Currently viewing the tag: "James Greer"

While on tour with my band DTCV, I’m doing some readings/signings of my new collection of short fiction Eveything Flows, in a select few locations. If you’re the kind of person who likes to hear me read, or ask me questions, or just have your copy of my book personalized in an unforgettable and possibly semi-obscene way, then… actually I don’t want to know about it, but please do come by. The dates and places are as follows:

Monday, September 23: Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, OH 7PM

Friday, September 27: Pygmalion Lit Fest, Champaign, IL 6 PM

Sunday, September 29: Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records, Chicago, IL 7 PM

Tuesday, October 1: Clinton Street Social Club, Iowa City, IA 6:30 PM

Wednesday, October 2: Subterranean Books, St. Louis, MO 7 PM

 

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I’m going to be reading, probably from my forthcoming collection of short fiction Everything Flows, at the Pygmalion Lit Fest in Champaign-Urbana, or Urbana-Champaign, or somewhere in Illinois, on September 27 or 28. I’ll also be playing in DTCV on one of those two days as well. The music line-up is here. There is a band called Major Lazer headlining which is probably the worst band name I’ve ever heard. I’m sure they’re awesome.

 

I will have the great pleasure of reading with some of Los Angeles’ best writers, including Joe Donnelly and Antonia Crane, among several others, at Slake Magazine‘s Halloween  Reading at the coolest AND the hottest new LA-area bookstore, Pop-Hop Books & Print in Hancock Park. The address is on the poster above. The date is October 30. The time is 7PM.

Excuse me, have to go write something scary now. Or at least spooky.

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(cross-posted from DTCV)

Hi, so my band DTCV is going on tour,  first stop Tempe AZ before we join up with Guided By Voices in Athen GA on September 18. I’ve agreed to write a sort of tour diary for The Believer magazine’s tumblr, so if and when that happens, I’ll post the link here, and probably cross-post over at our music site DTCV.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll be come out to one or more of the shows, which are listed on the DTCV site, except for Houston TX and Columbia MO, which have been canceled due to I dont know why. We might try to find replacement shows for those two, but at this late date it’s unlikely.

Anyway. Watch this space, by which I mean literally stare at this blank space on the internet for hours on end, forgetting to eat, drink, or sleep, and maybe something cool will happen.

I reviewed Joshua Cohen’s collection of four long short stories, Four New Messages, for Bookforum, which you can find wherever Bookforum in its papery form is still sold, and also online here. My review calls Cohen “immoderately brilliant,” and the takeaway for those disinclined to read reviews is “buy this book.”

Plus also too, I was interviewed by The Believer about the differenece between playing music and writing, or something like that, which you can find here. It was disclosed during this interview that I’ll be doing a tour diary for the The Believer about my band Détective‘s upcoming tour with Guided By Voices. Fans of rambling first person anecdotes should begin bating their breath now.

For reasons surpassing anyone’s understanding, I was interviewed by New York Tyrant publisher Giancarlo DiTrapano for VICE. I taked some about my new band DTCV, and a lot about my forthcoming story collection, Everything Flows, from Curbside Publishing. You can read it all here.


A collection of my “stories,” leaning hard on the figurative sense of story, will be published by Curbside Splendor in November of this year, with the usual caveat that the world may end right around that time in which case never mind. I do hope my forthcoming book will in no way contribute to the end of the world.

The title of the book is “Everything Flows,” after the Teenage Fanclub song of the same name, which is not only the best Teenage Fanclub song ever, but maybe the only Teenage Fanclub song ever. It’s the first song on A Catholic Education, which was their first album. Some might find it a little hyper-crticial that I would call the first song from the first album of a band their best and maybe even only song, in which case I have no really great defense except to say that’s my opinion on the matter, and I don’t really care to hear yours, even though I’m probably wrong (as usual).

Okay, so this new band DTCV has a new EP, called Basket of Masks, set to release on limited edition (300) 12″ 45 r.p.m. vinyl in late May. You can pre-order it now by going here. If you pre-order before it ships, we’ll include as a bonus the limited edition CD of our previous EP, Very Fallen World.

The digital version of Basket of Masks will be released on April 17. You can also pre-order it now, and all pre-orders will get a free download code for Very Fallen World, and a hidden bonus track (download only).

You can do all or none of these things by clicking on the link here.

Relatively short notice, but for Los Angeles-area residents, I’ll be discussing Eric Erlandson’s new book Letters to Kurt at Skylight Books on Thursday, March 29. All the information you could ever want and more can be found by clicking here.

Eric was co-founder of the band Hole, as I probably don’t need to tell you, and as such has seen his share of rock madness from a probably too-close perspective. Letters to Kurt takes the form of 52 prose poems addressed, however obliquely, to Kurt Cobain, and the writing process was clearly a kind of cathartic experience for Eric. I look forward to taking apart his fragile psyche discussing the book with him Thursday. If you’re around, please do come out.

I have been sorely lacking on the “post stuff at North of Onhava” front lately. I don’t even have a good excuse, like “I lost my left arm in an axe-throwing contest.” That would be a good excuse because I’m left-handed.

Anyway, here’s a couple of things. My friend Patrick Wensink has released or is about to release a brilliantly weird novel called Broken Piano For President through the brilliantly weird Lazy Fascist press. As part of the tiresome business of promotion, Patrick has created a website where you can find out lots more about his book. He’s also spent some time soliciting drinking stories from his friends because the protagonist of BPFP is apparently a black-out drunk. I’d just like to go on record that I am not and have only once in my life ever been a black-out drunk. But I do have my share of drinking stories, because I used to be a professional drinker. Patrick was kind of enough to post one of those stories on his site here.

Also, I received in the mail today several copies of the just-published Italian edition of my novel The Failure. A bad photograph of which you can find above. If you’re Italian, or from Italy, or just happen for some weird reason to be able to read Italian, by all means order directly from the publisher Quarup, or if you’re actually in Italy maybe you could go to a bookstore. Not the one in the Vatican. They probably don’t have this. Is there an Amazon Italy? I’m not sure I really want to know. In scouring the internet for the link to my Italian publisher, I also stumbled across what appears to be a review. You can read it, or maybe for fun run it through Google translate, here.

I’m a little behind on the relelntless self-promotion front, but I have my reasons, which are plentiful as grapes, if you you know your Shakespeare.

On Tuesday, March 6, I will be recording a podcast with the Hugs and Disses crew which will feature my new band Detective. I don’t know when the podcast will be available but I’ll try to remember to let you know. You can always check with them if you can’t hardly wait.

On Thursday, March 8, I will be doing Slake After Dark, the slightly embarrassing press release for which is embedded above. It’s free, and if you come, you’ll get to hear Detective, albeit in a semi-acoustic incarnation due to the limitations of the venue, and you’ll get to hear me read from a selection of my writing (which I need to get around to selecting very soon). And you can ask me questions about stuff like why is the sky blue, or where do trees go when they die, or pretty much anything except where do I get the ideas for my books/stories/films (they come, without fail, from my agent.)

The excellent literary site Joyland, which describes itself as a “hub for short fiction” because it’s a hub for short fiction, has come out with the first of a planned biannual series of print journals consisting of pieces that have previously appeared on the site. The first Joyland Retro (it’s retro because it’s printed on old-fashioned paper, see) contains stories from Nathan Sellyn, Roxane Gay, Kevin Wilson, Zoe Whittall, Ricco Siasoco,  Jim Hanas, Andrew Hood, Ben Loory, Erica Lorraine, Scott McClanahan, and Margaret Wappler. And also, in what is either an oversight or a lapse of taste, a story by me.

You should buy it anyway, because the other writers included are uniformly great in ways that I can’t begin to describe because I haven’t received my contributor’s copy and so haven’t read their stories but TRUST ME. All proceeds from the sale of the print journal go towards keeping the site itself alive and kicking, and it’s a really vital endeavor if you’re at all interested in literary fiction, which if you’re not I will have to cut you out of my will. Sorry.

Or at least, he claims that his blog will do so. And today, he wrote some very kind words about my second novel The Failure, so I’m inclined to believe him. But you, having free will (or so you’ve been led to think), may choose to feel otherwise. In which case I will hunt you down and kill you. Just kidding. I’ll get Benicio del Toro to do it. God, I’m so tired.

This is a picture of Berlin. It is unrelated to the story below.

 

[Editor's note: a version of this story appeared in my friend Sébastien Doubinsky's excellent bi- or tri-lingual periodical Zaporogue, which you can find here. Seb has at least two books forthcoming from the excellent Black Coffee Press sometime in the next year or so (including his excellent Goodbye Babylon, which was published in the UK under the title The Babylonian Trilogy and in France under... you get the idea) and by the time I finish writing this sentence will have written and/or translated three or four more excellent books in three or four more languages. This story is notable for being one of the very few things I've written recently that will not eventually be fitted for use in my forthcoming novel. Probably.]

 

The Reluctant King

 

Alfred the Coward stepped carefully down the shoe-worn steps in front of the library. Shallow grooves in the stone from the treading of shoes, countless, over years and years of students walking to and fro. Even a stone can be worn down, he thought, even marble or in this case granite from a quarry in somewhere in. He carried two books under his arm and headed across the grass for the shade of an elm tree. Fraxinus Americana, Alfred read on the brass plate affixed to the tree’s broad trunk. American Elm. Not many of these left, I suppose, he thought. Wasted by disease, the beetle who carried the disease from tree to tree or anyway bug of some kind. Dutch elm the disease was called, but killed American elms with Dutch efficiency. The men from the city came and chopped down the whole row on our street. The noise from the chainsaws. Like shooting a horse, he thought. No use. Books I’m carrying might have been pulped from that dead wood. Still no use.

He sat down in the shade. The new day was warm and moist, and the morning sun had just risen above the slate rooftop of the library. The lowest branches of the elm filtered some of the sunlight through a network of summer leaves, and their complex shadow swayed in the light wind. Alfred opened one of the books and flipped through the first few chapters without interest. Wonder will the rain hold off until evening, he thought. Right now doesn’t look, but these storms move quickly. Two nights ago came out of nowhere, over the blue hills I can see from my north-facing window, so out of the north. Unusual because most weather travels west to east. Part of the trouble with the world, he thought. Underneath right now the root system absorbs groundwater from the soaked-in rain, dredges the water back up through the trunk to the branches. The leaves need rain for strength, but also sun for photosynthesis. Producing air. Birds sitting on the branches, fluttering, chirping. Never know the names of birds. These are sparrows maybe because most birds you see are sparrows. Sarah said.

She would not come tonight, again, he thought. Only when I don’t expect. Some trick to that. Some extra sense. Nothing happens except when I’m not looking. He picked a small stone out of the earth at the base of the tree. The stone was round and smooth, with an irregularity, a small dark spot, on the underside. The top of the stone was lighter than the bottom, bleached by the sun. Alfred fingered the stone. Cool to the touch and absurdly smooth, he thought. Worn by rain same as the steps were worn by human feet. He tossed the stone a little distance. A bird flew down from the tree to inspect the stone. Thinks it might be food, he thought. All day long look for food, then sleep. I have so much trouble sleeping. No need to look for food, just go the dining hall and heaps of food in steaming piles on my plate. Tonight maybe chicken and a bit of salad for balance. The bird looks for food and I eat the bird. Not this bird. Still, a hawk might, if hawks are here. Never seen one, floating in the currents like on television. Everyone is prey. I don’t remember a single prayer, thought Alfred. Haven’t been inside a church in years.

A figure approached Alfred across the grass. Looks like Robert, tall and thin with shirttails flapping as he walks, he thought. Like the hanger’s still in his shirt, bony shoulders, narrow neck.

Aren’t you going for breakfast? asked Robert, stopping a few feet from where Alfred sat.

Alfred gestured to his books. Need to get some reading done. Class at eleven.

Nothing like leaving things to the last minute. Robert reached one bony hand to the back of his neck, scratched lightly.

Better late than never.

O that’s clever. I wish I’d thought of that, said Robert.

Alfred squinted up at Robert. Why doesn’t he sit down? Makes me nervous looming. Sit down or move on.
What kind of class?

English. We’re reading romantic poems, said Alfred. I mean from the period of the Romantics.

Keats died of tuberculosis. Consumption as it was called then. The wasting disease.

Yes that’s very helpful. I’ll be sure to mention that fact to the professor.

He was only twenty-five or something, said Robert. Not much older than us.

I suppose that’s true. Keats was a bell struck once, with a heavy hammer, in the distance, thought Alfred. You hear the fading of the sound rather than the sound itself. But the sound never fades completely. What does echolalia mean? I remember looking it up just the other day.

What does echolalia mean? asked Alfred.

Echolalia, repeated Robert. I don’t know. Did you read it somewhere? Echolalia.

No, it just popped into my head. I came across it a few days ago. I think maybe something Sarah said. Obviously it has something to do with echoes.

Obviously.

Robert stood for a moment, silent, in the gathering heat of the day. I’ll leave you to your reading, he said after a while.

