I’ve had the deep pleasure of knowing Lance Olsen (for at least seven years now), reviewing his work, interviewing him, teaching one of his books, working as his publicist on three books ([[ there. ]], How to Unfeel the Dead, and Theories of Forgetting), all the while impressed by his profound courage, creativity, intelligence, rigor, humor, generosity, and so much more. In fact, here are at least sixty reasons to celebrate Lance Olsen (This is a circular text, of sorts, in honor of Lance’s 720 months: 360 months times two, with best wishes for at least another full circle of 360 months.):
On the occasion of William H. Gass’s birthday, I’ve cherry-picked sentences from all of his books: a publishing career spanning five decades. This was no easy task, since his fictions and essays and interviews are troves of meticulously rendered, seemingly sculpted, sentences, each one a delight to the eye, music to the ear. I’ve chosen ninety-two in honor of his birthday, but I could easily have chosen a hundred more. Thanks, Magister Gass!
I’ve been thinking of master film-maker Abbas Kiarostami. Here are some anagrams–with adjusted punctuation–of the titles of some of my favorite films that he either wrote or directed:
A Moonlight Inn Freed
Of Cheery Strata.
Revolt, Our High Esthete—
Defy Tropic Ice.
Look On, Evil Enemies.
Howl, Albino Teeth.
A Wild Century Whirls.
What do we make of Vanessa Place’s curious presence in the special dossier “On Race and Innovation” that Dawn Lundy Martin edited for the November 2015 issue of boundary 2? To put it mildly, Place is not the first person one would expect in such a grouping. Is this an example of “conceptual editing”? Martin, not surprisingly, explicitly frames the dossier in terms of the recent controversies that have inflamed the poetry world since last spring:
Kenneth Goldsmith was excoriated for reading Michael Brown’s autopsy report in a conceptual poetry performance at Brown University, and a petition successfully got Vanessa Place (included in this issue) removed from an AWP subcommittee because of her Twitter appropriation of the black voices from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Still, in all the mayhem, in all the personal attacks on social media, there has not been much actual conversation about what poetry has to say, and can say, about race in the contemporary moment.
A diptych of two hand-drawn phrases, “IT’S KIND OF FUCKED UP” and “IT’S FUCKED UP” (see above), Place’s piece seems to demonstrate in a colloquial register what Freud calls the “narcissism of minor differences.” Continue reading
De gustibus non est disputandum. Then again, what to do when served a tasteless appetizer when promised a flavorful meal drawn from an eclectic menu? Then again, policing another’s tastes can be another kind of force-feeding. Functioning as a nodal point between detection and punishment, feels, for me, similarly distasteful, to say the least. Then again, writing is a kind of mirror, reflecting back you, who you are and who you aren’t, who you think you are, pretend to be, your givens, your strengths and flaws, your likes and dislikes, your loves and hates, your insights and oversights: a whole history of knowledge and ignorance, of tendencies and biases, of privilege and suffering, and more besides; and as a mirror, it also reflects for others, too, reflecting back things you can never see when you, the writer, are looking at it.
Which is to say nothing of the infinite regress of a mirror reflecting another mirror. Which is to say, what to make of “Ten Musicians Who Could Be Novelists: Bob Boilen on Recording Artists Whose Books He’d Love to Read”?, where not a single person of color is listed? What to make of this seeming erasure? Was it deliberate? You could say, well, these are the writer’s tastes and it doesn’t reflect the publishing venue’s views. But then we’re back to the notion of the mirror and what it reflects. You could say, well, among the responsibilities of an editor and publisher is to highlight the flaws of a piece and ask the writer to address those flaws. Maybe this was done. And they ran it anyway. So be it.
So I’ll redress the primary flaw of the piece by presenting a list, in alphabetical order, of musicians of color whose novels I’d love to read. (I’ve a problem with the whole premise of the original concept of the piece to begin with but that’s a whole other story.) And yes, I intentionally did not title this feature “Ten Musicians of Color Who Could Be Novelists.” Continue reading