Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

In the fall of 2006 I traveled to Peru to meet my best friend, who, being much braver than myself, had been vagabonding across South America for months. The trip was quick but memorable and at the airport giftshop in Lima I bought Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

The book sat on my shelf for a long time, as books at my house are wont to do. Eventually I read it. I remember it being somewhat of a labor though. One of those books that you with effort and determination push yourself through. I don't remember being much taken by the plot or the characters but there were some interesting meditations on the convergence of creativity, romance, and sex, in the artist's life. There was also one of my all-time favorite quotes:

Lower your pants, all of you; you're in the presence of a poet.

In every vagina an artist is buried.


It's not always with pride that I read Chuck Palahniuk, but it is usually with some enjoyment. His cynicism in the face of popular culture and the darkness of his imagination and prose are consistent and welcome. Tell All is no different. It's not an amazing piece of literature but it's not meant to be.

Katherine Kenton remains among the generation of women who feel that the most sincere form of flattery is the male erection. Nowadays, I tell her that erections are less likely a compliment than they are the result of some medical breakthrough. Transplanted monkey glands, or one of those new miracle pills.

Each romance a type of self-destructive gesture...Instead of plunging a sword into one's stomach, you repeatedly throw yourself on the most inappropriate erect penis.

The Devils of Loudun

Nature abhors a vacuum, even in the mind.

Partisan loyalty is socially disastrous; but for individuals it can be richly rewarding--more rewarding, in many ways, than even concupiscence or avarice. Whoremongers and money-grubbers find it hard to feel very proud of their activities. But partisanship is a complex passion which permits those who indulge in it to make the best of both worlds. Because they do these things for the sake of a group which is, by definition, good and even sacred, they can admire themselves and loathe their neighbors, they can seek power and money, can enjoy the pleasures of aggression and cruelty, not merely without feeling guilty, but with a positive glow of conscious virtue.

Sex can be used either for self affirmation or for self transcendence--either to intensify the ego and consolidate the social persona by some kind of conspicuous 'embarkation' and heroic conquest, or else to annihilate the persona and transcend the ego in an obscure rapture of sensuality, a frenzy of romantic passion or, more creditably, in the mutual charity of the perfect marriage.

Her home was not at Loudun, not among these frumps and bores and boors, but with a god in a private Elysium transfigured by the radiance of dawning love and imaginary sex.

But falling in love, as she now perceived, was not the same as loving. It was as an imagination that one fell in love, and what one fell in love with was only an abstraction. When one loved, one loved a complete existence and loved it with one's whole being, with the soul and every fiber of the body, with the self and this other, this new found alien beneath, beyond and within the self. She was all love and only love. Nothing but love existed--nothing.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Bus reading

Idiot city

I inherited The Royal Nonesuch: Or, what will I do when I grow up? from my brother. He reads a lot. Sometimes, I'm not sure how, but he does. Sometimes, he reads good books, like the ones I recommend, and sometimes he reads unbelievably technical and unceasingly empowering books on growing your fortune, living the life you want, and playing the stock market just so. Then he reads books magazines tell him to read, like this one...I think. I honestly have very few positive things to say about this book, so I won't. I found it to be vapid and painfully name-droppy, without emotion, and completely unrelatable. It is tiresomely self-involved without being self-aware and pervaded by a false-sense of entitlement born of past success rather than current merit. But it's about L.A. And it's a memoir of a gifted twenty-something who becomes a prozac-swaddled failing thirty-something. So maybe it sucks, but maybe it's just accurate. What undoubtedly is accurate and good in this book is this single phrase describing L.A. from above:

I felt pleasantly adrift up there in the sky, floating with my forehead pressed against the glass over the sunstruck idiot city.
[An added note on entitlement/pretension/douchebaggery, The Royal Nonesuch is apparently an allusion to Huckleberry Finn, something I wouldn't have known without doing a google image search for the cover art, but something that now knowing makes me dislike the book and the author even more.]

