Oh, Bernhard, I love you so much. No one understands hateful bastards the way you understand hateful bastards. Self-important, narcissistic, overly-pr...moreOh, Bernhard, I love you so much. No one understands hateful bastards the way you understand hateful bastards. Self-important, narcissistic, overly-privileged, autodidact pricks mulling about and neurotically focusing on their illnesses and their annoyances and, oh, I'm not going to make it to middle age, and how I hate everyone; nothing but dwarfed intellectual nitwits, con-artists, and delusional thieves in our depraved world. Yes, I feel the same way. And when I read you, I often reflect and wonder, how often do I rhyme with Bernhard? Too damn often. And while I'm rhyming with you, dear Bernhard, it's no longer funny, as you so often are, but at times my rhyming, my Berhard rhyming, is funny, in a way, in a tragic way, in a way that is both tragic and funny, but not necessarily in a laugh out loud way, but in a chuckle to myself way that reminds me that I am difficult and am often sanctimonious and can be a total prick. And that my negativity, while disguised from those who don't know me, is rancorous and destructive to those who do, and that they are often disgusted by it, as I am disgusted by Bernhard's rancorous hatred, and my own rhyming with his rancorous hatred. But I am also amused by Bernhard's rancorous hatred. Am I amused by own hatred? No. My own Bernhard rhyming is not funny in a way that Bernhard, or Larry David, or The Office is funny. My own Bernhard ryming is merely the self-recognition of rancorous hatred, petty venality, and stupid mistakes in etiquette and norms. But I still have to thank you, Bernhard. I thank you for the recognition as well as the laughter. But despite that, I do wonder, when reading your books, which I admire and thank you for, why I still think the first book that I read of yours, Woodcutters, is still my favorite. Is it actually the best, or is it true that you only wrote one book which is basically the same book? Is it true that the the best Bernhard book is merely the first Bernhard book read? Is the first Bernhard book read always, for that reader, the best Bernhard book? Is it true that the first encounter with your voice, your rancorous yet humorous voice, so filled with negativity like my own internal voice—is that eye-opening first encounter—that magical first encounter—is it that which makes a reader think, This, this, this is what I've been looking for! This is the internal monologue that I myself have felt and never seen expressed so forcefully! Is it that which makes the first of your books the best of your books? I want to know, not just because I sometimes rhyme with you, but also because I love you so...(less)
I've been reading Chandler and watching Game of Thrones. I need both. Both are about duplicity, survival, and maneuvering through power; maneuvering b...moreI've been reading Chandler and watching Game of Thrones. I need both. Both are about duplicity, survival, and maneuvering through power; maneuvering both through the small power of the violent individual, and the extended and deadly control of the powerful. Chandler's stories have a roughly moral center in Philip Marlowe. He's not much of a moral center, but he's close enough in a world of masks, in a world of moral uncertainty, in a world were bad timing can end in death. He rejects power.
Marlowe knows he's nothing. But he can go through all realms and he swears allegiance to no one. Not the cops; not the rich; not the underworld; not the violent. No one. He is a participant, but rarely with any stake in the game. Mainly he gambles for the truth. The truth that is buried, hidden, unseen. He is beaten and betrayed in pursuit of the truth, but at least he has his own code and his own life and his own ability to move throughout his realm.
In Chandler things can go wrong fast. One second you're on top of the world, and the next you're floating at the bottom of a lake, dead and forgotten for a month. One second you're a top cop; the next you have gun in your face. One second you're a successful member of society, and the next you've lost it all. One second you're a conniving killer, and the next you're a strangled naked corpse. Gigolo, crooked doctor, crooked cop, femme fatale, socialite, detective, war vet; no one is safe; no one is clean.
This book, like all of Chandler's books, speaks to me right now. I need his stories of perseverance in the face of ever-present corruption, omnipresent failure, and bottomless contradicting motivations. I need his stories of perseverance in the face of endless darkness.
Chandler reminds us that the darkness is not from without, but from the all-too-human complexities that make life hell. That it is basic human drives that make life confusing and vague and gray. Chandler reminds us that motivations are never clean, never pure. And occasionally, when things break down, those basic human drives turn destructive, violent, or deadly.
There are parts of this book that are stunningly beautiful. And vignettes that stick with me days after I've read them. A story about a friend, the da...moreThere are parts of this book that are stunningly beautiful. And vignettes that stick with me days after I've read them. A story about a friend, the daughter of servants, who grew up with the rich, corrupted by hate and resentment. The mysterious and inscrutable Billy Holliday and the authors time with her in her hotel. A tiny Dutch doctor and his doomed, bourgeoisie, and complacent love affairs. A laundry lady, large and unrepentant and hooked up with a devious lecher.
But as amazing as aspects of this book can be, it is also an endless succession of vignettes with little to nothing to tie everything together. And although I love experimentation, it often felt like I was tied to a fantastic story teller who also had extreme ADD. Some sketches were amazing, but many were not. If I had read this as a book of poetry, or as a collection of aphoristic stories, it might have rated higher, but instead I wanted a contained whole, which this book is not.(less)
I think the art world and the literary world are both destitute and decrepit, locked between the frivolous gambling idiocy of the market, and the hide...moreI think the art world and the literary world are both destitute and decrepit, locked between the frivolous gambling idiocy of the market, and the hidebound conservative immovability of the academy. MFAs, best seller lists, and global art fairs have left us with pallid ghouls instead of vibrant art and books.
Thankfully, the comic world isn't like that. I go to a comic book fair (albeit a fair that focuses on the so-called "literary" and/or "artistic") and I am continually blown away. Every few years a whole horde of new talent springs up with new ways of approaching and making comics.
DeForge, right now, is one of those "new talents." Over and over again he surprises me with both his experimentation and his skill at weaving readable comics. He's restless in trying out new things, and smart enough to keep it fun. He knows the history of the medium and is constantly mining it for surprising viewpoints. Once again, he comes up with a new book, a fantastic new story, and new formal experiments that move the story and push the medium.
Literature and the art world might be in a stage of suspended animation, but comics, thankfully, are alive and kicking ass. Maybe it's because there's neither money to be made nor institutional positions to be had.(less)
I've been re-reading a lot of Raymond Chandler; in love with noir once again; confirming my younger self's high estimation of his books.
But after thre...moreI've been re-reading a lot of Raymond Chandler; in love with noir once again; confirming my younger self's high estimation of his books.
But after three Chandlers in a row, I needed a break. So I turned to Hrabal, one of my favorite authors. I know his books are as fast as Chandler and as smart. So I picked up once I've never read.
And it IS fast and it IS smart.
But it is reliant on you, the reader, loving the blabber-mouthed, self-important, facetious raconteur who is talking, non-stop, AT you. And this is a book about talking, not about reading. There are no periods. This guy just won't shut up and damn, does he go on about his romantic exploits, and the way he's always perceived as a "hero." And this and that and on and on.
If you find him lovable, this book is incredible. If you find him insufferable, you'll quickly be throwing this book across the room. And if you find him, like I did, both lovable and insufferable, you'll vacillate, like I did, between laughing and quickly reading to see what this brilliant liar will say next, and slapping and the book shut just so the insecure windbag will shut the fuck up.(less)
Relentlessly sad, but also just relentless. Unyielding. Harsh. Like Marlowe, our "hero."
The book drips with loss. The loss of friends; the loss of lov...moreRelentlessly sad, but also just relentless. Unyielding. Harsh. Like Marlowe, our "hero."
The book drips with loss. The loss of friends; the loss of lovers; the loss of possibility; and loss of dreams; and ultimately, the loss of illusions. The rich are without joy; the poor without hope. Nearly everyone, including you and your friends, are delusional, to your self and your "loved ones." No one knows anyone, not even their selves. Corruption and power run rampant, and all people are cartoonish masks backed by a sense of "honor" that no one else acknowledges or cares about. No one's sense of ethics are sterling, including Marlowe's whose actions get people dead, and a killer and a thief can have more integrity than a Master of the Universe, a cop, a lawyer, or anyone else.
We never get anything right and we never really know anyone.
An old professor claimed that Aristotle's ideas of tragedy were about reminding us all that "shit happens." That despite our best intentions, we make mistakes, we fail, we fuck up, we stumble, we lose, we die. In tragedies, we follow the best and brightest that humanity has. And they fail. Badly. And if humanity's best and brightest fail, then we should realize that we will fail too. Despite that, the drive is worth it. The attempt, in and of itself, is worth it.
On the contrary, we could presume that Aristotle claimed that comedy is about getting what we want, but through unexpected avenues. So Marlowe gets what he wants: the Truth, but at the cost of many people's lives. In that sense, this book is a comedy. Marlowe gets to know what happened—the real truth—about his dead friend and his dead wife. And it's not what he expected; it causes him endless pain and grief; and in the end he has nothing. He is older; beaten; more cynical; more jaded. But he got his truth.
The truth isn't much. And it's not even the full truth. But it keeps Marlowe going. His own sense of ethics, which are probably not good ethics, but they are, at least, something.
I also need to say that I've read this book before. And now I want to re-read more favorites from my distant past. As I read a book from my past, it flowers before me, kaleidoscope opens before I get to the next sentence. I become a pre-cognizent, able to predict a future I don't quite remember, but I remember enough. I remember that this person is coming back, and coming back in this way. I remember rough endings. I remember people. Scenes. Turns of phrase. Whole sentences. I remember the chauffeur talking about T.S. Eliot. I remember Candy and his sneer. The meat fisted cop. I remember how a visitor was so damn elegant that he started to annoy. But mainly I recall, before it happens, the sadness that is coming. The lost possibilities, and yet the "will" to trundle on, hollow and broken.(less)
I picked this up because I read a parody of Gogol's "The Nose" by Dubravka Ugrešić (in her version, a guy wakes up to find his dick missing, looking l...moreI picked this up because I read a parody of Gogol's "The Nose" by Dubravka Ugrešić (in her version, a guy wakes up to find his dick missing, looking like a Ken doll, and some poor schmuck of a woman finds the lost appendage in her hotdog bun). Anyway, I wanted to re-read not just "The Nose," but all of Gogol, who I haven't read in many years, and who blurred in my mind with his later acolytes, Bulgakov and Kafka. But Gogol is weirder than both. Despite all the strangeness and abrupt shifts in Kafka's stories, they all seem to have an internal dream logic. But Gogol is schizophrenic. He borders on bad children's fantasy. That is, weird shit just happens, and then again, and then again, and then back to humdrum reality. And then another story is just flat out reality, albeit violent and intense. At the same time the stories hum of a political allegory whose tones I'm too deaf to pick up, and maybe whisper of a religious allegory which I just don't care about.
But more important than any of that : Gogol is funny. Even funnier than Kafka.
So some quick notes for now:
"Diary of a Madman" Hilarious and weird. A middle aged mid-level bureaucrat becomes convinced he's the King of Spain. The diary entries get progressively weirder until they're just gobbledygook. His reinterpretation of reality to fit his own take on the world is distressing. I kept thinking, oh shit, I haven't been that delusional, but maybe a little...
"The Nose" Whoa. A guy wakes up to find someone's nose in his bread. Another guy wakes up to find his nose missing and a smooth space in its place. The story switches logics and scenes and ideas so quickly that it seems like a exploding kaleidoscope. Now the nose is an officer who is wearing a uniform of a high rank and talking and walking and taking carriages, and now the nose is just a chunk of meat, and now... and now... and now...
"The Carriage" You know that dream where you are in your underwear and you're in the high school auditorium and everyone is laughing at you AND you're late to the test that will allow you to graduate and, oh shit, you MISSED the test. And now they're laughing even more. This story is that.
"The Overcoat" Gogol nailed Kafka's evil and banal bureaucracy well before Kafka did. Except his hero is a Bartleby-like figure who actually likes his work and is just endlessly shit upon until he finally, due to luck, makes a change. The change changes his life and his status and all is good and bright and then: POW! Fucked by life. And then the story gets REALLY WEIRD. I would use this as a Dungeons and Dragons plot if I still played Dungeons and Dragons.
"Taras Bulba" This novella is relentlessly bad ass. A 17th c. violent action noir where everyone is splattered with blood and everyone dies. Relentless. Brutal. Fantastic. (Also racist and uncompromising.)(less)
I read this book in 2012, mainly because I hated The Dark Knight Rises, and I read that the Batman movie was based on A Tale of Two Cities. I thought,...moreI read this book in 2012, mainly because I hated The Dark Knight Rises, and I read that the Batman movie was based on A Tale of Two Cities. I thought, a) I want to re-read Dickens, and b) I want to see the connection between the movie I hate and the book I didn't remember if I read or not. (I supposedly read it in college, or maybe high school, and I'm sure I read enough to bluff through a paper.)
So... the book. It's boring as hell in the beginning, but picks up once we get to France. France is a disgusting (and vaguely familiar) world of rich assholes and beaten and dejected poor people. There are two worlds, and the "nobles" in France do what they want, running down people in their carriages, raping people, and generally destroying any non-rich life whenever they want.
When we get back to London, the book gets a bit boring again. Dickens is setting up his characters as stalwart and moral people, even though they're a bit well-off. Eventually we get back to Paris and that's when the book gets great. The Terror is in full swing, and the nobility are losing heads like Skittles amongst stoners. Our heroes are back in Paris trying to right a grievous wrong and the French couple we met before are now full of bloodlust, as is the city. It's a nightmare, oppressive and dangerous, with the prospect of death hanging over everything. This is where the book basically turns into an adventure story and from here until the lachrymose ending, it is amazing.
The next part isn't a spoiler, but boring blathering about the shitty last Batman movie.
(view spoiler)[In many interviews, Nolan claims he was inspired by this Dickens book. But instead of the complex politics of Dickens (which I ultimately disagree with) Nolan hands us a bag of retrograde conservative bullshit.
This movie tells us:
• Trust the police. • Trust the rich. • Don't trust demagogues. • Don't trust populists. • Don't trust rich do-gooders, unless they're violent vigilantes. • Radicals screaming for revolution are either, a) delusional, and will recant when they see the result of their revolution (Catwoman), or b) delusional and nihilistic demagogues who want to destroy our way of life (Bane and Talia al'Ghul).
But Dickens, unlike Nolan, shows us why the French are so pissed off. They live in an out of control world with two sets of laws: one that gives everything to the rich, and another that gives nothing to the poor. So when The Revolution comes, you, the reader, are all for it. You want those rich aristocratic pricks to pay. But then when our boring protagonists, who Dickens have had us follow for what seems like billions of pages, get immersed in The Terror, we, the readers, know they're "good people" and have the best interests of "the people" in their thoughts and actions. And that is contrasted with the horror they go through in the midst of The Terror. And it works. I didn't like our protagonists too much, but they didn't deserve to die, and I wanted their crazy 007-style plans to work, and I wanted them to get out of insane-head-lopping-Paris and back to England.
That's not the case in The Dark Knight Rises. Except for a brief Catwoman speech, we never get a sense that things are bad for normal people. On top of that, Bane is never a persuasive demagogue, but a dangerous murderer and dictator, and that's never not clear: his introduction to the people of NYC is by blowing up a football stadium; not exactly a tactic to win the soul of the people. We never see why the anger of "the people" has built up, nor why "the people" are later so complacent. And the savior of "the people" isn't "the people" themselves, but cops and a billionaire. Cops and a billionaire to save us all. The people never rise up. They are but sheep, complacent in their little homes; complacent to let the cops and Batman fight for them. Yawn.
And the speech Commissioner Gordon gives over Batman's grave, which is read from this book, completely misses the point. Gordon says (in part), "I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy." The character who says this in A Tale of Two Cities is a rich playboy who has never done anything selfless in his life. What he sees is not simply the end of The Terror, but an end of the terror that came before. The abyss is not simply the jailed city in The Dark Knight Rises or the jailed city in A Tale of Two Cities. The abyss is the horror that these "brilliant people" have lived under. Not just The Terror which they themselves created, but the terror they served under the reign of the rich. These brilliant people have gone too far, but Dickens suggests, over and over, that they have gone in the right direction, and the revolution was in the right. It is The Terror that is wrong, and if the justifiable anger behind The Terror can be quenched then the beautiful city and brilliant people will rise.
Instead, Batman is about extraordinary people. Ordinary people are not beautiful or brilliant, but mere sheep.
My friend who loves this book loves books about alcoholic writers "struggling" with their writing. (Which this book is.) Loves stories about NYC, esp. from the 80s. (Which this book is.) Loves dark stories about obsession and despondency and how the writer is put upon by sociopaths, degenerates, and our shitty world. (Which this book is.) And he loves books about doomed love affairs. (Which this book is.)
But I'm sick of that shit.
Again, this book is well written. Indiana's writing swings from twitchy neurotic to genuflecting submissive to frenzied paranoiac. The dialogs is right, always, and the amazing setting is as vibrant as a gritty color photo from Nan Goldin. But the writer is as delusional as his love interest and never too concerned with his own participation in his complete debasement. I mean, the writer does submit himself to his pretty boyfriend as someone to be completely used, but when it actually happens, and when the object of the writer's obsession devours him, as he asked, the self-awareness slides away and we fall into the writer's confused, "ohdeargodwhyme"s.
I guess what I want is a full account of the writer's culpability. I guess I'm a little ruined by Proust who shows how a character like Swann can deceitfully weave a web of "love" that captures both him and the object of his obsession, and you, the reader, feel for Swann because you've been there, while at the same time despising his creepy game, and the way everyone plays their part. I guess that happens here, but the writer seems to spin a web of lies that he's a part of and that he's shoving down our throats. And there's an inability to face up to the awfulness that he must be. I guess I just don't want to read anymore books about struggling and reserved assholes falling in love with "crazies." Enough of that. It's a lie. Worse, most of us have been there; have been both the asshole and the crazy. So let's not write nor read about it anymore.
But what I love about this book is the setting. It's a great picture of the bohemian scene in 80s NYC. It's a portrait of a vital world, long gone, with appearances from the artist David Wojnarowicz (who died of AIDS), several artists I can't quite place, the director Dieter Schidor (who died of AIDS), and I think, Ulrike Ottinger, the artist and actress. It's set largely amongst Indiana's gay friends, and the AIDS epidemic is starting to rampage through the Lower East Side / E. Village scene. Death starts making an odd and unwelcome appearance among the more familiar "in love with a crazy" narrative, and early mortality gives the rest of the story a sense of doom and tragedy. If the relationship works or doesn't work, death is on its way, and Indiana's world will soon be ground down.
And the ending... Wow. The ending is a brutal survivors ellipses about life moving forward, and it's jaw dropping and deeply sad. The standard pettiness of an individual fucked up relationship is dwarfed in a sea of finality.(less)
I've been killing it with my poetry choices. Bachmann's despondent gargles; Celan's Bizarro language stabbing; Hikmet's joys to future and possibility...moreI've been killing it with my poetry choices. Bachmann's despondent gargles; Celan's Bizarro language stabbing; Hikmet's joys to future and possibility; Notely's twisting dreamscapes; Ponge's Byzantine ruminations; and Pavese's earthy stridence.
And to think that a little over a year ago, I didn't read poetry at all. There are times when I stop and realize how changed I am, and how much I learned from my former love. We move on, change, adapt.
And Parra does nothing but move on, change, adapt. He's also funny, and does it all with a clown's flair. A clown who is also a committed revolutionary. Like Nazim Hikmet, who I'm also reading, Parra is full of life, but unlike Hikmet, his seriousness is masked in humor. like:
I exchange one 30-year-old girl 4 two old ladies of 15 ... exchange cat sick with meningitis 4 etching from the XVIII century ...
Ok, maybe that seems a little retrograde, but it's not in context, I promise. Somehow he flits out of the hoary shibboleths of the 50s/60s and is still alive and fresh.
Here's a short one:
LET'S CUT THE BULLSHIT
In Chile we have never had democracy And never will:
They are all dictatorships, my dear friend The only thing that we're allowed Is to elect Between their dictatorship & ours
Lenin was damn right: Go on being poor & honest, ol' pal Just don't be an asshole
Ok, it doesn't have the emphatic belief of Hikmet, and is a bit cynical, but it's funny and sharp.
The last quarter of the book is filled with doodles that he calls "Visual Artifacts."
What I personally want is a negative political theory. I want a politics that is based on preventing power from congealing, and a politics that breaks up power after it congeals.
And these Foucault lectures come close to that. This book is largely asks:
How did the State come about?
How did the world that we live in come into being? The State. Modern capitalism. Whatever. Our world: wrapped in security, surveillance, "freedom of the individual," and the individual as datum points defined by our use value to "society" (how much do we help the market economy?). Foucault draws out how our version of the State came to be. A version of "The State" may extend back into ancient history, but our version is a new invention.
Foucault talks about several things that lead to our world, such as the history and influence of the ideas of population, the pastoral, "police," the politiques and éconimistes, Raison d'État, etc.
Foucault talks about how the idea of the Christian pastoral shaped the "government of men." The idea of the pastoral—the shepherd valiantly watching his flock, yet subject to his flock, and protector of all from the individual to the whole. This idea is a Christian spin on the Judaic idea, and is opposed to governing based on territory. The idea is based on the salvation of a wandering group's individual souls. The idea is based on continual subservience of all to all, and eventually all to God. When this idea is taken up as a political idea in the 17th c. the ideal king shifts—the King is now a servant to his constituency. Eventually, when the king disappears, the idea of all governed by all remains.
Foucault talks about how the idea of population sprang up. He talks about the idea of not just "people," but of "the people" as a whole, as a population, that can measured by statistics; that can be molded; that can be used in the sense of economic and utilitarian goals. Thinkers and rulers start thinking in terms of "principles of nature." When this idea is taken up the ideal king's Will stops being paramount, and the king must now try to find out what principles govern people and how to use them.
Foucault talks about "Raison d'Etat," which is the idea of how to govern a territory, and eventually, a population. (There's also the contemporaneous idea of "coup d'etat," which didn't mean revolution from below or within, but a revolution from the State against counter forces. It was more of what we would call a "state of exception" or "police state.")
Foucault talks about "police," which is not what you think it is. Originally, police did not mean violent guys in uniform who like to crack heads and think they're Judge Dredd or The Punisher. In the 15th and 16th c. "police" was a loose term which meant a community governed by a public authority. In the 17th. c. "police" meant how a State uses its forces and preserves itself. Police meant economics, diplomacy, border control, even promotion of the arts, etc. Only in the last few hundred years has "police" and "policing" been stripped of their former definitions, and reduced to what we know now: cops and surveillance.
Foucault argues that these forces converge, and the idea of the population, surveillance, and security take over. "Freedom" was stressed, both laisse faire economic freedom, and individual freedom, but at the same time, the State consolidated its power and concerned itself with the governance of all through an indirect but omnipresent policing. Raison d'Etat is pushed aside for an interlocking web of power that is predicated on all of these things and has more control of a "population" then ever before.
There's way more to it than that. This is not even a sketch of a sketch of what this series of lectures is about. The book is full of grand histories, ideas, and thoughts, and if it sounds at all interesting to you, then you should pick it up.(less)
A few close friends love this book. Like LOOOVVE. But I don't.
Yes, it is beautifully written. Yes, it is filled with raw and intense pain. Yes, it mad...moreA few close friends love this book. Like LOOOVVE. But I don't.
Yes, it is beautifully written. Yes, it is filled with raw and intense pain. Yes, it made me cry. But it is supposed to be a portrait, a mature reflection of a hideously dysfunctional relationship. And in one sense it works. I get how Michaels is young and naive and over his head. I get Sylvia's insanity (never called that, but that's what it is). I get the intensity of their fights. I feel his hopelessness. But I never understood why he loved her. I never got a sense of who she was or how she was appealing. He describes her as attractive but then has a mutual friend say, "she's not beautiful, you know." (Why did he do that? To show that it wasn't her beauty that held him entranced?) He claims she's smart but never shows it.
What's the appeal? What is the basis of his love? Who was the woman he was in love with? Who was Sylvia?
It's 2014 and I don't ever want to read another story about a sad sack young man in love with a "crazy." I never want to see another portrayal of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It's time to see the "crazy" or the Manic Pixie Dream Girl write books and movies and comics about the creepy assholes that are in love with them. THAT is something I'd like to read.(less)