Sunday, February 29, 2004


The simultaneously adorable and venerable Neil Finn will be heard giving a concert on CBC Radio One's Definitely Not The Opera on Saturday March 6 between 4 and 5 PM. I suspect that Neil is not going to be present in the city, but rather, that it will be some sort of simulcast, or even an older recording. I also suspect that Peter Green over at frenz.com will have more information for us as the week wears on...


A troubadour by the name of Grant-Lee Phillips passed through these here parts some three or so nights ago... a man and his guitar and some poetry set to music: sultry songs about swamps in one breath, and lilting laments to lost loves in another... Grant-Lee is one of the true musical talents who is at once prolific and inconspicuous, leaving behind a trail of quietly swooning fans in his wake [this swooning fan was particularly enthralled by Josephine of the Swamp, a new song on Virginia Creeper, which can be heard on this mini-radio-concert, but worry not, there is no need to persevere: it's handily the very first song...]

From early Grant Lee Buffalo gems like Fuzzy and Jupiter and Teardrop, to his most recent girl-inspired pop ballads [featuring Mona Lisa, Lily, Jane, Josephine, and Susanna], Grant-Lee delivers his lyrical goods with a vocal range that is surprisingly diverse: he seems as comfortable reaching for the higher octaves as he does when he is crooning deeply, and this all within the confines of a single albeit richly layered song. Bethlehem Steel is one such song that comes quickly to mind. Truly truly.

Yes, it is all about truth with Grant-Lee Phillips. Wearing one's heart on one's sleeve is usually perceived as a weakness, but in the case of this troubadour, it is what makes him strong and oh-so-listenable.

And that completes my testimony. Come back soon, Grant-Lee...



USE FOR: vaguely yearning attitude

SCOPE: other words might have been included,
but the effort is tiresome, and more importantly,
what's the point?

RT: apathy
RT: banality
RT: disconnectedness
RT: melancholy
RT: monotony
RT: prolixity
RT: sameness
RT: taedium vitae
RT: vapidity
RT: Weltschmerz
RT: world-weariness

BT: boredom
BT: dissatisfaction
BT: inertia
BT: malaise
BT: tedium

NT: dejection
NT: disquiet
NT: doldrums
NT: enervation
NT: languor
NT: lassitude

A mere skeleton of an arrangement, but alas, it is just the beginning of this inconsequential exercise. Add words to the mix if you are so inclined, as well as tips for re-arrangement.

Monday, February 23, 2004


'Be prepared to show identification and manifest' --sign at U.S. Customs & Immigration in B.C.

Should there be an 'o' at the end of 'manifest'? And is the word intended to be a verb or a noun? If the former, exactly how would I go about manifesting through customs? Would it involve a certain self-assured charging through? I can't see myself doing it, although maybe I did and don't even know it, since we're already through and absolutely racing to Bellingham.

Anyway, if it's intended as a noun (manifest, that is), what would I have to show to customs officials? It's difficult enough having an idea of a purpose in one's life without having to present some sort of physical item that illustrates just what that purpose might be. Alas, I have forgotten to bring a manifesto with me on this trip. There wasn't any room left in my backpack to fit one.

Saturday, February 21, 2004


Have discovered another Scotsman whose writing I adore. The first, of course, is Alasdair Gray, whose Lanark remains in my mind as one of the greatest things I've ever read. And now there is William Boyd [granted, not a native Scotsman, but having spent a good portion of his life there renders the point arguable]. Currently reading Any Human Heart [thanks, A.], which, in and of itself, is no groundbreaking work of literature. However... he has managed to capture the essence of the era in which his journal-writing protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, exists, or at least what I imagine the essence of that era to be, in that he [Boyd] enlivens a sense of the burgeoning expression of art, as well as the necessary exchanging of ideas between artists, creating an impression that the artistic sensibilities of the time paved the way toward a cultural climate that was at once innovative and volatile.

In the novel, Logan Mountstuart [LMS] is introduced to various members of the Bloomsbury Group, and from time to time, comes in contact with notable literary figures such as James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, and Ernest Hemingway. LMS is later inspired to write a book about the lives and careers of Les Cosmopolites, a circle of French poets, after having made an acquaintance with one of its members. He calls it The Cosmopolitans.

LMS is not the only one who finds the idea of a circle of artists and thinkers intriguing. How often have I wished that I could be an integral part of such a group: minds coming together to put forth ideas that are previously amorphous and without tangibility, suddenly taking shape, suddenly tangible...

