29 October 2010

Chill Before Serving

Instructions: Turn the sound down on the the first video and the sound up on the second. Play them at the same time. Chill. [Then listen to the Tom McCarthy interviews in the previous post.]

[Taking the weekend off. Going to D.C. for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Taking Wisdommie. Road Trip! Hoping to meet up with BDR and possibly Richard.]

28 October 2010

More About: C

The Comedian as the Letter C

by Wallace Stevens


The World without Imagination

Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil,
The sovereign ghost. As such, the Socrates
Of snails, musician of pears, principium
And lex. Sed quaeritur: is this same wig
Of things, this nincompated pedagogue,
Preceptor to the sea? Crispin at sea
Created, in his day, a touch of doubt.
An eye most apt in gelatines and jupes,
Berries of villages, a barber's eye,
An eye of land, of simple salad-beds,
Of honest quilts, the eye of Crispin, hung
On porpoises, instead of apricots,
And on silentious porpoises, whose snouts
Dibbled in waves that were mustachios,
Inscrutable hair in an inscrutable world.

One eats one paté, even of salt, quotha.
It was not so much the lost terrestrial,
The snug hibernal from that sea and salt,
That century of wind in a single puff.
What counted was mythology of self,
Blotched out beyond unblotching. Crispin,
The lutanist of fleas, the knave, the thane,
The ribboned stick, the bellowing breeches, cloak
Of China, cap of Spain, imperative haw
Of hum, inquisitorial botanist,
And general lexicographer of mute
And maidenly greenhorns, now beheld himself,
A skinny sailor peering in the sea-glass.
What word split up in clickering syllables
And storming under multitudinous tones
Was name for this short-shanks in all that brunt?
Crispin was washed away by magnitude.
The whole of life that still remained in him
Dwindled to one sound strumming in his ear,
Ubiquitous concussion, slap and sigh,
Polyphony beyond his baton's thrust.

Could Crispin stem verboseness in the sea,
The old age of a watery realist,
Triton, dissolved in shifting diaphanes
Of blue and green? A wordy, watery age
That whispered to the sun's compassion, made
A convocation, nightly, of the sea-stars,
And on the cropping foot-ways of the moon
Lay grovelling. Triton incomplicate with that
Which made him Triton, nothing left of him,
Except in faint, memorial gesturings,
That were like arms and shoulders in the waves,
Here, something in the rise and fall of wind
That seemed hallucinating horn, and here,
A sunken voice, both of remembering
And of forgetfulness, in alternate strain.
Just so an ancient Crispin was dissolved.
The valet in the tempest was annulled.
Bordeaux to Yucatan, Havana next,
And then to Carolina. Simple jaunt.
Crispin, merest minuscule in the gates,
Dejected his manner to the turbulence.
The salt hung on his spirit like a frost,
The dead brine melted in him like a dew
Of winter, until nothing of himself
Remained, except some starker, barer self
In a starker, barer world, in which the sun
Was not the sun because it never shone
With bland complaisance on pale parasols,
Beetled, in chapels, on the chaste bouquets.
Against his pipping sounds a trumpet cried
Celestial sneering boisterously. Crispin
Became an introspective voyager.

Here was the veritable ding an sich, at last,
Crispin confronting it, a vocable thing,
But with a speech belched out of hoary darks
Noway resembling his, a visible thing,
And excepting negligible Triton, free
From the unavoidable shadow of himself
That lay elsewhere around him. Severance
Was clear. The last distortion of romance
Forsook the insatiable egotist. The sea
Severs not only lands but also selves.
Here was no help before reality.
Crispin beheld and Crispin was made new.
The imagination, here, could not evade,
In poems of plums, the strict austerity
Of one vast, subjugating, final tone.
The drenching of stale lives no more fell down.
What was this gaudy, gusty panoply?
Out of what swift destruction did it spring?
It was caparison of mind and cloud
And something given to make whole among
The ruses that were shattered by the large.


Concerning the Thunderstorms of Yucatan

In Yucatan, the Maya sonneteers
Of the Caribbean amphitheatre,
In spite of hawk and falcon, green toucan
And jay, still to the night-bird made their plea,
As if raspberry tanagers in palms,
High up in orange air, were barbarous.
But Crispin was too destitute to find
In any commonplace the sought-for aid.
He was a man made vivid by the sea,
A man come out of luminous traversing,
Much trumpeted, made desperately clear,
Fresh from discoveries of tidal skies,
To whom oracular rockings gave no rest.
Into a savage color he went on.