Okay. You doing anything later?

Robert shrugged. He held his palms slightly outwards in a gesture of helplessness. No plans. Call me if you think of something.

Maybe, said Alfred. I’ll see you. When he held his hands like that he was the picture of Christ. Except for the lack of beard, and also now Jesus was said to be a black man. But pictures of Christ from paintings. Except for the beard. His hair’s not dissimilar, though, in length. Also lank and greasy, as you’d expect. A holy man would not take many baths, I think, he thought.

Alfred watched Robert walk towards the dining hall, which sat at a right angle to the library. The dining hall was made of red brick with white wooden columns. Those are Ionic capitals, he thought. Ionic, Doric, Corinthian. Everything I remember from Ancient Greece.

A gust of wind rustled the branches above his head. One or two of the birds flew off. Shading his eyes with his hand, Alfred peered in the direction of the sun. A few thin gray clouds scudded across the sky, moving fast. Down here the wind is calmer, thought Alfred. In the atmosphere things are more turbulent. The air is thinner and colder and changeable. When you fly in a plane you may encounter sudden pockets of rough air and the plane may drop, suddenly, in certain extreme cases hundreds of feet in a second.

He turned back to the book in his lap. The book had nothing to do with Romantic poetry. It was a novel by a French writer from the nineteenth century, translated into English by a fin-de-siècle British lady who had translated many books. Must have become easy after a while, he thought. Don’t see how you can produce things in that quantity without falling back on habit. With translation you’re always left to wonder if the book is a reflection more of the translator or of the original author.

You don’t seem yourself lately, said Alfred.

Sarah stretched across his bed, her hair wet from the shower, dressed in a light-blue blouse and gym shorts.

Who do I seem like, she asked. She was leaning on her elbows, watching the sunset fade outside his window.

I don’t know. Not yourself.

Don’t know what to say to that. I am myself. How can I not seem like myself? I don’t know any other way to be.

No, it’s just, you’re always sad and you don’t want to talk to me about things. You don’t get interested the way you used to.

Maybe I’ve told you everything I’m interested about. Maybe we’ve used up all possible topics of conversation. Anyway, I don’t feel particularly sad. You may be projecting.

Alfred sat at his desk and pretended to work on a paper for a class. He had a few sheets of paper covered in notes, and an open book on the desk in front of him. He held a pencil in his right hand. The pencil was covered in teeth marks.

I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t think I’m projecting. But it’s possible I’m wrong about your mood. I don’t have much experience with other people.

That’s not true, said Sarah, craning on the bed to face Alfred. You have more experience than you need. You have a surfeit of experience. You have me. You have yourself. By measuring one against the other you can draw any conclusion you need, and you have a fifty-fifty chance of being right. That’s better odds than with most things.

I’ve never had any luck with numbers, said Alfred, turning back to his work.

That was the last time, he thought, sitting under the elm, four days and counting. I try not to notice or let her absence bother me but what else? Alfred dug his fingers into the small hollow left by the stone he had picked out. He loosened clumps of black earth and flicked them with thumb and forefinger into the grass. The clumps disintegrated on impact. Earthworms churn the earth, building tunnels, an endless, unseen lattice. We need the earthworms because they till the soil, turning and turning the compact earth until it loosens and can absorb the rainwater on which all things depend. Once I bit into an apple I’d plucked from one of the trees in the faculty gardens. There was a worm in the apple and I bit it in half. I spit the worm and the piece of apple from my mouth and chucked the rest of the apple into a bush. Some worms can regenerate themselves from even half. Or maybe I killed the worm, I don’t know, he thought.

He inspected the nails on the hand that had rummaged in the dirt. There was a thin line of dirt under each nail. He tried to clean the nails with a pencil he had wedged in one of the books as a placeholder. Only makes things worse, he thought.

Alfred returned the pencil to its place in the book. Again he leafed through the book’s pages, without reading. This is not the book I wanted, he thought. Nunc ipsum, tamen. I will not knuckle under the weight of ideas. I will not say uncle.

A few items of interest to readers of North of Onhava, and possibly to normal people, too:

1. An excerpt from my novel-in-progress is available for your reading pleasure at Joyland NYC. As far as I can tell, it’s set in a kind of pre-apocalyptic Paris, and contains at least two characters who may not be human. It would mean a lot to me if you would pretend to read it, and even more if you would pretend to like it by clicking on the little “like” icon next to the story.

2. I am reading from The Speed Chronicles, an anthology of stories about guess what, edited by Joseph Mattson, who is the author of the acclaimed (by me, but not just by me) novel Empty The Sun. The event is at Book Soup on Wednesday November 16, 7PM. Joseph will read from The Speed Chronicles, too. Also reading will be the editors of The Cocaine Chronicles, an analogous collection of stories about guess what. Both books will be published by Akashic Books and should start filtering into bookstores and online retailers very, very soon.

3. Joseph and I will be embarking on a West Coast tour to promote The Speed Chronicles at the end of November into early December. Exact dates, times, and participants (all subject to change because humankind is fallible and I in particular am a whimsical guy) can be found, conveniently, to the right of this post. We’ll be reading and drinking in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Arcata, Portland, and Seattle. If you live in one of those cities, your attendance is mandatory.

4. I reviewed Kate Zambreno‘s wonderful new novel Green Girl for the forthcoming issue of Bookforum. Which should also be filtering into bookstores, newstands, and online entities very soon.

5. Dennis Cooper is reading from his (masterful, ground-breaking) new novel The Marbled Swarm at Skylight Books on Thursday November 17. If you are anywhere near Los Angeles and don’t come to hear Dennis read I will no have no choice but to conclude that you are a fool, or worse.

6. Finally, but not in any way less importantly, the LA-based literary magazine Slake has begun a Kickstarter campaign to help fund their fourth issue. I cannot stress how great this magazine is and will continue to be, with your help. I know times are tough, but if you could see your way to throwing a couple of units of currency their way, not just Slake, not just me, but the entire literary world except for that one really bitter guy will thank you.

 

Slow News Day is not a bad band name. It’s also not a good band name. It’s kind of a middling-to-fair band name. Glad we cleared that up. Here are some Slow News items, beginning with another band name:

First this. Which is particularly weird given this.

Then this, which is less weird than embarrassing.

Oh, and that big magazine cover above? You can pre-order the issue, which contains within in it not just that picture but a couple thousand words I wrote down that Bob Pollard said to me, here.

 

Apparently I wrote an article for the 1,225th Anniversary issue of Spin Magazine, which occurred in May of 2010. I mean, I did write an article, but I totally forgot. And I have never in my life paid for a copy of Spin, so. Luckily, an obscure internet startup called Google has taken it upon itself to scan everything ever written by me (and possibly other people) into its data-collector-device. I have embedded, or hope I have embedded, the article below for your reading pleasure in case you don’t have the twenty-five cents or whatever the going rate is nowadays to go buy your own copy.

The piece probably discusses the circumstances surrounding my leaving the magazine and joining the rock band Guided By Voices, but I can’t be entirely sure, because that would mean reading the whole article, and in addition to never having paid for an issue of Spin, I have never in my life read an issue of Spin, and I am if nothing else consistent. What I will say is this: man, did I used to be fat! (Related: why am I the only one drinking in this picture? Not realistic.) The title of the article and its sub-hed or “dek” were not of my own device. I mention that only because both are clumsy, misleading, and humiliating. Reminds me of the days I used to edit that magazine. Shudder.


 

Prologue

Low light slants through a bower of maple branches onto the roof and dirt-spattered windshield of a car parked on the red clay driveway. No wind stirs, and the mosaic of shadow slides by imperceptible degrees from the blue roof of the parked car to the tawny drive, crawling from there to the tips of the trees. Cinders of sunset spark on the windshield between buttons of grime. On the porch of the adjacent house, a large dog sleeps restlessly, its black ears twitching in the evening heat, next to a swing hung between white wooden columns. Through the grid of windows facing the porch, a woman stirring sauce in the kitchen presents an occasional profile, hair pulled back neatly and rubber-banded, brow flexed in thought. She stops stirring and lifts the spoon to her lips, one hand cupped beneath, bending her neck forward slightly to greet the upwards curve of the spoon-bearing hand.

My cigarette smoke rising from an empty chair on the porch mirrors the steam from the sauce, twining in the window, which reflects not only the warm light from the kitchen but the sun’s quiet death. The first few fireflies test their turn signals, harbingers of impending night. One buzzes too close to the sleeping dog, inducing a drastic shift in the stubborn flow of time and place: the dog yawns, and suddenly I’m in a dark room in a cold city with a streetlight blaring in my eyes. Impermanence, I have a feeling, is a self-inflicted wound.

1. Absence

It’s cold in here. The window is loose in its frame and rattles with every gust of wind. I can feel the wind through my sweater, slowly unraveling like the frayed edges of my personality, falling apart now that I’m alone, now that no one else is around to give me substance and meaning. Outside the glare of another’s perception, I’m afraid I have no real being. I’m an accretion of foreign fluid—the sweat and saliva I’ve sucked out of you and everyone else. That equals me. That’s my sum.

Without you I have no memory, and without memory people are little better than husks. I can no longer draw your face in my mind: I remember only plangent recombinations of light and shade, half-shimmers of reflected recollection, spangles of recognition—as if you were mirrored in a poorly-lit store window, at an oblique angle, on one of my memory’s byways or sidestreets. I’m starting to forget what everything looks like. My room is inhabited by phantoms of objects I’m sure I long ago lost, and the shapes of the few things that do remain seem to shift from moment to moment. I’m constantly bumping into my table and spilling books onto the floor, books I didn’t even know I had and certainly have never read, nor will.

Hunger and thirst are feminine. Ho fame, ho sete. Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness, or do you, as I do, simply hunger and thirst, in the most obvious and humiliating ways? A penny shines on my dresser, reflecting the tangerine streetlight outside the window. I want that coin’s brightness, its permanence, its lack of permanence. Everything.

Time’s been severed at the root, lopped, trimmed and sent spinning from space by a single brutal blow. Poor gap-toothed infinite, our silly sun, useless armies of stars in her fingerless hands. Garlands and garlands of two-lipped truths dangle from her neck. Who collects the residue of passion?

2. Presence

Liquid syllables spill down the phone lines, like wet diamonds, like a wild boar in a shadow forest. Message from a seasick heart. The sun in my blood goes supernova and gutters out. The moon, I’m beginning to think, has designs on me. The moon has a motive.

I’ve felt the lunar tug before, but never so strong, never so pure. Every atom in me vibrates with its light, and I lie unmoving, pinned to the bed, barely blinking. A jacaranda tree outside my window, spindly with age, bends in the moonlit wind, directing my eyes, my hands, my heart towards the image inhabiting the center of my mind.

I know what the moon wants. I know and resist with an automatic strength. I know because I can see her: sometimes she lies breathing quietly in the next room, her long and lovely fingers clutching the edges of a borrowed blanket. I envy that blanket’s easy embrace, and resent the rasp of sheets against my flushed skin. Lead-limbed on my glimmering bed, I smoke a stale cigarette, exhaling with effort, and imagine the shadows falling across her face. Shadow fingers, shadow lips, shadow kisses. I’m no stranger to the rapture of attraction, but this is different. This is a matter of tides, of gravity. Of ineluctable force.

What is love? Movement of the soul towards its essential nature. All words become one word. When you say the word your life begins.

If. L’if. Life. In the strange geometry of ardor, words are never proof enough.

Epilogue

Today and tomorrow, no more. Whatever pain you have caused in the past: redacted. Nothing ensues, transpires: happens. Sadness: no more. In the sky, drifting ashes mix with snow and become snow, and fall, in wet flakes, on the international date line. Let’s get out of the house. Let’s open the high oak doors and walk outside, breathing new air. The ice ages but we do not: no more. A blue jay carries an almond in its beak, hopping along the crooked fence. The warped and rotting boards of the fence bear the weight of the bird, and the falling snow, without complaint.

 

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Rufous Knicks, rampant in blue serge suit and hairs-cut, stepped down the wobbly back shell of Forever Corner like a king descending to court. That or another like sentence would mark well to begin this history in old days whereof I have understood some, having lived for petty times in that epoch. I do not possess any old days books, but have had opportunity to peruse precisely two at cabinet of Mme. Pi and on one occasion had extinct pleasure to listen Super My Love read the first chapter of a leafy tome encased in papery sleeving, color pale green, entitled Lol. In which I comprehend was a lacrosstick of some nature in which I cannot decipher. A lacrosstick occurs when letters stand around for longer words in which the writer does not wish to unveil for private reasons.

The reading of the old days book Lol was a magic. It is different to hear words in the head of you than bespoke by another. O man I have found. I retain no or less memories in which I was young, in which without doubt my mother or some person would have read at high voice from old days books, once I have been told in which were plenty abundant.

