Friday, July 30, 2004

THIS/THAT, continued

Makes a great coffee table book off which to snort lines: the Arch-drude has been garnering some attention over his monolithic book on megaliths in the anthropological world.

I wish I had a Globe & Mail column so I could write crap too: Russell Smith surely must have better ideas to work with, but instead opts to write about fictional characters' knowledge of plants in literature. Then again, if it's not about urban angst, he's pretty much out of his element. By the way, his latest effort, Muriella Pent, makes a great coffee table book off which to snort lines.

How empathetic, with emphasis on the pathetic: the TNR article outlining the capture of High Value Targets by Pakistan before the fall election has been updated in the wake of the capture of a Tanzanian Al Qaeda operative. Quite remarkable that it co-incided with John Kerry's day of nomination. Fat lot of good it did though, as the Democrats are ahead in the polls. Guess that means Bush will have to kick it up a notch with his heartwarming Compassion Across America campaign.

And Wagner wept: artistic license is one thing, but re-interpreting Wagnerian vision is quite another. People pay years in advance to see and hear something very specific in Bayreuth, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't include projected images of Osama Bin Laden inside the Festspielhaus. On an ironic note, fledgling director Christoph Schlingensief is dissatisfied with the lack of video technology capability inside the theater, a position which leaves me dumbfounded. Guess Wagner poured all of his money into sound and forgot all about the video end of things. And the whole racism allegation against tenor Endrik Wottrich seems like a ploy to gain more acceptance for the re-worked version of Parsifal. Is it really so surprising that comments pertaining to race were made considering that the original story unfolds in Europe, and not in Africa? And let's not forget that Wottrich might just be upholding Wagnerian tradition by voicing such opinions. Alas, all of the controversy seems to have died, along with a few scattered boos from the audience, leading me to believe that the brouhaha was about as contentious as Atom Egoyan's direction of Die Walküre for the Canadian Opera Company, which happened to be fantastic. Looking duly forward to François Girard's vision of Siegfried in January.

Sunday, July 25, 2004


Every review that I've read of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas seems to focus on the structure of the novel and how well it works. Six distinct characters, each in a different time period (from the distant past to the distant future and back again in reverse chronological order), each connected to the other in a subtle and remarkable way. Granted, it's a clever device that he's successfully implemented, and the individual sections stand on their own but also maintain a cohesiveness when taken all together. In short, Mitchell's got it all happening with both form and function.

Yet it's the content that's left me thinking of little else since putting the book aside a week ago. From the discussion of the brutal slaying of the Moriori tribe in the Adam Ewing journal, to the implication of the danger of faulty nuclear reactors in the Luisa Rey mystery, followed by the disturbing account of the clone or 'fabricant' foodserver Sonmi~451 in the not-too-distant future, and finishing with a post-apocalyptic planet sporadically populated with genetically mutated humans, we are dealing with a lot of heavy topics. To bring up the subject of the format again, the progression through time sort of allows the reader to extrapolate to the situation we find ourselves in today, and to understand how we've arrived here: it all comes down to the need for power. I can think of a very timely non-literary example of a particularly power-hungry entity that renders the book's two futuristic scenarios less science fiction and more projected reality. By reading this book, I've been convinced that we're on the cusp of a vastly different and frightening era: one in which there is a real threat of losing our humanity.

Suddenly, I have a real and pressing need to know what's going on in underground biomolecular labs everywhere.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Pass the madeleines, please: a lovely essay by Alberto Manguel on food and literature.

An idea whose time has come: meta-reality TV as realized by Annabel Lyon.

Refresh, then repeat: the random word page at Word Spy is buzzword-compliant. Not only that, it keeps one abreast of the Zeitgeist through the auspices of wordbursts. What a dandy tool!

Beyond dark and stormy: the winners and losers for the 2004 Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest have been announced, the stinking fruits of their prosaic toil disseminated...

Taking to the open road: Jonathan Raban and his daughter hop in the car and take a road trip down the Pacific coast [part I] [part II]

Would you prefer Ivory or Pears, Dick?: The New Yorker provides the entire extrapolated transcript of the Cheney/Leahy kerfuffle.

Man in a towel walks up to a bookcase: Ian Brown puts a positive spin on the gloomy doomy NEA report on the decline of reading in America, and does so while half-naked, all fresh and glistening from the shower, looking for inspiration as he shelf-browses his personal collection...now there's something I'd like to read more about.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


If you're in need of a good laugh, check out the opinion pieces over at BushCountry.org [link first seen at boing boing's guestblog]. My two favourites are entitled: Kerry: Homosexuality Not A Sin. God: It Is; and then there's the absurd Gay Marriage And Terrorist [the latter is worth reading if only to marvel, then snicker, at the author's complete lexical ineptitude and disregard for grammar]. If you don't feel like reading the whole vacuous argument, here is the best part:

Now, worst of all, we are granting them equal parity in the law with heterosexual couples. If that is not giving the green light to sin, then neither is Madonna dancing around in the near nude provocative.

