Wednesday, January 31, 2007

materials & applications

If you happened to attend any of the Tuesday night lectures at Silverlake's landscape and architecture research center M&A (Materials & Applications),
I probably accepted your donation or hooked you up with your own personal amplification device. So it was a pleasant surprise to be browsing through Cool Hunting and find this video interview with Jenna and Oliver. If you haven't checked out the latest installation, Bubbles, you have until February 15.

more from the booster camp

Ever since Nathanael West's hero in "The Day of the Locust" (1939) painted a masterpiece called "The Burning of Los Angeles," writers — especially those just arrived from somewhere else — have dreamed about disasters that would punish a city that seemed to have no use for them, except as highly paid slaves of Hollywood.

But this habit, always dubious, looks positively out of date to anyone who knows the truth about literary Los Angeles. In fact, there has never been a shortage of serious, gifted writers in Los Angeles and its surroundings.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

better late than never

A week ago today, I had the pleasure of attending Martin Amis’s appearance at the Central Library in support of his new novel, House of Meetings. I don’t know if I was convinced to read the book, but I was in awe of the way people like Amis exist in the world – bursting with a confidence achieved through the erudition only leisure brings and possibly through a healthy dose of white male privilege. Whatever it is, I want some.

Amis was introduced by Michael Silverblatt who said he had never seen a character like HOM’s narrator - a despicable man somehow redeemed by language. Uh, hello? Twentieth-century literature? Anyway… at one point, Silverblatt recounted the interviews he had conducted earlier in the week – Mailer on The Castle in the Forest and Dave Eggers on What Is the What – and seemed unexpectedly overcome with emotion at the state of the world depicted in the three novels. I don’t think the pathos was necessarily scripted and I was sort of touched.

Amis, on the other hand, was not particularly emotional, but he was characteristically audacious, insightful, and hilarious. He began by mourning the death of humor and pointed out that this fatality had been predicted by de Tocqueville over 200 years ago. He said that a joke by definition is undemocratic and therefore has no place in today’s PC culture. He brought up “A Modest Proposal” and ventured a guess that Swift wouldn’t exactly play today (although he may have his imitators). Amis thinks this lack of humor leads directly to a lack of common sense, quoting Clive James’s idea that “humor is common sense dancing.”

Because of the novel’s subject matter, there was much discussion of ideology (including an interesting but decades-long question from a Russian audience member), regardless of whether it’s the right’s ideology or the left’s anti-ideology. He proposed that the Middle East needs secularization more than they need democracy. Amis discussed how ideology requires taking on an illusion you can’t defend with your mind alone, and he and Silverblatt discussed how our complacency and resistance to things that don’t entertain us is no match to its power. Bleak. However, Amis said a writer can’t worry about his readers committing suicide. Plus it’s more difficult to write about “the nice,” citing the idea that “happiness writes white.” (The color, not the race.)

My favorite quips of the night were probably the least literary, but I’ve repeated them several times already. He referred to aging as an “irresponsible low-budget horror movie.” Then he described how someone who suffers from dysmorphia looks in the mirror and thinks what they see is horrible. Deadpan, he said he hopes he suffers from this condition.

Amis’s next novel will be titled The Pregnant Widow, referring to the state where “the father is dead and the child is not yet born.” I believe he said that the novel would be a fictionalization of the events in Experience: A Memoir with the “pregnant widow” in this case being the current state of feminism (whatever those two things may have to do with one another). That one I’ll read.

Monday, January 29, 2007

tell me something I don't know

Over dinner the other night, a friend was discussing his recent conversion to LA boosterism and mentioned that he wasn't the only one. Los Angeles placed first in Hub Culture's 2007 Zeitgeist Ranking of Top 10 Cities and the New York Times just can't get enough. Sunday's edition alone had love letters to both Culver City and Gehry's proposed Grand Avenue development. From Hub's rationale:

A controversial choice? Sure it's big, but LA is finally hitting on all cylinders: fashion, tech, entertainment, and overall groove. American Apparel is changing fashion with vertically integrated manufacturing. LA's skull and bones indie rock fashion dominates globally. Myspace culture is taken for granted, everywhere. New walking areas and urban regeneration projects, from downtown to Malibu to Hollywood, make the city much more palatable than before, despite the endless crush of traffic. Entourage and other shows, from the OC to Laguna Beach, have moved the collective consciousness west. All in this and more help make LA the city of the moment: the energy is positive, its power is on the rise, and people everywhere have LA on their mind.

