Now that I've read nearly all of Bernhard I agree with Stephen Dixon's impression that Bernhard improved with age: http://www.raintaxi.com/the-writer-Now that I've read nearly all of Bernhard I agree with Stephen Dixon's impression that Bernhard improved with age: http://www.raintaxi.com/the-writer-re... -- this is early proto-Bernhard, with paragraph breaks, and so it seemed worth it to see glimmerings of the later refined style, the repetitive ranting, but nowhere near as intense, clear, and engaging as his later stuff. Every once in a while a character says something in that mature Bernhard style and you can almost feel the younger author recognizing the heat in it and saying I'll exaggerate that in the future. The first half of this is sort of kind of not really like a realistic variation on Kafka's "The Country Doctor" if the doctor's son tagged along. The second half is mostly a crazy rant by a mad prince that I found engaging at first but less so as I continued because the madness is not as orchestrated as in later Bernhard books, it's not accompanied by genius, and so I found it difficult to stick with and ultimately skimmed some of it TBH. Not the place to start if you're interested in him (I tend to recommend The Loser, Woodcutters,Wittgenstein's Nephew, and Old Masters first, and then the longer, meatier ones like Correction, Gathering Evidence (his memoir), and Extinction (his masterpiece). This one I'd say is for completists only. I've owned it for almost 15 years but somehow knew there was no pressing need to get to it....more
An unprecedented reading experience: 5-4-3-2-1. A tetralogy descending from audacious LOL greatness to who cares I think I'm gonna skim it. Of courseAn unprecedented reading experience: 5-4-3-2-1. A tetralogy descending from audacious LOL greatness to who cares I think I'm gonna skim it. Of course I've read novels that started really strong and fizzled but never have they fizzled so evenly, their fizzle delineated by individually published volumes collected for the first time in a beautiful paperback with deckled edges and French flaps. The fizzle in my reading pleasure/engagement/interest I suppose matches the Melrose family's financial decline but that's way too generous an interpretation. The first novel is hardly much more than a novella but it's a zinger, the sort from which you read aloud passages to anyone nearby, bon mots forever, perfect images like killing ants with a cigar tip or making one's loved one kneel and eat fallen figs, all of it flowing and smart, charged with a bit of incestuous pedophilia, a few pages that create a shockwave that should've reverberated through these novels but really didn't. The second enjoyable novel (close third POV) takes place in NYC in the early '80s with Patrick a roving English Patrick Bateman junkie-type, not murderous but nihilistic. There's a wonderful image in the back of a cab imagining the lights in windows of passing office buildings as a crossword puzzle, but there's also a scene trying to buy heroin in Alphabet City that borders on cartoonish farce reminiscent, not in a good way, of The Confederacy of Dunces. By the third novel he's older, cleaned up, and ready to confess to a friend what happened as a child but the world around him opens up with a return to a roving third-person POV that never feels steady enough to jump from character to character at a posh dinner party. It's easy reading, relatively enjoyable, but becoming too diffuse, losing the focused psychological and emotional charge of the first two books. Everything in the final two novels dealing with Patrick's family, Patrick and his wife's affairs, and disinheritance and death of his mother felt sort of unnecessary, as though the supremely talented and intelligent and insightful writer of the first volume were coasting, letting the characters he'd created and new ones he concocted just spill out onto the page and do nothing more than talk. The charge or urgency of the first two books seemed replaced by always graceful but inconsistently worth-it verbosity, and so I felt nearly nothing for Patrick's dissolution into alcoholism or his mother's decline and death. Occasionally there were sentences or phrases I lingered over to appreciate ("psychedelic authority") but everything moved along on the skates of an automatic sort of semi-excellence. There's a fantastic story about his father as a young man on a wild boar hunt in India dispatching a man afflicted with rabies but it's too short and came too late to restore my love for this. The father David Melrose was a monster but so clever and so devilishly fucked-up it seemed like he needed to dominate things either on or off stage but he was dead by the beginning of the second novel and insufficiently sensed by the third one. Generally, in an ~850-page novel collection there wasn't enough devoted to David Melrose's youth, only a few pages really. These novels pretty much escaped David's gravity and/or seemed to fail to use his heft sufficiently, and also seemed not to remember themselves -- the Patrick of the last two books hardly seems to have shared the experiences of the abused boy or the young junkie. For a long story of the dissolution of a wealthy family, Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family seems like the reigning champ. Or at least I had it in my head as I read as a template/standard. Anyway, a great start that slowly but surely fizzled. Something else: it made me not want to write, like the author's prose was so consistently flowing and intelligent and descriptive and always readable but ultimately failed to really engage me in way that made me think toward the end why even bother with reading and writing? I first became interested in this book when I saw it suggested that A Little Life stole