And so we start the celebrations, commemorations, what have you, for the 100th anniversary of the First World War. We have already had a host of books and television programmes, even though we still have a few months to go before the exact anniversary of the point at which Gavrilo Princip fired at Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand, and after that we have four more years of this. And we’ve already had the first controversies. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Alfred Bate Richards, Dan Snow, David Lloyd George, Edward Grey, Erskine Childers, First World War, Franz Ferdinand, Franz Joseph, Gavrilo Princip, George T. Chesney, H.G. Wells, Herbert Asquith, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Kemal Ataturk, Michael Gove, Otto von Bismark, Raymond Poincare, Second World War, Tsar Nicholas II on February 22, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Battling Boy, the most recent work by cartoonist Paul Pope, arrived from First Second Books last year, although I was late to the party, and what a strange party it is. Pope is one of comics’ most talented renderers-of-action, but on some pages, his talents actually undermine the story he’s trying to tell. Superficially simple–the combat-novice son of a godlike warrior arrives in a land besieged by monsters–the story invites all sorts of questions about the circumstances of its creation. Pope stages a series of fights with such fluidity–virtuosity, even–that even if his reader isn’t a comics nerd who had heard mention of Battling Boy for years, the book is still likely to read as the product of countless hours of labor. And even the immersed reader might be tempted to think, ‘All this work for a genre pastiche?’
Battling Boy shouldn’t be written off as shallow exhibitionism. There’s too much charm and levity throughout the story for that charge to stick. (If Pope’s drawing to impress, he’s obviously drawing to have fun, too.) For instance, collection of animal T-shirts endows Battling Boy with the power of their respective animals; when picking a shirt before a battle, the boy must choose carefully. Details like this display a lightness of touch not always present in Pope’s earlier work, even if they don’t register as particularly personal. (In fact, the concept is weirdly reminiscent of ’90s cartoon toy shill Mighty Max and his magic baseball cap.)
Battling Boy shouldn’t be written off as devoid of ideas, either. Pope has no shortage of those, and readers can find them in his renderings of space and movement. Comics are a visual medium; Pope’s innovations are visual in nature. Even the argument that Pope’s style is his substance doesn’t quite do him justice. His lines are too functional, carry too much of the narrative burden, to be celebrated-slash-dismissed as stylistic flourishes. And yet Pope is such a superlative artist that his comics will always disappoint to some degree as long as the quality of his plotting fails to match the quality of his cartooning.
In this way, there’s something sad about Battling Boy. Paul Pope delivered a work that is, in some respects, pretty great. Just not holistically great. And holistic greatness might still be what the greedy reader expects, based on what Pope’s able to provide.
The title of Joshua Landy’s How to do Things with Fictions should not lead you to believe that what is written therein is anything like a recipe book or a technical manual; no, instead, what Landy’s short book is after is proving that fictions do things at all—that is, rather than being about things, a fiction does things for its reader—or can—a claim, he argues, that is no longer obvious if it ever was. The reason for our dull-witted view of fiction is that “For some reason, we have systematically—albeit unwittingly—engaged in a long-term campaign of misinformation, relentlessly persuading would-be readers that fictions are designed to give them useful advice.” You can argue with that last part, but if you read the book, you’ll see that’s just the first of our reading deficiencies: if we look to fiction for advice [on how to live our lives], it can only be because we suppose that fiction has a paraphraseable content (as this post will have). If a fiction is about, then it can be paraphrased, and if it can be paraphrased, it can be reduced, and if it can be reduced, shouldn’t it be reduced?
By focusing on one relatively uninteresting aspect of fiction—its “subject,” for lack of a better word—we teach readers that the experience of a fiction is secondary or even tertiary to the reading—if it is considered at all. Thus, Cliff’s Notes. The very existence of such a thing as Cliff’s Notes should tell us that we have completely misunderstood fiction under Landy’s theory, and not at the level of the student, but at the level of the teacher: teaching for message, for content, for subject is teaching readers how to read fiction badly. There is a great deal more subtlety to Landy’s argument, and a great deal more nuance, but then, he has 250 pages to convince you, and this post will be much shorter than that. (more…)
In the conclusion to his immense tome, The Culture of the Europeans, Donald Sassoon has one of those brief apercus that seems blatantly obvious when you think about. It’s just that we usually don’t think about it.
