Hideous Gnosis does what is feared most: it opens up a space for pseudo-hipsters to plunder one of the final redoubts of the counter culture. While it...moreHideous Gnosis does what is feared most: it opens up a space for pseudo-hipsters to plunder one of the final redoubts of the counter culture. While it shouldn't be hard to analyze black metal, justifying its more out of control elements is a huge challenge simply not met by this anthology of essayists trying to outdo each other with impenetrable analysis. Naming the endless permutations of nihilism within the genre is as farcical here as the flagpole scene in A Christmas Story (why not just commit the social faux pas and say black metal is "triple dog nihilism" and end the farce?). Trying to define "transcendent" versus "hyperborean" schools is nothing more than a way to help North Americans overcome their inferiority complexes. Whatever the true reason North Americans are not the Norwegians' peers when it comes to black metal is not explained, elaborate charts and technical diagrams notwithstanding.*
The best question explored in Hideous Gnosis is whether black metal is the present extreme limit of a style, is misanthropy, or a (Northern European focused) pagan cultural movement. Predictably, there's not a definitive answer. But thankfully, the theory that black metal is a pagan movement and not a weak excuse to be disrespectful toward others' convictions remains a possibility and isn't refuted by all the bad philosophy.
What Hideous Gnosis doesn't tackle head on are the problems those of us who became interested in black metal as an aesthetic or artistic thing found when we investigated the substance beneath. Racism is the biggest problem in black metal. Cruelty to animals and misogyny come in close seconds and thirds. The really violent escalatory spiral of one-upsmanship ended in the 90s; black metal musicians burn fewer churches and kill each other far less often today. But the danger of such a tensely ratcheted purity standard requires that new atrocious acts will be committed in the name of black metal. The cycle doesn't just need to be slowed or arrested, it needs to be stopped. An it needs to be stopped affirmatively, not by atrophy. Obviously a symposium cannot do this any more than a UN summit can stop acts of state sponsored atrocity - but a symposium is assumed to represent a meeting of the minds. Even without the possibility of saving the world, a think tank is supposed to at least discuss what it would do if given a magic wand. Alas, Hideous Gnosis doesn't think so much of its collective powers of reasoning.
That's not to say there aren't solid points and good writing in Hideous Gnosis. There are. Unfortunately there's also really bad writing that thinks it can overwhelm with obscure citation where clear observation would suffice.** (Every featured writer here would have done well to read "Politics and the English Language".) Hideous Gnosis is like an anthology for an enigmatic fanzine, only the fanzine never existed, did not run a course, and didn't change lives on its own merit. Hideous Gnosis is publicity for a few serious thinkers and their Internet associates. It will not be standard reading for music or art students.
*The simplest answer for why Scandinavian metal focuses on Norse mythology and had such a passionate bone to pick with Christianity while North American metal is more like a misanthropic hippie movement is simply the insular, homogenous quality of Scandinavian culture and history. America is far too much of a melting pot. We've all had a pagan tradition stripped from us somewhere back there. And we've all had a foreign monotheistic religion imposed on us. But the actual pagan tradition is too far lost and too diluted to legitimately feel in ghost form. And even the way we experienced organized religion varies depending on where a person's ancestry hails from. Most people in Scandinavia can trace themselves back to the pre-Christian people. Few people in North America can. That's why we aren't as mad at the Pope as the Norwegians and why we put deer antlers and owl feathers on everything. The deer antlers are an abstraction where a desecrated devotional icon is quite literal.
**Two of the essayists used Foucault and Derrida in the same essay. For some reason, John K Samson did the same. But is it all a coincidence? Did all three really come across the same writers through independent graduate study - or did I stumble on a transparent pane in all this haute intellectualism? Did the metal guys read about Foucault and Derrida because of the same Weakerthans song? If so... ?!?!?!(less)
The narrative of Cabeza de Vaca is short enough to read every few years. I've read two translations (and bogged down in the original 16th century Spa...more
The narrative of Cabeza de Vaca is short enough to read every few years. I've read two translations (and bogged down in the original 16th century Spanish original) and now believe it's a good idea to read a couple of different scholars' take on connotation and nuance.
