Archive for November, 2012

steelbones

Under moonrays, the bone fence ate babies. Dad said to avoid it, but he also said to vote. His mistakes. It, the fence, seemed taller from a distance. Whiter, too. Close up we could see its pinkened planks, and we dreamed of those kids. We danced its way, but it declined every advance. We protested: “We want chrome eyes! When do we want them? Pronto!” Neither fence nor hidden android chief replied. Naturally, we gassed it. The fence exploded in smiles, quite unafraid. Shots rang sourcelessly. Jordan’s knees turned to blood. Thus basketball was finished. At least the rest of us could still sprint. The fence seemed to follow. It didn’t, of course. Fences don’t move. But this one kept on our backs and brains.

The Coup’s Genocide and Juice came out in my first year or two of college, I think. The mid-to-late nineties was the high point of my rap fandom. It’s never ended, exactly. As a style of music, I still enjoy it well done. The problem is that it’s rarely well done.

I’ll discuss reasons for that another time.

The Wife bought me a new copy of this album for my birthday. I’d been telling her about it and had shown her a YouTube clip of “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish.” She thought it was interesting and wanted to hear the album herself.

Some albums you buy and keep forever. Some albums get lost in moves. Some albums get stolen by roommates or lovers. Some albums end up sucking with time. Some albums you sell for food money. Other categories must exist, but who cares? Genocide and Juice got sold for food money in the mid-nineties.

The album is brilliantly descriptive:

The streetlight reflects off the piss on the ground

Which reflects off the hamburger sign that turns round

Which reflects off the chrome of the BMW

Which reflects off the fact that I’m broke—

Now what the fuck is new.

“Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” really is the album’s jewel. It’s told from the point of view of a wannabe hustler who steals bus passes and scams free burgers off ugly girls. But when he poses as a butler at a rich man’s party, he learns how small-time he really is. In this and many other songs, we see the various economic ropes which bind us and choke us. By “us,” I really mean poor people.

The album’s vision is both funny and bleak: “If everybody in the hood had a phd, you’d say, ‘Doctor, flip that burger hella good for me.’”

The prescription is far less interesting, though. In 94 or 95, I probably thought violent revolution was the obvious road to travel, but home invasions and fairly random murders described in “Takin’ These” and “Gunsmoke” seem like copouts today.

Of course they do, Pactor. You’ve always been white, and now you’re middle class. True, true, but that doesn’t mean my response is purely white and middle class. But I’ve been reading Aristotle lately. He thinks of ethics not just as a system of action, but as a system of reaction. We let the world affect us in a variety of ways, and when we let it provoke our most violent, savage responses, we are not only revealing our character but shaping our character for later action and reaction.

Violent revolution has a definite, clear history. Rarely do the masses get to enjoy the spoils. A new elite takes revenge on the old. Regular people get new orders. They get trapped in a new system which they have not designed. The revolutionaries become the cruel psychos they wished to depose. This can’t be the answer for kids in the hood.

I don’t know the answer.

I do think it’s much easier for me to offer these critiques as a white, middle class adult in little personal danger from the cops.

Anyway, regardless of their faults, you should listen to The Coup. Drake sucks infinitely more.

Blake Butler and Sean Kilpatrick’s Anatomy Courses (Lazy Fascist, 2012) seems basically designed to fuck up the domestic novel forever. Not just the American domestic novel, but all domestic novels regardless of nation, race, etc. What’s there to say about families now that the cycles of parental abuse and neglect, all the kid angst over identity and siblings and everything else have been deconstructed and left to rot on the lawn? The book seems partly an answer to all that Franzen-Updike swill that poses as exploration of suburbia.

Partly, but only partly. The book is also a pleasurable demolition of grammar. The last time I read sentences similar to this was, I think, when I read Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String. I found that book pretentious. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it, or maybe it really was pretentious. No feeling rose out of that book. Anger and confusion rise from Anatomy Courses to pry open eyes and force them to resee the world.

Scratch that. Okay. Permit this generalization. Successful fiction reshapes the world through sentences. In this book, you’re recognizing certain signs of the family. There’s a mother, father, and kid. There’s a pet turtle that dies. Mundane shit like that is converted into:

The father poured kerosene on the shell of our pet turtle. That momclot’ll turn funny if a flame survives. The squat legs oared with lessening panic through the match strike to escape, toenails soupy clack. Carrying the fire’s weight, the turtle paced itself with a supertemporal comprehension of temperature. The shell melted into a sideways L. The father peeled off bubbling slop-bits, bare egg. The inner-body, revealed, smacked of teal grease, and paddled, still ablaze, partway along. The oblong shiver flagging towards our boot, mouth ajar from the exposed nerves shredding stance in permanent animal quit, which the father admired with so much hopping his foreskin dripped an extinguishing amount of yeast.

The novel’s diction seems randomly generated but, when slid together in a technique which probably isn’t Burroughs’ technique but appears to resemble it from my vantage point, doesn’t just rework experience. It shapes a new one.

Here’s Butler: fiction is “a medium of limitless potential, where words can deform, defy, and reinvigorate space.”

