from Madeleine E.

scottie suspended

[INT. Scottie’s Bedroom (NIGHT)]

There is no dead matter. Lifelessness is only a disguise behind which hide unknown forms of life.
(Bruno Schulz, “Treatise on Tailors’ Dummies, or The Second Book of Genesis”)

Vertigo Vertigo Vertigo
In this book, a man goes through a painful divorce. He believes his wife has cheated on him, and she maintains her innocence. They scream at each other about every little thing. Any time she’s late, even by a minute, any time she has to leave the house early or unexpectedly. He starts checking her computer, her cell phone. The whole thing goes on in the only way it can until the two finally decide they can’t live with each other anymore. We never learn whether the wife really was cheating on the husband. She takes a job in another city, and the man grieves. He loved his wife, but he couldn’t stand the thought of her cheating on him. It is, he thinks, the thought that she didn’t love him as much as he did her, that in some way, she had the better end of the deal, because she could just walk away. He gets upset thinking about it. He thinks that this thought is itself a sign of some sort of instability. He starts seeing a therapist.

This man is an instructor at the university. One of his students looks almost exactly like his ex-wife, though he does not see the resemblance. The whole thing is related to us by a third-person narrator, not the man, who tells us that the student looks like the ex-wife, and tells us the man doesn’t realize it: The student is a brunette and his wife was a blonde, but in other ways, the two are nearly identical. The student graduates and takes a job in publishing. The man sells his next book, a study of the film Vertigo, to the publishing company she now works for. The two reconnect at a party and begin seeing each other. The man’s friends mistake this former student for the man’s ex-wife. They comment on how young she looks, how much they like her hair, how good it is to see the two of them together—all these innocuous comments that are just vague enough they don’t tip off the man or his student that the man’s friends think that she is really his ex-wife. The student has never met the ex-wife, and the man doesn’t have any pictures of her—too painful; he has thrown them away—so she has no idea that she looks so much like the ex-wife.

The man and his former student decide to get married. They go to visit the former student’s parents. It is an awkward visit. The parents are polite, but it is clear they do not approve—there is the difference in their ages to consider, and the fact that she is his former student. On the last night of the visit, the father asks the man to accompany him on his nightly walk. While they walk, the father tells the man a story. Continue reading

Tweet not sent, saved to drafts

You know who sells a lot of soap? Procter & Gamble. Do you think P&G soap is “the best”? or “the best” for the $? What is?

Whoopi Goldberg won an Academy Award. Roberto Benini did, too. FORREST GUMP did. DRIVING MISS DAISY did.

Have you ever said, after the Grammys or People’s Choice Awards or Golden Globes, “So-and-so was robbed!”?

Remember platinum records? Remember gold records? I don’t think you can play them. (Can you?)

Copyright ensures that when you buy a book, you buy a quantity of paper, glue, and ink. A book. You do not buy THE book.

The number of books bought and left unread > The number of books bought and read Continue reading

The reason why poetry once lost favor with the more judicious

Now, commendation and its opposite being analogous as regards effects, we cannot easily deny the fact that although the law prohibits one man from slandering the reputation of another, it does not prevent us from bestowing reputation without cause. This pernicious license in respect to the distribution of praise has formerly been confined in its area of operations; and it may be the reason why poetry once lost favor with the more judicious.

-Michel de Montaigne, writing in 1572

Tolerance and Accessibility II

faulkner_picLet’s try a slightly different tack this time. Here are the first two paragraphs of a review written by Clifton Fadiman and published in The Nation on January 15, 1930.

Probably someone has already remarked that the perfect enjoyment of great literature involves two factors. The reader should make an analysis of the methods employed by the artist to produce a given effect; and at the same time he should experience a synthetic appreciation of that effect in its emotional totality. The analysis must be almost instantaneous, almost unconscious. Otherwise the reader may become enmeshed in a tangle of aesthetic judgments, and experience difficulty in feeling the work of art as a whole.

