Today, when I signed in to my Gmail account after having signed out, earlier, something I rarely do, Gmail sent me to a page where it asked me for my phone number to enable more security for my account. I’d like to provide the exact wording of the request but I’ve failed to replicate the process, even though I’ve tried several times. In any case, I’d declined and skipped directly to my email.
Later, still annoyed by Gmail’s asking to me to provide my telephone number, I posted the following on Facebook:
And so today I find another unadventurous fiction longlist from the National Book Awards: not a single book from an independent press. Ridiculous! Good to see George Saunders’s Tenth of December on there, though. I taught it at Brown last spring and was impressed by its varied innovative approaches, sardonic tonalities, and embedded poignancies. I’m not much for literary art as competitive sport these days but I’d love to see Tenth of December awarded the prize, not only because its literary merit marks it as “deserving,” but because Saunders will undoubtedly give the best speech, that is, unless Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge wins and the Pynch sends Russell Brand to accept the award.
I have to admit that neither Christian Lorentzen’s nor Kyle Minor’s respective takes on Alice Munro’s stories and books have altered my own criticism of her work, but they have inspired me, at least momentarily, to consider revisiting her work. Not sure how long that feeling will last, though, considering I’m currently experiencing massive withdrawal symptoms from having recently finished reading Helen DeWitt‘s brilliant two novels. I’ve also embarked on reading all of Zadie Smith’s work. Then there’s my still-in-progress Robert Coover marathon…
Here’s the introduction I delivered before David Peak’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on April 18, 2013:
The first fiction I read from David Peak’s work was his chapbook Museum of Fucked, the curator-narrator of which has a thing for b-grade horror films, the narrator offering aching portraits of disturbed, hurting, and despairing people living in rundown Chicago neighborhoods, ne’er-do-wells, like crack addicts, homeless people, a blind man begging for change, a landlord who starves cats and dogs for pleasure, a woman with “burned out nostrils” with “rotten” teeth who claims her mother was Marilyn Monroe, and a desperate man swinging a baseball bat holding kids captive. Roaming Chicago’s “gray gentrified industrial neighborhoods,” its “people-packed, colorful shopping districts,” “hip neighborhoods filled with three-flats,” and the “dirty parts…with their broken glass and families,” these grotesques could easily be confused for the zombies of Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead (titles of two of Museum’s stories). The view of life here is encapsulated in the following lines from this brutal fiction: “God we’re all fucked, he says to someone on the other end of the line.”
Here’s the introduction I delivered before Michael Leong’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on April 3, 2013:
In e.s.p., Michael Leong drafts a kind of architectonics of the page. By architectonics, I mean devices that reveal an overt consciousness of language’s status as language, words as building blocks, in which their form and shape and how they sit on the page and divide the surface plane are integral to their meaning. Though Leong’s poems often revel in the tactile aspects of words and letters, how sentences can visually suggest various structures, e.s.p. is no cold blueprint. Leong’s angular phrases, spiky forms, and playful compositions cavort within their spaces, prick consciousness as much as jar us from our sluggish thinking, and more importantly, rouse great feeling.
Here’s the introduction I delivered before John Domini’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on March 21, 2013:
Don DeLillo once characterized his work as a series of reflections about “men in small rooms.” Like those desperate men, vacillating between doubt and action, navigating between the elusive and the allusive, the characters in Domini’s Bedlam also find themselves in these selfsame rooms, like the cold anonymity of motel rooms found in “Over 4000 Square Miles,” a fiction positing representation as transgression, where a battle-fatigued soldier, fueled on cannabis and no small amount of hubris, if not outright fear, visits an in-progress reenactment-for-television of his famed escape from the enemy, and ends up entering the Everglades, intending to wrestle an alligator. There is also the “silent and empty kitchen” of “The Return,” a liminal space, where a recently murdered couple visit a surly former-stockbroker. Yes, the so-called barriers between so-called reality and so-called fantasy in this collection are porous. “Laugh Kookaberry, Laugh Kookaberry,” for instance, features a garrulous demon reflecting on twisted intimacies, and so Bedlam might as well have been called Pandæmonium, referring back to the name of the palace built in the middle of John Milton’s vision of Hell, viz., the “high capital of Satan and all his peers,” in Paradise Lost. “Special Instructions, Special Instructions” finds another man in a small room, this one an office, rejecting the ladder climb. He states: “Why should I weasel around after my own office, and then a larger office, and then another that’s still larger? After a certain point’s reached, they’re only rooms,” believing it more important to “know who you are and exist accordingly.” In “Thirty Spot, Fifteen Back on Either Side,” we find another business man, reflecting on a certain salacious episode in another small room, thinks the following: “he’d wanted to come by means of this experience to a more complete, more substantial idea of himself as an individual. Grissom alone, he’d wanted to see. Grissom as a separately defined person, as an intensely, separately defined person, something as unique and identifiable as a planet in a pale sky.” Domini’s Bedlam, with its ruined men, whether succumbing to PTSD-induced delusions or to their long-arrested imaginations, forced me, after reading it, to temporarily have difficulty distinguishing “suits” from ghosts and other spectralities.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Domini’s books, which include the novels Earthquake I.D. and A Tomb on the Periphery, the former of which, in its Italian translation, was runner-up for the Rea prize, the latter of which was cited in 2009 at the London Book Festival as among “the best of international publishing.”
I’m in the middle of a Don DeLillo marathon, reading his books in chronological order. I just came across this famous passage in Libra.
Plots carry their own logic. There is a tendency of plots to move toward death. He believed that the idea of death is woven into the nature of every plot. A narrative plot no less than a conspiracy of armed men. The tighter the plot of a story, the more likely it will come to death. A plot in fiction, he believed, is the way we localize the force of the death outside the book, play it off, contain it.
Here’s the introduction I delivered before Paula Bomer’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on February 21, 2013:
Reading Paula Bomer’s alternately sardonic and poignant stories and novel, I couldn’t help thinking about Akira Kurosawa’s observation that “To be an artist means never to avert your eyes,” because Bomer unwaveringly, relentlessly observes the fumbles, foibles, and failures of mostly women, but also men, on the verge of, yes, breakdowns, nervous and otherwise, but also breakups, crackups, and myriad other fallings apart. She keeps looking and looking, when most people in the name of propriety, but really because of their fear, hypocrisy, and/or the like, would look away; but she also forces readers to watch, using her words as a corrective, much like the Minister of the Interior in the film version of A Clockwork Orange, who employs an “experimental aversion therapy” for rehabilitating criminals, where the “volunteer” is drugged, strapped into a chair, has his eyelids propped open, and is forced to watch violent movies. Make no mistake, these are moral tales, as cautionary and chastising as they are entertaining.
The government of the United States of America is still, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” President Obama, who was inaugurated for a second term today, and his administration have done little in contrast with this devastating, horrific legacy. In fact, they have a horrendous foreign policy and human rights record.