Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I was asked about where A.N. was coming from in the talk referenced below -- my notes are either lousy or not, but what I put below is all I took down. Still, I do know this: Alice was coming off reading piles and piles of crime novels (not to mention the tragic death from cancer of her beloved husband, the poet Doug Oliver) and was wondering what it might all mean, all this death and killing, in the context of her poetry, and of Poetry in general. Part of what spoke so loudly to me about her talk, besides the fact that it was Alice, who is always amazing -- even if my notes are like telegraphic afterthoughts and don't put that across -- was that she seemed to be speaking to what we all need to take into account, at least some of the time, when we do this writing thing, this living thing -- yes, what exactly does it mean, what we do, in the context of all this death and killing, fictional and not?

The following, from Kierkegaard, isn't quite right, not the perfect thing, but it comes to mind around all this:

"If a man were a beast or an angel, he would not be able to be in dread. Since he is a synthesis, he can be in dread, and the greater the dread, the greater the man."
These notes, such as they are, come from a talk Alice Notley gave two years ago during the Naropa Summer Writing Program -- the talk was on Poetry and Noir.

"These [crime novels] pretend to be coherent but mostly they aren't.

A story repeated becomes a poem.

Crime fiction -- a kind of folk song, a bloody ballad maybe.

First person -- the mark of the inept crime writer.

Many of the books simmer with cruelty. I'm not sure whose. The reader's or the author's?

We are obvioiusly involved here in the poem of "we must have war."

Many poems are cases and it is the geometry of case-solving that interests me.

The idea of needing to know who killed whom among the primary materials of poetry.

The best writers can't tolerate the stasis of corpse description passages.

I will search for you across light to undo murder [from Notley's The Black Trailer]

Perhaps contemporary poetry has become too reticent for my taste.

One's process is always a kind of third thing.

So much of my writing is elegaic because so much has happened.

There is more of everything all the time and that is the problem."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

An article on the Indie publishing scene in Brooklyn. Especially pleasing to me as it recounts a trip (one I've made -- it's strangely pleasant to think of such beautiful, essential books being edited and designed in the midst of so much brick, steel and construction) to the Archipelago offices in DUMBO.

Monday, May 29, 2006

It has been a very long time since I was able to keep a regular journal, which is sad, because everytime I pick up an old one and read my notes -- a tissue of quotation, ideas for pieces, half-thoughts, a few diary kinds of things -- I find something useful. Useful in that it makes me think, gives me that frisson of thinking, wakes me up a little. Here are a couple of things I found in a journal from 1999. On June 9 this from Fleur Jaegy, "And aren't they our forerunners too somehow, these anonymous people we find in photographs?" Or this dream from June 16, "Nightmare. Awake in the dream. Room filled with wind. Something to do with Sebald. See the cover of The Emigrants. Some caricature of Sebald with a huge mustache leers triumphantly at me. Desperate to wake. Finally do." Or later in the month, this bit of Wittgenstein, from my favorite, On Certainty, "Here I am inclined to fight windmills, because I cannot yet say the thing I really want to say." Or this cryptic thing, from July 31st, in Detroit, "Storms belong to Shakespeare."

Then this, undated:

"If I were to make a chart of my recent mental geography it might include, at one point of the compass, scientists' recent discovery of objects at the edge of the universe that are older than light; at another, the village of ________, in central Mali, north of Timbuktu, which is slowly being swallowed up by sand; and at a third, my dismay, not to say my horror, at the thousands of hits that turned up when I entered the word 'decay' into a search engine..."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

"I kept seeing her in that dress that had no color, and the whites of her eyes like fireflies beneath her swarm of hair, and the way the clean knife changed in an instant into something wet and red."

from Rubicon Beach
Steve Erickson

Saturday, May 27, 2006

This review originally appeared in Rain Taxi. I reprint it in hopes of sparking interest in an excellent, underappreciated (here in the States) writer...

farewells to plasma
Natasza Goerke
Translated by W. Martin
Twisted Spoon Press 2001

