taking a break from blogging and reviewing… a year of this seems good enough time to have tried it… might come back later…
go over to the granta site to see a photo of gilbert sorrentino at eighteen along with a remembrance by his son, christopher sorrentino. a rather amazing shot of a babyfaced teen who grew up to be one of the more ferocious writers of last century’s america.
here’s lock on the simultaneously marginalized yet therefore critical status of small presses [which reminded me of this stephen-paul martin interview where is made the case that small presses need to be an alternative network to, and not simply a minor league version of, mainstream publishing].
Norman Lock: Many there were who deplored the condition of the American theatrical establishment in the 1960s for its hostility to originality of structure, voice, and language. Some simply went on deploring it while others created Off-Broadway and an authentic regional theater. In the ’70s, Off-Broadway was becoming nearly as ossified as the Broadway it had replaced. The result was an Off-Off-Broadway and studio theaters that welcomed the exceptional.
Liberality of mind and spirit is succeeded always by the reactionary, which yields, in turn, to an alternative. There is nothing surprising in this. I am happy that there are alternative presses, such as FC2, Ravenna Press, Triple Press, and Calamari Press, to seriously entertain the fiction that I wish to make, as well as independent magazines to publish our stories. When I think of Joyce and Beckett and Michaux, I am cheered and glad to be in their company — not that I have their talent, but I share their banishment to the margin… What constitutes a “sufficiency”? That very much depends on the quality of readers. A handmade book that Deron Bauman made for me in 2000 during his short-lived elimae books venture was read by less than 50 people, but among them were Gordon Lish, Diane Williams, Brian Evenson, Dawn Raffel, Faruk Ulay, Cooper Renner, Kathryn Rantala, and Guy Davenport. They form, for me, a sufficiency of readers.
To acknowledge such a limitation is to accept a reduced role for the writer. I do not believe that what I write can change the world or the people in it. I don’t believe that anything written by a contemporary literary artist has that power over a mass audience. There are some who believe they can restructure consciousness using language and narratives that defy convention. But their visionary writing will scarcely be read by the people most in need of a transformed consciousness. The only work that has power to engage a mass audience is sentimental (which is a lie) or pornographic (which is also a lie, though perhaps a more entertaining one). We can rue this. We can set down the causes to mainstream publishing or to a degeneration in popular taste and appreciation that have little to do with literacy. But we can and should seek out our own margin and make our literature there.
and on print versus digital publishing:
NL: This idea of art as a “making,” as a thing made—it speaks immediately to my disinclination toward online publication. I have a prejudice against it, which may be common for those of my generation; I do not trust it—do not entirely trust technology, for the obvious reasons. Electricity is evanescent; paper and ink give to the thing made permanence, which is, I am aware, illusory. And yet, perhaps not: We have old books, incunabula, writing set down on manuscripts, paper, parchment, stone tablets. It survives because of its autonomous life; it is not attached to an exterior life-support system, whose plug can be pulled. (I suspect one day it will.)
link to the whole interview available at lorman lock’s (new) website here.
there’s a very lovely story in this month’s rail by uruguayan novelist mario benedetti. from 1958, there’s the slightest mustiness to it–or maybe some rearguard yearning–but that to me made it all the more dee-lish…
…Solitude is a precarious substitute for friendship. I didn’t have many friends. The Aramburu twins, the son of Vieytes the pharmacist, Tito Lagomarsino, and my cousins, Alberto and Washington Cardona, came to the house often because our mothers maintained an old relationship filled with habits held in common, the exchange of gossip, and shared fellowship. Just like today, we talk about professionals from the same graduating class, in 1924 the women from a main province felt they were friends since their first meeting on only one historical level: their first communion. To say, for example, “Elvira, Teresa, and I received our first communion together,” signified, plainly and simply, that the three of them were united by an almost indestructible bond, and if on occasion, because of an unforeseen hazard, which could take the form of a sudden trip or a subduing passion, a friend from first communion were to separate from the group, her rude attitude would be immediately added to the list of the most incredible betrayals.
The fact that our mothers were friends and lavished kisses on each other every time they saw each other in the plaza, in Club Uruguay, in the Gutiérrez Department Stores, and in the plush semi-darkness of their days spent entertaining visitors, wasn’t enough to decree pleasant coexistence among the most illustrious of their offspring. Any of us who accompanied their mother during one of their weekly visits would automatically be allowed to go downstairs to play with the children of the lady of the house after uttering a respectful: “I’m fine, and you, Doña Encarnación?” Most of the time, playing meant pelting each other with stones from tree to tree, or, on better occasions, we ended up punching each other and rolling around on the ground tearing our pockets and ultimately fraying our lapels. If I didn’t fight with more frequency, it was because I was afraid María Julia would find out. In spite of her freckles, María Julia contemplated the world with a smile of smug understanding, and the strange thing was that that understanding also included the trappings of adults.
these two take their title from the first poem of rimbaud’s ILLUMINATIONS ["And the Hôtel-Splendide was built in the chaos of ice and polar night."]
