31 January 2005

Bunny & Volodya

Check out The Paris Review's DNA of Literature for some clever excerpting of the letters between Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov. ("Dear Bunny, . . . We have spent most of the summer in Wellesley. I have given up smoking and have grown tremendously fat. We have passed our citizenship examinations. I know all the amendments.")

And a little more:


Tell me: Why do you think that
Hamlet has always been so popular on the stage in the English-speaking countries? Of course it’s good but this can’t be the reason. Several of Shakespeare’s other plays ought to be more dramatically effective. It’s true that it gives the star a fat part, but there must be something more to it than this. Do give me the benefit of your opinion on this matter.


There are several reasons why
Hamlet, even in the hideous garbled versions current on the stage, should be attractive both to the caviar eater and the groundling: (1) everybody likes to see a ghost on the stage; (2) kings and queens are also attractive; (3) the number and variety of lethal arrangements are unsurpassed and thus most pleasing--(a) murder by mistake, (b) poison (in dumb show), (c) suicide, (d) bathing and tree climbing casualty, (e) duel, (f) again poison--and other attractions backstage.

30 January 2005

Dear Henry

Cynthia Ozick conducts An (Unfortunate) Interview with Henry James (via Conversational Reading as Ozick v. James). Although the demeaning way in which she paints James as a precious old fool undermines any intended humor, it is worth reading as an exhibit of the absurd, self-righteous insistence of the current tendency to view past lives through the lens of our present context.

But there are a couple good lines that she puts in his mouth:

I warned her, as I now warn you, madam, that one's craft, one's art, is in one's expression, not one's person.

In response to the questioning of his letter-consuming bonfire:

Put it that the forewarned victim subverts the future's cunning. I have been easier in my mind ever since, and my little conflagrations scarcely appear to have impeded posterity's massive interventions.


I say I deeply, deeply, infinitely favor the universalization of epistolary arson.

And my favorite line:

Never say you know the last word about any human heart.

Proust's juju

Courtesy of the Rake, may I direct your attention to this bemused post (I'm shaking my head at the idea that these people can take themselves so damn seriously--"special juju"??):

What real readers of Proust’s novel want are answers. They want to know why this particular passage is more enchanting than that enchanting passage. They want a critic who can accurately determine where Proust gets his special form of juju from. And if the critic can do that, then they want him or her to expose the means by which this special juju mesmerizes the reader so easily and so effectively. An account of a childhood or college experience will not resolve these pressing matters directly but indirectly—which is why the best that the best of the personal accounts in The Proust Project can do is contribute to the mystery of their selected passages. But what you and I want is less sorcery and more answers; we need treatments that will help neutralize the powerful spell Proust has cast on us.

Hmph. Nevermind that I can distinctly hear Wordsworth railing, "We murder to dissect!" from beyond the grave.

So the function of criticism is to "neutralize" the magic of literature? Funny, I always thought that exposing what makes something tick (a tricky endeavor any way you look at it) served to inspire wonder at the skill and artistry of the writer. No wonder inhabitants of the ivory tower choke on their own fumes!

(See this and that for my prior nods to Proust.)

28 January 2005

Luis Buñuel

Dream Politics, an article on "the dizzying charm of Luis Buñuel," examines two of his recently re-released films in today's context:

Meanwhile, Surrealist anarchy has itself been subverted by commercialism. It's no longer the province of the Left. That's an unexpected fact of recent film history. [...]

Both L'Âge d'Or and Los Olvidados look at mankind's abundant moral contradictions. In scholar Robert Short's excellent commentary track for L'Âge d'Or, Buñuel's perspective is described as an adumbration of Freud and Marx's world views—combined (and designed) to reveal the cracks in bourgeois life. The trivial fantasies in movies like Elektra and Assault on Precinct 13 and The Aviator avoid looking at human contradictions. Instead, they substitute a specious disregard for old-time morality, thus leaving the audience with nihilism. However, the anger and pity that rise from the abuse and futility seen in Los Olvidados (which means "The Forgotten Ones") are too strong to be called unconsidered or dispassionate. Buñuel wasn't being fashionable; his response to this rotten world was one of feeling.

(via The Reading Experience)

A lot of love

More beautiful stories:

Among the introspective vignettes is Born. Several months into a national tour in 2004, Karin and Linford realized that while good things were happening with their music, little energy, creativity, or time was left for their life together. The road began taking a toll on their marriage. They opted to put the tour on hold and retreat home. “When we came home, we bought two cases of wine and decided we were going to put a bottle on the kitchen table every evening and start talking until nothing was left. The idea wasn’t to get smashed, but to talk face-to-face and open up, even if that meant deep into the night.” I Want You To Be My Love caps the sentiment. Linford mentions, “I love when the simplest song, nothing extravagant, nothing innovative, can still make somebody feel something. It’s like experiencing a tiny, three-minute miracle.”