I return to Rufous Knicks putting the feet forward and again forward in back of Forever Corner until he had reached the door to the fence at the limit of the garden. I find tiresome to describe every action of Rufous Knicks when I already know where he is going and when and many details concerning his destination. Nor would it be just as interesting to arrive properly without malingering on the travel? Then. I will omit from here to there.

Rufous Knicks entered the building through blown-apart front. Had arrived by straightforward route. Rufous was not the kind to take laborious mappy when the straight line could be put in place end over end in which you can finish by arrival. Inside the building birds bunched on attic rubble at the far end waiting for something. These birds did have bad blood in them, or appeared. But Rufous unslung his rifle and made as if to shoot at them, but the birds did not wow or flutter, but continued to wait only for the something. Black eyes followed Rufous as he forwarded through the main hall and up the stony staircase, mightily damaged but not fallen, into the upstairs room where Madame Salamander Pi held her cabinet on most mornings and some of the afternoons.

Madame Salamander Pi was a gross person. In this way she demonstrated her superior skill-set in the department of living, and was awed by others who had no comparables towards acquiring sustenance and in which consequence were meager in size. Certain, Rufous was twangy in which comparison to Mme. Pi. But he had a compensating vigor but an excellent aim with respect to his rifling but a speed and range of motion but was difficult to tackle. Had he the knowledge of keeping things for long times no one doubts whereby he would on the other hand challenge Mme. Pi for the charge in which she held.

He had no complaint or intent to challenge in mind today’s morning, but Madame Salamander Pi could never know this advanced of the moment, and so her aides dispatched themselves to greet Rufous Knicks before he could attain the threshold of her cabinet. These were two name of Sham and Polish but, in no which gross, still you could say largely in frames.

“What is your business with Madame Salamander Pi?” asked Sham.

“I wish to ask her advice on a project of mutual beneficence,” said Rufous Knicks.

He struggled in the grasp of meaty claws but not too much.

“I do not understand these words,” said Polish, or Sham.

“I have a desire to confer with Mme. Pi. It is a matter she will understand but I do not think that you will, judging from the lack in which you have lately demonstrated ensuing from my prior words.”

“We will have to ask Mme. Pi, or the patron, as we call her, if she wants to conference with you,” said Sham, or Polish.

Rufous Knicks indicated that he understood this act as a necessary, and would wait in the grip of only Sham or Polish while Polish or Sham performed a liaison with Mme. Pi.

While Polish or Sham was gone Sham or Polish said to Rufous “I hope you do not understand our actions to be a counter-temps. It is a duty that we must convey as part of our boss.”

“I confess a petty perturbation, in which is not your fault, and do not blame you,” said Rufous. “My argument is with the order of things. As much with the crows and this exploded wreck as with any person.”

“What you say to me is not meant for me, in which it is okay for me to hear, but your talk is one-sided and does not require a response,” said Polish. Or Sham. “Here is Sham or Polish, come from Mme. Pi, the patron, with informations.”

Sham or Polish rejoined his colleague and said to Rufous Knicks, “Mme. Pi has interest in listening to you, Rufous Knicks, if it is not a trouble to come with us to her cabinet.”

“It is not a trouble,” said Rufous Knicks. “Let’s go.”

I need not add that I have only imaginaried the talk between Rufous, Sham, and Polish, as I was not present and did not have afterwards a chance in which to unpack the exact wording of the exchange from Rufous, as he lay dying.

I will now indicate the camber of time by use of an eclipse.

….

Rufous though mortal of wounds made strong effort to retrieve his corpse to backyard of Forever Corner, at which one saw each other as I marched my circle of deliverance the daily pain. I found him slouched against the wall at step bottom.

“What has passed?” I asked Rufous, who though smeary with blood and shallow respired, had no look of great trouble on his visage.

“Your head,” joked Rufous.

“I mean in really,” I said.

“There was disaccord between me and Salamander Pi,” he said after a while and with some difficulty.

“Of what nature?”

“Of a nature in which she had a mistake of my intent, in which I finished on the wrong side.”

“Well obvious,” I said.

“I have a secret I would like to tell you, now that I am dying,” said Rufous Knicks.

“Tell me your secret, Rufous,” I said.

He made a clan of eye and motioned by which I should come closer.

“A knowing hole of great significance has been opened. I think that Salamander Pi has recognition of this hole, and will take steps to control the results. You must fill your lack, in which you have no fault, to the best delay. Salamander Pi cannot take consequence of the fruits of the secret.”

“I wonder myself that I have in no sense understood your import,” I said.

“I will ask a small favor of you.”

“It does not matter what.”

Rufous Knicks smiled in which his teeth were not seen. He spit on the ground and there followed either a laugh or a cough or a laugh in which became a cough.

“You have ever been a good friend,” he said. “Truth, I crawled back here and waited in hope of your arrival. I had a luck.”

It was a trouble to put my attention in the direction of Rufous Knicks’ purpose, because I was rapt by the seeing of cracked skin around his sharp knuckles. The skin itself looked a separate organ to the underlying bone and filament, undulant independent of hand movement, as if possessed of intelligence its own.

Having essayed some further paroles, Rufous Knicks ceased to inspire. In agreement with his ask, I did not attend to dispose of his corpse but passed to the voluntary in which he had given to me instructions very specific.

I will now indicate the camber of time by use of an eclipse.

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Is your name Hyacinth? Do you bloom in pairs?
I ask a flower question I expect the leaves to turn.
There’s blood in the dirt. There’s an easier road
To the moss-covered ruin, where for a few months
We didn’t sleep from fear of sprayed guts
Or sudden bullets. It’s all mixed up, you see,
It’s one plus one makes three in every physics
I have ever understood. I see things so.
It’s not good. A white fir can stand
For hundreds of years, but I prefer to lie.

Subway posters with scratched-out eyes. Dragonflies.
Everything taped to the wall: matchbook covers,
Cut-out dolls of Elvis, photo of magician w/ cards on fire,
Bridesmaid’s hat (formed webbing), postcard
Of Dorothy’s slippers. Blue marlins taped to bathtub.

Injecting home-made recipe from her mother’s mixing bowl.
Showing tracks on both arms, obligingly. “Modern art.”
Papered with boxscores that almost glitter. The Ex-Pilot Group.
Level is a palindrome. Poem is a conditorium of words.
We are eating the god. Have eaten the godly god. And belch.
I love you as if I knew you, and my feet itch. Martyr me.

What was I born for? thought Thomas, sitting at his desk, copying the last few lines of his work. What was anybody born for?

The sun had long since floated past the lid of his window, over the gray slate roof, and begun to set. He could see its rubescent face reflected in the windows from the building across the street, where for all he knew there was an exact duplicate of himself, doing the same thing, but with perhaps a better understanding of the basic questions.

Thomas absent-mindedly scratched his cheek with the tip of his pen. When he realized what he was doing, he took the index finger of his right hand and rubbed the spot where he had scratched, hoping to erase the inky blotch he was sure must be there. He did not bother to check.

Put the pen down, shuffled the papers on the desk before him. More than twenty, covered with tiny, neat handwriting on both sides. Examined the last lines he had written:

 

That you cannot know the terror in a word. That it will not be the worst you fear. That you bring to the last the first sign. That you choose what to disappear.

 

“That you choose what to disappear.” The last four lines: these were the most important, the ones Caeli had insisted he take down word-for-word, with exactly that punctuation, exactly those rhythms. Apparently the words were a magic. It was not clear what sort of a magic, nor for what purpose, when everything had become so useless. But Caeli had insisted that he not leave Paris without finishing the manuscript, which he now stacked and straightened and slipped inside a clear plastic folder with an elastic fastener. He took the folder, stacked it with other folders, similarly transparent but tinted different colors—gold, green, blue—and slipped the stack in his briefcase.

Rising from the desk he walked over the Persian carpet towards the coat rack and removed his tan raincoat.

There was a knock at the door. Soft but insistent.

Thomas looked through the peep-hole. Furrowed his brow, unfastened the lock and opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” he asked the small, stout, balding, round-faced man who stood before him.

“Sorry to bother you,” said the man, in heavily-accented French. “But we can’t let you leave.”

“What? Don’t be ridiculous. ”

“I’m serious.” To demonstrate his intent, the man produced a snub-nosed revolver from under his coat.

“All right, all right. Put that thing away, Charles, you look ridiculous. Do you even know how to use it?”

Thomas stood aside and gestured Charles into the room.

The Ecuadorean poet Charles Panic walked in and sat down in the chair by the window where Caeli usually sat. He looked at the gun in his hand as if suddenly seeing it for the first time. Slipped it into the pocket of his raincoat.

“No. I don’t know how to use it. But they insisted.”

“They.”

“The Collective.”

“I thought you weren’t with them anymore.”

“I’m not. I mean, I wasn’t. They knew that we’re friends, and they thought I could persuade you to stay. So they forced me, in the way that I’m supposed to force you now.”

Thomas slumped down in the chair at his writing table without taking off his overcoat.

“Charles, I have to go. Caeli’s waiting for me.”

Pater noster, qui est in caelis…”

“Don’t.”

“Will you come with me?”

Thomas scoffed. “Obviously not.”

“You should know that it’s not just me. There are five more downstairs. All armed. All much bigger than me.”

“But can any of them write, Charles? Do any have talent?”

Charles was silent for a moment.

“No. The Collective no longer believes in talent as a mark of distinction. They prize strength over subtlety. They’ve become moralists, Thomas. It’s really quite sad.”

“I told you it would turn out that way.”

“You have to belong to something.”

“The idea of community is a dangerous fiction.”

Charles took out a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his jacket and mopped his brow.

“I’m sure that’s an impressively original thought, Thomas, but we don’t have time for this.”

“You’re right. We don’t. I have to be Auvers-sur-Oise in two hours, and you have to fuck off back to the catacombs to die.”

“I told you. It’s not just me.”

“And I heard you. Good-bye, Charles.”

Thomas went to the window, opened wide the white wood panes, and fluttered down the street below. I learned more than one thing from Caeli, he thought.

He looked back up at his open window, through which Charles Panic was staring, wide-eyed, down at the street. He knew that Charles could not see him, but he was unused to invisible mode, and instinctively ducked for shelter under the awning of the Halle des Chaussures. Across the street, at the entrance to his building, Thomas noticed four or five heavy-set men in long black overcoats.

He jammed his hands in his pockets and walked down the street towards his car, murmuring to himself, careful not to attract attention. “I am the boy. Who can enjoy. Invisibility.”

Charles turned away from the window.

“I wish things were different,” said Charles. He shrugged his shoulders, and his jowls quivered.

“I’m not sure that’s true,” said Thomas. He sighed and stood up. Smoothed the folds in his tan raincoat. “Anyway, let’s go.”

 

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I could break the shell of myself, if you want, or you could try to fail. Here’s how the thing works: some injustice must be left un-righted. Some tumescent flaw must be kept in the perfectly silvered surface of your Venetian mirror, set in the bark of a living tree.

In a stand of reflected catalpas, on each broad leaf, a poem appears in dendriform. In the grass we sit broadside down, and read the fallen leaves, turning pages and colors and sheaves of wheat-seeded idea. From this time to that time is the distance of dewdrop from its source.

Outside the shell, a sinewy thread connects consciousness to individual spirit. The desultations of philosophy, according to some lispy Latin (twining his elder Pliny with De Rerum), are essentially binding, essentially religious. The trinity is one God, four Gospels, and a multitude of loafs. A Character-Not-Yet-Invented hovers over mother-father earth, investing via uncreated breath each holy relic, each storm-born hiccup, with a sailing grace. In order to grit out the truth you have to tell stories that are not stories.

Frank the letters I gift you. Resist upon the justness of my claws. Have prayings for the marks and stick-matter of poor Mary’s rosy crux. Did she treat you well, muttering?

Sing to me now of infinity. Sing infinitely well, and finish with a flourish. Whose fingers now are stained with what type of sin? The devil you say. Named after light but hiding in the dark. In the beginning was the bird. The bird was made fish. Everybody, hellbound pelican or lofty perch, must eat. Must take part or partake, body and blood of Jack Christmas. Each act of kindness is a hopeful mistake.

The old man slumped at the table in a suit spun of flax. “I offer my heart to anyone in need of a muscle to move the lever that moves the world.”

Gemmules of inspiration pop like dolorous spit bubbles. Everything proceeds. Momentum of the moment, refracted in the prison of sight. Uncountable fragments that, together, unreveal a pattern no one stoops to admire.

The shell of the constructed self cracks like brittle candy on the rocks that shift, with predatory intent, from ship to shore. I think, therefore I’m not who you think I am.

Without his coat he believes himself naked, and that unreal nakedness drives him nuts.

Which is the true grammar? Break me if you will. Will me to break myself, to hoist surrender to an army that seeks to conquer itself. O Lord of guests, bid me to build myself a lighter limb, and chatter like a bird. I know, now, I cannot fly. I can only fall.

