hey, who wants to get laid off from this condensery?!

the new cat and the old(er) cat just want to eat the other’s food. J in bed with the flu. morning coffee and puttering around, picking books off the shelf. and while dreading thinking about actually doing the accounting for the press, flip through a book and realize — both happy and sad — how many have done some time at that hallowed pity party:

SONNET WELCOME

To the 1981-82
Poetry season
At the Ear Inn
What a mess is everything
In this world we live in
François Marie Charles Fourier said in 1800
This planet should be sent to a lunatic asylum
But it’s not poetry’s fault
For being so concerned
With love beauty sex and ideas, money
All the preoccupations of the philosophers, thieves
& prostitutes, I myself make no image
When I say anything including saying
Let’s get on with our non-paying work as always

–Bernadette Mayer from Sonnets (Tender Buttons Press)

_________________

oh but relatedly and un, here’s one for the wall-lookers, one i can’t seem to get out of my mind:

By Han Shan

Human beings live in dirt,
like bugs in a filthy bowl.
All day long crawling around and around,
never getting over the edge.

Even spiritual masters can’t make it,
wracking their brains for schemes and plans.
The months and the years, a running river:
Then there’s the day you wake up old.

–translated by J.P. Seaton

cats

i did it. i put up a photo of my cats on my blog.

donald harington 1935 – 2009

though donald harington should be a household name, instead he was called “America’s Greatest Unknown Novelist.” he was a bawdy, hilarious, immediately accessible, and erudite writer who wore his intelligence very lightly. yet he wrote sprawling, delightfully self-conscious novels whose structural experimentation arose naturally, very organically and — almost as if on a whim — expanded our idea of what the novel could do. he almost always wrote about a fictional town in the ozarks, so was trapped in a regionalist ghetto, but his books if given the chance absolutely transcended that unfortunate label.

nytimes obit | guardian obit | washington post obitharington’s website

“Donald Harington isn’t an unknown writer,” novelist and critic Fred Chappell once wrote. “He’s an undiscovered continent.”

try any of his books, but so far, i’ve loved his WITH a whole lot… get it from toby press or from your local library.

the artist-reader: nabokov with trilling discussing LOLITA

stumbled on this… am not much of a nabokov fan for some reason, but dug hearing him talk (and watching him lean and pick up a teacup) here:

“I don’t wish to touch hearts and I don’t even want to effect minds very much. What I want to produce is that little sob in the spine of the artist-reader…”

(the best part actually is trilling’s nervous laugh and the back-and-forth on his (rather silly) theory in part two.)

my chapbook–AND THEN SHE WAKES UP–released by mudluscious press

including shipping, only $3! …it and other fine heads-in-the-clouds on the MLP site here.

also a joke-and-dream combo


ERASURE by percival everett

ERASURE was published eight years ago, in 2001, before the J.T. Leroy hoax was outed and before the eerily echoing current debate over the film PRECIOUS. it’s hard to discuss the novel without talking about its elaborate plot and book-within-a-book structure. here’s PW’s gloss:

Thelonius “Monk” Ellison is an erudite, accomplished but seldom-read author who insists on writing obscure literary papers rather than the so-called “ghetto prose” that would make him a commercial success. He finally succumbs to temptation after seeing the Oberlin-educated author of We’s Lives in da Ghetto during her appearance on a talk show, firing back with a parody called My Pafology, which he submits to his startled agent under the gangsta pseudonym of Stagg R. Leigh. Ellison quickly finds himself with a six-figure advance from a major house, a multimillion-dollar offer for the movie rights and a monster bestseller on his hands. …Ellison becomes a judge for a major book award and My Pafology (title changed to Fuck) gets nominated, forcing the author to come to terms with his perverse literary joke.

i once heard a writer complain how difficult it is to write satire these days — when the satire and the satiree both show up on the letterman show, mug at each other’s jokes, and then laugh together all the way to the bank. that is, there’s a complicity in most so-called satirical entertainment with the essential mode and delivery methods of what is being satirized.

