25 Points: Darling

by Elan Lafontaine

Darling
by William Tester
Knopf, 1992
177 pages / $9.95 buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. “I have this room inside my head, a lightless, nightmare kind of room that I pretend is where I am. A smaller me sits in its darkness.”

2. “My mama in her mirror smiles at her, ahold of me, jewelry, makeup, mother, child. She pets my cowlick down and pats me gentle swattings on my butt. She’ll take or leave me– queen of us. She’s pretty. Mama lets me know that she’s the most loved one of us. I move for room to let her sit beside me, scoot across the stool. I’ll flirt for her; I’ll court, or woo her with my smallness. I’m this big: my head tops even with her dresser, with my hand to make a bridge. It feels like I’m this bunch or bundle, six potatoes in a bag. This pet. A useless tiny person, me so close down to the ground, potato legs and chest and elbows, with my big potato head.”

3. “Her hair reminds me then of boards.”

4. “Sometimes her neck is like an animal alive inside of her.”

5. “By now I’ve half decided how it is we’re going to die, Jeab gone to elsewhere in his liquor, me– I’ve wallowed on the thought that I’ll be shot down like a dog, or struck with bricks fell from a window, held and throttled while some killer smacks a hammer through my skull in a squirt of pain.”

6. “It wanders backwards lost and blinded toward an ant bed death to come. Me, I’m a giant to the bug. I wonder what its tiny mind is like, what nonsense it must live.”

7. “I hear the gyroings and gears inside the belly of the world, oily and in tar– and in the sky, the set chain of the wider all– turns.”

8. “A kind of line in me connects me to the gym and chilly stalls, a line that draws me like a toy across the sky between my arms, the flapping, thuddy noise of sprinters, shouting, fearful coughing me.”

9. “Chlorine and sneaker smells of feet the taste of pennies dew our air.”

10. “He butts his head bone in her bag like he is eating her from out of her or pulling out her blood.”

11. “Well, this is how you milk a cow. Head in, with a rhythm of rowing an Indian canoe, the floaty duck, the slow, enormous heron birds, teal blue and winging off a pond’s flat water. Elbows lower than my knees, pressing the all of me, until Darling, letting loose her milk, presses the bulk of the barrelous, swollen all of her back at me; we are a balancing act. I sort of turn it in my hand, like this, like so. One, and then another teat, like my thing is. Squirting her. Just her milk, my breath. Like so. Like this is all the world inside our barn. The flashlight causes straws to shadow straw shapes on the boards along the stall walls. And Darling moos.”

12. “I’m swimming sightless in the deep up in her milk; I’m lost in dark down in a hole, like parts of sleep: I’m kind of gone.”

13. “I should be pushed around by Jeab– or have him mount me like a dog, have dirt or cow manure kicked on me– how dogs or bulls will do to a smaller dog or a smaller bull.”

14. “But now is how we are here in the country in our house; every one of us is dead.”

15. “My mother lifts me up off of the grass. She crooks my head up and lowers my butt so I can see what all there is here at the fence behind our house: our horned young cow, the barn, and farther out, our ribbed and clodded fallow field in furrows broke and barren, the swollen tractor in it coupling something, backwards, buggish, rusted-toothed, and over all of this, the leaning, siloed, hard and cloudless hood of unimportant blue.”

16. “So I’m a monster taking her! I’m on the job. I’m loving her. I dip like this spills from my innards, like my thoughts of this have hardened into muscles in my arms, my skinny calves and back and shoulders, solid now, with my bad thoughts– like what I think could step apart from me, my red and meated thinking leave and leap into my cow. A lunging hound comes from my body, from my heaving, hungry me. Then she is mine. I’m squishing fine inside of Darling. She can’t look to see the violence. She can’t see where I’ve put in. She can’t keep her mind fixed on our fight as well as me. This tired dog gives up her struggle and collapses in a tub where she is mine. A rain of light thins on the darkness. Clouds are rags across our moon. I see the shadowed depth return to things, the wind come up and love on us as I spit onto Darling in the glimmer of the stall. She’s panting. I’m up on her riding like my brother back of her. I’m shrinking. Now I think like Jeab. I’m him. I put myself inside again. I plug this awful hard I have into my pretty doll. I put myself inside of hers. We’re lovers now. I win.”

17. “This heifer’s calf has come out dead, but from this heifer only half the calf spills head out on the ground. Its forelegs, girth, and all the rest of it births unborn wet inside.”

18. “As if the place knew who we were. It knows us, knows the secret things that Jeab and I have hid in us, as if the hole remembers everything that we are here to do. We live somewhere. We have a place there in the world where Jeab and I know we belong.”

19. “The hard and shining pureness of each thing is sure with light: but slowly, pines and pond and pebbles, tires, waxy needled sawgrass, cut-up Clorox bottles, teeth.”

20. “Every shape is rising!”

21. “My dolly bobs my butt against her riding me on top of her; she bumps my butt bone on her hip pin’s knuckled ridge; she eases shuddery; she cants.”

22. “Or is he buggering our bullock? Has his cock blow down its throat while I pretend that I am sick to stay alone at home with her. I pick my breakfast-oily eggs. I con my folks. I think of Doll.”

23. “Mama and Daddy in the bathroom turn the bathtub water on, their voices boinging on the water. Water sploshes, muffled noise. When the water stops I hear my mama mutter something, Kay and Bub, and something other, Bub and Jeab, like everything she says to Daddy has somehow to do with me. I see their legs locked in the water and their places dark with hair, my mama straddling my daddy, then the shower. Water sounds. Him naked, hair in the water on my mama coupled up. I see her furred and fitting skin. Him coupling Mama in the water as her face turns into mine, with Mama bent into the shower water, naked, me as her.”

24. “I put a knob like his on her, and underneath my brother’s thing, I put her lipped and pinkish hole. A slit, he says. A tongue in teeth between her legs, a mouth in fur. Her skin pretended in my head.”

25. “She has these vacuum-hosey rings around her throat where I could hold, where I could pull her hosey throat from her– or put her in my mouth and bite it sucking from her head.”

25 Points: And So

by J.M. Gamble

And So
by Joel Brouwer
Four Way Books, 2009
88 pages / $15.95 buy from Four Way Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. And So was published in 2009, and so I’m reviewing it now, in 2012.

2. There’s always a time lapse in reading; and so we are all the silhouettes of each other’s ideas of fireflies.

3. Except: we aren’t all silhouettes of each other’s ideas of fireflies. Sometimes we cease to be apart and begin to be together in a way that is (and is not) like a dump cake. It is as Brouwer writes in “In a Motel Halfway to Omaha”: “At dawn she said she had to go to work and he / said not until I do it to you again slut / and she said ok whatever bad man and so” we go on with our dump cake selves.

4. People exist; people have sex. There are people in And So and so they have sex. A lot.

5. If And So were an album, it would be less Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On and more Fiona Apple’sThe Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever DoAnd So is not a long title, and so it’s easier to say—which is more important than many things (like shallots).

6. And So is intimately concerned with its use of language, and so am I.

7. The cover art of And So is, to my mind, a series of frames, a series of ways of looking at things (read: people, relationships, the Mona Lisa). I am bothered by our inability to escape from frames, and so the cover art disturbs me.

8. As I break these thoughts to twenty-five pieces—as I frame them—I am wary of: the need for this review; the time that has elapsed between the publishing of this book and the writing of this review; the need for this form for this review; my place in this review; the book’s place in this review; if this review is actually even a review, or if it is a personal essay, co-opting this strange and lovely book of Brouwer’s for its (my) own purpose. I am wary, and so I do what I always do when I am wary: I tell you.

9. But if this were a personal essay, wouldn’t I tell you about my mother, her schizophrenia? I’m not telling you, and so it can’t be a personal essay.

10. But now I’ve told you, and so it must be. Perhaps it always is/was.

11. Jean Valentine says, of And So, that “these poems hold on for dear life to the observed and imagined world, no matter how abandoned.” That’s my emphasis. I emphasize because I wonder if a poem can be abandoned; I look at this book and think: of course a poem can be abandoned, here are the orphan poems, here they are, I can sponsor an abandoned poem for only 5, 10, 50 cents a day; and so I suppose Valentine is right.