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On the nod

Momentary freedom from the claims of the aging, cautious, nagging, frightened flesh

Several years ago, probably six or so, I bought William S. Burrough's novel Naked Lunch and failed pretty miserably to get anywhere with it. This Christmas my brother gave me the 50th anniversary edition of his first novel, Junky. I was not optimistic.

Despite my initial hesitation (I read the 30+ pages of introductory material in full just to delay actually having to deal with the text) I found Junky to be much more approachable (a serious understatement) than Naked Lunch. The novel reads for the most part like the twenty-five cent sensationalist paperback that it was, exploiting the public's desire to explore the seedier side of society and to become "hep" to the new underground jargon. It also, however, shows flashes of true narrative beauty and Burroughs' characterizations are some of the best that I have ever come across.

His face was lined with suffering in which his eyes did not participate. It was a suffering of his cells alone. He himself--the conscious ego that looked out of the glazed, alert-calm hoodlum eyes--would have nothing to do with this suffering of his rejected other self, a suffering of the nervous system, of flesh and viscera and cells.

There was something boneless about her, like a deep-sea creature. Her eyes were cold fish eyes that looked at you through a viscous medium she carried about with her. I could see those eyes in a shapeless, protoplasmic mass undulating over the dark sea floor.

He was simply the focal point for a hostile intrusive force. You could feel him walk right into your psyche and look around to see if anything was there he could make use of.

The conversations had a nightmare flatness, talking dice spilled in the tube metal chairs, human aggregates disintegrating in cosmic inanity, random events in a dying universe where everything is exactly what it appears to be, and no other relation that juxtaposition is possible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Live the dream, Potato

No One Belongs Here More Than You

It's not often that on wine-soaked nights the conversation turns to current avant garde fiction. Though I am certainly a literature nerd, it's unusual that I force that upon others without some sort of accomplice. My roommate's sister Lindsay was in town last week and, as a hopeful doctoral candidate in poetry, she fit the bill. The topic at hand was a book of short stories that my roommate, Anna, had purchased for me while in Paris with Lindsay, No One Belongs Here More Than You. Anna read the book but was taken aback by some of the sexual content, Lindsay read parts of the book and was frustrated by the use of sexual content. I read the book and barely noticed the sexual content. Just call me Jaded.

Despite the possible shock tactics and questionable merit (the author is no Proust...well actually she could be. I've never read Proust. But I highly doubt that she's Proust.) I did come across some interestingly, at times beautifully, phrased ideas and perhaps the best name for a dog ever...Potato.

People tend to stick to their own size group because it's easier on the neck. Unless they are romantically involved, in which case the size difference is sexy. It means: I am willing to go the distance for you.

We wetted each other's blouses and pushed our crying ahead of us like a lantern, searching out new and forgotten sadnesses, ones that had died politely years ago but in fact had not died and came to life with a little water. We had loved people we really shouldn't have loved and then married other people in order to forget our impossible loves, or we had once called out hello into the cauldron of the world and then run away before anyone could respond.

Always running and always wanting to go back but always being farther and farther away until, finally, it was just a scene in a movie where a girl says hello into the cauldron of the world and you are just a woman watching the movie with her husband on the couch and his legs are across your lap and you have to go to the bathroom.

We needed time to consider ourselves, to come up with a theory about who we were and set it to music.

This made her so angry that she did the dishes. We never did this unless we were trying to be grand and self-destructive.

Then Potato ran by. He was a little brown dog, just like the woman said. He tore past me like he was about to miss a plane. He was gone by the time I even realized it had to be Potato. But he looked joyful, and I thought: Good for him. Live the dream, Potato.

Monday, November 05, 2007

When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder

Everything will be OK perfect.

While in college when revealing to family friends or acquaintances the direction of my study (English Literature, duh!) the endlessly repeating follow-up question was nearly always, "Oh that's great. Who's you're favorite author?" At the time I never had an answer. Never. I've liked a lot of books in my time but I never felt concretely that my appreciation was of the author. There was never an authorial focus centering my pursuit of material. I did love Oscar Wilde, but in a different way. I loved his character and his history and his brazen yet refined personality. I don't particularly love his books.

