quan Yin, the object of my pilgrimage. Always my last visit... I swear I saw her... him... bathed in  light... a pneumbra of light. I was in love...


A Must Read

Capitalist Realism
If Levi Bryant recommends this..

Zizek has good words for it too...

Let's not beat around the bush: Fisher's compulsively readable book is simply the best diagnosis of our predicament that we have! Through examples from daily life and popular culture, but without sacrificing theoretical stringency, he provides a ruthless portrait of our ideological misery. Although the book is written from a radically Left perspective, Fisher offers no easy solutions. Capitalist Realism is a sobering call for patient theoretical and political work. It enables us to breathe freely in our sticky atmosphere.
- Slavoj Zizek

Monday, August 10, 2009

LitFic Defined!

I missed this July 3 post on Contra James Wood, "And James Wood Shall Lead Them". I have copied it in full. Edmond Caldwell in turn has taken this from China Miéville's guest-blog post at Omivoracious, "Neither a Contract nor a Promise: Five Movements to Wactch Out For," which he offers as "a few modest proposals . . . to fulfil the moment's cultural needs."

I've added (and moved to the beginning) Miéville's other four catagories with lead lines, and his coda with a great quote from Badiou. 
These are five suggestions. There will, of course and happily, be more. Many of the writers who'll try their hands at one or other of these approaches will, of course, betray their chosen movements in one or other way: their fiction will not be 'pure'. But that shouldn't lead to their explusion from their chosen schools, nor, contrariwise, the belief that these movements are bogus. In Alain Badiou's words: 'To criticize an aesthetic programme for failing to keep any of its promises is to miss the point. ... [A] programme is neither a contract nor a promise. It is a rhetorical device whose relation to what really takes place is only ever one of envelopment and protection.'

Here is to envelopment and protection.

And James Wood Shall Lead Them

China Miéville on the "LitFic Praetorians":

**************

iii) LitFic Praetorians

Every new mess mainstream politics and culture gets us into should be its last, but never understimate its staying power. It's an ironclad, and the burgeoning econopocalypse, despite causing a little wobble here and there, is not yet putting paid to it. For the novel, this will be illustrated by a declaration of war by the lions of good taste against those sceptical of its claims to investigate the contours of The Human Condition (tm), or some such.

Unlike much previous soi disant Literary Fiction, the LitFic Praetorians will understand i) that they are a genre among many, ii) that their esteemed position is under attack. And they will decide to take the fight to the enemy.

Accordingly, this movement will continue to privilege those aspects of fiction that have come, for some, to be the sine qua non of literature itself -- a celebration of 'interiority' and a particular propagandist conception of 'character'; a prose that claims to be 'spare' and 'precise'; a striving for a horizon of metaphor to perfectly express some 'human truth' in terms of a more concrete thing (crockery, paint, a particular animal, a meteorological condition, etc, preferably referred to in the book's title); a dynamic of artful recognition; and so on. However, unlike its less self-conscious predecessors, it will do so overtly, courageously taking the battle to exteriority, militancy, estrangement and alienation, and aggressively foregrounding its concerns on such seemingly unfriendly literary turf.

Thus, for example, the redemptive power of art will be affirmed in the bloody imperial rubble of Iraq; musings on the melancholy of age and the rediscovery of life-affirmation in the arms of somewhat younger women will unfold before a backdrop of polemical dream-logic; and poignant stories of family betrayal and infidelity among academics will be set during alien invasions.

Influences include all winners of the Booker prize, particularly Ian McEwan, particularly his book -- claimed by the school as its foundational text -- Saturday.

What to say: 'Great literature transcends everyday concerns.'

What not to say: '"Literary Fiction" is a marketing category.

**************
Via Kick Him, Honey

i) Zombiefail '09-ism

Named partly in honour (not mockery) of an important debate about race and politics that set fire to livejournal earlier this year, this will be the movement for those tired of the unrelenting imperialism of zombies in horror--and now other--fiction. The writers' position will be that what started as an invigoration (one hesitates to say 'revivification', in this context) of an antique trope has viralled to the point where its ubiquity makes it ambulonecrotophile kitsch. […]

What to say: 'It's a cultural tragedy, this commodified camp of the Death Drive.'