Though on the surface the narrative seems to be a thrilling survival story (a la raft of the Medusa, Endurance), the real point of interest is how Cabeza de Vaca interpreted his perceived ability to perform miracles, on cue, in God's name. Cabeza de Vaca believes he raised the dead. Before this, he was a mid level bureaucrat.
Cabeza de Vaca's translators (and at least one biographer I've read) put his head in different places on this. Some would have him be a delusional manic depressive with a messiah complex. Others would have him merely be a dutiful instrument for God.
The fun is comparing a couple of versions and trying to get to know him. It's a little harder than it would seem, though. The narrative wasn't written with an aim to be widely published. It was written as a report to the Spanish king. There's no plausible assumption that Cabeza de Vaca is reliable - he was writing partly to save his own hide. So it's really a lot like a puzzle. One that can be worked different ways. (less)
Most authors have a favorite Word, a by the wayside piece of arcana they drop into everything they publish.* Others repeat a trademark Word like a man...moreMost authors have a favorite Word, a by the wayside piece of arcana they drop into everything they publish.* Others repeat a trademark Word like a mantra.** Matt Taibbi's Word is "masturbatory." Masturbatory is a descriptive word, so filled with connotation that it drives home the point that it's used critically; there can be no mistaking the author's intent. But it is only an "awakening" Word for a small group of highly suggestable readers - most of whom are seniors in high school or freshmen in college. And since Matt Taibbi seems to be girding his readers against the myriad fictions of our times - the Derangements found at the cardinal points of American social and political life - you'd think he'd deal more in "awakening" Words - and choose better, big boy ones at that.
My disappointment in The Great Derangement runs deep. I don't know what I expected*** from a contributor to Rolling Stone and AlterNet Daily... The only example I've seen where Rolling Stone got anything right the first time, in a timely manner, was the correct identification of "Hot Cheetos and Takis" as the breakout summer jam of 2012. Everything else has been a total waste of time.
The deal breaker came for me when the author had to incorporate some church members into his alter-ego as he masqueraded in deep cover to get a scoop on just how fucked up Christian Evangelicals are and what they're really up to.***** His impromptu friends/beards/props/patsies lacked an abundance of personally redeeming qualities, but still balanced in the "decently good, earnest types" category who shouldn't be made fun of by a cynical Northeastern elitist just for the sake of high-fiving journalistic sport. It's unsporting behavior to find someone who likes you, expends general concern both in and away from your presence, only to portray them as the world's own rube when the book goes to print. The betrayal the two women must have eventually felt, especially the one with whom Taibbi maintained a close platonic relationship (with likely one sided sexual tension for miles), must have been agonizing. How do you justify fucking with people like this for a cheap, salacious story?
And Matt Taibbi isn't just fed up with Republicans and in awed disbelief in social conservatives, he's got bones to pick with liberals too.
The fact that Matt Taibbi strikes such bitter blows at his own liberal constituency isn't that maddening, though, because the left is hardened to attacks by its own pseudo-hipsters or charasmatic man-children who can rock a full head of silver hair and use contemporary slang. I mean Jon Stewart. We let Jon Stewart turn on the president, we let him turn on the Congress. So we'll let Matt Taibbi be a class enemy all he wants too, because this the price we pay for having prominent spokespeople explaining our positions elegantly, intelligently, judiciously, without rhapsody, and with cohesion.
So the take from The Great Derangement is a convoluted mess. You'll like some of it; you'll hate some of it. Some of it will almost redeem the rest, like the following passage:
"...The (9-11 conspiracy) movement is really distinguished by a kind of defiant unfamiliarity with the actual character of America's ruling class. In 9/11 Truth lore, the people who staff the White House, the security agencies, the Pentagon, and groups like PNAC and the Council on Foreign Relations are imagined to be a monolithic, united class of dastardly, swashbuckling risk-takers with permanent hard-ons for Bourne Supremacy-style 'false flag' and 'black bag' operations, instead of the mundanely greedy, risk-averse, backstabbing, lawn-tending, half-clever suburban golfers they are in real life...