 

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From the vast North of Onhava archives:

 

 

“Full of grace my ass. Every one of them too goddamn tall. And doubtless crazy as swans. ” The young man was annoyed. He banged his bottle on the wet wood of the bar.

“Perhaps that’s true, but you didn’t stick around long enough to find out.” His companion, a much older man, talked from the side of his mouth, but his words were perfectly clear to anyone who wanted to hear. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling fan in the middle of the small room. The ceiling fan rotated so slowly that it was impossible to tell whether it was turning by electric power or the currents of the barroom’s fetid air.

“What, to see if one was maybe shorter than six foot two? I will not dance with a woman who’s taller than me. It’s not a question of prejudice, simply logistics.”

The old man took off his straw hat and set it on an empty barstool. “Name one thing that’s not a question of logistics,” he said. “Name one.”

(The process of naming, if done properly, kills the sense of the thing named. Like pinning a butterfly.)

“That’s poetry,” muttered the young man, spitting flat beer back into the bottle. He signaled to the woman, thin and sallow under neon beerlight. “Another.”

“That’s not poetry. That’s beyond language. No — you’re right. Tenderly, straight as a curving arrow, that can be poetry.”

“Did you see the way that one redhead was boring straight through me with her red hair and her green eyes? Her red hair? Red?”

“I saw her,” said the older man.

The woman brought a bottle of beer for the young man. He took the bottle and held its coldness to his forehead.

She gave an inquiring look to the older man, who considered his glass of whiskey. He nodded. The nod meant “yes.”

“Boring through me. I was transparent to her, but she was transparent, too. Didn’t think I’d notice. I noticed.”

“It’s good to get out once in a while, see how the other half drinks,” said the old man. “You can tell a lot of things that way.”

“Did you say tell or spell?” asked the younger man. The woman brought a fresh glass of whiskey, sans ice, for the old man, who nodded gratefully. The nod meant “thanks.”

“I’m not sure I understand your meaning,” said the older man, sipping his drink.

“The brunette with glasses? What kind of plan or mission or hidden agenda was up her nose? Shifty, that one. Shifty and tall equals danger. You know what color were her eyes? Because I don’t! She kept shifting them around  their orbits so fast you couldn’t catch the hue.”

“I remember the brunette with glasses,” said the old man, wistfully. “I remember all the brunettes with glasses.”

The younger man had an abstract look. He leafed through a book on the bar in front of him, abstractedly looking at a point in the distance, somewhere past the edge of the page.

“There was only one brunette with glasses,” said the younger man after a time.

Here are the words that the younger man was not reading, but nevertheless had open in front of him:

You are reluctant to state the purpose of your being here. Your reluctance derives from fear and from the certain knowledge that purposes cannot be stated. A purpose stated is a purpose thwarted. Into the blackness of: night, into the blackness of: sea,  from the blackness of: solitude, longing, and despair.

“I wasn’t talking about just tonight’s brunette with glasses. I was talking about all the brunettes with glasses, past, present, and future.” The older man finished his whiskey with a single swallow.

“Time, gentleman!” called the woman, dishtowelling an empty glass. “Time!”

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Gardenias. Heavy scent borne on the evening breeze, through two windows facing the street. The red Mercedes had seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Listen. I met a girl.”

In fading sun the row of bougainvillea overflowing chain link fence across the street flushes pinkly, nodding (sweet, demure) at passersby.

“I love Dave, don’t you?”

He hadn’t seen the car until it juddered into his, obliquely, at low speed, denting the hood over the right headlight and smashing the blinker to yellow shards, scattered on the road. Useless blinker guts hung from exposed wires, sadly on the bumper, a gouged eye dangling from its socket by a bloody thread.

“He thinks I’m trashing him. And of course I am, I mean whenever you break up with somebody….”

Night wearily shrugs on pinpricked overcoat. He sits in blue chair facing the windows. Cars roll by, eachly different by susurrus, by timbre of engine-stroke and brake-squeak. Bursts of conversation from sidewalkers in brief spaces between rumbly belching and whispering cars. Palpates parts of his face with one indifferent hand. Still there. Still.

“I don’t involve myself with anything to do with Allen.”

Can you feel his fingers moving slowly over your body? he wondered. Hot dry lips on slender shoulder, breathing in your ear, blowing strands of hair from your eyes? Like fine sand drifting in sea-air. You might not have noticed. Bastard didn’t even apologize. Not a flicker of regret. The look in his eyes as dead as will. We all. Being. Unwell. Stand. Windowsill. Understood. Will understand.

“I was in shock, just complete… shock….”

Photo: Still from Mimesis (2006)

As many of you know the trivium derives from the introductory curriculum in many medieval universities, where it involved the study of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. The word is Latin in derivation, perhaps obviously, and literally means the place where three (tri-) roads (via) meet. Our modern word trivia is loosely, and I think unfairly, connected by blood relation to trivium, by way of the altogether vulgar (in its literal sense) trivialis. Compare this with the quadrivium, similarly medieval, and comprising the four “mathematical” arts: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. An example of someone who would have excelled at the quadrivium is Brian May, the guitarist from Queen.

By way of illustration, I present the following story, or proselet, which is not a word I expect to catch on. It incorporates two quotations that one might find in any trivium worthy of the name, but places them in a setting of cheap jewelry that I hope makes some kind of emotional sense.

The Man Called Marriage

Two bursts of light, in rapid succession, woke him from a dreadful dream. A car turning around in the driveway, most likely. He shifted from his side onto his back, flinging a sleep-deadened arm across his chest. He enjoyed the way feeling would slowly creep back into the lifeless arm and hand.

He raised his head and looked at the pillow next to his on the bed. He knew she wasn’t there, knew that she had not been there for months, knew that barring some unforeseeable fold in the fabric of time she would never be there again. But he couldn’t help checking.

No sound but a few weary crickets, whether inside or out he could not tell. Dark of night had swallowed the room. Only blurred and mobile shapes. Shadows and deeper shadows.

Darkness has no lines, only depth, he thought. His eyes, adjusting to the murk, recovered what might be a chair, what might be a lamp, what might be a network of twigs on the ash tree outside his window, laying odds on how long till the sun comes up.

The sun is impossible to catch, he thought. Many things are thought impossible, but later turn out possible all along. It’s possible, he thought, that all things are possible, or will turn out to be possible. Two robins settled on the hickory tree outside his kitchen window. He was standing in the kitchen making coffee. Light from the morning sun, filtered by the greasy dirt on his unwashed windows, lay wan and shapeless on the counter and the dull tiles of the floor.

“Our separated dust, after so many pilgrimages and transformations into the parts of minerals, plants, animals, elements, shall at the voice of God return into their primitive shapes, and join again to make up their primary and predestinate forms.” He remembered the quote clearly but could not remember who said or wrote these words that he once believed.

He stood in the room where his books were lined against the wall. He held a long, serrated kitchen knife in his right hand, methodically scarring the spines of his books. He slashed diagonally, from top to bottom, left to right, in the same direction in which he used to read, it occurred to him, as he slashed the first volume of The Alexandria Quartet, without understanding why, without self-examination or emotion.

In the zoo, sidling up to the aviary, he saw parakeets varicolored like the desert sun setting on a cloudless night. A small snow-owl, half-blind from daylight, peered through slitted eyes at the end of all diseases of the flesh. The snow-owl, he thought, is a curious bird. He keeps most of what he knows to himself. But not all, he thought, and chuckled.

You could set the snow-owl free right now, but the snow owl would always be in prison. Once you injure something it stays injured. Fetters cannot be removed by any human hand.

One time he dreamed that he was walking along the red clay bank of a warbling creek, and saw an injured sparrow. He was overwhelmed with pity at the sight of the poor bird, and fell to his knees, cupping the sparrow in his hands and blowing gently on its feathers, thinking that somehow the blowing would reassure the tiny creature. The next part of the dream he couldn’t remember exactly, whether the bird simply died or immediately healed and flew away. Either way, he knew he had lost the sparrow for good, and knew, too, as one knows things in dreams that one could never guess in waking life, that the bird was her, and that she was gone.

Inner duration, perceived by consciousness, is nothing else but the melting of states of consciousness into one another, and the gradual growth of ego. Another useless quote, but why, he wondered, did this fragment of knowledge reduce him to helpless tears?

Wind snapped a branch outside and he woke. Tears streamed down his cheeks; his pillowcase was soaked.

“I am unbelievably happy,” he whispered to the empty room. And thought: I am unbelievably happy.

Theme music: “Car Wash”

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Inspired by the example of my betters, here’s a short film I made in France. It was shot at the Château D’hérouville, about an hour outside of Paris, which was once a famous recording studio – the “Honky Chateau” of Elton John fame – but is now overgrown and mostly a ruin. I intended at first just to shoot some test footage of the location. But the test was meant to be in HD, and the HD cable on my rented camera broke, so I had go old school SD video. Looking at the footage later, I decided to construct a false narrative and write some dialogue. Which you can’t hear very well, which is intentional, but for which I apologize nonetheless. On the upside, it’s pretty short.

I provide subtitles for those who do not speak French. Unfortunately, those subtitles are also in French. Fortunately, (most of) the text is simply a French version of the Wikipedia page to which I linked above. The English text is a different matter. I take full responsibility for that.

The name of the film comes from when I was driving back with Constance Cardon, the non-actress actress featured here, and she was talking in her adorable deep gravelly voice to her boyfriend, who was asking her about the shoot. She told him that essentially she was playing the role of “la femme qui n’était rien,” which can be translated as “the woman who wasn’t there.” I thought that was a great title for something, and eventually, why not, for this.

One small note: it doesn’t really matter, but Constance’s accent renders the line “I think I may be a robot” into “I think I may be a rabbit,” at least to my ears. Just FYI.

I posted this a while back, around the time the novel was published, but I thought I’d re-post it here today because a) I’m really busy and don’t have time to find anything more interesting to post, much less actually write about something, and b) upon re-watching it, I remembered that it’s really good, due mostly to the inclusion of a sonic death ray from Robert Pollard’s solo album We All Got Out of The Army that used to be called “Knapsack Buying Blues” but I can’t remember what it eventually ended up being called.

Anyway, this is the trailer. I hope you like it. It was not easy to make. (Yes it was.) If you want to buy the book associated with the trailer, please go here. If not, please go here.

 

You’ll note that the website address to which the video directs you at the end is out of date and no longer in operation (my website address, that is; Akashic Books is still there and doing just fine.) But if you are watching the trailer then you already know the correct address, so there’s no point in me going all the way back into Final Cut Pro just to change some stupid text. Right?

I wrote this story long before the movie franchise of the same title appeared. I’m not saying the movie people stole the idea from me, even though I’m pretty sure I invented hangovers, but if Zach Galliafinakopolisopoulous wants to kick a couple of euros my way for, you know, “thanks, man” or whatever, I would not complain.

In fact, I wrote this story a long, long time ago, when I (briefly) attended college in Charlottesville, Virginia, a town and a state I had never visited before enrolling there, and which I have not visited since dropping out, which was either the best decision I’ve ever made or the worst, or both, or neither.

The story when I first wrote it was close to 15,000 words. In its current form it is less than 900. People should not subject other people to their prolix juvenilia, is my point.

Though the conceit of the story suggests that it takes place during the time it takes to listen to both sides of R.E.M.’s Murmur, I do not advise taking that conceit as veridical, though if someone wants to test the proposition, please do not let me stop you.

Two further notes: 1) this story originally appeared in the fine literary/music journal Yeti (issue 6), which can be found here; 2) the character Violet McKnight, keen-eyed observers may note, has the same name as the character Violet McKnight in my most recent novel The Failure. The two girls are not related and in fact remain unaware of each other’s existence. I’d prefer to keep it that way, if it’s okay with you. Thanks.

The Hangover

SIDE ONE

 1. Calling out in transit (4:05)

Sam Anonymous had a drinking problem.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Brown vinyl of the sofa peeled with sticking sound from humid flesh of back and legs as he sat up. Pattern of raised swirls on the vinyl were reproduced on skin: corresponding incarnadine impressions.

2. Your hate: clipped and distant (4:30)

Low whistle of kettle rose in pitch and volume to climax in piercing shriek that unmoored the murmur of Sam’s thoughts. From tin of instant coffee he spooned quantity of dark powder. Hands shook slightly as he struggled to fill the cup with sour-smelling coffee. Scratched idly at the corner of one sleep-swollen eye: steadied himself against the counter. A ribbon of water lined the front edge of sink where he had sloppily rinsed the mug. When he pressed against the counter water seeped into the waistband of his boxers.

3. Martyred: misconstrued (3:58)

Her name was Violet McKnight. Five foot two in bare feet. Short hair dyed unnatural red swept back from lunar face: cranberry strands fell in her eyes when she made an emphatic gesture. Nose small, well-formed, eyes the color of root beer, narrowed to skeptical slits when challenged.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Spitting toothpaste into sink Sam noticed with equanimity that the spent paste was streaked with blood from his gums.

