Wednesday, September 26, 2007


...I'm re-reading some Jeff Noon (Nymphomation! Sexy maths!) and my girlfriend is entering the strange world of Haruki Murakami (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle! Cats! Pasta!) which probably, at some level, tells you things, things about us or things about the mood of our little corner of the world, or something, some things, I don't know, they're things I'm too haphazard right now to suss out. So I hope they aren't bad things. They're not. Not bad things. I hope.

Anyways, Jeff Noon rules. Reading Nymphomation again after so long is interesting. A little more space between me and my Vurt love lets me see the book for its own merits. Math as metaphor, sex as math. Structure and depth. Might be his most technically well-executed book, though my heart will always return to Vurt. As I expect my eyes will do in a few days' time. And, well, Falling Out of Cars is still just something else to me. So.

Still, I'm looking for my way out of my ADD mindmode. Like there's some book I haven't read yet that will pull me in, focus me close, hold me down, and float me up, all for the span of more than a couple hundred pages. The one that'll grab me by the shoulders and tell me all Lloyd Dobler-like that I must chill. Maybe it's on the TBR pile, maybe not. Or maybe I just jones for any old flimflam excuse to browse the stacks, blissed-out coverlove on the trancenight side...


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Man vs. page: An inquiry into the awesomeness of the opening page of Dhalgren (pt 1)

to wound the autumnal city.

This is how you begin with an ending.

This is how you depart from a destination.


I will never ever ever do this line justice.


True criticism doesn't resort to superlatives.

I think this is one of the best opening lines in literature.

It alludes but feels like nothing else.

It is incomplete, glorious, and sky-bright brilliant.


For me, the meaning of this phrase is in its motion, verbal and aural and oral.

Strictly speaking, it describes action and activity that exists independently of a subject. A threat placed upon an object from nothing and nobody. Something that happens that can not happen because nothing and nobody is there to make it happen, to do the action. It is effect without cause, without purpose or context.

It's a bit of true in medias res. It is a predicate, or part of a predicate, that alludes to (but is not, strictly speaking, dependent upon) a subject.

It's a full stop that never really began.


To wound. Violence. To do violence. To engage in a violent act. To do violence against something. A wound is a thing, to wound is to make that thing happen. To place the contents of the action into something.

To wound. To wound what? A city. The city. The autumnal city. A city that exists in time, a city that exists in terms of seasons, a year that begins and ends, a city that itself is approaching or is nearing or is at the very end of something. Autumnal as fall, in the process of falling, of being fallen.

Why would one want to wound a city?

How can a city be wounded?

When is this wounding to happen? Has it already happened? Is the wounding yet to come? Is the wounding in the fact of the city's being autumnal?

The autumnal city. The. The only city of its type, perhaps? The only literally autumnal city to exist? Or is the autumnal city a broad concept, a catch-all term for the modern state of the city? The fundamental concept of city as being one that is nearing the end of its season, its lifespan. Your city as mine, being threatened, being harmed.


Let's talk about word choice. Let's talk about sound.

Autumnal, for my money, is a beautiful word. The syllables, windy and cavernous and rolling, in turn. I lack the vocabulary to describe the sound of them or the feeling they evoke within me when I repeat them to myself, over and over, in the context of this opening line. To describe that word in that line as poetic is both sadly generic and completely true. No other word could evoke what this word does in the way it does it where it does it. It is the right word in the right place.


This phrase, this clause, is a piece of art, self-sufficient and complete. I carry it with me, in my mind, on the tip of my tongue, a mantra devoid of useful meaning, full of importance.


I know this much: the use of the word autumnal completely explodes writers' myths about modifiers, and how they often aren't necessary.

But then, you know: try to one-up it, and, well. You can't.


It is an absolute mystery to me what the word “autumnal” absolutely means.


And what of the city?

The city is something that can be described in terms of changing colors.

The city is something that can be described in terms of temporality, cyclicality, birth and rebirth, death and redeath.

The city is something that can be described in terms of singularity. Uniqueness, solitariness.

The city is something that can be described in terms of flesh. Skin, muscles, organs, functionality and systematicity. Something that can be hurt, harmed, rended, ripped open, made to bleed, made to hurt, made to feel pain, made to suffer. Something that lives and dies.

The city is the object of action and purpose that comes from nowhere and nothing and nobody.


Opening lines are framed by the white space that precedes them. A chapter title, perhaps, or a chapter number; pages of introductory material, quotation marks, copyright notifications. That sort of thing.

This novel places action and an immediate cessation of action at its beginning. It feels like something stopping. It feels like something happening that stops right away, that yet still hangs there in the air above the novel, a connection that desires to be made.

Like something left over, that defines the rest.


The tone of this phrase is lofty and poetic, true, and the framing of it is explosive and caustic and experimental, true, but the world it describes, the things it makes appear in my mind, are flawed, and low, and base. Physical and devoid of abstraction. Violence is a concept but a wound is flesh reconfirmed through temporary deconstruction. A city, like a universe, is too big to have a mind wrap itself around it, and yet, it's just buildings, and people living their lives.