ERASURE isn’t like this. its satire stings because it’s generous and complicated enough to shame and indict all of us for the creation and maintenance of a market-driven intellectual life, a literary culture that rewards sensation and provocation over art, and an unquestioned and reductive — even internalized — racist ideology.

for a more in-depth overview of some of everett’s source material, check out this review by bernard bell, which, while analyzing well what the book does, also ends itself with a sly (if i’m reading it right) criticism of the protaganist’s (and maybe the author’s) vantage of privledge:

“Contrary to the popularity in the academies of anti-essentialist arguments by postmodern critics, the authority, authenticity, and agency of the identities of most African Americans emanate most distinctively and innovatively from the particularity of our historical struggle against slavery and its legacy of antiblack racism in the United States.”

what ellison the character argues in ERASURE is that blackness is, must be, wide enough to include his own subjectivity. however, forces both within and without this novel refuse to cooperate, assigning the black identity only to a particular (romanticized and fetishized) “inner-city,” “gritty,” and “ghetto” experience. everett screams foul at such a distortion. ishmael reed agrees, having written a few years before this article on the scapegoat idea of a “black pathology” (a phrase which everett uses to name his street lit parody). reed writes: “The only difference between white pathology and black pathology is that white pathology is underreported.”

but all the above discussion aside for a moment, let’s acknowledge too that, while freighted with heavy consequence and while trying to make real points and to hit its targets hard – ERASURE is a pleasure to read, mostly for its patient, uproarious but never overwrought nor sensational prose. what a touch it is to be all in one book: deadly serious, furious, and howlingly funny.

find it in the library or buy it from your local independent bookstore.

THE BLOND BOX by toby olson

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A BOX IN A VALISE IN A BOOK

Reverentially using readymades from Marcel Duchamp’s life and work, Olson has constructed a depthless novel, as irreducible and mysterious a work of art as, say, Étant donnés, which the book reproduces in a striking frontispiece. THE BLOND BOX, like Duchamp’s work, oddly tempts parsing, seeming to leave clues to a more pointed narrative everywhere, one about a murder, even.

Due to a scissors-like nexus of chance and predetermination, in 1949, on a dark and stormy night, several characters end up in Courbet, Arizona (the origin of this world, no doubt) — at the Last Chance Saloon. One is El Malabarista — “The Juggler” — an endearing drunk who sings for his supper, famed in the region for his magnificently tasteful piano playing. Currently El Malabarista is working as an accompanist for a troupe of sex performers on tour in the southwest. The group’s specialty is a nuptial fuckfest starring the well-endowed El Soltero — “The Bachelor.”

The night of the novel’s opening — delayed in time by the text’s various artifices — still echoes in 1969, when Dick DeLay, the author of a pulpy science fiction series, and Sandy Redcap, his diabetic yet indefatigable research assistant, contrive a plot uncannily mirroring the events of two decades past.

The narrative is decidedly non-madcap, despite the setup. And though such a structure tends toward convergence — of the past and present, or the real and fantastic — when resolution does occur, Olson masterfully presents a congress more of proximity than resonance. Olson manages a detached elegance throughout, despite the work’s accreting insanity, loping through his interlocking chapters with genteel commas and novelistic observations, which, only upon final inspection, reveal a worldview of impressive flatness.

Buy it from FC2 or find it at your local library.

________________________

[this review originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Boog City archived here: http://welcometoboogcity.com/boogpdfs/bc12.pdf]

I’ll be reading at Poetry Project on 12/14/09 with Justin Sirois

R.B.Kitaj, For Love (Creeley)

R.B.Kitaj, For Love (Creeley)


on the difference between prose and poetry, i always liked it that robert creeley, in a preface to his collected fiction, lumped them as: “all a compact of words, surely.” another poet friend once told me the difference was: line breaks. in any case a blur, a strange boundary, sometimes a rubicon beach.

which is mentioned only as preface for invitation to a night of readings by me and Justin Sirois on monday, december 14, 2009 at 8PM at the poetry project at st. marks church.

