if each season
were twice as long
would wear me well.
- from "New Year" by Teresa Leo
All that night I dreamed of roulette, gambling, gold, calculations. I kept calculating something, as if I was at the gaming table, some stake, some chance, and it oppressed me all night like a nightmare.
- from The Adolescent, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Criticism starts—it has to start—with a real passion for reading. It can come in adolescence, even in your twenties, but you must fall in love with poems. You must fall in love with what we used to call "imaginative literature." And when you are in love that way, with or without provocation from good teachers, you will pass on to encounter what used to be called the sublime....
How did you arrive upon the image of a toad for work or labor?LARKIN
And to write this way is like raving or a cloud.
- from The Adolescent, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The American Academy of Arts and Letters announced Wednesday that [Vollmann] will be given a $250,000 Strauss Living, to be doled out in five equal installments over the next five years. The idea is to allow writers the freedom to write without worry of supporting themselves.
"I accept the Strauss Living with gratitude and relief," Vollmann told academy members. "... It is this tremendous gift which will allow me to focus on what I truly want to do for five years."
[W]hile other women may be able to fall back on the classic mainstays of nationality or religion when discriminating between potential suitors, as the dual-passported daughter of an interfaith couple, I've had to find less traditional ways to discriminate. And that is why, when making these important decisions, I turn to Don DeLillo.
You see, I could never learn to love a man who didn't appreciate White Noise, DeLillo's masterful satire and my hands-down all-time favourite book.
Erickson helped anticipate a mongrel movement now called "slipstream," which also includes Haruki Murakami and Kelly Link, and that contains elements of horror and fantasy. It's made him a kind of godfather to young writers, but it has not translated into sales. The well-reviewed "Our Ecstatic Days" has sold fewer than 2,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, since its release in February '05.
The birth of a son in the Red Swan Hotel is a fitting tribute to the zeal and perseverance of Mr. Dermot Trellis, who was won international repute in connexion with his researches into the theory of aestho-autogamy. The event may be said to crown the savant's life-work as he has at last realized his dream of producing a living mammal from an operation involving neither fertilization nor conception.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have begun a quiet revolution in the translation of Russian literature. Since the publication of their acclaimed version of The Brothers Karamazov in 1990, they have translated fifteen volumes of classic Russian works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, restoring all the characteristic idioms, the bumpy syntax, the angularities, and the repetitions that had largely been removed in the interests of "good writing" by Garnett and her followers, and paying more attention (in a way that their predecessors never really did) to the interplay or dialogue between the different voices (including the narrator's) in these works—to the verbal "polyphony" which has been identified by the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin as the organizing principle of the novel since Gogol.
Joshua Chaplinksy: There are a number of films important to the characters and to the storyline of Zeroville. A Place in The Sun and The Passion of Joan of Arc specifically play a major role in the novel. Are these films as significant for you as they are for the characters? What are some other films that are important to you?
Steve Erickson: Well, in the end the movies in the novel had to inform the story and characters. The book couldn't just be a compendium of films I happen to like. Some -- Last Year at Marienbad or, for that matter, Alphaville, where the novel gets its title -- just naturally lent themselves to being part of the book, without necessarily being any more special to me than real favorites -- The Third Man, say, or Jules and Jim -- that are mentioned in passing or barely at all. Most of this was instinctive rather than anything I worked out in a calculated way. I like both A Place in the Sun and The Passion of Joan of Arc but that's not why they're important to the book. They're important because there's something about them that's deeply irrational and even rapturous -- sometimes in a horrific way -- which suited the story and the main character.
I've never been "blocked" in large part because I've never called it that, and have never allowed my brain to get hung up on that idea. You just don't want to make the whole thing into a fucking test. Don't have an adversarial relationship with your own creativity.
