Thursday, June 30, 2016

     But atrocity is nothing new, not to humans, not to animals.  The difference is that in our time it is uniquely well organized, carried out with pens, train carriages, ledgers, barbed wire, work camps, gas.  And this late contribution, the absence of bodies.  No bodies were visible, except the falling ones, on the day America's ticker stopped.  Marketable stories of all kinds had thickened around the injured coast of our city, but the depiction of the dead bodies was forbidden.  It would have been upsetting to have it otherwise.  I moved on with the commuters through the pen.

--Teju Cole, Open City

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

If the work felt uncanny, it was because it was mortgaged; it was borrowing from future accomplishments as much as pointing to it.


    Pablo Picasso. Portrait of the mother of the artist, 1896
     I stood, I made myself stand, in front of the early portrait of his mother.  It yielded nothing.  The woman, in profile, is half-asleep; her head is leaning forward and her eyes are closed.  Pastel on paper.  1896.  He was what, fifteen?  A freak of nature.  I could convince myself I saw space curling around the figure or areas where space flattened suddenly, but I did not see this.  Maybe I did see, however, the self-assurance of a painter who assumed his juvenilia would one day be scoured for the seeds of genius, embarrassing phrase.  If the work felt uncanny, it was because it was mortgaged; it was borrowing from future accomplishments as much as pointing to it.  It had started to rain a little; I could hear it falling on the skylight.

--Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The same drained screen.

     I stood before the screen in the long hallway.  Nothing but sky at first, then an intimation of threat, treetops leaning, unnatural light.  Soon, in seconds, a rotating column of wind, dirt and debris.  It began to fill the frame, a staggered funnel, dark and bent, soundless, and then another, down left, in the far distance, rising from the horizon line.  This was flat land, view unobstructed, the screen all tornado now, an awed silence that I thought would break into open roar.
     Here was our climate enfolding us.  I'd seen many tornadoes on TV news reports and waited for the footage of the rubbled storm path, the aftermath, houses in a shattered line, roofs blown off, siding in collapse.
     It appeared, yes, whole streets leveled, school bus on its side, but also people coming this way, in slow motion, nearly out of the screen and into the hall, carrying what they'd salvaged, a troop of men and women, black and white, in solemn march, and the dead arrayed on ravaged floorboards in front yards.  The camera lingered on the bodies.  The detail-work of their violent end was hard to watch.  But I watched, feeling obligated to something or someone, the victims perhaps, and thinking of myself as lone witness, sworn to the task.
     Now, somewhere else, another town, another time of day, a young woman on a bicycle pedaling fast, foreground, oddly comic motion, quick and jittery, one end of the screen to the other, with a mile-wide storm, a vortex, still far off, crawling up out of the seam of earth and sky, and then cut to an obese man lurching down basement steps, ultra-real, families huddled in garages, faces in the dark, and the girl on the bike again, pedaling the other way now, carefree, without urgency, a scene in an old silent movie, she is Buster Keaton in nitwit innocence, and then a reddish flash and the thing was right here, touching down massively, sucking up half a house, pure power, truck and barn squarely in the path.
     White screen, while I stood watching.
     Total wasteland now, a sheared landscape, the image persisting, the silence as well.  I stood in place for some minutes, waiting, houses gone, girl on bike gone, nothing, finished, done.  The same drained screen.
     I continued to wait, expecting more.  I felt a whiskey belch erupting from some deep sac.  There was nowhere to go and I had no idea what time it was.  My watch was fixed on North American time, eastern standard.

--Don DeLillo, Zero K

Saturday, April 2, 2016

     It was the kind of exchange, although exchange isn't really the word, with which I'd grown familiar, a new biopolitical vocabulary for expressing racial and class anxiety: instead of claiming brown and black people were biologically inferior, you claimed they were--for reasons you sympathized with, reasons that weren't really their fault--compromised by the food and drink they ingested; all those artificial dyes had darkened them on the inside.  Your child, who had never so much as sipped a high-fructose carbonated beverage containing phosphoric acid and E150d, was a more sensitive instrument: purer, smarter, free of violence.  This way of thinking allowed one to deploy the vocabularies of sixties radicalism--ecological awareness, anticorporate agitation, etc.--in order to justify the reproduction of social inequality.  It allowed you to redescribe caring for your own genetic material--feeding Lucas the latest in coagulated soy juice--as altruism: it's not just good for Lucas, it's good for the planet.  But from those who of ignorance or desperation have allowed their children's digestive tracts to know deep-fried, mechanically processed chicken, those to happen to be, in Brooklyn, disproportionately black and Latino, Lucas must be protected at whatever cost.