And they barely touch on things that actually make the city great. (LA Voice has the rundown of Hub's has-beens.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

sunday short stack

"If you really do put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price." - Anonymous

Friday, January 26, 2007

terrible twos

Today is birthday #2 for escapegrace. Expect much brattiness and defiance of authority going forward. And maybe a few temper tantrums. You won't mind too much though because we'll be so cute.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

underachieves h. khwarizmi

Character From a Thomas Pynchon Novel or Someone Who Recently Sent Me Spam?

the human smörgåsbord

Reason #64 why I love YouTube: Margaret Atwood talks myth with Bill Moyers.

The rest of the Faith & Reason series is delightful as well.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

an endless chain of referral or deferral

Does literature need to get in bed with science in order to survive? Brian Boyd thinks so and he's happy to set Louis Menand straight.

Until literature departments take into account that humans are not just cultural or textual phenomena but something more complex, English and related disciplines will continue to be the laughingstock of the academic world that they have been for years because of their obscurantist dogmatism and their coddled and preening pseudo-radicalism. Until they listen to searching criticism of their doctrine, rather than dismissing it as the language of the devil, literature will continue to be betrayed in academe, and academic literary departments will continue to lose students and to isolate themselves from the intellectual advances of our time.

Not everything in human lives is culture. There is also biology. Human senses, emotions, and thought existed before language, and as a consequence of biological evolution. Though deeply inflected by language, they are not the product of language. Language, on the contrary, is a product of them: if creatures had not evolved to sense, feel, and think, none would ever have evolved to speak.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

corrugation and galvanization

Today's Very Short List entry links to this beautiful slideshow of tin tabernacles included in the design collection The Pentagram Papers.

he’d eat you like a turkey

The latest edition of Bookslut includes the worst book covers of the year, featuring post-apocalyptic dour lit, arty World War II fetishism, and scary head.

It had to be saved for last, because scary head is, indeed, the most terrifying manifestation of bad cover art. It is interesting how the lead contenders in scary head cover art tend to be self-help books of some type. Possibly this has to do with the carny/sideshow-barker/Mark Twain character-type salesman- ship of the self-help industry -- a lot of these books are sold via appearances on television talk shows, so it’s all about selling the author (or, if space is limited, just the author’s scary head) as a product.

Monday, January 22, 2007

blue monday

Today is the unhappiest day of the year. It seems fitting that I spent the afternoon in the dentist's chair.

you were she who abode

Thomas Hardy drove his wife to shack up in the attic, but once she was dead, he wrote her yearning, poignant love letters. Meghan O'Rourke tells us more.

In 1912, when he was 72, Thomas Hardy began to write a series of love poems about his wife, Emma. The poems were unlikely for several reasons. First, for years he and Emma had been estranged, and she had retreated to sleep alone in the attic, where she wrote letters to friends about his unkindness. By this point, Hardy was a literary celebrity, and had maintained flirtations with more than one woman. His reputation was based largely on his fiction; his controversial later novels, among them Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, had cemented his stature as a portraitist of country life and thwarted small-town aspirations. Second, Hardy was famous for his indictment of marriage—a bishop publicly burned his copy of Jude, and a Victorian newspaper, shocked by it, labeled it "Jude the Obscene." What no one, including Hardy himself, would have guessed was that Emma would prove to be, as Claire Tomalin claims in her brisk new biography of the author, "his best inspiration." That fall, Emma suddenly fell ill, and she died before Hardy got a chance to say goodbye to her. In the months after her death, numerous poems in her memory poured out of him—love lyrics of acute regret in which one of his recurrent themes was distilled in its most distinctive form. That theme could be said to be our failure to perceive the shadowy outlines of our own experience; life, in Hardy's view, was nothing but a strangely prismed window onto the peculiar workings of time.

make the bitterness of life more bearable

This is obviously a little on the late side, but I wanted to link to Alain de Botton's fantasy about the perfect New Year's Eve dinner party.