How greatly had he grown in his demesne,
This auditor of insects! He that saw
The stride of vanishing autumn in a park
By way of decorous melancholy; he
That wrote his couplet yearly to the spring,
As dissertation of profound delight,
Stopping, on voyage, in a land of snakes,
Found his vicissitudes had much enlarged
His apprehension, made him intricate
In moody rucks, and difficult and strange
In all desires, his destitution's mark.
He was in this as other freemen are,
Sonorous nutshells rattling inwardly.
His violence was for aggrandizement
And not for stupor, such as music makes
For sleepers halfway waking. He perceived
That coolness for his heat came suddenly,
And only, in the fables that he scrawled
With his own quill, in its indigenous dew,
Of an aesthetic tough, diverse, untamed,
Incredible to prudes, the mint of dirt,
Green barbarism turning paradigm.
Crispin foresaw a curious promenade
Or, nobler, sensed an elemental fate,
And elemental potencies and pangs,
And beautiful barenesses as yet unseen,
Making the most of savagery of palms,
Of moonlight on the thick, cadaverous bloom
That yuccas breed, and of the panther's tread.
The fabulous and its intrinsic verse
Came like two spirits parlaying, adorned
In radiance from the Atlantic coign,
For Crispin and his quill to catechize.
But they came parlaying of such an earth,
So thick with sides and jagged lops of green,
So intertwined with serpent-kin encoiled
Among the purple tufts, the scarlet crowns,
Scenting the jungle in their refuges,
So streaked with yellow, blue and green and red
In beak and bud and fruity gobbet-skins,
That earth was like a jostling festival
Of seeds grown fat, too juicily opulent,
Expanding in the gold's maternal warmth.
So much for that. The affectionate emigrant found
A new reality in parrot-squawks.
Yet let that trifle pass. Now, as this odd
Discoverer walked through the harbor streets
Inspecting the cabildo, the façade
Of the cathedral, making notes, he heard
A rumbling, west of Mexico, it seemed,
Approaching like a gasconade of drums.
The white cabildo darkened, the façade,
As sullen as the sky, was swallowed up
In swift, successive shadows, dolefully.
The rumbling broadened as it fell. The wind,
Tempestuous clarion, with heavy cry,
Came bluntly thundering, more terrible
Than the revenge of music on bassoons.
Gesticulating lightning, mystical,
Made pallid flitter. Crispin, here, took flight.
An annotator has his scruples, too.
He knelt in the cathedral with the rest,
This connoisseur of elemental fate,
Aware of exquisite thought. The storm was one
Of many proclamations of the kind,
Proclaiming something harsher than he learned
From hearing signboards whimper in cold nights
Or seeing the midsummer artifice
Of heat upon his pane. This was the span
Of force, the quintessential fact, the note
Of Vulcan, that a valet seeks to own,
The thing that makes him envious in phrase.

And while the torrent on the roof still droned
He felt the Andean breath. His mind was free
And more than free, elate, intent, profound
And studious of a self possessing him,
That was not in him in the crusty town
From which he sailed. Beyond him, westward, lay
The mountainous ridges, purple balustrades,
In which the thunder, lapsing in its clap,
Let down gigantic quavers of its voice,
For Crispin to vociferate again.


Approaching Carolina

The book of moonlight is not written yet
Nor half begun, but, when it is, leave room
For Crispin, fagot in the lunar fire,
Who, in the hubbub of his pilgrimage
Through sweating changes, never could forget
That wakefulness or meditating sleep,
In which the sulky strophes willingly
Bore up, in time, the somnolent, deep songs.
Leave room, therefore, in that unwritten book
For the legendary moonlight that once burned
In Crispin's mind above a continent.
America was always north to him,
A northern west or western north, but north,
And thereby polar, polar-purple, chilled
And lank, rising and slumping from a sea
Of hardy foam, receding flatly, spread
In endless ledges, glittering, submerged
And cold in a boreal mistiness of the moon.
The spring came there in clinking pannicles
Of half-dissolving frost, the summer came,
If ever, whisked and wet, not ripening,
Before the winter's vacancy returned.
The myrtle, if the myrtle ever bloomed,
Was like a glacial pink upon the air.
The green palmettoes in crepuscular ice
Clipped frigidly blue-black meridians,
Morose chiaroscuro, gauntly drawn.

How many poems he denied himself
In his observant progress, lesser things
Than the relentless contact he desired;
How many sea-masks he ignored; what sounds
He shut out from his tempering ear; what thoughts,
Like jades affecting the sequestered bride;
And what descants, he sent to banishment!
Perhaps the Arctic moonlight really gave
The liaison, the blissful liaison,
Between himself and his environment,
Which was, and is, chief motive, first delight,
For him, and not for him alone. It seemed
Elusive, faint, more mist than moon, perverse,
Wrong as a divagation to Peking,
To him that postulated as his theme
The vulgar, as his theme and hymn and flight,
A passionately niggling nightingale.
Moonlight was an evasion, or, if not,
A minor meeting, facile, delicate.

Thus he conceived his voyaging to be
An up and down between two elements,
A fluctuating between sun and moon,
A sally into gold and crimson forms,
As on this voyage, out of goblinry,
And then retirement like a turning back
And sinking down to the indulgences
That in the moonlight have their habitude.
But let these backward lapses, if they would,
Grind their seductions on him, Crispin knew
It was a flourishing tropic he required
For his refreshment, an abundant zone,
Prickly and obdurate, dense, harmonious
Yet with a harmony not rarefied
Nor fined for the inhibited instruments
Of over-civil stops. And thus he tossed
Between a Carolina of old time,
A little juvenile, an ancient whim,
And the visible, circumspect presentment drawn
From what he saw across his vessel's prow.

He came. The poetic hero without palms
Or jugglery, without regalia.
And as he came he saw that it was spring,
A time abhorrent to the nihilist
Or searcher for the fecund minimum.
The moonlight fiction disappeared. The spring,
Although contending featly in its veils,
Irised in dew and early fragrancies,
Was gemmy marionette to him that sought
A sinewy nakedness. A river bore
The vessel inward. Tilting up his nose,
He inhaled the rancid rosin, burly smells
Of dampened lumber, emanations blown
From warehouse doors, the gustiness of ropes,
Decays of sacks, and all the arrant stinks
That helped him round his rude aesthetic out.
He savored rankness like a sensualist.
He marked the marshy ground around the dock,
The crawling railroad spur, the rotten fence,
Curriculum for the marvellous sophomore.
It purified. It made him see how much
Of what he saw he never saw at all.
He gripped more closely the essential prose
As being, in a world so falsified,
The one integrity for him, the one
Discovery still possible to make,
To which all poems were incident, unless
That prose should wear a poem's guise at last.