4. Not everyone can carry the weight of the world (3:24)

He was twenty-nine years old. In February he would be thirty.

5. Inside the moral kiosk (3:32)

A wave of nausea broke and receded. Sam hunched forward on the couch. Palpating his cheeks: annoyed by growth of stubble. Counting backwards could only manage four days before the fog of elapsed time refused to lift.

6. Shoulders high in the room (3:30)

Weaving unsteadily down the street, he saw her outlined against the black glass of her bedroom window, body limned by a nimbus of yellow streetlight.

SIDE TWO

1. Did we miss anything? (3:55)

Sam yawned, stretched his arms, stood and heavily walked across the room to turn over record. Returning to couch: revisited by a coil of his earlier nausea unwinding in his gut and feathering upwards through his chest. Unsnapped the cap from a plastic bottle on the table next to alarm clock, shook two aspirin into his hand, placed them with thumb and forefinger carefully in back of mouth, and swallowed with effortful gulp.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

What use is experience without memory?

2. We could gather: throw a fit (3:18)

One thing at a time: watching Violet bend towards him by light of a guttering candle.

3. All nine yards (3:05)

Scratched his hair in imitation of thought. Hoisted himself off the couch and began sorting through pile of clothes on ugly square of brown-and-white carpet.

Love is a crazy and unkempt thing that grows like a wild weed in the heart. It will suffer the cruelest attempts at eradication with quiet strength, and will take root and prosper in even the stoniest soil. True love, like true art, admits no moral influence. Had he read that or was it original?

4. Shaking through: opportune (4:30)

In frustration he ripped the front buttons and stripped off the shirt: left hand got tangled in the cuff: which he had abstractly buttoned moments earlier: and pull as he would: flap as he might: the shirt refused to let go. Sat down on the couch: head in hands, the tattered shirt trailing to the floor like captured flag of some defeated army.

5. Up the stairs to the landing (3:01)

World adheres to stringent rules of form and content: these rules, Sam knew from prolonged contact with books, were not frangible. Just as a story must have beginning, middle, end, so a soul must have one body to inhabit. Proliferation of the soul’s forms would mean rewriting rules of human contact.

6. Long gone (3:17)

The wind picked up and there was a smell of rain. Sam buttoned his overcoat with reddened fingers. The tips of a succession of telephone poles flecked the sky on the far side of the broad avenue: up one of these scrambled two squirrels.

Dark tracery of oak limbs: russet and orange and mustardy leaves: cold rain-scented air: combined to form an impression of remote beauty that reinforced and focused his sense of longing.

Continued past a brick house, windows ardent with citrine light. Fragrant gray smoke curled from its chimney: leaves of a silver poplar fluttered in the wind, undersides flashing white like a flock of luminous moths: from thick tangle of azalea bushes came sounds of a small animal scrabbling for food or shelter.

Fine rain needled his face but he did not mind the wet because in his heart he carried a word —finally! — that was the word he needed. He held the word before him like a lighted candle to ward off the rain, and the cold, and the black despair of night as he walked towards Violet’s house.

Part One – Sunderland

Thomas Quin was aware, with the acute self-consciousness pubescent boys suddenly acquire — a hilly solipsism from which they daily tumble into an abyss of despair — that he was unusually thin, and awkward, and afraid of everyone. His formerly natural friendliness and curiosity disappeared, replaced by morbid insularity. He went, as most teenagers do, insane. For instance, he was under the impression that he had invented masturbation.

Learning came so easily to Thom that he did not bother to learn anything; rather, with the arrogance which accompanies extreme shyness, he expected that things would learn him. He invented biographies for his future selves. He had many future selves, who accomplished great and wonderful things, though without effort — Thomas could see only the accolades, and the esteem, and never the work, because any kind of work directed toward anything other than his daydreams seemed pointless and silly. He would sit in the waiting room of the dentist’s office with a few children his own age or slightly younger, or slightly older, and imagine their future surprise to learn that they had once shared a dentist’s waiting room with Thomas Quin — so unprepossessing, so lacking in the qualities one normally finds in a hero, in a Great Man. And yet there he was. Waiting to have his teeth drilled.

The history of Sunderland, Massachusetts, despite its best efforts, has been and in all likelihood will remain unremittingly dull. There are only a few sources: a pamphlet encompassing the period from the town’s incorporation in 1639 through 1939, funded by President Roosevelt’s WPA act and executed by a group of talentless school teachers who based most of their work on Rambling’s much more thorough earlier history covering the years 1639-1889; and Bearhart’s unimaginably tedious gap-filler, from 1939 through the mid-eighties, which consists mostly of the results of various budget meetings, or midget beatings, sorry.

Sunderland lies sixteen or perhaps thirteen miles west and south of Boston, using the old Boston Post Road, established for obvious reasons three hundred and fifty years ago and which ran through Sunderland on its way west to Marlborough. The Wayside Inn on the south-western edge of Sunderland, along the Post Road, was celebrated in a collection of poems called Tales From A Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was not a particularly talented poet but who had a knack of coining memorable lines (“One if by land, two if by sea” from his poem — included in the Tales — about the midnight ride of Paul Revere, silversmith, to alert the citizenry to the approach of the British Regulars at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, foremost among these rote rhymes).

In the ensuing war, various noble-hearted citizens of Sunderland took up arms and fought with tennis raquets and muskets against the cowardly and brutal and slightly confused British, distinguishing themselves at the Battle Of Bunker Hill and at Valley Forge and at the Battle Of Old Bill Battle’s Battlefield, on the site of which is now a factory that produces board games of famous battles. Since that exciting era, nothing much has happened in Sunderland, with the minor exception of the first public performance of the rock opera Tommy, written and recorded by The Who, which had been licensed for public performance in the United States by one of the heirs to nature writer Rachel Carson’s fortune, who discovered too late that he had purchased a license for exactly one public performance, which thus took place at Sunderland Regional High School sometime in the early nineteen-seventies, according to reliable and friendly sources at the Sunderland Historical Society, which also sells maps. These sources unfortunately cannot remember the name of Carson’s heir, and speculate that his involvement in hard drugs may be responsible for the absence of any further information on his whereabouts or disposition. The performance, by an ensemble of local musicians, was well-received.

Young Thom Quin had a paper route, since age nine, delivering the evening edition of the Boston Globe to a new development of colonial-style homes in south-eastern Sunderland. He had a ten-speed bicycle, attached to the handlebars of which was a wire basket suitable for carrying the forty-odd papers that constituted his daily route. He also delivered the morning paper on Saturday, but the bulky Sunday edition was left to a specialist who employed the particular efficiency of an automobile. Thom was expected to deliver his papers in every kind of weather, and though on exceptionally snow-bound and frigid afternoons he would beg his mother to drive him in her dark green Ford Granada across the blustery tundra of Sunderland’s winter-dark streets, her firm belief in the value of persistence and self-reliance and hard work rarely melted in the face of Thom’s whining. He would suit up in a snorkel jacket, woolen mittens, and a scarf wrapped around his face which his breath soon dampened uncomfortably before freezing solid.

On the worst days he would put the papers in his Boston Globe carrier bag and sling it over first one shoulder, then the other, stamping through the snow which inevitably crept down his frozen-buckled rubber boots, soaking his thick socks, and adding to the torture of his travails. On one well-blizzared occasion he resorted to hauling the papers on his Flexible Flyer, fastened thereto with characteristic shoddiness by Thom, so that half-way through the route a strong gust swept the remaining papers into the white-quilted landscape, the papers unfurling like the mainsails of the Tall Ships that had earlier that year ported into Boston Harbor in celebration of the nation’s bicentennial, on the exact day of which Sunderland had lent its patriotic zip code, 01776, to Philadelphia. Thom made a half-hearted effort to save what few papers remained intact, which numbered exactly two, delivered those to the nearest two houses, who incidentally did not happen to subscribe to the Globe, and hurried home. He spent the rest of the night huddled in bed staring at his wallpaper, which featured a montage of Revolutionary War emblems, pretending to be sick in order to dodge calls from angry residents who unreasonably expected the timely delivery of their newspaper regardless of the weather, regardless that a fourteen-year-old boy has limits, both physical and mental, that should be tested only with great care.

Despite occasional irritations, Thom liked his paper-route very much, not least because it was an entirely solitary activity. His imagination was not constricted by the need to interact with anyone, and as such was free to tackle all the important questions a fourteen-year-old boy must confront: Is the world a dream, and if so is it my dream, are all these people, places and things a product of my dream, or am I part of someone else’s dream, and therefore unreal, but so thoroughly unreal that I’m unaware that I’m unreal? He had been taught in church to believe that the world was an illusion, and Thom had little difficulty absorbing that patently obvious fact, but he was endlessly absorbed by the question: whose illusion? Because his religion made no use of images or icons or representations of God, he saw everything and everyone as God-in-potential. But his favorite fancy was to imagine himself God, to invest himself with omnipotence and omniscience, though not yet omnipresence, as he had at that point very limited experience with life outside of Sunderland. Like many adolescent boys, he longed deeply for two seemingly contradictory things: to be accepted, to be well-liked, to appear normal in all aspects and not in any way weird; and to be special, to stand out above all others either by virtue of having been marked by God for some secret task, or, better yet, to have been invested with some magic ability — superhuman strength, mind-reading, invisibility — that no one realized but that would one day be revealed to the astonishment of all.

Walking backwards down Warren Road so as to avoid the cutting easterly wind that regularly buffeted that quarter of his paper-route, Thom could see Mount Nobscot, a few miles away in Framingham. He liked to imagine that an enemy force of great strength and determination lay hidden just behind Nobscot’s peak, which in truth was not so much a peak as the round back of a gently-sloped hill, but the maps provided by the Sunderland Historical Society do not lie. Mount Nobscot was a mere blip of earthwork, sparsely forested, on the crest of which sat awkwardly a water tower, whose tip bisected Thom’s oriental view. The hill sloped gently on either side, and disappeared behind occlusions as occur in many suburbs: bushes, streetlight, roof, the wafted smoke of twilight fires.

The enemy force could be ghosts, demons, humans, or some concatenation of the infinite congeries of evil — Thomas had recently finished reading Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary on an idle weekend — depending on the mood set by the setting sun, but what this enemy force did not suspect, lying in wait and chuckling to themselves at the excellence of their surprise attack, was that a great general had divined their plans, and was in the process of marshaling forces that would hide in the stands of birch and spruce and maple and oak, waiting, ready to meet force with force. This fantasy would last usually until he passed the frozen pond near Lands End Lane, where he could see the frost of breath from skating kids scrapping with sticks to push a puck through a goal carved from a snow bank, which distracted him to dream of the glory of sports.

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The excellent online litmag Metazen has seen fit to post on its site a story that I wrote. The story is actually part of a chapter from my next novel, which has a title, but the title is a secret. If you have any interest in the shape or tenor of my next novel, you can go read the story here.

If you don’t have any interest, then I suggest you do something useful, like the dishes. They’re not going to wash themselves, you know.

Recently, rooting through my garage, I came across an old Polaroid JoyCam which must have been given to me sometime in the early- to mid-90s. I also found several cartridges of very old and poorly stored Polaroid film. So I figured I’d see what would happen if I tried to use the old camera with the old film. Here are some of the results:

“Photography is unclassifiable because there is no reason to mark  this or that of its occurrences; it aspires, perhaps, to become as crude, as certain, as noble as a sign…. Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.”

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Sometime last winter while I was driving at 140 km/ hour from Point A to Point B there occurred a sunset I couldn’t resist, and I took a silly risk to shoot these pictures.

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When I was young we used to call this a mackerel sky. Maybe we still do. I don’t know, I’m not young anymore.

 

Everything that was invented has to be reinvented, for instance: the sound of waves slapping wet rocks in the dark. We once called this night rote. We also used the phrase heart murmurs. If you look carefully you’ll see that this isn’t appropriate or necessary. You’ll see instead track marks, not on your arm but in the damp sand or [other] — a piper birdly walking the sine wave’s edge; a squirrel rattling down tremulous branches in the hot wind.

I have an urban confession: cars make me proud because I don’t understand them. I’m proud of everything that runs when you want, stops when you can; mechanical reactions to a muscular prompt. Because it proves that Fielding was right, and Burton, too: right. There’s a line in the song that goes “Bumps a lot, bumps a lot,” crushed now to cinders, heaped in ashy piles, a volcano of mistakes. “Wrong again, wrong again, come along home.” How we count the days, how we tear back pin-holed roof and radiate the sky. The slick approaching your shore is a hit-and-run kiss, and don’t say you had no idea, because we’re fraught with ideas. Cop-killer bullets: your idea. Crib death: idea. Why insist on throwing rotten apples at the apple tree? You’ll only make the squirrel happy, and the piper tramping through the muck has nothing to do with your lousy aim.

An empty house, close to the ocean, windows open to admit the breeze. From everything I’ve confessed there’s no reason it should not be clear that we are summer. There’s a book, and in the book there’s a set of rules, and these rules have a purpose. To ease you down the hill. To show the best route to the worst driver.

