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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Charles McGrath, Veteran Literary Parasite

One wrote (hard copy letter, c/o the Atlantic) to this eminent man of letters some months ago, this veteran literary critic and long-time parasite on the leading authors of our time, a person for more than a few years associated with the New York Times Book Review in one capacity or other, an insightful individual worthy of unlimited respect and enjoying a prominent position on the U.$. literati ladder, and--he never answered. The man never answered! I had written him in response to a review of an Edward St. Aubyn novel he wrote for the Atlantic, pointing out a flaw, by St. Aubryn, in a sentence McGath quoted, and correcting it, improving the sentence a good deal, and mentioning in passing that I had recently completed the rewrite of an unpublished novel myself, enclosing an SASE--and he didn't bother to respond! The insolence! Why not throw a junkyard dog a bone to keep it from starving? But no. No bone. Nothing. Silence. Doesn't he know who I am?


So one emailed Jessa Crispin, founder of the legendary literary weblog Bookslut, offering to write the occasional book review, and sending a link to this very site, BWR, to give her an idea of one's competency--and she never answered!

The insolence! Doesn't she know who I am!

Saturday, October 31, 2015


A priceless opportunity was missed--priceless, priceless!--in this crime drama when, after dispatching the bad guy's wife and two sons with bursts from an automatic rifle as they're at table for the evening meal in retaliation for his daughter having been thrown into a vat of acid and his wife's head cut off, Benecio says to said malefactor:

"Keep eating."

Mistake, mistake, mistake.


There is one line and one line only that should have been used at this moment, and had it been used, it would immediately have gone down as one of the best all-time cracks in cinema history. What the inimitable incomparable ultimate actor  Benecio should have said, cooly, politely, is:

"Don't let me interfere with your meal."

Torsos of wife and two sons flat on the tablecloth, bleeding profusely.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

In the Back

In a recent review of a Gore Vidal biography in the New Yorker, the subject is reported to have asked a friend to name the three saddest words in the English language, then supplied the answer himself:

"Joyce Carol Oates."

Now that's uncharitable.

One has never actually read the Reigning Queen of U$ Letters, but her ceaseless waterfall production of novels and whatnot has always made one feel uncomfortable. One is supposed to sweat blood, live like a pauper, drink to excess, wander the streets in a private cloud of alienation and self-pity, etc., etc., in order to be a novelist, and here's this person who turns out novels with the effortlessness of someone sneezing, all the while collecting a salary from Princeton or wherever that enables her to wear silk pajamas and have her bread buttered on both sides.

I've always thought one might be walking down the street with Joycey and she would duck into a rest room and come out fifteen minutes later and when one asked if she was okay, as a way of inquiring as to what took her so long in the restroom, she would hold out a ream of typescript and say, with a wide grin:

"I just wrote another novel!"

"Oh Joycey, you're so wonderful!"

"Aren't I?"

I'm sure she's a wonderful person and a gifted stylist, etc., etc., and has made significant contributions to the evolution of the American Novel, etc., etc., etc., but still, when one has been assaulted by a waterfall for the entirety of one's adult life, one unthinkingly starts throwing stones at it at some point. Like this morning, October 24, 2015 @ 6:55 AM.

Sat verbum.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

September 9, 2015 @ 8:52 PM, Manhattan

Those whom the gods love, they take home early.

Always in my heart always always closer than ever before close as a tight vest thank you for teaching me you are my teacher always always I cannot live without you I will not live without you, in the aqua skies across which clouds proceed with the iceberg slow-motion of the permanently beautiful the comfort of that dimunitive tree in front of the Ctr. for Adult Ed through which you spoke to me gentle breezes on a scorching day everything good in the world always always here and now you sweet sizzler always. You taught me what I did not know. 

The Bluntness of Strangers

I met an undertaker at the bar in Jigg's one night last year when we drove down to hear Chris and the Project play (cf. The Chris McNally Project on iTunes). Undertaker said:

"I'll be the last person to let you down."

Saturday, October 10, 2015


A novelist on tee-vee, can't remember who, said to someone, can't remember who:

"I knew literature was more than something to write essays about."

As to career critics, why anyone would knowingly condemn themselves to a lifetime of writing secondary materials I'll never understand. Could it have something to do with their inability to . . . you know. I mean they are people who, like everyone else, have an opportunity to try out for the varsity football team in high school, and plead with the coach to let them play JV instead.

One of the best put-downs of the parasitical trade, which never, ever, under any circumstances, speaks of its underpinnings, occurs at the end of the stream of insults Gogo and Didi hurl at each other standing in their Nowhere Land, going on and on as they try to find the most offensive possible term to degrade the other, until one of them comes to the grand climax, after which the contest ends:


Beckett had a brass set and did not keep them hidden under a basket.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How Depraved Was Machiavelli?

Oh he was fairly depraved, yeah.

"A prince, therefore, must have no other object or thought, nor acquire skill in anything, except war, its organization, and its discipline."

