<= 2001.08

2001.10 =>

[SEPTEMBER 2001.]

dance till the bombs drop

Again: there is no way out. I would like to stay in bed but I have to put my shoulder to the wheel and make a magazine go, again.

 

dinosaur act

To those who mock me for owning a print set of the 1989 Encyclopædia Britannica when the whole thing, current, is available online, I refute you thus: while paging through volume 3 to check on the Chicago school of economics, I stumbled across Benedetto Croce, and after two paragraphs conceived an incredible admiration for the man. This is principally because of the anti-fascist stuff and the intellectual/emotional resilience he was forced to display after being orphaned—I only partially agree with his critical theory. And he lived in Vico's house!

The link above isn't very good, but here's the part of the Britannica article that got me:

The first period of Croce's life (until about 1900) was the period of Croce's agony. Orphaned (with his brother, Alfonso) by the earthquake of Cassamicciola in 1883, his life became, in his words, "a bad dream." The stable world of childhood and youth was shattered, leaving him forever marked. Henceforth, he was a solitary figure, despite his considerable activity in the world.

His salvation lay in work. Disillusioned with the university, he set out upon an austere course of study, to become one of the great self-taught students of history. His writings of this period are universally alert, intelligent, and engaging; although limited in scope, they show a fine sobriety of style, as well as wit, irony, and a fiery polemical spirit... Nevertheless, he was subject to a constant and profound malaise. Subliminally, he desired but saw no public relevance for his activity; the limited world of erudition palled on him.

...snip...

The test was to be Fascism, the political attitude that places the nation or race at the centre of life and history and disregards the individual and his rights. So gradual was this preparation that Croce himself did not at once perceive it... But as the character of the regime revealed itself, his opposition hardened, becoming absolute, beyond compromise. He became, within and without Italy, the symbol of the opposition to Fascism, the rallying point of the lovers of liberty. In Fascism Croce saw not merely another form of political tyranny. He saw it as the emergence of that other Italy, in which egoism displaced civic virtue, rhetoric dislodged poetry and truth, and the pretentious gesture displaced authentic action.

The concept of heroes interests me. Who are your heroes (and optionally, why)? I want to know, seriously. Send them in and I'll post them, unless you'd rather I didn't. Homecoming game today, 9 a.m. tailgate at Fred's. I have to go buy lemon juice for the Bloody Marys.

 

on formally undecidable propositions

There is no way out. Either I wake up at 5 a.m. or 2 p.m., and there seems no way to predict which will happen. No Zeitgeber strong enough for me exists. I am as efficient as New Delhi's municipal government, yes yes.

Franzen read fine, and even though the audience questions were stupid and used words like "reify," he answered them with remarkable aplomb. We were going to try to interview him for Owl Farm, but by the end of the session we felt kind of sorry for him. Instead it's just a review of The Corrections, which I'll post over there sometime today, if I can summon the will to do anything. All I want to do is lie on the carpet amidst the two-day-old party debris and listen to Low. It's getting cold out there and, one way or another, I'm never awake for the sun.

 

whiter whites

O robots, O brave robots.

Jonathan Franzen comes hopping down the bunny trail into Prairie Lights tonight; God willing, I'll have finished The Corrections by then. Any ideas what I should ask him?

 

sharks: the terrorists of the sea

Unmanageable sleep, the looming international question, two months' solitude, a temporary nadir of confidence in my own writing, and approaching winter: but am I ever glad the Onion is back. And it moves me. Strange times.

"Why would you think I'd want anything else? Humans don't need religion or God as an excuse to kill each other—you've been doing that without any help from Me since you were freaking apes!" God said. "The whole point of believing in God is to have a higher standard of behavior. How obvious can you get?"

"I'm talking to all of you, here!" continued God, His voice rising to a shout. "Do you hear Me? I don't want you to kill anybody. I'm against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don't kill each other anymore—ever! I'm fucking serious!"

The comedians are coming back, cautiously. We'll need them. At Marlowe's house the night of the 11th, we ended up mocking the newscasters' hairstyles. We had to. There was nothing else.

