SALLY ROONEY’S NORMAL PEOPLE: A TECHNICAL BOOK REVIEW (originally published October 14, 2019)

I’m happy to report that I didn’t pay a cent to read Sally Rooney’s Normal People. A proselytizing musician friend… a violinist, appropriately…  pressed it on me.  She said you have to read this,  it is so good. Okay, I said. I’ll read it and give it right back in a week or so. (I gave it back the next day). Well, it’s my problem. I’m a grownup who becomes, irrevocably, more grownup every second. It’s hard for me to read things for children if I’m not reading to children. It’s also hard to watch other grownups reading things for … Continue reading SALLY ROONEY’S NORMAL PEOPLE: A TECHNICAL BOOK REVIEW (originally published October 14, 2019)

CHOCOLATE AND BACON: A DANCE and a RANT (A REPRINT)

[originally published Nov 16, 2019 ] The New York Times, with glistening basset eyes, says, of Lydia Davis (the sensible one in the otherwise airheaded subliminal ménage of Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt and Davis): “The story “Collaboration With Fly” consists of a single sentence: “I put that word on the page, but he added the apostrophe.” Another, “I’m Pretty Comfortable, but I Could Be a Little More Comfortable,” comprises seven pages of minor irritations — a loud clock, a dry orange. In 2009, her landmark “Collected Stories” was published; 30 years of her writing life (minus her novel, “The End … Continue reading CHOCOLATE AND BACON: A DANCE and a RANT (A REPRINT)

A BAD NOVEL WITHIN THE BAD NOVEL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR: A REVIEW and WARNING

Art-Making is a compulsion, when it is pure, and maybe that’s regrettable, but who are we to complain when the results can do so much to amplify the pleasures of existence? It’s my theory that you can judge the purity (the genuineness) of Art-Making according to the extent to which it’s accompanied by the parallel (perhaps also regrettable) compulsion of Truth-Telling. Great Art is an aestheticized Truth-Telling and Lie-Telling “Art” (a lá Disney) is not really Art at all but high craft at its best. So much of the greatness is in the capital-T “Truth”. But there’s the problem: Lie-Telling … Continue reading A BAD NOVEL WITHIN THE BAD NOVEL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR: A REVIEW and WARNING

COZY DYSTOPIAS: A COMPARATIVE REVIEW IN 2 DISTINCT INSTALLMENTS

(This is the first of two related reviews, one negative, one positive… guess which is which… about Elvia Wilk’s “Oval” and then about Candia McWilliam’s “What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness”… the review of the latter available hereabouts, most probably,  by Sunday or shortly thereafter.) I’m not sure if I’m entirely comfortable with the trend of characters from Dystopian narratives writing and publishing the very narratives from which they appear to spring. Regarding which these Author/Characters would probably say: “Get used to it.” Perhaps it’s revealingly old fashioned, my expectation of maintaining the luxury of at … Continue reading COZY DYSTOPIAS: A COMPARATIVE REVIEW IN 2 DISTINCT INSTALLMENTS

SUNDAY AFTERNOON READING

“Renoir’s Problem Nudes” “Sex and art figured for him as practically interchangeable rewards for living. An argument is often made that we shouldn’t judge the past by the values of the present, but that’s a hard sell in a case as primordial as Renoir’s.”- Peter Schjeldahl regarding the problem of Renoir   I was all set for a few hours of meandering Sunday afternoon reading (total disclosure: it’s nearly suppertime and I’m still in pajama bottoms,  a micro-vacation after a couple of weeks of 19-hour days) when, unfortunately, the second or third text I chanced upon was a consummately-irritating article in the … Continue reading SUNDAY AFTERNOON READING

