Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If anyone asks...

...I'm going as Michael Chabon for Halloween.

"Innumerable compositions"

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"

Oh, to write with such muscle, spirit, passion and heart just one paragraph, just once.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I'm not even sure what to say about Zeroville by Steve Erickson.

I mean, I don't know. So instead I'll ask a question that's been in my head for a while and which I've just been reminded of after seeing three separate mentions of Proust in my Google Reader feeds: if I were to read Proust, which translation would be the right translation for me to read?

If I'm even going to consider, at some point in my life, reading a 3500 page (or whatever) book, I'm going to want to make sure I get some things right from the very beginning.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"You can't smash a girl over the head with a food tray."

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.

If you need me in the next day or two, I'll be the guy devouring Zeroville by Steve Erickson. (Which, oddly, has me feeling like I'm reading The Sot-Weed Factor II....)

Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm not sure how to translate "sort of kicks ass" into 17th century prose

I'm about fifty pages away from finishing The Sot-Weed Factor, and my near-final assessment is that the book sort of kicks ass, and you sort of maybe ought to read it some time, if you're into that sort of thing. Damn me though for not yet being able to state exactly why the book kicks ass, or what it does that makes it kick ass. It doesn't act so modern, though, as I was wondering (in a previous post) how it must: the more I question it on that front, the more I see this thing that offers no relevant answers. I've probably missed the point a thousand times over by now, but at least I've had some fun doing so. Enough fun that I've surprised myself by finding myself asking myself, "When will I read this book again?" I don't know when, but I can see it happening. Yeah.

Right now though I'm really looking forward to finishing it this first time because I've got this total rock block of novels lined up after it. Oh. Yes. Rock block.

Over there

I've got a new post up at The Blog of Disquiet. At the rate I'm writing these posts, I'll have the entire book covered by 2094. But then, I think I'm feeling just fine about taking this one slow and steady.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Last weekend?

When I was an undergrad, taking writing classes with Maureen and George, there was a rule you had to follow when your piece of the week was being critiqued: you didn't say anything while people were critiquing your stuff, because you weren't going to be there to defend your work when people were sitting in their living rooms reading your published work. (Or agents were sitting in their fancy offices reading your proposal.) It's one of those odd things that I internalized and gotten stuck in my head, like a pop song. I guess I've made it one of my own little guiding principles, in a way. When I write something, I try to remember to put everything in there the reader's going to need when they read the piece. To do otherwise might seem like a break with common sense, but then, there's not much common sense involved in trying to become a published literary writer in this day and age. Sanity checks, when available, aren't lightly passed up.

So when I saw a link to a Douglas Coupland piece in which he, it seemed, engaged in the practice of defending his work, I cringed: don't do it, Doug, I thought; don't do it! (And this is coming from someone who has enjoyed multiple Coupland novels.) Suffice it to say I was pleasantly surprised to find a decently succinct and interesting (and funny) meditation on words, art, and modernity.

The Neverending Story V: Only Revolutions

Your friend and mine Callie Miller recently took part in an interview with your hero and mine Mark Z. Danielewski.

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.

I might have to check out the audiobook version. Maybe the book sounds better than it seemed like it would sound when read on paper?

The Neverending Story IV: The Sot-Weed Factor

All other questions I've asked about The Sot-Weed Factor aside, if The Sot-Weed Factor is about anything, it's about story, and the telling of stories. Much, if not most, of the "action" of the story of this novel takes place off stage, either buried in history or somewhere else in the world, and is related to Eben, and the reader, through stories told by other people, either verbally, or in written form.

There's some great little metafictional moments along the way, such as this quote from Harvey Russecks, a "buck-skinned, thin-grinned, begrizzled old hermit of a fur-trapper":

"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!"

Of course, if Eben's story is also about anything else, it's about the battle 'twixt good and evil, a battle that takes place on the field of one's actions and one's intentions. It's a battle Mary Mungummory ("The Traveling Whore o' Dorset") neatly and succinctly sees being won by the forces of chaos:

"Methinks 'tis an itch for all we lose as proper citizens--something in us pines for the black and lawless Pit."

Which is a perfectly fascinating and fascinatingly appropriate quote when read in the context of Eben's own occasional tendency to desire "lawless" entrance into the "lawless Pit." Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Prestige is a relative thing, relative to the fact that I am a liar

Here's a profile of TDAOC-curiosity (and, for what it's worth, considering the comparative lack of prestige, recent winner of the St. Louis Literary Award) William Gass.

I started reading The Tunnel earlier this year, and then quit, because, at any one moment, there's just some places where your head is, and some places where it ain't. That week, it was then, and then equaled ain't.