"The people who really run American don't send the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney to the White House to cook up boat-rocking, maniacal world-domination plans and commit massive criminal conspiracies on live national television; they send them to repeal PUHCA and dole out funds for the F-22 and pass energy bills with $14 billion tax breaks and slash fuel-efficiency standards and do all the other shit that never makes the papers but keeps Wall Street and the country's corporate boardrooms happy... The financial class in this country didn't get to where it is by betting on the ability of a president whose lips move when he reads to blow up two Manhattan skyscrapers in broad daylight without getting caught."
But passages like this, great as they are, don't justify a 300 page book of condescension on every conceivable group outside the ivy league alumni associations. Sorry, but I couldn't relate.
*Jonathan Lethem: "Solipsism." Joseph Ellis: "Congeal." Doris Kearns Goodwin: "Cavil."
**Johnathan Lethem: "Solipsism." David Foster Wallace: "Fantods."
***Actually, I do. It seems like I've heard Mr. Taibbi as a frequent guest on "The Diane Rehm Show", Friday News Roundup, Domestic Hour on WAMU. Anything with a Diane Rehm endorsement carries a lot of weight in my suggestable solipsism.
****Waging a low level war, with outdated tactics, to protect the status quo from imaginary adversaries. Not much, in other words, unless you count the many arguably innocent people who get fucked up from the experience.(less)
UFOs and the Alien Presence is arranged in symposium format. Four "experts" in the field, one respectable amateur (Budd Hopkins), and one regular pers...moreUFOs and the Alien Presence is arranged in symposium format. Four "experts" in the field, one respectable amateur (Budd Hopkins), and one regular person give thought out answers to what appear to be submitted questions.
The crackpot delegation is well represented - which is to be expected and was the reason I picked UFOs out of the dollar bin (for a mean-spirited laugh at others' expense). But surprisingly the three not crackpots made making fun of the crackpots (and the editor and conspiracy theorists and the UFO community) less satisfying. I don't mean the reasonable voices were persuasive... They did however have a defensible, coherent, formulated argument. They don't seem to be right, but they are no more worthy of derision than any other professional sincere about other wrong things. They came across a bit like the socialist candidate for president: the leader of a fringe minority, but one who is genuine, competent, and lucid himself. I was expecting six David Ickes.
This would be great except that a "random guy" with a UFO story and a real loony get the final word. The first four sections make you - dare I say - think (though not seriously). But then the last two confirm your original bias. Had the book been all pleasant surprise or been all crypto nonsense UFOs would have been a lot of fun. As a mixture of both, it probably shows a truer face of the UFO community, but it takes some of the fun out it.(less)
I loved Game Change. If there are other books out there like it, I don't know about them. Game Change isn't a typical, salacious, partisan political...more
I loved Game Change. If there are other books out there like it, I don't know about them. Game Change isn't a typical, salacious, partisan political exposé. It is a history using the journalistic processes of an exposé.
Even though its great, the methodology that went into Game Change makes most of the book impossible to verify. I feel like the authors got it right - it's been four years and nothing has interceded to cast aspersions on or discredit any of the key points - but more importantly, I feel like the authors were straight and as impartial as possible with subjects like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. But even though I trust the authors, not citing any sources means you can never trust them completely. There are obviously different requirements for journalism and scholarship. Game Change is where the worlds meet, but the authors choose to play by the looser, journalistic rules.
Reading Game Change in the final 30 days of the 2012 election is pretty late. But I can't think of a better way to test an ephemeral "it" book's lasting power. I was happily surprised. (less)
I'm very glad to be able to say The Wrong Goodbye is an improvement over Dead Harvest. Dead Harvest was more than 50% schtick, which is a great way t...more I'm very glad to be able to say The Wrong Goodbye is an improvement over Dead Harvest. Dead Harvest was more than 50% schtick, which is a great way to get people's attention but not sustainable over the span of a series. The chief flaw with Dead Harvest was its twist - you could spot it a mile off. While the "big" twist at the end of Wrong Goodbye is a little predictable, it comes up on you fast. There's a lot more story in the lead up.
Every action movie is going to have its epic fight scene as a climax. In that respect they are all the same. But the difference between a Bourne, Bond, Die Hard, Aliens and Ghostbusters is the premise leading up to the climax. Also the likability of the heroes, the patter of the dialog and the way with which the preliminary plot turns are negotiated.