Thomas Quin doesn’t care how you arrive, only that you arrive, and he doesn’t care how you’re dressed, you can dress like a fruit tree, a dandelion, a Ford Fusion, the angel of history. Tel que tu es, in better words. He’s flush with ammo, and the minute you reach the barbed wire, he’ll butcher your best ideas. Bits of your body will be strung along the line, lifeless. Like pulpy diamonds, like organic melons eaten inside out by maggots. What remains of what was you he will scoop and use to fertilize his land.

On that land grows nothing like an idea, and there is peace, and fields of rape-seed.

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Page 112 of the April 1993 issue of Spin magazine, embedded above for your reading pleasure (and because this entire post depends on you being able to read it), is not, I hope, too difficult to navigate. If you get lost, go to Google Books and search Spin Magazine, Jim Greer, New Market, in that order. Capitalization is unimportant. Otherwise you should be able to zoom in, up, and around the article at will. Which you should do, because this was like the Rosetta Stone of magazine-based April Fool’s jokes. Which is to say, this happened, man. (I am employing hyperbole in the service of irony, if you’re taking notes.)

Editor Craig Marks had an idea for the April 1993 issue. Because of the way magazines work, or used to work, he had this idea in January 1993. I was driving across the United States of America at the time. (Have you heard of this place? It’s wild. It’s untamed. It’s really boring almost always, except when it’s not.) At one of my stops, Craig called me and asked if I wanted to write a fake scene report about a random town in Anywhere, U.S.A. We were in the middle of the post-Nirvana goldrush, and anything or anyone equipped with musical instruments who could be categorized as “indie” or “alternative” was being signed by the major labels (there was more than one back then) at an alarming rate. This explains, but does not excuse, the Lemonheads—whose singer, Evan Dando, was featured on the cover of this same April issue tongue-kissing the actress/director Adrienne Shelley (many years later tragically murdered, which is in no way anything other than horrible, horrible, horrible)—in one of the most repulsive covers in Spin‘s long (some would argue too long) history.This was neither Evan’s nor Adrienne’s fault: whoever thought up the idea; whoever took the picture; whoever approved the picture for use as the cover of a rock ‘n’ roll magazine is/are to blame. These people know who they are. Probably.

As it happens, I had been passing the long hours driving from New York to San Francisco in part by making up band names. I don’t know why. It was just something to do. I was traveling solo, and listening to a lot of American Music Club, one of my all-time favorite bands, who had also recently signed with a major label, entirely justifiably if not entirely happy-ever-afterly. When Craig suggested the fake scene report thing, I started coming up with different anagrams of “April Fools” or April Fools Day” and so on, because I think I’m in love with anagrams. Only one of those (I think) remains in the article—the name of the record label “Flap Or Soil,” which I thought was a dead giveaway, but no. The rest were either inside jokes or just names I thought were a) funny or b) plausible.

Mid-January, dead of winter, is a stupid time to drive cross-country. I was in Wyoming traveling along I-80 when a blizzard hit, closing the interstate. I was lucky enough to snag one of the few remaining rooms at some dreadful sub-Motel 6 otherwise populated by truckers and people who should have been truckers, and possibly cannibals, at the last exit before the highway closure. Stuck for two days, I wrote the fake scene report and somehow figured out how to fax it to Spin HQ using nothing but chewing gum and two paper clips.

I had set the piece in Omaha, because I had recently passed through Omaha, but Craig, who apparently used to spend his downtime scouring atlases (this is before Google Maps, if you can even remember back that far), discovered a town called New Market, Virginia, and thought that a better fit, both as a tell and for irony’s sake. It was an inspired choice.

What neither Craig nor I expected was that anyone would take the story seriously. Nonetheless: I have it from reliable (second-hand) sources, people who live or have lived in the New Market/Harrisonburg area, that at least one A&R guy from at least one major record label flew all the way there looking for the imaginary bands I discussed in the article. The town’s Chamber of Commerce was apparently flooded with calls fielded by confused officials who tried to explain that there was in New Market no diner called “Happy Chef,” or club called “Stinky’s.” Amazing.

I’d like to think that this article in some small way contributed to the downfall of the parasitic major label system, but that would be giving myself way too much credit. I will say that if only one A&R guy wasted his company’s time and money on a fruitless search for a scene that did not exist… Wait. That pretty much describes every major label A&R guy in the history of rock. Never mind.

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One of the more influential books I read as an adolescent. I still return to it for inspiration from time to time, though it hasn’t aged well, I’m afraid. And yet…

“They do not listen to me. They say that nothing can save them.
We speak the same tongue, yet they will not understand.
They do not believe in angels. It is as simple as that.
There is danger.
There is the danger that you will kill me.
I am your enemy more than any foreign soldier.
I love you. How can you forgive that?
My moist skeleton clings to your lying mouth.
I am a poet of death.”

Kenneth Patchen, The Journal of Albion Moonlight New Directions (1941)

 

As for the actions of our Senses, we cannot but observe them to be in many particulars much outdone by those of other Creatures, and when at best, to be far short of the perfection they seem capable of: And these infirmities of the Senses arise from a double cause, either from the disproportion of the Object to the Organ, whereby an infinite number of things can never enter into them, or else from error in the Perception, that many things, which come within their reach, are not received in a right manner.

The like frailties are to be found in the Memory; we often let many things slip away from us, which deserve to be retain’d, and of those which we treasure up, a great part is either frivolous or false; and if good, and substantial, either in tract of time obliterated, or at best so overwhelmed and buried under more frothy notions, that when there is need of them, they are in vain sought for.

The two main foundations being so deceivable, it is no wonder, that all the succeeding works which we build upon them, of arguing, concluding, defining, judging, and all the other degrees of Reason, are lyable to the same imperfection, being, at best, either vain, or uncertain: So that the errors of the understanding are answerable to the two other, being defective both in the quantity and goodness of its knowledge; for the limits, to which our thoughts are confin’d, are small in respect of the vast extent of Nature it self; some parts of it are too large to be comprehended, and some too little to be perceived. And from thence it must follow, that not having a full sensation of the Object, we must be very lame and imperfect in our conceptions about it, and in all the proportions which we build upon it; hence, we often take the shadow of things for the substance, small appearances for good similitudes, similitudes for definitions; and even many of those, which we think, to be the most solid definitions, are rather expressions of our own misguided apprehensions then of the true nature of the things themselves.

From Micrographia, by Robert Hooke (1665)

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Because it’s his birthday. Although I don’t really need an excuse to post this video. It is eloquence its own self.

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Just out, and free for download (though if you want to pop for the printed version at $45 I’m sure no one will complain), Zaporogue #10, a wonderful anthology edited by the formidable tri-lingual (at least) writer Sébastien Doubinsky. This 261 page edition contains work in English and French by luminaries like Vanessa Veselka, me, Anne-Sylvie Homasse, me, Lisa Thatcher, me, Matt Bialer, me, and many more, including me.

You can download it for free in the popular PDF format by clicking here. You will not regret doing so. Or your money back (see, that’s funny because it’s free so I don’t have to give you any money back).

I’m unreasonably fascinated by this French “punk” band from the mid-70s, which evolved into the sort of French “New Wave” duo in the next video in 1980. Because I am unkind I’m going to inflict my fascination on you. Happy Wednesday!

I wrote a whole essay urging a reassessment of Sofia Coppola’s critically-maligned post Lost In Translation films to go with this screen-cap from Marie Antoinette (2006), but the more I look at the screen-cap, the more I realize that nothing I could write would be nearly as persuasive as the image above. Cop-out? Peut-être, mais au fond je m’en fous.

 

 

The new issue (number 32) of SmokeLong Quarterly is up. I have a story in it called “Elephants.” My story was chosen by guest editor Ben Loory, and to accompany the story he interviewed me here.

Aside from the me part, the issue is stuffed with excellent writing by lots of excellent writers. You need to check it out right away, or risk angering the literary gods. Who are ruthless. Ruthless.

Sloe-eyed through the sun-loved streets, winding her hair around one winding finger, walks and walks on sandaled feet a small thin girl. Pastel houses pass in succession, peopled by darkly gazing men with small thin mustaches and almond-shaped eyes. She feels their eyes on her but does not respond. Heat rises in slow layers from the cream-colored street, admires itself in a series of wavering windows, stretches towards the glassy sky.

Her head, its slender brown chin thrust forward in defiance of the heat, does not waver. She moves without obvious effort, the motion of her limbs supple and fluid, each movement discrete, contained, yet inseparably connected to every muscle and thought she wills to stir.

The small thin girl passes by without looking a cafe with three sidewalk tables. Two are empty; at the third, in the inadequate shade of an awkwardly poised umbrella anchored to the ground by a battered tin base, sit two men drinking coffee.

The first is a young man with a deep tan wearing a shortsleeved white shirt and tan pants. He has crossed his legs so that the ankle of one rests on the knee of the other. The second is older, with sparse graying hair and sunburned jowls. He wears a green wool jacket despite the heat, and dabs at his face constantly with a wrinkled handkerchief.

“I’m not sure she has it in her to be faithful,” says the slender dark man, poking idly at his coffee with a small silver spoon. He taps the spoon on the rim of the cup before returning it to the saucer.

“Better, perhaps, to say she has it in her not to be faithful,” replies his companion. “As we all do. Fidelity is not a naturally-occurring condition in man or woman. It requires, I think, an exercise of the will.”

“You think. A pretty thought. So I should wonder instead if her will is strong?”

“She is a woman. Her will is strong. Better, perhaps, to ask the question of yourself.”

The younger man falls silent and his silence is like a parody of thought. At one point he closes his eyes. His lashes are long and curl upwards, and when his eyes are closed look like a collection of tiny question marks.

The small thin girl reaches the end of the street, which deadends on a narrow stretch of beach. A stone balustrade lines the entrance to the gentle slope down to the water’s edge. She leans over the balustrade, into the wind, her eyes closed; she wills the waves to the shore and they come, endlessly. She wills the sun to set and, with great reluctance, the sun describes a slow downward arc in the sky.

My feet are ankle-deep in surf. I watch the girl as she turns and walks back through the town, her sandals flapping on the soles of her feet, on the cream-colored street; she stops in front of the cafe and sits at the table where the two men have just left. Their coffee cups and a few torn and empty packets of sugar are cleared by a waiter with almond-shaped eyes and a thin mustache.

I trace a mark in the wet sand with my toe. A line drawn in the sand is like a dream of impermanence, no less evocative for its overuse. I draw a line, I say “Thus far and no farther,” the ocean takes a foamy finger and playfully erases my hasty sketch.

“The purpose of longing is to teach humility,” says the older man, his jacket now slung over his shoulder as he steps carefully down to the beach, his shoes hanging from two fingers of one hand.

The younger man is three paces in front, and looks back. “But what’s the purpose of humility?” he asks.

The older man chooses not to answer: his eyes have a faraway look, he stops walking and stares out at the sea. His gaze remains fixed for some minutes on the horizon. “Time doesn’t fly, it sinks or swims,” he eventually murmurs, smiling. “No wonder I’m so tired.”

The waters recede, and I draw another line.

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Still from Mimesis, a short film I made.

Trivium: from Latin, meaning “the three ways,” or “the three roads.” In medieval universities, the trivium denoted the three subjects of primary study: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Wind snapped a branch outside and he woke. Dark of night had swallowed the room. Only blurred and mobile shapes. Shadows and deeper shadows.
At first, he could not remember where he was, nor who he was. Darkness has no lines, only depth, he thought. His eyes, adjusting to the murk, recovered what might be a chair, what might be a lamp, what might be….

Whatsoever the world terms happiness, is to me a story out of Pliny, an apparition, or neat delusion, wherein there is no more of happiness than the name.” Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici.

I believe that our estranged and divided ashes shall unite again; that our separated dust, after so many pilgrimages and transformations into the parts of minerals, plants, animals, elements, shall at the voice of God return into their primitive shapes, and join again to make up their primary and predestinate forms. As at the creation there was a separation of that confused mass into its species; so at the destruction thereof there shall be a separation into its distinct individuals.” Ibid.

Inner duration, perceived by consciousness, is nothing else but the melting of states of consciousness into one another, and the gradual growth of ego.” Henri Bergson, Time And Free Will.

An uneven number of vowels in given names portends lameness, blindness, or similar disability on the right side; an even number of vowels the same disability on the left.” Pliny, Natural History, Book XXVIII.

Okay, so here’s the books I’ve read in French so far this year. Or at least the books that I could be bothered to go find on my bookshelves or piled on the floor in my office and on my bed or all over the table in the dining room or on the second shelf of the coffee table in the living room or just, you know,  on top of the refrigerator (and more than once inside the refrigerator; I’m always amazed at what I manage to leave in the refrigerator when distracted). Or wherever else.