Halfway through Polish writer Natasza Goerke’s collection of stories, farewells to plasma, a toenail blithely asserts that “monstrosity is an important issue.” Immersed in Goerke’s wonderfully disconcerting world of marriageable she-bears, writers who choke to death on egg yolks, marriages by correspondence, withering flowers, ballooning knees, a charming couple called the Zeroes, the reader doesn’t miss a beat and wants to hear more. The toenail, shut up inside a locket, obliges. It holds forth on plagues, it blushes, it scratches its head. It is a key and plausible element in Goerke’s through-the-cracked-looking-glass sensibility, an instance of 3-D synecdoche that blares absence and bespeaks troubled love: key themes in Goerke’s universe. She ends the story, “Zoom”, with the following:

So what to do with them all? If what keeps them apart is what joins them together, they still won’t be able to get close to each other.
But they won’t be able to get away from each other either.

Love and absence are at the heart of farewells to plasma, but they are not alone: Goerke’s palette is too broad, her energies too various for the collection to be so easily pigeon-holed. Goerke writes with verve on all shape and variety of topics. Her characters are travellers, writers, fortune tellers, spiritual seekers, masochists, talking shadows. They are concerned with the difficulties of reality, of communication, of self assertion. The fictional matrices they are conjured up in tend to be short, oddly and cleverly crafted, both pragmatic and dreamy, and crackling with energy. The result is an absurdist-inflected brand of magical realism, akin in its fusion of homegrown and international, often Western, often American, culture and concerns, to that set out in the shorter works of Haruki Murakami.

Part of the credit for the effectiveness of farewells to plasma, which is a representative selection from three of Goerke’s earlier collections, must go to its translator, W. Martin. He has turned the original Polish into pitch-perfect English, giving us a loose-limbed prose fully capable of handling Goerke’s typically complex, off-kilter blend of emotion, action and imagery as in the start of one of the longer stories in the collection, “dog”:

Clouds were blocking the sun, and Denisa, who was strolling along with all the grace of an open wound, picked up a stick off the ground and threw it as far as her strength would allow.

Goerke, who was born and raised in Poland, and currently resides in Germany, is widely considered in Europe to be one of the most exciting of the younger fiction writers working today. If enough people this side of the Atlantic get their hands on farewells to plasma, that sentiment will soon find itself shared.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I like this.
It looks like The Exquisite is not going to be the only book coming out in the Fall that has a big eyeball on the cover. There's so much wild eyeball on this one that it doesn't fit. Makes sense, methinks, for the author of House of Leaves.
Incidentally, I should have said, either in the previous post or in my comment thereunder, that I do have plans to get something going publishing-wise in the next few years. I've deliberately taken a break from publishing and editing ventures to pursue reviewing, writing essays and translating as a way of serving, so to speak, and would like to continue doing same for a time, but will absolutely be putting my money where my mouth is around publishing before we all grow too much older. In the meantime, look for periodic fiction shots, poetry and guest interventions in this space...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Almost daily, in my teaching life and out of it, I am reminded of the lamentable dearth of publishers interested in taking on slant fiction. Poets, bless them, realized years ago that some serious do it yourself was in order if interesting work was to have a place to live and circulate (and by God have the presses and prizes sprung up like mushrooms in a damp basement!); slant fiction writers (despite the great example of the Fiction Collective (now FC2) and others (like the folks at Starcherone, Omnidawn, Chiasmus, Clear Cut, etc.)) haven't been nearly as proactive. Some find homes with presses largely devoted to poetry or poetic prose (like Futurepoem, Krupskaya, Atelos...), some find spots with the longer-standing indies, a lot, alas, have trouble placing/can't place their work because there are only so many slots to go around. Every now and again someone with some experimental cred. gets a book taken by one of the big houses and everyone starts seeing big fat carrots in the sky. I've written on this elsewhere (see last Summer's Fence -- the one with the topless model on the cover), and will say again, that fiction writers who write weird shit, of any variety, need to stop imagining (I mean really) that they are the next Ben Marcus or something and that big house New York is waiting for them. It may be there, it may happen, but IT IS NOT waiting. And the reality is that the bigger indies only have so many openings, and that a lot of deserving people want a spot. Sure, we're not all meant to be publishers of journals or presses (I hear that a lot), but a few more of us better start doing something besides sending letters out to agents, etc. Otherwise, it's just going to get grimmer and grimmer for a field that is filled, from where I'm looking, with amazing younger/new fiction writers, who have very few places to go with their work. No?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Not too long ago I was struck by something Paul Auster said in an interview (can't remember if it was in The Paris Review of The Believer) -- he asked, rhetorically, does anyone read Andre Gide anymore? I don't remember it that well, but it seems like there was more than just a hint of sadness for Auster about the thought that Gide and other worthy giants had fallen away/weren't being read/weren't being thought of. This wasn't, I don't think, about bringing back the DEAD WHITE MALES (or the DEAD FATHER), it was just a call for some awareness about the implications of scarfing down nothing but the contemporary. I reviewed Benjamin Ivry's excellent translation of Gide's Judge Not, a fascinating collection of his writings on criminal cases and weird judicial proceedings, for Rain Taxi and got a letter from Ivry afterward thanking me for having done it, and noting that it was the only review the book had gotten*. A terrific book by Gide comes out and it gets one review! Anyway, I don't know where I'm going with this, except to remind myself, for the umpteenth time, to stay vigilant -- it's not just the underserved marvels orbiting way out in our synchronic solar systems that need attending to, there are also the ones getting buried by time (and for every Gide, of course, there are dozens of less famous, perhaps even more exciting/useful/relevant writers waiting to be dug out. Shovel anyone?)