a lot from it and that this was in many ways superior -- the gray cover of the paperback also seems similar, as though the publishers wanted to capitalize on the association -- but really other than the fact that both central characters are victims of sexual abuse there's not much of a comparison to be made (A Little Life is, apparently very intentionally, the opposite of a family novel), particularly on a formal level but also Yanagihara's characters are so much stronger and the novel as a whole is so much steadier and unified, which makes sense of course since St. Aubyn's novels were published separately over time and Yanagihara's novel was written in a year and a half. I should also note that the inauguration occurred on the day I started the third novel and as we all know pretty much everything, particularly everyone's ability to concentrate, has gone downhill since then, so it's possible that the horrific reality show playing out recently at a granular level on Twitter warped my brain and hampered my ability to read the final three installments, but regardless I can proclaim with confidence that these volumes didn't offer a sufficiently strong immersive literary distraction since a certain fuckwit took an oath in front of the largest crowd ever assembled anywhere ever to undermine the Constitution and grab the world by its ya-ya....more
Consistently unpredictable movement, unexpectedly moving (the story named after a Talking Heads song in particular), with unspecified yet recognizableConsistently unpredictable movement, unexpectedly moving (the story named after a Talking Heads song in particular), with unspecified yet recognizable neighborhoods always evoked by spare and engaging language....more
Acquired this after walking at lunch to the one good independent bookstore in Center City Philadelphia that sells new fiction while listening to the aAcquired this after walking at lunch to the one good independent bookstore in Center City Philadelphia that sells new fiction while listening to the author's interview with Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm. Loved the two short pieces that have nothing explicitly to do with books, the one about his "uncle" coming in out of the rain and the other about stealing his father's gloves. Both of these jumped off the page and were published in The New York Times (linked). These stories suggest and state the historia behind the hysteria. But, in general, I kept saying to the wife as I read that I distrust the sensibility. It's centrist, alert for so-called bad sentences but unaware of its cliched emotional expression. Stories always make a reader ache, they break a reader's heart, they bring readers to their knees and explode their hearts. It says that stories are about what it means to be human but then overvalues melancholy, loneliness, sorrow, heartbreak, nearly completely forgoing ecstatic states, awe, wonder, joy, everything on the other side of the continuum of human experience that truly makes us human. Stories, for Orner, are like mechanisms for "maximum emotional devastation," which is something I've just never bought. I agree that they need to breathe on the page, but I look for more than that, just as I look for more than longing, loss, soul ache (I look for audacity, authority, execution, oomph, heft). I marked a Gina Berriault story collection to read and now have more of an interest in Eudora Welty, but otherwise the textual analysis herein I often read with restlessness. So often, in any review, when a sentence is enthusiastically excerpted for admiration, it so rarely lives up to expectations out of context. Eggers has a nice blurb on the cover but this doesn't "defy any category" -- it goes firmly into the category of books about books, with memoirish tendencies, like Between Parentheses or other compilations of brief essays on novels that seem to be out right now, or many reviews on here that integrate some personal experience. Generally, despite not often being on this one's side, I admired enough of it (the Salter, Babel, Juan Rulfo, and social media sections, particularly) and respect the impulse to put this together. For a certain sort of writer or reader who reads to ache instead of enhance perception of the world via the alternate reality of worlds in text, this may be a great read. For me, I read to see, to think, to sense, to experience, all of which includes emotion, but I've never been one to privilege feels over perception and ideas. A teacher at ye olde grad school once said that to take the next step I should focus on the emotional side of things, a teacher who also often wrote about daddy issues, but that's just never been what's interested me to begin with (interesting topic: the emotional side of Borges or Barthelme) and something that, when it seems to appear exclusively, especially in reactions to stories, has always been off-putting. The blubbery transparent vulnerability of the middle-aged male writer I intuitively distrust. I also object when authors talk about why "we" write (please leave me out of your blessed generalizations, please) and then defaults to loneliness (oh how I savor time alone): "Aren’t we perpetually, one way or another, trying to solve loneliness? The loneliness we feel? The loneliness we know is coming?" Loneliness is a step from solitude, which is writers' nirvana; it's not necessarily a negative, and when it's presented as such, it comes off false. Anyway: admirable at times, not for me in many ways, your results may very well vary....more
