Currently viewing the tag: "writer"

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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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.

 

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.

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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

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.

I dug up part of an abandoned novel about a guy who drives from New York to San Francisco with the corpse of his girlfriend (he accidentally kills her in the first chapter)  in the front seat. If you’re squeamish, don’t worry. I cut out all the gross necrophilia stuff. If you’re not squeamish, sorry, I cut out all the cool necrophilia stuff. The novel was orginally called Boola’s Trip. Maybe someday it still will.

Boola’s Trip

“Wyoming—a great land outdoors,” reads the state line greeting. I suppose what they’re saying is: don’t go indoors. Stay outside and play. Here, we have nothing for you indoors.

The road surface had changed in color from Nebraska’s abraded black vinyl to a lighter, reddish material, some sort of sandstone-based asphalt. Snow swirled in menacing flurries from the green and brown mesas and plateaus surrounding me down across the hood of my speeding Utero.

The mesas were dotted with scrub pine. We passed a graveyard for old railroad cars, stacked in lopsided piles beside a stretch of rusty, unused track. The first part of Wyoming is as flat as my pitch when I sing along to the radio; I could see all the way to the looming mountains, miles and miles in the leaden distance. We were about 45 miles from Cheyenne. It was approximately two-thirty in the afternoon. Mountain Time.

My software needs upgrading. My operating system is outdated. I have a theory about sex. “I have a theory about sex,” I announced to Boola, moonlighting as my girlfriend, well-hung on every pearl of too-truth dropped from my clenched jaws. “My theory, and please note, it’s only a theory–distilled from the honey of daily observation, patiently sifted, sure, but still….”

***

There didn’t look to be an easy way out of this. A dead girl in the front seat is a dead girl in the front seat, no matter how you say it, or don’t say it, or refuse to acknowledge it.

I resolved to check the atlas next time we stopped, though I had grown adept at pinning the book against the steering wheel and checking my location by means of a swift series of glances. Not that I was worried about getting lost. Even before GPS, it wasn’t easy to get lost in America anymore. Hard to believe if you just stay on this road you can travel three thousand miles from one place to another. From one empty feeling to another.

Passion without precision: chaos. Feeling kind of shandy. Kisses all lead to dreaming, and dreaming leads to death. I have a persistent nagging fear that the world of dreams is the one you will inhabit when you die. That the final few seconds of electrical brain activity will last for a seeming infinity—the only real infinity, I suppose, that any human ego can comprehend.

And that would really bum me out, to be honest. I’d prefer nothingness to some creepy oneiric landscape, over which one can exercise only an unpredictable and vague kind of control. I have anxiety about the afterlife. I fear that when plopped into its recondite midst, I will have a panic attack. Here’s my hell: an eternal panic attack, and no red wine.

***

Huge robot transformers, arms raised alertly, shunt the country’s electricity along thick ropes of conductive wire. When you pass near them the AM radio band hisses with static, the sound of blood boiling or my brain on drugs, enveloping in a fizzy rush this week’s Business Roundtable, a discussion I think of a new kind of spreadsheet software, then ebbing quickly, back to the banal chatter that helps keep me from thinking too much.

I’m cruising down Route 80 under a sky like shaved soap, the blue of my Utero’s hood etiolated to a light gray in the fading afternoon light. Not even the ontic perplexities of the twitchy stiff propped next to me could distract from the highway delight I now experienced. Gentle vehicular vibrations transferred from the wheels to the drive shaft to the steering wheel to my arms and on through my body, so that I was trembling with connectivity, with what Mary Baker Eddy called at-one-ment, with sheer driving excitement.

***

I’m not really sure what happened next. I remember the road in front of me sparkling in my headlights. I think we passed the skeleton of a semi in the meridian, buried up to its haunches in luminous powder. I jumped a fast train of thought, and had trouble sorting out the meaning behind the referents. I saw or thought I saw the shimmering carpet in front of me lift up, into the sky, and we rode a carpet of stars over the whole earth, over the storm and the white fields, the ribbon of road, the jutting heliotrope hills. And then just as suddenly as we had taken off we began to plummet, more quickly than I could register. The great white shawl of the ground came rushing towards us but I felt no fear, because this was what I had always wanted: to be embraced. We touched down hard, snow exploding everywhere around us, and we hurtled uncontrollably through the night for uncountable seconds. Eventually we sledded to a halt I knew not where.

I could not move. I could not think. I felt no pain, but could not seem to open my eyes, or, if they were open, to see. I drifted into a state of semi-consciousness.

 

Search for: Peace with self.

Item(s) not found.

 

Search for: Meaning.

Item(s) not found.

 

Search for: Reason to live.

Item(s) not found.

 

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.

Screen cap from Channel 13 interview

Bits and pieces of this have been floating around for a while now, but turns out there’s more, much more, than I had previously thought. If you go here, you can benefit from the hard work of a bunch of people who are not me, who’ve been digging through New York’s Channel 13 archives for pieces of a long interview with the patron saint of this site, Vladimir Nabokov. You will learn, among other things, how to pronounce “Lolita” in Russian, and incidentally how to pronounce it in English. (You’ve been doing it 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?

 

A brief list of inde rock summer reading recommended by Brandon Stosuy over at Stereogum includes Artificial Light, which is nice. You can read the list here.

While I would argue that Artificial Light is very much not “GBV-themed,” nor “indie rock-themed,” nor “rock-themed,” — it’s mainly about a librarian, after all — a plug is a plug and I appreciate the mention.

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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.

Vertov's Notebook

 

Vertov's Notebook

Dziga Vertov’s 1929 pseudo-doc still retains its power to amaze. Post-modern before the term had even been (unnecessarily) invented, Vertov presents a documentary about a documentary, while at the same time showing us a documentary. The only character is the cinematographer, or to be more accurate, the man with the movie camera (various English language titles have called the film Living Russia, or The Man With A Camera, but the original Russian translates literally to Man With A Movie Camera, and it’s easy to see why). There is no plot, beyond that conveyed in the title. There is no narrative. The lone character is “played” by Mikhail Kaufman, who is also the film’s actual cinematographer (along with Gleb Troyanski, uncredited). The footage was edited by Vertov’s wife, Elizaveta Svilova. It was filmed in the Ukraine, largely in Odessa, and presents (ostensibly) a portrait of the Soviet worker’s life from dawn to dusk. Vertov (real name Denis Arkadevich Kaufman) used 1,775 separate shots to make MWAMC, and in presenting these shots, in a rapid-fire manner that pre-dated and predicted MTV by some fifty plus years, he invented, deployed, or developed techniques like double exposure, fast motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, jump cuts (see what I did there?), extreme close-ups, footage playing backwards, stop-motion animation, and a self-reflexive style taken to such an extreme that at one point he has a split screen tracking shot where each side has opposing Dutch angles.

The pages above are taken from Vertov’s notebook and give some idea of his process. You can find out more at the excellent site Mubi, which deserves your full attention and support, much as Vertov’s still-astonishing masterpiece does, all these years later.

Side notes:

1) The film collective formed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Golin, among others, in France, active from 1968 to 1972 (Tout Va Bien and Letter to Jane are both available from the Criterion Collection, the others… good luck), called themselves Groupe Dziga Vertov.

2) I discovered that the Russian word for “lift,” or elevator, is or at least was “lift,” transliterated into Cyrillic characters, by watching this movie. I recently wrote a long short story with that title but did not explain where I had taken the title from. If anyone from Tin House is reading this post, this is how that happened.

 

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.


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