Already a fan favorite, the title track, Drunkard’s Prayer, holds a special place among the songs on the album. Karin explains, “It was the first song we recorded and it set the tone for the songs that followed. Everybody wants to be drunk on the good stuff - drunk on life, love, music, the wine of God, and what not. It seemed natural to name the record after it. Also, DRUNKARD’S PRAYER sounds a little like the name of a race horse, a long shot, a horse with little chance of winning, but the one you’ve got all your money on. We put the image of a white horse on the cover, which we associate with redemption, and we feel the songs on this record tell the story of two people finding their way back home after almost losing everything, each other included.”

“There’s a lot of love on this one.”


I hope to read Marilynne Robinson's Gilead at some point soon. For now, the Rake draws our attention to a recent interview where she addresses the question, "What were the challenges in writing about a religious man, a good man?":

I had no problem writing about a religious man. I know preachers are conventionally represented as frauds or scoundrels, hypocrites at best. In general, I try to steer clear of conventions. I know good characters are supposed to be uninteresting. That must be a very recent discovery. There are plenty of good people in literature. For one thing, they make reliable and scrupulous narrators. For another, they convey ethical and emotional nuance. Goodness, after all, requires a disciplined attention to other people. Ishmael is good, Nick Adams is good, many of James’ characters are very good. If the word "good" implies narrowness, judgmentalism or hypocrisy, then "good" has become a synonym for "bad," nothing a writer would wish to explore sympathetically. But if goodness implies the attempt to be a positive presence in the world, a good father or mother, a good friend, or simply an honest human being — that requires a great deal of sensitivity and attention, as everyone knows who has tried it. People are not good statically. They are good situationally. They can fail at any moment, and they know it. And they usually know when they do fail, because they want to know. This is a very active and complex experience of consciousness. Self-seeking is dull and monistic by comparison. In any case, making my narrator both religious and good (though blind to some essential things as well) allowed me to give him a large, active, reflective mind.

In which my belief in my personal sanity is restored

CAAF over at Tingle Alley confesses her agoraphobic tendencies:

So: I just left the house for the first time since Saturday. [...] I went to the bank and library, creeping along the highway like an Amish person in a buggy. The SUVs on the road were huge and all going too fast. I am afraid that one of these days I will emerge from our house and find everyone zipping around in rocket ships. That, or I’m going to end up one of those tiny old people you see stranded at the terminus of the highway on-ramp, unable to merge.

Clearly, I need to either a) start arranging daily jaunts out into the world; or b) invest in a Cadillac so that I can — as a tiny old person stranded at the terminus of the highway on-ramp — enjoy a plush stylish roomy interior. There I could sit, just cooling it, listening to Alice Cooper on the tape deck and eating from a box of chocolates, until midnight, when with the highway clear, I’m able to resume my errands.

Drunkard's Prayer

Personal update via Jeffrey Overstreet:

I've just heard from Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine. The new album is coming (no longer titled "Born"), and the band's ready for an ambitious tour. They *will* be at the Cornerstone Festival this summer (and I hope to be as well).

Here's the scoop:



The songwriting team of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler immerse themselves in profoundly deep waters on their new release, DRUNKARD’S PRAYER (Back Porch Records, March 29)

DRUNKARD’S PRAYER, made in the couple’s living room, showcases the sonic warmth that can come from recording at home. The combination of Berquist’s voice, coupled with upright bass, piano, acoustic guitars, a few horns and superb songwriting make their new record the band’s finest achievement to date.

The title, DRUNKARD’S PRAYER, sets the tone of redemption for the record. The confessional singer/songwriters had a realization last year during their national tour for their previous record, OHIO. Although good things were happening with their music, there was very little energy or creativity or time left over for their marriage. They pulled the plug on the tour and directed more energy toward their life at home. According to Detweiler, “It ended up being a really good thing for us. And hopefully, some of what we’ve learned has not only made us better people, but better songwriters as well.”

Over the Rhine is named for the Cincinnati neighborhood where the husband and wife team of Karin Berquist and Linford Detweiler began making music a decade ago.

Over the Rhine will tour extensively in 2005.

Upcoming dates:
Feb. 28 Annapolis, MD Ramshead Tavern
March 1 Vienna, VA Jammin’ Java
March 2 Philadelphia, PA Tin Angel
March 4 Northampton, MA Iron Horse Music Hall
March 5 Lancaster, PA Chameleon Club
March 6 New York, NY Mercury Lounge

27 January 2005

On Auschwitz

Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation commemorates the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with poignant thoughts and a personal list of related fiction and non-fiction.