12. When I thought I was an artist, it was suggested that I build a wooden frame—a frame that I would physically hold up to nature. The idea was that I would see the world more clearly in miniature, that I would cease to see it as the world and start to see it as my art. Then I realized I wasn’t an artist at all, and so I never built the frame. But And So has those frames (see: point #7): each poem a circumscription, a magnification. Each poem a symphony for the detail.

13. The phrase “And So” asks us to read this book narratively, like a geometric proof. The first poem, and so the second poem, and so the third poem, and so etc. etc. etc. But it exists also as a qualification of itself, as if Brouwer is saying: “I wrote a book of poems” and we are asked to respond: “And so…what?”

14. (And so we clap and clap and clap but the house lights never come in the concert hall and eventually all the musicians have loosened their bows, emptied their spit valves, packed; the stage has been struck, mopped, and we are clapping and clapping and waiting for the lights and they never come on and so we just sleep in our chairs for the rest of forever.)

15. Matthea Harvey says, of And So, that “its despairing characters are alone even when in a pair.” When reading, we’re always alone (even when in pairs) and so poetry must be the best medium for the lonesome. Poetry, and country music.

16. Matthea Harvey blurbs every book of poetry, and so she blurbs this book of poetry.

17. These poems don’t make me ask: “What is a poem?” They aren’t that type of poem. These poems make me ask: “If I go to sleep now—if I lay down my weary head—will I raise it up later?” And that asking is scary, and it hurts, and it gets into my bloodstream like caffeine or heroin; it gets into my bloodstream, and so this book is, in a way, a suppository of poetry.

18. Sometimes we expect great things; sometimes we don’t. Always we are forgetting about the lego-blocks of language in our lungs, and so, as Brouwer says, “nothing had happened, nothing was going / to happen, and nothing was happening.” There was a cognitive leap there and I’m not sure it landed on the fairway.

19. I wonder if this review has an arc, if you can follow it, if there’s a story here, if (see: point #8) this is even a review, if its jumping like a fountain, jumping like someone saving the princess. I wonder if it’s my fault that we’re all going down: “And so the fault / was mutual and boundless” says Brouwer, but (see: the great history of aesthetic theory) I think that might be a beautiful lie; and so I despair/rejoice. I can’t tell the difference.

20. These poems are great whirlpools, elliptical elisions of man/woman, true/false, poem/poem. They are high in fiber and sweetened with natural flavors. You want to keep holding on to them, because if you don’t you’re afraid you might break; and so you do. You just keep holding.

21. “The spell had to be pronounced perfectly to accomplish the magic.” And so he did, Brouwer. He pronounced it, each syllable resounding. You’ll be the echo chamber and I’ll be the gong: let’s do this.

22. Of course this isn’t a review. Even a review is not a review. Everything’s a re-seeing, sure. But show me a real review “And I will show you something different from either / Your shadow at morning striding behind you / Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you.” This isn’t Brouwer, of course. But take his epigraph from Brecht: “The new meat is eaten with the old forks” (or “forms” which I typed first but had a chance to change, for which I am thankful), and then maybe Eliot is Brouwer, or Brouwer is Eliot, or none of us are really reviewing anything at all. And so we continue.

23. Quiz Question: This book is a reformulation of Greek tragedy in the form of a linking (is it linking?) series of poems, and so there is a tragic fall. Discuss.

24. I wanted to cry, I wanted to fill a lake with my tears, but Brouwer said: “Please, don’t cry. Talk is only architecture” and so I didn’t.

25. And so: that the knowledge that dooms a reading of this book is the knowledge prerequisite to a reading of this book, the review has nothing further to report.

Needing Don DeLillo

by Grant Maierhofer

 

“A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.”

– Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction, The Paris Review No. 135

 

The following is a discussion of the world and effects of the works of Don DeLillo. The books focused on are chosen more by my emotional state than by pragmatism, however all of his works will make an appearance at some point. The assertion here is both personal and universal, stating that Don DeLillo changed my life, and gave new breath and scope to the world of literature.

Don DeLillo began writing later than many the American prodigy to change the movement of our country’s letters. His first novel, Americana (published when he was roughly 35 years old)—a winding tale of one man’s devolving lunacy reflecting a life of advertising, television, and travel—to hear him tell it, came from a quick sight of a man standing on a road staring off at nothing, that brief vision was enough to carry him through the beginnings of his first novel and, in light of that, the early stages of what has been one of the more tumultuous careers in history.

When the idea came to me to write about Don DeLillo for HTMLGiant, it was first slated to be an exploration of his novels Great Jones Street and, ideally, White Noise—comparing something less-discussed to something hailed as one of the masterpieces of the latter half of the 20th century; what fueled this? What brought about this response? Etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum. However, I found myself unable to hold back certain instincts as I began to reflect over his impact on me and this world as a whole, and in spite of myself began falling deeper and deeper into a DeLilloan stupor with every interview, novel, and anecdote explored. I found the intricacies of his books that I’d call my favorite proved far less ambiguous than I’d thought and that–say, with the discussion of contemporary (in 1985-ish) universities in White Noise–his work was sewn deeper into me than I’d realized.

There was, I think, initially an aversion to his writing due to the fact that the only copy of DeLillo’s work we had in my house growing up was a very daunting paperback of Underworld(interestingly, I was only completely drawn back to it when attempting an essay on the Spaldeen, a little Hi-Bounce Ball made by Spalding that I’ve become quite obsessed with that DeLillo notes in the novel, as they were the primary ball used in stick ball games in New York City in the heyday). I remember picking it up one day after reading Bret Easton Ellis considered him a great influence and finding myself lost beyond salvation. The words didn’t exactly register and when they did they seemed strange, infused with a level of what I’d now call reified Americanism that wasn’t apparent in anything I’d been reading at the time (Ellis, Fante, Kesey, et al, authors of fiction that seemed to be right there, which I found in DeLillo only after reaching the necessary level of paranoia to understand the first book of his I read and loved, Mao II) and in spite of a burning curiosity, I tucked the paperback where I’d picked it up on the shelf to remain for several years until I found those radiant little pink Spaldeens in a hardware store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Years later, after many other books had ricocheted through my brain and many authors both of the high and lowbrow had shared with me their insights, it seemed I was ready to pick him up again. This time, I decided, it would be with Mao II, as the title piqued my interest and I couldn’t readily recall an author so originally using the presence of an artist in the conception of a book. I ordered a copy on Amazon, and though when it was delivered it harbored none of the eloquence and beauty of that aforementioned Underworld, I vowed to myself to sit down very soon and read the thing from cover to cover. It just so happened that the following weekend I was taking the train from Chicago up to Wisconsin to visit family, and the minute I boarded Chicago’s Redline to the downtown Union Station, I opened the paperback and began finding myself immersed in the story of Moonies in Yankee Stadium, and the author Bill Gray who’s left this world to focus entirely on writing as he’s regaled by his flunkies with any possible requests. An eerie thing happened then–I was a card-carrying member of the Chicago Art Institute, it’ll soon come to matter–I took out my cellphone when I was exiting the train and in the twenty minute ride I’d received just one email: “Andy Warhol’s ‘Mao’ Returns to the Art Institute!” and with a brief shudder I took this as a sign and for the next six hours did not put down the book. I found myself surprised to be reading so easily what had initially sent me running for the hills in confusion and lack of understanding. I found the words touched me and the character Bill Gray understood something about writing and literature that I’d long wanted to understand. I found the action compelling and original and the dialogue beyond anything found in Hemingway or Carver or any of those authors cited as the vanguard of spoken originality in prose. I was hooked. Hooked, and cursing myself for not getting it those years prior when I’d take a second to peer at that copy of Underworld on the shelf.

