Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category
Friday, January 2nd, 2009
The author of more than 90 books — most of them written on a typewriter — Westlake wrote under a variety of pseudonyms including Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt and Edwin West — in part because people didn’t believe he could write so much, so fast.
His first novel, “The Mercenaries,” was published by Random House in 1960. His early works dealt with organized crime as seen from within. Critics said his early work showed a rigor and objectivity worthy of Dashiell Hammett.
Westlake quickly established himself as a master of what Boucher called “sustained narrative and observation within the framework of a self-consistent world, alien to law and convention.” – ^
I’m sorry to see such a prodigious and playful talent go. Although he wrote entertainment, there was more truth in it than so many of the “literary” and “realistic” negative but uplifting neurosis festivals that people call books at this point.
My favorite is still Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, the story of a practical joker who must find an excuse to stay in jail — so he can pursue his new life of crime, and avoid a worse fate for others.
Friday, April 25th, 2008
A long time ago, I wrote a story called Glitter Gold about those who huff paint and what it does to them. In it, one detail was that gold paint gets paint huffers the most intoxicated. Ever since then, reality has been imitating fiction:
According to a Bellaire Police Department report, Tribett’s pupils were constricted and he replied slowly to their questions. Oh, and “officers observed the paint on face and hands,” as can be seen in the below mug shot. ^
One point of the story was that humans had to make life hopeless for paint huffing to seem attractive (as is the case with many intoxicants). You don’t need an escape valve until you so screw up the situation that people are desperate for escape. They don’t even want to enjoy life — they just want to check out.
In surveying the park, the officer noticed a man sitting in a lawn chair outside of a residence. He asked if the man had been huffing paint and the man said no.
However, when the officer approached and shined his flashlight toward the man, he noticed what appeared to be â€œfresh, gold-colored paint clinging to his nose and cheeks.â€ The officer also noticed paint in the manâ€™s facial hair. ^
One disturbing aspect of checking out is that once you’ve been out, you don’t want to be back in. Literally, you’ve seen a world where you don’t care about a damn thing except your bag full of paint. Why would you go back, to mortality, wars, corruption, pollution, Schadenfreude and bad TV? Inhale. Check out. Repeat.
In June 2006, Wheeling police said they found Tribett on 16th and Main Streets intoxicated and covered in paint. He was charged with public intoxication.
A week prior to that arrest, police found Tribett huffing paint under the Interstate 470 bridge. Police said when they found him, Tribett looked right at them but continued huffing. ^
As much as the story shows its age, or rather my lack of experience at the time in getting said what I needed to say, its premise still rings true. People lock themselves into mazes of “can’ts” and the messy control issues of others, and finally, it all culminates in either total checkout or a conflagration.
Thursday, April 24th, 2008
Wednesday, March 12th, 2008
Apparently Tom Wolfe is returning to literature after disappointing sales but rave reviews for Charlotte Simmons, a book I personally enjoyed because the heroine is so admirable and brave it makes you want to cheer her on from your seat. He’s now tackling an issue most of us in the wealthy nations find squeamish: while we are debating whether or not our policies and institutions are moral enough, the rest of the world has cast morality aside for tribal allegiances.
So, my people, that leaves only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies and unite us. “La Raza!” as the Puerto Ricans cry out. “The race!” cries the whole world. The Muslims? Their jihad? Their Islam? All that is nothing but a screen, a cover story. What they are, is … Arabs! Forget the rest of it! Arabs! — once the rulers of all Asia and half of Europe! Once the world’s reigning intelligentsia- — and now left behind in the dust of modern history! Back to blood, muhajeen! They, like all people, all people everywhere, have but one last thing on their minds — Back to blood!” All people, everywhere, you have no choice but — Back to blood!^
I’m not sure what I think of it yet. I like everything I’ve read from Wolfe so far, in content at least, and ignoring his often atrocious bombastic style. I never feel like he takes a point of view, as much as observes in advance, using his knowledge of sociology and the rigid link between self-identity and moral relationship to society at large. In his realism he may be closer to the future than the past of literature.
What’s more interesting to me is that his ideas here resemble the predictions of one of the greats of political science. While I find much of his work also provocative and alarming, he’s also the most cogent predictor of how the world will react during the next decade. This thinker is Samuel Huntington, who in his latest opus, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, predicts a similar outcome to the one Wolfe decides above, except Huntington has more vectors of tribal identity to discuss.
Peoples and countries with similar cultures are coming together. Peoples and countries with different cultures are coming apart. Alignments defined by ideology and superpower relations are giving way to alignments defined by culture and civilization. Political boundaries increasingly are redrawn to coincide with cultural ones: ethnic, religious, and civilizational. Cultural communities are replacing Cold War blocs and the fault lines between civilizations are becoming the central lines of conflict in global politics.