Now who is it he reminds me of?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


N.O. Ting: Substance abuse, morbid rumination, criminal disloyalty in friendship, political cynicism, social alienation, dog-like sexual promiscuity, chronic mental illness, obsessive/compulsive engagement in "original" artistic creation--do these fools Sade, Burroughs, Genet, Bataille have anything more in their kitbag or does this short and scabrous list exhaust the possibilities?

Let us not forget the view of the eighteenth century's Samuel Johnson, originator of the dictionary
(and the first to introduce the idea of showing usage of the word being defined in a sentence), as to what constitutes the appropriate subject matter of fiction:

"In narratives . . . I cannot discover why there should not be exhibited the most perfect idea of virtue; of virtue not angelical, nor above probability, for what we cannot credit we shall never imitate, but the highest and purest humanity can reach, which, exercised in such trials as the various revolutions of things shall bring upon it, may, by conquering some calamities, and enduring others, teach us what we may hope, and what we can perform.

"Vice, for vice is necessary to be shown, should always disgust; nor should the graces of gaiety, or the dignity of courage, be so united with it, as to reconcile it to the mind. Wherever it appears, it should raise hatred by the malignity of its practices, and contempt by the meanness of its stratagems . . . . It is therefore to be steadily inculcated that virtue is the highest proof of understanding, and the only solid basis of greatness; and that vice is the natural consequence of narrow thoughts, that it begins in mistake, and ends in ignominy."

An outstanding example of virtue in action is presented in William Owens' memoir This Stubborn Soil.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Anti-Work Ethic

A pencilled note inside the front cover of A. Breton's surrealist romance Nadja indicates it was purchased and read in April 1987, and a similar note inside the back cover conveys this quote:

"The event from which each of us is entitled to expect the revelation of his own life . . . is not earned by work."

Final sentence of the novel:

"Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Blogging, attractive to amateur writers because it's free, easy to do, and dangles, magically, incomprehensibly, the carrot of an international audience before the solitary soul at her keyboard, was specifically designed for writers destined to have no audience of any kind, ever. Blogging isn't a form of communication, it's a form of dreaming.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Reflections of the Golden Triangle / Robbe-Grillet

Art lit at its most uncompromising, largely unintelligible without explication by an academic (in this connection Koch C. Smith is first-rate) but, still, somehow captivating, the descriptions of people, scenery and material objects, as usual, razor sharp, multiple narrators merging into one another, disappearing, returning, one location dissolving into another, chronology turned inside out, trick after narrative trick filing past, the atmosphere cold and dehumanized, his customary gratuitous sexual sado-masochism popping up here and there as this tyro of the extreme avant-garde, this superhero of metafictional obsessives, continues his exploration of the meaning of the fictitious.

It's diverting, but what does it do for one's soul, other than soiling it? What does it do for one's sense of solidarity with the economically exploited and abused, other than making it appear irrelevant? As for the political utility of bizarre narrative contortions performed for the enjoyment of literary specialists only, there is none.

How far over the edge can innovation carry one? Consider this note from ArtNews on Robert Wilson:

"Many of his plays go on for several hours. In the case of Ka Mountain, Wilson’s 1972 production atop a mountain in Iran, the running time was seven days, and many performers were hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion." 

He should have cast Diana Ross!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

T-shirt / No. 5

Available in Urban Outfitters, small white letters on a black ground:

You Suck


Oh, my.

Friday, August 14, 2015

T-shirt / No. 4

Boylston Street, recently, a work of genius:



T-shirt / No. 3

Again Barron Plaza, couple days ago, black with white block letters:



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

T-shirt / No. 2

At Baron Plaza a couple weeks ago:



Author of this gem no doubt a closet novelist.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

T-shirt / No. 1

At Barron "Plaza" maybe ten years ago:

"Music is salvation"


Novels in General

N.O. Ting: "The wonderful thing about novels is they allow the people who write them to believe they are magnificent human beings."

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Price of Inequality / J. Stiglitz

Indispensable critique of an economy far out of balance and threatening the survival of U.$. democracy.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Capitalism and Climate Change

There is nothing within the ethos of capitalism to prevent its adherents from continuing to do business as usual, plundering and exploiting as they go and worshipping themselves on a round-the-clock basis, and since they own the world's politicians, I just do not know what is going to prevent civilization from continuing its sleepwalk into catastrophic climate change and a return to the Dark Ages.

Pope Francis has keen insights into this mess, having come from Latin America, a continent massively abused by U.S. and European corporations--cf. E. Galeano's indispensable Open Veins of Latin America: Four Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.

I'm Still Here / Joaquin Phoenix Doc

How low celebrities can sink is brilliantly displayed in this documentary on the bizarrely self-incriminating Joaquin Phoenix; can no longer tolerate viewing this individual, which is unfortunate because he is a born actor who holds the screen like Brando.