There is cause to lament the lack of such a phenomenon in the present day world of arts and letters. Where are our Harry Kesslers and our Lytton Stracheys? And furthermore, why do renderings of house plans no longer include parlours and salons? Where are we expected to gather and share our collective artistic consciousness? I should certainly hope that it isn't Starbucks.

Thursday, February 19, 2004


Well, it turns out that the Voynich Manuscript is a hoax. I'm shocked. It took a mere 500 years, but a British computer scientist has managed to figure it out [...with a little help from his computer, as well as from a rudimentary little device known as a Cardan grille...], which is not to say that he decoded the folio manuscript. Having baffled linguists and cryptanalysts for centuries, the elaborate "codex" is purportedly the handiwork of one Edward Kelley, English adventurer and con man extraordinaire. It is posited that his intended target was Rudolph II, a serious collector of all manner of trinkets, as well as the occasional codex thrown in for good measure, and all for the low low price of 600 ducats [approx. $50000 USD worth of gold by todays standards]. If the creator of the work used a Cardan grille in its production, it is estimated that the MS could have been created in three months time... that works out to about $100 an hour if Kelley worked at it eight hours a day, five days a week. Not a bad gig, that cryptography...

What puzzles me is why all of these linguists and cryptanalysts didn't consider that many so-called adventurers of the time were exercising similar creative license... a potentially lucrative undertaking during a period that found Europeans hungering for knowledge of terra incognita. Any proof of the existence of utopian societies was eaten up with eager curiosity, any description of la terre australe taken at face value... Defoe, Chetwood, Psalmanazar... but a few examples of individuals who chose to exploit this phenomenon, albeit through the auspices of literature, while purporting to have travelled to the places that they wrote about. Though what else can one call the Voynich MS besides literature, especially now that we know it is a hoax?

Perhaps it can be re-named as the following: Travels in, and subsequent description of, an unknown land in an unknown place, though most likely, but not definitely, terrestrial, with an ensuing explication of pertinent herbals, astronomicals, biologicals, cosmologicals, pharmaceuticals, and recipes.

N.B. Please pardon my negligence with regard to failing to observe the rules of quasi-facsimile transcription for the above title.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


Tibor Fischer is having a gender identity crisis. I'm not sure how many pages I turned while reading Voyage to the End of the Room before realizing that the narrator is a female incarnation of the infamous Hungaro-British writer best known for his little problem of Amis-envy. And once I accepted that the narrator was a woman and not a sharp-witted albeit reclusive literary type who also happens to be a man, as well as an esteemed graduate of the Will Self School of Syntactic Acrobatics [syntacrobat for short], I still had to remind myself at least once per page that said narrator was a she and not a he.

Not that this matters all that much. The prose was still pretty snappy, and there were more than a few instances that made me put the book down and ask myself, why couldn't I have thought of that?

But then the other major character of the book begins to appear more frequently, and surprise surprise, it's a man that sounds an awful lot like Tibor Fischer might sound if he had written a memoir instead of a novel. The prose is still snappy, albeit marginally less so, and the story takes a turn for the momentarily incomprehensible, followed by the momentarily annoying, and finally just comes across as more than marginally boring. The story ends none too soon, but also much too soon, as the manner in which Fischer wraps things up is much too hasty and not really credible. He must have been in a hurry to finish it so that he could start writing the review whose real purpose was to tell the literary world that his book was to be released on the same day as that other guy whose nth novel was comparably bad, like not-knowing-where-to-look bad, to Tibor's (n - 1)th novel, nameably Voyage to the End of the Park Where Your Uncle Likes to Masturbate.

But on the whole, I quite enjoyed it. Will be anticipating the next Fischer with much eagerness, and also keeping my fingers crossed that it's a collection of essays.

Monday, February 16, 2004


Space... the last frontier... I can scarcely think of anything as important as spending billions of dollars on the exploration of the red planet... just imagine the thrill of discovering that life is sustainable there... actual life on another planet! No one expressed it more aptly than George W. Bush: "it improves our lives, and lifts our national spirit". There is no doubt that Americans need their spirits lifted, but wouldn't first taking care of life on planet Earth be the more logical, sensible approach? While we're not sure that there's water on Mars, we're certain that there is water on Earth. Perhaps the process of polluting Martian water can begin once the process has been completed terrestrially.

