Currently viewing the tag: "The Failure"

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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)

Tagged with:
 

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

Tagged with:
 

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 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.

Tagged with:
 

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.

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.

First, I join the Los Angeles Review of Books as Contributing Editor. Next thing I know, James Franco is a Contributing Editor to the Los Angeles Review of Books. I shake it off. Probably just a coincidence. Following this, I contribute to an anthology called The Speed Chronicles coming out later this year (information here, and possibly subject to change.) Yesterday, I was looking over the list of fellow contributors. Guess who else was on the list? James Freaking Franco. I did not watch the Academy Awards earlier this year, because I hate America, but by all reports his performance as co-host was laconic to the point where people wondered if maybe James Franco had been replaced by Zombie James Franco, though unless anyone saw Zombie James Franco actually eating human brains, I don’t know how you’re supposed to tell the difference.

You see my point. What could Zombie James Franco possibly know about speed? (For the record, I don’t know anything about speed, either, but we’re not here to talk about me.) The only possible explanation for his participation in this anthology is that he saw my name on the list of contributors (I signed on early in the process) and insisted on being included. Because he is stalking me.

Most likely this is innocent hero worship, and who can blame him? All I ask (and here I’m talking to you, James, because I know you’re reading this): just be cool, man. If you’re lucky, I might let you stand next to me at some publicity function. But please don’t try to talk to me. My brain is prepetually busy solving several difficult chess problems while also composing an epic poem in alexandrine couplets. I don’t have time for small talk.

Oh, and while this probably should go without saying, I’m going to say it anyway: please don’t eat my brains. Thanks, man.

I was at a dinner party recently at which I met a Famous novelist, who told a story about meeting the Very Famous novelist Thomas Pynchon, who I’m sure you know has a reputation for being, shall we say, a very private person. He doesn’t give interviews. He doesn’t do readings. It’s big news when a decades-old photo of his wrist appears. Nobody knows what he looks like. Etc.

Pynchon came up in conversation because FN and I were talking about the strange phenomenon of author readings, with which we have both long since made our peace, and the daunting task of establishing and maintaining an online “presence” that nowadays comes with the business of writing books. Understand that no one forces us to do readings, or to establish and maintain an online presence, but it is expected, and because of the changing ways in which people discover and consume cultural artifacts, it’s almost inescapable.

So much so, that when FN met Pynchon, Pynchon was musing about the possibility of doing a book tour for his new novel. To which a horrifed FN replied, “No! You can’t! Don’t you see, you have what we all want. You did it. You got away with it. Why throw that away now?”

To which Pynchon replied that, yes, he had “gotten away with it,” but he was pretty sure that if he’d come along twenty years later, he wouldn’t have been able to do so.

There’s a lot to be said for participating in the writerly conversation, for interacting with both readers and other writers, for the free exchange of ideas and enthusiasms. I get that, I really do. But I still struggle with the opposing urge towards hermetic solitude that is, I think, at the root of any writer’s being.

And I still envy the fuck out of Pynchon.

…and that nation is Belgium. Although France probably ain’t too happy, either (but then, they’ve got their own problems).

 

Over at Fictionaut, I posted a new story. It’s about the salt-cellar created by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), pictured above. It’s pretty short. If you want to read it, go here.

Due to a truly impressive volume of spam comments appearing here recently, I’ve had to put all comments into moderation mode, and I’m also going to ask that you register with the site in order to comment. Feel free to register with a fake email and psuedonym, it’s not like I’m going to check. But it helps keep the spambots away. And if you can’t think of a good fake email address or pseudonym, I promise that I will never email you or otherwise exploit your email for any purpose whatsoever. I’m not even sure I would know how to do that.

I’m hoping this is a temporary situation, but in the meantime if you leave a comment and it doesn’t appear right away, it’s because I’m away from the computer, not because I don’t like you or your comment. I want eveveryone who wants to comment to comment. I have no intention of censoring anyone or anything. Except the spambots. Because if left unchecked, they will take away our pancakes. And I’m just not going to let that happen.

Thanks for your understanding, and thanks as always for, you know, everything.

Thanks to the wonderful, indispensable, and many other superlatives repository of the avant-garde, UbuWeb, you can hear and or download a four-CD collection of Jean Cocteau reading/speaking from his work, or introducing the work of other people (for instance introducing Edith Piaf, a close friend, before a performance).