The Godfather / Coppola

The trilogy of Godfather films is worshipped. I don't get it. The main characters are psychopaths dripping with the pus of malice, premeditated evil, animal selfishness. I saw Supreme Court justice A. Scalia on teevee, in the PBS special about the history of Italian-Americans, raving about how great these films were, expressing no reservations of any kind.

And it's widely known Brando was an uncontrollable sex addict.

Spare me the filth.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Atlas Shrugged / A. Rand

N.O. Ting: "This is a poor title. Because when Atlas shrugs, the world, which happens to be humanity's home, falls from his shoulders and shatters into countless pieces when it hits the ground. This title was written by someone reckless, someone with no sense of solidarity with humanity, someone who is not one of us. No way am I going to read a book with a title like that."

Well now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Updike / A. Begley

A not worthless piece of secondary material written by the standard hunter-gatherer biographer, filling his wicker basket with inside stories and gossip gathered over many years, not to mention the fruits of any number of discussions with solemn librarians, and plot summaries right, left and center. And I've got to say at the outset, the asterisks scattered about the text are the smallest one has ever seen; over and over one would come to a note at the bottom of a page and have to go back and scour the text for the missed star (though I remember Vonnegut somewhere using a * as a simplified drawing of a particular part of the human anatomy one would rather not mention in a family-entertainment blog) and each time it was hard to find, annoyingly.

Begley's writing is lucid and graceful. But there are armies of people who can do that.

As to the thrillingly gifted sex-addict novelist under discussion, what was he really? He was a male homewrecker, with a massive disregard for his children's feelings. I'll never forget a sentence from Rabbit Redux I read in the early '70s; the pathologically self-centered Rabbit looks at his offspring sitting at a table in a restaurant and thinks:

"I had squandered my identity in the faces of my children."

One hadn't known how massively autobiographical his output is and this was interesting to learn. His openness about his parasitism on the lives of family members, lovers and friends was freakish; I remember reading a comment somewhere, no doubt expressed with his ready signature smile, relating to a reading he had given or was going to give, the Plowville escapee telling the audience not to hesitate to invade his privacy during the Q&A "because that's what I've been doing myself for the past thirty years," ho, ho, ho, no harm, no foul. This is funny?

And somewhere else I remember reading him commenting about himself and a roommate in college taking pains to keep their self-gratification quiet at night to conceal it. I mean who talks about things like that in a public setting? Makes you squirm. He'd of course respond, "Americans don't know how to talk about sex," to which one responds, "I should hope so." That he was forthcoming, somewhat appallingly, about what a feminist in the Begley calls his "priapic narcissism," doesn't make his revelations rewarding to encounter. And violating people's privacy, that is simply low. His first wife Mary [Pennington '52]'s comment after reading Couples was that she felt "smothered in pubic hair."

His prose style is poetic and unforgettable, his fluency mind-boggling, his intellect (hadn't known his I.Q. was genius level) penetrating, seemingly omnipotent. But so what? No matter how gracious and cultivated he comes across on camera, he was a low person, in my venomous opinion, of today, based on what Begley reveals. Tomorrow? Who knows, dithyrambs. One grew up reading the guy, after a recommendation from Ross Lyle in '65.


"[T]he literary scene is a kind of Medusa's raft, small and sinking, and one's instinct when a newcomer tries to clamber aboard is to stamp on his fingers."

"Fiction is nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that Mankind has ever invented."

"I disavow any essential connection between my life and whatever I write." [Blatant lie.]

"What is important, if not the human individual? And where can individuality be better confronted, appraised, and enjoyed than in fiction's shapely lies?"

"We all want to avoid painful experience, and yet painful experience is your chief resource as a writer."

On evolving as a writer: "You have to be in some way excited, and in a way frightened." [Correct. Cf. M. LeClerc: "The new is the forbidden."]

* * * * * *

In discussing a review by Berkeley academic Frederick Crews of the novel Roger's Version, which pegged the novelist as "morbid and curmudgeonly," accusing him of "class-based misanthropy," "belligerent, almost hysterical callousness," and "outbursts of misogyny," a critique which, in Begley's words, hinted darkly Updike was a "closet nihilist," Begley writes: "What turned Updike into such a miserable, twisted soul? According to Crews, the damage came from Updike's having 'radically divorced his notion of Christian theology from Christian ethics.' " Begley ends the discussion of the Crews' review by saying it reeks of "willfully punitive misreading," allowing our faithful biographer to have it both ways with respect to an accurate assessment of J.U.'s character.

Begley notes Updike pointed out in the introduction to The Early Stories that the ending of  "Friends from Philadelphia" "owes something" to the dead Easter chick in the bottom of the wastebasket at the end of "Just Before the War with the Eskimos." Updike published more than one hundred stories in the New Yorker, Salinger the classic nine.


Interesting thing about Updike is that seemingly every sentence he wrote was in some way distinctive. His fluency, on subjects from A to Z, is almost miraculous, and he comes across as somehow authoritative on every subject he discusses.