Best book ever, I said when I finished before returning to the first non-italicized page to re-read phrases that this time around didn't baffle (as muBest book ever, I said when I finished before returning to the first non-italicized page to re-read phrases that this time around didn't baffle (as much). A quarter through, as I started saying "wow" aloud at perfectly phrased phrases (that "land on two feet"), it was clear that this is and has always been an obvious canonical MVP. Tried reading it maybe ten years ago sitting in a Jiffy Lube waiting room, got to page 21 (dog-eared it), reading without retention, turning pages but not much else, and so didn't return to it after the oil change. Loved All That Man Is recently and recognized that it shared (or stole) its structure somewhat from this one; they both trace the long curve of life and are about life itself rather than some aspect of it. I'll have to adjust my rating for "All That Man Is" since this is about as good as it gets. Impressionistic, absolutely individuated, unpredictable, supremely insightful, and carefully crafted elevated language (phrases). No reference to Wittgenstein (as they do nowadays, creating an easy impression of intelligence). This is the real deal: original insight into the rhythms and texture of life. Essential: life and language reduced to their essence, which elevates everything. Ordinarily I'd rail against Disembodied Proper Noun Syndrome but disembodiment is part of the point; it emphasizes the voices, like a chorus of angels intoning perfectly weighted incantations to evoke what had been their corresponding bodies' lives. An exaggeratedly written text, self-consciously a compilation of phrases, the author's presence always benignly hovering over the words, and yet there's Bernard, Neville, Percival, Jinny, Rhoda, Susan, all of them I know now, all of them I see. Interesting to imagine what a contemporary version of this would be like, with childhood imaginations branded by Disney and Pixar (Lego Ninjas seem to occupy my daughter's imagination these days, usurping Paw Patrol, which vanquished Transformers) and young adult consciousnesses infiltrated by Instagram activity. But this, although ~85 years old at this point, is timeless, since it's abstracted; the grains in the wood of the door, the path through the sand, the red carnation, the textures, the rhythms, and the curve of time, the "sex scene" on page 103, and of course the bands of onrushing waves are timeless. Most semi-colons ever in a novel maybe? Ideal example of a novel that teaches you how to read it. "Immeasurably receptive, holding everything, trembling with fulness, yet clear, contained . . ." Will need to re-read multiple times of course. And now might re-read "The Sound and the Fury," which seems like it was influenced by this too....more
"Immanence" is what you get when the spiritual world permeates the mundane. The word appears on the inside flap and nicely sums up this one's primary"Immanence" is what you get when the spiritual world permeates the mundane. The word appears on the inside flap and nicely sums up this one's primary theme (secondary theme = inevitability of death and being forgotten forever under the force of time). Most of this seemed benevolently mundane to me, read at a slow fluid pace that so often accelerated as it reached the highest peaks. The first 50+ pages I read nearly blind, as though through a scrim of not quite comprehending between words and mind, not quite engaging, eyes covering the long sentences en route down paragraphless pages, anticipating some iridescent fleeting beauty below my steady gaze to spear and then hype on a certain book-related social media site, like the Ooshirosagi, that enormous snow-white bird in the first section/chapter/story. The prose achieves at times a sort of motionlessness, replete with unfamiliar (to me) names and terms from Japan, Italy, Greece, elsewhere, often from the art of antiquity, the eye passes over them as the mind in part thinks OK it seems like the author is really integrating research or specialized knowledge about Noh mask building etc, how do I feel about that, is he doing a good job, does ignorance of all this enhance the text's authority and does it jibe with the primary and secondary themes noted above? Yes I'd say, plus it opens little doors one might walk through one day via Google. In general, throughout I trusted that sweet fish to spear would appear at some point, and they do in nearly every chapter/story/section, usually achieving for stretches the highest level prose I've read in contemporary fiction in a long time. It's almost formulaic, maybe even absolutely formulaic, but it seems like his own formula and the prose and insight and unexpected turns cannot be faked. Toward the end, the last 100-150 pages, there's a self-referential level I appreciated, about the Alhambra's intricate, ecstatic patterns that appear behind not particularly elaborate or enticing entrances, for example, the landscape painter's parallel lines, the rant about baroque music, probably in each part actually but I only really began to register it as I read enough to recognize the lines that seemed like self-referential explanatory explorations. The Acropolis story(view spoiler)[, a Bananafish variation, (hide spoiler)] seemed like the best standalone piece, the one I'd scan and distribute to creative writing students if I still taught. The blinding light atop the Acropolis, so bright the traveler can't really even see the place he's traveled to -- reminded me of traveling to Machu Picchu and not being able to see much thanks to fog and rain, which maybe in the end is more memorable and beautiful in a way than seeing it the way it appears on the postcards. All sections are similar, all definitely cast in the same prose style/narrative voice, but I appreciate the variation in geography, time period, and type of male protagonist, either a monk-like solitary expert deeply engaged in his craft or a novice/normal guy experiencing that sense of immanence in an ancient work of art, the Venus de Milo, a copy of a painting by Andrei Rublev (a favorite movie), etc. Loved that all the beauty and specialized craftwork of the past is buried like blind screaming dragons and only occasionally is grasped these days on earth. 