Not Even Past

I wonder aloud to my companion and in a sense once removed from the present, you, dear reader. I imagine stories for the storefronts we pass and the people we see. The only thing more imaginative than the combination of jewelry and ammo is the clientele. Everyone does the same. I hope everyone does the same. Continue reading

Reading: The Struggle

Reading: The Struggle

I recently finished Stoner.I expected the book to be worse than what I was told. It was hyped up by magazines, authors and friends. Imagine my surprise when I was able to read the book through in less than a day. It was a wonderful experience. 

It makes me wonder if the problem is not the endless distractions, but the endless and correspondingly poor content that is pushed on the reading public. I spend a good deal of time on the internet. I’m an email addict. But I made time. I did not check my email. It never even occurred to me. Stoner was consumed wholesale. In on big gulp I read M.S’s life. I digested it and then, almost as an after thought, I wondered about this blog. Facebook. The other million amusing and bemusing social media profiles I have. 

So stern, so dire is the article that I wonder if the author hasn’t spent too much time struggling for books that are not written for him. Mr. Parks seems like a kind heart. But somewhat battered, a word he favors, by climbing literary heights that are best suited for others who genuinely enjoy the ascent. People unlike me and unlike him. Perhaps he should be looking for books that he can read on the subway, even if others consider them in the same light as he does Dickens. 

To propose something concrete: only read the books you can read on a subway. Read only the books that will make you miss your stop. Those books will keep the light burning bright inside you. 

 

A One Off

One-off does not mean merely “unusual”; nor does it mean “like Halley’s comet,” coming back once in many blue moons. The one is off by itself, standing alone, pristine in its singularity. The compound adjective and noun means, in my mind, “without precedent, easily copied but impossible to perfectly reproduce or clone.”

Hello, dear reader. I am going to start something to accompany the somewhat standard ‘Today I Noticed’ blurbs with a few posts titled ‘One Off’ or ‘Another One Off.’ It’d be something small. Appetizing, I hope, but still small. Perhaps a photo but more often a link. 

The first one-off will be about the etymology of the word. Happy reading.

Also, dear reader, feel free to post links that you find interesting.

Let’s Get Lost in the Woods

I have noticed, dear reader, a recent tendency for the whimsical. Perhaps it is because I am still finding my blog legs. Perhaps it is because I notice the popularity my posts have so quickly attained. Am I too a slave to clicks and views? Bite your tongue.

One of my favorite passage from John Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown: ‘you can uncover powerful, hidden things if you let yourself get lost in the woods.’ Steinbeck was not limiting himself to shrubs and glens. Unsympathetic critics might point to Steinbeck’s appetite for description that teased (crossed?) the line between elegant and florid. For now, I only ask that you revel in the perversity of getting lost in books! Treat yourself to those books you have read and forgotten or, even better, never read in the first place.

“Noise is the most impertinent of all forms of interruption,” groused the nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. “It is not only an interruption, but also a disruption of thought.” That is, I feel, also the main thrust of Steinbeck’s greatest paragraphs. It was not his plot lines, which were affably straightforward. The beauty was in the naturalistic descriptions. He disappeared into a few details. He disappeared into the descriptions of the land and the people on it. He got lost. There was no noise and that is the only way I think anyone could describe his writing for good or bad. I wish I had someone more intelligent and interesting to quote to corroborate this feeling. I do not and for that, dear reader, forgive me. But when I read Steinbeck with a vista as my firmament there is a certain unity of intention and execution that becomes readily apparent. It’s such a tragedy that he’s taught in classrooms.  

The greatest part of getting lost is spontaneity. Everyone has their favorite stories, but some of mine were by Ernst Hemingway who wrote one May afternoon in a Madrid pension, when a snowstorm forced the cancellation of a bullfight at the feast of San Isidro. Those stories, he told George Plimpton, were ”The Killers,” ”Ten Indians” and ”Today Is Friday,” and all three are him. Authentically Hemingway because he writes exactly as he is. Sometimes unforgivably so but in those stories he could create the worst excesses–I would still love him all the more for it.

Getting lost also has its challenges. It gives writers, and people, too much freedom. Freedom from responsibility. Perhaps this is why some do their best work ignored. Not because of the lifestyle or misery or something similarly tragicomic. But because the freedom from responsibility is a catalysts for creativity. In this category I would put the French thinker, writer and hero (thank you for allowing me that last word, dear reader) Albert Camus. I remember the most tragic line he ever spoke. “I speak for no one: I have enough difficulty speaking for myself. I am no one’s guide. I don’t know, or I know only dimly, where I am headed.”

What he was reflecting on was his refusal to carry his moral authority, established by his editorials in the post-war publication Combat and his efforts in the Resistance, into the uniquely fragmented (for France as much as the rest of the world) 50s and 60s. He had been lost for so long in the woods that when he stumbled out of them, saw the world’s begging eyes, he simply shut down. Perhaps this has as much to do with the sad reality that he could neither imagine a French Algeria without himself (and those like him) nor an effective policy to create a viable European-Arab Algeria. But in any case I do not think that the reasons were ever clearly demarcated, much less by Camus himself.