Was John Hoyer Updike '54--poet, Talk of the Town reporter, best-selling novelist, literary jurist, globetrotter, indefatigable book reviewer, owner of a mansion on the North Shore's Gold Coast--an admissible human being?  Each reader must decide for herself, but two quotes from the author, as reported by Begley, are instructive in this connection:

"There's something irredeemably perverse and self-destructive about us [i.e., the average person]," and:

"The heart prefers to move against the grain of circumstance; perversity is the soul's very life."

Monday, July 13, 2015

Invisible Cities / Calvino

Sheer fantasia and it bored me stiff when I first read it, halfway, back in '13, but now that one realizes it has a direct relation to one's own current project, the rewriting of another novel from the '80s, it becomes, at this time, an object of fascination.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler / Calvino

Too, too good, unforgettable, wild.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Writing Degree Zero / R. Barthes

This may have been the work in which he proclaimed: "There is no more Literature, or literature, only writing," though I can't say for sure because it's been some time, calling to mind an observation by N.O. Ting:

"The entire intellectual enterprise--chasing the wind."

I do remember it had a yellowish-beige cover, and was skinny; that I'll take to the grave.

Hothouse / B. Kachka

Some ripe comments from authors in the Farrar, Straus & Giroux "stable," as reported by Russian emigré magazine editor and journalist Kachka in his insider history of FSG:

Kerouac to Giroux anent the scroll of On the Road: "The hell with editing! Not one word is to be changed. This book was dictated to me by the Holy Ghost!"

Tom Wolfe to editor H. Robbins touching The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: "I intend to dazzle, startle, delight--and win on every level. I can do things no other writer can do or has ever done."

Journalist and author Thomas Friedman to an unnamed assistant upon being told his editor was unavailable to take his call: "Do you know who I am? I'm Tom fucking Friedman, and I pay your fucking salary!"

My, oh, my.

Venting his indignation on learning his most recent contract, for three novels, was dwarfed by a deal Wolfe had gotten, Philip Roth protested: "My p---- is as big as his!", Kachka reporting generalissimo Roger Straus, a college and high school dropout with an uppercrust pedigree who was given to swanning around the office wearing an ascot, told him to "f*ck off," Straus a person with no serious qualms about using earthy language, flap copy for the book indicating he would customarily refer to S.I. Newhouse as "that dwarf" and literary agent Andrew Wylie as "that sh*t," one of the CEO's favorite toasts reportedly: "F*ck the peasants!"

The moral atmosphere of the FSG office?  According to Kachka, Strauss' wife Dorothea termed it a "sexual sewer" and Leslie Sharpe, a former FSG assistant who Kachka says occasionally slept with Straus after she left the firm, reportedly told the author:

"Everybody was f*cking everybody in that office."

As to Kachka's claim that FSG was uniquely "literary" among New York publishers, a review in the New Yorker by FSG author R. Gottlieb said this view is fundamentally bogus, though granting the firm "has maintained an amazingly consistent level of quality."

Full title of the work: Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, now owned by a German firm.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Old Masters: A Comedy / Th. Bernhard

Read this I don't know five or six years ago, bought a new copy yesterday, $17 for a paperback!--used to pay that for a hardcover. This novel is a showcase of Negativity unto hysteria--but so funny.

A masterpiece of cynicism.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Of Human Bondage / W. Somerset Maugham

Started this a long, long time ago, in a deluxe edition Edna gave me, never finished it, remember nothing.

Happened across a quote from him last night as I was clicking around:

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

Three-Piece White Suit

Um, like attention much?

Little Lord Fauntleroy as an adult.

What's too funny is to imagine Hemingway dressed like that and regarding himself in a mirror.  I can just see him struggling to suppress the laughter ready to burst from every pore.

Two writers on very different planes of existence.

The Savage Detectives / R. Bolaño

Read the first page in a bookstore today.  Describes a creative writing class.

Farewell Bolaño, I'm sure you're the immense talent everyone says you are.

T.S. Eliot Can Do No Wrong

However, according to the relatively recent biography (Painted Shadow?, by Can't Remember) of his wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood (sp?), when she was confined to a multi-year stay in a mental institution, according to a decision by her immediate family in which Tom may or may not have participated, he visited her how many times?

Not once. Or perhaps once, my recollection is not clear, checking needed.

In either case, what a loser.

Did she ever get out?

No, she died behind bars.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Unbroken / Coen Bros.

Straightforward forgettable aliterary script (which I hate to deprecate, having watched Blood Simple on tv just a week ago as my go-to show during commercial breaks of the NBA finals and having been totally captivated, to the point I was missing key plays in the game because I couldn't tear myself away from watching the film, the scene where the dude is buried alive one of the all-time overwhelming cinema experiences, and the false ending followed by all the unanticipated further machinations amazingly clever and suspenseful) that plods through hardship after hardship after hardship, with no relief of any kind, violating the fundamental law of drama that requires variety within a given work, which is not to criticize war-hero protag Louis Zamperelli (sp?), who endured the unendurable, all respect and honor to him, but director Angelina Jolie (in her directing debut?) produced a documentary, not a feature film, and brother does it drag. 