4.5 stars, rounded down since the first fifty pages and the last fifty pages sort of sandwiched this one's accessible greatness and nearly straightforward sections between dense blocks of prose I'll need to reread (and then maybe knock the rating up to five stars). I'll try to add some quotations later maybe. My first Krasznahorkai but I'll get to the others in 2017, assuming the world doesn't end. Read this thanks to Michael Silverblatt's interview here: http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/show.... There was something about the paperback, its glossy white covers and iridescent illuminated lettering and French flaps, that made reading this a real pleasure, too....more
O world. Effective post-election balm, somehow: nothing like unsettled associative intelligence charged with mortal urgency to upend expectation and aO world. Effective post-election balm, somehow: nothing like unsettled associative intelligence charged with mortal urgency to upend expectation and anxiety of the world's inevitable end. The sort of book that makes you want to read more poetry and write and live committed. Insightful and energetic bursts about poetry, teaching, pain, friendship. Recommended if you're looking for something to get you through to whatever comes next, a fully unfurled sail to propel our shrunken boat....more
Just finished and thought but didn't say aloud what a great fucking book. Now it's first thing the next morning and I'll try to collect my thoughts inJust finished and thought but didn't say aloud what a great fucking book. Now it's first thing the next morning and I'll try to collect my thoughts in text: my mother started recommending this in the fall but I was in the middle of The Sleepwalkers and wasn't reading so many pages a day, meaning it would be months until I read something else, plus the title seemed unrememberable and maybe excessively manly (it's ultimately sort of ironic: time reduces "all that man is" to nothing). She kept saying I really needed to read it, and so I asked for it for Xmas since I pretty much always heed such insistence (she's previously insistently recommended DFW's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Helen Dewitt's The Last Samurai, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and most recently KOK's My Struggle: Book One). So I received it for Xmas and soon after was diagnosed with walking pneumonia, which kept me from work for the last days of 2016 and placed me in bed, under the covers, propped up with pillows, shades wide open to let in dark gray daylight, reading this in two day-long extended sessions, something I can never do these days. So: this is a novel composed of nine, very subtly linked stories sequenced by each male protagonist's age, from 17 to 73. Like the last book I read (Seiobo There Below), this is a novel composed of thematically and stylistically linked stories. Each story could easily stand on its own but it felt like a novel in that it's held together by a consistent perspective (close third), similar tone (steady yet not totally conventional, restrained yet not spare, descriptive but not lyrical), and recurring bits like the appearance of lagers, football clubs on the telly, kebobs, love triangles (or at least situations with two men and one woman), tarot cards (the phallic ace of wands and the tower), sentence fragments and occasional repetitions of phrases, the grandson of the final protagonist (a knighted former British ambassador in Italy) is the quiet literary kid from the first story traveling in Prague reading Henry James's The Ambassadors (which made me wonder if I'd missed other associations among the stories). Each story for the most part took about six pages to coalesce, for the magic-eye poster thing to kick in where I was deeply imagining the characters (always white male hetero Europeans) and settings (always European, in Prague, the Croatian coast, Cyprus, Italy, London, Germany, Slovenia). The book description says that these men are striving to figure out what life is about, something like that, but more so they're not particularly ambitious, and life is imposing itself on them, life is revealing itself to them, they're not particularly active characters (other than the journalist), it's life itself that's active in this, and the major catharsis in each story is recognition, for the most part, that this is their life, this is what life is, for example, the kid in his early twenties swimming in the sea in the morning with warm sun on his skin after insatiable romping with a dramatically obese daughter and the next night with her not quite as large mother. Only one of these stories is sort of deliciously humorous, although it's a dark, almost silent laugh -- the one about Murray, the guy in his mid-fifties exiled to a pathetic life with a Dutchman he doesn't like, lusting after an unattractive bartender he doesn't pull, a climate change denier totally isolated from humanity who can only really talk about the S-class Mercedes he used to have. At times toward the beginning I wondered if the author was condescending a little to his characters, mostly lower class gents, as inarticulate as they are introspective. But I've rated this five stars because after a few pages each story came alive, each character seemed alive, the scenes seemed effortlessly real, the scenarios seemed to carry a real dramatic charge, and the clever structure of a sequence of stories about men from various classes between the ages of 17 to 73 gave way, as did the craft conventions (loved how each story