*Full credit should be given to Eric Lorberer, Rain Taxi's editor, for steering the book my way.
An e-panel on literary translation. (More good work by Dan Wickett at the EWN.)
There is a very nice, very simple tribute (in which the work does the talking) to Gilbert Sorrentino up at The Mumpsimus today.

The Mumpsimus, by the way, is one of the most consistently interesting litblogs out there.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"The more refined the more unhappy.

Life does not agree with philosophy: there is no happiness which is not idleness and only the useless is pleasurable.

The grandfather is given fish to eat, and if it does not poison him and he remains alive, then all the family eat it.

A correspondence. A young man dreams of devoting himself to literature and constantly writes to his father about it; at last he gives up the civil service, goes to Petersburg, and devotes himself to literature -- he becomes a censor.


A large fat barmaid -- a cross between a pig and white sturgeon.


New literary forms always produce new forms of life and that is why they are so revolting to the conservative human mind.


Morning; M.'s mustaches are in curl papers."

from Notebook of Anton Chekhov
(trans. by S.S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf)
Mad Science in Imperial City by Shanxing Wang. Another brilliant, and gorgeous, title from Dan Machlin's way-cool Futurepoem Books. Check it out. There is an appropriately enthusiastic review of it in this month's issue of The Believer.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I've enjoyed reading various accounts of this year's Book Expo America, which comes across, in the reading of them, like some odd, oversize cocktail party, where books and trinkets were to be had by the bagfull, panels and so-forth were mainly excuses to schmooze/visit with friends and celebrity and near-celebrity sightings were the, yawn, ordre du jour. I did a tour of duty at BEA in Chicago a few years ago in conjunction with the release of my first novel, and was too giddy and sort of horrified to really take much of it in. What sticks most with me, besides grinning rather idiotically behind a stack of galleys as mostly not-at-all interested folks streamed by looking to score the hot stuff, was the book signing I did. There were a bunch of tables lined up next to each other and lanes (I kept thinking of sluices) leading up to each of them. I sat at my table, with my grin on, as a drip (clogged sluice, for sure) of people came up to get me to sign galleys (no one wanted their galley personalized -- a sign that they were booksellers hoping the thing might eventually have some value). In the lane next to me was a popular romance author, who had to sign so fast and furiously that smoke seemed to rise up off her table, which of course added to the vibe she had going. Anyway, what thinking of this made me think of was a much happier and weirder experience I had at the Indiana Author Showcase a couple of years ago, which was held in one of the Exhibition Halls at the Indiana State Fair. I was all ready with my grin, which had evolved, over time, into something a touch more jaded, a touch more back at you, but as it turned out, I didn't need it -- I was too busy talking to about every other person who came past (the book was Indiana, Indiana -- total Hoosier bait), as the gentleman running the showcase boomed into the PA system he had set up: LET'S GET READY TO REEEEAD, INDIANA!!! TODAY WE HAVE WITH US A BESTSELLING [sic] AUTHOR FROM FRANKFORT, INDIANA. STOP BY AND GET HIM TO AUTOGRAPH A COPY OF THE NOVEL PAUL OHSTER, ASTER, EASTER, AHSTER (there were a few other pronunciations too) HAS PRAISED AS BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, ETC. It was pretty extraordinary, and all really good-natured, and I actually signed a ton of books, which is, let's say, unusual for me. Most extraordinary perhaps was the sudden, separate appearance of wives of two of my basketball coaches from my Indiana farm days, who had been drawn over by the PA and just had to see if it was the same Laird. It was. Well, sort of.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Good discussion of slant fiction happening at Now What. Pay a visit.