That's throwing the word 'sin' about lightly, isn't it? I would call ignoring environmental decline and being in denial about 'climate change' a great deal more sinful [I won't even get into all of the other much more obvious type of sinning the U.S. government is currently committing at home and abroad]. I suppose that the Christian right neocons aren't affected by the environment, living in their plastic bubble and all. Let's see how their tune will change when their amber waves of grain give way to stark and fruitless deserts with Siberian temperatures. That's what will happen when the polar ice caps melt and thereby fuck up the Gulf Stream, leading to widespread shortage of food, penultimately to war, and ultimately to our slow and painful demise as a species. So go on shunning environmental policy, you fuck-ups in Washington, if it's a dead planet you're striving to rule.

Bill McKibben is the voice of reason on the whole convoluted matter; he has many important and frightening things to say, a few of which I've listed here: Crossing the Red Line [NYRB]; Worried? Us? [Granta 83: This Overheating World]; Bill McKibben on Staying Human [AlterNet interview].

It's interesting to note that BushCountry.org doesn't feature any articles on the environment. All that I could find was one silly rant against recycling. Yes, against. And they sure have nerve slapping a dot org suffix to their URL, when it should clearly be a dot com, what with all the crap they're selling.

I could continue with a rant about the evils of nucular [sic] proliferation, but that can wait till another time.

Friday, July 16, 2004


As far as I'm concerned, Dale Peck staged the whole Stanley Crouch confrontation, just to keep the ball rolling on his bad boy lit crit persona. What does Crouch get in return for bolstering the phenom that is Peck? Why, more publicity, of course. I can't keep track of all the Peck coverage anymore. I'm not even going to link to anything here today, because a) it's all become very boring, and 2) it's all become very boring. This is the last blog entry in which I will make any reference to "the troubled queen".


This just made my day: Coach House Press has been spared from the wrecking ball, and pending City Council approval, will become a fully designated heritage site in Toronto.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Well, Auden thought so about Rilke, but the title might have to go to a dub poet recently seen and heard at the Scream in High Park. The performed work in question was essentially a transformation of that Jill Sobule classic, I Kissed a Girl [somewhat akin to how Penn Jillette's Sock is a transformation of the detestable albeit venerable Ed the Sock]. I should be less critical. Alternately, I should reserve my disdain for even less worthwhile purposes.

Approaching the subject of Rilke, there is but one short line in Sonnets to Orpheus that elucidates his approach to the subject of life: "Transform matter into mind". I stared at these words for a goodly length of time before they just clicked for me. Of course, I did have some help. William H. Gass, in his essay, Transformations, does some elucidating of his own on the whole matter, making specific reference to the observation and subsequent perception of a dewdrop on the tip of a leaf:

Quantities...have been transformed into qualities. Rude substance has been sublimed. Now this energy shapes a scene on a screen of the Soul. [Rilke] preferred to think that the world was waiting to be realized in just this way, to become invisible - just as, to others, each of our realms of awareness is - invisible - although nothing is more vivid, solid, substantial, now, than the most melancholy of our experiences, for instance, the loneliness of a room rented by the week.

So what we have when we observe and perceive things is a tangible object that evolves to invisible energy charged with personal meaning, rendering it visible once more, only in a more internalized fashion. I'm sure I have oversimplified matters here, and I'm also sure that I don't fully understand what Gass refers to as 'ontological transformation', but I find my mind wandering back to the whole potential energy vs. kinetic energy analogy, only this time it is in reverse: the ontology is the kinetic object which when transformed eschews its origins and gains an alternate potential, depending upon the perspective of the observer. The resulting hybrid is bound to be volatile.

Perhaps it is just this type of volatility that separates good lesbian poets from great ones.

[See the Complete Review for a rather elucidatory review of Reading Rilke by William H. Gass]

Monday, July 12, 2004


There are times when the urge to travel becomes an all-consuming preoccupation, the outcome of which is the quasi-earnest planning of some improbable excursion. This mindset is usually accompanied by the intermittent perusal of that shelf in the bookcase devoted to travel literature, wherein I am likely to find some description of the locale I have set my mind upon to visit.

Whether the wanderlust is borne of a true wish to visit the particular locale or merely the result of a yearning to escape depends upon the individual, though I am leaning toward the latter, mainly because the episode usually begins with a vague yearning to simply be away, and that encompasses anywhere. Indeed, one can feel 'away' even within the confines of one's own city, but that is juxtaposed by being hurtled back into one's own space when the day draws to a close. In this regard, the necessity of distance becomes important: being far away brings anonymity and precludes responsibility. However, more baggage is usually brought along than one needs or wishes to be weighed down with: these are the worldly concerns that cannot simply be left at home. Alain de Botton puts it most eloquently:

It seems we may best be able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there. [Taken from The Art of Travel]

Armchair travel is admittedly more practical, but it also less satisfying. If anything at all, it is frustrating, because the more I read about a certain place, the more I want to physically be there.