But in [books], comprising them--as the atom the molecule, the molecule the compound--there are more sentences than people alive in this world, sentences that exhibit a range of savors surpassing your spice rack. Anyone who looks with care into the good books shall find in them fine sentences of every length, on every imaginable subject, expressing the entire range of thoughts and feelings possible, in styles both as unified and various as the colors of the spectrum; and sentences that take such notice of the world that the world seems visible in their pages, palpable, too, so a reader might fear to touch those paragraphs concerned with conflagrations or disease or chicanery lest they be victimized, infected, or burned; yet such sentences as make the taste of sweet earth and fresh air--things that seem ordinarily without an odor or at all attractive to the tongue--as desirable as wine to sip or lip to kiss or bloom to smell; for instance this observation from a poem of Elizabeth Bishop's: "Greenish-white dogwood infiltrated the wood, each petal burned, apparently, by a cigarette butt"--well, she's right; go look--or this simile for style, composed by Marianne Moore: "It is as though the equidistant three tiny arcs of seeds in a banana had been conjoined by Palestrina"--peel the fruit, make the cut, scan the score, hear the harpsichord transform these seeds into music (you can eat the banana later); yet also, as you read these innumerable compositions, to find there lines that take such flight from the world that the sight of it is wholly lost, and, as Plato and Plotinus urge, that reach a height where only the features of the spirit, of mind and its dreams, the pure formations of an algebraic absolute, can be made out; for the o's in the phrase "good books" are like owl's eyes, watchful and piercing and wise.
- William H. Gass, from "To a Young Friend Charged with Possession of the Classics"
God loves two things and that's the Movies and the Bomb. Of all the monuments we've made to God over the last five thousand years, have there been any that so nearly communicate our awe of Him? Have there been any that so nearly approximate His majesty? With the Movies and the Bomb, we've offered gifts that are worthy of him.
The audio book for Only Revolutions is just out and was scored by Danny Elfman. Since your book is so visual and relies on textual elements, how does this work? Or does the rhythm of your words take on another meaning when it's spoken?
I think most people prefer to hear it spoken. The quality of the book is so much about Sam and Hailey freeing themselves entirely from the constraints of the world. In a weird way, they demand being freed of the constraints of the book.
Yes, while freewheeling in nature, Only Revolutions is so structured. They are in some serious physical confines of a certain number of lines and a set number of pages, a certain way the book might be read...
That was the point. It's all about freedom. I wanted to see if I could I tie them up, every single day, and then follow how they were going to get out of the chain. The audio offers a freedom from those constraints. A lot of people listen to it and then go back to the book. They don't listen to the whole audio, they use it as a key into the book.
"No pleasure pleasures me as doth a well-spun tale, be't sad or merry, shallow or deep! If the subject's privy business, or unpleasant, who cares a fig? The road to Heaven's beset with thistles, and methinks there's many a cow-pat on't. As for length, fie, fie!" He raised a horny finger. "A bad tale's long though it want but an eyeblink for the telling, and a good tale short though it take from St. Swithin's to Michaelmas to have done with't. Ha! And the plot is tangled, d'ye say? Is't more knotful or bewildered than the skein o' life, that a good tale tangles the better to unsnarl? Nay, out with your story, now, and yours as well, sir, and shame on the both o' ye thou'rt not commenced already! Spin and tangle till the Dog-star sets i' the Bay; a tale well wrought is the gossip o' the gods, that see the heart and point o' life on earth; the web o' the world; the Warp and the Woof...I'Christ, I do love a story, sirs!"
"Methinks 'tis an itch for all we lose as proper citizens--something in us pines for the black and lawless Pit."
His assessment of his strength? "I know an awful lot about one thing and that's the sentence. I've studied it all my life."
That’s the kind of thing you can’t put into fiction without it seeming contrived.
Some books are so mammoth in concept that it seems ridiculous to try to whittle them down. You can go on and on about a book like Gravity’s Rainbow or Infinite Jest, for instance, but the only way their true size will be absorbed is in the experience. Fast phrases of summary or review only come off glancing, sentimental, a raindrop in the well. That Zeroville, the eighth novel from cult author Steve Erickson, accomplishes such gait in 352 pages of mostly short, numbered vignettes, is yet another facet of its unmistakable, so sleek brilliance.
All this is not to say, however, that Zeroville is at all a mountain that must be conquered via only sweat and tears, like other such aspirational tomes. I read this novel pretty much straight through without stopping, fed in bite-size increments numbered from 1 to 227 and back down past 1 to 0. Zeroville is addictive. It is a puzzle that lives inside your head. It makes you imagine things you hadn’t expected. Most of the way though I wanted to be Vikar Jerome. I wanted a tattoo on my head. Even more, now, I wish I could wipe it from my brain and read again.
