Monday, November 26, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
The Echo Maker, Richard Powers
I read a book! I read a book!
I like spy novels. I read them on the plane. The performance of identities in those books (really I mean LeCarre, Greene & Furst) seems more comfortably appropriate to a description of human activities than most character devices. I like characters. I like actions. I like writing. I like a lot of short stories a lot, not only experimental stories or hipster stuff but even totally New Yorker style stories. Over the last few years I have not been particularly interested in the teleological tensions of plot & story. My interests in epistemology are about how the mind coheres through the scraps of experience, not as much in the extended work of formation of a voice.
But I read a novel that didn't have spies in it & at first I was a little weirdly proud of myself. ("Way to go, self, way to read an entertaining, highly regarded literary novel." "Thanks, self.") And you can read all the drooling reviews from last year if you want to hear about Powers' skills at layering thematic elements (this is an eco-conscious family drama, a neuro-science exploration of a midlife crisis & a subtle & to my taste rich post-9/11 novel. Oh & an update of The Wizard of Oz if you believe Atwood). I picked this book up because it is set in Nebraska. I like in Nebraska. There is a kind of apologetic way that many people living in Nebraska talk about the state (I do it). The fact that the NBA winner & pulitzer finalist was set in Nebraska was amazing to me. I'd read some of Powers' books before, back when I worked at the bookstore in Richmond & was reading novels every day, so I knew the guy had skills. But I wanted to read a book about Nebraska that wasn't going to be fueled by regionalist treacle or nostalgia.
But I found out quickly that it's a spy novel. Because of the brain injury that takes place, Capgras Syndrome, which causes its affected to be unable to emotionally recognize their loved ones, all the characters in the book begin to forefront the malleability of individual self-definition that most people would rather smooth over. That is the heart of the appeal of spy novels, the recognition that it takes sometimes even less than an act of will for one person to become a completely different person. It's the appeal of Oliver Sacks' fairy tales (which are the basis for a character in the book & come under critique & which I adore). I enjoyed this book, not because Powers writes a good story (which he does) or because he's a smart enough novelist to pack multiple intellectual explorations into one story line & two subplots but because of this constantly shifting landscape of identity.
Some passages I like:
"When gray pain of them thins, then always water. Flattest width so slow it fails liquid. Nothing in the end but flow. Nextless stream, lowest thing above knowing. A thing itself the cold and so can't feel it." (10)
"She felt as she had at ten, returning home from a summer's evening of hide-and-seek to realize, only when her mother shrieked at her, that she'd left her little brother in a concrete culvert, waiting to be found" (74)
"He blamed Nebraska, the level, dry, buzz-filled June. The flat accents, the broad, stolid, agrarian faces--so chalky and secret--disoriented him, after decades in the loud, brown turmoil of New York. The faces out here shared a furtive knowledge--of land, weather, impending crisis--that sealed them off from interlopers. Half a day in this place, and already he felt how reticent a person might get, surrounded by so much grain." (120)
"Other subsequent Marys gave their limbs names. One elderly woman called hers "The Iron Lady." A male ambulance driver in his fifties called his "Mr Limp Chimp." They ascribed personalities to their arms, whol ehistories. They talked, argued with, even tried to feed them. 'Come on, Mr. Limp Chimp. You know you're hungry.'
They did everything but own them. One woman said her father left her his arm when he died. 'I wish he hadn't. it just falls on me. Falls on my chest, when I'm sleeping. Why did he want me to have this? It's burdening me something awful.'" (163)
"Pointlessness flooded her, the futility of all exchange. Nobody really cared how the world looked to anyone else. She felt a deep need to break everything that pretended connection. To live in this hollowness, where loyalty lawyas led. Love was not the antidote to Capgras. love was a form of it, making and denying others, at random." (268)
"In a field two miles out of town, he passed a boxy green brontosaur combine that was ravaging the rows of standing corn. The fields gained a stark, minimal beauty in dying. Nothing could ever sneak up on you, here in these blank horizons. The winters would be the hardest, of course. he should like to try a February here. Weeks of snow-crusted, subzero air, the winds pouring down from the Dakotas with nothing to slow them for hundreds of miles. he looked out over a grain-fringed rise at an old farm just one upgrade beyond sod house. He pictured himself in one of these gray-white clapboards, connected to humanity by no medium more advanced than radio. It seemed to him, as he drove, one of the last places left in the country where you would have to face down the contents of your own soul, stripped of all packaging." (316)
(Hmm, I wanted a some point to quip that Powers is like the literary version of Michael Crighton's scientific fad-hopping. Um... zing?)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Invariably the discussion of poetry is a discussion of poets, despite the fact that even the most cantankerous traditionalist has to acquiesce to the reader’s important role in the production of meaning in the work of poetry. So I'm wondering why we don't celebrate readers. (Readers as different from critics, who are working toward a kind of telos, either of text or thinking.) The understanding of memory in its modern sense (even the lay-understanding like mine, picked up from NYT science articles & Scientific American) holds that the act of memory is constantly forming creation. That the more one remembers an event the less true to the actual existential events the memory becomes. The memory decays toward the more particularized region the individual’s desires or fluctuations. In a sense we all pull & manipulate the world toward ourselves. The reading of a poem immediately moves away from the text & the closer the poem is read the more the reading flees the origin it. It's like a kind of flipside of this neuroscientist's quip I heard recently that the safest memories are those of amnesiacs, the best readers don't even read the poem in front of them. The most stable poems are the ones that no one reads.
