#AuthorFail 8: Alexandra Chasin

Greetings, earth people, from the (pain) planet failure.

Here, the atmosphere is different. The stars are different.

The entire sense of the project-to-be, an examination by NYC writer (and my collaborator) Alexandra Chasin, requires more preliminary work into the nature of the question: and what of it, when the question is pain?

Here, the question itself, perhaps, gleams always far away.


An idea leads to a little research and a little research leads to a little more, and lines of inquiry extend and elaborate themselves fractally, and proliferate, beckoning a would-be writer in multiple directions, and two years later the representation of the medical condition of a character as originally conceived continues to elude her…hundreds of pages of quotations from articles, treatises, stunning 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-Century articulations of the matter, relevant documents, novelistic case histories, authorities, literary treatments, pamphlets, and more, and yet it still seems like a little more information might tie everything together so that the writing proper could begin.  And then it doesn’t.  

For example: Continue reading

Joy to the Reader When Reading Gass’s The Tunnel

How can I contain myself? (But perhaps the question is: how could Gass both contain and not contain himself to have done what he did?) Having had The Tunnel to go back to every morning was like having the one you love next to you, to be transfixed and freshened, to be, as that worthy words man said, surprised by joy and impatient as the wind. (First post on approaching The Tunnel)

In the end (and there can’t be an end to such a work that reverberates on itself and the whole of literature, philosophy, and history), Gass’s explication of Kohler’s consciousness is all tongue, all logos, but a logos of the highest order. Is there pity and terror? Is there sentimentality? Many monsters have their sweet side and though some have called Kohler a monster, I would just call him a guy who tells the truth of his story, no matter the lies of old age one tells to lessen the pains of the past. At the center of his thoughts is the idea of the fascism of the heart, with Kohler himself as the case study.  He gives us his life in many slices of pie (sugar and sweets, such as ice cream and cake abound in the book). He also heaps us with shit, with the staged, and with something surfacely sentimental, but wholly human:

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Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson!

John Domini has reminded me that 180 years ago today Dickinson was born. Recently, I was told by someone that he or she had read somewhere something about overrated writers and writing, and that someone at that somewhere said something like, “Anything by Emily Dickinson is overrated,” which brought to mind somebody saying something to me something about how Wallace Stevens wasn’t worth talking about since he’s so widely anthologized, since he’s such an entrenched part of the canon, which all makes me wonder what others think about such dismissals. Do you really care that others think that Dickinson and Stevens and others of their caliber are considered passé?

See Emily Play

File:Emily Dickinson daguerreotype.jpg
Studying botany from an early age, some believe she was better known as a gardener than a poet during her lifetime.

When our friends at HTML Giant recently asked what people thought was the all-time overrated piece of literature the first comment was, “Anything by Emily Dickinson,” and I think I felt a cleaving in my mind.

A few days later I acquired Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries from the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, just released in September. Inside Vendler gives extraordinary close readings of 150 poems. Here’s a great radio interview with Vendler about the book.

Here is poem 861:

They say that “Time assuages”-
Time never did assuage –
An actual suffering strengthens
As Sinews do, with Age –

Time is a Test of Trouble –
But not a Remedy –
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no Malady –


And from Vendler:

When Dickinson lost her only “playmate,” her dog Carlo, Higginson expressed sympathy. She wrote back, saying, “Thank you, I wish for Carlo,” and continuing with the second stanza of “They say that ‘Time assuages’ – “. But she added, “Still I have the Hill, my Gibraltar remnant. Nature, seems it to myself, plays without a friend.” She never acquired another dog.

Loving Lowell

Having just finished reading Lord Weary’s Castle, Robert Lowell’s second book of poetry, a collection consisting mainly of revisions of his first book (apparently Lowell, like Walt Whitman, constantly whittled away at all of his work all of the time), I came across these lines from “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket”:

The bones cry for the blood of the white whale,
the fat flukes arch and whack about its ears,
the death-lance churns into the sanctuary, tears
the gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail,
and hacks the coiling life out: it works and drags
and rips the sperm-whale’s midriff into rags,
gobbets of blubber spill to wind and weather.

and so, I think I may have found another poet I can love.

I decided to seek out Lowell’s poetry after reading an interview with Christine Schutt, wherein she shares that when she is feeling “language impoverished” she turns to poetry by the likes of Robert Lowell and Emily Dickinson, and also other contemporary poets, which reminded me of something William Gass wrote in his essay “In Defense of the Book”: “I have only to reach out, as I frequently do, to cant a copy of Urne Buriall from its shelf, often after a day of lousy local prose, and to open it at random, as though it were the Bible, and I was seeking guidance, just to hear again the real rich thing speak forth as fresh as if it were a fountain…”

So I ask each of you: What books do you reach out for after a day of lousy local prose? Which writers do you read when you feel language impoverished?