If you are ever, as they say, in Barcelona, stop in at La Central, a top-rate bookstore, with fine French and English sections, and that great European bookstore smell: good glue in the bindings, fine paper. My Spanish is abysmal -- just fine for "getting around" but not good enough for comfortable reading -- so I was all over the French section. I came away with some Ponge, a handsome pocket edition of Jules Verne's Autour de la Lune (Georges Perec was a great Verne fan -- as a great Perec fan, I feel obliged to return to Verne, who I haven't read in a very long time; I'm happy to report that Verne (as if anyone needed me to say it) holds up big time), a Fred Vargas mystery (Alice Notely turned the audience on to her at a brilliant lecture she gave on murder and mysteries at Naropa a few summers ago -- I'll see if I can find my notes), and Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française. I was reading Beckett, have a backlog at home, and we're moving soon, so had no business loading up on books, even just those few, but it's a sickness, one I suppose many of us share... I just wish La Central had been great enough to have a few more P.O.L. books and a bit more poetry and a little more Roubaud. Then I would have really gone to town.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Blind tired. 16 hours of travel with a game but eventually very worn out and moderately (justifiably!!!) crabby 10 month old coming off 4 days of pretty nasty flu (her first ever: scary) and one night in the middle of it completely lost to street celebrations after Barcelona took home the big football championship (over Arsenal). Having been in Paris when France won the world cup, and having ventured out into the not all together pleasant celebration that ensued, we chose this time to stay in bed as the revels devolved into moderate looting and riot police all within painful earshot of our hotel room (when the helicopters started swooping in around 4 a.m. we were actually pretty grateful).

But Barcelona was nevetheless magnificent (good coffee, good bookshops, good restaurants, good narrow streets and wrought-iron balconies, good museums (a lovely Twombly, among other goodies, in the Museum of Contemporary Art)). And the Spaniards (Catalans!!) we encountered all unbelievably warm and welcoming.

At any rate, more stuff soon. Promise.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Just occasional posting, at most, over the next week (back the 20th (Barcelona)). In the meantime, enjoy this second excerpt from Eric Olson's The Procession of the Mollusks (a novel):

Know your body! Know yourself!

In most humans, this organ consists of an elongated tube that increases in size as it winds in a spiral around a central axis, or colummella. Each turn, or whorl, of the organ is separated from the next by a suture. At the apex there is often a tiny larval growth (“the nuclear whorls”). At the bottom of the organ there is a body whorl, which is the newest whorl and contains most of our soft parts. The spire of the organ consists of all the whorls above the body whorl. The base of the organ is the bottom part of the body whorl. The body whorl ends in an opening, or aperture (vaginal cavity), through which our feet and head can be extended or withdrawn. In many people, the hind parts of the feet (the heels) carry an operculum, a plate that fits into the aperture when the person has withdrawn from others. Humans are usually dextral, or right-handed, with the aperture on the right side, but some people are sinistral, or left-handed, with the aperture on the left side.
The columella is either solid or hollow; if hollow, it sometimes opens at the base in a small depression known as an umbilicus. The margin of the aperture are called the lips; the sides of the lips farthest away from the columella are called the outer lips and the sides near the columella are called the inner lips. At the bottom of the aperture a basal or siphonal canal is sometimes present. It may be an enclosed tube (uncircumsized) or an open groove (circumsized); a person’s siphon (penis) lies within it. There may be a smaller canal or notch at the top of the aperture for a second siphon, which expels water and waste products.
The inner lips of the aperture consist of the wall of the body whorl, or parietal wall, and the columellar area near the siphonal canal. Sometimes the parietal wall and columellar areas are covered with a thick or thin calcareous layer, or callus, which often has spiral ridges or teeth.
In some people the whorls are angled below the suture and there is a flattened area, or shoulder, between the angle and the suture. Or the whorls may be angled or rounded at the periphery, the widest part of the whorl.
Some people are smooth; others have spiral or axial sculpture, or both. Many are covered with a horny layer called periostracum.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I am sympathetic to the earnest pleas/emphatic requests going out from Buzz, Balls & Hype and Dan Wickett at the EWN for publicists to cease and desist from barraging litbloggers with inappropriate requests for coverage of their authors.