Here, perhaps, lies the problem of comprehending the present-day revolutionary novelist. Frequently the intelligent reader can grasp the newer literary anarchies only by an effort of analytical attention so strained that it fatigues and dulls his emotional perception. He is so occupied in being a detective that by the time he has to his own satisfaction clarified the artist’s intentions and technique he is too worn out to feel anything further. This is why the Joycean method of discontinuity has been entirely successful only when applied to materials of Joycean proportions. For it is obvious that if the theme is sufficiently profound, the characters sufficiently extraordinary, the plot sufficiently powerful, the reader is bound to absorb some of all this despite the strain on his attention. But if after an interval of puzzle-solving, it dawns upon him that the action and characters are miniscular, he is likely to throw the book away in irritation. The analysis has taken too long for the synthesis to be worth the trouble.

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Tolerance and Accessibility

OK, well, obviously, anything that spawned Godwin’s Law isn’t going to be the best place to start an intellectual inquiry into tolerance, but I am drawn to the difficult and obtuse and comment threads are nothing if not difficult and obtuse and nothing’s going to cure me of this perversity short of a stroke or a railroad spike so here we go. Reading the comments below the following video led me to think further about the ill effects that aboutness can have. First, let’s take a quick look at the video:

As I’ve already said, the video is less important than the comments that follow it, so let’s see a couple of those:

Screen shot 2014-07-04 at 11.38.41 AM

Screen shot 2014-07-04 at 11.52.12 AM(Just a soupcon. Wouldn’t want to spoil the sauce!) Continue reading

“Serious” readers, and maybe why they’re so rare

ImageDid you know there’s a Wikipedia entry for “Death of the novel“? Well, now you do, and it seems that Will Self is trying to will himself (see what I did there?) into its bibliography, with an article in the Guardian titled “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real).” According to Twitter, he’s wrong, and possibly a bad person. Here’s the thing, though: you can’t go by what Twitter says—it’s just, like, a bunch of people’s opinions, man. American opinions, even, unlike Will Self’s opinion, which is British. Imagine hearing the essay in a British accent (it is actually the text of a speech to be given today, so someone is hearing it in a British accent)—are you still so sure he’s wrong, Twitter? But listen, now that we’ve got our ears tuned to his words anyway, let’s hear what he has to say.

For one thing, he says, “I believe the serious novel will continue to be written and read, but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical scholarship rather than public discourse.” So, the novel is as dead as easel painting is, which is to say: not dead, just caricatured as such. Well, since Self or his editor is the one doing that caricaturing, there’s not much there. There are more contemporary and relevant analogues he could have chosen instead of easel painting, of course; literature is, with very few exceptions, already exactly what he claims it will become (“confined to a defined”—come on, Self! no wonder no one reads this shit—”social and demographic group,” check; “requiring a degree of subsidy,” check; not “a subject [of] public discourse,” check). But to make such an argument would be to preclude a headline like “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real),” since its parenthetical would then be a foregone conclusion, like printing “Napoleon Bonaparte is dead (this time it’s for real).” No one’s going to read that. So perhaps Self isn’t really saying much after all, or nothing much worth getting worked up over, since it’s where we already find ourselves. But perhaps you take issue with my caricature of the current state of literature. Continue reading

Politics and the Novel

npr

Why do I listen to NPR? Lately, it seems as though it’s been overrun by heathens, although maybe I’m just mistaken as to its past. In any case, last week, an interviewee, an author, claimed that “literature is boring,” and the interviewer didn’t challenge her, didn’t so much as say a word. As much as I might want to credit this author with a biting, trenchant analysis of those awful new books often shelved as “literature,” she was placing the category of literature in opposition to her own, commercial fiction: Her shitty books about angels or vampires or dinosaurs or dinosaur angel vampires or whatever are, at least, not boring, like, I don’t know, Shakespeare? Jane Eyre? Jane Bowles? Reader, I wish I were joking. Anyway, while torturing myself in the car on an earlier occasion, I heard a different author who also ought to have remained silent—we’ll call him Author X and put the bag over his head for him—complain that publication at his Big Five house was taking so long that the “political” novel he’d written about [fill in the blank with current event] now won’t make sense because things are different all of a sudden, and, in the country where it all takes place, things will probably be even differenter when the book finally sees print. Gosh! Can you imagine? How will he ever earn back his advance? Our hero then went on to say that he had rewritten the book to better accord with how things are now in Country Y, and that version, the updated one, will be the one hitting the shelves this fall. (Actually, I’m not entirely sure of this last bit—as soon as he mentioned revising his book in light of the events transpiring in the country he’d written about, my mind leapt far away from what he was saying, as one does when a gun goes off under one’s window. Let’s call it self-preservation.)

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