THE SAD STUFF/ THE BAD STUFF/ THE MAD STUFF and MORE

1THE MAN BEHIND BOWIE’S MOST NOTABLE STOLEN VOICE HAS QUIT THE PLANET I long marveled at Scott Walker’s nearly-Buddha forbearance regarding cuter young Bowie’s blatant theft of Walker’s voice. At what point did Bowie scurry on from ripping off Anthony Newley’s voice to ripping off Scott Walker’s? Sometime after swiping Marc Bolan’s chords/ poses (Ziggy) but before swiping Romy Haag’s coldly Teutonic drag gestures (“Boys Keep Swinging”)? In any case, it was long before Bowie ripped off Tom Verlaine’s nervous, hiccupy, proto-New Wave, mutated Buddy Holly yelp (by far Bowie’s most obscure caper) in 1980. Bowie’s shoplifting of the Walker-Lugosi … Continue reading THE SAD STUFF/ THE BAD STUFF/ THE MAD STUFF and MORE

KILLING THE RARA AVIS (with a catshit trap)

Yesterday I read a story, by Haruki Murakami, in the New Yorker, that was so bad that it offended me. It’s by no means certain where in the story’s chain of custody (the writer, the translator,  or the editorial staff of the New Yorker)  the bulk of the blame should fall, but to argue that the story, as it comes to us in English, is anything other than shitty, is to make the strongly implicit claim that all standards are purely subjective,  if not meaningless and random: what’s the point? Why not publish more stories, in the New Yorker,  by … Continue reading KILLING THE RARA AVIS (with a catshit trap)

INUTILE ARGUMENTATION

A Fugue of Six Subtly-Interrelated Short Essays 1FORBIDDING POTENCY JHVH or “Jehovah” was once a kind of J-word: “Religiously observant Jews and those who follow conservative Jewish traditions do not pronounce יהוה‎, nor do they read aloud transliterated forms such as Yahweh; instead the word is substituted with a different term, whether used to address or to refer to the God of Israel.” This aura of the forbidden, around the word, gave it a power it wouldn’t otherwise have as a mere sequence of sound waves or marks on papyrus or in clay. And so, too, with “nigger,” the N-word, the only word I can … Continue reading INUTILE ARGUMENTATION

THREE OBLOMOVIAN OBLOQUIES

  1-JUNGIAN (Borgesian?) EPITAPH   In the summer of 2002, two women I’d known in Berlin, in the early ’90s, came back into my life. I had known them during my club days, they had each left Berlin for seven years (one travelling in India, the other living in Bali), they were each half-German (half-Indian in one case, half-Cuban in the other) and had each returned to Berlin with a daughter (Sarah, Shana), immediately after which I bumped into them, within a week of each other, after no contact for seven years. They were 28, funny, black-haired, copper-colored, about five … Continue reading THREE OBLOMOVIAN OBLOQUIES

KUDOS, by RACHEL CUSK: a Book Review

Too often, when I fall for the trick of being seduced into buying a new novel or collection of short stories, I get the feeling, while reading the book, that I’m grading the dissertation of a clever student who’s trying to get away with using glib rhetorical strategies to hide the fact that she/he is not in control of the material. That he/she doesn’t even fully understand the topic and hasn’t developed coherent enough opinions on the topic to convert those opinions, via his/her research and personal outlook, into a dissertation worth reading; the dissertation is, in other words,  a … Continue reading KUDOS, by RACHEL CUSK: a Book Review

A Philosophical Lesson in Comparative Reading and Writing (and the corollary mechanics of same) for my friend Jeff Wheelwright, the Last of the WASPs

About two months ago, I read a silly article and commented on it, as I often do. The article was written about Peter Matthiessen, the hatchet-faced jock who co-founded The Paris Review, as a CIA front, during the Strangeloveian heyday of Cold War 1.0. The article, written by Matthiessen’s nephew, Jeff Wheelwright, struck me as an attempt to rehabilitate Matthiessen’s image in possible preparation for a whitewashing biography. I left a withering comment (Matthiessen’s part in the sociopathic distortion of the West’s Literary Culture, of the mid-20th century and beyond, is one of my bêter [wink]  bêtes noires) and moved … Continue reading A Philosophical Lesson in Comparative Reading and Writing (and the corollary mechanics of same) for my friend Jeff Wheelwright, the Last of the WASPs