Meanwhile, Ron Hogan at Beatrice highlights moving words by Deborah Lipstadt (the author who exposed a major Holocaust denier in 1993):

"For a long time after the court battle was over, I felt pain when I thought of the many people who had watching Irving ravage their memories. I could not fathom what it felt like to have one's experiences not just denied, but deprecated and ridiculed. I was reminded of the fact that Jewish tradition highly values acts of loving-kindness, including visiting the sick, sheltering the needy, feeding the hungry, and welcoming the stranger. There is, however, one act of loving-kindness that supersedes all the others because it cannot be reciprocated. Taking care of the dead is called hesed shel emet, the most genuine act of loving-kindness, because it is then that we most closely emulate God's kindness to humans, which also cannot be reciprocated. For five years I had the privilege to do hesed shel emet, to stand up for those who did not survive or who could not stand up for themselves. Being able to do that was thanks enough."

Playful picaroons

The marvelous Decemberists are hitting the road for the first leg of their "Advance of the Picaroons" tour in March. (See here for details.)

Their newsletter also declares:

Picaresque, our new record, will be available on CD in fine stores everywhere on March 22nd. In keeping with tradition, Jealous Butcher records will team up with Kill Rock Stars to release the vinyl version of the record, which will be a double gatefold LP. An out-takes EP, Picaresqueties, will comprise the fourth side of the record. Track listing is as follows:

1. The Bandit Queen (With "Dialogue" and "Tap Dancing")
2. Bridges and Balloons
3. Constantinople
4. The Kingdom of Spain (Version Prescott)
5. The Bandit Queen (Version Prescott)

March is shaping up to be a bang-up month! Over the Rhine is releasing Drunkard's Prayer on the 29th, and I'm getting a chance to see them on the 1st. Also, rumor has it that Tori hits Georgetown for her Piece by Piece book tour on the 17th.

What a lovely way to welcome spring!

Youthfully dislocated

Regardless of how it comes about, youthful dislocation does seem to be a common trait among authors. I remember some research discussed in Jonathan Franzen's book, How to Be Alone, which demonstrated that alienated adolescents often turn to books and writing to supplement the social interactions they don't have. I imagine isolation is also good for tuning a person's critical eye, the ability to calmly watch life and assess from the sidelines, something at which many good authors are extremely adept.

Way to save face for us hopeless lit geeks!

(This thoughtful post of Scott's is actually about Ian McEwan and cultural exchange. Nevermind me.)

A last hurrah

From William Safire's "A Columnist's Farewell: How to Read a Column" (via Amardeep):

9. Cherchez la source. Ingest no column (or opinionated reporting labeled "analysis") without asking: Cui bono? And whenever you see the word "respected" in front of a name, narrow your eyes. You have never read "According to the disrespected (whomever)."

10. Resist swaydo-intellectual writing. Only the hifalutin trap themselves into "whomever" and only the tort bar uses the Latin for "who benefits?" Columnists who show off should surely shove off. (And avoid all asinine alliteration.)

11. Do not be suckered by the unexpected. Pundits sometimes slip a knuckleball into their series of curveballs: for variety's sake, they turn on comrades in ideological arms, inducing apostasy-admirers to gush "Ooh, that's so unpredictable." Such pushmi-pullyu advocacy is permissible for Clintonian liberals or libertarian conservatives but is too often the mark of the too-cute contrarian.

The dog ate my masterpiece

Great article (via Maud's guest-blogger Jimmy Beck):

"Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay bought [the orginal MS of On the Road] three years ago for $2.43 million"?!

(Whoa. Does this mean I have to rethink my issues with Indy?)

In 1951, Kerouac spent 20 days of caffeine-induced writing to produce "On the Road." The original manuscript will be on display at the University of Iowa Museum of Art through March 12. It's a 1191/2-foot scroll, typed at 100 words per minute in improvisation so intense Kerouac didn't want to slow the creative train by feeding in new pages. He taped one end to the next.

[Click to see cool pictures of the MS: rolled and unrolled.]


This is the conclusion to "On the Road," which you won't find in the original manuscript because a dog destroyed it.

"So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? The evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty."

- Jack Kerouac, "On the Road."

Art and the masses

Click on over to this great discussion at Dan Green's:

LL wishes these kinds of audiences, and these kinds of art, "weren't mutually exclusive so much of the time." I really can't see why she should. In most cases, the experimental isn't going to be popular (not until it's no longer experimental), and I can't see that it diminishes the value or the accomplishment of experimental or formally challenging art if it isn't popular. Similarly, why is it injurious to popular art that it remain merely popular? Again, in most cases it was created to be so. Why does it seem to be so hard in these matters to settle for a version of "to each his own"? Why not accept that, for the most part, the mass audience isn't going to be interested in what those of us who like it call serious art? Why not leave it to the audience that appreciates it? Serious art and literature would thus be spared the condemnations of the moralists and the polemicists, and popular art would be free to carry on its crowd-pleasing business.