What of the people who live and work and play and breed and die in an autumnal city? What are they like? What do they talk about, when they talk, if they talk? Do they see the way their buildings and jobs are turning from green to orange and brown? What are the leaves of an autumnal city? What falls to the ground? What branches give things up? How does such a city survive the winter of itself? Is there no repetiton or cyclicality for a city? Is the fall the end of itself?


I can see it being argued that reading this line closely without regard to its opening (placed at the end of the novel) is to read the line wrong. To interpret only half a picture, to make a case from only a segment of the available evidence.

I guess I'd disagree.


Say it.

Just say it.

I can think of few lines that sound so cool.


And yet. I feel like there's layers and layers of meaning I haven't the sense or critical ability to dig down deep enough to find.

I suspect I could go on for days.

And yet for what I've done I've neither harmed nor strengthened it, made it make more or less sense to me. I've learned from it, from the line and what I've said and thought about it. That much is true. But at the end of the day, it's still what it is: five lines on a page that I think are amazing.

Somehow amazing.

Somehow beautiful.

I don't know why.

But then, I don't come to literature as someone with answers but as someone who is trying to learn how to ask questions. I'm not even worried about learning to ask the right questions, or the best questions. It's just questions I'm after. Good questions, perhaps. Interesting questions, maybe. Questions, and the question of where they come from, and how they are found. Which is to say: I'm not here as an authority, but as a participant. I like it better that way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Meanwhile, from the depths of my attention deficit disorder...

...while I peck away at my thoughts on the Dhalgren thing, I'm continuing to muddle my way through a spazzy time of life, no book quite right for the moment. For the time being, I've gone back to my tried and true maxim: When in doubt, read some Kazuo Ishiguro. This time it's A Pale View of Hills, his first novel, and the last of his I need to read. After that, it's nothing new until he writes it. Which is distressing. And yet, exciting. Something fun about being so enamored with someone who will be read for a long time to come (if I have anything to say about it) who is still, hopefully, at a mid-way point in his writing career. It's fun.

But then, it's like, after this book, after I finish Hills, then what? A half hour trip to Half Price Books with my girlfriend tonight yielded empty hands and a peculiarly heavy wallet. About the best I was able to come up with was the notion that it's safe to say that Faulkner was out, for the time being. Shoddy attention span and all. (Which means this, which I saw a copy of tonight at the store and kind of had to laugh a little bit, is probably out, too.) Beyond that, though: beats me. I suggested maybe what I needed to do was take a month off from books entirely, and before I could finish the sentence, my girlfriend said I'd never make it. Which is true. I wouldn't make it. Even if I wasn't reading, I'd still be reading. Weird, I know.

It's possible this will lead to interesting things in the near future, at least. If it works out the way I suspect it might work out--a couple pages, here and there--that's at least a couple minutes each day to keep my mind from choking on itself. Still, though, there's other free minutes in the day, begging to be filled. Might it be time to re-learn how to work my PlayStation?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Man vs. page: An inquiry into the awesomeness of the opening page of Dhalgren (intro)

Whether or not Dhalgren by Samuel Delany is an awesome book, I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that it has an awesome opening page.

I couldn't tell you how awesome or not awesome the book is because it's been a while since I've read it. I know I didn't come close to getting it. I know I liked it. I know it intrigued me enough to stick with it for all 800 of its pages. But did I answer any of the questions the book poses? Probably not. Did I even find out what the real questions were? Not so much. About all I knew was that there were questions there. Big ones, little ones. Riddles upon puzzles upon awe.

I'm not even sure now when I first read the book. It was sometime in the hazy first half of this decade, between the day I graduated from college and the day I started this blog, two for-what-they're-worth milestone moments in my reading and writing life. To say that it was a time when I was trying to figure out my own questions would be a desperate parallel-grabbing understatement. It's probably a wonder I remember having read the book. Maybe I wouldn't remember having read it at all if it weren't for the fact that I own the copy I read. I guess I bought it instead of borrowed it. (Unless it's your copy, then, well, sorry, but you're never getting it back.)

And I certainly couldn't tell you when I first discovered the book. I don't think anybody told me about it, and, being as it was before I realized other people might use the Internet to talk about the stuff I love, I know I didn't read about it online. Rather, I think it was one of those odd bookstore finds, my eye drawn to the fat blue spine, some random day. Probably a Tuesday. I think I had to have picked it up, and flipped to the first page, and I must have just known this was something different. Not just from the random science fiction books I'd read when I was younger, but from most anything else I'd ever read. I probably bought it on impulse, no idea what came on page two, but knowing I needed to find out.

Maybe. I don't know. What I know is the book's opening page had to have had some kind of influence on my decision to read the rest of the pages. And today it's still a page I carry bits of with me inside my head, a page I read from time to time, to probe it and poke it and to begin to consider the ways you might question it and it might question you.

So now, after a recent glance at it, I'm going to take a stab at picking it apart, Man vs. Wild style. The helicopter's going to drop me off at the beginning of the opening line, and I'm leaving behind whatever I don't have in my head. Forget the flints and kindling of outside criticism, forget the hunting knives of formal structure and method. I'm going to eat only the words I can catch, take shelter under the questions I can raise, and warm myself off the heat of my own ideas. I may or may not make it to the end of the page alive. I make no guarantees.

Well, okay. I do guarantee this much: I will not drink my own urine.