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From the Barbaric Heart: Kakutani: Death Star

This is Part 2 of my hit job on the most important literary critic in these theoretically United States.  It’s somewhere between a rant and Old Testament prophecy.  Part 3, the down and dirty of it, next.

“What we don’t know is exactly what we need,

And what we know fulfills no need at all.”


I have seen… and

I have lived to see Janice and Big Brother playing at a college dance;

In Hayward!;

And I have seen the posters in the dark forest where I lost my way directing me to the Avalon Ballroom;

And I have befriended the Family Dog;

And I was invited by the Mothers of Invention to a Freak Out!;

And I went to the Avalon and I went to the Fillmore and I went to Winterland;

And I freaked out…just a little;

You know, my hair got “good in the back”;

And I lived to see the books, and read ‘em too;

Snow White (I only had to see the cover to know that I had been summoned);

And Oedipa Maas?  Just had to hear the name;

And I lived to know John Barth and to learn from him;

And to hear him say, “Not everyone should, but you should.”

And I read Calvino’s Cosmicomics and Borges and Sorrentino’s Aberration and knew this was for me;

I mean, I was called to the shit;

And I expected it all to grow, to endure, to thrive, and continue on, taking me with it;

I mean, why not? What could stop it? The world was changed, right?

And then, like that, it was all dead;

Reagan, the Moral Majority, and Moral Fiction in short order;

Bam!  Bam!  Bam!

That fucking Big Chill movie;

1980, the beginning of the Age of Stupid;

Since then, the steady reign of blows;

If something living lifts its head, it is hammered–“Sounds like hippies; sounds like experiment; sounds weird”–how bad!;

No idea how they get away with their weak shit;

Except that no one else is allowed to say anything.

Oh, we have freedom of speech;

We can say what we like

So long as it doesn’t matter.

“Go tell it on the fucking mountain, and see if someone cares up there, loser.”

So here’s the deal for the moment anyway:

A Death Star hovers over the living, pulverizing each pulsing thing as if it brought disease;

Or, worse yet, hope.

We are cleansed of every possibility except what can be said after the words “of course”;

“Characters we can care about”—of course—is what “the age demands,” the Age of Stupid;

“The age demanded an image/of its accelerated grimace”;

The age demanded “better mendacities,” and brother did it get them!

And there she sits, Kakutani, vigilant, merciless, in the Times Death Star, armed with the laser-fine edge of realism.

Adorno: “Better no art at all than social realism”;

But to have only the thin gruel of realism is to have no art.

See her leaning out like the puppy in Sputnik, only malevolent;

See the puppy with the laser beam?

Death to the pulse!

All hail, Kakutani!  Death Star!


“What is ‘Freaking Out’? On a personal level, Freaking Out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricting standards of thinking, dress, and social etiquette in order to express creatively his relationship to his immediate environment and the social structure as a whole. Less perceptive individuals have referred to us who have chosen this way of thinking and feeling as “Freaks,” hence the term: Freaking Out. On a collective level, when any number of “Freaks” gather and express themselves creatively through music or dance, for example, it is generally referred to as a Freak Out. The participants, already emancipated from our national social slavery, dressed in their most inspired apparel, realize as a group whatever potential they possess for free expression. We would like to encourage everyone who hears this music to join us… become a member of The United MutationsFreak Out!”

Frank Zappa, in the liner notes to the Mothers of Invention album Freak Out!

9 thoughts on “From the Barbaric Heart: Kakutani: Death Star

  1. Wonderful stuff, Curtis. Thanks so much, & I envy your list, & believe me, the forgettable Kakutani can’t match it. .

  2. “And I expected it all to grow, to endure, to thrive, and continue on, taking me with it;” _The new yorker_ helped shrivel it, as it does to this day, and the _atlantic Monthly_, back in the 1980s too, while fellow canadians Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant helped make things small and smooth and bland.

    Always liked this from Paul West’s _Sheer Fiction_ (v.1):

    “Surely the passion for the plain, the homespun, the banal, is itself a form of betrayal, a refusal to look honestly at a complex universe, a get-poor-quick attitude that wraps up everything in simplistic formulas never to be inspected for veracity or point. Got up as a cry from the heart, it’s really an excuse for dull and mindless writing, larded over with the speciously democratic myth that says this is how most folks are. Well, most folks are lazy, especially when confronted with a book, and some writers are lazy too, writing in the same anonymous style as everyone else. How many prose writers can you identify from their style?”

    Enjoyed my re-read of _The Middle Mind_ a short time ago.

    Jeff Bursey

  3. Just read, for the first time, _Monstrous Possibility_ and _The Spirit of Disobedience_. Like the second especially, and got stuff from both of them, for sure. _The Barbaric Heart_ is next.

    Jeff Bursey

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