Ms. Faludi stopped by a fragment of landing gear from one of the planes. "We have pieces but no story," she said. "It's like a lawyer's exhibits without the brief." In this, the display mirrors the situation immediately after 9/11, she said. But then the Bush administration, aided by the media and others, cranked out a ready-made narrative that squeezed out people's experiences, she argued. Language was also co-opted, she added, mentioning how survivors and workers called the site "the pile," while the media used military lingo to rename it "ground zero."
"Personal emotional responses get channeled and harnessed into a mythological construction," she said, and people are told, "This is what you're supposed to feel."
For Ms. Faludi the official story, that prefabricated narrative, is crumbling with revelations of governmental failures and waning support for the Iraq war. She wants to provide an alternate commentary. One of the curators of the Historical Society's show, she said, drew a distinction between the artifacts on display and art: "Art is a process of stepping back and seeing what it means. That's what I'm trying to do in this book — trying to find meaning."
Do people recognize you?
Recognize me in what way?
Do fans ever point you out and say, "Hey! That's Stephen Dixon!”
I don't get recognized too much and I don't get letters either—just one, maybe two a year. I read about other writers who get fifteen letters a day. They have secretaries taking care of them. Doesn't happen to me. I think people are either put off or frightened by me and don't want to communicate with me because they feel they know me too well, perhaps. Occasionally I'll get people who will send books for me to sign with postage, so I do it and I send them back. I'm not as universally known as you're saying. I mean, I hear I have this underground audience, but, unfortunately, they haven't emerged from underground. I like it the way it is. The publicist at Melville [House Publishing] says, "Oh, I can't believe all the people who know about your work! Even the guy who's on the book jacket. Leonard Snipken? He's a famous children's book writer.
Yeah, well, I had no idea that this guy knew about my work, but he [author Daniel Handler] presented himself to Melville at the last book convention in New York and said, "Oh! You publish Steve Dixon? You're lucky." And they said, "Would you write a blurb?" and he said, "You bet." So there's a fan base, but they don't present themselves to me.
to wound the autumnal city.
"...Well, Persio, here we are. What's going to happen?"
"Ah, that...I haven't had much time to study the question, but I'm already preparing the offensive."
"Yes. A thing or a fact has to be attacked in many ways. People usually select one tactic and only get halfway results. I always prepare my offensive and afterward synchronize the results."
"I understand," said Claudia in a tone of voice which revealed her lack of understanding.
"A kind of push-pull has to be in operation," said Persio. "I don't know if I'm making myself clear. Occasionally, it's as if there were things blocking the way, then they have to be pushed aside for one to make out what's happening further on. Women, for instance, and pardon my mentioning them in front of a child. But there are other things you have to grab by the handle and pull. That chap Dali knows what he's doing (maybe he doesn't, but it's all the same) when he paints a body full of drawers. It seems to me many things have handles. For example, poetic images. If one sees them from the outside, only the outer and obvious meaning can be grasped, even if it's sometimes well concealed. Are you satisfied with the exterior, the obvious meaning? No, you're not. You have to pull the handle and fall into the drawer. To pull is to appropriate, to approach, and even to go too far."
"Ah," said Claudia, making a discreet sign for Jorge to blow his nose.
"This place, for instance, is thick with significant elements: every table, every necktie. I see an underlying order within this awful disorder. I wonder what the outcome will be."
"So do I. But it's amusing."
"Amusement is always a spectacle: but let's not delve too deeply, for some foul trap is bound to come open at our feet. It's not that I'm against amusement, but every time I want to enjoy myself I must first lock up the laboratory and throw out all the acids and alkalines. I mean that I must surrender and give in to the appearance of things. You know very well how dramatic the humorous can be..."
7 p.m. ANISFIELD-WOLF BOOK AWARD WINNERS, Ngozi Adichie and Martha Collins, will read at the Art Gallery in Trinity Commons, 2230 Euclid Ave. Contact Ron Antonucci, 216.623.2881 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.