I’m not providing links to these because either you can’t find the editions I have, because when I’m in Paris or any city in France or even in the countryside I am drawn like a wood-worm to bookish places and have had really good luck finding things without looking for them, or they’re really easy to find. Everything on this list I recommend, if you can read French at all, though certainly most of this stuff requires a fair degree of fluency. Except for Houellebecq. He writes like a fourth-grader. But I still like his new novel —the one that (finally) won him the Goncourt — despite not usually having much interest in his output.

As always, stuff I re-read for research or for some other reason is indicated with an asterisk. Non-asterisked items are new-to-me, though not necessarily new.

1. Alain Robbe-Grillet, Un roman sentimental, Fayard

2. Boris Vian, Manuel de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (coffret), Livre de Poche

3, 4. Chateaubriand, Memoires d’Outre-Tombe, Tomes 1 & 2, Bibliotheque de la Pléiade (1958) *

5. Claude Simon, Le Jardin des Plantes, Les Éditions de Minuit *

6. Edouard Dujardin, Les lauriers sont coupés, Flammarion *

7. Ernest Renan, Vie de Jésus, Gallimard *

8. Frédéric Révérend, L’Invention d’un château suivi de Le Coffre meurtrier, Éditions de l’Amandier

9. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Livre de Poche *

10. Henri Bergson, Matière et Memoire, Librairie Félix Alcan (1934) *

11. J-K Huysmans, A rebours, Flammarion *

12. Jean Cocteau, Les parents terribles, Gallimard (1938)

13. Jean-Laurent Cassely, Paris: Manuel de Survie, Parigramme

14. Jean-Patrick Manchette, Fatale, Folio Policier

15. Jean-Patrick Manchette, La Position du tireur couché, Folio Policier

16. Joseph Bédier, Le roman de Tristan et Iseult, L’Édition d’Art (1946)

17, 18, 19, 20. Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, Tomes 1, 2, 3, 4, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade *

21. Maurice Blanchot, L’arrêt de mort, Gallimard

22. Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses, Gallimard (1966) *

23. Michel Houellebecq, La carte et le territoire, Flammarion

24. Michel Vianey, En attendant Godard, B. Grasset (1967)

25. Nathalie Sarraute, Les Fruits D’Or, Gallimard

26. Octave Mirbeau, Le Jardin des Supplices, Bibliotheque-Charpentier (1922) *

27. Pierre Clementi, Quelques messages personnels, Gallimard

28. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Le phénomène humain, Éditions de Seuil

29. Raymond Queneau, Zazie dans le Métro, Olympia Press (1959) *

30. Raymond Roussel, Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique, Princeton

31. Robert Pinget, Mahu ou Le Matériau, Les Éditions de Minuit *

32. Robert Pinget, Taches d’Encre, Les Éditions de Minuit *

 

I don’t know what is the what with today, but everybody on the internet decided to be nice to me and it’s not even my birthday (yet).

First, the estimable writer Patrick Wensink wrote a nice piece about me at the really great We Who Are About To Die lit-site here. You should check out the posts about other much more interesting subjects while you’re there.

Next, the good people at iambik audiobooks posted an interview with me and Tadhg Hynes, the brilliant reader of The Failure audio book, and Miette, the equally brilliant, um, head narrator? Curator? Anyway, she does a lot of stuff over at iambik and her questions were boss. So were Tadhg’s questions. My answers can be evaluated here.

Hopefully no one else will do anything to call attention to me today because I am already filled with shame and self-loathing as it is.

 

As promised in this post, here is a list of the non-fiction books I’ve read thus far in 2011, either written in or translated into English. Almost everything on here was read for purposes of research, with the exception maybe of the books on/by Godard and Tarkovsky. Though I would argue that these are more or less essential reading for anyone in the film business.

I’ve indicated those which are (thorough) re-reads with an asterisk. Unlike my fiction list, the inclusion of a book here does not constitute a recommendation. In fact, some of them were so awful they made me throw them across the room. But I had to read them, for professional reasons. That said, Ben Schwartz’ compendium of comics criticism and Richard Brody’s book on Godard deserve some kind of special merit badge for general excellence.

In several cases I haven’t provided links, because the version of the book I own is long out of print and I’m too lazy to find out if a contemporary iteration exists.

The final part of this list will concern itself with books I’ve read in the first half of 2011 that were written in French. The French books on this list I read in translation out of lassitude or dread.

1. Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Vintage

2. Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting In Time, University of Texas*

3. Augustin Thierry, Tales of the Early Franks, Translated by M.F.O. Jenkins, University of Alabama

4. Ben Schwartz, ed., The Best American Comics Criticism, Fantagraphics

5. Bob Mould, See A Little Light, Little, Brown

6. Caroli Linnaeus, Philosophia Botanica, Joannis Trattner (1763)*

7. Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, L.C. Page and Co.*

8. Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Vintage

9. Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, Norton*

10. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Vintage

11. Erwin Schrödinger, Statistical Thermodynamics, Dover

12. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ignatius

13. Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of England, Penguin Classics

14. George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, Harcourt

15. George Santayana, Scepticism and Animal Faith, Dover*

16. Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces, Belknap/Harvard*

17. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Black & Red*

18. Harvey F. Berlin and Darrell Ruhl, Ed., Blake and Swedenborg, Swedenborg Foundation

19. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, The Library of Liberal Arts*

20. Italo Calvino, The Complete Cosmicomics, Penguin Classics

21. Jacob Boehme, The Signature of All Things, James Clarke*

22. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, Translated by David Wells, University of Chicago*

23. James Clerk Maxwell, Matter and Motion, Dover

24. Jean Cocteau, Past Tense: The Cocteau Diaries, Vol. One, Translated by Richard Howard, Harcourt Brace Jovanovic*

25. John Cook, Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, Algonquin

26. John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Everyman*

27. John Sellers, Perfect From Now On, Simon & Schuster

28. Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming, St. Martin’s Griffin*

29. Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, Penguin

30. Kaya Oakes, Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, Henry Holt

31. Ludwig von Beethoven, Letters, Journals, and Conversations, Translated by Michael Hamburger, Thames and Hudson

32. Mao Tsetung, Quotations From Chairman Mao Tsetung, China Books

33. Martin Buber, I And Thou, Simon and Schuster*

34. Michael Angold, Byzantium, St. Martin’s Press

35. Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life, Little, Brown

36. Michael Schmidt, The Lives of the Poets, Vintage

37. Michael Temple, James S. Williams, Michael Witt, eds., Forever Godard, Black Dog

38. Natasha Synessios, Tarkovsky’s Mirror, I.B. Tauris*

39. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton*

40. Peter Ackroyd, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, Doubleday

41. Richard Brody, Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, Metropolitan

42. Rob Bowman, Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records, Schirmer

43. Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind, Oxford University Press*

44. Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs, Translated by Richard Howard, Hill and Wang

45. Sayyid Qutb, In The Shade of the Qur’an, Vol. 30, Islamic Book Service

46. Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1994, Penguin*

47. Stevie Chick, Spray-Paint The Walls: The Story of Black Flag, Omnibus

48. T. Geoffrey W. Henslow, The Rose Encyclopedia, Arthur Pearson

49. W. G. Sebald, On The Natural History of Destruction, Random House*

50. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Modern Library

I’ve seen a few people compile lists of books they’ve read so far in 2011, and the thought ocurred to me: I like lists!

But I don’t like lists that are too long, so I’m going to parcel these out in manageable portions. This first list confines itself to fiction written or translated into English. Upoming lists will devote themselves to a) fiction written or translated into French and b) Non-fiction written or translated into English.

I might also do a separate list of movies I’ve watched (whether on DVD or at the theater) so far in 2011. That list is likely to be much longer. By my count the list of books I’ve read so far is somehwere around 150, but a lot of those books, for instance the ones that I will post under non-fiction, were  for research, and not simply for pleasure. So it’s not all fun and games, even after someone loses an eye.

Works of fiction that I read specifically for film projects are noted with an asterisk. I’ve listed the books alphabetically by first name of the author because that was what Microsoft Word decided to do and I cannot argue with software.

I have only included books on this list that I can recommend, and I’ve left out a few that I re-read so often it wouldn’t be fair to count them (Pale Fire, Ulysses, The Third Policeman, etc). You’ll of course note that many of them were not published in 2011, or even 2010 in some cases, but this is what I read, so this is what you get. Links will take you to places where you can purchase these books online, but I urge you to seek them out at your local independent bookstore, if possible.

You’ll also note that I have declined to rate or review any of the books listed. I did this for two reasons. 1) I already have or am going to review many of the books on the list, either here or at the Los Angeles Review of Books, or 2) I don’t have anything interesting to say about some of the books, except: “I liked it. You should read it.”

That said, here goes something:

  1. Aaron Burch, How To Take Yourself Apart/How To Make Yourself Anew, Pank
  2. Alan Warner, The Worms Can Carry Me To Heaven, Jonathan Cape
  3. Alasdair Gray, 1982, Janine, Canongate Classics
  4. Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz, (Translated by Eugene Jolas), Continuum*
  5. Amelia Gray, Museum of the Weird, The University of Alabama Press
  6. Anna Winger, This Must Be The Place, Riverhead Books *
  7. Blake Butler, Ever, Calamari Press
  8. Blake Butler, There Is No Year, Harper Perennial
  9. Danilo Kis, garden, ashes, (Translated by William J. Hannaher), Dalkey Archive
  10. Darby Larson, The Iguana Complex, Nephew
  11. David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, Little, Brown
  12. Frank Hinton, I Don’t Respect Female Expression, Safety Third Enterprises
  13. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, (Translated by Alan Myers), Oxford University Press*
  14. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, (Translated by Lydia Davis), Viking
  15. Hjalmar Soderberg, Doctor Glas, (Translated by Paul Britten Austin), Anchor
  16. Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad, Anchor Books
  17. Jesús Ángel Garcia, badbadbad, New Pulp Press
  18. Jim Ruland, Big Lonesome, Gorsky Press
  19. John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor, Anchor*
  20. John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer, Mariner Books
  21. Justin Taylor, The Gospel of Anarchy, Harper Perennial
  22. Lee Rourke, The Canal, Melville House
  23. Lydia Davis, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Picador
  24. Lydia Davis, The Cows, Sarabande Books
  25. Matthew Stokoe, Cows, Little House on the Bowery/Akashic Books
  26. Michael Kimball, Us, Tyrant Books
  27. Molly Gaudry, We Take Me Apart, Mud Luscious Press
  28. Nathan Larson, The Dewey Decimal System, Akashic Books
  29. Nina Revoyr, Wingshooters, Akashic Books
  30. Patrick deWitt, Ablutions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  31. Patrick deWitt, The Sister Brothers, Ecco
  32. Roberto Bolaño, 2666, (Translated by Natasha Wimmer), Picador
  33. Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives, (Translated by Natasha Wimmer), Picador
  34. Scott McClanahan, Stories V!, Holler Presents
  35. Tao Lin, Richard Yates, Melville House
  36. Thomas Bernhard, Prose, (Translated by Martin Chalmers), Seagull Books
  37. Tom McCarthy, C, Alfred A. Knopf
  38. Tom McCarthy, Remainder, Vintage
  39. Tom Williams, The Mimic’s Own Voice, Main Street Rag
  40. William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow, The Harvill Press

Under der linden
an der heide,
dâ unser zweier bette was,
dâ mugt ir vinden
schône beide
gebrochen bluomen unde gras.
vor dem walde in einem tal,
tandaradei,
schône sanc diu nategal.

Under the lime tree
on the open field,
where we two had our bed,
you still can see
lovely broken
flowers and grass.
On the edge of the woods in a vale,
tandaradei,
sweetly sang the nightingale.

Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170 – c. 1230)

I woke this haze-shrouded California day with an obsession: to escape. Not just my cramped and unclean two-room sublet, but the whole dust-bowled, brown-scarved city. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost three years, and during that time have never discovered the city limits. To be fair, the city may not have any limits. I’ve been told as much, but it’s unwise to believe everything you’re told, I’m told. As a matter of long habit, I rarely leave the house. I spend my days reading books, or watching movies. I consider myself a student type.

I had never before this day been afflicted by anything like an obsession. I’d always figured I simply didn’t have the requisite attention span. You—or maybe not you, but someone, I hope—know what it’s like: you set your mind on something, get maybe halfway through, and suddenly stop, because you can’t remember why. Your motivation evaporates, without apparent cause. Well, the answer’s clear, Alphonse-Hubert, you tell me (that’s my name, and yes, it’s my real name, and no… I forget what no. Call me Valence, or Val. Everyone else does—strange that I don’t know your name, though), obviously, you’ve remembered that there’s no point. In other words, there’s no point to anything, and still we do things, we keep doing things, despite the pointlessness. Not me, personally, I don’t do anything, or not many things, at any rate, but people in general: we do things.

