Archive for May, 2012

 Just finished Adam Levin’s The Instructions

Still think Gurion’s just another Roth character?

In some ways, yes. Aggressive? Check. Hostile to Jewish community as a whole? Check. Obsessed with his sexuality? Check. In other ways, he develops into more. Roth’s characters are aggressively secular. They do not care about religion and Torah and prophecy one bit. Gurion is more than concerned with all these things. His relationship to God is as important as his relationship to the physical world. Actually, it’s more important. Roth’s characters don’t care about the Jewish community either. For all his talk of Israelites, Gurion lives for nothing more than their approval. He just wants that approval on his terms. “Approval” may be too light a term for what he wants. He wants to be recognized again and again as the best and brightest. If he isn’t the messiah, and he definitely wants to be, he at least wants to be seen as more chosen than the rest of the Chosen.

Still think June should be axed?

June is the central problem in this book. As currently drawn, she’s one of Roth’s lesser psycho female characters. She’s crazy, though she isn’t crazy to her lover, Gurion. She has no particular personality and I still think she’s kind of a cut-out. She’s an artist with a hinted at history of sexual abuse. Meh. On the other hand, she becomes increasingly important to the plot, never more important than near the novel’s end, when she is the reason Gurion doesn’t enter the valley and Gurion seems to reject God and, maybe, his chance to be the messiah. Gurion rejects that call because God has rejected his “conversion” of June. She needs to be in the novel, but she’s a faulty construction, especially in contrast to other supporting characters.

Okay, what about these last four hundred plus pages?

They move fast and well. The gym scene is one of the best orchestrated action scenes I’ve ever read. For all the chaos and violence, I could follow everything up to and including Benji’s death. There’s a great balance here between action and Gurion’s thoughts. It’s also when Gurion’s willful blindness toward Jews/Israelites becomes most clear. This is as it should be. He’s a great brain, but he’s still possessed by illusions of the basic character of people based solely on religion. Yes, Gurion’s a bigot but he’s a good-hearted bigot. I guess if you can make me believe that, you’ve crafted a good character.

What do you think of this book?

It’s as smooth a thousand-page ride as you’ll find. I’ve discussed the action at the end, but my observations there apply to the action throughout the book. Levin can put you in that physical world. You feel yourself very much in these fights. I also dig the Talmudic commentary upon both Torah and middle school politics. The various forms of discourse described here (including video transcripts, emails, letters, psychological analyses and so forth) help when Gurion’s narrative voice becomes overbearing. June remains June. The Lord of the Flies was a good book, and so’s this, but I still hate the Hobbesian implication that all this order and law sucks but it’s better than the alternative. Levin’s book recognizes all the problems with authority and even allows a confrontation. It’s too bad doom is implicit from the get-go. I don’t want to get too political here. That doesn’t matter when it comes to judging literature. The book is worth rereading and considering, particularly those last lines which hearken back to Augie March and Gurion (Levin?) throws down the gauntlet: “I’m the end of the Jews.” He isn’t, of course. A line like that is almost a call for other writers to prove otherwise, to offer their own visions. The end of damage? Hardly.

In 1991 Metallica put out the untitled album, the Black Album, you know the one. I want to talk briefly about this one song. You know the song. You should hate the song.

The song is not exactly bad in and of itself. As love songs go, and especially love songs of the time, well, okay. It hits all the points a love song needs to hit. Slow, sensitive. Acoustic guitars. Rock star dudes slowing down to tell you how they feel about you, baby. Commitment is stressed. Spiritual union is implied. The us-against-world mentality is outlined. That world’s inability to understand what we have is obvious. Absolute trust is not built: it exists. Okay,yeah, I’ve heard it before.

The song is special dreck because it was written by what, at the time, was the world’s preeminent thrash metal band. A lot of Metallica-bashers will deny this now. They will say they knew all along or that the band started sucking after Cliff Burton died or Dave Mustaine got kicked out, but, bullshit. Before this album they were top dogs. But with it, they travelled way outside the circle of what thrash bands are meant to do and ought to do. I will not accept apologists’ idea that they were trying something new. That’s bullshit too.

By circle, I mean this: thrash metal is built on aggression and is great because of aggression. It is an excellent vehicle for expressing aggression and related emotions (defiance, outrage, anger, etc.). When your thrash band stops their album to get tender, your thrash band’s gone outside the circle of what is possible for a thrash band to do and still be called a thrash band. If you’re going to write about relationships and still be thrash, you’ve got to do something like this. Stay in the circle.

I am not dissecting the demerits of a twenty-plus-year-old song for kicks. I am writing against the basic idea that if you’re going to be an artist, at some point you have to talk about love, and, if you’re a writer, at some point your novel has to include some kind of love interest. I write today not against all love interests, but against the necessity of a love interest.*

The love interest is sometimes necessary. Often, it is necessary, but for fuck’s sake it is not critical to all literature everywhere, like if I’m going to write a story I better make sure this protagonist is either falling in love or just got dumped or getting over the beloved’s death or whatever. Not all stories require love, especially if you don’t have much to say or do with love or you can’t make a good fucking love interest.