In my ideal New Year's Eve dinner, everyone would agree to give up the masks of ordinary life. The whole point of the evening would be to create an atmosphere of exceptional intimacy, where everyone could stop trying to seem impressive and instead reveal themselves to be the flawed, anxious, silly, profound, doubting creatures we all are underneath. Rather than boasting about achievements, people would be encouraged to reveal their fears and regrets.

Men are generally very boring companions, because it takes them so long to stop trying to appear impressive. So the men I'd choose for my dinner party would be people who, in their writings, have given evidence of baring their souls.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

sunday short stack

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination." - Oscar Wilde

Saturday, January 20, 2007

the blobs are so quick to take offense

Greenville, Canada: Who do you think would win in a fight between a grizzly bear or a puma?

John Hodgman: I'm tired of answering this question. Town after town, bar after bar. For heaven's sake. Unless the bear is blinded by the puma, grizzly takes it every time. It has more weight and more meat...

Bowie, Md.: John, seriously, don't you think that it's time for the Redskins to move to a cover 3 D with the LBs focusing on the 5 hole and the DTs on the 3? That way the offenses, whether i-back or spread wing can't gauge which red dog or maple the D might be throwing at them? And of course, Brunell has go to go, like your book clearly states.

John Hodgman: I regret I cannot help you on the subject of sports. May I direct you to EVERYTHING ELSE IN OUR CULTURE?

That is all.

Friday, January 19, 2007

imperial spaces for democratic man

David Denby pines for the past and logs his predictions for the future of Hollywood. (Hint: He seems to like the ArcLight.)

The old downtown picture palaces have been gone so long that to think of them at all is to indulge in nostalgia for nostalgia, a faintly remembered dream from childhood of cathedral lobbies and ushers in red uniforms with gold braid. The palaces had names like the Alhambra, the Luxor, the Roxy; the auditoriums were evocative of pagoda pavilions or Persian courts or some celestial paradise with flocks of fleecy blond cherubim suspended in blue ether. They were uninhibited American kitsch, the product of a commercial culture dizzied by fantasies of European or Eastern magnificence. The absurdity of the theatres—imperial spaces for democratic man—was reassuring; they were the perfect environment for an art form that was so lovable precisely because it was devoted to the unending appeal of illusion.

The neighborhood theatres that thrived at the same time were easier to deal with. Slipping in and out of them, we avoided the stern white-shoed matrons who patrolled the aisles; sometimes we arrived in the middle of the movie and stayed on until it reached the same point in the next show—we just wanted to go to the movies. Even now, moviegoing is informal and spontaneous. Still, we long to be overwhelmed by that flush of emotion when image, language, movement, and music merge. We have just entered from the impersonal streets, and suddenly we are alone but not alone, the sighing and shifting all around hitting us like the pressures of the weather in an open field. The movie theatre is a public space that encourages private pleasures: as we watch, everything we are—our senses, our past, our unconscious—reaches out to the screen. The experience is the opposite of escape; it is more like absolute engagement.

Such is the ideal. But how often do we find it now? Consider the mall or the urban multiplex. The steady rain of contempt that I heard Hollywood executives direct at the theatres has been amplified, a dozen times over, by friends and strangers alike. The concession stands were wrathfully noted, with their “small” Cokes in which you could drown a rabbit, their candy bars the size of cow patties; add to that the pre-movie purgatory padded out to thirty minutes with ads, coming attractions, public-service announcements, theatre-chain logos, enticements for kitty-kat clubs and Ukrainian bakeries— anything to delay the movie and send you back to the concession stand, where the theatres make forty per cent of their profits. If you go to a thriller, you may sit through coming attractions for five or six action movies, with bodies bursting out of windows and flaming cars flipping through the air—a long stretch of convulsive imagery from what seems like a single terrible movie that you’ve seen before. At poorly run multiplexes, projector bulbs go dim, the prints develop scratches or turn yellow, the soles of your shoes stick to the floor, people jabber on cell phones, and rumbles and blasts bleed through the walls.

lenny kaye

Steven Van Zandt wishes the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame had chosen the Patti Smith Group instead of solo Patti Smith for this year's induction.