Where’s the evidence that doing things has resulted in a benefit for humanity? A real, measurable, absolute benefit for every human being, I mean. Obviously you can do something nice for yourself, or your neighbor, or your grandmother, but all of these people: you, your neighbor, your grandmother, are going to die, and where does your good deed end up but the cemetery? Okay, say you are an inventor and you come up with something that undeniably progresses our common ability to travel from one place to another more quickly and comfortably, while at the same time preserving the earth’s natural resources and affordable to everyone, not just rich wastrels.

I’m not convinced. What’s so terrific about traveling more quickly or comfortably? Who’s to say we’re not better off with slow, cumbersome, filthy, disease-ridden, back-breaking, environment-blighting modes of transport? The earth does not belong to us, nor her natural resources. If we squander them, it’s the same as stealing from God, but if we save them, we’re saving them for God, and where’s the benefit to humanity in saving things for God, who—by the way—is supposed to be in charge of saving things for us, or at least saving us. Perhaps these are the same thing, perhaps not. I’m no theologian.

I don’t think the old days or ways were better than the new ones. I don’t think they were worse, necessarily. On the whole, life has always been life, and the core problems associated with life remain as unsolved and troublesome as ever. I’m not one of these crazy Luddites who want to take away every invention made after the year 700 or whatever. Not that I approve of many of these inventions, in fact just the opposite, I disapprove of everything the so-called Renaissance and its grubby cousin, the Industrial Revolution, has bequeathed us, with the possible exception of the television and the DVD player, because I watch a lot of movies but I don’t like to leave the house. I disapprove of modern conveniences and the general uptick in speed-of-life that has accompanied these conveniences, especially the vacuum cleaner, but I cannot condone anything that derives from religion. Religious people, by which I mean people bound by faith, which is of course the etymology of religion, are by definition insane, and will do insane things. Religious people in recent history have been known to fly airplanes (which I don’t like, either) into skyscrapers (also no good), killing thousands of people.

Where’s the benefit in that? Granted, thousands of people die every day, sometimes of what are called natural causes, sometimes through neglect, stupidity, greed, laziness, etc. More rarely, these people are killed by other people, either singly, in small groups, or in mass executions. The victims in such cases are inevitably described as “innocent.” Which is another thing I have trouble believing: that there are innocent people. Everyone goes on and on about innocent people, especially with regard to children, when you and I both know, as has been proven in such books as Lord Of The Flies, Madame Bovary, Mein Kampf, Green Eggs And Ham, The Holy Bible, Highlights Magazine, Wuthering Heights, and Civilization And Its Discontents, that no one is innocent. Everyone deserves to die, and everyone will die. It’s a question of when, that’s all. And of how much, not how little, harm you will do to others and yourself before you die.

By writing the first translation into English of the Bible, from original Hebrew and Greek sources, William Tyndale essentially invented the English language in the period 1525-1530 or so. For his efforts, he was strangled and then burned at the stake by the Catholic Church as a heretic. The “authorized” King James Version, published in 1611, despite the work of 56 independent translators, relies heavily on Tyndale’s version. The King James Version New Testament is 83.7 percent Tyndale’s work, with the KJV Old Testament 75.7 percent Tyndale’s.

Phrases first appearing in Tyndale’s Bible:

* lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
* knock and it shall be opened undo you
* twinkling of an eye
* a moment in time
* fashion not yourselves to the world
* seek and you shall find
* ask and it shall be given you
* judge not that you not be judged
* the word of God which liveth and lasteth forever
* let there be light
* the powers that be
* my brother’s keeper
* the salt of the earth
* a law unto themselves
* filthy lucre
* it came to pass
* gave up the ghost
* the signs of the times
* the spirit is willing
* live and move and have our being
* fight the good fight

Here’s a very short sample of his original translation: a fragment of The Story of the Prophet Jonas.

But the lord prepared a great fish, to swallow up Jonas. And so was Jonas in the bowels of the fish three days and three nights. And Jonas prayed unto the lord his god out of the bowels of the fish.

And he said: in my tribulation I called unto the lord, and he answered me: out of the belly of hell I cried, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me down deep in the midst of the sea: and the flood compassed me about: and all thy waves and rolls of water went over me: and I thought that I had been cast away out of thy sight. But I will yet again look toward thy holy temple. The water compassed me even unto the very soul of me: the deep lay about me: and the weeds were wrapped about mine head. And I went down unto the bottom of the hills, and was barred in with earth on every side for ever. And yet thou lord my God broughtest up my life again out of corruption. When my soul fainted in me, I thought on the lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, even into thy holy temple. They that observe vain vanities, have forsaken him that was merciful unto them. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving, and will pay that that I have vowed, that saving cometh of the lord.

It’s not uncommon for admirers of certain dead authors, poets, musicians, actors, and Jim Morrison to leave posthumous epistles on or near their graves. The grave of Charles Baudelaire in the Cimitière Montparnasse is no different. What I found both touching and slightly pathetic about the letters fixed in place by small stones atop the grave of the author of Les fleurs du mal was the adolescent fixation with 1) death b) bad poetry and 3) even worse spelling. Sweet, in its own way, but not, I think, the tribute Baudelaire himself would have wished.

Alors: A concrete example of the deconstructionist view that the author is dead, with the corollary notion, invented by me just this minute, that the reader is dead. If the book is dead, too, as some would have you believe, the market in ghosts would seem ripe for the taking. I’m not sure how to take advantage of this, exactly, but no doubt some wily investment banker’s already on the case. His name is Wilde.

 

“Beaudelaire”?

The fly seems almost too appropriate.

Wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that phone call, dude.

Tagged with:
 

The extraordinarily talented and discerning Andrew Leland let me write a short post, at the site he curates for the Oakland Museum of California, about pretty much the one thing I like about living in Los Angeles. Which is jacarandas. You can read it here. Thanks again to Andrew.

These are the Sebald books I currently own.

 

 

“I become self-conscious about having a funny accent. Unlike Conrad or Nabokov, I didn’t have circumstances which would have coerced me out of my native tongue altogether. But the time may come when my German resources begin to shrink. It is a sore point, because you do have advantages if you have access to more than one language. You also have problems, because on bad days you don’t trust yourself, either in your first or your second language, and so you feel like a complete halfwit.”

W.G. Sebald in The Guardian,  on why he continued writing in German despite having achieved fluency in English many years before. Less than 3 months later he died, at age 57.

This extraordinary item appeared in the New Yorker last week (at least it appeared online last week; I no longer subscribe to the print weekly and also I killed the book industry,  just for fun). I only discovered it this morning because I do have other things to do, you know. Get off my iCloud, okay?

Richard Brody, the movies editor for that magazine’s “Goings On About Town” and a Godard scholar who’s written a very fine book called Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard compiled for the NYer a brief log of his experiences tracking down and watching Godard movies over the course of three decades, in the dark pre-Criterion days when you actually had to search out rare showings of his movies, and if you missed one you were just out of luck, buster. (In fact, some of the mid-70s movies he talks about are still unavailable on DVD and rarely shown.)

It’s a useful reminder, to me at least, that not everything that happened in the last decade or so has been a harbinger of impending doom leading us blindly down the primrose path towards our destruction. Or something like that. If you feel yourself in need of a brief refresher on the recent history of film, you should read Mr. Brody’s story.

 

Abbaye de Royaumont, Asnières-sur-Oise. Formerly a 13th century monastery. I stayed here once for six weeks. It was almost perfectly quiet in my little room. Almost.

1. People who can write with music playing, whether loud or soft or near or far, in whatever style or form.

When I listen to music, I do so with every part of my brain, involuntarily. Whatever kind of music is playing, I find myself listening to the production, the playing, the structure, the meaning (both intended and interpreted) the melody, the context, the emotional force or lack thereof, the physicality of lack thereof, the complexity or lack thereof, etc. If it’s some form of rock, and if the production is not too artifice-laden, I’ll try to figure out: what kind of guitar/amp the guitarist is using; whether the bass player has opted for round-wound or flat-wound strings; what vintage synth or modern copy of a vintage synth is being used; what effects pedals or outboard gear the band has managed to borrow or steal; whether the saxophone is really a saxophone or, as is the case on Bowie’s “Suffragette City,” for instance, an ARP synthesizer mimicking a sax; whether the strings are really strings, and if so have they been multi-tracked or instead arranged for a certain number of players, and if so how many and what kind; whether the music adheres to or deviates from Western norms w/r/t tonality and harmony, and so on.

If it’s jazz or hip-hop or reggae or folk or soul or classical or any of the many forms of what once was called “world music,” or musique concrète, or Japanese post-rock noise, or Martin Denny exotica, or so on and on and on, different sets of criteria need to be parsed.

In a restaurant or other public space, where music is piped over the tannoy but at a low level, because I’ve lost a certain amount of high-end in my hearing over the years, except at the very highest end of the audible range, where my hearing is weirdly sensitive (I’m told this is common with musicians who played too loud over a long time), I’m if anything even more attuned to the snatches of organized sound that drift in and out of the normal chatter and clatter of dining. This sensitivity makes more difficult going to restaurants, bars, into buildings with elevators, getting in taxis, or riding in cars with people who listen to the radio while driving. Really just leaving the house presents a range of problems in this single respect, leaving aside the host of other issues, ranging from mild annoyances (driving) to panic inducing terrors (grocery shopping).

Therefore when it comes to writing, music is obviously a no-go. But not just music. My allergy to distraction also applies to television (whether bellowing or mutely flickering), radio talk shows, podcasts, people talking, dogs barking, children playing, angry birds, the internet, cars passing by on the street outside, telephones, the physical presence of another person in the same house where I’m working, the occasional need to eat, the even more occasional need to sleep. All of these things are immensely off-putting. I have only one real requirement in order to write productively: absolute silence for long stretches of time. Days if possible. Several hours at a minimum. As a rule, I write every available silent hour of every available silent day. Excuse me, my neighbor’s kids are screaming in Russian and I have to go yell at them in Russian to shut up. If you ever need to do this, the Russian for “Shut up!” is “Заткнись!

Okay. They stopped screaming. At least for the moment. But now my spell-check has automatically gone into Russian spell-check mode. Which is annoying, to say the least. We’ll have to continue this later. До свидания, мальчики и девочки.

[Editor's Note: If you're the type of person that enjoys experimental short film, you might enjoy this. If you're not, I promise to not.]

Here’s another short I wrote and directed. This time out, I used a crew instead of trying to do everything myself. In essence, the film is a re-telling of the story of long-suffering Penelope, wife of Ulysses, shortly after her husband’s return after a long absence (Trojan War + Odyssey). It was shot at the Elephant Theater in Los Angeles over twelve or fifteen frenetic hours, and edited as always by Stacy Goldate. Three actresses all played the same role, reciting the same lines, and then were intercut. The three marvelously talented actresses are Cassie Jaye, Hollie Overton, and Mim Drew, all of whom did amazing work on short notice. My cinematographer was Ava Berkofsky, who a) is a gifted photographer, b) has an extremely talented eye, and c) proved willing to put up with my tyro notions, greatly to her credit. The rest of the fine crew you can find here. I in no way deserved the hard work everyone put into making this thing, and hope that the result, however oblique, complexly-layered, and deliberately opaque (both literally, in the lighting, and metaphorically, in the writing), do not prove too off-putting to any potential viewer.

We shot in HD using two Panasonic JVX-200s, a camera I would probably not use again, especially now that the Red system is available. Oh, and one last note: the off-screen voice of the “director” was (pretty obviously, I think) created on my computer but I forget how I did it.

Enjoy!

Diegesis from James Greer on Vimeo.

 

JLG, some guy, Bardot: Studios Victorine, Nice, 1963

“Jean-Luc Godard isn’t the only one who films the way he breathes, but he breathes the best.”

– François Truffaut, L’Avant-Scène, 1967

Source: The Criterion Collection

The Los Angeles based creators of  a weekly podcast called Hugs & Disses, which is a name I am informed they made up all by themselves, were kind enough to ask me on their program this week.  I traveled to their sumptuous headquarters in Echo Park where they somehow managed to cajole me into talking about myself for almost two hours. Can’t think of a single reason anyone wouldn’t want to hear that.

Apart from me, that is. On the list of things I don’t like to do, “listen to the sound of my own voice” is very high, somewhere near “look at pictures of myself” and “eat glass.”

But if you’re interested in hearing me talk about whatever we ended up talking about, including but not limited to my novels, Guided By Voices, films that I have written, and enema porn, you can go here and satisfy your curiosity. While there, you should be sure to subscribe to the podcast, because it’s a weekly deal, and I’m sure all of the other episodes in the series thus far are more interesting than the one featuring me. Many thanks to the H&D crew for extending the invitation.

Is there a principle essay writing dilemma and choice. | Barbie games

Thanks to the discerning eye of guest editor (and very fine writer) Ben Loory, I have a very short story up over at SmokeLong, which is a place on the internet that publishes very short strories. My story is about elephants. That’s why there is a picture of a trunk at the top of this post. Get it? Do you? Are you sure? Go here to read the story.