I bought this Qur'an yesterday. Not that the bilingual text is much help since I can't even tell where the Arabic letters begin and end; but it is a thing of beauty.

 

the beneficent, the merciful

O my people, the cold nights have begun. Last night we went to Masala for dinner and by the time we finished our dal and nan and departed, the temperature was flirting with the freezing point of water. In the winter Iowa air turns bone-dry, and somehow the total lack of liquid water anywhere reminds me of the end of Cat's Cradle, after the ice-nine cataclysm. The bright side is that with the radiator my apartment will stay dry and hot, almost like a little artificial Arizona.

Most of my link-hunting energy will probably be transferred to the farmlog, but here's a New York Times piece on the sudden challenge to postmodernism and post-colonialism:

The great ironic twist is that the values latent in pomo and poco—an insistence that differing perspectives be accounted for and that the other be comprehended—are consequences of the very ideas of the Western Enlightenment—reason and universality—that they work to undo. One can only hope that finally, as the ramifications sinks in, as it becomes clear how close the attack came to undermining the political, military and financial authority of the United States, the Western relativism of pomo and the obsessive focus of poco will be widely seen as ethically perverse.

Nes and yo, I think. The usefulness and the curse of relativism is the way that it undermines dogma of any sort; post-colonialism, on the other hand, only becomes problematic when it degenerates into dogma. I know that in these times our yearning is for an uncomplicated, unquestionable national narrative—which the networks etc. are only too happy to supply—and balanced inquiry is unlikely to happen outside the ivory towers, where it tends to look like carping. I doubt total escape from dogma is ever possible for anyone. But see where it might lead. Cave credendum.

 

teach the world to hoot

Owl Farm, Owl Farm, we made an Owl Farm!

I have nothing else to say, today, given the effort in getting that bugger up; but boy am I tickled.

 

cowboy dan

Today Joan Didion takes down American democracy. (NY Times books; register! register!)

When we talk about the process, then, we are talking, increasingly, not about 'the democratic process,' or the general mechanism affording the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals, to those who manage policy and those who report on it, to those who run the polls and those who quote them, to those who ask and those who answer the questions on the Sunday shows, to the media consultants, to the columnists, to the issues advisers, to those who give the off-the-record breakfasts and those who attend them; to that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.

That's right, Joan, show the bastards what's what. I'm belligerent today, but in an oddly passive way. Like that Catherine Wheel song "Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck," which their singer once explained as that feeling you get near the end of the day when you're lying in the bathtub and thinking yeah, screw you all.

As long as I'm looking for things that piss me off, here's a boneheaded screed from some guy at the Hoover Institute, which is the conservative think-tank occupying the shaft of the great white phallus that is Stanford's Hoover Tower. While I'm about ready to throw in the towel on orthodox liberalism and start calling myself, I don't know, an empathetic libertarian or something, this kind of thing still raises my hackles. Briefly, it suggests that the West represents the Hegelian end of history and that Third World resentment of the West is fueled by envy at the pinnacle of enlightened development that is our culture. Oh, and the West is hamstrung by its perpetual guilt-ridden apologizing for that enlightenment.

Now I like America and all. But if you take your Hegel seriously, think about what it means when the dialectic is over. Without an antithesis to work against you lose aim; you devolve into petty bickering and the sort of instant-gratification consumerism that's only a few steps away from the rat pressing the lever to electrify its pleasure center. One could say that the United States is great because of its persistent and earnest application of high-minded Enlightenment philosophy. Or one could say that it's great because of its abundance of natural resources and the economic/political powerhouse that WWII allowed it to become, given that all the fighting happened oceans away. Most likely it's a combination of the two, sure. But let's keep in mind that your average Joe in the Third World envies not some abstract idea of "freedom," but the absurdly high American standard of living, guaranteed in part by the ruthless tactics of the multinationals; and the fictional media-driven eternal-beach-party America that he picks up on his satellite dish—the beach party that deadens and numbs and frustrates us who actually live in the United States because we understand how ludicrous it is. We get ennui, sure, but ennui is reserved for those at the end of history, once the basics of existence are guaranteed. It's a luxury most don't have.