So what is left if personal constraints preclude travelling in the physical sense? Armchair travel is out, because it invariably strengthens the yearning to be away. Alas, the idea of travel will have to suffice.

Friday, July 09, 2004


Perusing my stack of Granta magazines, I happened upon Issue No. 8, entitled 'Dirty Realism: New Writing From America'. I'm not sure of the origin of this genre [i.e. who first coined the phrase], but its poster boy appears to have been Raymond Carver. The reason for using the past tense here is twofold: Carver is dead, ostensibly the result of living the rough and tumble life of a typical dirty realist; the other reason is that the genre is dead, but that's just my opinion.

If the purpose of dirty realism was anything, it was to portray the seedy underbelly of multiform lives lived in America. I'm not sure why Granta, a UK publication, decided that this type of writing was a decidedly American phenomenon. Though I have nothing to back this up, I suspect that writing about the more unsavoury elements of various subcultures in society was going on in other countries too. The genre, wherever it originated, however it was perpetuated, had to have been a product of the times: it was the eighties, man. If someone wasn't getting high, they were probably having meaningless sex [in a pre-HIV world], and if they were doing both simultaneously, it was bestseller material, to be sure [think McInerney]. Reeks more of dirty realism-lite to me [i.e. dirty realism is neither dirty nor realistic: discuss].

I suppose that the essence of dirty realism was meant to be this: life isn't pretty, in fact, it's pretty ugly, and it'll probably get uglier. The future will tell, and it has...

And that's why the genre is dead. This kind of writing is no longer interesting or innovative. It is merely commonplace. Walking out your front door in the morning is a dirty enough prospect.

*Taken from Julian Cope's Peggy Suicide album.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


The fourth section of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas reads like a lost chapter from Martin Amis's The Information. I'm not sure whether to be aghast at the sheer gall of Mitchell to steal from The Amis in such a blatant fashion, or to wonder if he is intentionally taking liberties for reasons that are to become apparent once all the disparate sections of the book start to meld and provide further insight. I'm going to lean toward the presumption that it is an intentional device, if only to give the benefit of the doubt to Mitchell, whose latest offering is at once confusing and enthralling. However, it becomes less confusing after peeking at the cataloguing-in-publication data, where one can see that the assigned subject headings are 'Fate & Fatalism--Fiction' and 'Reincarnation--Fiction'. Mysterious no more, I am suddenly positive that all of these separate lives and times will lose their disconnected nature if I persevere.

I must admit that the book had me in its clutches by the second chapter, wherein the letter-writing protagonist stumbles upon the century-old journal of the first chapter's protagonist. For reasons unknown, this kind of stuff makes me weak in the knees. It must have something to do with the private nature of letters and journals, and how their potentially sensitive content is suddenly revealed, along with any secrets that we may also hope to find.

Speaking of secrets, I won't reveal any more arising from this book, unless you insist, in which case I can direct you to A.S. Byatt's review at The Guardian.

*O.S.E., not to be confused with B.S.E., is the scientific name applied to the syndrome wherein creatures of the ovine** persuasion begin to unthinkingly behave as other ovines do, resulting in little original thought.

**Thanks to The Amis for an introduction to this multilaterally capable and fine word.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


If I didn't know better, I would swear that this is a Nat Tate piece. Puts me in mind of Tate's Bridge series. Alas, it belongs to Leipzig artist David Schnell, currently exhibiting at the Galerie EIGEN+ART in Berlin. Love how stark and startling it is. All of his work seems to be in this vein.


Well, I missed Kafka's birthday. As always, I was completely wrapped up in my own pervading sense of Weltschmerz [arguably a good way of celebrating the occasion]. Came across that most famous of letters to Oskar Pollak [at wood s lot], in which Kafka vehemently posits that "a book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us". That is decidedly different from a book that melts the frozen sea within us. Such a book is likely to be one that also makes us happy, which is obviously something that Kafka deemed an affront to his own literary sensibilities: if there was not a painful blow to the head involved while reading a book, there was little hope for any ensuing lucidity.

In my own reading experience, such blows to the head, with the resultant 'moments of clarity', have been effected by the author's perceived sensibilities matching my own [unarticulated susceptibilities to impression suddenly articulated], a phenomenon that not only leaves me feeling all sated with wisdom and ready to conquer the world anew, but also leaves me feeling, er, happy. Yes, happy. Now Kafka's position on the matter of books making us happy is that "we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves".

No books at all? That would not be a happy world in which to live. Must I go and make the 'book as a physical object' argument again? And writing books ourselves? Franz: it's kind of you to modestly include yourself in this scenario, but we all know what a mess that would be, especially if it meant that we were all running around writing our own self-help manuals and living memoirs, all just searching for a little cathartic happiness in the process.

The question is begged: what kind of books knock us upside the head and make us weep with recognition? Do the types of books being published today even carry the potential of making such an impact? Perhaps the question I'm really asking is this: does chick lit change lives, or does it merely kill brain cells slowly and insidiously? More importantly, has it caused Kafka to roll over in his grave yet?


This page is powered by Blogger

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com