During the Cold War a country could be nonaligned, as many were, or it could, as some did, change its alignment from one side to another. The leaders of a country could make these choices in terms of their perceptions of their security interests, their calculations of the balance of power, and their ideological preferences. In the new world, however, cultural identity is the central factor shaping a country’s associations and antagonisms. While a country could avoid Cold War alignment. it cannot lack an identity. The question, “Which side are you on?” has been replaced by the much more fundamental one, “Who are you?” Every state has to have an answer. That answer, its cultural identity, defines the state’s place in world politics, its friends, and its enemies. ^
Wolfe has delighted in exploring taboo topics in the past, most of his intent seeming to be to pierce our “fiction absolute” of living in the best way possible than really taking us into a partisan view of the situation. As with his other books, this new one will involve a careful study of class, gender, ethnic and religious tensions in America and how they create an otherworldly environment that destabilizes us. That Tom Wolfe — he’s half Noam Chomsky and half H.L. Mencken.
Tuesday, February 26th, 2008
Life imitates literature yet again:
Officers said they began searching for [the] car after a grocery store employee phoned authorities to report that a car leaving the store’s parking lot was missing a wheel.
Lt. Shaun McColgan said [the driver], who was behind the wheel of the car when police arrived, admitted to being intoxicated, but said it did not matter because “he ‘wasn’t driving.’”
The police said [the driver] did not know his car was missing a wheel, nor did he know where or why the crucial car part might have come off the vehicle. The officers said they retraced the path followed by [the driver] — aided by the scratch marks his car left on the pavement — but were unable to locate the missing component. ^
And the original, as written by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel — he stared at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though he suspected that it had dropped from the sky.
“It came off,” some one explained.
“At first I din’ notice we’d stopped.”
A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders, he remarked in a determined voice:
“Wonder’ff tell me where there’s a gas’line station?”
At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than he was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.
“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”
“But the WHEEL’S off!”
“No harm in trying,” he said. ^
Denial of responsibility seems an eternal trait.
Sunday, November 4th, 2007
I discovered Tom Wolfe later in my reading career, mainly because the first book of his I picked up, The Electric Kool-Ade Acid Test, annoyed me stylistically so much I resolved never to read any of his terrible prose again. I still feel he often overwrites, but that he gets the concepts and characters correct, and so is more profound than many who are better at stringing together sentences. In this he reminds me of William Gibson and Michael Crichton, both of whom often write bready text that discusses the underlying and invisible issues of the day that most people don’t know how to tackle.
If you’re going to read Wolfe, in my view, the book to read is A Man in Full, which is about heroism as an alternative to the ethic of convenience that makes people think they’re succeeding and escaping the errors of our time, but really lays the fertile seeds for future misery.
But reading was the sort of thing you did in idle hours if you didn’t want to go out and play. I just read constantly. I’m sure if I was that age today, I would be watching as much television as anybody else, but it’s a huge advantage if you ever start writing.
I began to notice, when I was working on magazines years later, I kept looking over my shoulder for the new talent that would be coming along which would be competition for those of us who had reached the ripe age of 37 or 38, and it wasn’t there. It just never got there. And part of it is that today, I think, so many talented writers want to go into television, or they want to go into movie writing. Those are the hot industries. But without that reading, I don’t think anybody’s ever going to turn out to be much of a writer.
Now my daughter Alexandra, who’s 24 now, she went to a very tough all-girls school here in New York. And that school is so hard, she watched exactly one hour of television a week. Not because my wife and I said, “You can’t go near that set.” We never said that. She would watch Beverly Hills 90210. That was the only thing she ever watched on television. She read and read. And now– you don’t mind a father bragging a little, do you? So today she’s 24 and she’s got a book contract. She’s worked on two newspapers. She worked on the New York Observer, a weekly here in New York, and she was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and a publishing house approached her and gave her this book contract. And I think it’s partly because she read, she read, she read, she read, she read. It got to the point where she didn’t care about television.^
I refuse to own a television, but like his daughter, I don’t even face the issue. There’s too many other activities on which I would rather spend my irreplaceable time than watching television. Every time I do watch a movie or TV, I end up sitting there afterwards with a slight depression, because I gave hours of my life to someone else’s (badly expressed) dream and it made me no richer.
Monday, October 29th, 2007
Outsider art is art that sits outside any known idiom. It is art created from an entirely new language. It is not for sale. And it is marked by obsession.
To some who are weary of the increasing commercialisation of art, outsider works are unpolished jewels, and the people who make them are the purest artists of all. ^
If you go into the arts, as a hobby or a living, the question of commercialization will haunt you between dreams of stardom. Of course you want to productify your art to some degree, so that it can reach its audience and you can hopefully stop shelving books during that mundane, soul-draining day job you took so at night you could be free among the paints, or words. But when have you gone too far, and gone from being a successful author to a bitter-souled Lars Ulrich?