unfolded, how essential information about what the characters were doing for example was withheld for a few pages to pull you along or how action was interrupted by a white space break and then summarized later, pulling you along to see what happened) and the always clear, controlled, evocative, precise, fluid language, and ultimately it felt true to life, or just true, conveying the truth about life that the only eternal thing in life is the passing of time: "The passing of time. That is what is eternal, that is what has no end. And it shows itself only in the affect it has on everything else, so that everything else embodies, in its own impermanence, the one thing that never ends." If you come to this expecting a statement on the modern European male, you won't come away with something neat and reductive. It demonstrates the complexity of humanity, instead of reducing it to demographics/identity politics. A globalized Europe is in the background, replete with American fast food (KFC, Starbucks, etc), but the essence of this one is the texture of time, that's the real star of the show, the real focus. It's a totally successful experiment, I'd say, and although a few minor unconventional dalliances with creative spacing, including a page that's blank except for only the words "The music" when the two 17 years olds in Prague attend a Mozart concert, irritated me a little, in the end, the next morning, all the stories are so vivid, so clear, so poignant for the most part, I've decided to rate it five stars, although it's probably more like 4.5 stars rounded up for my immersive, sick-in-bed reading experience (all ratings really reflect one's reading experience, anyway, not the book itself). Something else not necessarily about the book that occurred to me and seemed somewhat disturbing was that this was published in the US by Graywolf Press, although it was originally published in the UK by an imprint of Vintage/Penguin Random House, which makes it seem like all those Penguin Random House imprints in the US, Knopf particularly, passed on this. It's possible that there was some other reason that Graywolf, a totally venerable independent, published it instead of one of the Penguin Random House imprints, but halfway through, as I became more entirely on its side, the thought occurred now and again, something like how the hell did all those major US presses pass on this?! I was also worried when I looked at the author photo and it seemed like his neck had been photoshopped clear. I wasn't sure what I thought about that, just that no man in his early forties has such a pristine neck. Anyway, a great reading experience for me, and an author -- regardless of what his neck really looks like or how you pronounce his name (sol-LOY, apparently) -- who I'll definitely keep reading. Will soon read Virginia Woolf's The Waves, which tracks characters from childhood to old age, to see if I can maybe eek out some similarities....more
Acquired and read this on the enthusiastic recommendation of a writer I recently met who'd also gone to Oberlin College and graduated in the spring beAcquired and read this on the enthusiastic recommendation of a writer I recently met who'd also gone to Oberlin College and graduated in the spring before I arrived in the fall (and is also cited in the acknowledgments). I first heard of the author's band (Bitch Magnet) in the early '90s. The author had graduated two years before I arrived and his band's name was memorable and mentioned often enough. I didn't actually hear them until my senior year and, when I did, it wasn't my thing. Gastr del Sol's "The Serpentine Similar" blew me away around then but I wasn't all that into much music played by college kids at the time (it wasn't yet called "Indie," a term I at first associated with the Indy 500). In general I'm not really a fan of harder rock, other than Sabbath. I liked the Dead Kennedys, The Repo Man Soundtrack, etc, when I was younger but never really loved that stuff, all of which at least had something of a sense of humor (eg, "TV Party"). So many humorless heavy bands at Oberlin but I was hearing for the first time Can and Fela and post-bop (Sun Ra, Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Coltrane Quartet), also old blues and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Beefheart. I guess I was into expansive and often improvisational stuff, an interest that evolved out of a serious high-school obsession with the Dead and the JGB and then in the first year or two at college with a very weird and more or less unknown band called Phish that you could see at the time in rooms with a few hundred people at most for not much money, although by a year or two after graduation I primarily listened to and saw whenever possible Palace, Stereolab, Sea and Cake, Sun City Girls, Polvo, Red Red Meat/Califone, Tortoise, Sonic Youth, Jim O'Rourke, etc. But I'm ultimately writing about a book, not about bands I liked. As such: this book rocks, with reservations. The language is intensely readable, consistently engaging, addictive. I looked forward to picking it up whenever possible and read more at night in bed than I'd intended. It excels at characterization of people and places, many I recognized from Oberlin and Brooklyn. I related so much to the excitement of putting together a band and playing parties in dorm lounges (my college band, which the author would've abhorred most likely rightly so in retrospect, played the campus co-op circuit -- Harkness a few times, Fairchild, Tank a few times, etc -- and many friends were in bands, one of which incessantly practiced a Pixies cover in the practice space beneath my bedroom in Fuller, where so many memorable jams occurred, sometimes with friends playing guitar or drums without having any idea how to