Dialogue

There are three things which Don DeLillo does in either a way so original it sets him apart from all his predecessors and contemporaries or a way that highlights his efforts as so much better that it makes him the best at each respective one. They are, Dialogue, America (or showcasing the American condition), and Hysteria. What follows will be an exploration of each with examples from several books. Those that aren’t mentioned (say the sheer Americanness of Underworld on the whole—what is boiled down to be a baseball novel reaches the heights of corruption in this country without missing a beat—the hysteria and loss of sanity evident in AmericanaPlayersThe Names and each of his works since) were not omitted for their lack of coherence to this triangular principle, but because the three I’ve chosen to include, Great Jones StreetMao II, and White Noise, seemed to fit this paradigm so perfectly that to expand it any further would’ve simply resulted in a longer critique regarding historical facts without much gained in the way of knowledge of DeLillo’s work. I’ll also be taking a moment to focus onCosmopolis, both the novel and the film, to bring his influence into the present.

“Who were you talking to at the door?”

“I thought you were asleep.”

“I was asleep but I wasn’t fast asleep. Somebody was at the door and the two of you talked about something. It wasn’t Fenig because I know Fenig’s voice. It wasn’t the woman downstairs because it was a man. So I surmise one thing. It was the man you’ve been waiting for. The courier. Is that who it was?”  – Great Jones Street, Page 84

DeLillo, here, presents a brief and relatively harmless scene in which two characters are discussing the delivery of a package that’s pervaded the narrative as something eerie and nothing much more just yet; however, because of some savvy and ellipsis the quotes develop into more of a syllogism of philosophical thought, something to make the reader stop and wonder about the circling nature of this conversation, something to catch the reader off-guard as perhaps more important than the piddling attempts at conversational honesty so inherent to contemporary fiction. This is, I would posit, an attempt to give more than human observation and realism; but an attempt to describe both the paranoia of the scene—the way Steinbeck would use the landscape, say, or Fitzgerald would use the details of a person’s clothing—without unwarranted exposition or descriptive dialogue that only results in eye rolls anyway.

“You look like a writer. You never used to. Took all these years. Do I recognize the jacket?”

“I think it’s yours.”

“Is it possible? The night Louise Wiegand got drunk and insulted my jacket.”

“And you took it off.”

“I threw it right down.”

“And I said I need a jacket and I did need a jacket and she said or someone said take this one.”

“Wasn’t me. I liked that jacket.”

“It’s a nice old tweed.”

“Doesn’t fit.” – Mao II, Page 95.

Here, again, we have a moment in time during Mao II when all is escalating and the character Bill Gray is losing his mind, and yet without apology DeLillo gives a brief moment of sheer reading pleasure when these two men are discussing nothing more than a jacket and, oddly enough, it lends itself completely to the lunacy of the progressing story. To write truly good dialogue, the conversations must lead you away from everything into their own world and hence can live on top of the story as our conversations live on top of the melee and hell of our daily lives. Here DeLillo has captured that aesthetic and the notion that sometimes we talk to avoid the chaos, the confusion, and the deterioration of our psyches.

Hysteria

The latter half of the 20th century for America saw some of the most catastrophic events ever documented: the terrible fuckup of the Vietnam war and Nixon himself, the hippies, the protests, the nuclear family, the Cold War, fears of communism, fear of children, fear of teenagers, fear of nothingness, of oblivion, of being blown off the earth, of blowing ourselves off the earth. It was not a good time to be a kid, an adult, or an elder, and though this could be said of any generation there were particularly interesting effects related to the monetizing and recording of these events that set it apart from anything else. It became the generation where everyone wanted to see the events transpire and be told through editorials almost as quickly what to think. Writers like Norman Mailer or Hunter S. Thompson excelled at encapsulating this condition in their works as a sort of historical and personal document, however it’s only with a chosen few—DeLillo at the forefront as we move into the 70s and onward—that fictive descriptions of our times in that half century were truly earth-shatteringly honest, if not terrifying and brazen.

“They’re not calling it the feathery plume anymore,” he said, not meeting my eyes, as if to spare him the pain of my embarrassment.

“I already knew that.”

“They’re calling it the black billowing cloud.”

“Good.”

“Why is that good?”

“It means they’re looking the thing more or less squarely in the eye. They’re on top of the situation.”

With an air of weary decisiveness, I opened the window, took the binoculars and climbed onto the ledge. I was wearing a heavy sweater and felt comfortable enough in the cold air but made certain to keep my weight tipped against the building, with my son’s outstretched hand clutching my belt. I sensed his support for my little mission, even his hopeful conviction that I might be able to add the balanced weight of a mature and considered judgment to his pure observations. This is a parent’s task, after all. White Noise, Page 113.

A brilliant description of forthcoming madness, this begins the portion of White Noise where Jack Gladney and his small college town are terrorized by an Airborne Toxic Event, and with each mounting piece of information describing what should be the family’s demise and descent into fear and paranoia, Jack has yet another bit of consolation for each of them, right up until the moment everything effects him, and he must carry that as any good, hysterical father should.

And yet it isn’t nonchalance, or laziness that makes this passage so powerful, so thought-provoking. It would seem to be the exact opposite: a sort of devotion to Americanisms that pervade our landscape in times of crisis, an adherence to the mood and conversational structures apparent in the previous parts of the novel that don’t suddenly vanish when hysteria arises—as they often do in poorly-written works describing terrorism (being suddenly blown apart with adverbs and malapropisms, the stuff of bad science fiction). DeLillo has excelled immensely at describing the terrorist act (though to be clear it’s never stated outright what the intent behind the Airborne Toxic Event was…), and considering terrorism’s close proximity to the hearts of each living person on earth today, it follows logically that his work be praised as exceptional above many others, that novels like White Noise or even the mathematical insanity of Ratner’s Star be acknowledged for capturing the hysterical zeitgeist of our planet.

America

I struggle with this one on several levels. First, I am not a proud American. I consider myself lucky the way Louis CK tells me I should for being born a white American in a time where there are certainly worse options, but I don’t hold Don DeLillo close in my heart as a particularly American figure, though his work could perhaps lead one to do otherwise. What I mean when I say DeLillo excels at describing America is that his novels set here often show me cities much exhausted—New York, the college towns in White Noise, the East Coast in general—by American fiction and yet I find my mouth watering at each description as though I’m being shown something quite unique. Not everything is set in this country, and that’s the way it should be for writers of all birthplaces, but Don DeLillo is in many ways an American-born and American-informed writer—born into a well-off-enough family, he got through college and spent one summer delving into the modernists and post-modernists working some menial job; he then worked for sometime at an ad agency until renouncing that to spend much of his time at the movies watching Godard, etc., all things characteristic of writers to come from here for many years past (though granted there are many things in there quite universal).

Finally, I tie this characterization or identification of Americanness in DeLillo to the former category, hysteria. For roughly two hundred years—perhaps more, perhaps less—America has been the most neurotic, confused, desperate, aggressive and fundamentally hysteric nations on earth. Mailer took a crack at it, as did Fitzgerald, Exley, Auster, Hemingway, Wolfe (1 & 2), Thompson, Gaddis, Whitman, Kerouac, etc. etc. etc., but in my opinion one of the most keenly-felt moods in DeLillo is that extremely organic American Hysteria; better felt in him most moments than all those mentioned and more.

Entering COSMOPOLIS

To close here today I’m moving forward right up to the present—it should be noted before I delve deeper that DeLillo’s short story collection The Angel Esmerelda is a fucking masterpiece and should be read immediately (I’m not kidding, I haven’t read a collection of short stories this brilliant in a very long time). First, I’d like to discuss the novel Cosmopolis, before addressing the Cronenberg adaptation, starring Robert Pattinson.

I recently had the immense pleasure of rereading the novel (I’d like to say right off the bat that there’s really no excuse for watching the movie first without reading it, it’s a very quick read and quite palatable) describing Eric Packer’s slow descent into madness and desperation and several thoughts rang loudly through my mind.

#1 The Joyce Influence/Comparison Paradox

Cosmopolis is a picaresque depicting a single day in a man’s life as he moves throughout a city with significant emphasis made on grooming (he’s going to get a haircut, essentially, to simplify it beyond recognition). I’d like to formally state that, though there are obvious similarities and DeLillo is a noted fan of Joyce, this incessant little factoid (the question of whether it’s meant to directly reflect Ulysses or not) belittles the book in a great many ways; even considering the longstanding and indisputable merits of Joyce, Cosmopolis is a thing all its own, and starting out attempting to find corresponding events or passages is only going to ruin your experience reading one of the great contemporary stories ever told.

