Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

What Is Wrong with this Statement?

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Despite all the spending by both sides, the long campaign seemed to leave some voters without a clear view of the candidates.

— New York Times website, 10:48pm, 6 November 2012

What Are They Reading at the New York Times?

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

We are experiencing global warming beyond the expectations of our scientists, as well as a global financial collapse that is being addressed with more of the policies that made it happen to begin with. As a drought wastes large parts of U.S. agriculture in the breadbasket of the country and the world, we may also anticipate a global food crisis. And not to be too gloomy, Israel, armed with nuclear weapons given to it by the U.S., talks bellicosity as usual.

Here’s what the New York Times lead off with on its book review page on Sunday, 12 August 2012:

Three Strong Women
By MARIE NDIAYE. Translated by JOHN FLETCHER.
Reviewed by FERNANDA EBERSTADT

In Marie NDiaye’s novel, women draw on reserves of love, common sense and even self-mockery to counteract the damage being done to them by narcissistic family members.

Sylvia Nasar: By the Book

The author of Grand Pursuit and A Beautiful Mind likes Victorian novelists for their deliciously wicked humor and the Russians for their political and philosophical musings.

Aftermath,
By RACHEL CUSK
Reviewed by EMMA GILBEY KELLER

Rachel Cusk’s latest memoir describes her divorce and what came next.

The Garden of Lost and Found
By DALE PECK
Reviewed by RON POWERS

In Dale Peck’s novel, a Midwesterner arrives in New York to claim his inheritance, a brownstone that may contain buried treasure.

Dare Me
By MEGAN ABBOTT
Reviewed by CHELSEA CAIN

Megan Abbott’s latest thriller finds power, desire and revenge in the insular world of high school cheerleading.

Reversal of Fortunes
By TYLER COWEN

Michael J. Casey blames a “vast global financial system” for our economic malaise. Daniel Gross sees a brighter future ahead.

The Mansion of Happiness
By JILL LEPORE
Reviewed by DANI SHAPIRO

Jill Lepore traces American ideas about life and death, from before the cradle to beyond the grave.

The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City
By ALAN EHRENHALT
Reviewed by FRED SIEGEL

Alan Ehrenhalt describes a demographic reversal, with the wealthy moving to cities and the working class moving to the suburbs.

Sincerity
By R. JAY MAGILL JR
Reviewed by LAURA KIPNIS

A sweeping cultural history of the ideal of sincerity.

Problems? What problems? Literature? What literature? What? Me, worry?

Religion

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

On page 21 of the Bantam mass market paperback edition of Sixty Days and Counting, Kim Stanley Robinson writes: ” . . . in one of those quick leaps that humans were prone to make (although science was not) . . .”

Robinson here refers to an entity, which he calls science, that exists independently of any human agent or agency, and that is superior to human beings, at least in its avoidance of hasty conclusions. Where may I go to see this entity? May I touch it? talk with it? ask it questions, as, say, the Greeks did of the Oracle at Delphi?

This statement is a religious proposition, as assertion of the existence of a superior being of ultimate good.

Some people might refer to it, scornfully, as science fiction.

Jazz

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

They asked me what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” they didn’t say what “grew up” would mean, didn’t or couldn’t, and I said, “A writer,” without knowing that this meant “An American Negro,” a native exile singing the blues because no other music is possible, a merely naturalized citizen never quite at home here in death’s most prosperous land, a displaced person, lacking documents and anxious with perpetual dread of the moment when some recognized authority will say, “Papers, please!” in clipped Germanoid accents.

Now, I can write, and I am a good writer, far better, far better than any of the schooled, trained, controlled, USDA certificated writers from Naropa, Iowa, there in our nation’s heart where are cloned the world’s most sophisticated strains of corn. Too sophisticated to comprehend the obvious. Even the obvious: hopeless corn, do you see? Who did not believe or even hear the man when he said, “The thing to avoid, I dont know why, is the spirit of system.” And so, instead, the subtle significance of the dark darkness of my comic book collection. The search for boy wonder. The aesthetics of the poverty of aesthetics. The meaning of the paucity of meaning. The dearth of lack. The welter of the plethora. The hopelessness of the great white hope, insomniac denizen of the deep. Aye, Captain Quint, that’s the U.S.S. Indianapolis, or a muddleclass murder mystery, done not for money or cunt but for cunning little imaginary reasons: weapons of mass destruction, spreading democracy, the phantom menace.

Time magazine says The publicity generated by the one squillion dollar advance is worth at least one squillion dollars. This is an exact quote.

“Dippy, zonked,” the man said, “like William S. Burroughs.” And my hat is off to him who got Kansas intelleckshuls to foot the bill for acres of opium, mountains of morphine, hundreds of hashish suppositories, and to rationalize his criminal con ass with The Law, all in exchange for tenure, that is, security, that is, phear, as in Ph.D. I wish I had thought of it.

But genius doesn’t have to think of these things, does it? To mentate, to ratiocinate them into being — this can’t be done. It is, Edgar Allan, a contradiction in terms. These creatures can only be summoned by the spirit, the spirit of a man’s own genius, calling forth from the Earth the exact match to that man’s truth, which is not his twin, not his soulmate or one and only love, but his perfect mark, the guys and girls voted Most Likely while Billy shot up under the grandstand with Seymour Butts and Pinnochio, checking out the cheerleaders little skirts for that mythical girl with no panties and dreaming of the day when they might turn into a real live boys.