play) and the challenges of trying to "make a life in art" after college. All the joys and sorrows seem so perfectly conveyed here. There's real old-fashioned poignancy related to the end of Bitch Magnet (author kicked out apparently for being sort of annoying), all the hopes crashing down with the dismantling of the most fundamental element of his identity. The best part for me was a few years after college when he's losing his hair, walking around the East Village wheatpasting posters for upcoming shows, feeling like he's losing his edge, or like his studied disheveled look is becoming too authentically hobo. I also really loved the later transition the author makes to a "mature" or at least more stable career, essential for someone of a certain age in a city like New York (unless one has a serious trust fund). The arc of the sneering self-righteous ascetic rocker ultimately learning to dance in post-9/11 Brooklyn, his post-graduate education, the revelation of a network in the US and Europe supporting weird loud music, all that's great. At one point 3/4s through I wondered if I'd really give this five stars and then came to spot-on descriptions of the massive Rubulad party (in 2000, the original singer in Oneida, a great psych band with Oberlin members, sang at least a verse flat on his back with his head resting on the toe of my boot) and the always conversation-stimulating Kokie's in Williamsburg around the turn of the century -- and figured I'd now have to give this SIX STARS. But then we came to the last section about Bitch Magnet's reunion in 2012 . . . and the only urgency I sensed, its primary motivating energy, related to the author's ego, like the book started to seem to be about status more than engaging and sufficiently self-critical nostalgia/analysis. In particular, there's a page describing interactions with corporate types at drinks or dinners who ask the name of his band and then laugh -- a page that made me not really root for the guy anymore, that made him seem insecure and lesser, all of which adds a layer of complexity to the book that maybe sort of improves it in a way by making "liking" it more difficult? The author generally started to seem anti-charismatic, which is a repellent sort of charisma that's hard to look away from, and that too is interesting, like controlled dissonance? I watched some videos of the author's bands and some of a recent interview about the book. Bad idea: the voice and images in the text were replaced by the voice and images of the author. Toward the end I started to encounter more instances where I was like hmm I'm not sure I'm really liking the author right now, particularly his impressions of Coptic Light drummer Kevin Shea, who pretty much drove that band, or occasional minor money-haggling moments and dismissive comments about other bands that came off as off-putting. It was also sort of "hard to unsee" the way in the few videos of performances the author raised his guitar and gestured in grand rock fashion -- in a way he describes well in the book in text but on film seem more about poses? Maybe if instead of pushing Bitch Magnet merch on everyone at their final reunion shows he decided to say fuck it and give it all away out of straightforward generosity and goodwill to everyone, even as a self-conscious investment in marketing Bitch Magnet reissues, he may have redeemed himself for me, but it came off poorly when he's already said his wife sold her company and they're comfortable, living in the same building as LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy -- and all that insider revelry toward the end at the LCD Soundsystem Terminal 5 shows in 2010 came with a whiff of insecurity, too, like look everyone I've found my community, I'm one of them, I belong, I belong! Despite the supposed asceticism early on, there seemed to be a failure at times to restrain himself that maybe most obviously expresses itself in the most likely unnecessary and definitely oddly phrased subtitle? But, again, ultimately, overall: this was a tremendous read -- a great memoir for anyone interested in this era of music and its overtones will surely hang in the air and intermix with the experience of any sort of artist initially inspired and excited about creating something that feels like their own, discovering a community of the like-minded, and then winding up semi-disillusioned or just experienced (and weary) to such a degree that stability seems appealing as one ages. The last section probably should've been shortened and some unappealing observations could've been cut, but all in all a highly recommended memoir for anyone interested in the experience of musicians obsessed less with commercial success than making original music. ...more
Zweig is the best. Secular humanism uber alles! Great to return to him after a year or so away and think the same general thought: I need to read everZweig is the best. Secular humanism uber alles! Great to return to him after a year or so away and think the same general thought: I need to read everything he's written, particularly these short biographies. This is a step in that direction. It's really a pretty slight but insightful/enjoyable rundown of Montaigne's life, paralleled by Zweig's own. Zweig wrote this in Brazil shortly before he killed himself with his second wife, exiled from the irretrievably ruined European culture he thrived in and treated like his true religion (if you haven't read The World of Yesterday, I can't recommend it more highly if you're interested in Euro culture in the first half of the 20th century). I haven't read Montaigne, though I've tried and will surely try again soon. Interesting bits: he flees the plague that kills half of Bordeaux's 34K population, he essentially self-publishes his essays, he travels for