Of course, when Bush waxes on about improving "our" lives, he is not referring to humankind in general, but rather, to Americans, the reason being that the real heart of the matter lies in conquering the last frontier: the militarization of space is just part of the American legacy to inherit the universe.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the evildoers, in this case those that have degraded our earthly environment to its current abysmal state, have become aware of the consequences of global pollution and are now looking to colonize nearby nearly habitable realms. They have realized that the planet's future is stark, and now must pool all their dirty military-industrial money together to build a casino/hotel/resort on the moon, or maybe Mars. By that time, the building of a long-range missile so powerful will allow the chosen few space colonists to obliterate what's left of the toxic sphere, because, let's face it, every last country on Earth except one was no damn good. With any luck, the whole plan will backfire when the missile ricochets off their own defense shield and heads back to where it came from.

Science fiction, or just unknown unknowns? Admittedly, sticking to unknown knowns is better, like how do we fix the problem of a river running red right in our own backyard, or what is the best way to dispose of toxic waste besides burying tons of it in the middle of a small town?

So back to the original question: is there life on Mars?

Who cares.

Sunday, February 15, 2004


The wordburst of the moment is 'credibility gap'. A quick search on the Google News search engine returns 141 hits [which is up from the 137 hits that were returned just a few hours ago... I suspect that the number of hits will only increase as the Democrats wind up the mudslinging machine]. It would seem that George W. Bush is traversing a tight rope over a chasm that is both deep and convoluted. On one side is the pre-Iraq war claim that Saddam atop his tall pile of WMDs was an imminent threat to the US. On the other side is the post-Iraq war reality in which any evidence of WMDs has failed to materialize.

The real credibility gap, in my mind, is this: the fact that the US has upwards of 70,000 nuclear weapons [read: WMDs], enough to obliterate the planet many times over [ironically, it can only be done once], many of which are on constant hair-trigger alert: we ALL KNOW THIS... it is NOT a secret, and yet NO ONE EVER MENTIONS IT [well, almost no one]. This is in sharp contrast to the manner in which Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest of the feel-good gang over at the Defense Policy Board lie and scheme and make claims that it's everyone else that poses a threat, what with their stashes of castor beans and rusty artillery. That missile defense shield is going to get rusty too if that's all that the countries on the axis of evil can muster.

Disarmament is a word that needs to be re-introduced into the vocabulary. I haven't heard anyone use this word in years. But there is one individual: Helen Caldicott says it's three minutes to midnight, which means that we still live in a world "on the brink of nuclear disaster". Her voice is so loud, yet nobody is listening to her. The din of power, corruption, and lies seem to be drowning her out.

Saturday, February 14, 2004


Engulfed by darkness.
And pillows and blankets.
Rapid eye movement.
Then less rapid eye movement.
Eyelids flutter, heartbeat slows, breathing evens.
Thump thump thump, is that me or the upstairs girl stomping to the toilet?
Roll over. Begin again.

Conscious, but short-lived.
Eyes scan darkness, heartbeat quickens, am I dying?
No, I'm sleeping.
No, I'm dreaming.
No, I'm crying (how did I get myself in this mess?)
You know very well how.
Now go back to sleep.


So rare and fleeting are the glimpses of truth that are normally thwarted by ignorance and distraction. Daily life makes their detection difficult, but they are always there, albeit mostly under the cover of anonymity, or perhaps under the cover of one's bed, and in turn, under the cover of a dream, which may not really be a dream at all, but rather, an acutely heightened sense of awareness and self.

Monday, February 09, 2004

WORDS, PICTURES, continued

Granted, I don't read many books that are illustrated, so the problem of a hard image clashing with one conjured within my own mind is negligible. In fact, the last thing that I read that contained pictures was rather wonderful, their presentation rather unconventional, and dare I say, ephemeral. Inserted here a passport photo, there a bookplate, and many more in between, presumably to serve as reminders that what is being described can be supported by physical evidence, in case the writer forgets that what happened actually happened, in case the reader doesn't believe him. In essence, the reader is given a sampling of postcards that provide the proof: Vienna is lovely... wish you were here....

But was Vienna really lovely? That photograph in my scrapbook shows me standing in the Volksgarten with a big smile on my face. That must mean I was having a good time. But wasn't that also the day that my travelling companion and I had an argument and stopped talking to each other for a really good reason... what was that reason again?

Is this where fiction comes from? Our poor fleeting memories act as the catalyst, but our finitely capacious grey matter serves to embellish the events within our own lives that we think happened, but aren't quite sure.