What not to say: 'Moar Brainzz!'

ii) Post-Elegiasm

The end of the world, whether wrought by Peak Oil, rising sea levels, the rage of nature, war, warlordism, nuclear conflagration or--D'oh!--tailored virus will not be achingly beautiful, nor morality tale. So will insist the Post-Elegiasts. […]
The influences of the High Post-Elegiasts will include Golden-Age Science Fiction, Extropianism, Futurology and Fabianism, as well as self-help manuals and Paolo Coelho. The Low will focus instead on splatterpunk, Pierre Guyotat and D. Keith Mano's The Bridge. Both wings will be united in their disdain for Alan Weisman, Richard Jefferies and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. […]

What to say: 'Fiction of justice beyond an eschatological horizon is exoneration.'

What not to say: 'Will Smith sucked but overgrown New York looked kewl.'

iv) Noird

Pronounced Nward: Weird Noir. Candidates for membership are already appearing. Crime novels, particularly of a hard-boiled variety, infused with and riffing off the strange. Detective fiction with a deeply skeptical relationship to the supposedly everyday, whether it eschews morality or not. […]

What to say: 'All crime fiction is dream fiction really, of course.'

What not to say: 'I prefer cozies.'

v) Salvagepunk

As Steampunk wheezes and clanks exhausted into the buffers, dragging an increasingly huge load of books behind it, the hunt for the next great somethingpunk is over. The orgy of para-Victoriana has been impressively tenacious, but it has its limits, and rather than yet another reclamation of an earlier mode of production--steam, dust, stone, diesel--the punk aesthetic of DIY, cobbling-together, contrariness, discordance and disrespect for the past will go meta. […]

What to say: 'All art is an act of radical forgetting.'

What not to say: 'You finally did it! Damn you all to hell!'

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Platonic and the Ever Changing...

From post and comments on Nigel Beale's Nota Bene ... I responded to the suggestion that appreciation of art arises from 'contemplation,' as opposed to 'inquiry'.. .which leads to 'knowledge'... the realm of science and pragmatic pursuits.

The work itself is a form inquiry–the making of it I mean. The greater problem with contemplation is that it is static; the proper object of contemplation, remember, was the eternal, the unchanging. The making of a book or painting or musical composition is all process, fabricating an emerging network of interrelated associations. Experiencing a work of art is no less dynamic; one moves through those networks, here and there, back and forth, and in the process, different configurations emerge while others recede.

The contemplative, too, seeks knowledge, knowledge not at all like that of either artist or scientist–knowledge of the immutable, which I find antithetical to both.

Friday, August 7, 2009

America Honors its Poets: Where are we Now?

HERE

Found this on Silliman's blog...

We can see an absolute dividing line here (one of many in the U.S.A.). White middle class suburban males--though it can and does happen to them) believe until it does, that this sort of thing doesn't exist. Or if it does... 'they' deserved it.. or, it was a mistake... an aberration.

When in reality, it's a pattern

An erratic and unpredictable pattern in the particular, like weather, but clear in the larger picture, like climate.

Until we all believe, as members of our community, our nation, as citizens of the world, that injustice to one is injustice to all, nothing will change.

Until we in this U.S. of A. understand that--we are in danger. The world is in danger.

We (in the U.S.A) are inclined to assume that 'justice' is automatic. That it does not require vigilance to maintain and perpetuate. Until we are hauled in, handcuffed and humiliated for nothing. We think that "Freedom" is likewise, automatic... as long as we perpetuate the cycle of killing and dying in its name. Look at all those crosses (a Mogan David here and there)... isn't that proof enough?

Freedom for what? For whom does Freedom's bell toll... and for whom does it remain silent? These questions are not our concern. So long as we can answer: "for ME!"

We are in danger. Watch those videos of the bought-and-paid-for corporate disrupters at meetings organized as vehicles of education, meetings for public dialog.

Since the fraudulent election of 2000 it's been clear: those on that side of the power divide will do anything to remain in power. If they perceive it to be 1) in their interest and 2) they think they can get away with it--there is no crime, no outrage, no number of victims they will not sacrifice to achieve their ends. I've been saying this for years.