#2 Samuel Beckett, meet Benno Levin

The only real divergence from the story of Eric Packer in the novel is a confessional written by someone named (we think) Benno Levin. This, interestingly enough, reminded me to no end of the prose and lunacy of Samuel Beckett, a comparison only relevant due to the important distinction eventually made between Joyce and Beckett—with Joyce throwing in every mite of intellect available to him and Beckett deciding one day in his mother’s bedroom that he’d focus on a sort of anti-intellect, the literature of characters losing everything, devoid of intelligence and money and status, which he went on to due unforgettably in novels like Molloy, Malone Dies, orThe UnnamableCosmopolis is nestled somewhere in the middle of these two giants of the written word; harboring the brilliance and savvy of storytelling inherent to Joyce while exploring content and minimalist passages made effective by Beckett’s prose.

#3 How the fuck is David Cronenberg going to pull this off?

Though one of my greatest obsessions this past year has been watching Cronenberg’s more recent films (notably the Viggo Mortensen movies, which feature some of the best storytelling I’ve seen on screen in years) and reading DeLillo’s later novels; I never once considered the prospect of these two joining forces. Cronenberg being a master of subverted violence and strange character study, and DeLillo being a sort of businessman’s nightmare-weaver with a penchant for getting his point across no matter what the subject matter, frankly, I couldn’t see one’s abilities complimenting the other; but rather the result being a highbrow mélange of insanity that entertains, but harbors little of the original narrative—let alone showcase the merits of a brilliant director.

I pondered this right up until the last moment of reading and, having seen the trailer, even attempted to ascribe certain qualities in the prose to Robert Pattinson’s person, and still I felt confused, so confused.

I closed the book, shut my brain off and put it right next to that still-daunting (though thoroughly read time and again, after all) copy of Underworld and figured “fuck it, I’m going to the movies.”

[Watch the Cosmopolis movie trailer here]

DeLillo on screen.

Eerie, eerie, from beginning to end the experience of watching DeLillo’s work captured on screen was very, very eerie. I enjoyed it, though certainly Pattinson’s acting suffers moments of debilitating lassitude, he returns to form when it matters most. The eeriness, I think, comes from the realization that you’re watching what’s at least a damn good interpretation of something you’ve created in your mind; like watching a painting before you’ve finished it being done by a stranger, I’d imagine.

Cronenberg is obviously a fan of both the novel, Cosmopolis, and the work of Don DeLillo in general. This is apparent from the beginning as there are staggeringly few deviations from the original text and those that do happen—looking at the book it’d be impossible to expect the entirety of the film to match it—are soon set aside as necessary for the transition from printed word to screen, and we’re hence back into Cronenberg’s (an artist, in every way DeLillo’s an artist) interpretation of the dreamscape that is the original text. Dialogue here is kept in its place with a monkish sanctity that leaves one applauding the actors, the directors, and the author in the first place for writing a book that makes its way onto the screen with nary a hiccup between words.

Performances that measure up as something worthy of the original endeavor unfortunately do not include Pattinson’s—he did an excellent job with what he had, but one can’t shake the notion that he’s constantly trying to put on his “actor” face… The two actors that left me floored and without the slightest bit of trepidation or fear that they were getting it wrong are Mathieu Amalric and Paul Giamatti (an aside: I thought Sarah Gadon did an exquisite interpretation of Elise Shifrin but in general her acting wasn’t noteworthy), playing Andre Petrescu (the pastry assassin who notoriously seeks out known personalities and assaults them with pies) and Benno Levin, the Beckett-esque character from above who, as the novel/film moves along, becomes decidedly more integral to the life of Eric Packer.

Another consideration aside from the film and novel themselves lends itself to the earlier notion of Ulysses-Cosmopolis similarities. Firstly, Ulysses is absolutely impossible to make into a film. The brilliant wordplay and use of nearly everything under the sun regarding language make it first and foremost a literary pursuit (for reader and writer) that would lose all of its élan if put through the reels of Hollywood. The brilliance of the DeLillo novel is that—Joyce comparisons intended or otherwise—he’s written something contemporary, scathing, confusing, literary and cinematic in such a way that it translates to the screen in the hands of a true visionary with very little lost along the way.

I think, or rather I’m quite certain, the best result of this film will be a lofty handful of readers of DeLillo that wouldn’t have otherwise discovered him, because anyone curious enough to pick up the book will soon realize it exceeds the film in vision and artistry in every way; but all the same I can’t escape that initial eeriness that I felt at seeing the novel I saw in my head put onto the screen. Cosmopolis  (the book) is a fucking head rush, the sort of thing you don’t imagine could ever be transferrable to the movies, and yet that seems to be what’s happened nonetheless, and we’re given two takes on a massive story well into the future the novel so brilliantly describes.

***

Grant Maierhofer is the author of The Persistence of Crows and the weekly column A Cabana of the Mind for Delphian Inc., his unrelated work can be found at GrantMaierhofer.Org. He lives in Wisconsin and is currently at work revising a second novel for publication next fall.

25 Points: 20 Lines a Day

by Jacob Siefring

20 Lines a Day
by Harry Mathews
Dalkey Archive Press, 1988
134 pages / $10.95 buy from Dalkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. In the fifth floor of the library, I picked the book up, read what the premise was, and thought resentfully, “What a bunch of bullshit, this looks boring, look how anything gets published.” I didn’t know who Harry Mathews was yet. Years ago.

2. “You never have earned the right to sit at the table and let someone else clear away the dishes. No accumulation of knowledge can guarantee that you aren’t a fool. The roast is over-cooked. You slice bread for the seven-hundredth time and cut off the tip of your left forefinger. You touch her as coarsely as any boor, being now the boor. You meet an old friend, you have forgotten his name, you cannot look him in the face: not looking him in the face, you wound him and you start lying to him and to yourself. Go off and sulk and complain and explain why it happened. It won’t help. Instead, be an actor, or an athlete, on stage, on the field, giving–as you once eagerly proposed to yourself–everything to the perishable act.”

3. “I have nothing to write in particular, I’m writing these lines because of my rule that I must write them.”

4. Some writers set quotas, others set routines, some set both, and some (the scriptomanic ones for whom procrastination is not a threat) set neither. A page a day (Paul Theroux); 50,000 words in a month (NaNoWriMo); two hours every morning (W.S. Maugham); 20 minute blocks (Cory Doctorow); at least a sentence a day (W.G. Sebald); pre-dawn (Paul Valéry, Jacques Roubaud); etc.

5. “Whatever I write tells my story without my knowing it.”

6. “Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.” (Walter Benjamin, “One Way Street,” Reflections)

7. “Sometimes the ultimate message is in fact received. It reads, more or less: ‘Your ligament issues from a spa that is given various narcissisms at various time-tables: lozenge, credulity, goggles. And not only your ligament (and that of others): the prodigy that generates mayday has the same orthography. You and the upkeep are one. Give up sugarbowls.’ At such moments you realize, and you remember, that such messages have never been lacking, and that they are all the same, and that the problem (if that is the word) doesn’t involve receiving but deciphering what is received again and again, day after day, minute after minute.”

8. There’s an implicit link between 20 Lines a Day and the next novel Mathews would publish, The Journalist (1994). One sees how the method Mathews followed for 20 Lines is adopted as a fictional premise and device for The Journalist.

9. “Anxiety about writing feels like: I am poor in words, ideas, and feelings, and when I sit down to write, this poverty will be revealed.”

10. “The table is a beautiful thing. The writing board is supported on a base consisting of two tubular legs shaped like narrow inverted U’s, with a tubular foot running across the mouth of each U, projecting about thirty centimeters beyond it on either side. The legs are connected to the board by an adjustable parallelogram made of bone-shaped pieces of flat metal. The knobs of the bones are pierced with pivotal studs that hold the sides of the parallelogram together. Two strong springs, to hold the angles in place, maintain pressure against two other springs fixed just below the board. A single lever controls this disposition and locks the board in place. Changing the angles of the parallelogram permits one to alter both the height and angle of the board in one movement. Board, parallelogram, legs and feet are white; springs, studs, and lever handle are black.”