 

fear of trains

I've been away fighting my scanner, mostly. It has gone existential and refuses to scan. So no photo gallery in the immediate future, at least not until Canon tech support gets back to me.

But then mostly this is one of those days where all the bothersome things seem to shrivel into insignificance, leaving me in this flat afternoon with a feeling of adequacy, if not peace. Now I need only repair the horrendous damage I've done to my sleep schedule (up at 4 p.m. today). And get a haircut, if there's time.

Yesterday I met Roberta, who was taking a photograph outside Iowa City's Hillel center. She had propped yesterday's newspaper (big photo of bellicose Bush) against a flowerbed. When I stopped and asked her about it, she explained that the Judeo-Christian tradition was one of our tools to make sense of the current situation—so she had first taken a photograph of Bush by the St. Mary's church and was now doing the Jewish center just as the sun was setting, marking the start of the sabbath. She then explained how on this date in 1979 she had been near a fountain in Rome at sundown, and that year it marked the start of Rosh Hashanah. The idea was synchronic, she said, circumventing linear time. Then she confided her fear at the warmongers in our government. "Bush has been given an absolute mandate," she said, "and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

 

hair of the dog, and then some

Very well; so resilient I shall be. All I need is some of Saddam Hussein's humanitarian aid. But this is my favorite spark of brilliance from today's news:

Sources also told CNN that "Operation Infinite Justice" is the tentative name selected for any retaliatory strikes, pending White House approval. On Thursday, Rumsfeld said the name is being reconsidered because in the Islamic religion only Allah can provide infinite justice.

Also, someone's talking to Robert Kaplan about this, which is good. He is so smart. He is dreamy. The "end of Wilsonian idealism" is fairly depressing, but he's right.

Now then: two links courtesy of Chelsey. Firstly, the naked webcam girls and their wishlists, which is a whole angle that this site can't hope to compete with. I usually update right after I get out of bed, at which time I tend to look like an emaciated Jon Cryer with hair sticking everywhere. Secondly, the media pranks of Kembrew McLeod. My favorite is the one where he trademarks the phrase "Freedom of Expression" and has his lawyer send threatening letters to people:

We represent Kembrew McLeod of Sunderland, Massachusetts, the owner of the federally registered trademark, FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ... Your company has been using the mark Freedom of Expression ... Such use creates a likelihood of confusion in the market and also creates a substantial risk of harm to the reputation and goodwill of our client. This letter, therefore, constitutes formal notice of your infringement of our client's trademark rights and a demand that you refrain from all further use of Freedom of Expression.

 

mayday

Had a story up yesterday, didn't do well. Frank's postmortem, reconstructed close to verbatim:

This isn't actually a story—it reads more like a highly intelligent and sensitive case worker's report of everything that happened to the character. There's no principle of selection to the information, so that it doesn't work as fiction. The writing is smart, but "smart" is not actually that important in fiction writing, and it carries its own dangers. What I've found is that the truly smart people I've known—and I mean astrally smart—are too smart to write fiction. Their intellects are too analytical, too obsessed with control, so that they are unable to surrender to the text. I'm thinking of Renata Adler, for instance—who, if you believe the stories, was the smartest person ever to go through Bryn Mawr. The last time I talked to her, I asked if she was still writing fiction and she said she'd given up, that it was too hard.

Not like this is my great looming #1 artistic fear or anything.

So now it's eight in the morning and I'm back at the computer after six useless hours trying to sleep. My friends, who have never failed me, give the charitable interpretation that Frank is harder on those whom he believes to be strong writers. I appreciate the thought. Of course I'm embarrassed at my own fragility: I should be more resilient than this. But it feels as though the past two months have been nothing but a series of unexpected blows.

 

little popo

The birthdays keep coming: today Uncle Zach marks another year in his progress to a venerable age.

The little bunny rabbit of hope, which was slammed back into its hole last week, is hesitantly thinking about emerging for this cease-fire in Palestine. There is always a chance.

Last night, after Vu's party at Adagio, I came home drunk and did my part for the economy by making massive online music purchases: so now good people are packing Low, PJ Harvey, Aphex Twin, Nick Drake, Tortoise, Of Montreal and sundry other good things into a box for me. And I cleaned my apartment, and I moved one of the orange chairs into the bedroom because its feng shui was bad, and fine-tuned the prose rhythm of "Javelinas," and generally I am working to reestablish an ordered life.