You've heard who got into the Rock Hall this year: R.E.M., Patti Smith, the Ronettes, Van Halen and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. All good. All deserving. I was hoping it would be the Patti Smith Group, though, because now Lenny Kaye will probably never get in and he deserves to be.

All right, I am unapologetically a band guy, what can I tell you? Smith is indisputably great, and I mean no disrespect, but for me it's simple: Is she better with the band or without the band? She gets her name in the title either way, so what's the problem, right?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Courtney Love might have been a mouseketeer if it weren't for Sylvia Plath.

read this!

The Litblog Co-op's Winter 2007 selection is Ngugi wa Thiong’o's Wizard of the Crow.

In Wizard of the Crow, statesmanship looks a lot like stage craft. Rallies in support of the Ruler are choreographed with the care and precision of a large-scale theatrical production. However, the novel, instead of fighting the absurdity, revels in it, with story lines rife with mistaken identity, far-fetched coincidence, and characters in disguise (there is even a fake mustache or two).

hedonic treadmill vs. the meaningful life

D.T. Max probes positive psychology in the classroom.

In an era when psychology is seeking to become a hard science of M.R.I.’s and evidence-based therapies, when, as Seligman says, “if it doesn’t plug into the wall, it’s not science,” positive psychology can seem like a retro endeavor with the appeal of a cure that fits on a recipe card. While this may make it particularly adaptable for use in the classroom, critics are often most disturbed by what they perceive as its prescriptive nature. “There is way too little evidence of stable, long-term benefits — and lack of harm — to justify large-scale incorporation of positive psychology programs into schools,” Julie Norem, chairwoman of the psychology department at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, said in an e-mail message. “It pays scant attention to individual differences.” For all that the open, 1960s-style classroom has fallen out of favor, it allowed a child to find his or her own way.

In the words of the founder of the famous Summerhill school in England, a child should be free “to live his own life — not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best.” Children were treated as unique, which you might think would result in a more capable, independent adults. By comparison, positive psychology can seem as if it is laying out a road and asking the adherent to follow. “If I could wave my magic wand, there would be no positive psychology — there would be positive psychologists,” says Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, whose own work in the science of affective forecasting suggests that what we think will make us happy rarely does, or at least not for long. “I guess I just wish it didn’t look so much like a religion.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

those who control the present control the past

Harpers has posted Through a Glass, Darkly: How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history:

If the term “fundamentalism” endures, the classic means of explaining it away—class envy, sexual anxiety—do not. We cannot, like H. L. Mencken, writing from the Scopes “monkey” trial of 1925, dismiss the Christian right as a carnival of backward buffoons jealous of modernity’s privileges. We cannot, like the Washington Post, in 1993, explain away the movement as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” We cannot, like the writer Theodor Adorno, a refugee from Nazi Germany who sat squinting in the white light of L.A., unhappily scribbling notes about angry radio preachers, attribute radical religion—nascent fascism?—to Freudian yearning for a father figure.

The old theories have failed. The new Christ, fifty years ago no more than a corollary to American power, twenty-five years ago at its vanguard, is now at the very center. His followers are not anxiously awaiting his return at the Rapture; he’s here right now. They’re not envious of the middle class; they are the middle class. They’re not looking for a hero to lead them; they’re building biblical households, every man endowed with “headship” over his own family. They don’t silence sex; they promise sacred sex to those who couple properly—orgasms more intense for young Christians who wait than those experienced by secular lovers.

Intensity! That’s what one finds within the ranks of the American believers. “This thing is real!” declare our nation’s pastors. It’s all coming together: the sacred and the profane, God’s time and straight time, what theologians and graduates of the new fundamentalist prep schools might call “kairos” and “chronos,” the mystical and the mundane. American fundamentalism—not a political party, not a denomination, not a uniform ideology, but a manifold movement—is moving in every direction all at once, claiming the earth for God’s kingdom, “in the world but not of it” and yet just loving it to death anyway.

the silent killer of American civilization

Slate looks at Mike Judge's "suppressed masterpiece" Idiocracy:

If Office Space is about taking responsibility for your own happiness, Idiocracy is about something larger, namely our responsibility for our shared future. Like all the best dystopian fables, Idiocracy is a scathing indictment of our own society. And so it begins in the present with a brief portrait of the villains who are destroying America, represented here by an affluent couple and an imbecile ne'er-do-well named Clevon. The two yuppies are shown agonizing over the decision to have a child. It's never the right time, until the right time finally comes—and the couple is infertile. The yuppies will leave no legacy behind. Clevon, in contrast, lustily and enthusiastically impregnates not only his wife but a bevy of gap-toothed harridans, each one dumber and uglier than the next. The screen slowly fills with his spawn, foreshadowing the nightmarish future to come.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

the old lion roars again

Inspired by Norman Mailer's new novel The Castle in the Forest - a tale of Hitler's youth as told by Satan's assistant
- New York magazine takes a look at Mailer's all-time enemies list.

Truman Capote

Crime: Saying of Mailer, “He has no talent. None, none, none!”
Action taken: Mailer sat on him.
Blowback: In 1980, Capote told an interviewer that while Mailer called In Cold Blood a “failure of the imagination … now I see that the only prizes Norman wins are for that very same kind of writing. I’m glad I was of some small service to him.”

Adele Morales Mailer

Crime: Calling her husband a “faggot” when he was drunk and stoned at 4 a.m. at the tail end of a party to launch his mayoral campaign.
Action taken: Stabbed her twice with a penknife, nearly killing her.
Blowback: Though she refused to testify against him, he did spend seventeen days in Bellevue’s psych ward. They finally divorced two years later. She wrote a book about it in 1997.

aren't they all?

(Golden Globe winner) Sacha Baron Cohen reminisced about his dissertation in an LA Times interview last week:

Born into a middle-class family in London, Cohen had early dreams of being a basketball player or a break dancer. He spent a year on a kibbutz as a teenager and was a member of Habonim, a Socialist-Zionist youth movement that he jokes "basically meant that we shared our sweets." He was ambivalent about becoming a performer. "I think I was embarrassed to admit to my friends or myself that I wanted to be a comic — it was sort of like admitting you wanted to be a model."

At Cambridge he read history, spending a summer in the U.S. researching a dissertation on the prominent role Jews played in the American civil rights movement titled "The Black-Jewish Allies: A Case of Mistaking Identity." As the title suggests, he was already fascinated by the Ali G-like notion that irony and identity play a big role in cultural differences.

"I was writing this at the time of the Crown Heights riots when the Jewish community was obsessed with black anti-Semitism," he explains. "And I argued that this obsession came out of Jews feeling betrayed by their old blood brothers from the civil rights movement. But while it was perceived in the Jewish community that Jews were disproportionately involved in civil rights, my conclusion was black Americans didn't see Jews as being more involved than any white Americans.

"The Jewish kids were all there in the South, but because they were there as part of church organizations like the [Southern Christian Leadership Council], they weren't seen as Jews, but as white liberals. So there was this deep irony that the Jewish establishment took martyrs like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner" — two civil rights workers from New York who went to Mississippi to register black voters and were killed by the Ku Klux Klan — "and used them as symbols of a Jewish-black alliance when, in fact, they didn't really see themselves as Jews at all."

Cohen pauses, drolly adding: "The dissertation is a lot funnier than I depicted it."

Monday, January 15, 2007

extreme makeover

Escapegrace is trying out a new look as its second anniversary approaches. I curse the fact I chose naked drawing over the HTML class.

the good editor

In a new documentary on Harold Humes, Peter Matthiessen admits that The Paris Review was originally a cover for his CIA involvement. (I love typing factual sentences that sound like I made them up.)

what would dr. king say?

This Keith Olbermann editorial on MSNBC (via Newspeak!) gets it right.

Only this president, only in this time, only with this dangerous, even messianic certitude, could answer a country demanding an exit strategy from Iraq, by offering an entrance strategy for Iran.

Only this president could look out over a vista of 3,008 dead and 22,834 wounded in Iraq, and finally say, “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me” — only to follow that by proposing to repeat the identical mistake ... in Iran.