If you must have one, the love interest should be interesting above and beyond his/her role as a love interest. There must be something intrinsically interesting about this man or woman beyond the fact that you can’t live without her because you need somebody in your life because that’s how people feel sometimes and you’re trying to give us a person’s feeling. You end up with the literary equivalent of Metallica’s love subject above. It sells, but it sucks. The love interest, particularly the female love interest, should not be all sweetness and light. If she is batshit psycho, let her be batshit psycho for reasons other than sexual abuse. She should not write poetry. She should be obsessed with politics or something women aren’t noted for obsessing over, even though a percentage of women do obsess over that something. She should be interested in voting for Mitt Romney. There are in fact such women, and your protagonist could, weirdly, fall for her. Okay, I can live with that. You can tell your love interest sucks if the girl doesn’t say or do anything half as interesting as other supporting characters.

This brings me back to Adam Levin’s The Instructions. So I’m up to pg. 732. The book has much to recommend it. Has anyone ever dissected the politics of seventh grade in such beautiful detail? No. Has anyone ever drawn such lovely parallels between kids’ discussions of right and wrong and Talmudic debate? No. Has anyone broken down ADHD in such entertaining, precise detail? No. The possibilities of a ten-year-old potential messiah in Chicago are brilliant and beautiful. The novel’s ambition to cover the experience of that ten-year-old in all its detail is excellent.

Ambition can be pro and con, and if Levin overreached anywhere, it’s in the love department. Eliza June Watermark is supposed to be the last spark for Gurion. She supposedly sends him over the edge with her superhotness. After he meets her, people observe that he’s changed, become more dangerous. She helps on other plot points, like how Gurion and best friend Benji split over Israelite-goy issues (if you want to know why I don’t say “Jew,” read the book).

Homegirl has a definite function, but as a character, she stinks. Every time she comes in, action deflates. While other characters have cool stuff to contribute to conversations and action (Bam Slokum’s speech about being full of nothing, among other things, was a fairly awesome speech on the subject of building and maintaining popularity), June comes around and, meh. In her most recent appearance, she talks about her first kiss with Boystar and seems to reveal, oh, God, that she’s been sexually abused. She has the speech of a stoner trying for poetry: “”It’s so pretty when you’re red, with your black hair and eyes. You’re the end of death.” Earlier, we spent about 30 pages on their first kiss. Meh.

She could be deleted without wrecking the plot and without readers like me wondering about love. First, Gurion’s ten. He might be developed intellectually, but it might be legitimately interesting for him not to be interested in girls and to be puzzled by other kids’ attraction. Gurion could lose it over everything else in the novel and we’d never miss the June spark at all. Instead, the focus could remain on everything that does work in this book: the messianism, the scriptural interpretation, the grade school politics, the apparent superpowers, etc. We’d never miss it.

Really, it’s a matter of drawing the correct circle. I talked about thrash metal, but I stole the idea from Henry James. A writer cannot write about everything in the world in a single novel. He must only appear to do so. To make that appearance work, he must draw a circle around his subject. Don’t let in that extraneous stuff, even if it is part of normal human experience. And if, when you draw your circle, you don’t see any room for that love interest, chuck the love interest. You’ll probably make things easier for yourself. If you draw the correct circle and stay within the circle, your work will be awesome.

Note: The implied comparison of Metallica and Adam Levin is necessary but unfortunate. I will probably read more of Levin’s work. I will never again buy a Metallica album.

*It is true that I am getting married in ten days. I do love the fiancée. She is a necessity.

–We will wear our wedding shoes around the house and in the garden and we will wear them with jersey shorts, undershirts, and, later, naked, I hope.

–I will throw away apparent trash but which is, in fact, key to our future. Sorry.

–The house will be scrubbed, mopped, etc., while you linger upstairs with Mad Men and craftwork. I will curse your hand-maid bouquets, but not aloud. Alas, you are now reading about this curse. Forgive me again. It was a brief, one-time thing, and I probably shouldn’t have posted this on the internet.

–The jazz festival will disappoint us both, but mostly you, because you want to like jazz more than you do,  yet this is the best on offer. I promise that Sonny Rollins was better live in the 60s and 70s, but how would I know?

–The zoo will be hot, but I will go there and see the butterflies you like and dream of thank you sex to come. Thank you.

–My mother will say she is coming down early, “she” meaning my entire family, meaning we’ll have to entertain them that much longer and that much sooner. Our jaws will be sore with teeth-gritting, and each of us will say, at many different times, “I’m not going to make it.” We will.

–Your parents will find something else that needs to be done right away, right now, or everything will collapse, and you’ll resign yourself to do it, but don’t. I’ll do it, and if it doesn’t get done everything will not collapse. Maybe the world economy will go down, sure, but who cares about that?