The First Anglo-Afghan war lasted from 1839 to 1842 and ended in a disastrous British retreat. On 2 January 1842, 4,500 troops and 10,000 followers left Kabul and began the week-long march south, through mountain terrain filled with Afghan fighters. One man, doctor William Byron, survived.

I'm also reminded of the passage in Heart of Darkness where Conrad dramatizes the obtuse European idea of somehow making war on an entire continent:

Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long eight-inch guns stuck out all over the long hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the eight-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly that there was a camp of natives—he called them enemies!—hidden out of sight somewhere.

 

parallelograms on parade

A cure for angst of all sorts is to stay up all night doing web design. Why this is I cannot say. The new site still looks funny in Netscape 4.x, but I may just leave it that way, seeing as at least it's legible and Netscape 4.x is a bad bad browser. At this point, because I've been up all night, the bag of chips I've been eating would like to interject something.

Mass-produced food speaks
in stylish set-off boxes:
One-dash rule per line.

Good night, ladies, good night, good night, and happy birthday to Vu.

 

follow the bouncing ball

In case that Nostradamus thing is still bothering anyone, it gets solidly debunked here. The quatrain was written by a student a few years ago, to demonstrate how a sufficiently vague prophecy could predict anything. (Thanks Ginny.)

And lo, it's my freshman roommate the tennis star. (Bob.) Not that we really shared the room; he was usually over at his girlfriend's place (not his current girlfriend, who is apparently John Wayne's granddaughter), so I was free to lurch around the dorm room and drink vodka, shirtless, at three in the morning. (Thanks Christine.)

Because busy hands are essential, expect in the coming week:
1) A redesign.
2) A metameat photo gallery.
3) An entirely new collaborative site with an entirely new domain name.

There is a Hand to turn the time
Though thy Glass today be run
Till the Light that hath brought the Towers low
Find the last poor Pret'rite one...
Till the Riders sleep by ev'ry road,
All through our crippl'd Zone,
With a face on ev'ry mountainside,
And a Soul in ev'ry stone...

Now everybody—

 

retreat into aesthetics

Here's more Yeats, because I just can't get enough right now.

Politics
 
How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics,
Yet here's a traveled man that knows
What he talks about,
And here's a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.
       (1939)

Note the deliberate anachronism of "Roman"; it's always the same shit. In that spirit, here's something pleasant and beautiful from the man who would later paint Guernica.

Picasso, Guitar, 1913

Guitar, 1913

 

the stone's in the midst of all

On Wednesday I dropped by Jim McPherson's seminar, in hope that he would be able to provide some historical context to make sense of this. He played an audio tape made by a friend of his, who I don't think was actually a preacher but who had appropriated the rhythms and diction of African-American preachers in his writing. He recited a parable. It was long and involved and I can't reproduce it with great fidelity, but briefly: there was a man who wished to forgive his enemy but could not forgive, and he prayed to God for guidance. And God sent an angel to counsel the man, and the angel said, "When others speak ill of this man, make pains to speak well of him. And serve him in secret, in ways that he shall not know." But still the man could not forgive. And so the angel led the man to a certain place, and there God gave to the man to see the soul of his enemy; but the soul in all its inner glory, unfettered by the outward attributes of appearance that distinguish a man from his fellows. And God gave to the man to see the soul of his enemy further unclothed of those attributes of time and place that distinguish the part from the whole. And in the radiance of his enemy's naked soul, the man could not help but exclaim: "O Lord, how beautiful my brother is!"

This is also a truth that Blake and the Buddha knew. In hope.

Yesterday I gave a guest lecture on poetry to both of Marlowe's undergraduate classes. Taking a page from N/Gaw's book, I handed out photocopies of Yeats' "Easter, 1916" and spent the class period unpacking it, looking at how Yeats reacted to the slaughter of his colleagues and the horrible weight of expectation that history had placed upon him. I have never been able to read those lines:

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.

without getting chills, and during both class periods I choked up when we got to that stanza. I had been employing some theatrics to get the poem across, but at this point there was no artifice. The students must have realized this because they just stared at me, quiet and rapt, as I talked about Yeats's return to the universal image of mother and child, those irreducible and ineradicable human bonds that revolutions and wars and massacres will never overcome.

