the easy chain by evan dara

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when william gass was working on THE TUNNEL–which took him twenty-six years to finish–i remember some wag quipping in some interview : yeah, and wouldn’t it be great if, when it came out, it was like, 120 pages. (and i remember thinking, “shit yeah! that would be great!”)

and also carol maso making a joke about how these boys kept writing their “Thousand-page novels, tens and tens of vollmanns—I mean volumes.

these big, ambitious doorstops, in and out of fashion–usually written (and i’m betting usually read) by men (though i noted with interest vanessa place’s 600+ page recent entry into the race)… a galaxy of books created eons ago by maybe an imploding melville somehow i think still revolving around a sun probably named bellow, though now with a newly identified farout planet named bolano.

generally i’m not so into them. they manage their arcana and pyrotechnics with either gimmicks or, worse, plotty plots–big canvass, ensemble pieces where we need either to keep flipping back to some family tree or hand-drawn map or to some cleverly necessary endnote page. and there’s also a suspicion of greediness, certainly self-aggrandizing is wondered about, in the so demonstrated over-sized ambition. maso may indeed be right that these vanities among vanities are particularly vain. and, loud as they try to be, just saber rattlings, whistlings in the dark…

still i admired the hell out of THE LOST SCRAPBOOK partly because it does manage to balance its length with extreme readability and a decent amount of narrative velocity. it also  more importantly isn’t particularly plot driven,  and it’s run less by a machinery of gimmick than by an original technique of narrative splicing–a kind of collage work done in series, rather than in space. or another way:  dara works a parataxis of narratives rather than that of phrases or sentences.

THE EASY CHAIN operates in similar fashion and, like THE LOST SCRAPBOOK, is a political novel, one made of principally two things: ideas–witty analysis of our inept and corrupt culture–and yarns. dara’s specialty is in fact the yarn, the almost wholesome tale, ending with a zinger or even a moral. on their own they would be nice bits of entertainment, strung together in series they make something else, at best it makes a convincing group portraiture of our rattled time… it’s a strange accomplishment, and the only one i could think to relate it to was the reaction had after watching linklater’s WAKING LIFE, where a series of undergraduate-y philosophical discussions, in aggregate, has the larger wallop of showing that we are a species of similar concerns, with similar self-designed thought experiments, and indeed similar fantasies.

it is a slightly lopsided novel–though i don’t think it’s at all the half loaf that one review had it. the first half has a better-defined gambit, which then disintegrates it’s not quite clear how effectively… its lead is a character who happens to be extremely charismatic. that’s his super-power–given without an origin story. and in the first half of the book we get to watch him wield this power against wealthier chicago. Lincoln “vaulted to the top of the city’s social hierarchy, slept with the majority of its first daughters and racked up an unimaginable fortune.” the second half of the novel then significantly drops the story of Lincoln, concerning itself only obliquely with him and his unexplained reversal. this half has some admittedly outrageous and not-always-successful gambits, including odd punctuation to denote voice stresses, a poor attempt at some kind of echo-affected poetry, and what i think was a long narrative from the POV of a piece of dust. i’m not sure. it gets a little wacky.

but there are really fantastic parts throughout, setpieces, yarns mostly, unsmug moral tales that show us both the hypocrisies and possibilities for hope in our consumerist endtimes. a fantastic one near the end about how a hippie food joint gets taken over and saved by a “one man Information Counterrevolution,” that is: a man of silence (324). another hilarious story concerns a pair of unsavvy buddhists trying to go into business (to practice right livelihood) and getting all kinds of screwed.

other idea riffs are almost equally engaging as his stories. a few eloquent rants about our advertising-based culture where dara defines terms–the “skonk” and “conicons”–needed to make it run; one extremely prescient bit about how markets reward response, not value (187); and here is dara on how progress has us lose sight of fundamental values, the big picture, in our driven chase to get granular:

“In the libraries, he had also seen the affinity between progress and reduction. Day after day, in one library after another, he had noticed the cadenzas of rapt attention played to minutiae, as larger concerns grew foggy with neglect. Increasing acuity of perception driving wider blindness, evident & necessary visions falling on eyes without feeling. It was evolutionary: to continue, to flourish & prosper, whittle yourself to the barest functional minimum, then pass this on. Again, reason has produced its flipside, history has worked its dull revenge” (429). *

buy THE EASY CHAIN from the publisher

“independent scholar” steven moore is writing a history of the novel

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steven moore with felipe alfau and ms. of Chromos; Queens, NYC, May 1991

someone give steven moore a wikipedia entry! michael dirda has one.