All that matters is that it be from a writer no one has heard of.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Factotum / Bukowski

A hilarious novel, deeply engaging, with an authentic feel: pre-post office, a low-life stumbles from job to job, repeatedly being fired for drunkenness, repeatedly resurrecting himself with a fabricated employment history, inevitably being found out and fired again. That he didn't turn to a life of crime remains a mystery; guy had a work ethic that wouldn't let go and in his humiliation and ignominy acted with a kind of warped and stubborn integrity.

The screen adaptation, starring Matt Dillon, departs wildly from the text, but it has its moments, the opening scene particularly good.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Read this in the '70s and became consumed by the idea of doing my own auto repairs and went out and bought a special wrench for removing spark plugs and couldn't get one of them to turn and that was the end of that.  Pirsig said something about rationality having a genetic defect and that this helps, in his view, account for the multiple negatives afflicting humanity in these modern times and I can't help but wonder if this isn't an underlying cause for the slow-motion climate change catastrophe.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Career / Paul Lee

Nice line in this l950s-era film about the sock and buskin hustle (from Lee's stage play) on channel 296 tonight--

Director to actor: "Can you stand some honest criticism? You're fired."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Capote to Someone or Other

From memory:

"I'm not a scholar and I'm not effete and I'm not an eccentric. I'm a freak."

Who Are Writers?

Writers are people who read too much. To enjoy their reading they need quiet, and to secure it absent themselves from the ruckus of society. In due time, surreptitiously, this causes them to develop a melancholy character because without knowing it they have committed a serious crime--they have negated and nullified their essence as a social animal. In due time, if they stay immersed in print, they move into the Temple of Negativity, and once inside discover, in more than a few cases, there is no way out.

Then they begin to write.

Hemingway tends to be an exception to this rule, his protags and narrators often having a positive outlook and inclined to notice what is "fine" about the environments in which they find themselves, imparting good will to the people around them--until they are destroyed in his signature catastrophic endings.

As to substance abuse among serious writers, it is clearly mandatory, a fact the hallowed universities tend to minimize or overlook, decade after decade designing curricula grounded on the worldview of (gifted) drunks.

Suicide, on the other hand, is optional.

Book of Numbers / J. Cohen

Trying to work up the will to take a look at this novel, which reviewers seem to be taking seriously, but can't seem to manage it; though I haven't heard from this New York doorstop producer in some while, so where's the harm? He didn't care for my email to him on the turgid piece of sludge he wrote some years ago about that pianist/composer, can't recall the title, a novel that was wacky and goofy but not funny.  I got as far as the scene, an apex of scatology, where the central character, about halfway through the book, climbs up on a piano, drops his trousers, and makes a deposit.

God save us from graphomaniacs who appear never to have been within ten feet of a Shakespeare bookcase.

Cf. N.O. Ting: "If you don't have something nice to say, by all means say it!"

Josh, why drop a little known author like a hot brick just for being, respectfully, honest? Honesty is not worthless. If you're one of these writers sensitive as a scrambled egg, toughen up old son! To conflate a respectful and honest assessment of one's work with a malice-driven vendetta is to do oneself a disservice. And what goes around . . . .

For a comic novel that will have you snickering and laughing out loud, take a look at Steve Toltz' A Fraction of the Whole, though I tend to regard him as a loser for not responding to my complimentary three-page single-spaced letter mailed c/o his publisher.

Bitter thumb-biting envy and Hibernian love of a good fight mingling in a true witches' brew, on this morning after a predominantly white night that has left one too tired to do what one should be doing. Okay, let's go out and make some enemies, the world is sixty-percent fictitious anyway--and permanently insusceptible to a satisfactory analytic. The world in its essence is unknowable! Try and stop me from saying it.

One of the major fictions being that the U.S. is a democracy. It's not a democracy, it's a rich guy's plaything.

As to climate change, the prudent and necessary steps to mitigate or stabilize it are not being taken and will not be taken because of the dehumanized and self-destructive nature of global capitalism and the stranglehold it has on governments worldwide. What's coming for civilization is a crumbling, gradual or otherwise, of the global economy and devolution back to the Dark Ages, or Semi-Dark Ages. Count on it.

But cf. Proust: "Political passions are like all the others--they flare up, they burn out."

Author Photos

Always scowl or sneer, or appear to be tormented, inclined to cynicism, misanthropy and indiscriminate disgust, sullen, irritable, contemptuous, or at the very least untrustworthy; proves one lives in the Temple of Negativity and is therefore a Serious Intellectual.

Unless your name is J.U., as in U and I.  Trust a sex-addict genius, none too good looking as it happens, to smile.

I passed the Plowville escapee on the sidewalk just North of the Common one day years ago. I half-smiled and said, "Hi," and he could tell I recognized him and he smiled and half-stopped, but I continued on my way, having no idea what to say to the equivalent of a Faulkner or Proust.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Farewell to Arms

Rereading this fifty years after one's first encounter with the esteemed man's man and coming across this sentence describing one of the protag's nurses:

"She was young and pretty."