11. Mathews’s 20 lines can be virtually anything: an Oulipian (N+7) exercise; health concerns, particularly facial neuralgia; descriptions of weather and the immediate environment (tropical St. Bart’s, NYC, Lans in France, Italy); progress reports for the writing of the first draft of Cigarettes(1987); bits of Surrealist automatic writing; family matters; admissions of mourning for his deceased friend, Oulipian Georges Perec; musings on Werner Erhard’s e s t training; throughout, his relentless self-analysis. The book is very much an edited journal intime, but it has the crystalline quality of Mathews’s other work, that relentlessly exacting attention to syntax, poignancy of inner, private experience that figures in the later novels (The JournalistCigarettes). Absent are the Baroque quasi-Gothic elements, the abstruseness, the cerebral impenetrability ofTloothThe Sinking of the The Odradek Stadium, and The Conversions.

12. “Stendhal meant something different from this.”

13. “When you go to piss in the bathroom with people within possible earshot (and sometimes with no people around at all), you direct your jet at the edge of the pool of water in the toilet bowl so as to reduce the noise you make.”

14. During and after having read Harry Mathews’s 20 Lines a Day (1988; Dalkey Archive Press) I set myself the 20 lines quota, using a long quadrillé pad and a fountain pen to trace my thoughts. My readings of Mathews inevitably influenced my own compositions–I used the daily entries as a means of recapping, and recuperating from, the events of daily life. No one can tell what I would have written without Mathews’s influence on me, prefiguring and directing the subjects, style, and approach of my writing. My discipline flagged, I was inconstant. Mathews too. But I am slowly making advances, inroads. There’s progress. I still write in my notebook.

15. “Lines of verse count extra.”

16. Technologies of the self include notebooks in which one writes diaristic, journalistic, and textual commonplaces from daily life (Foucault). The keeping of such a journal, commonplace notebook, or diary constitutes a practice of mental hygiene. Coincidentally, Foucault died the day before Mathews’s conclusion of his project.

17. To write 20 lines a day is not daunting (anyone can do it), especially if one imposes no continuity, consistency of form, or subject matter.

18. Despite the lack of constraint–the openness of the subject matter addressed in a diary–a strong internal consistency of writing arises. This is the continuity of the self day in and day out, the author thinking.

19. “… Matthison, Mattei, Matteotti, Mathias, Mateus, Matthieu, Mahieu, Madeu, Mathet, Mathie, Mathiez, Matisse, Matthis, Matteo, Mathelin, Mathiret, Mathiot, Mathon, Matou, Méhu, Mattuaeus …”

20. “Are you going to wait until you are on the point of death to give up this model: your old, old self, tiny, terrified, aware of his power only through the intensity of the anxieties that shrivelled him? A lifetime of refusal ending in a revelation that melts the past in one moment or movement of surrender to the truth makes a fit drama for literature.”

21. Early in life Stendhal (Henri Beyle) set himself the injunction: vingt lignes par jour, génie ou pas(twenty lines a day, genius or not).

22. “You have a fantasy of discovering that you suffer from cancer, or a brain tumor, or some other affliction of a most grave, probably mortal kind. You keep the knowledge of it entirely to yourself. Not only do you not burden those who love you with the news, you become for them a companion of perfect humor, gaiety, and warmth.”

23. This slim book compiles a selection of entries from Mathews’s notebook from March 16, 1983 to June 26, 1984. During the interval I and many people I know were born. That’s unrelated.

24. “Yesterday evening, having after months of to-do listing bought a new handle for my big pickaxe, I fitted it to the pick head and set it to soak in the bathtub.”

25. “Having nothing to write about (nothing particular to write about) suggests a question: what this morning do you particularly not want to think about?”

 

Jacob Siefring has an MA in English and a website, www.bibliomanic.com. He’s from around Dayton, Ohio but lives in Montreal, where he is a graduate student in library-and-information-science.

25 Points: Lew Welch

by Patrick James Dunagan

Ring of Bone: Collected Poems
by Lew Welch
City Lights Publishers, 2012
252 pages / $17.95 buy from City Lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. I’ve been reading Lew Welch for some 20 odd years. First I read Edgar Allen Poe, Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, Hawthorne, Thoreau et al and then I found out about Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, and Lew Welch. (I heard of Philip Whalen too but he took a while longer for me to dig)

2. Welch met Whalen and Snyder when all were students together @ Reed College in Portland, OR on lawns where I once threw a Frisbee (was it?) several years ago with my pal Jeffrey Butler and his son Austin. And then a couple years later went back to see the JESS show. Lately I’ve been avoiding phone calls. I only talk to my mom. I owe Jeffrey Butler up in PDX a good long chat one of these days.

3. When I read Lew Welch I often think about Robinson Jeffers (and vice versa)
“I’m the ghost Roan Stallion” – Lew Welch

4. Both Leos, we’re born August 16th

LEO MENAGERIE

Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, Lew Welch, and me.

5. “You know Lew always CRIES when he reads and it will ruin the evening.”
–Joanne Kyger. http://jacketmagazine.com/27/w-kyge.html

6. David Highsmith gave me a broadside, “Raid Kills Bugs Dead” for my birthday one year. It’s up in our bathroom. This tag-line, ad copy throwaway, now emblazoned in millions of modern day minds, is attributed to Welch from his 9-5 Chicago workadays.

7. Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News is Welch’s step-son. He sang Welch’s “Graffiti” with his mother in the audience @ SF Public Library. Dig it: http://youtu.be/N5diFN_Gpx4

8. Welch walked off with his gun never to be seen again.

9. Tall and lanky with a bursting head of red describes Lew Welch as if he was a good looking woman.

10. Before any poet bothers to write a poem concerning problems of rat infestation they should be familiar with Welch’s “Buddhist Bard Turns Rat Slayer” especially if they consider themselves to be Buddhist and are a “professor” in the Bay Area.

11. There are moments in Welch’s poetry I find him to be the greatest of poets and others where I have no feeling whatsoever for what he’s doing.

12. Kush of Cloud House is the biggest fan of Welch I know. Ask him to sing Lew Welch poems for you!

13. One time I wrote and published some sophomoric lines mimicking Welch’s “Ring of Bone”. …I saw myself… in the Dutch stream of her thighs…

14. In that photo out of Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan biography that’s not a bearded (?!?) Welch standing back of a phenomenally drunk looking Jack Spicer next to an elegantly young knockout Joanne Kyger, it’s the infamously great poet Ebbe Borregaard!

15. How did she get all the way up this hill
With one leg in a cast
On crutches
Dead drunk
In that very modern party dress
1:30 a.m.
Dirt trail treacherous with Eucalyptus nuts
The night moonless and fogged over anyway?
(Welch, “For A Kyger Known By Another name”)

16. As a young man, Welch was among the earliest as well as by far the most readable and enlightening of Gertrude Stein scholars.

17. There was a riot down on Market St. in San Francisco. Welch went down to check it out with Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley. Outside a bar they nearly tripped over Philip Whalen who was drying out his feet resting them on the unusually sun-warmed pavement. “Hi Phil,” said Notley stooping down as Welch & Berrigan went inside the bar each for a piss and beer.

18. In his interview with David Meltzer, Welch identifies Charles Parker and Jack Spicer as the two men most hell bent on self-destruction he’d ever witnessed.

19. My great uncle Jack Pinkham lived with his wife in a space with his art studio and rooftop garden attached during the Sixties over near Potrero in San Francisco. It was the top quarters of a glass manufacturer. My mother would occasionally visit them there before her marriage to my father. She would sit and discuss the Bible with Jack. Lew Welch on occasion picked her up in his cab after she’d been walking the bay’s edge for a couple hours and took her back to Jack’s. He dug the rooftop garden and all Jack’s sculptures scattered about.

20. Slang envelops Welch’s poems without ever diminishing them.

21. My mom and dad used to drive around in RVs. Once they drove up to San Francisco from Anaheim to see her uncle Jack and also pal around with Welch. They went to the river and Welch and my dad sat around smoking pot and drinking whiskey shooting at ground squirrels with a .22 and a bb gun. Both of them broke down in tears when they killed a squirrel.