more info here: http://poetryproject.org/program-calendar/eugene-lim-justin-sirois.html

____________________________

justin sirois blogs at secondarysound.blogspot.com and  is founder and codirector of Narrow House, an experimental writing publishing collective. He received Maryland State Art Council grants for poetry in 2003 and 2007. His books include Secondary Sound (BlazeVOX Books) and MLKNG SCKLS (Publishing Genius). Currently, Justin is trying to find a publisher for his first novel written in collaboration with Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy about displaced Iraqis living in Fallujah in April of ’04. He also is a designer for Edge Books.

jessa crispin of bookslut on book reviews

don’t always agree with her, but i dig jessa crispin a mighty amount. shaaaaarp. honest. plus — see below quip on sam tanenhaus — she makes me chuckle.

I think I was supposed to do a write-up of the Princeton panel I was on about the future of criticism, although if you want a rundown of what actually happened, Peter Stothard’s account is the best place to go.

Whenever these conversations come up, however, I start to wonder about certain words thrown about. “Authority.” “Culture.” “Gatekeepers.” All lovely things, thanks. I am not an anarchist, and yes, the Internet scares me as much as it does you, despite the proliferation of pictures of kittens and ducklings. But I drop out of the conversation when I figure out who is writing the definitions of those words. The New York Times is a gatekeeper, absolutely. And for someone who has so much control over the conversation, you’d think Sam Tanenhaus would be less defensive, and less likely to look like he might leap over the table and rip out the throat of the man who called the Review “middlebrow,” but whatever. If you look at the statistics of what they’re letting inside the gates, though, you see mostly books published by Random House, a very small handful of translated fiction, a disproportionate number of white men. (Yes, Galleycat, call me a kneejerk feminist again, I don’t really care.)

Even now when The Death of Culture is discussed, the definition of “culture” has to be watched. Only certain types of books and publications are counted as “reading,” according to those studies on the downfall of reading. Not that there isn’t a real issue going on — I am quite aware that everyone is in survival mode. Bookslut is kept going now on a month to month basis due to advertising issues and the like. For the first time in my life I have had to think thoughts about the “weakness of the dollar.” But the reason I have a hard time with these conversations about the decline of the review, and the death of authority, is because so many of the contemporary authors I love are often the ones being kept out of the conversation. They’re rarely, if ever, reviewed in the New York Times, they don’t get splashy features written about them and their night out with their friends. It’s hard for me to get worked up about the decline of reviews when I didn’t care much for them to begin with.

I should maybe state that I don’t think of myself as a critic, nor do I have aspirations to become one. As such, I feel free to ignore the wider culture at large, rather than suffer through a William Vollmann book just because his books contribute to the larger cultural conversation. I, and this website, exist outside of all of that, and happily so. I think briefly I thought I might try it on the inside, so I got myself elected to the board of the NBCC. I resigned five months later. Bookslut may have its own value (like I said, it goes month to month) but respectability is not where it is.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this now. It’s something that’s been on my mind the whole year. (And maybe I’ll be a chickenshit and leave this up for about fifteen minutes before deleting it.) I have officially used up all of my sincerity for the day, and the sun is actually out in Berlin today, so that concludes my official write-up of the Princeton panel on the death of criticism.

JERUSALEM by gonçalo tavares

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there’s one character in JERUSALEM who writes a long tome on violence and it’s fun (but who knows if truthful) to think of it as commentary on vollman’s RISING UP AND RISING DOWN. here, the eight volume doorstop study on atrocity is published to at first great acclaim for its magnitude and ambition, then very quickly rebutted and disgraced, and then finally utterly forgotten…

the bookback tells us JERUSALEM, along with his other novels, are part of a series Tavares calls THE KINGDOM so it may not be a stretch to say the author hopes for an ultimate integration of his works — a synthesis similar to that hoped for by a character in JERUSALEM who, with broken mind, tries to make of his eavesdropping a whole:

Ernst Spengler used to listen to people talking on the street and try to make sense of their words without tuning in to any one conversation in particular — joining something that a man with a tie was saying to a colleague to whatever a nearby adolescent was saying to two friends. Ernst wanted to keep himself from getting too interested in the details of these individual lives; he wanted to link or weave the entire city’s conversations together, so that it would seem to speak with a single voice, seem to speak a simple command… (178)


for better or worse, tavares does get “too interested” in the details of his characters’ lives — and their discrete narratives rise to take over so that they cannot stay continuous, and so cannot be the whole integrating command that might have proved the beginning of a truly new language.