The Idea of a Colony

Nota: his soil is man's intelligence.
That's better. That's worth crossing seas to find.
Crispin in one laconic phrase laid bare
His cloudy drift and planned a colony.
Exit the mental moonlight, exit lex,
Rex and principium, exit the whole
Shebang. Exeunt omnes. Here was prose
More exquisite than any tumbling verse:
A still new continent in which to dwell.
What was the purpose of his pilgrimage,
Whatever shape it took in Crispin's mind,
If not, when all is said, to drive away
The shadow of his fellows from the skies,
And, from their stale intelligence released,
To make a new intelligence prevail?
Hence the reverberations in the words
Of his first central hymns, the celebrants
Of rankest trivia, tests of the strength
Of his aesthetic, his philosophy,
The more invidious, the more desired.
The florist asking aid from cabbages,
The rich man going bare, the paladin
Afraid, the blind man as astronomer,
The appointed power unwielded from disdain.
His western voyage ended and began.
The torment of fastidious thought grew slack,
Another, still more bellicose, came on.
He, therefore, wrote his prolegomena,
And, being full of the caprice, inscribed
Commingled souvenirs and prophecies.
He made a singular collation. Thus:
The natives of the rain are rainy men.
Although they paint effulgent, azure lakes,
And April hillsides wooded white and pink,
Their azure has a cloudy edge, their white
And pink, the water bright that dogwood bears.
And in their music showering sounds intone.
On what strange froth does the gross Indian dote,
What Eden sapling gum, what honeyed gore,
What pulpy dram distilled of innocence,
That streaking gold should speak in him
Or bask within his images and words?
If these rude instances impeach themselves
By force of rudeness, let the principle
Be plain. For application Crispin strove,
Abhorring Turk as Esquimau, the lute
As the marimba, the magnolia as rose.

Upon these premises propounding, he
Projected a colony that should extend
To the dusk of a whistling south below the south.
A comprehensive island hemisphere.
The man in Georgia waking among pines
Should be pine-spokesman. The responsive man,
Planting his pristine cores in Florida,
Should prick thereof, not on the psaltery,
But on the banjo's categorical gut,
Tuck tuck, while the flamingos flapped his bays.
Sepulchral señors, bibbing pale mescal,
Oblivious to the Aztec almanacs,
Should make the intricate Sierra scan.
And dark Brazilians in their cafés,
Musing immaculate, pampean dits,
Should scrawl a vigilant anthology,
To be their latest, lucent paramour.
These are the broadest instances. Crispin,
Progenitor of such extensive scope,
Was not indifferent to smart detail.
The melon should have apposite ritual,
Performed in verd apparel, and the peach,
When its black branches came to bud, belle day,
Should have an incantation. And again,
When piled on salvers its aroma steeped
The summer, it should have a sacrament
And celebration. Shrewd novitiates
Should be the clerks of our experience.

These bland excursions into time to come,
Related in romance to backward flights,
However prodigal, however proud,
Contained in their afflatus the reproach
That first drove Crispin to his wandering.
He could not be content with counterfeit,
With masquerade of thought, with hapless words
That must belie the racking masquerade,
With fictive flourishes that preordained
His passion's permit, hang of coat, degree
Of buttons, measure of his salt. Such trash
Might help the blind, not him, serenely sly.
It irked beyond his patience. Hence it was,
Preferring text to gloss, he humbly served
Grotesque apprenticeship to chance event,
A clown, perhaps, but an aspiring clown.
There is a monotonous babbling in our dreams
That makes them our dependent heirs, the heirs
Of dreamers buried in our sleep, and not
The oncoming fantasies of better birth.
The apprentice knew these dreamers. If he dreamed
Their dreams, he did it in a gingerly way.
All dreams are vexing. Let them be expunged.
But let the rabbit run, the cock declaim.

Trinket pasticcio, flaunting skyey sheets,
With Crispin as the tiptoe cozener?
No, no: veracious page on page, exact.


A Nice Shady Home

Crispin as hermit, pure and capable,
Dwelt in the land. Perhaps if discontent
Had kept him still the pricking realist,
Choosing his element from droll confect
Of was and is and shall or ought to be,
Beyond Bordeaux, beyond Havana, far
Beyond carked Yucatan, he might have come
To colonize his polar planterdom
And jig his chits upon a cloudy knee.
But his emprize to that idea soon sped.
Crispin dwelt in the land and dwelling there
Slid from his continent by slow recess
To things within his actual eye, alert
To the difficulty of rebellious thought
When the sky is blue. The blue infected will.
It may be that the yarrow in his fields
Sealed pensive purple under its concern.
But day by day, now this thing and now that
Confined him, while it cosseted, condoned,
Little by little, as if the suzerain soil
Abashed him by carouse to humble yet
Attach. It seemed haphazard denouement.
He first, as realist, admitted that
Whoever hunts a matinal continent
May, after all, stop short before a plum
And be content and still be realist.
The words of things entangle and confuse.
The plum survives its poems. It may hang
In the sunshine placidly, colored by ground
Obliquities of those who pass beneath,
Harlequined and mazily dewed and mauved
In bloom. Yet it survives in its own form,
Beyond these changes, good, fat, guzzly fruit.
So Crispin hasped on the surviving form,
For him, of shall or ought to be in is.

Was he to bray this in profoundest brass
Arointing his dreams with fugal requiems?
Was he to company vastest things defunct
With a blubber of tom-toms harrowing the sky?
Scrawl a tragedian's testament? Prolong
His active force in an inactive dirge,
Which, let the tall musicians call and call,
Should merely call him dead? Pronounce amen
Through choirs infolded to the outmost clouds?
Because he built a cabin who once planned
Loquacious columns by the ructive sea?
Because he turned to salad-beds again?
Jovial Crispin, in calamitous crape?
Should he lay by the personal and make
Of his own fate an instance of all fate?
What is one man among so many men?
What are so many men in such a world?
Can one man think one thing and think it long?
Can one man be one thing and be it long?
The very man despising honest quilts
Lies quilted to his poll in his despite.
For realists, what is is what should be.
And so it came, his cabin shuffled up,
His trees were planted, his duenna brought
Her prismy blonde and clapped her in his hands,
The curtains flittered and the door was closed.
Crispin, magister of a single room,
Latched up the night. So deep a sound fell down
It was as if the solitude concealed
And covered him and his congenial sleep.
So deep a sound fell down it grew to be
A long soothsaying silence down and down.
The crickets beat their tambours in the wind,
Marching a motionless march, custodians.