22. Once my dad used a machete to lop off the head of a rattler who had curled up beneath his girlfriend’s sweater which she had left under her cot while camping next to the Colorado River. He grilled up the snake and ate it: “Like chicken”.

23. John Cusack recently starred as Edgar Allen Poe in The Raven. A horribly confused murder mystery suspense that switched up biographical facts with Poe’s fiction and poems. (In the universe of the film Poe’s literary executor and subsequent posthumous arch-nemesis Griswold ends up being one of the victims, killed therefore before Poe’s own death.) I hope nobody ever makes a film about Lew Welch, or attempts otherwise portray him: this does mean YOU James Franco. (I do however still hold out hope for the making of the film POUND. Sophia Coppola to direct. Sean Penn, nicely wizened, in the lead role. Feeding feral cats, appearing stoic. Lots of silent long shots of sky water earth.)

24. I’ve never read Welch’s incomplete novel I, Leo. Yet have consumed everything else on multiple occasions. Welch’s letters are fantastic.

25. Lew Welch on the ridge breaking dawn corduroy & rifle glistening eye’d gazes down.

25 Points: Robinson Alone

by Nicolle Elizabeth

Robinson Alone
by Kathleen Rooney
Gold Wake Press, 2012
132 pages / $12.95 buy from Powell’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Robinson Alone is a book by Kathleen Rooney. She publishes Rose Metal Press which is good for flash fiction. Robinson Alone is from Gold Wake Press you can get it here through SPD they only have 18 left right now: http://www.spdbooks.org/Producte/9780983700142/robinson-alone.aspx This is the trailer if you’re into visuals and varying auditory sensations:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwBEDk5rjfQ

2. Robinson Alone is in flash poems which are all: Robinson writes a letter. Robinson is a letter. Etc like that. We follow Robinson through his entire life also Kathleen Rooney has written something beautiful. Actually I was so/so for the first 12 pages or so then loved it this book rules.

3. My new things is “just fucking saying it” how’s this working out.

4. I quoted some of the book for you here okay.

5. Robinson Walks Museum Mile

6. The thought coalesces: a snowflake in the muggy air.

7. Let’s break into small groups & save each other.

8. This friend is a blowhard.

9. Robinson stoops on his stoop

10. This is Nicolle again, hi. Also I think that geography is huge throughout the work. Robinson goes to Wellfleet, Robinson goes to Ptown. These are ominous beaches in New England. Ok sorry to interrupt the reading of Kathleen Rooney quotes from Robinson Alone bye.

11. One rule of attraction? Never act like you want the thing you’re attracting.

12. Incompletion makes people want to fill your blanks in.

13. Consider consider consider the oyster.

14. AT RACE POINT BEACH, ROBINSON SMOKES TEA

15. At the sound of the question (from one of the Senior Editors): “Are you happy here?” you know your goose is cooked. I’m going to try to stay away from a regular job as long as I can, unless something so tempting that I can’t resist it comes along. Nearing the end. Write.

16. ROBINSON ON THE ROOFDECK There’s something sexy in desolation.

17. He keeps looking in the windows. Do you think this means anything? No more paper. Write.

18. WHAT DOES HE WANT? THE FUTURE! WHEN DOES HE WANT IT? NOW! 1939 New York World’s Fair. He was there. He was there.

19. What could have
remained a national treasure, now
seems the last full measure
of obscene sarcasm.

20. ROBINSON BUYS A SOUVENIR POSTCARD
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard
of a lonesome man buying a postcard

21. How they hold themselves apart.

22. Ann drinks alone. During the day. For no particular reason.

23. Various vistas opening up here.

24. But he could
start over in the afterglow.

25. I blows kisses in your direction. Love, Nicolle

Enduring Freedom

by Kristin Sanders

Enduring Freedom
by Laura Mullen
Otis Books | Seismicity Editions 2012
80 pages / $12.95  Buy from SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura Mullen has been doing a lot of crazy things lately.  And by crazy, I mean wedding-related poetry performances.  She has invited her audience to cut a wedding gown off her body in many cities—Denver, Lafayette, Paris—a culturally fraught version of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece.  She has worn a wedding dress to a gulf coast oil spill protest in New Orleans.  And she has re-sewn a once-cut dress into an awkward, stitched wound of a dress for her “poetry wedding” in Baton Rouge last month.

Full disclosure: I was a bridesmaid in her “poetry wedding.”  And by “poetry wedding,” I mean the launch for her seventh book, Enduring Freedom.  I wore a bright pink dress and, for my contribution to the ceremony, stalked around the seated audience with the poet Afton Wilky, reading/shouting out a list of operation names from the Iraq War.  This list is one of the poems in Mullen’s book.  When I got to “Baton Rouge,” I paused for effect.  When I got to “Church,” I spoke extra loud.  When I got to “Enduring Freedom,” it all made sense.

Because a wedding is a kind of war.  A war is a kind of wedding.  If the parallels aren’t clear yet, they will be after you read Mullen’s book.  The voices in these prose poems are crazy, sad, frustrated, frugal, suffering from PTSD (of the war? of the wedding?).  They are brides!

We know brides.  Even if you aren’t/can’t/haven’t yet/never plan to/O yes have been a bride, you know the territory: the gown, the DIY, the invitation, the photography, the gestures, the whole commercialized industry.  These poems remind us of the performance of weddings.  And that tradition breeds cliché, decay.  And the inauthenticity of something proclaiming its own sincerity.

But things get scarier, because a wedding is a war:

“She lowers her borrowed veil as if going into battle and though she knows her skirmish is part of a larger (on-going) conflict any actual confrontation with proof of that fact is dangerous” (28).

And, from “Bride of the Photograph 1940-1944:”

“The cloudlike dress was contested territory: if silk for a formal wedding “raised the moral of the troops,” as the industry claimed, it was also needed to drop them (softly) behind enemy lines— each wedding gown is a potential parachute.  So this slithery whisper as her undone dress slides to the floor conjures other night raids.  So both the ‘chute and the dress are bundled up and (like the soldier and bride) disappear after their use.  Wadded back into the deployment bag, or stiff in its long box, cleaned and preserved in the “heirloom process.”  Our daughter will wear it.  Our son will wear it.  Out” (44).

“Brides are the focus of such outpouring of love and joy […] but nobody cares for the newlywed,” remarks a former bride (49).  Ah, and then the soldiers!  Their struggles in acclimating to post-war life, PTSD, etc.  We settle into the parallel, the difficult reality of it.

But things get scarier.  Mullen brings to our attention all sorts of uncomfortable ideas besides the overt consumerism and empty tradition of the wedding industry: take, for example, the recent Louisiana oil spill, the landscape as “Mother Earth.”  In “Bride of the Bayou,” the speaker exclaims, “But this was a bride once!” Because if the earth is “mother,” she must have been “bride,” right?  Who, then, is the groom?  Who takes responsibility for the spilling/spoiling?  Mullen also touches on postcolonialism, with found text: “If [he] governed India anywhere as competently as he governed/ her body, no wonder everyone lauded his actions/ He ravaged her mouth” (66).  There’s nothing pure about these poems; the white dress keeps meaning BLANK.  As in: blank history, blank thoughts, willed ignorance, which becomes a unifying theme.

After all, if you can read, in the book’s final poem,

“As the piece progresses, more and more of the set should be tagged by huge illegible signatures and more or less elaborate versions of dollar signs” (73)

and you’re not sure if that applies to a wedding, a war, a natural disaster, or a political movement— there’s a whole hell of a lot that’s being ignored here.

***

Kristin Sanders is the author of the chapbook, Orthorexia (Dancing Girl Press). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming inEveryday Genius, Octopus, Tenderloin, Strange MachineHTMLGiant, and elsewhere. She currently teaches at Loyola University New Orleans and is a poetry editor at the New Orleans Review. Her newest project is Books I Read By Women.

