Saturday, March 28, 2009

Musical TNT

On Tuesday night I saw, with my friend Shawn, Prokofiev's Second Symphony performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Putin's fave conductor Valery Gergiev. It was amazing. A bit overly dramatic and repetitive at times, but edge-of-your-seat energy and these cliffhanger stops that robbed you of your breath.

Apparently, he thought that his second symphony was a failure. He didn't stop writing them for ten years like Rachmaninoff after his second, but he did think the piece was too wild and didn't hold together. Sounded great to me.

Then they played the Seventh which wholly sucked. When I was listening to it I thought of this Henry Miller quote from Tropic of Cancer, about a Ravel piece he heard that began with a bang and ended with a whimper:

"There was something heroic about it and he could have driven us stark mad, Ravel, if he had wanted to. But that’s not Ravel. Suddenly it all died down. It was as if he remembered, in the midst of his antics, that he had on a cutaway suit. He arrested himself. A great mistake, in my opinion. Art consists in going the full length. If you start with the drums you have to end with dynamite, or TNT. Ravel sacrificed something for form, for a vegetable that people must digest before going to bed.” - Henry Miller

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I used to dislike contemporary novels and stories that centered on murder or featured it as a major plot point. I don’t feel that way about classics, where it’s part of the collective subconscious already. And not mysteries or other “genre” stuff where murder’s the whole point. But literary stuff where it feels like a murder was tacked on to give the story closure? I will think of specific examples soon, but I’m blanking now. But we all know what I mean, right?

I don’t really put in that category William T. Vollman, or that other quite graphic writer Dennis Cooper, who are both fascinated with violence, though the latter probably more with sex. They are experimenting consciously with it and not using it to shore up the drama exclusively. It’s part of the fabric of their writing.

But generally my thought has been that most people don’t live their lives murdering or being murdered, so why should fiction disproportionately focus on it?

It dawned on me very recently that if fiction is to condense our fundamental realties, then murder has to be front and center. As we all know, most societies are founded on killing and supported by it. The winners of world wars, and tribal and clan warfare, and internecine rivalry populate the world today. We are a world of murderers, or the descendents of them. We are heirs to slaughter. So I would like to write about that: about our inheritance, and what we do with it today. End of polemic. For now.

Sweeping Statements About Literary Journals

I like them and I don’t. Bold, I know. My faves are Cannibal, and Monkeybicycle. What don’t I like?

Sometimes I don’t like the diversity of voices. By that I mean it’s confusing to read so many different writers in a short span, hard to get into a groove.

Even if it’s carefully “curated.” The thrill of finding a surprising piece, something really impressive, is sometimes worth the effort. Like this by Evan Smith Rakoff in Ploughshares.

Novels have the unity I’m looking for, but I can never get past page 70. I’d like to read a succession of really great 70 page novellas. But I never buy novellas. And what’s a classic novella? I mean, an indispensible one? See?

(All I can think of is maybe Notes from Underground, Dostoyevsky. What else?) My attention span is to blame? Or literature? I’ll blame literature.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

boring boring boring boring

I'm reading this book by Zach Plague and it rocks.

A review if I finish it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Thought On Ishmael

I’m sure a Melville critic has said this before, but at the end of Moby-Dick, with the ship destroyed and Ahab dead, Ishmael calls himself an orphan.

Doesn’t this mean the boat was his family?

And that Ahab was his father?

I suppose I could go off on how the whole thing is an Oedipal fantasy fulfilled but I won’t. That's probably been thoroughly covered too.

As many also know, D.H. Lawrence and Carl Van Doren were among the first to champion Melville's work after it had largely been forgotten. This is Lawrence's classic study that captured his view that Meville ranked with Whitman and other greats.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Rationale(s)

I really should have a Carlos Fuentes book. Kundera recommends Terra Nostra. But hell, now that I have it it's too long. Selling it. They won't buy it - shelf space. Salvation Army!

Since he made his rep on an early book, how about The Death of Artemio Cruz? Oh shit, it's so experimental it will require real concentration to read it. And the book is not contributing to my thinking about my own novel.

Oh, here's Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen recommended on a blog somewhere. The first ten pages are exactly what I need. Then it becomes a Gilbert Sorrentino book. Almost.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fifty-Two Stories

I just read a good story on fifty-two stories. By Blake Butler, it's called The Copy Family. I don't know if you italicize the names of stories or not. And I don't give a fuck. Because I'm hawd.

working on my novel

It's disruptive to my reading to work on this novel I am embroiled in, called The Floods of New York.

The critical eye I'm squinting through at my own pages jaundices my view of others' work.

When I encounter a passage that doesn't strike my fancy, I feel too acutely disappointed, both in my writing and that of just about any novel I'm reading.

Given the difficulty I have reading entire books, I'm inordinately happy about having finished Moby-Dick this summer. But anything short of that is hard going now. Ridiculous, I know, but a fact.

The novel I'm reading now, Johnny One-Eye by Jerome Charyn, is terrific. So I'm having less of this problem with it than with some others I've labored with recently. But my condition is still a suboptimal way to live, you know?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Save It Up

Because my company's firewall doesn't allow blogspot through any more.

Anyway, I've been thinking I blog like an old man.

"Listen here, sonny! This is what I read, and you should read it too! And here's what I think on this subject..."

But I guess I am a cranky old man. What does blogging look like if I'm not blogging like an old man?

This was my best score on Guitar Hero.
Oh my god, did you see the Jonas Brothers movie?
Read my chapbook?

Nah, I'd post about all those things.

Not Knowing

You know, Donald Barthelme once told me, in one of his books (Not Knowing,) that you can't fucking plan it.

That's fine, but then how do you get a line like "Many years later, standing in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia recalled the day his father took him to discover ice," or however opens.

Not that a huge amount of that book wasn't improvised, or however you might describe unplanned writing. But Marquez himself has said he planned that thing thoroughly. So? Not knowing.

Unsung Novels

SHAME by Salman Rushdie, the Muslim infidel.

BEAUTIFUL LOSERS by Leonard Cohen, the singer-songwriter.

I suppose they're not truly obscure. They're both available in your local Enormous Retailer of Books. I would throw in THE BOOK OF DANIEL by E.L. Doctorow.

A really obscure one that's good, and also by a musician, is a book called I, FLATHEAD by Ry Cooder.

Another one I like that isn't a novel, and I don't know how sung it is - SADE: AN EROTIC BEYOND, by Octavio Paz. Soft surrealism take that.

I like things everybody else likes

Borges. And no, I'm not linking to Amazon's copy of LABYRINTHS.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Because We All Know Movies Aren't Literature

I saw the new movie WATCHMEN.

I've only read bits of the graphic novel and found that the print version and the movie had similar flaws: Dr. Manhattan is practically a god, and the others have no explanation that I can see for their superpowers - why is Ozymandias so fast? Because he's smart?

For my money, IRON MAN is the best superhero movie of the last decade.

But who's counting? I mean, peace sells, but who's buying?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Because We All Know Poetry's Not Literature

Check out Rauan Klassnik's new e-chapbook, Ringing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Because We All Know Sci Fi's Not Literature

I've been re-reading lots of sci fi recently. PKD and Willam Gibson, my favorites.

Think about the boon to the world it is that Philip K. Dick was mad. He gave America its own Kafka/Borges/prophet. He helped change the expectations of a genre. He reinvented paranoia as an aesthetic sublime. And he wrote 16 novels in 2 years!

I'm crushing the dementia beneath the pavement with my bare hands.