Destiny, not guilt, was enough
For Actaeon. It is no crime
To lose your way in a dark wood.
For many years, I’ve taught young writers that there are only two things that matter, two things they need to learn, and that the entire universe of literature is contained within those elements: images, and (honest) emotions. Now, it seems, I’ve been proven correct:
Notably, readers did not at all agree on what poems they found appealing, an outcome that supports the notion that people have different tastes; nonetheless, there is common ground—vividness of imagery and emotional valence—in what explains these tastes, even if they vary.
It’s always fun to see the academy catching up to that which artists and musicians have known for, oh, fifteen thousand years?
Blue, blue is the grass about the river
And the willows have overfilled the close garden.
And within, the mistress, in the midmost of her youth.
White, white of face, hesitates, passing the door.
Slender, she puts forth a slender hand;
And she was a courtezan in the old days,
And she has married a sot,
Who now goes drunkenly out
And leaves her too much alone.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.
For those (like myself) who still read Twain with a kind of absorbing awe, and also those (not like myself) who read academic writing, I’m quite proud to point to this month’s issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, which features a lengthy work of mine titled “The (Magical) Voice of Community in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger,” in which I argue that Twain was America’s (and perhaps the world’s?) first magical realist novelist, and also that magical realism itself is little more than…well…how southerners talk.
Nothing’s as far away as love is,
not even the new stars,
Though something is moving them
We hope in our direction, albeit their skin’s not on fire.
Moments like these remind me of Don Williams’s classic song from 1980, “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” which is in my estimation among the ten or so greatest country songs ever written. Its chorus begins: “I can still hear the soft southern wind in the live oak trees, and those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me, Hank and Tennessee.” This lyric is stunning for ten thousand reasons, but strikes me in a personal way, as this is precisely how I feel about the Wright boys, James and Charles.
At the end of a dark corridor
There is a lit match in a trembling hand
“I still have stage fright,”
The beautiful woman says,
And then she leads us past wardrobes
With mirrors and creaking doors
Where whispering dresses hang,
Whispering corsets, button shoes –
The kind you’d wear while riding a goat.
What is left of all of it?
Blind hoboes sell American flags
And bad poems of patriotism
On Saturday evenings forever in the rain,
Between the cathouses and the slag heaps
And the river, down home.
Oh Jesus Christ, the Czechoslovakians
Are drunk again, clambering
Down the sand-pitted walls
Of the grave.
Lying is universal – we all do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling.
In an essay titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Flow,” David Jauss coined (I believe) the term “rhythmic mimesis,” which pretty much describes everything I love about language. And guitars. And Steve Earle.
Delete the word “risen” from the translation, and one of the most beautiful examples of this, in the English language, is Isaiah 60:1 (King James Version):
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Think about it. Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is upon thee. You can’t repeat that three times without stomping your foot and hearing a blues rhythm. It’s impossible.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people:
but the Lord shall arise upon thee,
and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
Seriously. It’s even got a built-in hook. Why hasn’t some rapper just recorded passages from the Bible with an organ and a church choir snapping their fingers? Call me, Kanye. I want my name on that Grammy.
“I just wish you would express your feelings more,” your girlfriend says. “I never know what you’re thinking.” You drink your drink. If only your girlfriend knew what you were thinking. Your thoughts are so brutal and true that they would scare her witless. She would die. And even through the buffer of this short story, female readers are probably becoming barren just by encountering the power of your thoughts, right at this minute, right now.
…ha. haha. hahahahahaha.
Here’s a post guaranteed to make an MFA student laugh, though only in a very nervous, shifty-eyed way.
I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.
I imagine the cove in darkness. I imagine it in a storm. I imagine it in 30 years. “You’ve pre-haunted it,” I tell him.
…from this brilliant Vulture article on David Mitchell‘s new book, The Bone Clocks. The article itself is beautiful, and I’m nine tenths of the way to convincing myself to slag off reading assignments next week and jump into this novel the second it goes on sale.
Yes, I’m aware this is two posts in a row referencing DM. And why shouldn’t it be? Dude’s work has more depth than the Bible.
Murakami realizes that the night bird of the human heart is filled with so much mystery that you really don’t need to drum up more of it with allusions and indirection.
…from this Salon article by the lovely Laura Miller, about Murakami’s new book which I, oddly enough, have yet to pre-order. Great article for my fellow Murakami homers about why his work elicits such varied responses in the states.
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.
…not all that different from modern sex, huh?
(from “Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell, whose fiction I’ve never read, and who apparently took himself way too seriously while being utterly correct. Required reading for ye old wordsmiths.)
I’ll take grade school dropout writing passionately in his prison cell over some empty, superior Yale MFA any day.
Write all the time, they’ll tell you. Write for your college newspaper. Get an MFA. Go to writer’s groups. Send query letters to agents.
What do they never say? Go do interesting things.
So this MaLa Literary Journal is an interesting piece of work. Based in Chengdu, it’s published a lot of fantastic work by Asia-based authors, as well as hip cats like National Book Award winner Colum McCann, multi-NY Times Best Seller and Grammy winner David Sedaris, Man Asia Literary Prize nominee Murong Xuecun, and National Book Award nominee and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Peter Hessler.
Check it out if you feel like purchasing the latest issue and supporting them ol’ literary arts’es.
I will put my shapeless days behind me,
fencing off the past, as a golden rind
of sand parts slipshod sea from solid land.
…a golden rind of sand parts slipshod sea from solid land.
Say that out loud.
By defining books as against technology, we deny our true selves, we deny the power of the book. Let’s restore to publishing its true reputation—not as a hedge against the future, not as a bulwark against radical change, not as a citadel amidst the barbarians, but rather as the future at hand, as the radical agent of change, as the barbarian.
This article makes me happy.
But the most amazing part of the story is how open these teachers were to change. Because their jobs were on the line? Likely. Either way, this article highlights what I think is the biggest problem with education in America: our teachers are idiots. We’d be better off with robot teachers, stacks of books, and weekly visits from Proctors of Common Sense.
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.
This, sir, is my resignation.
(Signed by Faulkner)
It’s pretty fantastic how all novelists describe the publishing process in exactly the same way. And pretty frightening how depressed they all are about it.
Check out what it’s like in high-larious GIF form.
And there’s only one thing to do. Start the whole thing over again.
…a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.
Silly, fawning NY Times review here.
Between The Cat’s Table and 1Q84, October has been quite the month for literature, a buffet of gourmet style, a pan-Asian-model lingerie show. More please.
As of yesterday, there have been only two books that I’ve read, cover to cover, in under twenty four hours.