And again: “This is the world. The human is what happens. There’s much else we do not understand, so much more interesting than the ego of needing a definition of what we are.”

Those lines suggest some of this book’s intentions. To read Anatomy Courses, you can’t be too tied down to the norms of human experience. You have to want more than that, or at least other than that. You have to let it run right through you. Let its fingers rise up, feel you. Of course it’s getting sexual, doofus. What’s wrong with that?

 

whatcha reading, pactor?

Posted: November 14, 2012 in greater writers than me
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Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood zigs and zags about Robin Vote, who’s more totem than anything. A totem on the run. Men and women possess her for a while. Then they brood over her memory.

I enjoyed Tiny O’Toole: I wish this book had more dirty gags. It’d balance out the tears.

I’m missing something, for sure, in all the racial discourse. Maybe it’s black humor. Maybe it illustrates the foolishness of racial thinking. Ah, it feels brutally dated.

In Felix, though, she paints a fine lapsed Jew. He is a great failure, bowing left and right, in search of ancestors who cannot exist.

Barnes’ sentences are often winding clauses upon clauses of densely packed information. When she sticks to narration, she’s a great, interesting writer. Dig the opening: “Early in 1880, in spite of a well-founded suspicion as to the advisability of perpetuating that race which has the sanction of the Lord and the disapproval of the people, Hedvig Volkbein—a Viennese woman of great strength and military beauty, lying upon a canopied bed of a rich spectacular crimson, the valance stamped with the bifurcated wings of the House of Hapsburg, the feather coverlet and envelope of satin on which, in massive and tarnished gold threads, stood the Volkbein arms—gave birth, at the age of forty-five, to an only child, a son, seven days after her physician predicted that she would be taken.” By the end of this sort of thing, I feel a pleasant vertigo. Make me dizzy, woman.

To Have and Have Not came out in 1937. So did Nightwood. Barnes is like the anti-Hemingway. The sentences, obviously. But also in her action. Or lack thereof. Hemingway’s people traveled, fought, drank, hunted, fished, all that. Barnes’ people don’t do any of that. Okay, the doctor does drink. But this novel is best when speaking of the night and its effects, when Barnes doesn’t resort to dialogue but instead goes beautifully essayistic. I mean sections like “Night Watch,” when Nora broods over Robin. Here, Barnes steps back to give a fuller, deeper, weirder picture: “Love becomes the deposit of the heart, analogous in all degrees to the ‘findings’ in a tomb.”

When Barnes studies and comments upon her characters, or uses their misery to facilitate commentary, she’s got my attention. But the long section, “Go Down, Matthew,” feels designed more for actors on stage than readers in chairs. People whining to and past each other always turns me off, even if they can work fine metaphors into the mix.

For instance, this writing rocks: “Once in the war I saw a dead horse that had been lying long against the ground. Time and the birds and its own last concentration had removed the body a great way from the head. As I looked upon that head, my memory weighed for the lost body; and because of that missing quantity even heavier hung that head along the ground. So love, when it has gone, taking time with it, leaves a memory of its weight.”

But do people talk like that, even close to that, even in the least real moments of their lives or non-lives? Writing is first about sentences. But it’s often about finding the right place for those sentences, the right words and voice for those sentences, and the right vehicle for transmission of those sentences, not always in that order. Dialogue is no place for long, poetic statements about the world.

I didn’t feel great pleasure in this book, though I don’t regret giving it a whirl. I feel about this book the way an aspiring guitarist might feel when he looks up Blue Cheer. If you plan to play metal, you’ve got to listen to them once. Nightwood‘s historical place makes its reading necessary.

it’s come to my attention that a measurable percentage of non-hippie humans think of themselves as energy made flesh or as energy draped in a mirage of flesh. this theory explains their inability to get properly laid.

about sucking fiction

Posted: November 12, 2012 in writers worse than me
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a fat molecule of some sort

i’ve taught “the fat girl” (by andre dubus) many times in the past few years. i first read it in college. something always bothered me about this particular story, and, no, i’m not talking about how well it fits the definition of the “workshop story.” i don’t use it in class because i think it’s awesome, but because of how well it illustrates key fictional concepts of “supporting characters” and “metaphorical unity.” after reading and discussing the story, students can understand and define them well. it isn’t my type of story but, on a technical level, this piece is shiny.

but it bothered me.  i didn’t know why until we discussed it in connection with morals. sometimes, to illustrate the uselessness of morals, i ask classes to write down three morals that everybody should live by. we get a lot of repeat answers.

anyway, when we got to the end of our discussion of “the fat girl,” we talked about what we thought about the girl’s situation, what the writer might be suggesting we feel at the end of the piece. people shouldn’t worry so much about their appearances, one student said. they have to love themselves before anyone loves them.

she’s right. that’s why this story sucks and i hope to never read it again.

Secret Agents Dream Too

Posted: November 9, 2012 in thanks to my sponsors

My story, “Secret Agents Dream Too,” has just been published by Caveat Lector. It features secret agents (duh), termites, zyklon-b, and the microphone fiend, Rakim.

Check it out here.