Although I basically agree with his assertion, "Modernism and Mass Culture" is one of the courses I hope to take in the future (if I'm accepted at the University of Leeds, that is). There is something ineffable in the human experience that great art taps into, and I am crazy enough to believe that some people can learn to connect with it. I guess it ties in with this thought by Flannery O'Connor:

“There are those who maintain that you can't demand anything of the reader. They say the reader knows nothing about art, and that if you are going to reach him, you have to be humble enough to descend to his level. This supposes that the aim of art is to teach, which it is not, or that to create anything which is simply a good-in-itself is a waste of time. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it. We hear a great deal about humility being required to lower oneself, but it requires an equal humility and a real love of the truth to raise oneself and by hard labor to acquire higher standards.”

(I'll probably be coming back to this issue a lot. If teaching is my future path, I have to believe that it is possible for people to fall in love with deeper works and ideas--not only by exposure to them, but by learning the tools needed to understand them better.)

26 January 2005

Kindred spirit

Scott McLemee's excellent article on Helen Vendler is up at The Chronicle of Higher Education (as an undergrad, I was fortunate enough to discover her while studying George Herbert):

In her Jefferson Lecture and in Poets Thinking, her most recent book, Ms. Vendler is making a claim that the careful reading of poetry is itself an intellectual discipline -- one that is distinct from whatever one might say about it using the tools of cultural theory.


"The way poetry is practiced was considered of no serious import to higher education," she says. "That struck me as very wrong. After all, some of Shakespeare's sonnets are among the glories of our literature, and should belong in the training of the mind." Ms. Vendler has been using her appearances at the lectern to advocate the idea that the skills involved in reading poetry closely have as central a place in the humanities as philosophical analysis or historical context does.

Those who know me well know that I'm a huge proponent of close reading. I think there's a certain part of us that is challenged (touched, expanded) by works of literature that isn't necessarily affected in the same way by other disciplines. There's actually quite a debate/discussion going on right now regarding the "point" of literary studies. (A great place to start is The Reading Experience--incidentally, Dan Green is also quoted in the Vendler article.) Whenever I find the time, I would really like to delve into this further.

But for now, the day is drawing to a close and I'll have to try and catch the bus home...so I'll (happily) end with Vendler explicating Dylan Thomas:

All I have to give I offer
wine, bread, and halter.

"It means that you offer your little capacities," she explains. "And every generation is astonished that the capacities on offer are not better. 'Are we all there is?' you say to yourself. And you wish you were better. You wish your tastes were more catholic, perhaps. But all you can do is offer what you have. I've always loved thinking about poetry, and writing about it. That's my vocation. All I can do is practice it."

Neil makes me a tree

While at Sundance last Friday for the premiere of MirrorMask, Neil Gaiman clarified the cloudy buzz surrounding the new Beowulf projet:

In 1998 Roger Avary asked me to cowrite a script for Beowulf for him to direct. We went off to Mexico together and wrote it as a sort of Dark Ages Trainspotting, filled with mead and blood and madness, and we went all the way from the beginning of the poem, with Beowulf as a hero battling Grendel, to the end, with Beowulf as an old man fighting a dragon. Robert Zemeckis really liked the script, and his production company, Imagemovers, bought it, for Roger to direct. (Imagemovers had a deal with Dreamworks at the time.)

Dreamworks, for whatever reasons, didn't want to make it, and -- eventually -- the rights to the script reverted back to me and Roger.

Roger went off and made
Rules of Attraction. Last year he decided he wanted to make Beowulf as his next film. He started putting it together...

Meanwhile Bob Zemeckis couldn't get our Beowulf movie out of his head. After the motion capture experience of Polar Express, he wanted to take the techniques on a bit, and make a film intended for adults with them. He and Steve Bing approached us about the script....

And, after a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing over the last month, Bob Zemeckis will be making a film of Beowulf, from our script. Roger and I are signed on to do any rewrites necessary (I suspect that some things that were easy to write for live action would be impossible or extremely costly to do as motion capture. But then, things that would have been impossible to do as live action may be easy as motion capture, so overall it should work out.)

(No, it won't look or feel anything like Polar Express. When Bob Zemeckis told us the art style he had in mind our reaction was "Well, of course.")

Roger and I are also executive producers on the film, and from what I've heard so far we're expected to work, it's not just a courtesy title.

Wow--"mead and blood and madness"--sounds fantastic to me!

