Hugh Kenner Hits a Home Run

Wouldn’t it take an outsider to aptly critique the American scene, the American people, the American culture? Hugh Kenner, a Canadian, did this at the end of a section devoted to Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams in his book A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers. A book dedicated to Guy Davenport. A book on Donald Barthelme’s syllabus.

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Big Other

What’s happening in this image?

The leftmost light bulb is exploding.

Why would it do that?

Perhaps it wanted to? It’s the suicidal counterpart to Gravity’s Rainbow‘s Byron?

No.

Well then it simply overheated?

No. Please note that it hasn’t blinked out.

True, true.

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Fifty Gestures of Love, in honor of William Gass (continued)

25 remaining, & here they are, picking up where we left off, with Tolstoy & his disgraced Natasha

26) The Prince has immersed himself in war work, Napoleon’s on the march, and Natasha attempts suicide, arsenic, then spends weeks in bed. Only her old friend Pierre, our hero more or less, can wring from her an agreement to meet.

27) Pierre’s no innocent himself, though rather a bumbler, badly married, an embodiment of how the good in Russia has gone sour, but Natasha always liked him and when they meet, in the parlor, they’re chummy a while.

28) But finally Pierre has to ask, “Could you really love… that evil man?” aware even as he asks that he’s bumbling again, sounding full of hoke, and yet at his question Natasha undergoes another of those reality-replenishments. Continue reading

Art as Inheritance, part 2: Making New Art Appear as Old Text Disappears (as if by Magic!)

A friend recently alerted me to a post at Geek System (“Found Poetry in Magic: The Gathering Cards”): a fellow named Adam Parrish made some short poems by blacking out selected text on Magic cards:

Art by Adam Parrish (2011).

You can find more of Parrish’s poems here. He says of them, “[s]ome of these turned out well, some not so well,” but he’s being overly modest: most of the pieces are pretty witty, especially given the limited amounts of text he had to work with.

But what most caught my attention was the following claim in the Geek System post:

Adam Parrish, inspired by Austin Kleon’s famous newspaper blackout poems, partially blacked out Magic: The Gathering cards to create mini-poems.

Inspired by Austin Kleon? Who’s Austin Kleon? And don’t they mean, “inspired by Tom Phillips’s A Humument“?

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Jerry Lewis’s “The Ladies Man”: The Dollhouse and the Forbidden Room

He’s become a punchline here in the US, but that doesn’t make Jerry Lewis any less of a cinematic genius. Case in point: his 1961 masterpiece The Ladies Man:

Whether you’re a fan of Lewis’s eccentric comedy or not, this film is worth watching for its legendary “dollhouse” set alone, supposedly the largest built by that time (it occupied two Paramount soundstages), and still one of the most elaborate ever constructed.

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Stanley Elkin, ghosting through Boston, beautifully.

Stanley Elkin proved remarkably supportive and generous with me, c. 1977 in Boston.  He’d come to town as a visiting writer at Boston U., just another of the amazing lineup (Barth, Barthelme [Donald], Cheever [alcoholic, alas], more…) brought in by George Starbuck while he was running the writing program.  I was a recent graduate and still spending a lot of time in the department, while freelancing as a teacher and writer in town.  I’d read a couple of his novellas, stuff that later wound up in Searches & Seizures and The Living End, and I’d started A Bad Man after seeing Gass recommend it in one of his essays, then had it snitched off my seat by a stranger on the MBTA.

The photo used elsewhere on Big Other is the figure I recall. Elkin and I met at a department functionStanley Elkin, c.'78 and, drink in hand, he proved a delightful sourpuss, for instance regarding his friend Bill Gass.  “Listen,” he groused, “I’ve written better novels than Bill ever will.”  This with obvious fondness!  And energy, too — this was before Elkin’s MS put him in a walker.  I don’t even recall seeing him with a cane.   Continue reading

The Barthelme Problem

[This post is something of a response to John's recent post, and some of the comments made there by Darby, John, and me.]

Back in high school/college, my favorite filmmakers were Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick, Peter Greenaway, and Martin Scorsese:

As you can see, I gravitated toward a visually spectacular cinema. Everything else looked so boring! So mundane!

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Where Do Our Desires Come From? (Want as Tradition)

Owl City: I steal, therefore...

I’ve been thinking about comments that darby and Mike Meginnis made on Amber’s recent post “I Don’t Like Crap Games.” In response, darby wrote:

[...] im saying dont think/worry about what editors want. dont worry about “what they like.” read what you like and write what you like. dont study a journal just to try to get published by them. first, you should love what you write. then you should love what you read. then think about maybe this fits here maybe.

Mike then added:

Yeah, I pretty much agree with Darby’s thinking on this. When editors ask me to figure out what they like I don’t think very much of them. That’s their job. My job is to make what I like. Sure, it’s possible to take that attitude too far, but editors who want fewer submissions can limit their window for slush or etc. I want everyone to submit to Uncanny Valley who wants to so I can choose the best possible, coolest work. I don’t want them worrying in particular about what I want. And I never worry too much about what they want.

I agree with Darby and Mike (and I admire Mike’s editorial stance); I’ve said things like this myself: writers should write whatever they want to write, and damn everyone else’s eyes.

But today I want to try thinking past that thought. Why do I want to write what I want to write? And is it really entirely my decision?

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Style as Imitation

Leonardo #1, page 17 (1987) (detail; First Publishing reprint). Art by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

1.

My father, who once trained as a baker, taught me when I was a kid how to bake an apple pie. I don’t know where he got the original recipe from; I highly doubt that he invented it. Certainly he didn’t invent the idea of baking pies. And he didn’t invent the idea of baking an apple pie.

He was very clear about certain instructions:

  • always use Granny Smith apples;
  • always use ice-cold water;
  • touch the dough as little as possible.

Since then, I’ve baked several apple pies, and over time I’ve modified the recipe slightly, but it’s essentially the same (and I never violate his prime instructions).

When I make a new apple pie, I’m not doing anything new.

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James Robison on Stevens

1. To all readers of Stevens who have not already encountered Helen Vendler’s  Words Chosen Out Of Desire and On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens’ Longer Poems , I recommend both books, or, rather, I suggest they are imperative to the fullest understanding and appreciation of Stevens. They redeem to his poetry qualities of passion and investment which are too easily lost in the blaze of his seemingly detached invention.
2. I overheard Donald Barthelme talking to a poet and Don said that Stevens had been Don’s “lodestar” as a young writer. No two writers more inspire me to try to write than Donald Barthelme and Wallace Stevens.
***
James Robison has had many stories in The New Yorker, has won a Whiting Grant, a Rosenthal from the American Academy, published two books and has had an issue of the Mississippi Review dedicated entirely to his short fictions. He has been in Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize, co-wrote a feature film that is just out, and is good company on long car trips.

Art as Inheritance, part 1: That Lingering Smile

This will be something of a long and meandering trip, only to wind up back where we started. But I can promise that along the way we’ll encounter secrets hidden behind locked doors, as well as deeds that will form the fabric of nightmares.

Shall we?

This is Conrad Veidt:

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My Four Favorite New Books of 2009, #3: Tracy Daugherty’s Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme

#1 | #2 | #4

MY FOUR FAVORITE NEW BOOKS OF 2009, CONT’D

#3.

Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme by Tracy Daugherty (St. Martin’s Press, 2009)

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