And I'm reminded, by twists and turns, of the weeks I spent at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris in the early 90s -- the owner, George Whitman, took an inexplicable shine to me and sent me running all over town on book-related errands. At one point I returned to find him fretting over a misplaced manuscript, one of dozens he had received, unsollicited, just in recent days. He was frantic because the cover letter -- which described the heart and soul. etc., that had gone into the letter writer's novel, which the letter writer's son, an assistant manager at K-Mart, had thought was quite good -- noted that the letter writer was sending along the only copy of her book.

I don't know if it was ever found.
"Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how.... The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.... The not-knowing is not simple, because it's hedged about with prohibitions, roads that may not be taken. The more serious the artist, the more problems he takes into account and the more considerations limit his possible initiatives."

from "Not-Knowing"
--Donald Barthelme
From Supercell Anemia (a novel)
Chapter “La Crème de la Récolte”
by Duncan Barlow

Although Gilles does not really like eggs, he is scared of angering the chef. Charlie collects some napkins and silverware and walks outside to sit at one of the tables in the cul-de-sac. Gilles stays to collect the food and pay the bill. The pirate straps a strange mechanical device over his nub. It looks like the base pirate’s hook, a black metal semicircle. He grabs a beater, slips it into the dark nub machine, and clicks a small switch on the side. The silver whisk whirls and the man dips the contraption into a stainless steel bowl. After several minutes, he clicks off the power tool and removes the mixer from his arm.
He walks to the back, to a strange makeshift-frying slab; he pulls an egg from a yellow styrofoam container, and cracks it over the edge of a blue glass bowl. Gilles shoves his hands into his pockets and feels the tiny balls he stole from Dr. Moore. He rubs them gently, rolling them between his fingertips, still unsure why the doctor held onto them.
The baker, unsatisfied with the shape of Charlie’s cooked egg, curses in French, and tosses it into the trash. He cracks another egg and drips it onto the griddle; it sizzles and the room fills with its sulfuric smell. Gilles looks out the window to make sure that Charlie is not watching and slowly inches an oval out of his pocket. He holds it before his eye and looks through it; he sees the chef, tiny and inverted. The chef curses again and grabs another egg out of the box. As he raises it over his head and says something to it in French, it lines up perfectly with the ball in Gilles’ hand.
Gilles pulls his hand down and lets the sphere roll into the center of his palm. The muscles in his abdomen tighten and he feels a rumble in the top of his back. Reaching into his breast pocket to grab a copper strip, he drops the translucent pellet onto the floor and it rolls beneath the counter. He wipes the metal clean and slips it into his mouth. Gilles looks to the chef, who has now inserted a spatula into his nub machine and is putting Charlie’s eggs onto a plate.
The chef brings the plates to Gilles and he pays for them as he carefully slips his left foot beneath the counter, rolls the ball back towards himself, and bends to pick it up. He walks through the door and Charlie stands to grab her plate from him.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tromping around the yard attached to the house we're going to move into, one of these days, I spotted a shiny candy wrapper in the tall grass below the swamp cooler, which sticks out from the back of the house like a retro jetpack, and straightaway found myself thinking of Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz, the great Polish novelist, short story writer and general man of letters. The book is about a student who goes to the countryside to spend the summer. There he falls in with an acquaintance and they decide to find a place to stay together. On their way to a house with rooms to let, they come across a dead sparrow hanging by some string in a tree. This dead sparrow sets their little minds to yammering and dreaming up conspiracies so that by the time they are installed in their rooms and are getting to know the various denizens of the house they are seeing (and creating) potentially linked omens everywhere. Needless to say they don't get to the bottom of much, but they (and esp. the narrator) do do a lot of thinking and running in circles.