In the presto of the morning, Crispin trod,
Each day, still curious, but in a round
Less prickly and much more condign than that
He once thought necessary. Like Candide,
Yeoman and grub, but with a fig in sight,
And cream for the fig and silver for the cream,
A blonde to tip the silver and to taste
The rapey gouts. Good star, how that to be
Annealed them in their cabin ribaldries!
Yet the quotidian saps philosophers
And men like Crispin like them in intent,
If not in will, to track the knaves of thought.
But the quotidian composed as his,
Of breakfast ribands, fruits laid in their leaves,
The tomtit and the cassia and the rose,
Although the rose was not the noble thorn
Of crinoline spread, but of a pining sweet,
Composed of evenings like cracked shutters flung
Upon the rumpling bottomness, and nights
In which those frail custodians watched,
Indifferent to the tepid summer cold,
While he poured out upon the lips of her
That lay beside him, the quotidian
Like this, saps like the sun, true fortuner.
For all it takes it gives a humped return
Exchequering from piebald fiscs unkeyed.


And Daughters with Curls

Portentous enunciation, syllable
To blessed syllable affined, and sound
Bubbling felicity in cantilene,
Prolific and tormenting tenderness
Of music, as it comes to unison,
Forgather and bell boldly Crispin's last
Deduction. Thrum, with a proud douceur
His grand pronunciamento and devise.

The chits came for his jigging, bluet-eyed,
Hands without touch yet touching poignantly,
Leaving no room upon his cloudy knee,
Prophetic joint, for its diviner young.
The return to social nature, once begun,
Anabasis or slump, ascent or chute,
Involved him in midwifery so dense
His cabin counted as phylactery,
Then place of vexing palankeens, then haunt
Of children nibbling at the sugared void,
Infants yet eminently old, then dome
And halidom for the unbraided femes,
Green crammers of the green fruits of the world,
Bidders and biders for its ecstasies,
True daughters both of Crispin and his clay.
All this with many mulctings of the man,
Effective colonizer sharply stopped
In the door-yard by his own capacious bloom.
But that this bloom grown riper, showing nibs
Of its eventual roundness, puerile tints
Of spiced and weathery rouges, should complex
The stopper to indulgent fatalist
Was unforeseen. First Crispin smiled upon
His goldenest demoiselle, inhabitant,
She seemed, of a country of the capuchins,
So delicately blushed, so humbly eyed,
Attentive to a coronal of things
Secret and singular. Second, upon
A second similar counterpart, a maid
Most sisterly to the first, not yet awake
Excepting to the motherly footstep, but
Marvelling sometimes at the shaken sleep.
Then third, a thing still flaxen in the light,
A creeper under jaunty leaves. And fourth,
Mere blusteriness that gewgaws jollified,
All din and gobble, blasphemously pink.
A few years more and the vermeil capuchin
Gave to the cabin, lordlier than it was,
The dulcet omen fit for such a house.
The second sister dallying was shy
To fetch the one full-pinioned one himself
Out of her botches, hot embosomer.
The third one gaping at the orioles
Lettered herself demurely as became
A pearly poetess, peaked for rhapsody.
The fourth, pent now, a digit curious.
Four daughters in a world too intricate
In the beginning, four blithe instruments
Of differing struts, four voices several
In couch, four more personæ, intimate
As buffo, yet divers, four mirrors blue
That should be silver, four accustomed seeds
Hinting incredible hues, four self-same lights
That spread chromatics in hilarious dark,
Four questioners and four sure answerers.

Crispin concocted doctrine from the rout.
The world, a turnip once so readily plucked,
Sacked up and carried overseas, daubed out
Of its ancient purple, pruned to the fertile main,
And sown again by the stiffest realist,
Came reproduced in purple, family font,
The same insoluble lump. The fatalist
Stepped in and dropped the chuckling down his craw,
Without grace or grumble. Score this anecdote
Invented for its pith, not doctrinal
In form though in design, as Crispin willed,
Disguised pronunciamento, summary,
Autumn's compendium, strident in itself
But muted, mused, and perfectly revolved
In those portentous accents, syllables,
And sounds of music coming to accord
Upon his law, like their inherent sphere,
Seraphic proclamations of the pure
Delivered with a deluging onwardness.
Or if the music sticks, if the anecdote
Is false, if Crispin is a profitless
Philosopher, beginning with green brag,
Concluding fadedly, if as a man
Prone to distemper he abates in taste,
Fickle and fumbling, variable, obscure,
Glozing his life with after-shining flicks,
Illuminating, from a fancy gorged
By apparition, plain and common things,
Sequestering the fluster from the year,
Making gulped potions from obstreperous drops,
And so distorting, proving what he proves
Is nothing, what can all this matter since
The relation comes, benignly, to its end?

So may the relation of each man be clipped.

27 October 2010

Oh Yes I Did!

Finishing strong:

The song in my earbuds? This one (I kid you not—why do you think I'm punching the sky!) just at the guitar solo:

If Radio Birdman can't put a little spring in your step, I'm not sure what can. "Gonna start a new race..."

25 October 2010

Writing, Running, Friends, and Blogging

My weekend frolic over, forgive me as I enter the personal space.