Further on, this:

"It was a clean little town and there was a fine fountain in the square."

And one thinks, 'Well one thing's for certain, one is certainly not reading Proust.'

Then this famed (and rightly so) passage:

"I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist . . . . If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry."

Description of characters' appearance, facial animation, gestures, tone of voice, body orientation in space, backstories, air or manner, habits of mind--all predominantly absent, minimal at best; next to no tropes, cryptic allusions, symbolism; chronology straightforward--but a level of authenticity of experience, a feel, solid as an oak--one believes every word the man writes, unconditionally.

His aesthetic of leaving as much crucial information out of a story as possible, in order to create a work of art with the majestic movement of an iceberg, is clearly displayed in this novel, where major experiences of narrator/protag Frederick Henry--his rendezvous with an exploding artillery shell, his shooting of a deserter in the back, his near death at the hands of rogue officers in the Italian army, the death of his nurse girlfriend Catherine Berkley (sp?)--are stated in the simplest terms, the associated emotions barely mentioned, putting one in the presence of a classic Man of Few Words, which is how heroes are supposed to be, no? The contrast between the lavish attention he gives to describing landscapes and his minimalist treatment of major emotional events is a characteristic to be found in a number of his novels. And the subtle foreshadowing of Catherine's impending death by Frederick's discovery of dead flowers in a garbage can he has inspected to see if there's any food in it for a stray dog he's come across, is creditable.

I forgot virtually all of this work, but vividly recognized the scene where the Italian officers are interrogated one at a time and then shot when I came to it. Forgetting what one reads leads one at times to regard the entire intellectual enterprise as chasing the wind, but there's not a whole lot to be done about it at this point, print perhaps the deepest form of hypnosis there is. In the end it's print that captures one; no matter the subject or style, one has to have it, endlessly.

The Tame vs. the Wild

Kafka, Hemingway, Beckett, Proust, O'Neill, Bernhard, Dostoievski, Pinter, Bukowski, Genet, Burroughs, Artaud sitting around an MFA seminar table "sharing" with each other their thoughts on the will to originality and literary perfection . . . please.

Cf. N.O. Ting: "Pursue all literary goals with animal ferocity," and, "Who's tame? Anyone who belongs to any organization."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Death in the Afternoon / E.H.

Too, too funny--discovered last night, in this dithyramb to violent death, the Spanish for a bullfighter's cape is--capote.

In this work, the first non-fiction book by a major novelist one believes one has ever read, Hemingway carries his let's-keep-it-simple aesthetic to the point aesthetics are thrown out the window entirely and our peripatetic author plunges into the world of fact and fact alone, his journalistic tendency having overruled his artistic, and it is fascinating, the art/sport of bullfighting  one of the craziest, cruelest, most surreal activities, with moments of overpowering beauty, in which humanity has ever become engaged--imagine an NFL game where the captain of the losing team changes into a tuxedo and is executed by a sword-thrust to the heart to end the day.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gertrude Stein

Clifton Fadiman: "She was a past master in making nothing happen very slowly."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Slaughterhouse Five

Read this in the '70s and all I can remember, other than "So it goes," is Billy Pilgrim's red boots, the sardonic atmosphere, and the chapter-ending taunt, "Go take a flying f*ck at a rolling donut. Go take a flying f*ck at the moon."  I understand this work and Catcher were among the few contemporary novels Beckett read, saying he liked both, according to one or the other of his biographers.  As to late Beckett, a lament by J. Simon is not without merit: "What happened to the humor?"  I noticed a couple weeks ago a collection of his poetry has been published, but don't feel inclined to take it on.

The Unnamable / Beckett

The supreme example of the plotless, make it up as you go along novel, a wild flight away from Ulysses, a radical effort by S.B. to escape the anguish of influence.

Springer's Progress / D. Markson

Don't like having the details of a stranger's sex life shoved in my face--at all.

The Sun Also Rises

First read this more than fifty years ago, forgot almost all of it and this time around enjoyed very much Jake scoffing at Robert Cohn's ivy league boxing title, only to be knocked out by him in a barroom brawl toward the end of the story, and I absolutely did not foresee amour-crazed Brett having an actual romantic liaison with pretty boy bullfighter Pedro Romero, which set up keen suspense when as a result of the infatuation he gets beaten up by Cohn the night before the final bull fight of the Pamplona fiesta--judicious of E.H. not to have him killed or injured because one is really tense thinking he will be, as the price for his dalliance.  But the cast are a bunch of borderline alcoholics, who cares what happens to them.  Interesting that H. doesn't describe the physical appearance of any of the characters, other than saying Mike is "tanned" and Brett has short hair.  Th. Bernhard tends to go that way.  But everything seems authentic; H. says he wrote the first draft in six weeks, making one think of Faulkner's claim that he wrote the first draft of As I Lay Dying in two weeks.