nearly two years at age 48 to get away from all the demands of family and land ownership and while away is named mayor without running for office, he essentially locks himself in a tower with a view of his inherited estate and writes, trying to get as close as possible to the core of his life (I've used that phrase before writing about Knausgaard) yet he doesn't consider himself a writer. His mother comes from a Spanish Jewish family, yet he doesn't talk about her at all. As a child his father immersed him in Latin to such a degree (all caregivers and teachers only spoke it) that it was his true first language. But the real power of this, what sustains it through its 115 pages (first 35 pages is an introduction) is the parallel Zweig draws right away between his time (the unimaginable brutalities of the Nazi rise and WWII) and Montaigne's time, which offered sufficient horrific slaughter, with a sort of civil war descending into what Zweig calls (deploying a typically perfect Zweig-type phrase) "a vortex of pandemonium," totally lawless criminality run rampart etc. During such a time, how do you protect yourself from contracting some terrible infection of the soul? Montaigne and Zweig inculcate themselves, fighting the battle the only way they really can: internally, waging a sort of soul battle against the incursions of immorality run amok. But the really interesting thing was to read the opening as Zweig parallels his own time with Montaigne's time, thinking all the time of course about our own time, its particular nastiness -- really bad, so bad, bad! Thankfully little books like this, beautifully published by Pushkin Press (French flaps, textured covers, thick bright pages), disperse readers across centuries of struggles, most of which seem far worse than anything we face now, which is good to keep in mind since, despite the general gist of protecting oneself from the forces of idiocy and evil all around, these guys aren't exactly role models -- it's probably not a good idea for everyone to hide away in a tower writing essays about what they know or to light out for South America and ultimately end themselves before seeing the resolution of an era's nasty issues. But still totally worth the few hours reading and a reminder that things have always been simultaneously good and bad, undulating for the most part between either extreme for all time....more
Got this as an impulse buy when getting a few others things at Joseph Fox Books in Philadelphia -- they had a bunch of little books by the register anGot this as an impulse buy when getting a few others things at Joseph Fox Books in Philadelphia -- they had a bunch of little books by the register and this caught my eye so I threw it on the pile. Easy reading, intelligent yet breezy, funny at times, flowing, and with enough ideas and insights particularly about the dynamics between players and later between players and audience to make it worth the price (the time required to read is not so long). Good lists of albums and players in this too. Definitely worth a look for the five of you out there into improvisation. ...more
In this survivor’s account of the Rwandan genocide, her first name is her savior. Scholastic achievement helps separate her destiny from that of her sIn this survivor’s account of the Rwandan genocide, her first name is her savior. Scholastic achievement helps separate her destiny from that of her supportive Tutsi family. After receiving everyone’s blessing, she rises through various academic levels, despite Hutu disapproval, until she’s a full-fledged social worker teaching women about the nutritional superiority of soybeans. She marries a French man with whom she has two children. Thanks to education and effort, she achieves the impossible for so many in her culture. But establishing a different life causes anguish. In a coded letter, her parents describe how “it’s raining harder” than it ever has before, suggesting elevated instances of Hutu aggression. Ultimately, Mukasonga writes to maintain the memory of the thirty-seven family members killed during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
“The killers attacked the house until every last trace was wiped away. The bush has covered everything over. It’s as if we never existed. And yet my family once lived there. Humiliated, afraid, waiting day after day for what was to come, what we didn’t have a word for: genocide. And I alone preserve the memory of it. That’s why I’m writing this.”
The world they inhabit is well-evoked: how the children dance in imitation of the elephant’s graceful walk, how they guard the fields against looting monkeys, how they ferment sorghum and bananas for beer, how a family only really begins with the birth of the seventh children, how they barricade the entrances to their huts with tin when they expect roving bands of soldiers. I nevertheless wished for more characterization. The name “Jeanne,” for example, carries the particularities of a personality for the author but not for readers. The language, too, at first almost seemed straightforward to a fault, reminding me of the famous Adorno quotation: “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.” A predominance of passive voice and an unflashy vocabulary (“big” seems like the default adjective) suggested that the translator had remained loyal to the original French and resisted the temptation to improve (modify syntax, substitute synonyms) when creating his English version. In a recent interview, Jordan Stump confirmed this, calling Mukasonga’s voice “a delicate, tricky thing. It’s quiet and understated, but it’s not flat; it can be intensely moving, but it’s not exactly poetic, lyrical, eloquent. Matter-of-fact . . . with a little bit of a lilt sometimes, and through tears or clenched teeth at others.”
