Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I think the most important thing I took away from this was that oh sweet Jesus The Stand is thirty years old how old am i oh what the shit.
It's a little thing, but...

"It is very awkward," Mr. Alabaster said, and then suddenly I knew his look. It was the look of a man who can't pay for a drink. "By God," I thought, "I believe the Professor is broke."

So I took an inventory of the smart young gentleman and there was a piece of his shirt sticking out of his trousers, a little piece no bigger than a sixpence but blue as the North star. Indication to mariners. And when I looked longer I saw that his shiny brown boots were down on one side like torpedoed ships. There was a fringe on the back of his trousers like old flags after the battle and the breeze, and his collar had an edge like a splintered mast.

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

...the swift deployment of such a field of simile does suggest a deeper involvement with and interest in the formal qualities of language and literature than might be otherwise immediately apparent in this book. To me, at least. Keep on the lookout.

To extend via comparison: while it's tired to harp on the current state of classroom-based education of writing, I'll still suggest it's hard to imagine a paragraph as sublime and illustrative as the preceding surviving a contemporary workshop critique session. Are there writers today who can use figurative, almost to the point of bordering on becoming (but not actually becoming) symbolic, language in such a way and get away with it?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Matt, glad you asked; Joyce Cary is an Irish-born, first-half-of-the-20th-century writer who, despite having appeared on the cover of Time and being the subject of a Paris Review interview ("I’m no life-force man. Critics write about my vitality. What is vitality? As a principle it is a lot of balls. The life force is rubbish, an abstraction, an idea without character."), appears to receive little love today, at least based on the totally informal survey done by plugging his name into my Google Reader feed list and noting the couple resulting relevant posts. Still, the existence of a fairly detailed Wikipedia entry must be worth something, correct? Or something. At least it's one more link for me to come back to when I'm done reading this book.

This book, The Horse's Mouth, which I discovered quite by accident one Friday night out with my girlfriend at a local bookshop; being the sort of fellow for whom the New York Review Books seal and binding has come to represent a certain something that I want out of literature, I was bound to pick it up. Being the sort of fellow for whom paint has recently become a medium and substance of no small personal and expressive interest, a NYRB-sealed book about a painter was one I was bound to purchase. Even if only with vague intents to read it. Some day. Some day like the day (yesterday) I got halfway through Sabbath's Theater and realized that, at least for the time being, I was quite over-Rothed. I'm over-Most things these days, seems like, seeming as it is I've put down half-read more books than I've picked up to begin with, and what have you. All to say that to feel not just engaged after fifty pages but more engaged than I was at the start of the book is to feel not just correct but net-gained, right about now.

Language like this doesn't hurt matters much:

There was a street market on the curb. Swarms of old women in black cloaks jostling along like bugs in a crack. Stalls covered with blue-silver shining pots, ice-white jugs, heaps of fish, white-silver, white-green, and kipper gold; forests of cabbage; green as the Atlantic, and rucked all over in permanent waves. Works of passion and imagination. Somebody's dream girls. Somebody's dream pots, jugs, fish. Somebody's love supper. Somebody's old girl chasing up a tidbit for the old china. The world of imagination is the world of eternity. Old Sara looking at a door knob. Looking at my old ruins. The spiritual life.

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

...Which is really much less dense, much lighter than it feels, as prose goes. Not quite light as air, but certainly light as, oh, say, the light that bounces through watercolor pigments, off the page, and back to your eyes. Works of passion and imagination, indeed: to see the world like a painter. (Cary, from the back-of-the-book bio, was originally trained as a painter.)

This book is the final book of a trilogy, which the back of the book swore could be read independently of the first two, though I'm thinking I'm going to wander back around to the first two in the series soon after I polish off this guy, if it goes as well throughout as it has so far. I can certainly see Cary showing me some path away from the post-Pynchon flubber-bloody hung-over funk that's landed on my skull after finishing Against the Day. As the man of the hour says:

I got some real colors and a couple of brushes at last, and made for the studio. I felt I could paint. As always after a party. Life delights in life.

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Your c-coffee, Mr. Jimson."

"Mr. jimson has just gone out. He must have seen you coming."

But the boy switched on his bicycle lamp; and came right in and put the coffee in my hand.