Now post-college I absolutely have an answer to that plaguing question. Jonathan Safran Foer is maybe the best thing that has happened to me in the last two years. His books are everything that I think books should be. He is the author that you can't help but be frustrated by because you love his work so much that you wish it was yours. And he's only 26 so why couldn't it be yours? It can't be yours because you can't even begin to understand how he does it. The composition seems so difficult but the end product is so seamlessly integrated.

Here's some stuff from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, his second novel:

My first jujitsu class was three and a half months ago. Self-defense was something that I was extremely curious about, for obvious reasons, and Mom thought it would be good for me to have a physical activity besides tambourining, so my first jujitsu class was three and a half months ago. There were fourteen kids in the class, we all had on neat white robes. We practiced bowing, and then we were all sitting down Native American style, and then Sensei Mark asked me to go over to him. “Kick my privates,” he told me. That made me feel self-conscious. “Excusez-moi?” I told him. He spread his legs and told me, “I want you to kick my privates as hard as you can.” He put his hands at his sides, and took a breath in, and closed his eyes, and that’s how I knew that actually he meant business. “Jose,” I told him, and inside I was thinking What the? He told me, “Go on, guy. Destroy my privates.” “Destroy your privates?” With his eyes still closed he cracked up a lot and said, “You couldn’t destroy my privates if you tried. That’s what’s going on here. This is a demonstration of the well-trained body’s ability to absorb a direct blow. Now destroy my privates.” I told him, “I’m a pacifist,” and since most people my age don’t know what that means, I turned around and told the others, “I don’t think it’s right to destroy people’s privates. Ever.” Sensei Mark said, “Can I ask you something?” I turned back around and told him,” “‘Can I ask you something?’ is asking me something.” He said, “Do you have dreams of becoming a jujitsu master?” “No,” I told him even though I don’t have dreams of running the family business anymore. “Do you want to know how a jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu master?” “I want to know everything,” I told him, but that isn’t true anymore either. He told me, “A jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu master by destroying his master’s privates.” I told him, “That’s fascinating.” My last jujitsu class was three and a half months ago.

When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table. I spent my life learning to feel less.

Everything will be OK perfect.
I started to cry.
It was the first time I had ever cried in front of him. It felt like making love.

He squeezed my sides so hard, and pushed so hard like he was trying to push through me to somewhere else.

“Hey, buddy.” “Actually, I’m not your buddy.” “Right. Well. It’s great weather today, don’t you think? If you want, we could go outside and toss a ball.” “Yes to thinking it’s great weather. No to wanting to toss a ball.” “You sure?” “Sports aren’t fascinating.” “What do you find fascinating?” “What kind of answer are you looking for?” “What makes you think I’m looking for something?” “What makes you think I’m a huge moron?” “I don’t think you’re any kind of moron.” “Thanks.” “Why do you think you’re here?” “I’m here, Dr. Fein, because it upsets my mom that I’m having an impossible time with my life.” “Should it upset her?” “Not really. Life is impossible.” “When you say that you’re having an impossible time, what do you mean?” “I’m constantly emotional.” “Are you emotional right now?” “I’m extremely emotional right now.” “What emotions are you feeling?” “All of them.” “Like…” “Right now I’m feeling sadness, happiness, anger, love, guilt, joy, shame, and a little bit of humor, because part of my brain is remembering something hilarious that Toothpaste once did that I can’t talk about.” “Sounds like you’re feeling an awful lot.” “He put Ex-lax in the pain au chocolat we sold at the French Club bakesale." “That is funny.” “I’m feeling everything.” “This emotionalness of yours, does it affect your daily life?” “Well, to answer your question, I don’t think that’s a real word you just used. Emotionalness. But I understand what you were trying to say, and yes. I end up crying a lot, usually in private. It’s extremely hard for me to go to school. I also can’t sleep over at friends’ apartments, because I get panicky about being away from Mom. I’m not very good with people.” “What do you think is going on?” “I feel too much. That’s what’s going on.” “Do you think one can feel too much? Or just feel in the wrong ways?” “My insides don’t match up with my outsides.” “Do anyone’s insides and outsides match up?” “I don’t know. I’m really only me.” “Maybe that’s what a person’s personality is: the difference between the inside and outside.” “But it’s worse for me.” “I wonder if everyone thinks it’s worse for him.” “Probably. But it really is worse for me.”