First, I met with two MAJOR agents at the South Carolina Writers' Workshop Conference at Myrtle Beach with interesting results. Good news: both asked for pages! Their take on what they saw of my novel, EULOGY, left me a tad confused, however. One, who heard me pitch the book in a session on how the editorial acquisition process works and later glanced at a page or two while I met with him personally, told me the book is definitely "upmarket commercial." I have no idea what that means, but he claims it's a better space to "break into the industry." The other, who read 30 pre-submitted pages and a synopsis and met with me to talk about the book for about a half-hour, felt it was strongly "literary". I think the latter gets it, but I'm Muggins so what do I know? Leastways, I'm encouraged. I have some let's call it 'brushstroke' work to do, based on both men's comments, before further submission.

The keynote speaker at the conference was The New York Times Bestselling Author Joshilyn Jackson. I'm proud to call Jos (don't call her 'Josh') a friend. We are in the same writing group. I heard her read her first two novels (and parts of her third) aloud in draft. She's an amazing writer. She graciously acknowledged me in both novels (by name(!) in her first: gods in Alabama). I've also heard her read parts of another novel I think may be some of the best stuff she's ever written. I'm a distinct minority on that, though. It's really dark. Even Joshilyn doesn't agree. And that's okay. She's also read and given terrifically insightful comments on EULOGY as well.

We ate dinner together after her speech. She killed! The 500+ writers, agents, and editors in the room were spellbound by her talk. Nary a clink of silver or a clank of ice could be heard as she recounted getting her first novel accepted. Bottom line: if you need a speaker/entertainer for a literary group of any kind, Jos is amazing. She's a star!

By the way, she's got a new novel out: Backseat Saints. Get it.

Second, I shattered my Personal Record in the half-marathon at the Myrtle Beach Mini-Marathon Sunday by over half an hour. For those of you doing the math, that's over two-and-a-half minutes better per mile. I was ecstatic with self-generated endorphin/heroin as I passed what must have been fifty people in the last three-quarters mile. I couldn't believe I had such strength and stamina left in my body after running over twelve miles. To be fair, the course was flat, straight, and at sea level—none of which you'll find in any race here near ATL. And yes, I ran it in my Vibram Five-Fingers! And no, there were no Bloody Nipples. There were, by my count, only three others in the field of approximately 3000 runners who wore toe shoes. My feet and Achilles tendons were sore as I drove the six hours back to ATL afterwards, but no knee or hip injury-type pain.

I saw an interesting article in today's The New York Times about a website called theawl.com. It's eclectic, not "vertical", a bit like this one. The owners have managed to monetize it. I know BlckDgRd, whom I'm meeting for pints this Saturday night after the Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert thing in D.C., might be interested in how they did it. Wisdummy and I are taking a road trip. Promises to be fun. See you there, Dog.

So, there you have it. I'm passionate about my writing, my running, family and friends, and blogging—in no particular order. I managed to work some of them all in these last few days. What a wonderful weekend!

20 October 2010

Destino & Spellbound & Dog: 20th Century Collaborations

Ingest the following videos; I'm away for a few days for a writer's conference and a half-marathon. And be sure to read my five-part essay on Tom McCarthy's new novel, C (complete with soundtrack). His book is quite an achievement. Oh yes, you should read it, too!

Now, Dalí

19 October 2010

Ur-Story: Dash Dot Dash Dot, Pt. 5

(cont'd from previous posts)

The action of the Tom McCarthy's new novel, C, is realistic; causality is treated respectfully. I can imagine everything that happens in the book happening in real life—unlike, say, Kafka's A Country Doctor or Ishiguro's The Unconsoled. That does not mean there aren't fantastical elements. Near the end, for example, Serge declares that, indeed, mirages are real. Similarly, the Egyptian Book of the Dead comes to hallucinatory life.

McCarthy's language has the precision, the clarity, the rigor of a philosopher such as, say, the early Wittgentstein. The writer relies on an abundance of detail to adorn his canvas (unlike his previous effort, Remainder), steering away from the lyrical realism (aka psychological realism) that presents the inner states (the emotions and thoughts and attitudes) of the characters as as real as their actions and as significant as the world they inhabit. That is to say, character—especially that of Serge Carrefax, the protagonist—is pursued in depth and across a lifetime, while personality tends to get short shrift. This is not to say that Serge is a Romantic hero, the traditional form of novelistic character. He is a Modernist hero, one for whom "the world is too much with us."

The form of the novel is the picaresque, but it is epic in scope. It is less derivative than it is a conscious election of its forebears, its chosen tradition.

Its themes often overrun the narrative, but in the end unify it in a dense web of connections both overt and covert which trap the reader in mazes of signification.

The imagery is thick, the symbolism at times oppressive. But I was particularly by struck how, toward the end, McCarthy brings things together around the leitmotif of the beetle. Few modern novelists have mastered the art of the ending. Endings are harder, I believe, than beginnings—and every writer worth his salt I know of writes his openings time and time and time again; and, once he's finished, writes them yet over and over again and still never feels he's gotten them just right. One thinks, of course, of Thomas Pynchon and especially his inability to draw his masterpiece, Gravity's Rainbow, to a satisfactory close around Tyrone Slothrop. On this score, it seems no coincidence Pynchon penned such a heartfelt review in The New York Times of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, a novel whose symphonically magisterial closure is so beautiful it brings tears to one's eyes. McCarthy, in my opinion, nails the dismount.

On that score, I'll leave off with a couple of telling quotes from the near the end of McCarthy's novel:
"'Look at all these scarabs!' Serge exclaims excitedly. There must be twenty or more of them. Their shapes, sizes and patterns are as varied as those of the ones he came across in the museum or the market—on top of which there's a detail that he hasn't seen before: two or three have, carved into their underside, not images or patterns, but whole sequences of words.

'Secrets of the heart,' Laura, noticing him peering in bemusement at the hieroglyphic phrases. 'In New Kingdom burials, the deceased's unreported deeds, clandestine history and guilty conscience were confided to these things.'