"Mr. Jimson won't be back for some time," I said. "But he asked me to tell you that you haven't got a chance. He isn't going to talk to you about art. He's committed arson, adultery, murder, libel, malfeasance of club monies, and assault with battery, but he doesn't want to have any serious crime on his conscience."

"B-but, Mr. Jimson, I w-want to be an artist."

"Of course you do," I said, "everybody does once. But they get over it, thank God, like the measles and the chickenpox. Go home and go to bed and take some hot lemonade and put on three blankets and sweat it out."

"But Mr. J-Jimson, there must be artists."

"Yes, and lunatics and lepers, but why go and live in an asylum before you're sent for? If you find life a bit dull at home," I said, "and want to amuse yourself, put a stick of dynamite in the kitchen fire, or shoot a policeman. Volunteer for a test pilot, or dive off Tower Bridge with five bob's worth of roman candles in each pocket. You'd get twice the fun at about one-tenth of the risk."

I could see the boy's eyes bulging in the reflected light off the boards, the color of dirty water. And I thought, I've made an effect. "Now go away," I said. "It's bedtime. Shoo."

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

Sunday, October 19, 2008

So I think my favorite part of the Junot Diaz talk today at the Cleveland Public Library was the part with the naughty language.

(Ha ha.)

(More later.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

A writer with a bountiful financial cushion recently complained to me that he had to spend a whole week coming up with an idea. I wonder if he truly loves his art. I certainly do, and have more ideas than time available.

- Ed

You can love something but still be a total douchetard about it. I mean, if that wasn't possible, we wouldn't have romantic comedies, or the current state of politics in America. Okay, bad examples.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is it just me, or is questioning assumptions, like, assumed, anymore? Really, any fool with a pen can challenge established orders and deconstruct invisible-in-plain-sight tropes. Is it time to find new bars to leap? New goals to seek? New nihilistic orders to maintain? New dogma to destroy?


Monday, October 13, 2008

From an interview with Argentinean writer Alberto Manguel:

The chapters of your book are titled "The Library as Myth," "The Library as Space," "The Library as Power," or as an island, as a workshop, as a home, etc. But how would you personally define a library with a single word?

I suppose that if I had to define a library in a single word that word would be memory. Libraries are the repositories of our collective and individual experience, a monument against oblivion.

What in your view determines the value of a library, its contents, its volumes or the rarity of its treasures?

The value of a library, like its beauty, is in the eye of its reader.


By saying, "our future paperless society," you imply electronic technology threatens libraries. What do you think about the future of libraries? Are you optimistic?

I don’t think libraries or books are, in themselves, threatened. I think our intelligence is threatened. I think that we are in the midst of a worldwide intent to render us stupid so that we will be better consumers of economic and intellectual trash, whether it be fast food, pop literature or religious claptrap. I’m optimistic in the morning, pessimistic in the afternoon.

I'd like to write a book worthy of the title A Monument Against Oblivion, myself. But it's well past morning.

(Interview linked via.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Here is where I am at:

I am done with Against the Day. For now. I'll be back. Have been done for a couple weeks, actually. Sorry.

I am reading book two of the Sookie Stackhouse series. Which I find surprisingly unembarrassing, both to read and to admit to reading. I am explicitly remembering what plot is, perhaps for the first time in a decade or so. Being the inspiration for True Blood, they really do raise lots of interesting questions, about story telling and authority and superiority and adaptation. But mostly, there's plot. I like plot. There was a lot of plot in Pynchon, too, of course. But.

I am doing design-related stuff. I did a project on texture. Texture is interesting. Here is a poor photo of my project:

I am not writing. (Much.) (At all.) (These days.) I am not sure how I feel about that, other than sad and agonized and anxious and apathetic.

I am considering doing something absolutely outrageous in November. This will not involve David Bowie. (Unless.)

I am enjoying the shuffle function on my audio-music playing device. Because I am incapable of decisiveness. (More or less.)

I am enjoying grape juice, purchased in Geneva, Ohio.

I am not watching tonight's debate. My mind is already made up. I am either a good American, or a bad American, for this.

I am still unprepared to talk about David Foster Wallace.

I am learning a thing or two about color mixing. Here is a poor photograph of an attempt at transparent mixing, in which the effect might be quite lost:

I am looking forward to The Conduit. This is neither a book nor a movie. This is a video game.

I am probably never going to buy a Kindle.

I am not sure where this is going.