Luckily for me, I do not have such responsibilities. No one looks to me. So I can write and hopefully charm. Perhaps just grouse at the world and throw some bitter notes out there. In either event, thank you for reading.

Me, The Collector

I should not be writing this post. I should be writing something else. I should, I should and I should. There are a half dozen other things I should be doing but everyone needs some private time to relax, reconsider and collect themselves. The search for a summer internship can be placed on hold. Understanding the arbitrariness of our country’s highest court can wait. After all, the list of things I should do today is big enough to take care of itself. It does not need fretting. There’s a joke.

I like to think that literature does not provide us with completely new information, but that the best writing is a tool. Literature belongs in the same family as telescopes, or perhaps microscopes, and it provides us with a way to see something about ourselves that we could not see before. But we knew where to look. In short, literature is a game of optics.

With that point of departure, dear reader, I would like to share the story of Beersheba from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

This belief is handed down in Beersheba: that, suspended in the heavens, there exists another Beersheba, where the city’s most elevated virtues and sentiments are poised, and that if the terrestrial Beersheba will take the celestial one as its model the two cities will become one. The image propagated by tradition is that of a city of pure gold, with silver locks and diamond gates, a jewel-city, all inset and inlaid, as a maximum of laborious study might produce when applied to materials of the maximum worth. True to this belief, Beersheba’s inhabitants honor everything that suggests for them the celestial city: they accumulate noble metals and rare stones, they renounce all ephemeral excesses, they develop forms of composite composure.

They also believe, these inhabitants, that another Beersheba exists underground, the receptacle of everything base and unworthy that happens to them, and it is their constant care to erase from the visible Beersheba every tie or resemblance to the lower twin. In the place of roofs they imagine that the underground city has overturned rubbish bins, with cheese rinds, greasy paper, fish scales, dishwater, uneaten spaghetti, old bandages spilling from them. Or even that its substance is dark and malleable and thick, like the pitch that pours down from the sewers, prolonging the route of the human bowels, from black hole to black hole, until it splatters against the lowest subterranean floor, and from the lazy, encircled buybbles below, layer upon layer, a fecal city rises, with twisted spires.

In Beersheba’s beliefs there is an element of truth and one of error. It is true that the city is accompanied by two projections of itself, one celestial one infernal; but the citizens are mistaken about their consistency. The inferno that broods in the deepest subsoil of Beersheba is a city designed by the most authoritative architects, built with the most expensive materials on the market, with every device and mechanism and gear system functioning, decked with tassels and fringes and frills hanging from all the pipes and levers.

Intent on piling uo its carats of perfection, Beersheba takes for virtue what is now a grim mania to fill the empty vessel of itself; the city does not know that its only moments of generous abandon are those when it becomes detached from itself, when it lets go, expands. Still, at the zenith of Beersheba there gravitates a celestial body that shines with all the city’s riches, enclosed in the treasury of cast-off things: a planet a flutter with potato peels, broken umbrellas, old socks, candy wrappings, paved with tram tickets, fingernail cuttings and pared calluses, eggshells. This is the celestial city, and in its heaven long-tailed comets fly-past, released to rotate in space from the only free and happy action of the citizens of Beersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy.

The words vibrate with an energy all their own, I admit that, but the notes reverberate within me. I chose to make a decision long before I read this passage that heaven is not where glistening spires (and evidently their close companions, tired metaphors, reside) and tightly wound displays of security shine. Nabokov was right, I think, in writing that the study of literature sits atop one crucial assumption and that assumption is simply a feeling that what we’re reading is something important. Special. I like to think that seed of meaning is a portion of ourselves that we recognize in the text, but everyone has their own thoughts. But that is why I write and why I read. I collect portions of myself.

I’m probably insane.

The Allure of the Map

The Allure of the Map

I enjoy Borges a lot. He gets a reference.

Some days I wake up from a dream where I’m Borges but then, as I get started on my day, I realize I am in one of his books. At that point it becomes a nightmare. I never woke up but just woke up into another dream. It’s almost as if I’m trying to make a dream as intricate and confusing but as beautifully balanced as Borges was.

I wish I could explain it better but I thought I’d share.

I’m not afraid …

I’m not afraid to compete. It’s just the opposite. Don’t you see that? I’m afraid I will compete — that’s what scares me. That’s why I quit the Theatre Department. Just because I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Of course, no m…

Of course, no matter how keenly, how admirably, a story, a piece of music, a picture is discussed and analyzed, there will be minds that remain blank and spines that remain unkindled. “To take upon us the mystery of things”—what King Lear so wistfully says for himself and for Cordelia—this is also my suggestion for everyone who takes art seriously. A poor man is robbed of his overcoat (Gogol’s “The Greatcoat,” or more correctly “The Carrick”); another poor fellow is turned into a beetle (Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis)—so what? There is no rational answer to “so what.” We can take the story apart, we can find out how the bits fit, how one part of the pattern responds to the other; but you have to have in you some cell, some gene, some germ that will vibrate in answer to sensations that you can neither define, nor dismiss. Beauty plus pity—that is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must die: beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies with the individual. If Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” strikes anyone as something more than an entomological fantasy, then I congratulate him on having joined the ranks of good and great readers.

Vladimir Nabokov’s lecture on Kafka’s Metamorphoses. Read the full here.