Only this president could extol the “thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group,” and then take its most far-sighted recommendation — “engage Syria and Iran” — and transform it into “threaten Syria and Iran” — when al-Qaida would like nothing better than for us to threaten Syria, and when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to be threatened by us.

This is diplomacy by skimming; it is internationalism by drawing pictures of Superman in the margins of the text books; it is a presidency of Cliff Notes.

Or, as Jon Stewart points out, what Bush proposes is not a surge, but a gratuity. Gratuitous, at the very least.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

sunday short stack

"Many long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." - Susan Ertz

Friday, January 12, 2007

grammar deflection

urban fervor vs. rural juror

Imagine my surprise when my dissertation was mentioned last night on 30 Rock. Well, it wasn't really my dissertation - just its (apparently hilarious) title. The story goes that Jane Krakowski's character has made a movie whose title no one can understand because it sounds like "the errrerrrl grrrrerrrr." One character guesses that it might be called "The Oral Germ Whore." Eventually, it is revealed the movie is titled The Rural Juror. Krakowski explains that it is based on the new novel by Kevin Grisham - John's brother - fresh off his career at the recycling center. He's already working on the sequel to The Rural Juror: Urban Fervor.

My dissertation has fulfilled its destiny as a sitcom punchline.

no, I really don't have a Boston accent, really

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Boston

You definitely have a Boston accent, even if you think you don't. Of course, that doesn't mean you are from the Boston area, you may also be from New Hampshire or Maine.

The West
The Midland
North Central
The Northeast
The Inland North
The South
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

poetry week @ counterbalance

Callie of Counterbalance asked me to share some thoughts about my current relationship with poetry. (Bet you didn't even know I had one!) Stop by.

we must find an enemy and defeat it

On the day Bush is to announce sending more troops to Iraq, this Onion story - recently unearthed by 3qd - is sadly prescient.

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'

WASHINGTON, DC–Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."


there are worse things I could do

The 33 1/3 series of books is accepting proposals for future album-inspired writing until Valentine's Day.

Your proposal needs to include these simple things: your name; a brief outline (up to 1000 words) of how you would approach your album of choice; a brief bio of yourself (up to 500 words), outlining why you're awesome, and why you're the best person to write about that album; a couple of sentences on which 33 1/3 book you've enjoyed the most so far, and why; that's pretty much it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

brief station break

Recovering from rock & roll karaoke. Posting shall resume tomorrow.

Monday, January 08, 2007

the boys who share my birthday

the act will always be a little freakish

Richard Powers on how to speak a book:

Like all good Jetson futures, speech recognition is really a memory. Speak the thing into being: as dreams go, that’s as old as they get. Once, all stories existed only in speech, and no technology caused more upheaval than the written word. In the “Phaedrus,” Socrates — who talked a whole lot but never, apparently, wrote a word — uncorks at length about how writing damages memory, obscures authority and even alters meaning. But we have his warning only through Plato’s suspect transcript.

For most of history, most reading was done out loud. Augustine remarks with surprise that Bishop Ambrose could read without moving his tongue. Our passage into silent text came late and slow, and poets have resisted it all the way. From Homer to hip-hop, the hum is what counts. Blind Milton chanted “Paradise Lost” to his daughters. Of his 159-line “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth said, “I began it upon leaving Tintern ... and concluded ... after a ramble of four or five days. ... Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.” Wallace Stevens used to compose while walking to work, then dictate the results to his secretary, before proceeding to his official correspondence as vice president of the Hartford insurance company. (I’ve tried dictating to my tablet while rambling; traffic and birdsong make it babble.)

Even novelists, working in a form so very written, have needed to write by voice. Stendhal dictated “The Charterhouse of Parma” in seven weeks. An impoverished Dostoyevsky had just six weeks to deliver the manuscript of “The Gambler” or face complete ruin. He hired a stenographer, knocked the book out in four weeks, then married the girl.