Though I do swear I'm going to swing back around and give that book another shot, because how can a guy who comes up with quotes like this not be awesome:

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."

For real: fuck yeah, right?

Dear John Freeman

Go to hell, you ass.

"Use that evidence, race it around"

Wait a second. Heroes? The Sot-Weed Factor? Epic poetry? Wandering hero figure? Satire? Spoof? Innocence? Experience? That new Susan Faludi book I'm still thinking about reading? Modernism? The modern age?

Maybe what Barth is really satirizing--and maybe what we're more easily going to pick up on now, nearly fifty years after the book was published--is you. You, and your desire for a hero. For something pure, something true, someone honest, someone who can save the day, get the girl, win the game. But then, well: here you go. Here's your hero, in a whorish, fallen age. Your Adam, several thousand years after the Fall, still holding on to the dream. Still denying he ate the apple. A hilarious anachronistic figure. Purity is silly.

And maybe what's funniest about it? Is that you're still going to root for him to win.

(This, by the by, probably makes a lot more sense in my head.)


(Only 300 pages to go.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

I didn't even read the article, yet; I suck

The Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace comes out this week.

You may now continue to go about the business of not reading it.

Though at least now you may feel guilty about it.

A little bit guilty, at least.

(Not as guilty as you'll have to feel when the presumably far cheaper paperback comes out.)

(And yes, when I point one finger at you, I've got three others aimed back at myself.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Once upon a time, the end

Stephen King thinks the short story isn't doing so well. Jean Thompson responds.

It's an interesting discussion. But I'm not sure there's much new being said. But at least it's being said well, I suppose.

That said, I will foolishly take issue with one of Thompson's statements. Click through to read about what that "that" refers to, though I posit it doesn't matter:

That’s the kind of thing you can’t put into fiction without it seeming contrived.

Can't? Really?


It's a good thing I'm done with Heroes and can go back to reading The Sot-Weed Factor full-time, because Zeroville, the new Steve Erickson book, is hitting the streets. My precious, it calls to me. There's a review up at Bookslut. As if I wasn't already excited. Here's the good bits:

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.

Overblown hype? Bible-sworn truth? Either way: sign me up for an order of oh yes please thank you very much.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No Ground Is Gained Towards the Blogger's Ultimate Objective, but Neither Is Any Lost

In a comment to my last post, Dan clarifies what you're holding in your hand when you're holding a copy of The Sot-Weed Factor. His comment makes a lot of sense to me, and reaffirms my interest in reading the book as being much more straight-forward than I initially felt I was supposed to be reading it. Which bad reading probably stems from a Chicago Tribune blurb printed on the back of the book. (Would, though, that Neal Stephenson had not "been able to take himself seriously" when he wrote The Baroque Cycle.) (Do I seem bitter?) (I seem bitter, don't I.) (I'll let it go.) (Eventually.)

The whole satire question/connection isn't completely unwarranted. The book is based on (according to Barth's introduction) "what is generally held to be the very first American satire: a fierce and funny narrative poem whose title page...reads The Sot-Weed Factor: Or, a Voyage to MARYLAND, A SATYR." That the book gets its situation and themes in large part from a historical satire might lend a satirical edge to the book, but then, it's like, well, what is this book today satirizing? Were the "innocent being" and "heathenesque fallen culture" archetypes more pressing or present back in 1960? Am I, despite my intents, continuing to over-think the matter? Or completely missing the point? How much innocence can I possibly reveal in one post? Dunno.

(Motherfucking Neal Stephenson.)

Either way, it seems safe to read the book as a historical novel, playful in tone yet weighty in its subject matter, whatever the relevance to modern (or contemporary) society. Nice that I've figured out how I feel like reading the book now that I'm almost (fates willing) halfway through.

Of course, I'm just continuing to raise more questions than I answer. The question of modernism's been bugging me for a while now. Like, if this book is a (loose) tribute to historical novels, what's it doing that the source material would not or could not have done, if anything? Can I even answer those questions, being so ill-versed on the subject of historical novels as I am? Do the answers, as I suspect, lie in Eben's odd tendency to occasionally freak out like he's about to start violently acting out on his repressed sexual urges? Is the presence of "evil," psychologically contradictory intent in an supposedly innocent man the key to unlocking the secret connections between Sot-Weed and Barth's first two (seemingly so separate) novels? Would I ask and answer more questions if I wasn't so lazy and so far away from what few notes I've scrawled on the back of an envelope that I've left on my desk at home? Good question.