Alas! history cheats us of this golden moment, replaces it instead with manhood, with responsibility, that is, not that shit about bills and casting your dutiful vote, but the ability to respond, to actually say No out loud, perfectly clear. Then, on top of everything else, nobody will fucking like you anymore. They will call you names and shake their bewildered heads, pretend they dont understand and not return your phone calls. You are alone, not just again, not the way you always were alone, but finally, see? In conclusion. The way people die. The way they live.

The Dark Night

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

I’m really tired of the profundity of The Dark Knight, as described by the “critics” in our “media,” formerly known as The Press, as in “Who owns this press?  How much will they charge to print what I want?”

The problem with The Dark Knight is, first, Frank Miller.  Frank Miller is an oaf. That is, he “believes” (which, in kakaspeak, means “he has an opinion”) in the efficacy of violence, murder, torture, brutality — the whole Boy Scout oath, as revised for contemporary deployments of Boy Scouts to Baghdad and St Paul, Minnesota.

The actual problem with The Dark Knight, however, is that Batman is not a myth, it is a product, like Star Wars. Which is the “tradition” in which it follows — the tradition of the zillion-dollar B-movie intended to kill time spectacularly and make more zillions.  That is the real and only “meaning” of The Dark Knight.

A myth is the distilled expression of the collective wisdom and impalpable understanding of a people and their civilization.  Civilization is a prerequisite, and the problem with “American civilization” is that there isn’t any.  Civilization takes a little bit longer than 516 years to create.

Further, we have precious little wisdom, none of it expressible in the money-making fashion of the spectacular.  Christopher Nolan writes about “ambiguity” in the production notes for The Dark Knight, but ambiguity doesn’t make for meaning, unless it a meaning to begin with, and the ambiguity of Batman is simply a device, a teaser without a resolution, layered on like a coat of paint.  The “meaning” here is injected in the mold of the DC Comics “character” — a cartoon character — the same way toothpaste fills a tube.  And what squirts out of these movies when A. O. Scott and company squeeze them is a lot less useful than toothpaste, and not anywhere near as tasty.

At some point in the endless writings of Stephen King, the zillionaire hack refers to “the Frankenstein myth.”  Frankenstein is a novel, and King’s comment is a complete misreading of it and of the mythical.  But of course, our “culture” — which is not a culture, but an economy — also labors under the delusion that Stephen King has a profound understanding of evil.  Read The Stand and you will find this understanding to consist largely of clichés from 1950s and 60s horror movies.  The ability to generate frisson is not an understanding of evil.  Not surprisingly, given King’s stature in our economy, we find zillions of Americans believing that al Qaeda knocked over the World Trade Center and punched a hole in the Pentagon because they are “evildoers.”

“Mr Holmes, they were the meticulous planning and hijacked airliners of a gigantic hound!”

Batman is a franchise, not a moral figure.  All sorts of things can be read into the franchise.  They have to be, because nothing can be read out of it.  The key to meaning lies in meaning, not in vagueness (“ambiguity”) or confusion (“complexity”).  The “morality” of Batman, like that of Star Wars, is the morality of commerce.  If you want an example of that morality, consider the current depression we have entered in the last year — a depression triggered by greed and corruption, by lowlife businessmen calling their gambling “finance.”  Batman and CDSs are about money, and nothing else; and the meaning of The Dark Knight is that it still has not displaced Star Wars as the top-grossing movie of “all time.”  The key word there is gross. This stuff doesn’t mean shit. And I like Batman!  (I also like barbeque, but it doesn’t mean anything either.)

To repeat:  we do not have a culture or a society.  We have an economy, and it is an economy of prostitution, of sensation and spectacle devoid of meaning.  The American nation is a nation of whores, and the sooner we admit and accept this fact the sooner we’ll be on our way to a civilization.  Not only are we whores, we’re bastard whores.  We’re illegitimate.  We’ve no inherent right to be here, in America.  We stole America from the indigenes, and committed genocide in the course of the theft.  Then, when we ran into the Pacific coastline, we committed imperialism, and we’ve been committing it ever since.

Q: What does Delta Force call Afghanistan?  A: “Injun country.”

These are facts, not propositions in the kind of mouse-turd-slicing high school debate that the Republicant Party has thrived on since Richard Nixon exploited our Vietnam catastrophe into the White House in 1968.  These propositions dont concern the debatable.  They concern sin. Get it, Sarah?  As in original sin, as in we are all born in sin, as in born on the fourth of July. The longer “Americans” — that is, white middle class people who derive their wealth and security from capitalism, together with those who lust to be like them — the longer such Americans deny these realities and cling to the delusion of their innocence, the crazier and crazier the economy gets and the more remote an “American civilization” becomes.  The economy has gone crazy because it is an expression of this delusional denial, which is to say, an expression of our values.

And note in closing that an “American civilization” will not limit itself to what goes on in these United States, but will encompass America — North and South America.

Visions for Sale

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Richard K. Morgan is Elvis Presley passed out on the toilet from an overdose and dreaming of his experience of “In the Ghetto” as “a song with tremendous commercial potential.”

A Note on Metaphor

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Once we understand that the metaphor is a metaphor, and only a metaphor, we begin to ask after that of which it is a metaphor; we begin to ask after the reality.

Reporting and Writing

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

When I was a reporter I was concerned with stories and their angles.  As a writer I am concerned with truth and its sound.  Writing is tough.  Reporting is a tough racket.