In reality the home was always the centre of cultural consumption. Of all the cultural forms surveyed in this book, only the cinema succeeded, for a historically brief period, in getting a majority of people to consume culture outside the home. (more…)
Shortly before Christmas, Maureen and I saw the two versions of the National Theatre production of Frankenstein. In the first we saw, Benedict Cumberbatch played the Creature, and Jonny Lee Miller played Victor Frankenstein; three days later we saw the other version, in which Miller played the Creature and Cumberbatch played Frankenstein. Since New Year I’ve seen the three episodes of the latest series of Sherlock in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays an updated Sherlock Holmes, and six episodes from the first series of Elementary in which Jonny Lee Miller plays an updated Sherlock Holmes.
This doubling of roles casts an almost eerie highlight on the various productions. The different Frankensteins, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the different Creatures, are revealing of the differences between the two Sherlocks. (more…)
There was a faint, barely perceptible movement of the water as the fresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other. With little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water.
It’s from The Great Gatsby, of course, the moment when Gatsby’s body is discovered. I’ve just re-read the novel for the first time in too many years, and what I realised was how often I would read a paragraph and then stop, overwhelmed by how gorgeous the writing is. The way Jordan and Daisy’s clothes billow in the breeze from the window as Nick enters, the memory of a snow-bound mid-West, Fitzgerald has a way of making the ordinary feel magical. It is the tiny detail that just catches the breath: the way that swirling autumnal leaves echo the blood we imagine flowing from Gatsby’s wound. Between readings of the novel I have a vague memory that it is a great book, but it is only when I read it again and re-encounter the glory of the language that I remember why it is so great. It is a book to immerse yourself in, to read aloud slowly. The words touch our senses gently, trigger faint, fleeting sensations of colour and taste and sound and feel that are so subtle you forget the detail the moment you close the novel. But as you turn the pages once more, it is all so immediate and fresh and vivid again. Remind me to re-read this book more often.
According to Freud, one of the key characteristics of the Uncanny is the doppelganger. In which case, Eleanor Catton’s marvellous debut novel, The Rehearsal, is one of the most uncanny books I have read, because it is crammed with doubles. So much so, indeed, that in many instances we do not see the original, only the doppelganger; and some of the doubles are themselves doubled. (more…)
j/j: Do you feel that there is benefit in working with apparitions and/or ghosts in your pages? If so, how do they benefit? If no, please fill me in on the narrative of what the “dead dream” in your new and exciting book: A Child is Being Killed.
CZ: Ghosts to me are secular and I believe in them. They’re psychological shadows, dead events and people who literally stay. The stayed energy of things past, a person who died or left whose energy is still imprinted in your nervous system, a trauma or tragedy you haven’t been able to “integrate” into what you conceive of as your current living reality/story, so it comes up repetitively in memories, dreams, art, conversations. Ghosts are presenting themselves to be understood and witnessed. I find it useful in that sense to work with ghosts in narrative. To see where they might fit, to make room and try to bring them out of shadows, so we don’t have to feel the torture and confusion of their semi-existence. Perhaps all a ghost needs is to be gently touched or held, or given a lamp of its own. (more…)
One may say that the human ability to understand may be in a certain sense unlimited. But the existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known to the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word understanding.
-Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy
And so the journey is finally over. Begun in the snowy December of 1933 by a young man not yet turned 19, and completed now, two years after his death at the age of 96. Or not quite completed; the main narrative ends half way through a sentence, to be followed by a handful of diary entries, and then by pages from a much longer, much more discursive journal. But it is an ending of a sort, and after so long, so frustrating a wait, it is more than welcome. (more…)
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged barrel of monkeys, Brandon Graham, florent rupert, jaime hernandez, jeff lemire, jerome mulot, kevin o'neill, love and rockets, marshal law, pat mills, prophet, underwater welder on October 15, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Love and Rockets: New Stories, vol. 6 by Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez
“The Love Bunglers,” serialized from 2010 to 2011 in New Stories vols. 3 and 4, didn’t mark the end of Jaime Hernadez’s decades-long string of Locas stories, but it at least gave readers the sense of an ending. Jaime has been following the lives of people in and around the fictional southern California community of Hoppers since the early 1980s, particularly the life of Latina former punk scenester Maggie Chascarrillo , and “The Love Bunglers” both documents a horrific event from the Chascarrillo family’s past and restarts Maggie’s relationship with on-again, off-again boyfriend Ray.
Reactions from fans were effusive, and rightfully so. I know I got weepy at the end of vol. 4. The online chatter about Jaime’s contribution to New Stories vol. 5 was quieter, and maybe this was inevitable. These Jaime stories read like a deliberate swerve away from “The Love Bunglers.” Whereas the latter marks big changes in the life of a pair of beloved characters, Jaime’s vol. 5 pieces introduce Tonta, the kid sister of a supporting character who readers hadn’t seen for years, and then follow her around for a couple of summer days. The proceedings in vol. 5 are beautifully drawn–Jaime’s pacing, polished line, and expressive character work are some of comics’ great constants–but the work seems to anticipate its reception as whatever came after a soaring, heartbreaking career high. And maybe readers will remember them that way. But New Stories vol. 6, which completes Jaime’s set of Tonta stories, is still–sneakily–very, very good. If “The Love Bunglers” drew some of its power from years upon years of character history, the Tonta stories are remarkable for the opposite reason.