steven moore–one of our most insightful critics, who was senior editor at the review of contemporary fiction and dalkey–is writing a book about the history of the novel. i’ll read it before i read anything by james wood. moore’s famously championed gaddis–but also vollman, ronald firbank, felipe alfau, william gass, carol maso and many others.

me, i seem these days to like my books short and elegantly collapsed from drug-overuse. not moore: “I quickly gravitated to huge novels like The Recognitions, The Sot-Weed Factor, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, novels you could lose yourself in for weeks, and study for a lifetime. (It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I also like Wagner’s and Glass’ operas.) I do like some writers known for short novels—Firbank, Spackman, Markson, Ducornet—but generally I like ’em big and brainy.”

i swear i saw that he had a webpage of his own, but i can’t find it any more. [found it–thanks to victoria harding.] stumbled across this interview which has the above quote and where he also reveals this about his upcoming history:

“And I’m developing a secondary theme that fiction is a kind of secular literature running alongside every culture’s sacred literature—testing its validity in “real” life, so to speak—and that fiction is finally a more trustworthy guide to life than sacred texts.”

hear friggin hear.

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moore’s latest review: on 2666

tom leclair on THE EASY CHAIN

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tom leclair has a mixed review of THE EASY CHAIN in the newest BOOKFORUM. revealing also that aurora is indeed dara and partners (as well as the fact that dara’s had publishing troubles–which, go figure, but still)… i’m halfway through the novel and also feel a little mixed about this definitely political (like gaddis is political) work. a novel of ideas not exactly as consistently executed as THE LOST SCRAPBOOK, THE EASY CHAIN better covers some of the same ground as victor pelevin’s HOMO ZAPIENS trippy take on our age of consumption and advertising. still, a ferocious accomplishment. the bigger-than-the-sum-of-its-parts aggregating wallop that, for instance, WAKING LIFE, achieves with its serial undergraduate philosophizing–THE EASY CHAIN also manages.  a thought experiment perpetual motion machine… maybe i’ll try to say that better when i finish… much admired in the meantime is the “self assertion” of Dara to do it his/her own way.

buy THE EASY CHAIN from the publisher.

Panel on Experimental Prose at CUNY’s Grad Center tomorrow, 11/14/08

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A Time for Prose, a special event sponsored by the CUNY Graduate Center Poetics Group, will address the present of avant-garde prose, along with essential related questions: why experimental prose seems eternally suspended between narrative and language, between affect and the social, between history and the present. Montreal novelist and essayist Gail Scott will present “The Sutured Subject,” followed by responses from New York writers Douglas A. Martin and Rachel Levitsky. The conversation will address the influences on contemporary prose of such writers as Victor Shklovsky, Kathy Acker, Renée Gladman, Taylor Brady, the New Narrative group (Robert Glück, Camille Roy, Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian), and the Language poets.

Friday, November 14th, 6 pm – 8 pm

The CUNY Graduate Center.

365 Fifth Avenue @ 34th Street, New York NY

Room 9206

Biographical Information

Gail Scott is the author of five works of fiction, including My Paris, which was named one of the top ten Canadian novels of 1999 by Quill and Quire and was published in the US by Dalkey Archive Press (2003). Her essays, in English and French, are collected in Spaces Like Stairs and la théorie, un dimanche. She is a co-founder of Narrativity, an online journal of contemporary experimental narrative, and she also co-edited — along with Robert Glück, Mary Burger, and Camille Roy — Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House, 2004). Gail Scott teaches Creative Writing at Université de Montréal but is currently living in New York while she completes a novel and works on a new collection of stories. Her  essay “The Sutured Subject” will appear in the fall issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction.