In recent days many of us at the Workshop have been commenting that fiction writing suddenly seems superfluous and pointless. I think, now, that it's more important than ever. In the end culture will transcend politics, because culture always returns to those human universals that will exist so long as the species exists—and now more than ever, we need that reminder of what will endure. I am starting to write again, and I will continue to write my Arizona stories that have nothing to do with the recent massacre or the coming war. I hope my friends and classmates are doing the same. I hope we understand that we are needed. The New York Times yesterday ran a long and eloquent piece about art as a conduit for grief.

And links: Robert D. Kaplan, a highly insightful writer and sociopolitical prophet of sorts, spent time with the mujahedin in Afghanistan and wrote a book called Soldiers of God. I haven't read it, but I expect it may be coming back into print now.

From Nick: upcoming movies with terrorism or New York storylines are being revised or postponed indefinitely.

Yasser Arafat, in a gesture I find incredibly moving, has donated blood to the United States.

This is the worst thing to happen in our lifetimes. But every generation has had its tragedy. Life continues.

 

Yesterday there was nothing to write. Today there is little to write either. Yesterday Frank Conroy suggested that the chicken has come home to roost, in terms of the U.S. exporting sensationalist, hyperviolent film entertainment to the rest of the world for decades. Everyone has been comparing the crash footage to the movies, and I've seen it so many times that it no longer does whatever it did to me the first time: it's objects attacking objects. But when they began to tell the first few human stories—the son calling his father from the hijacked plane, the couple holding hands as they jumped from the tower—God, then—

And if a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, then what will become of us? And what will we do to others?

And I worry about Arab-Americans here.

And yesterday the weather was beautiful.

And bin Laden has such a kind face. He looks like the gentlest sort of holy man.

Yeats is a comfort in these times. And I'm back to Slaughterhouse-Five.

...because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like "Poo-tee-weet?"

 

slow march to senescence

Today I am 23 and good things have come in the mail: a space-age garlic press, Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool, and well wishes from those near and dear. I couldn't have asked for better weather either: sunny but not hot. Now to see about dinner.

 

options available

We can spend all day sitting around unwashed in T-shirts, and we can go hear live music at Iowa City's equivalent to the quirky restaurant (Justin on a double udu), and we can play Beyond Balderdash with a poor showing because nobody is willing to believe that the Balderdash clues would reference the Balderdash game itself, and we can be driven home just slightly drunk at two in the morning into the familiar territory of our apartment, where the nights get cold and there ain't no gold that'll ever satisfy.

Young Christians take betrothal over dating (NYTimes; gotta register).

Yet two years ago, when Kara was 14 and Casey was 20 and heading off to medical school, they pledged their lives to each other in an improvised ceremony at their church that they called a betrothal. They exchanged matching signet rings, promised to be faithful and considered their vows as binding as a marriage. Only then did they set about getting to know each other and thinking of themselves as a couple. Last month, with their parents' permission, they decided they could start holding hands.

Best of luck to them, really. But I'm inevitably reminded of the Mormon Church's how-to on giving up masturbation that was making the email-forward rounds a few years back. "In very severe cases it may be necessary to tie a hand to the bed frame with a tie in order that the habit of masturbating in a semi-sleep condition can be broken."

Go go tofu breakfast!

 

while i got it on my mind

Vonnegut advice from Uncle Zach:

Next time he shows up, draw an eyeball on your palm and raise your hand to ask him a question! He'll think you're a Tralfamadorian.