Why talk about action movies when the schtick is ostensibly to shake up the pap of lame crime fiction and recall what was good about the original pulp fiction? Because, like Dead Harvest before it, The Wrong Goodbye is screaming to be made into a movie. It's more preformatted for the screen than any Twilight, Stieg Larsson or Hunger Games series were at their equivalent points. The Collector doesn't depend on undersexed shut ins compensating with abstinence porn, doesn't muddle cyber punk and mall metal, or rely on political currents to sell its ultra right wing paranoia fable.
In short, I like Chris Holm for his independence. He's writing for geeks, primarily, but has the kind of crossover potential you don't see everyday. A lot of people envy Neil Gaiman for that and try to emulate him. Chris Holm is respectable because he doesn't. He's got his own genuine thing.
To cut through all this praise, though, I have to point out a couple of problems. I'm glad to say they're DIFFERENT problems than in Dead Harvest though - which is proof of growth and reassurance for the future. Chris Holm is writing to geeks; he needs to pick either hipper or more obscure references and codes. I liked the Ferris Bueller reference, but groaned at the Goonies one. And the credibility of causing events and corrupting real life people is equally mixed. Was okay with Rod Blagojovich but not so much Mark McGuire. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire is even worse (why not Krakatoa?).
Also, the dialog still needs work. Sam Thornton's soliloquy voice in volume one lagged somewhat behind Tow Mater in Mater Private Eye. In volume two he's given up even trying and is just shooting for generic tough guy. Sam Thornton would be in his 90s or older if still alive. A real 90 year old, even those who stay in the workforce and adapt to technology still have a problem with the lingo when interacting with kids. Tommy Lee Jones got it right in the first Men In Black.
All quibbles aside, The Wrong Goodbye is moving The Collector in the right direction, boldly. The characters are no longer straight out of central casting and the diversity agenda is genuinely healthy - not patronizing (the inclusion of a handicapped transsexual isn't for laughs but is right for the story). And since its basically a given that this will eventually be a movie, I love what Holm has given future actors to play. Seven foot tall black guys don't get to play women in a non-gag scenario; 400 pound Midwestern white guys don't get to play Joe Pesci. It'll be a great ensemble cast if handled correctly, like a great episode of Doctor Who or a Simon Peggy/Nick Frost movie. I can't wait.
I'll also snatch up the next book as soon as it comes out. (less)
Eric Foner's Reconstruction isn't the most recent work (it was published when Ronald Reagan was still in the White House), but its reputation precede...more
Eric Foner's Reconstruction isn't the most recent work (it was published when Ronald Reagan was still in the White House), but its reputation precedes it as an authoritative work. Anyone on a self guided tour of the 1870s should seriously consider picking this up. Other reviewers have pointed out it's a heavy read. Not heavy; thorough. It's not unreasonable for a 300 level seminar. You can do this. Don't be intimidated.
Foner confirms the standard, school narrative about Reconstruction: (1) The assassination of Lincoln was the most disastrous event for the south in 1865, because it advanced Andrew Johnson to the presidency. (2) Andrew Johnson is as bad as conventional wisdom says and set the country up to fail in a way no president had or has since. (3) President Grant's job was (a) too hard and (b) his executive experience too sophomoric to clean up Johnson's mess and face the fundamental, Hard Problem. Contrary to sore-loser myth, Grant was neither unintelligent nor incompetent. But his administration lacked consistency and he occupied the seat of power at a time we really needed a Great president - a Lincoln or Washington - not merely an Average president, which is what we got in Grant. Finally, (4) the country was fatigued with the Southern Problem and ready to cut and run and Rutherford Hayes happened to be the man with the ball. I was really drawn in with the dramatic centennial year presidential election (it now ranks in my private list of ten hottest elections, after 1800, 2000, 1912, etc.).
But I don't mean to give the impression that Foner is all about narrative, here. The real pith of this volume is found in the author's analysis of economic models, economic conditions, the variables at play in the political arena, and Reconstruction's relation to the rest of concurrent US history (and how the Redeemers did their work).
This history is solid, sober, thorough, and written in the style of good, contemporary scholarship. It's an important, nuanced subject you likely have some preexisting ideas about already. But there's nothing standing in your way. Go read what Eric Foner - a bona fide authority on the subject - has to teach you. You won't be disappointed.