Maybe I'll start answering some of these questions, now that I'm done with the first season of Heroes, and I can go back to reading at least ten pages a night most nights of the week, but we'll see. If you need further proof of the fact that my mental engine isn't exactly knocking on all three cylinders when I'm reading this book, it's taken me nearly 330 pages to catch the fact that, oh hey, the relationship between Ebenezer and his servant Bertrand is totally Don Quixote. Duh, whatevs. Hilarious, allusive or not.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eben's ability? Supervirginity

I'm still working my way through The Sot-Weed Factor. I'm slow. How slow am I? I'm almost halfway through the book and I just realized, hey, wait, it's not so much historical novels that I should be comparing this book to, but epic poems. The Odyssey, The Iliad, probably certainly The Aeneid. All of which I've been thinking it's been far too long since I've read. Add one more impetus to engage in some fast and furious wishful thinking.

I've pretty much given up on trying to read the book as satire or spoof of historical novels. It's like, I'm sure that's going on, and I could probably spell it out if I tried, but it's not much fun to read that way. Problem is I've got little to no ear for satire more subtle than, say, an Onion article. It's not to say this book isn't funny; it is funny. It's just funny for me in a more straight-forward way than I suspect the satire angle calls for.

That probably doesn't make sense, because I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say. Point being: I'm enjoying the adventurers of Ebenezer Cooke, the wandering poet hero, as he seeks to find and reclaim what's rightfully his. That the book pokes fun at cultural perceptions of innocence and experience is a sort of bonus tossed in to the mix. (Whose culture's perceptions, though? Harumph.) I'm sure the close reader elite task for squad will sniper me for saying that, but, well, so be it.

Speaking of close reading: I've tossed my first post over toward The Blog of Disquiet. Not up yet, but you can expect it to come when it comes. Looks like the blog is starting to attract some attention. I've every intent of keeping some good (well, not bad) content flowing in that direction. The Book of Disquiet has been fun, what few pages of it I've read so far. I'm interested in seeing what else my own read and the group read uncover.

Of course, all of the above is contingent on my ripping off the television band-aid that is Heroes, the first season of which I'm currently somewhere in the middle of. Which is to say the show does in fact rule and I'm quite glad I've finally got the chance to watch it. Theory has it I'll get all caught up so I can watch the current season on a weekly basis, but I've decided in my old age I've no use for weekly televised dramas of this sort. If I can't borrow DVDs long enough to set life aside for a single week in order to drill through an entire season, it's probably not worth my time.

Though naturally I'll make an excuse for Battlestar Galactica, my one true television crack pipe (much to my girlfriend's chagrin), now that the greatest undersung television show of all time, John From Cincinnati, officially is and shall be no more. God damn you, HBO. Damn you to Hell.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Friday, October 05, 2007

Of dreams and transformations

Now this is happening. I'll be happening there, too. Soon. Gradually, and, I presume, for a while.

(Also, side note: something funny happened this morning, something that happened after reading 200 pages of The Sot-Weed Factor, something that failed to happen after reading 3000 pages of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle: I woke up with my head stuck like a fix't machination in the rhythms and cadences of 17th century prose. I think this involved me singing the praises of my shower in rhymed heroic couplets. Weird. So I guess this means either Barth did something right or Stephenson did something wrong or both or vice versa. Or it means nothing at all.)

(Which now has me wondering: if I had to spend the rest of my life talking and thinking in the prose style of any one novel, which novel would I pick?)

(Ooh, tough question. Hmm.)

(Or a lame question.)

(Your pick.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Would there be backlash if I stiffed you on the punny subject line?

I might have to consider making an exception to my general policy of crossing the street whenever I see a piece of post-9/11 writing walking in my direction. Susan Faludi's weighing in.

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."

Via Bookslut.

Speaking of Maryland

I'm reading The Sot-Weed Factor now. Which seems like an awfully odd choice for sparking some kind of attention-span renaissance, but whatever. Maybe my brain just needs, nay, craves! some pseudo-17th century English?

(Things I thought I'd never hear myself say.)

Anyway. I haven't read much of his stuff (his first two books, and now part one of Sot-Weed), but yeah, in any case, I'm all for making the case for John Barth. I mean, set aside questions of motive and satirical intent and other fifty-cent questions: the bedchamber meeting of Ebenezer Cooke and Joan Toast is straight-up ha'penny funny shit. (The Great Tom Leech, indeed.)

So yeah. We'll see how long I stick with this. I'm angling for all of it right now. (I'm itching to take another crack at Giles Goat-Boy. Next year, maybe. Maybe.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

"I am a sick man, I am a wicked man"

Here's a recent interview with TDAOC-endorsed Stephen Dixon.


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.

Lemony Snicket?

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.