Archive for the ‘thanks to my sponsors’ Category

Thanks to Kerri Farrell Foley for publishing my latest piece, “Mannish,” in the new issue of Crack the Spine. While you’re there, check out a cool little poem by Ken Haas.

check out this here review of vs. death noises at rain taxi.

We are characterized by our economic activity: consider the way children’s education is discussed on the news. Marx and Rand (influential if not exactly great thinkers) both saw us as vessels of productivity. The exploitation of that productivity was Marx’s concern; the reward of (some) productivity was Rand’s.

The constant talk of men and money—of men as money—makes aspects of Kierkegaard’s view of the individual attractive. It is important, first, to recognize that K writes from a Christian perspective that is largely alien to me as a secular Jew, probably alien to all non-Christians, and a large percentage of people who call themselves Christian because well, hey, Jesus.

K starts from the idea that the relationship between each of us and God is the most important relationship of our lives. Everything else is less than secondary: it is of no importance. Abstractions about race and politics mean jack: “The race, mankind, differs from an animal race not merely by its general superiority as a race, but by the human characteristic that every single individual within the race (not merely distinguished individuals but every individual) is more than the race.” He writes in reaction to thinkers like Hegel, who introduced the concept of the “World-Historical Man” and developed to a high degree the idea of all history as a kind of process in which the rest of us are either abstracted out of identity or made into bit cogs of the machine.

Such wide-reaching systematizing and mechanizing is anathema to K.  To counter it, he counsels a break with crowds and conventional political participation. These sorts of relationships, regardless of cause, build the system at the cost of the individual: “… every individual who flees for refuge into the crowd, and so flees in cowardice from being an individual … such a man contributes his share of cowardliness to the cowardliness which we know as the crowd.” You know what he means if you have ever felt a sense of diminishment of self in crowds, whether at theme parks or football games. The mediation of a TV screen elevates the sense that crowds are alien—non-human—events at which the Gator chomp is performed uselessly. But I hadn’t thought of cowardice before, and now I imagine the crowd as a many-eyed blob of cowards who can’t play ball—can’t do—while the pathetic rest of us look to add our own eyes to the blobby mass.

K contrasts my vision with, natch, the example of Christ, who “repelled people absolutely, would not found a party, did not permit balloting, but would be what He is, the Truth, which relates itself to the individual.” This sort of withdrawal is heckled constantly by regular voters, but it has my full sympathy. It does not mean a lack of involvement with the world. (Whatever else, Jesus went to that temple. He had his say.) It means the involvement is qualified first by the individual relationship with God and second by the individual’s confidence in himself, a willingness to draw a contrast between himself and the crowd, a strength to flip off the system, the way everybody does it.

I do not have the God-relationship K described. I can never have it. Someday, maybe I’ll figure what I might have to replace it. Right now, though, it’s that second qualification that interests me most. It has the veneer of cliché: stand out, etc. But everybody knows that you can’t be an individual by going to business school. You can’t by buying commenting on blogs or listening to underground bands either. You have to find less comfort in your economic and political choices. You have to worry less about finding people to agree with.

To be this sort of individual requires a kind of constant reevaluation of your position in the world, your relationships with others. It’s an integrity to which I must constantly aspire.

have you read michael noll’s blog, read to write stories? it offers great interviews and insights into contemporary fiction, plus writing exercises based on whatever michael’s reading. it’s a fine blog, and i would say that even if he hadn’t taken a hard look at my story, “the archived steve,” here.

Check out Marc Schuster’s great review of Vs. Death Noises here.

And, if you haven’t yet, purchase the book here or here.

Whatcha Readin’, Pactor?

Posted: February 25, 2013 in thanks to my sponsors

monkey-with-glassesMy plan this year had been to write brief but substantive reviews of everything I read. You can see how quickly that plan got shot to hell. Can I use my wife’s pregnancy as an excuse for that failure and my general failure to blog regularly? Or maybe it’s because I’m a monkey-nerd too deep in books and this other book I’m trying my damnedest to write and it’s hard to blog on top of that? Thanks for being so gracious about it. I can give you a brief note or two about some stuff I’ve finished in the past month or so:

 A Woman Named Drown (Powell)—A chemistry phd candidate drops out and gets involved with a local actress. Much alcohol is consumed. Florida’s small towns are explored. The nature of cause and effect is ruminated upon, drunkenly. You want to read about being with a good woman. Try this:

 Mary’s skin has a half-size—too large feel, giving it a satin effect, a softer touch than a younger woman. It is hard to imagine we want to leave at all. It is a halcyon, unjudged time: billiards crack, drinks fizzle, colors pour into the house from dazzling flowers every morning watered, making it a cozy, gauzy life, as if we were candied fruits sweetening in a snifter of brandy.