Rachel Levitsky is the author of five chapbooks of poetry and Under the Sun, her first full length volume, published by Futurepoem books in 2003. She also writes poetry plays, three of which (one with Camille Roy) have been performed in New York and San Francisco. Levitsky founded Belladonna, a publisher and series of events, in August 1999. She teaches at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Douglas A. Martin is a poet, novelist and short story writer whose first full-length prose work, Outline of My Lover, was selected as an International Book of the Year in The Times Literary Supplement. His most recent books are Your Body Figured, which consists of three novellas, and In the Time of Assignments, a collection of poetry. Martin is currently a visiting professor at Wesleyan University.

the dark stranger by julien gracq

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julien gracq’s second novel was called UN BEAU TENEBREUX and, according to this, was written in two spurts: in 1940 and 1942. it was published in 1945 and brought out in english in 1950 by new directions with this beautiful, word-less cover. gracq, who died in 2007 was considered at the time of his death the “last of the great universal writers”.

a somewhat plodding story about a ubermensch-wannabe who corrupts a crowd of european archetypes summering at a beachside resort, this novel is probably not the one that makes gracq’s reputation. but despite its flawed structure and some truly awful melodramatic scenes, there are still stunning examples of an elaborate, beautiful style studded with breath-catching insights.

here’s this gem on victor hugo’s taking issue with dante on his architecture of hell: “whereas Dante imagined the circles of his Inferno as gradually decreasing their spirals as they descended, like conical pits of ant-lions, towards the final well ‘where Satan weeps with six eyes’, Hugo, with a strange inversion of this image, sent his circles down in ever-widening spirals, to leave the imagination in a maelstrom, a vertigo, a vast mist-enveloped dissolution into the darkness” (p. 54).

can you grok it?!

discovered on will schofield‘s great list of neglected books.

“Literature was the last of all the arts to make its appearance. It will be the first to disappear.”

some more great gracq quotes can be found in thomas mcgonigle’s review of gracq’s READING, WRITING here.

find THE DARK STRANGER at a library.

roberto bolano’s poetry

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bolano poems in the latest issue of POETRY. good examples of a novelist’s poems (which seem less, in general, to me, than a poet’s novels) (which begs the question of the difference between the two practitioners) (beg beg) (“all a compact a words,” the poet and novelist robert creeley said about the difference, which he said didn’t exist)… in any case, the poems are somewhat soggily romantic, maybe not as successfully rid of sentimentality as his prose. here’s a taste:

and Dario whispers that he loves the French poets.

Poets that only he and Mario and I know of.

Boys from the then unimaginable city of Paris with eyes bloodshot from suicide.

He loves them so much!

In the way I loved the streets of Mexico in 1968.

I was fifteen years old and then I’d just arrived.

I was a fifteen-year-old emigrant but the first thing they tell me, the streets of Mexico

is that, there, we’re all emigrants, emigrants of the Spirit.

Ah, the beautiful, the never over-considered, the terrible

Mexican streets hanging in the abyss

while the rest of the world’s cities

are drowning in uniformity and silence…

from “Visit to the Convalescent,” translated by Laura Healy

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…it does make you wonder if maybe it was less a matter of aesthetic principle and more a kind of pragmatic resignation that there’s not a single line of poetry in THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES. hmmm…

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and/but: in a related, much-broken story, let’s hope 2666 live up to its hype and its admittedly good looks.

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…i’m now 66th in line at NYPL for 2666. I wonder which version i’ll get.

the easy chain by evan dara

woah, just stumbled onto this. evan dara wrote a great book called THE LOST SCRAPBOOK in nineteen ninety friggin five that got a blip of attention, won the FC2 contest that year (and might be the only place you’ll ever see a richard powers blurb) — and then dara hasn’t been heard of since. now, here’s his second, called THE EASY CHAIN, and i haven’t heard boo about it anywhere. (a lack of publicity i can’t help admire.) out from aurora press–which seems to be a new outift too, which only publishes (so far!) evan dara. alright. you got me. i’m interested.

plus the publisher is selling it in a pay-what-you-will (above a $10 minimum) fashion that i also am being impressed by.

…okay i found an early review which says:

“Dara’s play with perspective, however, is the novel’s great success. Time, like the narration, is very fluid. We can begin at a cocktail party and float almost magically into Lincoln’s childhood, age with him, then drift through these meetings. It’s interesting and cerebral and only occasionally distracting. Various other characters are allowed to go on about their personal philosophies and beliefs. These asides, as I’ve already mentioned, are fragmenting the story in a manner not unlike early Pynchon, but very unlike Pynchon because our hero—such as he is— is present, listening to these people—of the reader, but out of the reader’s awareness.”

more at: http://blog.semcoop.com/2008/10/26/the-easy-chain/

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