The children of Holocaust survivors—David Grossman (See Under: Love) and Art Speigelman (The Complete Maus), for example—tend to deploy elaborate literary technique and considerable imagination to convey their impressions of their parents’ experience, whereas first-hand survivors’ accounts tend to trap the ferocity and enormity of the experience in a simpler way. Senseless ethnic violence never threatened Updike’s Shillington, but no stylist is needed to render episodes and emotions of this sort.
It seems almost improper to critique this book on a conventional literary level, considering its focus. Its heft, however, overwhelms minor craft concerns in the end. Straightforward prose becomes transparent and sorrow animates proper names as this textual representation of sleepless nights sitting up with the dead establishes itself as a striking entry in the literature of atrocity.
For Mukasonga, since Hutus had always considered Tutsis no more than cockroaches, mass slaughter had always seemed inevitable.
“It was Habyarimana’s death that set off what everyone in Nyamata knew was coming, something that would be named by a word I’d never heard before: genocide. In Kinyarwanda, we would call it gutsembatsemba, a verb that means something like ‘to eradicate,’ formerly used to talk about rabid dogs or destructive animals. When I learned of the first massacres, immediately after Habayariman’s death, it was like a brief moment of deliverance: at last! Now we could stop living our lives waiting for death to come. It was there. There was no way to escape it. The Tutsis’ fated destiny would be fulfilled. A morbid satisfaction flashed through my mind: we in Nyamata had so long expected this! But how could I have conceived the depth of the horror that would overtake Rwanda? An entire people engaged in the most unthinkable crimes, against old people, women, children, babies, with a cruelty and ferocity so inhuman that even today the killers feel no remorse.”
The title immediately suggests Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” but Cockroaches functions more like a horror novel. Predominantly linear in structure, the first sections establish a world that will be ruined. You read the opening pages, knowing something awful lurks ahead. If read as a conventionally structured, real-life horror novel, the climax amounts to the half-page description (on page 130 of 165) of the death of the author’s sister Jeanne, eight months pregnant:
“Wounded, Jeanne falls to the ground. Her belly is sliced open. The fetus is ripped out. They beat her with the fetus. Nana [her youngest child] is at her side. The killers go on their way, leaving Nana there with her. And then someone, and I will never know who that someone is, asks a dying Jeanne, as she lies in a pool of her own blood, what he can do for her. ‘You can’t do anything for me, but if you can do something, take Nana with you.”
She deems the words she uses to describe the scene “emotionless, made cold by death” but that page emitted a heat that forced this reader to look away and intone a secular “Jesus Christ.” Why read this in general and why read this now in particular? Maybe because genocide is an endpoint of existence that, when sympathetically recollected in tranquility via exposure to text, serves as an extreme surrogate experience that relieves an average reader’s comparatively minor everyday suffering. It could be worse: we could be packed in cattle cars on our way to the gas, or we could be a Tutsi girl bringing water to her handsome, intelligent, imprisoned father whose guards dismember him bit by bit (“fingers, a hand, an arm, a leg”).
But books like this also seem to strengthen our intolerance for intolerance itself. Intolerance based on superficialities (Tutsis are taller, thinner, and have straighter noses than Hutus!) can lead to the ultimate horrific profundity.
Right now in the United States, the president-elect just won on a platform of intolerance. It's no feat of the imagination to envision a possible albeit hopefully improbable next step: mass detention centers, tall fences lined with razor wire, heavily armed “real American” guards firing indiscriminately on people of color seeking a better life.
Memoirs like Cockroaches, written out of absolute emotional and psychological necessity, share histories that readers cannot let repeat. Ultimately, we can’t do anything for Scholastique Mukasonga or her family, but we can do something: take her story with us and spread the word. ...more
A small beautiful hardback stocking-stuffer received for Xmas per a not very long list of international literature in translation I sent to Santa ClauA small beautiful hardback stocking-stuffer received for Xmas per a not very long list of international literature in translation I sent to Santa Claus c/o my Mom. A great description of a pit filled with carrion. Creepy, atmospheric, flowing, makes me want to re-read The Hound of the Baskervilles for the first time in ~30 years -- these three stories interlink, or I should say that 'The Last Wolf" seems to inexplicitly interlink with the two "Herman" stories that explicitly interlink. Trapping, when the hunter gets captured by the game, or more so when the game warden turns his attention from animals to townsfolk. Loved the parallel between the fox caught in the trap and Herman's end. Generally, I have walking pneumonia and read a lot of this in the doctor's office. Couldn't hope for better companionship in such a state. Two crosses on the cover for either infected lung....more