Gawker on the recent rash of daddy lit/blogs:

Pray that Chuck Klosterman's shooting blanks. It's our only hope.

the future present

Academic publishing makes turtles look like Flo-Jo. Two years ago, I sent in an essay abstract to a proposed collection and I just heard from the editor. I also have an essay on black women writing speculative fiction in a collection that has been slated for publication for a good five years now. At any rate, it is with interest that I read Ed's post mentioning the internet speculative fiction database hosted by Texas A&M: "a community effort to catalog works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror" with "various types of bibliographic data: author bibliographies, publication bibliographies, award listings, magazine content listings, anthology and collection content listings, and forthcoming books." I noted without surprise that the long-delayed collection that houses my essay is not listed.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

dante couldn’t have just invented these founding principles of rock climbing

Highlights from the New Yorker winter fiction issue...

Fiction from Marguerite Duras...

The first night he talked to her about Islam. The next day he slept with her and he talked to her about the Bible. He asked her whether she’d read it. She told him that she hadn’t. The following day, he brought a Bible with him and he read Ecclesiastes to her in the back room of the Relais. He read it loudly, his hands on his ears, in a passionate voice, following a liturgical rhythm. She was embarrassed by this and she wondered whether he wasn’t a little crazy. Afterward, he asked her what she’d thought of it. She hadn’t listened very carefully while he was reading because she was so embarrassed by it. She told him that it seemed reasonable to her, that it was fine. He smiled at her response; he explained that it was a fundamental text and that it was necessary to learn it.
...and Primo Levi:

After we had eaten, we started to drink. Wine is a more complex substance than one might think, and, above two thousand metres, and at close to zero degrees centigrade, it displays interesting behavioral anomalies. It changes flavor, loses the bite of alcohol, and regains the mildness of the grape from which it comes. One can take it in heavy doses without any undesired effects. In fact, it eliminates fatigue, loosens and warms the limbs, and leads to a fanciful mood. It is no longer a luxury or a vice but a metabolic necessity, like water on the plains. It is a well-known fact that vines grow better on a slope: could there be a connection?

Once we started drinking, the conversation at our table became much less impersonal. Each of us spoke of our initiation, and we established with some surprise that we had all begun our mountaineering careers with an extremely foolish act.

The print issue might be worth picking up for Milan Kundera "on world literature and how we read one another."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

poison is the new black

I may have offended a new acquaintance or two the other night when - following the Alexander Litvinenko affair - I expressed my enthusiasm for poisoning over other forms of murder, such as the overused and underimagined gunshot wound. Apparently, I am not alone.

An understudy in a high school play has received two years probation for spiking the drink of a classmate who won the lead role. Hours before opening night of L.D. Bell High School's production of "Ha!" in February, Katherine Smith, 19, squirted
an eyedropper of bleach into a Mountain Dew before giving it to a sophomore billed with the starring role, police said.


Historians have long suspected that Francesco de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his second wife, Bianca Cappello, did not die of malaria but were poisoned — by Francesco's brother, Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici, who was vying for the dukedom. For four centuries that theory remained just that — a theory. But following a study into the affair, forensic and toxicology experts at the University of Florence believe they have uncovered clear evidence of murder by poisoning.


Police say they think the death may be linked to a mixed punch served at two addresses between Dec. 23 and Jan 1. The drink concoction was mixed in an antifreeze container and may have had traces of windshield fluid.


Prosecutors will not be allowed to introduce evidence suggesting that a woman accused of fatally dosing her Marine husband with arsenic led a party lifestyle that included sex with multiple partners shortly after his death, a state court judge ruled Tuesday.


It's enough to make a gal nostalgic for 1947.

the crack cocaine of the thinking world

Each year, the Edge Foundation asks a provocative question of "some of the most interesting minds in the world." This year, Edge wants to know: What are you optimistic about? Why?

Answers are as varied as the evaporation of the powerful mystique of religion, breaking down the barriers between artists and the public, growing older, our civilization will survive the coming climate catastrophe, altruism on the web, and one of my favorites: when men are involved in the care of their own infants, the cultures do not make war.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

the kind of story that makes a city

Who has ridden along New York’s 656 miles of subway lines and not wondered: “What if I fell to the tracks as a train came in? What would I do?”

And who has not thought: “What if someone else fell? Would I jump to the rescue?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007