With the exception of Tonta’s sister Vivian, who plagued Maggie and Ray in earlier Love and Rockets comics, Jaime works with a cast of almost entirely new characters, many of whom belong to Tonta and Vivian’s fractured extended family. Jaime traces the family’s history largely through allusion and ellipsis, letting his characters reference events that took place off-page throughout the last several years. A picture of distrust and long-held anger emerges, and it’s as vivid as anything else Jaime has produced in the last decade. In all of this, we also accompany Tonta through typical teenage bullshit: pining for boys in bands, trying to arrange for rides, realizing your teachers are people. These scenes are endearing, goofy, and sweet–and by the end, tragic too, as we realize we may have seen the end of a girl’s childhood. (more…)
The current issue of Hyperallergic Weekend has a lot of great stuff. I’ve been enjoying John Yau on Rick Beerhorst and Barry Schwabsky’s wonderfully polemical “Why I’m Not Reading Louise Glück.” In the latter, I love this sentence by Schwabsky, which begins at Point A and ends with Point Z (or rather Point X): “Glück is one of the best-known American poets, a native New Yorker who has won just about every prize and honor available — Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle, U.S. Poet Laureate — and taught at all the famous places to be taught poetry; better still, as I’ve just learned from Wikipedia, her father helped create the X-Acto knife, a tool I’d recommend to every poet who hopes to carve more precise verses out of the thick and messy matter of our speech.”
I’m also in the mix with a review of Lytle Shaw’s Fieldworks: From Place to Site in Postwar Poetics.
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:
I know nothing about the technical side of film. On the (very) few occasions that I actually write about film I do so purely from the point of view of the consumer, what comes across to me. I can say nothing about filters used or angles chosen or whether that piece of music would have been better than this, because I don’t have the technical knowledge to analyse a film that way. So I was intrigued to come across something called ASL (average shot length) as a way of explaining the success of American cinema over European in the early days of the medium. [And yes, I am still reading Donald Sassoon's The Culture of the Europeans, why do you ask?]
Anyway, ASL is the length of the film in feet divided by the number of shots. Sassoon cites the film historian Barry Salt who ‘found no film in Europe with an ASL shorter than eleven before 1917, while he found no American films with an ASL longer than ten’.
In other words, American films won out because of editing. European films came across as ponderous, American films as tight and dramatic. (Okay, there are many other reasons why American films achieved dominance, ranging from the economics of distribution to the nature of the star system, but this is the one that caught my eye.)
I assume that there are still ways of measuring ASL even in our digital age, so I began to wonder if this distinction still holds. I know European films (and films from a lot of other origins outside the Hollywood machine) can seem slow; is this why? Is there a difference in the ASL between what we consider serious drama and popular drama? Does it affect the way we read film? I know, brought up in Britain, I have throughout my life been fed a fairly indiscriminate mix of American and British TV and film, but there are many American shows, ranging from ‘The A-Team’ in my youth to various episodes of ‘CSI’ that I have caught, that irritate me because of their restlessness, while I like the patience of many British shows. Can you imagine what an American TV company would have made of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, which needs to unravel at a very leisurely pace.
And does this mean that whenever I am watching a film from now on I’m going to be more concerned with how rapidly it cuts from one scene to the next rather than with what is actually going on?
A dozen or so people, maybe even more than twenty people, know that I write stories. That’s not important, everyone writes stories or has written stories, I suspect, particularly people visiting this blog. But as a self-described story writer—and maybe you can relate to this—I sometimes get envious of certain writers. Maybe envious isn’t exactly the right word, because I really admire said writers and revel in reading their work, it’s just I wish that somehow I could be writing things at their level of imagination. And it’s not just that I want to equal them talent-wise, it’s that if I could I would steal their stories away as my own. As in (and this is how the barter takes place in my head), I would gladly give up whatever semblance of “promise” my own talents might hold, whatever minor individuality inherent in my own work, wholesale, in trade for their work. I would give up myself for them, the stories are that good.
This is what I’m thinking when I’m reading Rob Walsh’s debut story collection, Troublers.