I don’t need to explain who Cocteau was, right? Everybody knows he was one of the most influential figures in French poetry, art, literature, and film in the 20th century. There’s a nice synopsis of his life and collaborations/contributions on the UbuWeb page, anyway.

Go here to listen/read/download. Yes, it’s all in French. Sorry. He was French. It’s not his fault.

The French newspaper L’Express has on the occasion of the 64th Cannes Film Festival put up a collection of all 64 Cannes Film Festival posters on their website, here.

The poster above, for the 1961 festival, is one of my favorites, but almost all of them are pretty great. This one was designed by A.M. Rodicq.

In case you were wondering, the Palme D’Or went that year to two films ex aequo: Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana, and Henri Colpi’s Une aussi longue absence.

Two books and one DVD that you should not hesitate to buy/rent/steal:

These movies don’t need my recommendation, but the collection itself, with its wealth of extras and (as always) immaculate transfers, is worth its weight in a precious metal slightly less expensive than gold but more expensive than silver. I don’t know what that metal is, but if you find out: bingo!

 

Jean-Patrick Manchette wrote more than just these two masterpieces of existentialist French noir, but these two are my favorite. Both are available in English. Fatale from NYRB in an indifferent translation, and La position du tireur couché (as The Prone Gunman) in a better translation from City Lights Noir. If you can read French, you should. Manchette has been described as Guy Debord meets Rayond Chandler, and while that’s both reductive and inaccurate, it’s not entirely wrong.

This week in Los Angeles there occurred (and as I type this is still occurring, though not for a few hours yet) a book festival called the Los Angeles Time Festival of Books. It’s a compete clusterfuck, but people seem to enjoy it. Last year I went for the first time. I sat at the Book Soup table and signed copies of The Failure for an hour with Stephen Elliott, author of a bunch of books and editor of a website called The Rumpus. Nice guy.

Book Soup, for those who don’t live in Los Angeles, is a very fine independent bookstore here in LA. There are several. Stories in Echo Park and Skylight Books are examples of two others.

This year my publisher at Akashic Books, Johnny Temple, and his Managing Editor Johanna Ingalls flew in from New York (actually Johanna lives in Ireland, but that’s a long story) for the festival. On Wednesday, there was a reading at Book Soup featuring: Joseph Mattson, author of Empty The Sun, with whom I have conducted about eleventy-seven readings on both coasts of the United States for what seems like the last several years of my life; Nina Revoyr, author of Wingshooters, a very fine and finely-written novel; and Nathan Larson, author of The Dewey Decimal System. Nathan’s maybe (maybe) better known as a film composer and former member of Shudder To Think, but his book is brilliant. You should buy all three of these books. I did. (Well, I didn’t buy Joseph’s book, because I already own it. But you take my point.) While it would be impractical to suggest that you buy these books at Book Soup if you don’t live in LA, I hope you will consider patronizing your own local independent book store, rather than, say, Amazon, because these serve as much more than mere booksellers. They are, to me at least, sort of like shelter from the storm, if you imagine the unlettered world as a storm. Especially in Los Angeles, which despite a recent surge of literary activity that threatens to deface the city’s reputation as a black hole of culture, has not historically been known for its bookishness.

The photo above is my attempt to take a picture of Nathan reading from his novel at Book Soup, using my phone as a camera. Some people are very good at this. I am not one of those people. Afterwards we all went out to a nearby bar which shall remain nameless because of its impressive awfulness, and ate something unidentifiable, while Nathan and his old bandmate Craig Wedren and I swapped mid-90s rock stories. I will not trouble you with these. You’re welcome.

For anyone curious about my next novel, I posted a story on Fictionaut here that was originally published in the brilliant and very worthy of your attention literary magazine trnsfr. A radically altered version of this story will be used for the thing-in-progress. Over the next few mothns, bits and pieces of the new novel will be appearing in various lit-mags, and I will keep you posted as to the when-and-where. Because I know you would much rather read experimental fiction than my silly ramblings about Guided By Voices. Right? Hello? Anyone?

Courtesy of the wonderful site BibliOdyssey via the Bibliothèque nationale de France, a set of gravures by the French artist Auguste-Louis Lepère for A rebours by J-K Huysmans. Astonishing.

An item on the iambik tumblr indicates that the audiobook version of The Failure is now available for purchase. You can get a free download of the first chapter here.

The reader, Tadhg Hynes, did an amazing job. His Irish accent makes my writing sound a lot more musical than it actually is. Check it out.


Tagged with:
 

More press about me talking about myself can be found here.

Tagged with: