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 one 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 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)