I don’t know why I think this way. Others have to do this too occasionally, right? And, honestly, I don’t feel this way all too often. I read a lot of good and sometimes great stories, but I’m pretty happy writing my own little weird things—it makes me happy enough, keeps my head and my hands busy. Sometimes I’ll read something great and I’ll think, This is great, but maybe if I wrote it I would write it this way. Or sometimes I’ll read something and it will give me an idea for doing something else altogether, barely related at all. Or most of the time I will just appreciate whatever it is and think, This is good, and that will be that. But when I’m reading something like Troublers, where every sentence feels so perfectly set, where the inventiveness from paragraph to paragraph feels so effortlessly and unassumingly distinct, and where the weirdness vibrating within every story hits that perfect pitch, I wonder if I should just stop writing and reread Troublers again and again while I wait for whatever Rob Walsh will be doing next. (It’s never too late to stop writing, I always tell myself.)
I’ll give one example, because all the stories are examples:
In “A Hole,” for instance, Walsh writes about a hole. His first sentence is, “The woman had spent four shovels and two years digging the hole.” Pretty simple, though undeniably exciting (at least to me). From here we could go anywhere, really. And that’s the beauty if it: we do. We go everywhere. Now I don’t claim to be well read (meaning I shouldn’t really be making these kinds of statements), but I can’t imagine much of a better hole being written into the ground than what Walsh writes here. It’s the quintessential literary hole in the ground.
After finishing the hole, the woman invites some friends over to look at the hole. They muse:
A friend suggested the hole could be used as a bunker. The woman could collect surplus items and attach a lid to the hole’s entrance, such that if danger approached, or if the woman had reason to believe danger would soon be approaching, she could dash into the hole, secure the lid.
A different friend suggested the hole be a trap. When danger approached, the woman could defend herself with offense: conceal the hole with a collapsible layer of sticks and leaves, the friend instructed, then bait yourself on the far side.
With little effort, the hole could be finessed into a crater. If she only reduced the depth, the hole would resemble the impact of a fallen meteor.
Or the lair of an animal! The hole could invite a wild animal, a bear or wolverine, if she added tunnels and made the entrance steep and gaping.
It would need a bridge sooner or later. As with any expanse, people would eventually demand to span it.
Or if she built cells, lined the bottom with hay, rats and bones, it could be a dungeon.
By reaching an agreement with the state, it could be a prison, the first of its kind.
Or if many people died in the hole, after fighting an important battle, then plaques and statues should fill the hole in memoriam.
Had she come across any cultural artifacts while digging? If so, a friend had a relative in archeology who could make an excavation site of the hole.
We all like trees, but underappreciate them. We’ll make it an arboretum for the trees that don’t require light and dedicate ourselves to preservation.
We like birds, underappreciated birds. We’d prefer to study birds nesting in a tree than a tree itself. It will become an aviary for nocturnal species.
Or an homage: we could identify an artist we all admire and incorporate a characteristic of his or her style into the hole.
If she only dug a little deeper, she could probably get away with calling it a chasm.
And if she dug deeper still, for a few more years, it might even be considered an abyss.
The woman had not thought about doing things to the hole. She had wanted the hole for its own sake. A hole appended is no longer a hole but something defiled. The woman told her friends their ideas did not suit her current needs, insofar as they ruined everything.
If only we all could have such friends! (I feel like that last line is inspired by certain journal’s rejection letters.) And so the story continues, turning into something else altogether, all the while maintaining the eponymous hole. I’m not trying to get at anything specific here, only that Troublers is awe-inspiringly hilarious, bizarre, and highly recommended.
A twitter poem made from Iraq/Afghanistan war reportage, intercut with quotes from cult leader Charles Manson, will tweet 1 Oct onwards from: https://twitter.com/CharlieSayzz
The poem draws comparisons between psychopathology and foreign policy.
Charlie Sayzz is constructed from incorrect 18-syllable haiku, to be transmitted one per day for the next year. The haiku is a much-abused and appropriated short (17-syllable) Japanese form, often meditative and peaceful. It is chosen here for its very in-appropriateness as a vehicle for war poetry. And yet under the placid surface, haiku surely is angry, because it is now such a colonised poetry. The extra syllable in these ‘bad’ haiku is to create dissonance (in old numerology, 9 is the number of aggression and 18 syllables ie 1+8 = 9).
The poem was devised by Philip Davenport and co-written by him with Richard Barrett, Steve Giasson, Tom Jenks, Michael Leong, copland smith and Steve Waling. Tom Jenks programmed the twitter feed and shaped many of the haiku as visual poems.
This project is a parallel to Davenport’s novel Charlie Says (2013)
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Big Other, Bleeding Edge, George Saunders, John Madera, National Book Awards, Russell Brand, Tenth of December, Thomas Pynchon on September 19, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
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.