So that's what I thought about when I saw the greenish, metallic candy wrapper. I thought, hmmm, there's some kind of mystery here.

Or actually what I thought was something more like, what the fuck?

(Cosmos is available from Yale University Press in a fresh translation by Danuta Borchardt.)
For a limited time, exquisite pins for The Exquisite, designed by Linda Koutsky at Coffee House Press, are available for sneek preview/ownership. Send an sase with regular US postage and, I will send you a pin. LH/1195 Hartford Drive/Boulder, CO/80305.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"All writers want the word to be flesh. The flesh of a bird, so it can take wing. Now the flesh has become words. And the words live among us."

from Lavish Absence
--Rosmarie Waldrop
The art of the manhole cover in Japan. (Spotted on Matt Cheney's always interesting The Mumpsimus.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

from The Procession of the Mollusks (a novel)
--Eric Olson

In one of my dreams I was tending an oyster bed corralled off from a wide bay by an enclosure of rocks stacked up to create a sea wall. I made my way around the enclosure, dipping a long vacuum hose into the water. The hose, attached to a loud, diesel-powered engine stationed a few yards up on the rocks, was grafted onto my hand at the handle, its tube melding with my skin in a stitch-work of flesh and plastic.
In the water, the rows of oysters, their shells slightly ajar, pointed upward toward the surface. The vacuum tip brushed along their calcareous lips, sucking away algae and seaweed. A cacophony of gull calls filled the air
As I worked along the edge of the constructed pool, head down, focusing the tube on each oyster with meticulous care, a loud splash of water behind me made my head jerk to see where the sound had come from. On the bay side of the rock enclosure, the tip of what was undoubtedly a long tentacle had slipped out of the bay, over the sea wall, and was rutting around in the pool, attempting to grasp a tentacle full of oysters. The long arm flexed and rolled as it fastened its grip, the suckers contracting and relaxing like the pupils of enormous eyes, each surrounded by a ring of what looked like teeth.
I attempted to drop the vacuum, but, of course, it was attached to my hand, so I settled for dragging the tube along with me as I scrambled over the rocks toward the tentacle.
When I was close enough to where the arm was still rooting around in my pool of oysters, I slapped at it clumsily with the end of the vacuum tube, missing several times before finally making contact. The arm flinched, and from behind the sea wall, the body of whatever enormous monster the tentacle belonged to, hauled itself out of the water, standing upright to confront me.
I was surprised to see that the tentacle was actually one of many legs that were attached to a humanoid creature that looked suspiciously like a medieval friar or monk. His hair was cut into the familiar ring around the circumference of his head, leaving the wet skull bald and gleaming in the sun. Around his neck hung a massive ornate cross, studded with jewels and inlaid with sparkling gold.
The monk smiled sheepishly at me, shrugging his shoulders slightly, then retracted the offending tentacle, trying to hide the five or six shells that were affixed to the suckers.
“Those are my oysters,” I said. “They are not yours to take.”
The monk’s smile disappeared, turning into a pathetic, imploring pout. I sighed and waved my hand dismissively.
“Alright, go ahead. But don’t come back looking for handouts. Go steal someone else’s oysters.”
His face broke into a satisfied smile as he returned the tentacle to the bay side of the wall. He bowed his head in my direction, then slipped beneath the surface and was gone.
I continued tending to my oyster bed.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Chuckle. And much of it too true.
Robert Glück gave a talk at the University of Denver a couple of months ago (much to our delight, he is in residence at DU this Spring). What follows are the more or less (I too often suffer from hearing what I want to hear, this impacts on faithfullness) accurate notes I took during it. I leave it to you to fill in the gaps, if they seem like gaps, I'm not sure they do.

