<= 2006.02

2006.04 =>

[MARCH 2006.]

The Noonday Demon

I had a terrible dizzy spell in the library, went to get a sandwich, which didn’t help very much, so I swam back up Telegraph and as I passed the bagel place I saw that they were advertising their new chicken products with the slogan “WHY DID THE HUMAN CROSS THE ROAD?”—which was awful, somehow it seemed to imply that the human-chicken relation in the food chain was entirely contingent and could just as easily go the other way.

Stewart King once convinced me briefly that in the wild chickens grow to six feet tall. "Well," I thought, "Have I ever SEEN a chicken?"



Or, an anecdote of the type known as an Armenian riddle: “It hangs in the drawing room and is green; what is it?” The answer: “A herring.”—“Why in a drawing room?”—“Well, why couldn’t it hang there?”—“Why green?”—“It was painted green.”—“But why?”—“To make it harder to guess.” This desire to conceal the answer, this deliberate effort to delay recognition, brings out a new feature, the newly improvised epithet. Exaggeration in art is unavoidable, wrote Dostoyevski; in order to show an object, it is necessary to deform the shape it used to have; it must be tinted, just as slides to be viewed under a microscope are tinted. You color your object in an original way and think that it has become more palpable, clearer, more real. In a Cubist’s picture, a single object is multiplied and shown from several points of view; thus it is made more tangible. This is a device used in painting. But it is also possible to motivate and justify this device in the painting itself; an object is doubled when reflected in a mirror. The same is true of literature. The herring is green because it has been painted; a startling epithet results, and the trope becomes an epic motif. Why did you paint it? The author will always have an answer, but, in fact, there is only one right answer: “To make it harder to guess.”

—Roman Jakobson, “On Realism and Art”


Those Unheard are Sweeter

And on Friday we saw Rostropovich conduct an all-Shostakovich program—Festive Overture, Piano Concerto No.1, Symphony No.5. There are those unexpected moments when the music turns transparent and you pass through it, suddenly hearing it from the inside as if the progress of notes composed your own body. During the final ovation, on Rostropovich's third or fourth return to the stage, he lifted the score itself from the podium and held it out for applause, and I felt capable of many things. I thought I understood the idea of a life's work.

Next Friday they’ll do it all over again with the Thirteenth Symphony: settings of five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the last being “A Career.”


The Personal Touch

If it makes you feel better a Catholic publisher told me my book sounded depressing

That's a coup of sorts! Oh, and today I finally got my bill from the Alameda County Superior Court for my jaywalking ticket. I love the goddamn mail.

sorry about the rejection letter. reminds me too much of the ones snoopy always got for his novels.

Oh, it's all right—this is the tenth or so to come back. I just like their attempt to personalize it. Yesterday my little sister bought a house.



Sudafed keeps me up all night, and in thoughts as uncontrollable and senseless as dreams I worry, in order of decreasing intensity and increasing import, about schoolwork and my novel and the earth. We have a joke around here about the sort of novel one must write in order to ensure one’s literary immortality after humans perish in the new climate and a civilization of crocodiles arises. Clearly the novel must portray crocodiles in a positive light, and perhaps be centered on issues of crocodile identity. But such work is vulnerable to charges of literary insincerity: “Pandering to the crocodiles!”