Chilean novelist Alberto Fuguet talks about his sense of contemporary Latin America as magical neoliberalism, or "McOndo" (spoof on Macondo). He approaches this through a discussion of Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, an American film directed by Rodrigo García, son of Gabriel Garcí Márquez, whom Fuguet takes to task for falsely exoticizing Colombia and presenting a antiquated, fabulist vision which is now obsolete. Fuguet prefers the Mexico City of Amores Perros, gritty and globalized and real. That film's director Alejandro González Iñárritu sez:

My goal was to show the world how interesting Mexico City is. We worked on 36 drafts of this movie over three years. I wanted to get it right or not make the film at all. The way America sees Mexico, if they have any sense of it, is like Taco Bell. Our countries are neighbors, and the only hard food to get in America is true Mexican. It's impossible to find, even in L.A. Why is that? In music, Americans only want Ricky Martin. You have to shake your butt if you are Latin and want to be huge in America. That's not what it is to be Latin American. You don't see people here shaking their butt. Americans see us as . . . folkloric. They don't accept that we're a powerful, diverse culture, and my goal is to enlarge the view of Mexico. To show life as it is here. Not the Taco Bell idea.

OK so yes, García Márquez writes about a Colombia that never existed—but then Faulkner wrote about a South that never existed either. (This was originally Marlowe's point, I think.) I submit that what the Latin American novel needs is an Absalom, Absalom! to illustrate how the mythic past impinges upon the definable present, how McOndo would like to forget its past but is still built upon Macondo's ruins. Fuguet appreciates Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her because García, as an outsider, is able to view America in a way that Americans never could. Is it possible for this process to reverse: could a neurotic anglo narrator, in a book written by a neurotic anglo author, show the clash between cell-phone-laden, Nike-wearing, internet-cafe-patronizing, IBM-commercial Latin America and all the weight of history? I'm taking a shot at it. Only not yet.

The novel is going into cold storage at least until Christmas, and when it comes out it'll have to be rewritten from the ground up, again. Each draft is getting better but it's a weird book and it's taking me repeated stabs just to figure out how it needs to be shaped. In the meantime I have a bucketful of stories to keep me busy. Onward.

 

molasses

The word of the day is "smooth." Everything is smoooooth today. Those of you who already know Lauren will need no encouragement to visit kidchamp.net; those of you who don't are advised to go meet her. Baby.

I keep forgetting to write about Kurt Vonnegut having been here a couple of days ago. I didn't make it to the big reading, which the Daily Iowan covered in their inimitable college-newspaper way, but in the afternoon there was a smaller workshop meeting where Vonnegut smoked his unfiltered Pall Malls (as he's about the only person with enough clout to smoke inside a university building, these days) and dispensed signature pessimism: we're killing the planet and there's no literary career awaiting us. He was insistent that we could work in advertising if necessary, and it wouldn't kill us. Then he demonstrated his telepathic act, where he closed his eyes and visualized what was wrong with someone's story. "Cut the first three pages," he said, "all you're doing is introducing yourself. And you're missing a character. You're missing Iago!" He went on to bemoan the lack of Iagos in contemporary literature—or even worse, "the boneheaded mistake of explaining how Iago got that way: he was buggered when he was four, or whatever." Which is interesting advice, but sits oddly beside the passage from Slaughterhouse-Five:

I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, "You know—you never wrote a story with a villain in it."

I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.

After that Vonnegut said, inexplicably: "Many of you are already doomed," and Frank Conroy jumped up and quickly said: "Well, I think that's a good note to end on," and we all clapped and Vonnegut was ushered away by the young man with the cell phone and blue suit, whose job apparently was to make sure that Vonnegut stayed out of trouble.

 

the vicarious vicar

The story is done, and its quivering heart will soon be laid on the Xerox shelf to await Frank's talons.

Can someone explain why the two classes of people enamored of Gothic letters are rap stars and white supremacists?

V.S. Naipaul's strategy before releasing a novel is simple and effective, according to the Guardian; he roundly trashes the life work of anyone whose books are remotely similar to his, indiscriminately bashing authors such as Forster, Dickens, and Joyce. Their take on Half a Life itself is that it's written awkwardly on purpose, which is never a defense that I've bought. The only place it seems to work is in the "Eumeaus" chapter of Ulysses, and that's only because Bloom is endearing enough that we forgive his inelegancies, and because in any case it's just damn funny. Half a Life does not seem comic.