As a random aside, it just occurred to me that the above lyric from "Horses" could have a dual meaning: "But will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?" could mean that she could climb up and away in it, disappearing into the branches. Or (which just struck me as being the true interpretation), it could be an allusion to the myth of Daphne and Apollo: he was struck by cupid's arrow, fell in love with her, and she ran like hell. When he was about to catch her, she begged her father (the river god, Peneus) to save her, and he did--transforming her into a tree:

"Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her feet stuck fast in the ground, as roots; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty."

As I wistfully recall bygone aspirations

This would be even funnier if it weren't so frighteningly accurate (courtesy of the redoubtable Onion):

Someday I Will Copyedit the Great American Novel

Yes, I know how many idealistic young people dream of taking a manuscript that captures the spirit of 21st-century America and removing all of its grammatical and semantic errors. But how many of them know to omit the word "bear" when referring to koalas? How many know to change "pompom" to "pompon"?

All very good questions.

Copyediting is a craft. A good copy editor knows the rules of punctuation, usage, and style, but a truly great copy editor knows when to break them. Macaulay's copy editor let him begin sentences with "but." JFK's copy editor knew when to let a split infinitive work its magic. You need only look at Thackeray to see the damage that overzealous elegant variation can do. Right now, there's a writer out there with a vision as vast as Mark Twain's or F. Scott Fitzgerald's. He is laboring in obscurity, working with deliberate patience. He isn't using tricks of language or pyrotechnic plot turns. He is doing the hardest work of all, the work of Melville, of Cather: He is capturing life on the page. And when the time comes, I'll be here—green pencil in hand—to remove the excess commas from that page.

With clear eyes and an unquenchable thirst for syntactical truth, I will distinguish between defining and non-defining relative clauses and use "that" and "which" appropriately. I will locate and remove the hyphen from any mention of "sky blue" the color and insert the hyphen into any place where the adjective "blue" is qualified by "sky." I will distinguish between "theism" and "deism," between "evangelism" and "evangelicalism," between "therefor" and "therefore." I will use the correct "duct tape," and not the oft-seen apocope "duck tape." The Great American Novel's editor will expect no less of me, for his house will be paying me upwards of $15 an hour, more than it paid the author himself.

Because, you know,

Some people edit copy because they choose to. I copyedit because I must. It isn't merely a matter of making a living. If it were that, I would have been line editing years ago.

Truer than true.

(Grayites unite!)

25 January 2005


I've just read Philip Pullman's Guardian essay "Common sense has much to learn from moonshine" (via Bookninja) and am singing inside with happiness:

And the crazy thing is that the common sense brigade think that they're the practical ones, and that approaches like the one I'm advocating here are sentimental moonshine. They could hardly be more wrong. It's when we do this foolish, time-consuming, romantic, quixotic, childlike thing called play that we are most practical, most useful, and most firmly grounded in reality, because the world itself is the most unlikely of places, and it works in the oddest of ways, and we won't make any sense of it by doing what everybody else has done before us. It's when we fool about with the stuff the world is made of that we make the most valuable discoveries, we create the most lasting beauty, we discover the most profound truths. The youngest children can do it, and the greatest artists, the greatest scientists do it all the time. Everything else is proofreading.

(And God knows I've done my share of that!)

If teachers knew something about the joy of fooling about with words, their pupils would write with much greater fluency and effectiveness. Teachers and pupils alike would see that the only reason for writing is to produce something true and beautiful

Who knew that Chesterton and Pullman had so much in common?

True education flowers at the point when delight falls in love with responsibility. If you love something, you want to look after it.

Wow. Maybe I'm cut out for this line of work after all...

¡Felicitaciones, Catalina!

¡Estoy muy emocionada por la nominación de mi paisana!

Buena suerte en todo lo que haces.

Academic irrelevance

I just received the new Identity Theory newsletter (where founding editor Matt Borondy shamelessly asserts, "This newsletter was powered by a Grande White Chocolate Mocha Latte and a Cranberry Bliss Bar") and am now grinning like an idiot.

Watch why:

Academics, alas [searches for words], they bring all these—more so all the time—all these irrelevant agendas to dissecting a work of literature. When you approach a work of literature you should approach it as a work of art and everything else is totally irrelevant. Sociological concerns are, at best, secondary. Yes, you can examine the ethos of the 1920s when you read The Great Gatsby, but it's secondary to considering what makes Gatsby work as art. What are the sustaining motifs? What is the effect of the peripheral narrator and blah, blah, blah? Very few academics approach it in this way. They all have their little axes to grind.
~ Blake Bailey, biographer

I look forward to reading Bailey's entire interview with the inexhaustible Robert Birnbaum.

(Oh, and they also have a new group book discussion blog!)