Couple of interesting facts from Hotchner's Papa Hemingway: he never kept a journal or diary, and admitted to, on at least one occasion, crying over a rejection slip--Hemingway!  An effective way to avoid the irritation of dealing with editorial cretins--give oneself a few years off from the process.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Green Hills of Africa / E.H.

Hemingway and Nietzsche would have enjoyed each other's company, N. convinced compassion is a weakness ("God is dead.  He died of pity for man."), H. profoundly, bizarrely oblivious to the pain he inflicted on the kudu, lions, elephants, eland, and other big game he killed for sport and taste treats in Africa, justifying the slaughter on the grounds that the animals were killing each other on a round-the-clock basis without him and that his contribution to the butchery was "very minute and I had no guilty feeling at all."

Fundamentally dehumanized attitude, no?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

To Have & Have Not / Hemingway

Why we get one chapter from a minor character's point of view I couldn't tell you, but no serious harm done.  Story feels authentic.  I started reading this years ago but for some reason didn't finish it; enjoyed it very much this time around.  Unity is weak perhaps, all the material about the well to do elite fighting insomnia on their yachts bursting into the work unexpectedly toward the end, primary narrative seemingly abandoned, where did all these people come from?  Protag anti-hero deep sea fisherman Harry Morgan is driven by economic necessity into the criminal underworld and pays a stiff price.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro / Hemingway

He makes a point of dropping exotic place-names all over the place, a "subtle" form of boasting, or it's conspicuous consumption, wearing his travels on his sleeve, might as well have five or six heavy gold gangbanger chains around his neck and rings on every finger.

But I like it.

As usual in literature, a good deal of Negativity throughout.  Gored bullfighter feels the horn pass through him and into the sand of the ring beneath him--ouch!  The relevance of the italicized incidents that open every chapter not immediately apparent.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mountain View, California

Greetings & compliments of the day . . . .

The Last Novel / D. Markson

A charming compilation of quotes from the one of the most bizarre families to ever have lived.

The Genealogy of Morals / Nietzsche

He writes: "The worst readers--The worst readers are those who proceed like plundering soldiers: they pick up a few things they can use, soil and confuse the rest, and blaspheme the whole."

Now who does this call to mind?, lol.

Nothing for it but to let out a bursting Zarathustrian laugh, Capote known for never opening his mouth about a contemporary writer without slandering their talent.

Nietzsche, his misogyny extreme unto madness, is a skilled prose stylist, if a spewing spurting volcano of Negativity, hostility, lunatic arrogance, and penetrating insight into the darkest recesses of human character, but when The Genealogy climaxes with the claim that the will to truth is a "problem," one wonders where one is being led.

Antichrist / L. von Trier

A film guaranteed to lower the quality of your life and a striking example of Nietzsche's warning that the search for truth can be dangerous.  Problem is, once you see certain things, you can't unsee them.

Breaking the Waves was extreme.  Antichrist is art as permanently-staining horror.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wittgenstein's Mistress / D. Markson

A boring one-character novel concerning the standard isolated semi-delusional neurotic loser.

Perhaps I'll read the D.F. Wallace afterword some day, let him discourse to me about all the splendor  I missed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


One of any number of Emperors of Negativity, which is to say, novelists, which is to say people whose worldview prioritizes suffering over happiness, his compulsive technique, which is why he dazzles, simply to contradict every home-truth that crosses his mind.

Read with caution.  Love his art, but do not fall for, do not buy into, his snazzy defeatism.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Red the Fiend / G. Sorrentino

It's a rare novel that has no dialogue; this is gruesome realism with a deeply shocking ending, a story of long-term child persecution concerning a l940s underclass Brooklyn youth, some of the crimes inflicted by his grandmother so awful, so ingeniously diabolical, and so perfectly described that, inexplicably, they come across as hilarious, I mean she's a she-devil from the lowest depths of hell and you're pulling for Red all the time until, sadly, you come to see the core of his character.

Highly recommended but brace yourself.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Dalkey Archive / F. O'Brien

Major disappointment . . . had expected a barrel of laughs and found little more than tepid silliness, fluff, tedium.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Vineland / Pynchon

His signature blend of hyper-realism and comic book nonsense.

I read this some years ago in a cursory way, got nothing out of it; this time around I'm impressed.

A good deal of research on Japan shoveled into the story.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Underworld / DeLillo

The first few pages of this doorstop, which I picked up for $1.99 at the Goodwill, indicate it is a work of conventional realism, in other words an aesthetic drag, so I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, probably dip into it here and there and see if something hooks me.

March 19, 2015--I dipped into it here and there and nothing hooked me so I went back and resumed reading from the beginning and have got to say his description of the famed Dodgers/Giants game at the Polo Grounds that ended with Bobby Thomson's tomahawk homerun reveals a deep knowledge of how beautiful and affecting watching professional sports can be and, having recently witnessed the last-second win of the Patriots over the Seahawks in the Super Bowl--all praise and honor to Malcolm Butler!--I credit DeLillo for devoting the time and effort he did to conveying reverence for the experience.