25 POINTS APPROACHING THE MEMOIRS OF JONBENET BY KATHY ACKER BY MICHAEL DU PLESSIS

by Impossible Mike

The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker
by Michael du Plessis
Les Figues Press, 2012
103 pages / $15.00 buy from Les Figues Press

 

 

 

 

1. I have only read one true-crime novel or account or whatever they’re called within the genre–if you count Peter Sotos as a true crime author (why would you?) I guess this is a false statement–a book on JonBenet, and it was sort of astounding and blew my mind. I know most of these true crime books are about two steps away from conspiracy theorists & 9/11 truthers, but ultimately the way evidence is presented, if not actual evidence, creates a new world of fiction that is both troubling and astounding.

2. And as such I’ve had a JonBenet obsession ever since. There’s a gross collaboration going on within the recounting of the JonBenet narrative: the young white princess of middle america challenged by a vicious S/M monster snuff ring kiddie porn mystery. And perhaps the perpetrator was her parents? It’s like the pool party at the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas; this is the true avant-garde of American letters, the fuckTness of the popular zeitgeist.

3. Then there’s Kathy Acker, who I want to haunt me like the sun does, and she does sometimes, and she surrounds the air of the people I eat dinner with here in San Francisco.

4. Kathy Acker is a force invented by both fiction and second-hand statements that act as a guide when the bullshit becomes too much.

5. Have I mentioned there is also a chapter where JonBenet as Kathy Acker (or the other way around) is O from Story of O (which retains such a more beautiful sounding title en francais,Histoire D’O) and Rene is nowhere to be found and certainly NOT Little Lord Fauntelroy but rather Boulder is Roissy somehow and the carpet is all similar and the entire facade crumbles under the watchful eyes of O I mean JonBenet I mean Kathy Acker I mean Michael Du Plessis.

6. Right now, while writing this, I am hungry and want to go make myself a sandwich but I’m trying to stave off the hunger until this is finished because JonBenet is a doll and a doll is not real and dolls do not have to eat to sustain themselves and TO BE REAL IS THE WORST.

7. Nothing in this novel moves in a linear fashion. Events happen and then other events happen but there is certainly not any discernible narrative arc unless you literally construct one out of “your ass” which, I suppose, is possible, but ultimately not within the diegesis of the novel itself.

8. Of course what I mean by the above point is that within this realm of circumstantial ‘realism’ that may or may not be what the point of contention on this blog even is lately, it’s ultimately futile when you realize that modernity is over (jesus christ get over it) and we are all so post-grand-narrative that the way things move is LIKE THIS, okay? Yesterday I went to work I ate a pretzel I took like three shits I sat on some stairs I read a Franck André Jammes book I took the BART to my boyfriend’s house and then I passed out without having sex because I was feeling exhausted HI THIS IS HOW NARRATIVE WORKS IN REAL LIFE, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS REALISM SHIT.

9. It’s like the way narrative works in this book is how Kathy Acker understood narrative which means, both, that Du Plessis understands Acker and that both Acker and Du Plessis understand narrative.

10. What I mean by this is the movement in this book is gorgeous but stilted which makes it even more beautiful. Why are we reading?

11. A chapter that I love because it first made me want to laugh out loud and then riled me up in agreement and then made me realize that whoever was speaking was just making shit up as they went along (but then again that’s what I’m doing right now) is the chapter where Kathy Acker (possibly a Kathy Acker doll, probably not JonBenet as Kathy Acker or Kathy Acker as JonBenet) delivers a lecture at a Boulder university about how Stephen King is every Straight White Male Author–including the untouchable DFW–and how he has done nothing but try to ruin everything, welcome to hell, Boulder is everywhere, Boulder is terrible.

12. Isn’t Boulder like one of the few universities in the country that has a creative writing PhD program? I wonder if Du Plessis was in it, I wonder if his former professors and co-students have read this novel. My guess is probably not to the final question just posited.

13. The most brilliant point in the novel, I think, comes in the second to last chapter of the novel, when Du Plessis collapses into his own narrative and breaks the diegesis, and after finally admitting to himself that this text is “an overblown break-up novel about Boulder that uses [JonBenet] as a metaphor.” The novel itself breaks down into a paratactical simultaneity, it’s like parallel universe shit, when the real is brought up:

Oh, instead of this, the fiction of false endings! Fiction is always false endings: the royal messenger shows up just in time, flourishing a pardon, and you’re off the gallows. Carrie reaches up from hell, from her grave, and drags you in, only you wake up, eyes agape, gasping and gawking into the camera. O and René are reunited. The carpet slinks out of Boulder, defeated. Tiffany doesn’t die of Ecstasy. Little Lord Fauntleroy loves JonBenet all the more because she doesn’t love herself. Why, even John and I get back together again, all is forgotten to begin anew, and this book is never written. JonBenet, moppet, adorable, precious, stays a living doll forever.

14. The above strikes me both as really beautiful and heavy because what are we all doing other than fooling ourselves when we try to escape the real by writing fiction and then some of us decide we want to put ourselves inside of this shell called ‘realism’ so we have to heighten the artifice to achieve that because there is no meta-text in realism but then we forget what we’re doing and suddenly we’re animating dead-murdered-child-beauty-pageant-contestants as dolls who save up their pennies to go to the mall and buy a Kathy Acker doll and all the costumes made specifically for the doll (which are of course sold separately because this is Boulder is America is Capitalism).

15. I will break my own diegetic review world in order to go eat a sandwich now, perhaps upon my return we can treat the final 9 points I have to make as a count-down to a world where bullshit arguments don’t happen on lit blogs.

16. I accidentally just took like a two hour lunch break from writing this review, though I’m not really sure what happened because all I ate was 1/3rd of a pita with some hummus and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Most normal people would presuppose that that is “too many carbs” for one meal but whatever you can do whatever you want in life.

17. Whenever I’m writing a book review I keep a copy of the book in proximity to my laptop but, in all reality, rarely actually look at the book unless I want to specifically quote something which, perhaps, isn’t that often, but I generally resort to when I know I need to “bulk up” the review a bit with more content.

18. My copy of THE MEMOIRS OF JONBENET BY KATHY ACKER by Michael Du Plessis is sitting next to my laptop on my bed right now. I’m horizontal on the bed, because I’ve been exhaustedly running myself ragged lately and can’t deal with the idea of sitting up.

19. I know and generally insist that it is a moot point whether or not a reviewer ‘liked’ or ‘disliked’ whatever text (non-medium specific of course) she is reviewing, but because of how much I liked this book I want to point out that it’s one of those fun examples of what is, actually, experimental literature but ALSO STILL really fun and you wouldn’t really know it’s experimental literature unless you thought about it afterward, it’s so far away from those far-too-serious White Men in Academia (the ironic point is that Du Plessis is a man in academia, is he a White Man in Academia? he seems to not be straight at least), it’s kind of like how all of the novels from the New Narrative movement work out. This is the movement Kathy Acker was associated with. Bob Gluck made brilliantly delicious lattkes with some homemade mayonnaise reduction sauce-thing (maybe, I don’t know the name for a lot of the shit I’ve been eating lately because I’ve only lived in San Francisco for a little over a year and the foodie culture is just finally seeping into me), and then, possibly on my urging because I am prone to doing as such, Kathy Acker came up and I asked him which book she repeats a paragraph three times in. He couldn’t remember for sure but assumed it was an earlier novel.

20. I am curious to read more books by Du Plessis because I enjoyed this one quite a bit, though I have to admit that I was kind of sad to read in the bio, professed at the end of the book, that he currently teaches comp lit at a university because the myopic entropy of academia scares me even though I know it’s pointless to write about this fear on lit blogs any more because everyone needs to make money somehow and who am I to tell people how they should or shouldn’t make money.

21. I mean ultimately this is a note I should take to heart because I struggle with having enough money to buy food or a bus pass or to pay my rent pretty regularly so maybe the myopic entropy holds more to it than disappointment.

22. I’d like to apologize to anybody reading this review who is actually interested in the book for the last 5 points, but I’m not going to remove them because I feel like they’re important.

23. Lovecraft is also a character, sort of, in this book, even though Boulder is not in Rhode Island. Lovecraft is effeminate and his racism is erased in favor of questing for the fagginess that Kathy loves, and JonBenet loves, and Du Plessis clearly loves, which I love. There are some Eldritch tone pitches and pastiches throughout, I think this novel might sort of be a horror novel but the only thing that’s terrifying is the Boulder of middle america.