'And that's what's written on them, to be printed out after his death?' he asks.

'It's more complex than that,' she answers. 'What's engraved on them are spells to censor these secrets, so they won't come out at judgement and weight down the heart. It had to weigh less than a feather, or the soul was doomed.'

'So the scarab withholds the vital information even as it records it? Even as it prints?'

'Exactly. They were often placed in the heart-cavity…'" (290-91)

"He kisses her neck; she wraps her hand around his head, and pulls it down across her shoulders. He starts taking off her clothes, then his. Peeling away his sock, he's aware of a small tickling sensation on his ankle. Then he's in her…" (297)
[It's not clear here whether this is a beetle or a spider, but let's assume for coherence's sake (for Isis's sake, that is) that it's a blister beetle which some have argued caused several of the biblical Egyptian plagues.]

Serge develops a cyst (sister, again) where he's bitten. He's taken to a ship to return home and falls ill.
"When he falls properly asleep, he dreams of insects moving around a chessboard that may or may not be the sea. At times it seems more like a gridded carpet than a chessboard. The insects stagger about ponderously, stupidly, reacting with aggression towards other insects when these cross their paths: rearing up, waving their tentacles threateningly as antennae quire and contract, and so on. Despite the unintelligent, blind nature of the creatures' movement, there's a will at work behind them, calculating and announcing moves, dictating their trajectories across the board. The presence of this will gives the whole scene an air of ritual. …he falls straight back into a lucid dream, once more of insects—only this time, all the insects have combined into a single, giant one from whose perspective, and from within whose body, he surveys this new dream's landscape. In effect, he is the insect [emphasis in the original; Metamorphosis anyone?]. His gangly, mutinous limbs have grown into long feelers that jab and scrape at the air. What's more, the air presents back to these feelers surfaces with which contact is to be made, ones that solicit contact: plates, sockets, holes. As parts of him alight on and plug into these, space itself starts to jolt and crackle into action, and Serge finds himself connected to everywhere, to all imaginable places. Signals hurtle through the sky, through time, like particles or flecks of matter, visible and solid. Each of his feelers has now found its corresponding touch-point, and the overall shape formed by this coupling, its architecture, has become apparent: it's a giant, tentacular wireless set, an insect-radio mounted on a plinth or altar. Serge is the votary kneeling down before it, arms stretched out to touch it; he's also the set itself—he's both." (300-01)

UPDATE: One technical issue—the sort of issue some writers (namely me, natch) obsess over when deciding how to shape their work: C employs the present tense. Action happens now. Serge flies... Laura digs..., etc. The narrative follows the protagonist, Serge, from the moment of his birth to the moment of his proposed death in a close third person point of view. The problem for the writer is that Serge can not narrate his own birth from a present-tense point of view. Nor can he participate in detailing the circumstances of his death. It's the same problem faced by Biblical literalists who claim inter alia that Moses is the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. The Torah, or Pentateuch, narrates the details of Moses's death, thus rendering their claims of literalism facially absurd. In other words, the writer must leave the limits of close perspective he has chosen for himself in order to tell his story. It's a small detail, but one of those insider-baseball issues we writers worry over. It should not and does not detract from the essential power of the McCarthy's remarkable Ur-story novel, C.

12 October 2010

Ur-Story: Dash Dot Dash Dot, Pt. 4

(cont'd from previous posts)

Now that that's out of the way, let's take a look at C, the new novel by Tom McCarthy, itself.

C is divided into four parts: 'Caul', 'Chute', 'Crash', 'Call'.

The plot, let's call it, goes something like this (be forewarned, Spoilers this way lie): Serge Carrefax, like David Copperfield and Hamlet (and my youngest, Wesdom, I might add) is born with a caul. In Western superstition the caul is a sign of good luck; in ancient Egypt it destines the child for the cult of Isis (which factors into the novel's end). It's a good thing, too! Poor Serge needs all the luck he can get because McCarthy keeps trying to kill him.

Serge grows up on the grounds of Versoie, an isolated country estate in early 20th Century England. His family manufactures silk, and his father tries to teach deaf children to communicate by means other than sign language when he is not obsessing about newfangled forms of wireless communication. As a toddler, Serge nearly drowns in a stream while his drug-addled mother lolls uselessly nearby, saved only at the last instant by the childrens' maid/nanny. Serge loves then loses his beloved, volatile dynamo of a sister, Sophie, a brilliant naturalist, who becomes pregnant by the childrens' tutor (and quite possibly Serge's true father (267)), one Widsun who, incidentally presides over Serge's destiny throughout like a distant god. Sophie and Serge miraculously survive a chemical explosion, and, with Serge, we see her fluttering around the grounds of their estate like a disembodied spirit before she poisons herself in shame. She is not so lucky to survive McCarthy's ravages.

Serge then travels to an Eastern European sanitarium to find healing for a nervous condition—clouded vision and coughing up black bile, or melancholy—no one seems to understand. He survives the quacks there and their 'cures'. He discovers sex with his scoliotic masseuse and his vision is restored, but he rejects what could've been, if he'd been psychologically capable of accepting it, an advantageous match with a woman of his own class. Air travel and rumors of war loom.

His vision restored, Serge joins the Royal Flying Corps, predecessor of the Royal Air Force, as an "Art-Obs", a forward airborne artillery observer, and proto-tailgunner. He survives flight training in early rattletrap flying machines that kill nearly as many as they pass. He rubs cocaine on his eyeballs to sharpen his vision. He flies perilously close to an artillery shell as it arcs toward its target. And after freezing during an attack by, presumably, Lt. Paul Friedrich Kempf, a German tri-plane ace coming in from the blind spot of his gun, his plane is shot down and careens into the caul of a parachute of a German balloon observer. Forced down alive behind enemy lines, he is captured and sent to an officer's POW camp where he relishes the fine art of tunneling. He escapes with ease and seemingly miraculously avoids execution as a spy just as the war absurdly ends.

In the aftermath of the Great War, Versoie is in disrepair, its mulberry trees dying from blight. Serge moves to London and half-assedly pursues an education in architecture; survives a bout as a drug fiend, alternating between 'H' (heroin, or sister) and 'C' (cocaine); falls in with and betrays his lover, an actress named Audrey; ingeniously debunks a fraudulent medium, Miss Dobai, and survives the ensuing riot; and overdoses and wrecks his father's car for reasons he cannot quite fathom:
"He's angry at Miss Dobai and her gang, at people for being credulous, at himself for his cruelty to Audrey. He gravitates, naturally, to the Triangle, spends some time in Mrs. Fox's, then stops off at Wooldridge's, then at the taxidermist's. Needing a place to ingest his by-now-considerable haul, and not wanting to return home or retreat to some dingy toilet [N.B.: Remainder, anyone?], he heads for the Holborn basement where his father's car is garaged (he's had the loan of it again for the last two weeks). Retrieving the key from an attendant whose uniform it strikes him in passing, is very similar to that of the Empire ushers, he sits in the front seat and, in the dark and columned vault, injects and sniffs and sniffs and injects, more and more, to try to make the anger go away. It doesn't: it bears down on him from all sides. He decides he's got to make things move.

He starts the car up…" (235)
He survives yet again and upon recuperating at the estate, he is called upon by Widsun to go Egypt to spy, essentially, on competing efforts to link up the declining European empires by means of wireless communication. As part of his job, he ventures up the Nile and back in time, discovering a lovely convergence between modern and ancient pylons. He hooks up with a beautiful archaeologist in the uncharted bowels of an ancient tomb excavation under the mystical spell of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, is bitten by an asp or beetle, and dies, we are led to believe, like a great, mythic Northern warrior aboard ship at sea.

(to be continued)

11 October 2010

Ur-Story: Dash Dot Dash Dot, Pt. 3

(cont'd from previous posts)

We Americans like our heroes Romantic—with a capital 'R'. First of all, they must be heroic. They must be sympathetic. Their emotional lives must be readily accessible. Through the sheer dint of their will, they must rise above their circumstances and confront obstacles we readers can comprehend from our own experience. And, ultimately, they must prevail against the odds stacked against them.

This helps me make some sense of Michiko Kakutani's review of Tom McCarthy's C in a recent The New York Times. She says: "The hero of this novel, one Serge Carrefax, is another flat character, who sees the world in emotionally uninflected, purely materialist terms…"; and he is "a bizarrely detached character with a forensic attitude toward life: someone who can’t feel any grief over his teenage sister’s sudden death and who sees soldiers getting tangled in their parachutes and thinks of wriggling 'flies caught in spiders’ webs.'”

The reaction was pretty much the same among amazon.com readers (I paraphrase): "I just couldn't bring myself to like the main character"; "He was not sympathetic"; "He seemed aloof and cold"; "I didn't care deeply for the character or form a strong enough connection with him"; "The protagonist and his plight didn't engage me sufficiently". 'What does that even mean?' I wondered as I read these reviews from people who actually, supposedly, read the same book I did.

It was shocking to me to read these reactions to C, a book I found to be utterly brilliant. I was mesmerized by it. I felt so strongly about it I wanted to write it up for my blog. I simply couldn't understand how we could have read the same book.

Poor Serge Carrefax, he seems to be none of those Romantic things we Americans demand from our novel heroes. Kakutani and her readerly ilk will never forgive McCarthy for allowing a taint of determinism into his work, nay, into his character's story. And she reminds us of this by running down the remarkable Remainder, McCarthy's ground-breaking first novel.

Interestingly, Kakutani correctly locates one source of inspiration for C—let's call it the tradition C inherits, though she misses the Nabokovian Ada extension—in Gravity's Rainbow, but she misses the precise import of the Pynchon. Tyrone Slothrop's entire struggle was to escape the psychological, behavioral, conditioning (i.e., the determinism) that motivated his descent into the Zone; to do so, he must disappear, essentially, de-individualize, dis-integrate, if you will. As Jonathan Dee points out in his review of C in Harper's Magazine, another, deeper, more personal and insidious form of determinism is at work in the character of Serge Carrefax: he finds himself bound up in a self-styled cocoon of Freudian dimensions.

How a serious protagonist spending an entire lifetime struggling to come to terms with a grief so stultifyingly powerful it defies his comprehension and motivates practically everything he does from that point on (including making him physically ill) makes for a 'flat' character, or makes a good [advisedly] reader feel the characterization is 'flat', baffles me. Maybe Serge just doesn't gush enough about how he's feeling (or what his attitude is toward Prada, or what he thinks about his boss). This 'bizarre detachment' condemns McCarthy's novel in the eyes of much of the American reading public, particularly those in the thrall of the conventional (dare I say shallow) emotional preconceptions that animate Kakutani's disgust.

This struggle, to the contrary, elevates C to the realm of something I've taken to calling the Ur-story. Look to the Gilgamesh, THE Ur-story, and how its hero reacts to Enkidu's, his boon companion's, death. Yes, he wails and moans his grief—and Kakutani gets that part, the emotional outpouring of the protagonist. But what she fails to comprehend is the significance of the resulting quest for Utnapishtim and immortality—the quest, in other words, to join the mourned love one in death—the epic quest that truly defines character.

(to be continued)

06 October 2010

Tea Party Party

I'm probably going to piss some people off with this post. If so, so be it.

On September 29, 2010, Gene Cranick of rural Obion County, Tennessee lost all of his family's possessions, including three dogs and a cat, in a trailer fire started by Cranick's grandson burning trash nearby. Nothing out of the ordinary here. This sort of thing happens occasionally in the normal course.