fixed in eternity, where they ought to be

the disruption of ego boundaries

an endless permeability of self

the way sight would be in heaven

narrative names the world as if it knew it

I instinctively want to feel complete

the narrative of how to read the fragmented self

the excess of being and no place to put it

disjunct writing describes a fragmented self

using the sentence as the compositional unit

minimalism = subtraction of one of the elements of a piece

the porousness of being

the Madness of Day (la Folie du jour)

what is appropriate transgressive fiction?

ugly on purpose (like some of Acker's writing) or ugly by accident

'even outlaw literature arrives with its pedigree'
—Dodie Bellamy

push the limts to see what can be contained in fiction

leave the reader in a state of wonder/vertigo/expectation

there is no sharper point than infinity

the time of the reading vs the time taking place in the story

compositional unit = unit of time

what is time in writing?

reading: offering yourself up to be organized
I've had anxiety dreams much of my adult life. Most of them have been sports-related. Last night, in fact, I found myself involved in a very serious pickup soccer game, soccer being a sport I haven't played since seventh grade in London. I played defense, the only thing that seemed possible, and managed almost immediately to pass the ball to the opposing team right in front of my goal. Some defense. Oh well. A few nights ago I was giving serious thought to joining the high school football team and was asking my father what he thought. He wouldn't answer me -- seemed to be thinking about something else -- so I kept rephrasing the question. Until it dawned on me that I was 20 years too late to join the team. In recent years, another variety of anxiety dream has been creeping up in the standings. This is the "I am in the United Nations without my ID card dream". This actually happened from time to time when I worked at the UN (I mean forgetting to bring my ID card). It was a hassle and I had to sort of slink around. In these dreams, not only do I not have an ID card, my colleagues all act like they don't know me + I can't quite remember how to do my job. It's basically the same dream as the one where I head out for the football field without my shoulder pads on, except that at least in the UN dreams I get to be in New York for the night and maybe hear some interesting languages as I do my best to cope with an untenable situation.

Friday, May 05, 2006

It was so strange to see my aunt sitting beside my bed, her great fat face simultaneously beaming and anxious, that I sat up, swung my bare legs over the side of the bed, and clapped her on the arm. This felt so good that I leaned forward and clapped her on the side of the head.
Go and tell them I need a shot, tell them that, then we can talk, I said.
My aunt shook her fat head, stood, walked a little way towards the door, looked back at me and said, you’re a schmuck Henry boy, you always were, and was gone.
A minute later she was back. She came at me so fast all I had time to do was start to raise my arm before she had slapped me, good and hard like the old days, across my face.
Jesus, Aunt Lulu, I said.
I’ll give you a shot, boy, you little schmuck, she said.
She raised her hand like she was going to slap me again but instead sat down, and after a couple of minutes the beaming, anxious look was back on her face.
Where you been, Henry? she said.

(from The Exquisite)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"We live in a culture of radio and television interviews, newspaper profiles, public readings with question-and-answer sessions, which has ensured that novels themselves -- far from being seen as self-contained statements, as having anything remotely final about them -- have merely become one (early) stage in a larger process: a process devoted, essentially, to the scrutiny and interrogation of writers' lives in the name of that insatiable curiosity which feeds on anyone reckless enough to set themselves up as a public figure. No one retains any real sense of the novel itself, in other words, as a reliable model of human nature: we have lost all semblance of that kind of faith in literature, or in the trustworthiness of writers. Which means, in effect, that we no longer read literature at all: we cross-examine it, forensically, in the light of its writers' lives, assuming that it's in the gaps, the interstices, the shortfalls between theory and practice that the real truths about human nature will emerge. This has brought about a radical change of emphasis, enambling a situation in which people know far more about Philip Larkin's political beliefs, or Ted Hughes's treatment of his wife, than they know (or care) about their poetry. A situation in which the actor Kate Winselt can declare, triumphantly and without irony, that she is a 'huge fan' of Iris Murdoch even though she has never read any of her books."