We are in danger. What are we going to do to stop them?

Remember THIS? Day after day. Knocking on doors, filling out forms... in heat, in rain. We knew he was just a man... a good man. He couldn't save us. No one could. But we believed that we were the power he had unleashed. We would back him up. We would scold when he fell short. We would bring forward what we all knew he had only begun.

We are in danger. Where are we now? Think of those in Iran--risking everything for a better future. Where are we now? It was a beautiful day... but the day had only hinted at dawn... sunrise is yet to come. Sunrise is up to us

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Eros, Anti-Eros and the Beautiful

Dan Green, in The Reading Experience: Richard Prouty, Roger Scruton... on "beauty."

What meaning does beauty have apart from the erotic? Form giving power is perhaps a new... and entirely different idea. Though not neccesarily different in kind. Structurally related and dependent... as in, anti-eros. While behind the scenes, the dance of the cranes defines everything there is to say about The Beautiful... what is, and what is not.

Jacob Russell: from the Magic Slate

          Chapter's HIGHLIGHTED below are linked to text                                             
                                                                 The Magic Slate
                                           A Semi-Comic Fiction in Seven Movements

                                                            (looking for a publisher)
          Table of Contents
1.             The Candy Bowl 
2.             The Egyptologist's Son
3.             The Persian Lamb
First Movement:                                 Smoke
1.             At the Feet of Dr. Pepper
2.         The Swan Fountain
3.         Under Dr. Pepper's Robes
4.         The Invitation
5.         The Screen
6.         What Her Husband Saw
7.         Smoke

Second:                                               Poena Magna
1.         Yellow Lotus, Falling Leaves
2.         Alexandra Gravid
3.         Mock Orange
4.       Broken Branches
5.         His Calling Card
6.         Poena Magna

Third:                                                  Crossings
2.         (Ah) Teresa
3.         The Cheeta Lounge
4.         The Storyteller
5.         Once More, the Bridge

Fourth:                                                            Flights of Fancy
1.         A Furtive Eye
2.         Her Second Coming
3.         The Ballet Ruse
4.         The Happy Rooster

Fifth:                                                   Concatenations
1.         Ménage à trios (saisons)
2.         Gershon and Alexandra
3.         The Kite 
 Sixth:                                                   Two Digressions
1.         Skiffy's Tune
2.         The Magic Slate

                                                            Seventh: Return to the Golden Mean
1.         Lies
2.         Fragments and Interludes
3.         The Tall Man
4.         Glass
5.         Alex and Yudit
6.         Night Visit (Part One)
7.         Return to the Golden Mean   
                Night Visit (Cont.)

August 6




What is The Beautiful but Erotic Reality Beyond Imagining

From Lotus Green's Japonisme... a reality so intense one weeps for joy to see it...


Why write?

Why do you write?

My answers to this question, whether raised by someone else or posed for my own rumination, have gone through quite a few changes. My early responses, as much as I'm able to recite them now, sound artificial, inflated with false importance, with a residue of a need to justify myself that I've not felt for a long time.

I was thinking about this as I bicycled home from the wine store. I was feeling good. The shiraz was going to be perfect with beans and brown rice and corn and the salsa I made the other day with tomatoes and cilantro from my garden. I finished a story I’ve been working on since the end of July—something new for me; a kind of political surrealism. I sat on the porch in front of my apartment in the Philadelphia heat and read the Sherman Alexie story in this week’s New Yorker—a story I liked quite a lot. I’m looking forward to writing a review, perhaps after diner if I can get started before the second glass of shiraz. Altogether a good day!

I’ve been struggling with my novel. The Barking Dog has been on vacation. When I don’t have new words to show for my time I get depressed. If that goes on for long—seriously depressed. I wake up at night in a state of mild panic. I drink more than is good for me at the end of the day.

All I have to do is finish a story, a poem, make good progress on the novel, and the depression melts away. I feel, at least for the rest of the day—at home in my own life. And there it is, the short version of why I write: I feel good when I do… and miserable when I don’t. And the deeper reasons of why that should be so no longer interest me.