In that sense the poem, the text, is not only a rhetorical part of the aesthetic experience but functions as a jumping off point for the creative acts of the reader. The lines of flight that extend from the text are the creative work. A poem seeks resonances that allow for multiplicities of rich meaning. But there are popular, celebrated writers who write a kind of reading. From Montaigne to Hazlitt, Gass to Sontag to Sebald. Yet most poems do not seek to inspire only this kind of essayistic connectivity between the individual & the literary history (not to in any way denigrate the essayistic, but only to distinguish between it & a reading poetics).
A good poem should make a reader more. And a talented reader should, through reading, find herself destabilized. Which means that there can be no hierarchy of assessment, of course, only a procedure or style of reading. Just as walking is a continual act of catching oneself while falling the processional nature of reading poetry is a constant act of falling toward a next image or idea.
If you’re reading poetry you’re probably reading a lot of poetry. It’s not an epistemological act that lends itself well to dabbling. The search for moving, meaningful poems has often been equated to a kind of attempt toward an ontological reification, or even a seeking out a fix. But I don’t think this is a system or metaphor that works for me. The search for new poems is not an attempt to recreate that first feeling of transport, but rather a desire to find the ways my engagement of the world has been previously off. This is not dissimilar Shelley’s notion of empathy in that it asks poetry (art of any kind, really) to provide an alternative epistemological model & the reader should be able to conceive of a world view that conflicts with their own. Yet the stabilized notion of “a world view” (not Shelley’s phrase, obviously) is wrong to my idea of it.
World views, like memories, are creative constructs, fluxing in the breath. One importance of poetry is that it provides the epistemological materials through which a view forms. Its inherent artifice & disjunction gestures rather than controls, even in the most super-ego-driven pieces. The reader is ultimately the artist in poetry. At this point in the history of the art (for America at least) there is more access to more skilled poetry than ever. Not only does each reader become a kind of editor, selecting between the vast amount of available poetry, but each reader becomes a node of all the epistemological scraps that the poems provide.
I'm flying to North Carolina today. I'm going to attempt to read a novel without spies in it, which is something I haven't tried to do in a few years.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Some Records I've Been Listening to of Late
Schumann: The Sonatas For Violin & Piano
The Last Tree
All Hour Cymbals
Amor Roma: Roman Cantatas c. 1640
Ghastly City Sleep
Waking Up Laughing
Sparkle & Fade
Unstable Euphony is gettin' all up in Kitchen Press' business
Harp & Altar #3 & Tarpaulin Sky #13/1
New issues from two of my favorite journals: Harp & Altar, including a fantastic poem by Ryan Murphy. Check out this section:
The incoming tide
like a bowl of nickels.
We struggle and chime.
St. Andrew, you graygreen
spire. Gloucester harbor,
splinter through the courtyard
gates. Sunflowers, candles.
Tarpaulin Sky, which has all of these ninjas:
Rosa Alcalá, Samuel Amadon, Lucy Anderton, Claire Becker, Cara Benson, Ilya Bernstein, Joseph Bradshaw, Popahna Brandes, Daniel Brenner, Lily Brown, Julie Carr, Laura Carter, Jon Christensen, Heather Christle, John Cotter & Shafer Hall, Patrick Culliton, John Deming, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Danielle Dutton, Sandy Florian, Hillary Gravendyk, Annie Guthrie, Brent Hendricks, Anna Maria Hong, John Hyland, Lucy Ives, Karla Kelsey, Steve Langan, Barbara Maloutas, Sarah Mangold, Justin Marks, Teresa K. Miller, Jefferson Navicky, Bryson Newhart, Nadia Nurhussein, Thomas O'Connell, Caryl Pagel, Nate Pritts, Elizabeth Robinson, F. Daniel Rzicznek, Spencer Selby, Brandon Shimoda, Lytton Smith, Sampson Starkweather, Mathias Svalina, Jen Tynes, Prabhakar Vasan, Della Watson, Theodore Worozbyt, Bethany Wright, and Kristen Yawitz.