Jonathan Coe (Like a Fiery Elephant -- The Story of B.S. Johnson)
I think I gave the impression, below, that we were already moving house -- we're not. We're still in the almost stage of moving and it's dawning on us just how much there is to do before the physical part of it happens. The least unpleasant bit of which is a trip to Barcelona, where Eleni will be reading in the international poetry festival and where I will be drinking espresso and speaking bad Spanish to folks who would rather hear bad Catalan. Well, maybe they would.

At any rate, spurred by something George Saunders says in an interview on boldtype, I pulled my George Reavey translation of Dead Souls off the shelf, which had been languishing, as best I can recall, since a certain rickety busride near Chetumal in the Yucatan some years back, and read 10 or 15 pp from the second (unfinished) volume. And was glad, indeed, that I had.

"Where can one not procure enjoyment? It is to be had in Petersburg in spite of the austere and gloomy appearance of that city. There is a raging thirty-degree frost crackling down its streets; that fiend of the north, that witch of a blizzard, howls along, blotting out the pavements, blinding the eyes, powdering fur collars, moustaches and the shaggy muzzles of horses, but somewhere above, on the fourth floor, a window glimmers in a friendly sort of way through the spinning snowflakes..."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I'm often asked what it is like being published by an independent press. Well, it's great. For a number of reasons. A big one of course is getting to work with an editor who is absolutely devoted to his authors and doesn't have to kowtow to the economic "bottom line" when it comes to deciding what books to acquire. This means that unusual books, ones that don't fit some preconceived niche, are absolutely fair game. Coffee House Press tends to specialize in ferreting out stuff that, well, doesn't fit the cookie cutter, or what Rosmarie Waldrop has called the general "dullness". I don't believe for a second that great, innovative stuff isn't being published in the big houses (Lydia Davis, after all, is usually published by FSG, as is Sheila Heti (see below), and of course there are exciting instances like Nelly Reifler's See Through and Ira Sher's Gentlemen of Space, etc. elsewhere), but the majority of what passes for FANTASTIC at such outfits is, my God, anything but. At any rate... Another advantage is working closely with a marketing/publicity team that knows your book well and adjusts its approach accordingly (no one size fits all). A corollary is that each book gets special attention because the list for a given season is small (you aren't fighting for attention with 9 other FANTASTIC novels coming out alongside your FANTASTIC novel). These advantages tend to mitigate against the deep pockets of the big houses, who, at least for their A-list authors, can pay to have their books given special treatment at the chain stores and to wine and dine critics at pre-pub lunches at fancy bistros, etc.

There is of course much more that could be said, but that's a start.
A chuckle. But maybe not so funny if you don't have TimesSelect.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What should have been written below:

I am interested in how books are built out of the ruins of other books — one's own and those of others.
And then it occurred to me to wonder, what would Beckett have thought of blogging?

Are we "the lost ones"?
I took Written Lives, by Javier Marias, along on a road trip into the mountains this weekend and found it very agreeable company. This is the slender volume in which Marias has collected slender biographical sketches of writers. The brevity of each biography (3 or 4 pp.) means that we keep swooping from birth to death with tremendous speed -- it's like a good meal wolfed down, though not much the worse for it. Laurence Sterne, Isak Dinesen, Henry James, Nabokov, Turgenev rise up like flares for a few minutes then go dark. There is a photo with each sketch and a longer essay at the end that leaves biography aside and discusses Marias's collection of photos of authors, body by body. There is more than a little Sebald in all of this, esp. because the sketches tend to be rather melancholic (I suppose that's unavoidable when every fourth or fifth page recounts a death). Even more Sebaldian is the emphasis on the great writer as a kind of necessarily eccentric traveller, slightly lost by the end of it, a little larger and at least twice as haunted as the average citoyen. Critique: he should have/could have done Stein, Woolf, Dickinson... (more women!). Highlight: the photo of Thomas Bernhard near the end of the book. One pictures the great Austrian as dour, obsessive, gloom-wracked: here he is all quizzical delight.

Monday, May 01, 2006

1. I am interested in how books are built out of other books — one's own and those of others.

2. Dream in which I had to come up with the most important word to me in order to be allowed into the afterworld. I said, "lovely." They let me in.