Outsider art is an organic response to this situation. It is people who are entirely disconnected from the art community and have no way to productive their art, or those who behave as if that were the situation while after production, productizing their art. As I read more of what is lauded as “the best new fiction,” only to watch it disappear after a few weeks of hippity hype, I can only think that they’re onto something.
Monday, October 29th, 2007
I did some searching, and found a wonderful resource. Head on over to Burroughs, Naked Lunch and the Beat Generation at the University of Bremen’s Literature in English section.
Burroughs has always been a favorite of mine because he has fewer preprocessor directives than other people. All of us have these directives to some degree, like remembering not to pick our noses in public or talk about death around the elderly. Burroughs lived as an outsider, being both a conflicted sexual abuse victim and an abuser who shot his wife to death “accidentally,” in addition to his habits of using drugs, living outside the law, and evading day jobs. Highly intelligent, he was either too disorganized or too deeply planning to write his book until age 39, at which point he unleashed it fully formed on the world.
Naked Lunch is a book without preprocessor directives; it is the ultimate techno-punk, in that it like sci-fi it looks into our future based on the inherent but not visible trends of our technology. It is a cold, calculating, cynical look that is also playful and spirited, extremely human. Burroughs chucked out the instruction manual and wrote his book as a series of overlapping radio plays that in their revelations of philosophical concepts resemble computer code, with parentheses scattered throughout the novel. It is also devastatingly funny, if your funny bone has a cold heart and a warm soul.
Naked Lunch has given its author a permanent place in literary history because of its formal innovations, its powerful attitude of revolt, and the controversy surrounding its publication. The censorship trials, of course, attracted publicity, but also attracted the attention of serious readers because of the authors and critics who testified on behalf of the novel. Critical attention was further drawn to Naked Lunch when Mary McCarthy and Norman Mailer praised the book highly at the Edinburgh International Writer’s Conference in 1962.
Mailer proclaimed Burroughs “the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.” Mary McCarthy defended her statement at the conference with an influential essay on Naked Lunch, first published in 1963 and still the best single critical piece on Burroughs. Grove Press was able to obtain testimonials for Naked Lunch by Mailer, Robert Lowell, Terry Southern, and John Ciardi, among others, for a publicity pamphlet in 1962.
As a result of the high praise by well-known literary figures, Naked Lunch was widely reviewed in the United States and England. Many reviewers praised the book for its power and serious purpose, and Burroughs was compared to other avant-garde writers in the modernist tradition. But Naked Lunch received strongly negative reviews as well. Some reviewers thought the novel morally offensive, artistically worthless, and revolting to the sensibilities of most readers. The most notable of these protests, because of the correspondence they generated, are those of John Wain in the New Republic, William
Phillips in Commentary, and an unsigned review entitled “Ugh” in the Times Literary Supplement.
Wednesday, August 29th, 2007
Mark Snesrud and Bob Mayo took on the public art challenge, leading them to W.A.S.T.E. cash on some fancy radios, find hidden XML files, use computer programs to generate a 4,142 page equation that explained the signals but signified nothing, and finally crack the code to find the building is continually broadcasting the text of Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49.” (Are they paying royalties on this or just betting that Pynchon is too cool to sue?) The whole explanation of how they broke the code is in this 18-page document (in PDF form, of course) ^
Lest you forget, there’s this old page… San Narciso Community College Thomas Pynchon Page. Circa 1994, updated 1997.
Thomas Pynchon captured the imagination of many of us, but probably no work was more influential than The Crying of Lot 49 because in this short book, he stopped the goofy metaphor-play and tackled industrial society with a biting critique of the loneliness and randomness of survival in this time. It always made me think of a postmodern analysis of The Great Gatsby without the delicious layers of irony. It’s the clearest-sighted of his books and one of the most loved as a result.
Saturday, June 9th, 2007
Artisan magazine has published one of my short-shorts, tentatively titled “Effervescent Globe, Expanding.” The next issue will contain it as well as works by underground and mainstream authors of new fiction, literary fiction, and subversive social commentary.
artisan, a journal of craft
P.O. Box 157
Wilmette, IL 60091
I’m thankful to this magazine for giving my writing a chance, and recommend it to readers. They’ve thrown away the slick, like many of the best literary magazines out there (Barbaric Yawp, another publication, qualifies) as if in revolution against the style-over-substance culture that has afflicted literature in the last 30 years. With a cardstock cover enclosing carefully-chosen printed pages, Artisan is a labor of love for those who love literature.
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