Annie Dillard's website had been down for awhile, and today I found out why:

I’ve posted this web-page in defense; a crook bought the name and printed dirty pictures, then offered to sell it to me. I bit. In the course of that I learned the web is full of misinformation.

Some miserable excuse for a human being had better watch out. I know a pretty ruthless bunch that'll have your balls for breakfast. (Right, T?)

Joyce & Proust

Keeping in mind that the illustrious ARH is now wading into Ulysses, it was funny to come across some new information this morning (via the estimable Rake):

As those with a taste for literary trivia know, James Joyce and Marcel Proust once met, to less than spectacular results. (Samuel Beckett might have hastened Proust's death, via cigar, but that's another story.)

Apparently, I'd just discovered another gap in my education. Here's the scoop:

On Thursday, 18 May 1922 James Joyce was invited by Sydney Schiff to a supper party for Stravinsky and Diaghilev after a premier performance of one of their ballets. Joyce arrived late and had a few drinks to cover his embarrassment at not having evening clothes. Marcel Proust arrived at the affair wearing a fur coat, on a rare outing, and was seated next to Joyce.

William Carlos Williams is supposed to have noted the conversation between the two authors. Joyce said, "I've headaches every day. My eyes are terrible."

"My poor stomach," Proust said, "What am I going to do? It's killing me. In fact, I must leave at once."

Joyce replied, "I'm in the same situation. If I can find someone to take me by the arm. Goodbye."

"'Charmé,'" Proust said, adding, "Oh, my stomach!"

Joyce later told Arthur Power that Proust asked him if he liked truffles and Joyce had said he did. He also told Jacques Mercanton, "Proust would only talk of duchesses, while I was more concerned with their chambermaids."

(A perfectly perfect line.)

In addition, according to Joyce:

"Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘non.’ Proust asked me if I knew the work of so-and-so. I said ‘non.’ Our hostess asked Proust if he had read such and such a piece of Ulysses. Proust said ‘non.’ And so on."

So I guess it fell rather flat, huh?

24 January 2005

For the intrepid ARH

Ron Hogan's You Say Mad-A-Lin And I Say Mad-A-Leen is a great discussion on articles by Wyatt Mason and Christopher Hitchens re. the translation of Proust.

And earlier this month in Proust For Dummies, the Rake gave a bit of advice on reading Proust, in addition to the infamous Monty Python sketch on the "All-England Summarize Proust Competition."

If I ever reach such splendid heights of "learnedness" I will be sure to ask your advice on the translation question.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Channel, I'm sure you're plotting your own private Bloomsday celebration come June...

I forgot to highlight this from the link above (Ron's)--À la recherche du temps perdu (it looks like an excellent resource).

I Heart Libraries

"Literary culture as we have known it and understood it since scribes were writing on papyrus is not the bonus of civilisation but intrinsic to civilisation itself, and the printed book, mysteriously, is the form that turns out to be irreplaceable. In the great libraries or the bookshelf at home, knowledge roots itself and imagination flowers. The availability of books, from poetry to textbooks, makes the garden grow and it's everybody's garden"
~ from Tom Stoppard's love letter to the London Library (via Literary Saloon)

And there's more!

A couple months ago, Umberto Eco gave a lecture at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt on the future of books, where he proclaimed, "The idea that a new technology abolishes a previous one is frequently too simplistic" (via Conversational Reading).

Such wonderful things he had to say!

Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not know. If you will allow me to use such a metaphor, a library is the best possible imitation, by human beings, of a divine mind, where the whole universe is viewed and understood at the same time. A person able to store in his or her mind the information provided by a great library would emulate in some way the mind of God. In other words, we have invented libraries because we know that we do not have divine powers, but we try to do our best to imitate them.

One could equate this to Babel (following Borges' lead) or see this comparison as an example of humanity reflecting the Divine image ("In the beginning was the Word").

Up to now, books still represent the most economical, flexible, wash-and-wear way to transport information at a very low cost. Computer communication travels ahead of you; books travel with you and at your speed. If you are shipwrecked on a desert island, where you don't have the option of plugging in a computer, a book is still a valuable instrument. Even if your computer has solar batteries, you cannot easily read it while lying in a hammock. Books are still the best companions for a shipwreck, or for the day after the night before. Books belong to those kinds of instruments that, once invented, have not been further improved because they are already alright, such as the hammer, the knife, spoon or scissors.

I'm reminded of Annie Dillard in The Writing Life: "The line of words is a miner's pick, a wood-carver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow."