HÔTEL SPLENDID is one of marie redonnet’s trilogy of death — the others are FOREVER VALLEY and ROSE MELLIE ROSE. i haven’t read the last, but like FOREVER VALLEY, HÔTEL SPLENDID is a thin book packed with modern anxiety in an oddly proto-modern setting. this time we’re in a rustic hotel set amidst a sucking, sulfuric swamp. less effective for me i think than FOREVER VALLEY (possibly because the hotel is a more familiar device and thus more in danger of being used as a cliche) HÔTEL SPLENDID was still impressive for its accumulative feeling of anxiety. its main character’s desperate attempt to keep up the rotting, leaking building as well as attend to her sisters ailments and hostilities, was perfect allegory for the burden of all our constant anxieties: bourgeois real estate phobias, hypochondria and contagion paranoia, and the melancholy in seeing the flesh’s various evidence of its encroaching age.
redonnet’s work is particularly virtuosic with time. time contracts and leaps in her writing. within a paragraph, between sentences, we can oddly jump weeks and then linger for pages on a single incident only to pass through a night in a phrase’s brief flourish. the effect is somewhat like reading an irregular diary — quickpenned and intense during moments of drama but languishing for long trials or spurted into with a feverish insight. and yet also her writing undercuts this diary-like inconsistency with its repeating, inescapable and unchanging obsessions. maybe a better comparison than diary is the fever dream, which moves forward in jumpcuts and then traps you in over-hot, looping nightmare scenes.
sorrentino’s SPLENDIDE-HÔTEL is a beautiful artwork of prose, constructed with just the slightest bits of conceit and image: the idea of rimbaud’s hotel and an alphabet primer (and maybe doc williams’ wheel barrow). from these he plays riffs on his favorite themes: the necessary artifice of literary work, our ceaseless acts of corruption, a paradoxically unsentimental nostalgia for mid-century america. i always thought SPLENDIDE-HÔTEL was ever-so-slightly marred by its occasional interluding poems which, even in his parodic modes, necessarily fall short in comparison to his dazzling sentences. nonetheless sorrentino delivers some of his best work here. the paragraphs are a wonder of shifting and connected precise perceptions; he’s enormously funny — a pitch black humor; and the sentences that have that old world panache so one can’t help but think: they don’t make them like that anymore…
here’s a bit:
B-b-b-b-b. The sound an idiot makes. I remember Jo-Jo, ah, a perfect idiot name. A Mongoloid, shuffling down the street on the arm of his grey and faded Irish mother, punching himself in the face. Yet we all stand now as idiots in the face of the mass devastation of feeling that abounds. A culture that can give no sustenance, and yet the remedies are for still more “useful skills.” Useful skills, and the heart dies, the imagination crippled so that mere boys are become mass murderers or drift blindly into a sterile adulthood. The young, the young! In a stupendous rage of nonbelief–faced with a spurious culture, the art that can give life sullied or made unavailable. What art there is is cheap and false, dedicated to a quick assay of the superficial. Don’t believe for a moment that art is a decoration or an emblem. It is what life there is left, though ill-used, ill-used. The young crying for nourishment, and they are given the cynical products of the most fickle market. “Look at what passes for the new,” the poet says. Put a handle on it and sell it, cotton candy: to be gone in a moment and leave no memory other than the memory of sickening sweetness (p. 9).
from friday’s nytimes:
People are flocking to libraries after forsaking Barnes & Noble or ditching their HBO service and subscriptions to Netflix, library officials said, because libraries’ books, DVDs and CDs have a significant advantage: They are free.
an interjected no-duh here is unwarranted but can’t be helped.
…There is an incongruity in libraries’ providing such a wealth of free services because libraries themselves are vulnerable to the economy. Towns and school districts have started to make cuts, and library hours and employees are frequent targets.
In Maplewood, Jane Kennedy, the library director, is grappling with a 10 percent cut to her budget, reducing it to $1.7 million, and she lamented that she is contemplating layoffs, payless furloughs and shorter hours.
“People need us more than ever, and we’re not going to be there for them,” she said, noting that circulation had climbed 8 percent from 2007 to 2008, to 235,285 items. “People count on us and we want to do more, not less.”
…“People are reawakening to all the things the library has to offer, and unfortunately this is because of the economic downturn,” said Arlene Sahraie, the library services director for the Bergen County network. “There’s a saying among librarians that libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”
ranganathan would be proud.
I received a card shuffler once as a gift—one of the most memorable gifts I ever received. For weeks before, my father let me visit the present, which he had caged in a box in darkness so I could hear and smell it, but not open it. I think there was a sign on it that said “do not touch until Xmas.” Actually I lie, this wasn’t the card shuffler gift. This was another memorable gift—a piggy bank in which you’d put a coin in a slot and a hand would reach up and grab the coin and pull it down into the bank, which was made to look like a coffin. I am not sure why I’m telling you this, or what it has to do with Fog & Car.
On the plane here I watched some movies, most not worth mentioning besides Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I did see some program on Andy Warhol though, and they were talking about his movies, the ones where he would put a camera on people, unscripted, without guidance, and then leave the room. They’d leave the camera on them for hours, until something had to give. Somebody commentating on it was saying something about how Warhol dances this fine line between what’s exciting and boring. And how this is sexual or some such thing. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, except to say that maybe Fog & Car skates this same fine line. Through rout reiteration, Lim pushes boring to the extreme that it becomes exciting. How does Lim do this? To quote his character, “the normal always let my mind go the farthest, always the immediate physical world was navigable without thinking, so that thinking would head elsewhere, deep into its own self-contained jungle.”
In a sense, this is what particles do: bore and excite.
March 12, 2009 7PM
McNally Jackson Bookstore
52 Prince St. (b/t Lafayette & Mulberry)
New York, NY
McNally Jackson’s Indie Press Series honors the work of small, independent publishers. Brooklyn-based Ellipsis Press was founded in 2007 by author Johannah Rodgers and Harp & Altar fiction editor Eugene Lim. Lim’s Fog & Car begins with the alternating voices of Mr Fog and Ms Car, recently divorced, and becomes an exercise in narrative experimentation and a meditation on loneliness. Gary Lutz calls it “a deep, engulfing novel of breathtaking, even spooking precision—an altogether heady and heart-shaking debut.” Marten’s Waste is told by the night janitor of a high-rise office building; Sam Lipsyte calls it “an exhilarating and unnerving piece of fiction” and Gordon Lish raves “one for history and a half.