"This new world is interesting, but it's prickly."
He Acts His Age
How a child's emotional development normally keeps pace with his physical growth; the behavior he exhibits at certain ages. This introductory film examines the play habits of children from one to fifteen years of age and shows the characteristics of each group.
1949, 14 min 32 s
Directed by Judith Crawley, winner of the Bronze Medal International Festival of Didactic Films, May 30 to June 1 1979, Beirut - Lebanon
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Where You'll Find Me
Travis Morrison Hellfighters
Brooklyn, NY: Union Hall
Saturday, November 17th, at 6 p.m.
at Ada Books (330 Dean St. at Westminster, Providence)
Caroline Whitbeck was born and raised in New York City. She is a poet, a Classicist, a one-time playwright, a former magazine editor, and a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature. Her poems have appeared in Cab/Net, Elimae, Word For/Word, and Horseless Review, among others. Her book, Our Classical Heritage: A Homing Device, was awarded the 2006 Gatewood Prize as judged by Arielle Greenberg and was published by Switchback Books in September.
Julia Cohen's chapbook, If Fire, Arrival, is out with horse less press. Her other chapbooks, Who Could Forget the Sensational First Evening of the Night (Hangman Books), When We Broke the Microscope (Small Fires Press), and The History of a Lake Never Drowns (Dancing Girl Press) are forthcoming this year. You can find more links to her poems on her blog www.onthemessiersideofneat.blogspot.com. She lives in Brooklyn.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I totally swiped all this code straight from Gina's blog, rather than doing it myself.
Now available: The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel: Second Floor edited by Reb Livingston & Molly Arden.
Eric Abbott * Deborah Ager * Malaika King Albrecht * William Allegrezza * Molly Arden * Cynthia Arrieu-King * Robyn Art * Sandra Beasley * Aaron Belz * Erin M. Bertram * Mary Biddinger * Ana Bozicevic-Bowling * Timothy Bradford * Joseph Bradshaw * Jason Bredle * Jenny Browne * Jenna Cardinale * Bruce Covey * Phil Crippen * Susan Denning * Michelle Detorie * Laurel K. Dodge * Mark DuCharme * Peg Duthie * kari edwards * AnnMarie Eldon * Jill Alexander Essbaum * Julie R. Enszer * Noah Falck * Michael Farrell * Katie Fesuk * Adam Fieled * Alice Fogel * Elisa Gabbert * Eric Gelsinger * Scott Glassman * David B. Goldstein * Dean Gorman * Anne Gorrick * Lea Graham * Kate Greenstreet * Piotr Gwiazda * Shafer Hall * Josh Hanson * Nathan Hoks * Donald Illich * Salwa C. Jabado * Charles Jensen * Jim Kober * Ron Klassnik * Jennifer L. Knox * Dorothee Lang * Sueyeun Juliette Lee * David Lehman * Reb Livingston * Rebecca Loudon * Justin Marks * Clay Matthews * Kristi Maxwell * Gary L. McDowell * Erika Meitner * Didi Menendez * Michael Meyerhofer * Steve Mueske * Gina Myers * Cheryl Pallant * Shann Palmer * Alison Pelegrin * Simon Perchik * Derek Pollard * Andrea Potos * Cati Porter * Laurie Price * Jessy Randall * Kim Roberts * Anthony Robinson * Carly Sachs * John Sakkis * Allyson Salazar * Christine Scanlon * Margot Schilpp * Morgan Lucas Schuldt * Patty Seyburn * Peter Jay Shippy * Evie Shockley * Alex Smith * Hugh Steinberg * Nicole Steinberg * Alison Stine * Mathias Svalina * Erik Sweet * Eileen R. Tabios * Bronwen Tate * Molly Tenenbaum * Chris Tonelli * Letitia Trent * Jen Tynes * Michael Quattrone * Ashley VanDoorn * Fritz Ward * J. Marcus Weekley * Betsy Wheeler * Theodore Worozbyt * Kim Young
Publication Date: December, 2007
Available at Lulu for $16.99
Available Soon at Amazon and B&N for $16.99