A David Bowie of Literature?

Is there a David Bowie of literature?—such an asinine question, as dumb as asking, “Is there a Virginia Woolf of music?”—arguing against it arguably as asinine as answering it at all, even on its own terms, which is to say, which “David Bowie”? which “literature”?; not to mention the problem of even locating a “there” with any kind of certainty, and of establishing what and/or where or whatever “Is” in this case is.

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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

Your Basic Bore, or “The Literature of Exhaustion”

Look: I read the Bible when I was ten, the whole thing. I don’t remember much. The reading was the product of some weird compulsion or another (I wasn’t religious and neither was my family). The length played some part; I was very thrifty then. Why buy a 200 page book when you can get one at 400 pages for the same price? That’s just stupid! My limited allowance lead to some warped thinking (Stephen King! Why read The Shining when It‘s so much longer? Ooooh, The Stand!), but I don’t blame my parents. Subsequently, I read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Gulag Archipelago, The Brothers Karamazov (what is with the Russians?), the first two parts of A la recherche du temps perdu, oh and there’s Dickens, much beloved because come to late, I think — Bleak House, Little Dorritt, Our Mutual Friend (please read them, reader, don’t do as I do); I read Pynchon, all of it, in a single semester of college (something I will always regret, as I haven’t been able to read him since — we read a book a week (you read V in a week and let me know how it works out for you)); Moby-Dick, Don Quixote, the DecameronTristram Shandy, The Magic Mountain, The Arabian Nights, Manuscript Found at Saragossa; I read The Sot-Weed Factor, and, last year, The Last Samurai and George Mills, among others. This is just off the top of my head — I’ve read a few books, so you’ll excuse me if I can’t remember them all, and I’m too lazy to go looking through old lists and in boxes.

So, what I’m trying to say is: I’ve given it every chance I could reasonably be expected to give it, the big book. And you know what? Some of those books listed above are books I’ve loved so much I’ve reread them. I’ve read Don Quixote at least four times, Manuscript Found at Saragossa probably four or five, Moby-Dick, the Decameron, The Bros. K. — all reread several times. But there is something about great length that produces a corresponding trepidation (repulsion?) in me. Continue reading

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.”

Faust

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”;

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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

Announcing the Book Club Schedule!

The votes are in, and the winner of the poll for the first book to be discussed in the Big Other Book Club is Tom McCarthy’s C.  Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, hailed by many and knocked by maybe even more, McCarthy describes the book as dealing with technology and mourning.  I’m excited to have, as our first book for discussion, a contest finalist that’s merit has been argued.  All the more fuel for our discussion. I’ll start reading quite soon, and begin posting questions, comments and death threats in January.

In the  mean time, here’s the rest of the schedule for 2011:

January: Tom McCarthy C

February: Mary Caponegro The Complexities of Intimacy

March: Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth

April: Stanley Elkin Searches and Seizures: 3 Novellas

May: Djuna Barnes Nightwood

June: Lyn Hejinian My Life

July: John Barth The Sotweed Factor

August: Gordon Lish Peru

September: John Gardner and John Maier translation of Gilgamesh

October: John Hawkes Travesty

November: Helen Vendler Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries

December: Mo Yan Big Breasts and Wide Hips