Back to Eco:

A given text reduces the infinite or indefinite possibilities of a system to make up a closed universe. If I utter the sentence, "This morning I had for breakfast...", for example, the dictionary allows me to list many possible items, provided they are all organic. But if I definitely produce my text and utter, "This morning I had for breakfast bread and butter", then I have excluded cheese, caviar, pastrami and apples. A text castrates the infinite possibilities of a system. The Arabian Nights can be interpreted in many, many ways, but the story takes place in the Middle East and not in Italy, and it tells, let us say, of the deeds of Ali Baba or of Scheherazade and does not concern a captain determined to capture a white whale or a Tuscan poet visiting Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

Take a fairy tale, like
Little Red Riding Hood. The text starts from a given set of characters and situations -- a little girl, a mother, a grandmother, a wolf, a wood -- and through a series of finite steps arrives at a solution. Certainly, you can read the fairy tale as an allegory and attribute different moral meanings to the events and to the actions of the characters, but you cannot transform Little Red Riding Hood into Cinderella. Finnegan's Wake is certainly open to many interpretations, but it is certain that it will never provide you with a demonstration of Fermat's last theorem, or with the complete bibliography of Woody Allen. This seems trivial, but the radical mistake of many deconstructionists was to believe that you can do anything you want with a text. This is blatantly false.

And what is this? you ask.
A lifeline, I reply.

I've been drowning in self-doubt and the examination and reexamination of my motives for grad school and the importance of literature--primarily due to the Harwood book listed on the left. (He won me over early on, and now I'm questioning the analytic (read: academic) framework of modernism and, by extension, postmodernism.) But Eco is clear on this point. There are boundaries, and I'm quite justified in my reasons for wanting to explore my chosen "closed universe." (It also makes me really want to pick up The Limits of Interpretation. "Limits" sounds much more agreeable than "Poverty," doesn't it?)

Indeed, in a role-play game one could rewrite Waterloo such that Grouchy arrived with his men to rescue Napoleon. But the tragic beauty of Hugo's Waterloo is that the readers feel that things happen independently of their wishes. The charm of tragic literature is that we feel that its heroes could have escaped their fate but they do not succeed because of their weakness, their pride, or their blindness. Besides, Hugo tells us, "Such a vertigo, such an error, such a ruin, such a fall that astonished the whole of history, is it something without a cause? No... the disappearance of that great man was necessary for the coming of the new century. Someone, to whom none can object, took care of the event... God passed over there, Dieu a passé."

That is what every great book tells us, that God passed there, and He passed for the believer as well as for the sceptic. There are books that we cannot re-write because their function is to teach us about necessity, and only if they are respected such as they are can they provide us with such wisdom. Their repressive lesson is indispensable for reaching a higher state of intellectual and moral freedom.


The right question

"I would love to see fundamentalists pay more attention to Jesus. You know, how did Jesus become pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American?"
~ Jim Wallis

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Wallis cuts to the heart of a hugely divisive matter:

Martin Luther King said, "The church" – today we'd say religion – "is not meant to be the master of the state, nor the servant of the state, but is meant to be the conscience of the state." Now that means we don't just grab the levers of power and force our agenda. I think the religious right makes that mistake again and again. James Dobson thinks he has veto power over American policy.

But neither are we the servant of the state, meaning we just clean up the mess of bad social policy, provide good social services. We're also the prophetic voice. That's what King meant. . . . Let's have a real, deep, rich conversation about moral values. If we do, it'll cut both left and right.

Some Over the Rhine fans have started their own discussion on what this looks like.

Meanwhile, I'm still pondering Chris at Splinters' reaction to the news of the recent FoF attack on SpongeBob:

I think all the real Christians in the world, the ones that actually believe in Jesus Christ and understand his teachings, rather than pervert everything in the Bible into an excuse to spew shit-streaked, inflammatory hate propaganda, should get together, go round to Mr Batura's house and beat the shit out of him. [...] OK, fair enough, real Christians wouldn't do that. Can't we just ship all these insane right wing fucks out to Fallujah and bring the Iraqi civilians back to the States and let the US wipe up its own mess for once under the cleansing power of napalm? The world would be no poorer for their absence.

Clearly tolerance is not on my agenda today. Lord, you have made me a channel of your incredulity that people can be so stupid. But, sweet Lord, why do so many cretinous people take your name in vain? Why can't they channel all that hatred and aggression into doing something worthwhile, like raising money for the tsunami victims, or their local homeless, or just rearranging their tie collection? Why can't you arrange some righteous smiting for the 21st century? There was carpet bombing on the Road to Damascus, true, but that's not quite what I meant. I would give anything, anything, for the Second Coming to actually occur in my lifetime just so I could watch Jesus, live on CNN, chucking some thunderbolts around at Mr Paul Batura and his ilk. Because if there is truly any celestial justice, they will be the first to go to hell.