REVIEWS, POLEMICS, PANEGYRICS & TINGLY FANCIES of the SCHADENFREUDE GAZETTE

  1. UPSTATE, by JAMES WOOD: a GLOATING REVIEW from a LONG TIME HATER   With the doggedly cheeky defiance that often passes for self-belief,  Yuppie Book Club Bouncer James Wood has submitted his second completed assignment toward earning his certificate as a Fledgling Novelist. Wood’s first effort, the meticulously soporific The Book Against God, was a forgivable failure which left unanswered the question of whether this unnecessary book was a novelist’s first failure, in essence,  or that of an overreaching critic’s. Was James Wood’s first completed long-form fiction assignment, The Book Against God,  the inevitable dud of a dabbler? … Continue reading REVIEWS, POLEMICS, PANEGYRICS & TINGLY FANCIES of the SCHADENFREUDE GAZETTE

THE WRITER, HIS KILLING and HIS FRIENDS: a brief review of a book and a video

In order to understand DFW’s writer’s block, you have to understand his relationship with Jonathan Franzen; in order to contextualize DFW’s suicide, you should understand his writer’s block… “[f]iction for me is a conversation for me between me and something that May Not Be Named —God, the Cosmos, the Unified Field, my own psychoanalitic cathexes, Roqoq’oqu, whomever. I do not feel even the hint of an obligation to an entity called READER—do not regard it as his favor, rather as his choice, that, duly warned, he is expended capital/time/retinal energy on what I’ve done.” —David Foster Wallace,  Before they got … Continue reading THE WRITER, HIS KILLING and HIS FRIENDS: a brief review of a book and a video

THE CLOAK ‘N DAGGER PENTAMETER: a review of Paul Beatty’s THE SELLOUT and a look at several other shitty books and why they’re Hyped

The well of culture has been poisoned with propaganda. It may not be as lethal as a literal well-poisoning but it is as sickening. Culture is now, essentially, the liquid that happens to be flowing through the pipes of The Media. It is no longer grounded in, or determined by, local conditions (via community gatherings, bands, local art movements, word of mouth, samizdat and any other low-budget repositories or propagators of Culture). The Media are global tools of their various powerful owners, obviously, and though these many powerful owners each have agendas of their own, and are probably more often … Continue reading THE CLOAK ‘N DAGGER PENTAMETER: a review of Paul Beatty’s THE SELLOUT and a look at several other shitty books and why they’re Hyped

ADVENTURES in the PLUS TARD GARDE: a CRITIQUE in PROGRESS

1. August 28th: LIDIA YUKNAVITCH It didn’t take Publishing very long to catch up with The Record Biz’ epiphany that getting involved with Real Artists is risk-rich and bottom-line iffy and totally unnecessary. The Ersatz Artist is Late Capitalism’s all-in-one tool of choice in the Creativity Racket. If it looks like an Ahtist (young/pretty) and sounds like an Ahtist (kinda sexy/ rebellious) and is good at imitating Previously Successful Content… well, that’s close enough! The Audience (mostly Ahtists) won’t know the difference. So here we have flavor-of-the-week writer Lidia Yuknavitch, performing that never-fails writerly strategy of giving the Squares what … Continue reading ADVENTURES in the PLUS TARD GARDE: a CRITIQUE in PROGRESS

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ELEVATOR #2: “TALENT” AS A CIVIL RIGHT

Uh oh: there’s somebody who can’t write making the usual rounds as a writer. There are videos of her being interviewed about pressing social matters, there are blurbs from known writers on her books. Her just-published book of essays is a New York Times Bestseller. Ignoring the date on which I write this, I could be talking about any one of a thousand writers from the past twenty years, of course, so I’ll get specific by quoting Wikipedia to the effect that the not-writer writer in question “…holds a doctoral degree in rhetoric and technical communication from Michigan Technological University.“ If … Continue reading THE ELEPHANT IN THE ELEVATOR #2: “TALENT” AS A CIVIL RIGHT