What was unusual was that a local fire department from a neighboring jurisdiction—a jurisdiction that, technically, had no duty to provide fire services to Mr. Cranick's neighborhood—let the man's home burn down because Cranick had failed to pay a $75 fee for fire services.

This has caused plenty of outrage on many fronts, left and right. And that's a good thing. There's plenty of blame to go around. Let the debate begin.

The idea of optional, a la carte public services—fire, rescue, police, ambulance, homeland security, military protection, access to the judicial system, political representation, education, libraries, roads, air traffic control, mass transit, air quality control, food inspection, fresh water and sewer access, intelligence services, relief agencies, health and disease control, etc.—is antithetical to the notion of the "public" good, the "public" space, the "public" sphere.

Since the so-called Reagan Revolution, we have seen the sharp deterioration of the public square in the United States. Public assets have been sold off to cronies of the power elite at bargain-basement prices. Public services have been privatized.

The Tennessee trailer burn is simply the latest example of the problems with this notion of 'smaller government is better government.' Ronald Reagan once famously chuckled that the most frightening words in the English language were: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Well, here's a counter-example from real life: the firefighters were from the government, and they weren't there to help, even though Mr. Cranick and his family desperately needed them. If they had helped, they might have saved the animals at least.

This sort of occurrence will be more and more common in America if the Tea Party ethos that seems to be taking root in the Republican Party holds sway. Public services will be privatized even further, and we'll only get those services we pay for.

Paying taxes, they say, is bad because it forces us to pay for services for everyone, not just for ourselves—notwithstanding that public services, because of the lack of the profit motive, keep the costs of these services down and, by definition, are available to everyone, not just the privileged few who can afford the whole menu of services offered by the government or its private contractors.

[For example, anybody in the continental U.S. can write a letter, put it in an envelope, address it, put a forty-four cents stamp on it, and drop it in their own personal mailbox, and it will, in all likelihood, arrive at its correct destination within a day or two. This is the United States Postal Service. The USPS has two competitors, FedEx and UPS. For anywhere between four and twenty-five dollars you can take your letter to either of these private vendors and, using their designated envelopes and forms, have your letter arrive at its destination (so long as it's not a mailbox) within the same amount of time or even shorter. You can pay more for an even faster delivery, too. The difference between forty-four cents and, say fifteen dollars (taking an average) is operating costs and private profit—and it's what the fighting's all about. Thus endeth the lesson.]

This Tennessee trailer bonfire was a real tea party, a Tea Party party, if you will. This is a stark portrait, writ small and local and rural, of what to expect from the sort of libertarianism, the sort of small-government ideological anarchy, these people represent.The country envisioned by the Tea Party and its allies in the Republican Party will provide us with more and more such incidents.

The Tea Party is a stalking horse for the corporate interests—the monied interests that are actually fueling the useful idiots of the Tea Party, their organization, their rallies, and their public relations—to continue to plunder private profits at the expense of the public weal, that is, to steal from us all. Since the days of Reagan, we have seen the greatest transfer of wealth from the public to private interests this country has ever witnessed. And the Tea Partiers, or their corporate backers, want even more.

The Tennessee trailer fire is a harbinger of things to come. You should know that before you decide whether to vote in the upcoming mid-term elections in the U.S., and, if you decide to do so, which party you will vote for.


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04 October 2010

Ur-Story: Dash Dot Dash Dot, Pt. 2

(cont'd from previous post)

In terms of world historical events, our civilization witnessed the last dying gasps of the Industrial Age in the fevered jungles and dismal swamps of Vietnam. It was replaced by the rise of what we now call the Information Age.

Where, Tom McCarthy asks in his new novel C, was this Information Age birthed? To hear him tell it, it might as well have been at some place like the fictional British country estate, Versoie, an incestuous silk-manufactory cum school for the deaf where one Serge Carrefax, C's roving protagonist, and his sister, Sophie, too, come of age.

If there is an overriding metaphorical schema to Tom McCarthy's C (and that is a mighty big 'IF', but go with me here), it has to do with the truly important metric of the Information Age—namely something like the signal-to-noise ratio. Oversimplistically stated: life is all signal and death is all noise (or static or white noise) [or, vice versa as the case may be. {Is there a difference?} I'd be open to a free-wheeling debate over a few or more pints about which of these is the correct formulation. Tom? Anybody?]

Serge's struggle is to decipher the plethora of signals his world throws up at him. To make sense of it all. To discover, as it were, its coherence. And, against that backdrop, to find or define himself.

McCarthy's work is nothing if not coherent. But this doesn't mean Carrefax's life is. Nor does it mean Serge is successful in his struggles—either of them.

Nor does it mean C is about something. It is an artwork. It has its ontological status as such. Again, oversimplistically, the world, let's call it X (the sum of all events, let's call them A, B, ... ∞, at a given point in time), is everything that is the case before the novel, let's call it C, comes into existence; but once the novel comes into existence, the world is ineluctably changed: X + C.

This is why it really doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense to try to determine what the 'C' of the title stands for—though, acute readers may chuckle at the stab I made at it in the previous post in this series. It, the title, like the vast welter of details of our existence and McCarthy's novel, is woefully overdetermined.

Now, those of you who read WoW know that I strive, however imperfectly, to produce a high signal-to-noise ratio here. Self-reference is not mere vanity or post-modern gimmick; it is an effort to achieve consistency of statement. Coherence. That does not mean WoW is above frippery or pop culture or aggregation or exploring new or even un-understood ideas whose relevance is not presently apparent but which may, in the faint hope of completeness, shed some light down the road. It isn't.

But enough about me. ["Yeah, right," say my inveterate readers, and in all probability rightly. "Yeah, right."] Let's get back to C.

(to be cont'd)