A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer (Christine Schutt)—All stories are made of language, but few are made more consciously of language than Schutt’s. They rarely illuminate life’s mysteries. They deepen them. Often beautifully: “Bent, crooked, an impression of bones he was, a tent of bones, a sudden arm slung above his head, and the black tuft of hair there as startling as his sex.” That comes from this collection’s first and finest story: “Darkest of All.” Some mothers are lousy, and then there’s this woman. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about massages.

Edisto Revisited (Powell)—Edisto gets all the raves, but I dug the sequel more.  If you need to learn a moral lesson from fiction, then you might learn from this book that incest is not so bad.  You see how important it is not to learn moral lessons from fiction.  You should read to enjoy wicked awesome sentences about dildos and blow-up dolls: “If the plastic woman through her scarlet O-ring mouth were calling siren-fashion the lost dildo to her, it made no less sense than did my life.” You should get this book and read the entire dildo and blow-up doll passage. It is the greatest thing ever.

Fables (Sarah Goldstein)—This is slim, beautiful work. Goldstein’s fables are built upon all the old standys—”Three boys decide to go into a pine forest together,” that sort of thing. They are filled with stunning images and sideways but lovely commentary upon life in economically shaky times. In my favorite, three boys do go into the pine forest and pry the hooves off burnt horse carcasses. They get lost and lose the hooves. When they finally return home, they do all they can to burn off the smell. Nothing works, though it seems to them that they must return to the forest for those hooves. “In this dim and dappled landscape the shapes of horses converge and disappear around them with maddening regularity.”

I’ll write about some other books later this week, but I’d kind of like to write about Megadeth. Maybe I’ll do that instead.

lispectorShortly after reading Blake Butler’s article on Clarice Lispector, I picked up The Hour of the Star, which he did not discuss. He does describe Lispector’s explorations of the dark interior, her ability to draw so much terror and plain interest from the barest scraps of material.

The Hour of the Star transforms those bare scraps, as well as numerous workshop taboos, into brilliance. The story is threadbare: Macabea will clearly die. Before she dies, we are told of her failures: she is poor, ugly, untalented, unimaginative, uneducated, and unloved. Worse, she has no idea she should be miserable.

This draws first the disgust of her narrator, a writer, a man who can “only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.” He sees her once, and from then she preys on his imagination. He is compelled to describe her life. He becomes predictably softer and kinder toward her as she nears death.

In some ways, this novel prefigures Lispector’s posthumous A Breath of Life. Butler describes that work as a dialogue between character and author. In The Hour of the Star, the narrator never speaks to his creation, only of her. The struggle to find words to capture an essentially wordless woman is the novel’s tension. Macabea wonders about words she hears on the radio. Meanwhile, the narrator can tell one anecdote after the next, yet he finds himself unable to say what he must say, perhaps because he knows Macabea’s fate is too simple, too inevitable. It cannot be made beautiful. The more he talks about her, the more he grows to admire her, and the more reluctant he becomes to have her die.

Eventually, he can be comforted only by silence. He writes only because he waits for death. This leads, interestingly, to a kind of debauched desire: “I want to be both pig and hen, then kill them and drink their blood. I think about Macabea’s vagina, minute, yet unexpectedly covered with a thick growth of black hairs—her vagina was the only vehement sign of her existence.” As ever, it is the story, but it isn’t just the story. When Lispector allows her narrator to riff and rant, her work shines brightest.

I suppose this is what I am after most in my own writing, at present. Lispector’s story exists, yes. It builds toward a climax just the way Freitag said it should build. As Forster said,  “Yes – oh dear yes – the novel tells a story. That is the fundamental aspect without which it could not exist. That is the highest factor common to all novels, and I wish it was not so, that is could be different – melody, or perception of the truth, not this low atavistic form.”* I want to write fiction with the barest bone structure of a story in place, just enough to allow my mind and imagination to riff all kinds of ways, in passages that speak to and around subject, something like this: “Meanwhile the clouds are white and the sky is blue. Why is there so much God? At the expense of men.” I can feel that and wonder about that for hours.

Lispector offers the most maudlin material: a poor, doomed girl. Yet it is, like all literature, an affirmation. Unlike most literature, it has two affirmations. They are explicit. One begins and the other ends the work:

a) “Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born.”

b) “Don’t forget, in the meantime, that this is the season for strawberries. Yes.”

But note the difference between the two yesses. The first involves molecules dealing with molecules, a vision of life that is beautifully worded but cold, abstract. The second is stripped of theory and speculation. It describes a life that can be lived and dreamed by anyone. In the shadow of death, berries gain value.