I'm still very moved by these words--they've given my heart another hairline fracture. How are Christians losing the plot so horrifically? As John Lennon said, "Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

And Linford Detweiler writes:
I can fling handfuls of muddy joy at a whitewashed church
That all too often misses the point
And missed the point again
A church that would rather be white than alive

When will love and truth win the day? The conversation is being carried to a new level. I only hope that it cuts through the crap soon. Too many are being lost to lies...

I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope

I’m sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth now

I’ve had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

~ John Lennon

(P.S. Sam Phillips does him a good turn.)

Source of Heathcliff's rage? Cellulite

This would be the perfect Monday morning laugh if it weren't so scary. Apparently, a clothing company in the UK has "launched a line of clothing based on Wuthering Heights":

Endeavour's new line includes the "Catherine" hunting jacket, pure wool with an emerald-green satin lining, and "Linton" gloves lined with cashmere.

But the line's most popular item is the "Isabella" anti-cellulite jodhpurs, which retail for about $380.

"We use a Lycra-cotton mesh lining that has a smoothing effect, and it's sewn in right from the waist down to the knee," Owen said. "Women just love this item, even if they aren't riders."

I'm suddenly rendered speechless. (Poor Isabella.)

23 January 2005

Because I can't shut up about this

I've passed this info on to virtually everyone I know, but must post it here anyway:

Last week I heard about a site filled with Salinger's uncollected writings--early stories that he published in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post (and from personal experience, I must say that I have an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that they're finally out there, rather than moldering away in CS's archives!).

In addition to e-texts of Catcher, Nine Stories, and Franny and Zooey, there is (quietly sitting at the bottom) Seymour's letter home from summer camp at the venerable age of seven: "Hapworth 16, 1924." It's also the last story Salinger has published (so far...).

For more on Salinger and the moronic evisceration of Franny and Zooey (by those who completely missed the entire point), see Janet Malcolm's brilliant essay, "Justice to J.D. Salinger".

22 January 2005

In spite of the weather

But if you hold a blunt blade to a grindstone long enough, something spurts--a jagged edge of fire; so held to lack of reason, aimlessness, the usual, all massed together, out spurted in one flame hatred, contempt. I took my mind, my being, the old dejected, almost inanimate object and lashed it about among these odds and ends, sticks and straws, detestable little bits of wreckage, flotsam and jetsam, floating on the oily surface. I jumped up, I said, "Fight". "Fight", I repeated. It is the effort and the struggle, it is the perpetual warfare, it is the shattering and piecing together--this is the daily battle, defeat or victory, the absorbing pursuit. The trees, scattered, put on order; the thick green of the leaves thinned itself to a dancing light. I netted them under with a sudden phrase. I retrieved them from formlessness with words.
~ Bernard in The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Patty Griffin is singing of "Useless Desires" and I'm gazing out the kitchen window, watching the snow fall. These lines of Virginia's encapsulate my small life. I don't know what will happen, but it is time to delve deeper into the mystery of words and the ways and means of humanity's outpouring on the printed page.

So I'm sweeping together a little pile of thoughts for a grand "Statement of Purpose," wondering how to help this love shine through formal necessity and sifting through the 27-years worth of pages touched and words held snug inside my skull.

May the spirit move over the face of these troubled waters.

The outer edges of our room

We live in an incredibly transient culture. You go from the intense socialization experience of school, then move to the other side of town — or to Los Angeles — where you're dumped into this culture where it takes an incredible amount of money just to live. You're stuck finding your own way and not quite sure who's good or evil, who's using you, "Is it me or is it the alcohol?" And in the midst of all this, you're feeling totally disconnected from a lot of people. Are you clinically depressed? No! You're just lonely, and no one told you what it was or how to identify it, the shapes or colors or forms of it, so you think you're going mental. And because people tend to hang out with people their own age, everyone around you looks great, like they all just stepped out of a shampoo commercial or something, so you think, "They couldn't possibly be experiencing all this crappy shit that's inside of me." Before you even discuss it with people, you've already shut yourself down. And that's your twenties!
~ Douglas Coupland

21 January 2005

Maiden run

"Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking."
~ W.B. Yeats

Considering how long it's taken me to get here, you'd think things would be much more thought out. Not so. It's a Friday night: a screwdriver and an Over the Rhine bootleg show on the stereo. Snow covering most inanimate objects, and the moon and stars as witness to another hour's vigil on this God-hidden earth.

Karin is about to launch into "Drunkard's Prayer" ("sort of a little hymn," she says). I am ready to be split in two, crosswise.

"You're my water
You're my wine
You're my whiskey from time to time"


"Whether or not your lips move,
you speak to me."

Sitting on my floor in the dark with the music pouring over my head and into my ears like heavy, holy oil... I suddenly know that it's ok to be alone (to be the only one in this very moment experiencing this and understanding).

I doubt that this blog will turn into one woman's crazy-quilt confessional...but you never know.

And the story continues...