JERUSALEM is however a very quick-moving, if grim, portraiture of several lives. indeed it’s eventually revealed that the book’s central concern is with the inmates (and their freeside counterparts) of a mental hospital–and that its theme is each of the various meanings of: institutionalized insanity.

maybe best bit in the book: “Back in bed, Kaas picked up his watch. He pretended it was some terrible peephole. You could look through it and catch time itself at work” (78).

JERUSALEM’s provenance is given, in its final words, as “From the Notebooks of Goncalo M. Tavares” — and it’s almost too clear that this is indeed the case. some bare outline, anchored tentatively around madness and violence, gives direction to increasingly detailed character sketches, is finally overcome by them and propelled, despite itself, to a typical, if sinister, conclusion. the result is a very readable hodgepodge of dark characters and situations whose organic method of composition seemed disappointingly evident.

perhaps arguably most representative bit in the book (because it wishes to comment upon or make something new of history and madness but merely highlights it): “A concentration-camp survivor had said: ‘Normal men don’t know that everything is possible.’ Theodor underlined the sentence” (124).

despite some of the above, the struggle and the ambition make it definitely worth a whirl. pick it up from dalkey archive press.


SHADOWS IN PARADISE by erich maria remarque

a very good book stumbled upon randomly while browsing the german language section in the library (will that be possible with ebooks? real browsing that is, not crowd-sourced gutless “pushed” content. but i digress…) SHADOWS IN PARADISE is the final (posthumously published) novel by the author of the anti-war blockbuster ALL IS QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT… a tumultuous bio, remarque survived two world wars, his lovers included marlene dietrich, greta garbo and paulette goddard, he was an avid and knowledgeable art collector, a NYC night owl, and reputed author of very fine cocktail recipes.

remarque’s NYC is thus a strange, glamorous combination of night-clubbing and WWII refugee purgatory. the two worlds collide through our man Ross–the book’s narrator–who has survived the concentration camps, fits in (though he’s a goy) with the jewish refugees, comes to court a fashion model, and ends up as an assistant for an art dealer to the super-rich.

some of the most delicious bits in fact deal with this art dealer character whose pretentious slimeball antics seem utterly unevolved in their parasitic kin of today:

I looked at this fashion plate of a man. His suits and shoes were from London, his shirts from Paris. His nails were nicely manicured and he smelled of French cologne. I saw him and listened to him as though he were sitting behind a glass pane; he seemed to live in a muffled world–a world of bandits and cutthroats. I was sure, but fashionable, well-groomed bandits and cutthroats… it suddenly struck me, all he really understood about his art works was their prices, because if he really loved them he wouldn’t sell them. And by selling them he was enabled to live a life of luxury unknown to the painters who had made it possible… And yet by buying their works for a song, dealers had often saved poor artists from going hungry. Everything about this business was so ambiguous, so misty and unclear (65).

i love reading about old new york, all that’s changed and all that hasn’t. this one is written in a great natural storytelling style — good on art and war and death and relationships. remarque seemed thought of as a hemmingway derivative — and some of the subject matter might be, along with its macho costume, but remarque’s style is more natural — and, for my dollar, more funny. nonetheless a tragic book equally artificial and true. an odd glamor — the kind that can’t take itself seriously due to the war but one also that resents that fact. true to the horror of it with almost no mention of the war’s details. neither art not biography but a kind of romantic epic built somehow from sober reportage.

Find it at your local library.

marlene dietrich & erich maria remarque

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