–A flower girl or ring bearer will contract tuberculosis, meaning some chunk of extended family isn’t coming because they’re in a TB ward, and we’ll ask something like “What do you mean TB? It’s 2012.” But there it is. We will have no need to worry, since we have two other flower girls and at least one ring bearer in reserve.

–One of our least wanted invitees who didn’t RSVP and made us happy with his decision will reverse himself and attend. His date will vomit on your mother. I will light him on fire, and it’ll be okay.

–A supervisor will tell you that she needs that report yesterday, which is impossible, and you will say so. It will be a shiny moment of triumph in which you will think of me and think “love me, motherfucker,” and I will. Or I will be in that conversation with the supervisor, etc.

–The annular eclipse will occur. We will think about it afterwards.

–On Memorial Day we will eat and drink a great deal. If we remember anything, it will be selfish remembering, having  to do only with us.

–We will serenade each other with love songs of the 80s. Belinda Carlisle will be featured.

–We will remain calm, mostly. It helps to know that we are the hottest people in world history.

*though not necessarily in the precise form described.

ImageNotes on The Source (Futurepoem, 2011), by Noah Eli Gordon

–Philosophical undercurrent—Grecian, I think. Platonic, more precisely. Greeks played heavily on the relationship between words and things. Maybe the Kabbalists did, too, but see *. Anyway, Socrates’ victims found themselves hard-pressed to define the forms of temperance. So what? “[I]f a complete meaning does not result, at least the shadow of a mood will.” Also:

                       The Source consists

                       of such propositions; such

                       propositions consist

                       of words; words are

                       symbols of notions. I know

                       only bodily things, but

                       knowledge has no container.

–Difficulty level—high, for sure, particularly for a reader without much experience reading contemporary poetry, but not impossible. True, the syntax can frustrate. Other times, the piecing together of sentences and phrases leads to dazzling results: “We remembered, while reading, that there had once been works which had not tried to prove anything, content to stand on their own merits, not presuming to eat of their patron’s bread, saying this would wake me—the noise of some guns, smoke ascending to heaven” In particular, the piecing together leads to brilliant, surprising metaphors: “These progressions are denounced as wrong, and sound like someone dressed as a fisherman dropping coins into a sailor’s pocket.”

–Composition—Briefly, the poet used only language found on pg. 26 of books at the Denver Public Library. Sometimes whole sentences are used. Sometimes, apparently, sentences are cut up and the pieces fused together to assemble new thoughts and ideas. Composition is the appropriate word. The careful cutting and pasting lead, amazingly enough, given the wide range of books available at any library to a unified work.

–Cover–reminiscent of those Bibles distributed by annoying old men.

–Unity—yes. Themes (including themes language, war, and performance) are introduced from the go. Sometimes they fade back, sometimes one stands out more sharply than others, but these themes are explored and tie the work together.

–Conclusion—appropriation of language different in kind but not in practice of any writer. The writer or poet uses whatever he or she finds before him in order to explore particular themes and to see whether he or she can make something new out of the old. Lovely.

*I make no comment on the Kabbalistic element of this work. I know this much about Kabbalah—whatever Madonna’s doing, it is not Kabbalah.

ImageRecall my love of shrimp. In restaurants, shrimp scampi is either the plain Jane of pastas or a boat of butter and garlic, sometimes both at once.  But it shouldn’t be that way. Shrimp scampi is perfect for summer, especially when you consider the veggies in season and the potential lightness of the dish. Dig my suggested upgrade. I served this to the fiance a few days back and, yes, love.

1.5 tbsp. butter.

1 tbsp. garlic

1 lb. shrimp

1/2-1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 cup white wine

1 whole tomato (tomato and all veggies should be diced)

1/2 medium zucchini

1/2 red pepper

1/2 yellow pepper

1tbsp. minced garlic

1tsp. thyme

parsley to appearance

Heat pan on medium/high. Melt butter. Cook garlic two minutes. Then cook shrimp about two minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add veggies, salt, pepper, and thyme. Cook two minutes. Add lemon juice and wine. Sauce should thicken. Stir in parsley. Serve over string pasta (I used whole wheat spaghetti). Allow guests to sprinkle parmesan to taste.

Star Wars left paradigms wrecked. Film logic called androids people. Blenders and ovens were christened droids. Truly a galaxy far, etc. Our names still meant nothing, but in a new way. In the streets, we pelted trucks with bulbs and pipes. Three of us were creamed by bumpers. Elbows came through skin. Scalps floated north and east. Their jelly spread. Force was made visible. Shortly thereafter, a block or so away, we developed the first Brain Theories of Cinematic Critique. The moon watched. Still, it was a night of black peace.

ImageThe newly dead were removed from car trunks before the stink and stains became permanent. We cut the flesh in the street and swung the bones. At dark, we watched Scooby Doo. We tried homework but learned the falseness of school. Yet we pretended it was true: a poison yarnball of android life. We maintained. We brushed our teeth. When android teachers explained that 2 + 2 = 5, we presented our dentists’ certificates of achievement. The following week, the solution was declared 4. We smiled again. She couldn’t deny our dental hygiene.