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Shit Happened

Pink Fucken Speed

I have this annoying habit of starting twenty books and only getting through two. I usually get about fifty pages in and then find myself distracted by all the beautiful and shiny and completely unnecessary new books that I just purchased to keep my old books company. In the past I have never been able to return to one of these neglected tomes, tossed aside for the younger, flashier model...until now. Having undertaken a monetarily imposed ban on new books coupled with another fine induced absence from the library, I have been forced to scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel and revisit the previously abandoned. The first book that I was ever able to successfully finish after a five month hiatus was Vernon God Little. The San Francisco Chronicle described it as a Huckleberry Finn-like story (apt) written a la the creators of South Park (inapt, kinda lame and lazy, i.e. a 17 year-old saying fuck a lot doesn't make him like Cartman). Despite my qualms with SFC I did find some pretty amazing descriptive passages, all the better for their bluntness and the narrator's obsession with panties. In the course of this novel I was forced to confront some of life's more profound questions, particularly, when the plural noun panties is used in the singular is it still "panties" like "pants" or is it "panty?" I'm still open to all theories.

*P.S. the following quote is not for the sexually modest or easily embarrassed.

She tries to close back her legs, wriggles hard, but she's lost, I'm on fire, committed even more now she's shy of her musky damp. I pull aside her weeping panty to face a delta writhing with meats, glistening with sweat carrying spicy coded silts from her ass; olives, cinnamon dust and chili blood. She gives up, beaten, without a secret left in the animal world. Her knees bend up and she takes in my tongue, my finger, my face, she cries and bucks, horny ridges, ruffles, and grits suck me up, suck me home to the stinking wet truth behind panties, money, justice, and slime, burning trails through my brain like acid through butter. Pink Fucken Speed.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nostalgia is fear smeared with Vaseline

We'll chance anything to destroy ourselves, but we're such chickenshits when it comes to happiness.
My brother makes great Christmas lists. I think for the most part GQ makes the lists and he sends them out, but there are generally, (amongst the over-priced gadgets, over-priced man totes, over-priced man cosmetics) some really great books. Two years ago Home Land by Sam Lipsyte made GQ's list and thus Zach's. I bought the book for Zach but as soon as the wrapping came off, I stole away with it into my room and promised to send it to him when I finished. It was hysterical, bizarre, and poignent, my favorite combination. Also, how can you not love a guy who spells wang with an h? Exaggerated pronunciation of penis words...always fun.

How much whang could a man spank in this world?

My father demurred, begged off, wasted his shot. Yes, those jazzbos spiraled into smack hells of their own devising, but not before slapping down some landmark lite wax.
"Failure of nerve," my father had once said, the words hard, soothing candy in his mouth.
"That's a good phrase for it," I said.
"I didn't make it up."
"No, but it's still good. I usually just tell myself I'm a pussy."
"Me, too," said Daddy Miner.
I knew I was in the vicinity of a serious lesson, if not about how to live life, then at least how to put some poetry into your craven retreat from it.

There are some who consider him an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

It occurs to me, Catamounts, sitting here composing this latest update, that someday, if and when the collected works of Lewis Miner ever see the light of day, some futuristic editor-type might attempt to assemble these dispatches in a certain manner, to, for example, tell a story, or else
effect some kind of thematic arrangement of interwoven leitmotifs: Work, Love, Masturbation, Gary.
This would be a grave mistake.
There are not themes, no leitmotifs. There is no story.

What's all this storytelling stuff, anyway? Stories pour out of us daily, and most of them might not unfairly be lumped under the taxonomic heading: More Boring Than Your Neighbor's Spork Collection.