--Ben Lerner, 10:04

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In that position we lay and waited for the hurricane.

     Suddenly I became aware of a strange sensation: a faint echo of the radio in the unplugged ear.  It took me a while to realize the downstairs neighbors were tuned to the same station.  I turned to Alex and watched the colors from the movie flicker on her sleeping body, noted the gold necklace she always wore against her collarbone.  I tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and then let my hand trail down her face and neck and brush across her breast and stomach in one slow motion I halfheartedly attempted to convince myself was incidental.  I was returning my hand to her hair when I saw her eyes were open.  It took all my will to hold her gaze as opposed to looking away and thereby conceding a transgression; there was only, it seemed, curiosity in her look, no alarm.  After a few moments I reached for my jar of wine as if to suggest that, if anything unusual had happened, it was the result of intoxication; by the time I looked back at her face her eyes were closed.  I put the jar back without drinking and lay beside her and stared at her for a long while and then smoothed her hair back with my palm.  She reached up and took my hand, maybe in her sleep, and pressed it to her chest and held it there, whether to stop or encourage me or neither, I couldn't tell.  In that position we lay and waited for the hurricane.

--Ben Lerner, 10:04

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

      I wanted to be bookish and failed.  I wanted to steep myself in European literature.  There I was, in our modest garden apartment in a nondescript part of Queens, steeping myself in European literature.  The word "steep" was the whole point.  Once I had decided to steep myself, there was no need to read the work.

--Don DeLillo, "Sine Cosine Tangent"

Sunday, December 27, 2015

things whose aesthetic insignificance I knew full well, things clearly in poor taste

     I remembered my record of failures well, even dating back to a time when the matter of my split personality was entirely benign and in no way seemed to foreshadow those catastrophic consequences it bore later on.  It began with my being attracted to two opposing things in equal measure: on the one hand there was history of art and culture, reading, to which I devoted much time, and a predilection for abstract problems; on the other, so excessive a love of sport and everything to do with the purely physical, muscular, animal world.  I very nearly strained my heart lifting weights that were far too heavy for me; I spent almost half my life in sports grounds, I participated in many competitions, and until recently I preferred a football to any theatre production.  I still harbor painful memories of the savage fights that were so typical of my youth, utterly devoid of any resemblance to sport.  All this came to an end long ago, of course, although I still have two scars on my head.  I recalled, as if in a dream, my classmates bringing me home caked in blood, my school uniform torn to pieces.  This, however--much like the fact that I frequented the company of thieves and those generally enjoying a brief period of liberty between one prison and the next--didn't seem to hold any particular significance, although even then one may infer something odd about an equal, unfaltering love for such differing things as Baudelaire's poetry and a brutal punch-up with some thug.  Later on, all this acquired rather different forms; far from seeing any improvement, however, the discrepancy and sharp contradiction so characteristic of my life became all the more glaring as it continued.  It was to be found between what I felt inwardly drawn towards and what I so vainly struggled against--the tumultuous and sensual root of my existence.  It interfered with everything, it obscured those meditative faculties I valued above all else, it wouldn't allow me to see things as I ought to have seen them, distorting them in its crude yet indomitable refractions, and it compelled me to perform a number of deeds that I invariably came to regret later on.  It induced me to like things whose aesthetic insignificance I knew full well, things clearly in poor taste, yet the strength of my attraction to them could only compare with the simultaneous disgust I inexplicably felt towards them.

--Gaito Gazdanov, The Spectre of Alexander Wolf (translated by Bryan Karetnyk)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

That is how it is. Art does not know a beyond, science does not know a beyond, religion does not know a beyond, not anymore.