 

the vicarious vicar

Still writing.

frank explains it

 

ascending the ziggurat

For anyone who still harbors romantic illusions about the writing life, here's a story: last night around one o'clock I became desperately hungry and decided I would fry up a veggie burger, which are sort of a staple when I need a slab of flavored protein but don't want to do anything complicated like cracking eggs. So I pour a little olive oil in the pan, get it bubbling, then discover there aren't any veggie burgers in the freezer. In fact, there isn't much food of any description in the kitchen. I've been writing too much lately to have time for things like grocery shopping.

"But there must be something I can fry," I tell myself, "now that I've got the pan going. You can fry anything!" Eventually I find some cheese. Hey, fried cheese, why not. So I grate the cheese into the pan and it starts to bubble and smell melted-cheesy, and that's good. Then I find some eggs and think hey, omelet of sorts. Only I have to do it quickly so the cheese doesn't coagulate on its own, so I'm rather overeager about cracking the egg on the side of the pan and it splatters all over the stove top. The yolk stares at me like a malevolent eye. I move the pan to the sink, where it comes into contact with the dirty dishes and fizzles; then I start to wipe up the egg, but my paper towels clearly were not designed to absorb egg yolk and it just smears everywhere. Some of it leaks under the burner, so I turn off the gas and try to move the burner, and I of course burn my hand. I try again with an oven mitt and discover that a lot of the raw yolk has dripped far down beneath the burner, to places that I can't reach. So it's just going to hang out there, I guess. I can see it—it's yellow and nasty, but beyond my powers to alter. I sprayed it with some Lysol to keep germs away. If it starts to smell I'll spray it again. Lemon fresh.

 

elegies at any price

I'm sorry, I don't mean to alarm people—but sometimes it's damned hard to avoid alarming people, if one wants to write in this weird genre with anything approaching honesty. Here, these are reassuring things I can say:

• I'm not in the state I was six months ago, where after every meal I thought I had poisoned myself—this is relative and it's been far worse;

• This heartache is at least the familiar sort of heartache that makes you feel more human, and not one of those alien beasts that coagulates from the void, short-circuits the nerves surrounding your heart, and treats the very idea of your sanity as an absurd pretension;

• I have childhood stuffed animals out here, which are a source of significant emotional support. Anyone who finds this laughable or weird is free to go fuck his/her granny.

Whew! Glad that's out of the way! Happy Labor Day! Let's have some links!

Furankenshutein is that Japanese monster who, according to Steve P., looks rather like Vu in bad lighting.

Some bright folks in Hollywood have decided that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles need to come back, again. There will be a CGI movie, a live-action miniseries, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a whole series of video games.

Homeless guy has super-sized plans for McDonald's millions! Ha ha!

Writing yeah still.

 

you do it to yourself

Three quotes.

There is a truth about the Workshop experience, recognizable to generation after generation of its graduates, and Saul Maloff wrote about it in a fine piece for the New York Times book section. In its summary he points out that there is always a student like the one he recalls from Flannery O'Connor's class, whom everyone recognizes as destiny's choice, born a writer, brilliant, poised for the masterpiece that will mark the times and then, in subsequent years, just disappears—leaves not a trace.
        —John Legget, Workshop director 1969-1987

I but barely glanced at the middle of the first page of your Letter, & have seen no more of it—not from resentment (God forbid!) but from the state of my bodily & mental sufferings, that scarcely permitted human fortitude to let in a new visitor of affliction. The object of my present reply is to state the case just as it is—first, that for years the anguish of my spirit has been indescribable, the sense of my danger staring, but the conscience of my GUILT worse, far far worse than all!—I have prayed with drops of agony on my Brow, trembling not only before the Justice of my Maker, but even before the Mercy of my Redeemer. "I gave thee so many Talents. What hast thou done with them"?
        —S.T. Coleridge, letter to Joseph Cottle, 26 April 1814

HAMM:
A little poetry.
(Pause.)
You prayed—
(Pause. He corrects himself.)
You CRIED for night; it comes—
(Pause. He corrects himself.)
It FALLS: now cry in darkness.
(He repeats, chanting.)
You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness.
(Pause.)
Nicely put, that.
(Pause.)
And now?
        —Samuel Beckett, Endgame

 

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