Monday, February 9, 2015

N.O. Ting in a Mood

"The pestilential presence of other writers on the face of the earth--don't they realize writing fiction is my job?  Who do they think they are, generating all that income for themselves and revealing all those insights into human nature and creating all that pressure for me to be aware of what they're doing so I can ridicule and revile it?"

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Birdman / Innaritu, N. Giacobone, A. Dinelaris, Jr., A. Bo

So a self-absorbed has-been celebrity film actor craving adulation attempts to obtain it by staging, at his own expense, a stage play in New York adapting a work by drunkard Raymond Carver and accidentally shoots himself in the face while attempting suicide on stage--who gives a sh*t?  And so there are touches of fantasia--this is impressive?  Such a shame to see high quality acting wasted on such a worthless character.

The Wolf of Wall Street / T. Winter

The characters in this 2013 epic-runtime adaptation of Jordan Belfort's Wall St. memoir are massively disgusting, fascinating to watch, hilarious in their anything-goes vulgarity and depravity--but the next day one feels as if one has been swimming through a cesspool.  I suppose it aspires to be a Citizen Kane, but what it delivers is Citizen Sleasebag.  Leonardo's performance is essentially flawless, but his Jordon B. is so contemptible one is overcome by a feeling of talent going down a drain.  The cinematic Jordan Belfort is someone to be reckoned with--as one would reckon with a dog foaming at the mouth.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

One's Current Project

Rewriting a novel (in ms.) from the 1980s, originally titled Afflicted, then Fear's Orchid.  Little-published writers who blog of course brand themselves across the forehead with the word "amateur" but it's so effortless to do, and so enjoyable to use the mechanism, how does one avoid it, particularly someone who's worked for a hot-type publication, supervised chain-smoking printers on press-day, and is familiar with the thousand and one steps that must be taken to get words out to an audience in non-digital multi-person linotype publishing?

And having an apparent international audience is almost hilarious to consider.

Message in a bottle.

Though Rick Moody, a significant novelist, is somewhat active on FB, an institution whose triviality cannot be overstated, often promoting his singing career, which he should abandon.


A codependent is someone who is irrationally compulsively self-destructively attached to someone who is irrationally compulsively self-destructively attached to something.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Misfits / Arthur Miller

Watching this 1961 film on channel 297 last night, I was appalled by the extent to which Marilyn hammed it up; can't believe Huston didn't tell her to tamp herself down; it was like a SNL skit on embarrassing acting.

Rush / P. Morgan

Watching the credits roll for this 2013 film, viewing the endless scores of names responsible for everything from Foley effects to hairstyles to carpentry, I was amazed that not one of these people had the sense to call for the one camera set-up that can convey the vertiginous incomprehensible delerious speed at which these Formula 1 daredevils drive--a camera mounted on one or more of the racers. Massive mistake by director Ron Howard.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The World Is Flat / T. Friedman

Picked up a hardcover, cheap-binding copy of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat at Goodwill today for $2.99 and in the first chapter he quotes a prominent Indian businessman on the world of accounting under globalization:

"The accountant who wants to stay in business in America will be the one who focuses on designing creative complex strategies, like tax avoidance or tax sheltering, managing customer relationships."

Tax "avoidance," otherwise known as tax evasion, is of course illegal, something the eminent Mr. Friedman sees no need to comment on, in his raptures about technological progress. [June 28, 2019: I have since learned that tax avoidance, as opposed to tax evasion, is legal. But it doesn't have a good smell, in my quiet opinion.]  Tax evasion is no small problem.  The Netflix documentary Let's Make Money ends with the statement that the governments of the world are deprived of an estimated $250 billion a year, which could be used for poverty and hunger eradication programs, healthcare, medical research, etc., by unscrupulous and depraved individuals hiding or under-reporting their incomes on a worldwide basis, much of this wrongdoing facilitated by the unjustifiable secrecy of the Swiss banking industry, of which the Swiss are so proud, along with fellow bankers around the world.

God save us from bankers.

Friedman is widely regarded as a near-genius journalist but as Naomi Klein has pointed out--where? well somewhere!--he was an arch-hawk when it came to the invasion of Iraq, one of the biggest blunders in U.S. military history; when a writer makes an incontestable mistake of judgment on an issue of that magnitude, one needs to regard him skeptically.

February 5, 2014--Remarkable, a masterpiece of feverish boosterism.  Friedman is a gung-ho capitalist who believes computer-spawned globalization is God's gift to humanity, with no ifs, ands or buts.  He's a true believer.  I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this.

February 23, 2015--I've finished it and have got to say it is the most profoundly informative book I've ever read on the fundamental changes wrought in the world of business by computers and fiber-optic cables--highly recommended, though I am wary of its loving embrace of capitalism.

From the Trenches

The indescribable incomprehensible terminally louche sh*ts one has to deal with as a predominantly unknown writer, it's almost beyond belief.