*Sent from iPhone, so please excuse the poor formatting and lack of HTML. (less)
It's a phenomenal idea and a great, beachy read - but, honestly, it doesn't quite live up to its potential. I don't have pu...moreThis is going to be a hit.
It's a phenomenal idea and a great, beachy read - but, honestly, it doesn't quite live up to its potential. I don't have pulp, crime-noir credentials and I understand the author does. So if this is based on a tradition, it's probably truer than I think it is. But the little noir exposure I've had set me up with higher expectations. Calvin's (as in Calvin and Hobbes) alter ego Tracer Bullet is edgier, more graphic. The dialog and first-person narrative are wittier and play more with words. What does that say?
I think it says the impression may no longer be parallel to the original and general audiences have based their expectations about noir on other, non-pulp sources. If a person only knows crime fiction and has never seen Blade Runner, (s)he might enjoy Dead Harvest more than someone who doesn't know crime fiction and has only seen Blade Runner. (Maybe the ideal reader is someone who's never done either and can't spot a twist a mile off.)
But just because I only score the book three stars and offer some diffident remarks to display my reluctance to associate too closely with "urban-fantasy" or "magical-realism" or - God forbid - "paranormal-romance," doesn't mean I didn't thunder through Dead Harvest. I liked it. A lot. I recommended it to three people in two days. It's a lot of fun. A lot of fun. I have a personal idea about what a three, four, and five star book are* and this feels like a three star to me, based on the things I felt worked and didn't work within my understanding of the genre. I could talk about them and give specifics, but that might entail spoilers. Since I smell a hit brewing here, I wouldn't want to spoil anything for the next wave of readers.**
*Admittedly, I'm not real consistent here (see: five stars for Water For Elephants and three stars for Lolita). I've found the longer I've been on goodreads, the more miserly and capricious I am (in other words: I become less consistent even as I refine my parameters). But my general approach is to rate a book the way I'd describe a meal. A plate of Gulf snapper that was a live animal 24 hours ago cannot be compared to a pulled pork sandwich in a foil wrapper. But a $40 a plate restaurant can be compared to other $40 a plate restaurants (not that I do a lot of that kind of dining on my salary and in my zip code, but please indulge the metaphor) and drive through barbeques can be compared to each other.
**At the time of this writing, there are less than 200 ratings for Dead Harvest. I see this thing going up, fast, in the next couple of years.
**spoiler alert** I'm pretty capricious when it comes to rating things. Nevertheless - for my future self - I probably need to defend a four star rati...more**spoiler alert** I'm pretty capricious when it comes to rating things. Nevertheless - for my future self - I probably need to defend a four star rating for a Stephen King book about time travel and preventing the Kennedy assassination.
I think allowing for cultural context, it would be fair to call the Stephen King of the 70s and 80s a novelist. But since the 90s he's become more of a screenwriter. The understanding that 75% of the things he writes will find some sort of film adaptation must influence the writing process itself. As a result, his more recent work is preformated for the screen and is less literary than cinematic.
And judging 11/22/63 as a mini-series waiting to happen merits a four star rating. It is a great story. Short on adjectives, yes. Stupid, gimmicky premise. But a great story. Really. The premise itself is nuanced and filled with a surprise or two. This is notable because one doesn't anticipate surprises* in genre writing.
My experience with the fantasy novel - especially the mass market paperback variety - is that the universes have simple, easy to figure out rules. Be it Batman or Quantum Leap or Toy Story, fantasy has rules that are established early on. There are examples, like The Twilight Zone or Doctor Who that are harder to predict because they're inconsistent. 11/22/63 is sincerely more elaborate. It's surprising because it takes most of the book to unravel for the reader.
This is one of Stephen King's strengths, even if it is just the parlor trick of a talented storyteller. The reader only follows the story arc at the same rate of speed as the protagonists themselves. Compared to the usual omniscient narrator or first person perspective, this creates a tension not possible when the reader is sure he knows what lies around the next corner.
Stephen King's other strength is his ability to create palpable atmospherics of syrupy dread. Whether it's Derry or Dallas, King can communicate the way a place feels when a place feels bad on the psychic level. I can authenticate the effect, because I happen to know a place that feels as oppressive, volatile, and menacing as 1963 Dallas.