     The fact that things other and mysterious were relevant to us had led my thoughts to angels, those mystical creatures who not only were linked to the divine but also to humanness, and therefore expressed the duality of the nature of otherness better than any other figure.  At the same time there was something deeply dissatisfying about both the paintings and angels, since they both belonged to the past in such a fundamental way, that part of the past we have put behind us, that is, which no longer fit in, into this world we had created where the great, the divine, the solemn, the holy, the beautiful, and the true were no longer valid entities but quite the contrary, dubious or even laughable.  This meant that the great beyond, which until the Age of Enlightenment had been the Divine, brought to us through the Revelation, and which in Romanticism was nature, where the concept of Revelation was expressed as the sublime, no longer found expression.  In art, that which was beyond was synonymous with society, or the human masses, which fully encompassed its concepts of validity.  As far as Norwegian art is concerned, the break came with Munch; it was in his paintings that, for the first time, man took up all the space.  Whereas man was subordinate to the Divine throughout the Age of Enlightenment, and to the landscape he was depicted in during Romanticism -- the mountains are vast and intense, the sea is vast and intense, even the trees are vast and intense while humans, without exception are small -- the situation is reversed with Munch.  It is as if humans swallow up everything, make everything theirs.  The mountains, the sea, the trees, and the forests, everything is colored by humanness.  Not human actions and external life, but human feelings and inner life.  And once man had taken over, there seemed not to be a way back, as indeed there was no way back for Christianity as it began to spread like wildfire across Europe in the first centuries of our era.  Man is gestalted by Munch, his inner life is given an outer form, the world is shaken up, and what was left after the door had been opened was the world as a gestalt: with painters after Munch it is the colors themselves, the forms themselves, not what they represent, that carry the emotion.  Here we are in a world of images where the expression itself is everything, which of course means that there is no longer any dynamism between the outer and the inner, just a division.  In the modernist era the division between art and the world was close to absolute, or put another way, art was a world of its own  What was taken up in this world was of course a question of individual taste, and soon this taste became the very core of art, which thus could and, to a certain degree in order to survive, had to admit objects from the real world.  The situation we have arrived at now whereby the props of art no longer have any significance, all the emphasis is placed on what the art expresses, in other words, not what it is but what it thinks, what ideas it carries, such that the last remnants of objectivity, the final remnants of something outside the human world have been abandoned.  Art has come to be an unmade bed, a couple of photocopiers in a room, a motorbike in an attic.  And art has come to be a spectator of itself, the way it reacts, what newspapers write about it; the artist is a performer.  That is how it is.  Art does not know a beyond, science does not know a beyond, religion does not know a beyond, not anymore.   Our world is enclosed around itself, enclosed around us, and there is no way out of it.

--Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The waiter came back with the captain, who moved in a sinister glide, his right hand over the left part of his abdomen, as if that was where his phoniness hurt him most.

--Cleo Birdwell, Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League

Friday, July 3, 2015

where the pale petals shone white and calm in all the green

I remember feeling sorry for these plants, positioned on their separate crags, lonely and exposed, how they must have yearned for the life they saw unfolding beneath them.  Down where the plants merged into one another, continuously forming new combinations according to the time of day and year, like the old pear and plum trees she had once brought from her grandparents' country cottage, where the shadows flickered over the grass as the wind swept through the foliage on one of those lazy summer days while the sun was setting beyond the horizon at the mouth of the fjord and you could hear the distant sounds from the town rising and falling like the swell of waves in the air, mingling with the hum of wasps and bees at work among the rosebushes against the wall, where the pale petals shone white and calm in all the green.  The garden already had the character of something old, a dignity and a fullness that only time can create and no doubt was the reason she had positioned a greenhouse at the bottom, half hidden behind a rock, where she could extend her handiwork and also cultivate rarer trees and plants without the rest of the garden being marred by the industrial and provisional nature of the construction.  In the autumn and winter we caught glimpses of her down there, a faint silhouette of color behind the shiny walls, and, it was not without a touch of pride that she remarked, in a casual sort of way, that the tomatoes and cucumbers on the table didn't come from the shop but from her greenhouse in the garden.

--Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle

Monday, June 22, 2015

     I have always had a great need for solitude.  I require huge swathes of loneliness and when I do not have it, which has been the case for the last five years, my frustration can sometimes become almost panicked, or aggressive.  And when what has kept me going for the whole of my adult life, the ambition to write something exceptional one day, is threatened in this way my one thought, which gnaws at me like a rat, is that I have to escape.  Time is slipping away from me, running through my fingers like sand while I . . . do what?  Clean floors, wash clothes, make dinner, wash up, go shopping, play with the children in the play areas, bring them home, undress them, bathe them, look after them until it is bedtime, tuck them in, hang some clothes to dry, fold others, and put them away, tidy up, wipe tables, chairs and cupboards.  It is a struggle, and even though it is not heroic, I am up against a superior force, for no matter how much housework I do at home the rooms are littered with mess and junk, and the children, who are taken care of every waking minute, are more stubborn than I have ever known children to be, at times it is nothing less than bedlam, perhaps we have never managed to find the necessary balance between distance and intimacy, which of course becomes increasingly important the more personality is involved.  And there is quite a bit of that here.

--Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle


Saturday, June 20, 2015

     And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all.  In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood.  One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone.  They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds.  Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility.  There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss.  That is what lies at the root of true harmony.

--Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I will give you one of them, she told Tsukuru. My body or my heart. But you can't have both.

     But he had never once personally experienced those emotions.  He'd never seriously wished for talents and gifts he didn't have, or been passionately in love.  Never had he longed for, or envied, anyone.  Not to say there weren't things he was dissatisfied with, things about himself he found lacking.  If he had to, he could have listed them.  It wouldn't have been a massive list, but not just a couple of lines, either.  But those dissatisfactions and deficiencies stayed inside him--they weren't the type of emotions that motivated him to go out, somewhere else in search of answers.  At least until then. 
     In this dream, though, he burned with desire for a woman.  It wasn't clear who she was.  She was just there.  And she had a special ability to separate her body and her heart.  I will give you one of them, she told Tsukuru.  My body or my heart.  But you can't have both.  You need to chose one or the other, right now.  I'll give the other part to someone else, she said.  But Tsukuru wanted all of her.  He wasn't about to hand over half to another man.  He couldn't stand that.  If that's how it is, he wanted to tell her, I don't need either one.  But he couldn't say it.  He was stymied, unable to go forward, unable to go back.

--Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (trans. Philip Gabriel)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.

     "What baby?"
     "She left me."
     "Aw, girl.  Don't cry."
     "She was my best thing."
     Paul D sits down in the rocking chair and examines the quilt patched in carnival colors.  His hands are limp between his knees.  There are too many things to feel about this woman.  His head hurts.  Suddenly he remembers Sixo trying to describe what he felt about the Thirty-Mile Woman.  "She is a friend of my mind.  She gather me, man.  The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.  It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind."
     He is staring at the quilt but he is thinking about her wrought-iron back; the delicious mouth still puffy at the corner from from Ella's fist.  The mean black eyes.  The wet dress steaming before the fire.  Her tenderness about his neck jewelry--its three wands, like attentive baby rattlers, curving two feet into the air.  How she never mentioned or looked at it, so he did not have to feel the shame of being collared like a beast.  Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that.  He wants me to put his story next to hers.
     "Sethe," he says, "me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody.  We need some kind of tomorrow."
     He leans over and takes her hand.  With the other he touches her face.  "You your best thing, Sethe.  You are."  His holding fingers and holding hers.
     "Me?  Me?"

--Toni Morrison, Beloved

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The tyranny of the actual begins.

 https://flavorwire.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/philip-roth-in-1968-002.jpg

     "I used to tell my students that you don't need three men to go through what she does.  One will usually fit the bill, as Rodolphe, then Leon, then Charles Bovary.  First the rapture and the passion.  All the voluptuous sins of the flesh.  In his bondage.  Swept away.  After the torrid scene up at his chateau, combing your hair with his comb--and so on.  Unbearable love with the perfect man who does everything beautifully.  Then, with time, the fantastical lover erodes into the workaday lover, the practical lover--becomes a Leon, a rube after all.  The tyranny of the actual begins."
     "What's a rube?"
     "A hick.  A provincial.  Sweet enough, attractive enough, but not exactly a man of valor, sublime in all things and knowing all.  A little foolish, you know.  A little flawed.  A little stupid.  Still ardent, sometimes charming, but, if the truth be known, in his soul a bit of a clerk.  And then, with marriage or without--though marriage will always speed things along--he who was a Rodolphe and has become Leon is transformed into Bovary.  He puts on weight.  He cleans his teeth with his tongue.  He makes gulping sounds when he swallows his soup.  He's clumsy, he's ignorant, he's coarse, even his back is irritating to look at.  This merely gets on your nerves at first; in the end it drives you nuts.  The prince who saved you from your boring existence is now the slob at the core of the boring existence.  Dull, dull, dull.  And then the catastrophe.  Somehow or other, whatever his work, he fucks up colossally  on the job.  Like poor Charles with Hippolyte.  He sets out to do the equivalent of removing a bunion and gives somebody gangrene.  The once perfect man is a despicable failure.  You could kill him.  Actuality has triumphed over the dream."
     "And which are you to me, do you think?"
     "At this moment?  I'd say somewhere between a Rodolphe and a Leon.  And slipping.  No?  On the slide to Bovary."
     "Yes."  Laughing.  "That's just about right."
     "Yes, somewhere between desire and disillusionment on the long plummet to death."

--Philip Roth, Deception