24. Reading this book kind of made me think that Boulder is similar to San Francisco in terms of some of the terrible parts of its main demographics but then again California is about 1200x better than Colorado in my humble experiences.

25. If someone were to insist on a thesis, one that I would have to deliver, I would suggest it at this: “Read this book.” Sorry, I’m terrible at ending things, but it’s okay because I’m unfortunately REAL and to be REAL means that there are no grand narratives and really we won’t be present for the end.

Valley of the Dolls

by Naomi Riddle

I’ll admit that I giggled when Miley cut her hair and her twitter fan said she looked butch. I laughed when Britney went loco and shaved it all off. Hair seems to be the number one method of rebellion for the Disney starlets, this host of young women who grow up in front of the camera with overly white smiles and innocent girlish good-looks (often dimples), and then completely implode in the most public way possible.  Yes, of course, these girls seek out stardom, and there will always be young kids who will do anything to get on TV or have their fame moment online, particularly now in this image-saturated techno age. And there will always be parents who will push their child from the moment they can walk to be a triple singing-dancing-acting threat. But what really intrigues/confuses me is this idea of the spectacle itself, the way in which there is an intense focus placed on these young women as they mature from kids to teenagers to young adults:  it’s a coming-of-age that comes with a side of anti-depressants and multiple rehab trips – but it serves as global entertainment – whether it’s taking place on the Disney set, or through leaked grainy mobile bra pics and indiscretions at the Chateau Marmont.

 

What I find interesting is the way in which these girls become less subject, more object. Their constructed images on Disney shows, particularly those of Miley, Selena and Vanessa Hudgens, are deliberately blurred between fiction and reality. Miley playing Miley Stewart on Hannah Montana paralleled and reacted with her own ascent to stardom, it made the cracks all the more powerful when the cigarette and salvia-smoking Cyrus made the front page of People. And there so many of them, and most, not all, follow exactly the same pattern: a rapid acceleration of fame and success, followed by an equally rapid self-destructive downward spiral, often involving drugs, excessive sexual escapades, and very public mental breakdowns.

Eileen Myles wrote in Inferno ‘that there is a moment a women’s life when she discovers she can have sex with as many people as she wants.’ And I wonder if it is this moment that lies at the heart of the spectacle the audience finds so intoxicating, the moment of transition between innocent child-star and fully-fledged, often raging, sexual woman – Christina’s crotchless pants come to mind. And this moment, this point of knowledge is captured in so much detail, from going out sans underwear, to lesbian flirtations, and an endless succession of DUI’s and mugshots. Maybe it’s a need to see childish innocence so completely undone in a very pubic manner, an obsession with a hedonistic female youth that we all secretly desire to be or to have. Is it that much-discussed idea that we all desire to see the virgin (as so many of these girls avow their chastity upfront) suddenly and completely destroyed by their sexualisation and involvement in adult life? That it’s kind of hot when they’re virgins with midrifts but not when they actually start having sex. I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s just that the information is so easily available now – fb, twitter, tumblr, perezhilton – that we just expect and anticipate these images and these narratives – that they are now embedded in the culture. It’s a twist on the coming-of-age narrative that seems easy to get, expected, contained in three very nicely packaged acts (ascent-fall-redemption).

What I really want to untangle, and what I’m struggling to get, is the reason why there is this endless self-perpetuating cycle of young girls going from mega child-stardom, with usually a very public Christian message or avowal (thank you Disney) to hysteric and mental collapse, and then a kind of recuperation/reinvention through even more media outlets (see Lindsey and her posters for the new Lifetime series Dick and Liz). There is the endless level of interest, curiosity and desire for gossip-porn that sustains it. And I don’t think that it can be dismissed as tall poppy syndrome, or that it’s simply part of human nature to want to see these girls fall off their very high and wealthy pedestal.

It’s not that we relish the failure because there is so much interest in the third act: the reinventing and renewing of crashed out teen stars. The decision to take on both Britney and Demi Lovato as X Factor judges to compete with J. Lo’s impressive collection of bodysuits on Idolis a weird mix of wanting these two women, who’ve both had some pretty severe breakdowns, to come back with a vengeance, and the underlying possibility that hey, they just might go nuts again for us on camera. This was clear right from the outset with the number of leaks about Demi and Britney not getting on, temper tantrums and walk outs on set.  Then there is the endless reflexive meta-aspect where former teen queens who had spectacular descents are mentoring other teens so that they too can take on the status of teen queen, encouraging other somewhat fragile kids that they too can be like them – all in front of a camera and, I assume, accompanied by a large supply of valium and sedatives. The mental breakdown has just become a continuation of the performance, of the media cycle. It’s the same with Spring Breakers and V. Hudg pouting in her bikini in exactly the same pose that a couple of years ago was found on her mobile phone.

I feel like these starlets suggest some pretty sinister undertones to the entertainment industry: there is more than a whiff of manipulation of unstable young adults by parents/executives/management, and there is an ever increasingly short cycle that means most of these girls are burnt out and screwed up by seventeen (Demi is 20 and now a ‘mentor’). But what I find most concerning is the obsession and influence of this three-act narrative arc. These narratives seep into broader cultural concerns, have much more far-reaching influence that just a half-hour sitcom aimed at tweens (12-14). I guess what I’m trying to get at is when we watch Britney or Demi or Lindsay and laugh or squirm, ridicule, or maybe a weird mixture of all three, we’re looking at an image that is a lot closer than it first appears. It’s like what DFW wrote in ‘Fictional Futures and Conspicuously Young’ (1988), which kind of pre-empts the current over-loaded and over-saturated information age:  ‘television [and now Web 2.0] is something to belived with, not just looked at…TV [and I’m going to suggest our young starlets] is as much a part of reality as Toyotas and gridlock. We quite literally cannot ‘imagine’ life without it.’

Ana Carrete’s “Baby Babe”

by Stephen Tully Dierks

I want to trumpet the arrival of Ana Carrete‘s debut book of poetry and drawings, Baby Babe, published by Civil Coping Mechanisms next month.

What to expect? Ana’s poetry plays with words. Her poems play with themselves. That sexual double-entendre is appropriate and typical of her work. The word “come” is always euphemistic in Ana’s poetry. Sex is on the brain, and the brain is a clever, punning, playing one, with a wry sense of humor. The twenty-five-year-old girl-woman who writes these poems is rarely without her sense of humor, even when it’s grim.

 

Ana Carrete

Carrete, who lives in San Diego but has spent much of her life in Tijuana, where her family lives, is a bilingual poet, a gchatting, video-makingonline-lit-mag-editing 21st-century poet. She is fun and sassy. We get to live in her head in this book, and I enjoy it and love that I can’t pin down her tone, I never know what to expect next. Her poems are blunt but subtle, they are playful but serious. She means it. But what is it?

from “the stickiest”

“virgin or witch”

Sex and religion and family and pop culture and lots of thoughts are in these poems, poems with titles like “freudian clit,” “obedient riot girl,” and “download my pathetic soul.” Ana is a confessional or autobiographical poet in a sense, but she is so playful and creative, so aware of language, and so dexterous with it, that she creates a new world in and with her poems. She’s playing around in her head and she wants you to hear.

“weirdough”

There’s plenty of attitude displayed in these poems, but the dominant emotion I get is sadness. Sadness since youth, sadness about injustice–sexual, political, and otherwise–and beneath, existential sadness.

from “traumatic background”

from “to make time”

from “shampoo commercial”

Ana writes like she loves her family but yearns to be free and independent. She’s glad she isn’t a married trophy wife like some girls she used to go to school with. She’s glad she’s not a nun. She writes like she wants to be strong and independent and beautiful, but feels weak, and small, and nervous.

from “sometimes i feel free”

from “but please don’t twist my words”

What’s most touching to me is that her humor remains, the playfulness, and the strut, and the sticking out her tongue. What I love most about Ana is her great laugh before sadness and the beauty of her thinking and being.

from “naive theories about the world”