My dad recently moved to Selma, Alabama. Even though I only live and work a short distance away (in other parts of the state), nowhere else on earth feels like Selma. It isn't only the (civil war and civil rights) ghosts themselves that contribute to the psychic charge in the air around Selma. The residual after-images of those times have left a permanent imprint - like the silhouette figures left on the wall where people once stood before the Hiroshima blast. Though the people themselves have nothing to do with those times - and, given the option, would say they'd like things to be different today - their souls are carrying the radiation from the town's nightmare past the way we all carry nuclear test strontium in our teeth. In all likelihood, there's no cure for the malaise save evacuating the town and making it into a exhibit or razing it to the ground.
Stephen King captures this feeling.
I have a few gripes about 11/22/63, but my only lingering one is the nature of the consequences of tampering with the Obdurate Past. The idea of the butterfly effect is probably sound. The idea that the past is a semi-conscious force that doesn't want to be changed and acts in its own defense is a nifty idea, because it doesn't hurt anything to entertain the idea.** But there's an insidious perpetuation of outdated feelings of American exceptionalism in the suggestion that preventing the assassination of the American president will wreck the fabric of reality. Reality and the universe - in all honesty - could probably bounce back from a sudden change of course, even when it concerns the most powerful man on earth.
But the rest of the speculation is pretty fun. I really appreciate that King consulted Doris Kearns Goodwin for input on the "what ifs" of an eight year Kennedy administration. The insinuation that "Kennedy wasn't the president that Johnson was" regarding standing his ground on the principle behind civil rights is probably spot-on (though un-provable). I get the feeling Kearns Goodwin could have planted that seed.
Finally, I shouldn't underrate the simple bravery of writing this book. Opinions on JFK and (unfortunately) the assassination are as prolific as assholes. Everyone has one. And though 11/22/63 is full of cliches as overextended as that one (I think it contains that one, actually), it takes balls to open that particular can of worms. I don't know anyone who wants to get into a conversation involving the Grassy Knoll or J. Edgar Hoover. Taking on the whole world from such an exposed position - with so much to lose - is certifiably gutsy. Much gutsier than critiquing paranoid New Englanders in It or Salem's Lot.***
*"One doesn't expect surprises." Not exactly a zen quotation on my part...
Scott Fitzgerald knows more fine sounding synonyms for sexual deviancy than any other American author of the jazz age.
Tender Is The Night is the dire...moreScott Fitzgerald knows more fine sounding synonyms for sexual deviancy than any other American author of the jazz age.
Tender Is The Night is the direct retaliation of a jilted husband after his wife's mortifying airing of the family laundry. Knowing this creates an awkward tension between reader and writer - Fitzgerald's favorite word (one I will make a conscious effort to use more dynamically) is "lesion."
There are also two edits. Tender Is The Night originally appeared as a novel in three, achronological segments. Later, it was remixed into chronological order. I've only read the original mix. But as tension is the chief atmospheric quality of Tender Is The Night, I don't see the benefit of taming it for lazy audiences.
Most people know Fitzgerald from The Great Gatsby - a novel most of us first encounter in high school. The Scott Fitzgerald of Tender Is The Night isn't that same callow Scott Fitzgerald of Gatsby fame. He's worldlier and more tragic. The change is as dramatic as The Beatles. It's hard to imagine the group who invaded America singing "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" is the same group who - just a few years (and transcendental experience) later busted out "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?". It's hard to say which is better. There's a case for each.
I know the literary themes deal with the corruption of innocents abroad and blah blah blah. I belong to a school of literary naïveté that insists, stubbornly, of noting context (as strictly matters of ceremony) but reading at face value. Later writers insist that this is the only way to read. I don't know if Fitzgerald would want it that way, or if he'd want us to either moralize or sympathize with his moral debasement. I choose to read it as a simple tale of lechery, infidelity, alcoholism, and generally rich-people-behaving-badly-along-the-Mediterranean-rim-in-the-years-following-World-War-I. Fortunately, Tender Is The Night can be read in this humble way.
It is a much better book than The Sun Also Rises. (less)