Sunday, February 08, 2004


An absence of words has been seen [or not seen?] over the last couple of days here at firmly ambivalent. Simply an omission of posts, or a silent albeit pretentious statement that asserts 'less is more'? I am more likely to lean toward the former, though admittedly, the latter has interesting connotations with regard to the leanings that writers [of all types] have toward the volume of words that are put forth: abundant versus sparse, the physically heavy tome versus the lexically light poem... Is one better than the other? It can be a simple matter of preference, but there is a bigger question at play here: does a writer's predisposition to loquacity render their prose inferior to that produced by the writer who can express himself just as clearly but with a lot less verbiage?

This whole train of thought was planted in my brain by a piece in the November 2003 issue of The Believer, the focus of which is the contemporary writer's failure to describe their subject's countenance in any great detail. Let us now pause for a moment of silence to mourn the passing of the adjective.

My position is this: each additional description provided makes the reader's imagination work less. If we are talking about fiction, a character starts out as belonging to the writer, but when the book is in my hands, that same character belongs to me, in which case, I can use my imagination to assign characteristics that fluorish in my own mind. It doesn't matter whether the intent of the writer matches my own perception; what does matter is that an impression formed in my mind is my prerogative, and allows me to interpret the presented prose as I see fit. Now when I turn the page, I am aghast to discover an illustration of a character described on the previous page. Not surprisingly, my own imagined perception is affronted by something completely different. This is an intellectual attack of sorts, leaving me to wonder why the writer can't just leave well enough alone, and discard all superfluity in favour of clean and simple prose. Now I understand Kafka's adamance at not allowing an image of the insect to make its way into the pages of The Metamorphosis. Co-incidentally, his favourite format seemed to have been the short story.

More on this later, after I mull it over for a while longer.

Thursday, February 05, 2004


Having repeatedly heard of Dale Peck's vicious critical attack on Rick Moody, I decided to read what all the fuss was about. This was prompted by the wishy-washy declaration that Peck provided in last week's Guardian piece: I am going to stop being so mean to my fellow writers, but not before I publish all of my nasty reviews, together for the first time in one handsome volume.

This is the conclusion that I come to: despite never having read anything by Rick Moody, I can tell that Peck's critical standards are far too high. It seems as though he is of the mind that any writer who dares to categorize himself as belonging to literature's upper echelons has a duty to deliver prose that is as intellectually rigorous as Peck no doubt perceives his own to be. He positions himself on the literary high ground, while others grovel beneath him, clueless as to how they can reach his accomplished and esteemed level.

And then he does a complete turnabout. The end of the review has him lauding Moody for being the 'genuine article', or in other words, a 'real writer' Huh?! Why do I get the feeling that he's not talking about Mr. Moody anymore, but rather, waxing poetic about his own fabulous talent, as he spews forth about "being incapable of seeing the world through anything but the prism of metaphor and narrative".

If reading this piece has allowed me to do anything, it's knowing that I'll never voluntarily read anything by either Peck or Moody. The latter, I realize, deserves a break after this particular offering of ├╝ber-snark, but the overlord of literary criticism has ruined it for me.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004


Two days in, and I've already grown tired of the format of the previous posts: the mischievous missive was fun for awhile, but now I find its contrivance quite unsustainable. When I look to other blogs for guidance, I only come to the conclusion that I needn't contribute to the mix, as all angles have been covered quite capably by other bookish types with deeper insights than I...

So that's it then? I don't know. To give up after just three days seems unseemly. Perhaps I'll sleep on it and give it another shot tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Dear Dave,

If loquacity is a virtue, then you must be an angel! In light of all this verbal fortitude, I thought you might be able to share some helpful hints on how best to tackle your magnus opus. It's not so much that your tome is a voluminous feat of prose, but rather, that I have to put the book down every few minutes and let the gravity of what I've just read register. Sink in. Resonate. Or is it better to just forge ahead and let the full impact wash over me once I've finished? Then there is the problem of arcane references that only you and perhaps one of the other Daves understands. Am I to pretend that I get it and laugh knowingly to myself despite being completely ignorant? I'm sure that you would agree that this is not very suitable behaviour for a reasonably intelligent individual... perhaps even akin to the exposing of one's breast in the world of primetime entertainment. But I digress...

As an aside, do you feel outdone by the Vollmann treatise on violence? I hope that it hasn't caused a rift between you and Dave. I'm thinking he should have held out for your next labour of lexical love.

Will be anxiously awaiting your sage advice.

Until then I remain,
Firmly Ambivalent


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