August 8, 2014
The poem reflex

The part of us that reads poetry is a reflex part. Men read poetry with their reflexes the same as women do—they put themselves in your trust, they put their bodies in your hands, you tap the right place and the leg kicks. Or the pupils dilate. Or the hackles rise, and something flies out of you on a flock of little red nerves. To feel power shift out of your body is uncomfortable. It makes you feel that it was never yours to begin with. That’s the whole point; that’s the subject here; and maybe what we are seeing is that it is more difficult for men—to recognize that they’re in someone else’s hands, to recognize that they’re at someone else’s mercy, when the author’s touch feels different, when the poems are these poems.

Patricia Lockwood, in this interview, responding to a question about male readers being made uncomfortable by her work… A great definition of what it means to be a reader of poems.

July 29, 2014
Rachel Kushner’s ambitious new novel scares male critics

Thoughtful recap of the reception of The Flamethrowers when it came out last year. The author is also more perceptive than most about the narrator’s youth and how it plays out - how her problems are a young woman’s problems (vs., for example, Cristina Garcia in the NY Times review, who was bothered by the narrator’s passivity).

July 17, 2014

I don’t long, I don’t die, I don’t await
the departure of those I love. As the origin
of a particular plant is sussed, so too
animals, people, their cities, and smaller things.
When you wonder on what I have become,
be just. No more great songs of satisfaction,
no more wailing upon the hill to the hillside.
Be kind, for trust is not addition and addition
is not acceptance and acceptance is not humility.
Simply put, we are a failed and ruined people
incapable of even silence. We are equal to nothing.
The earth given to us, we have lost even that.
Big eaters of America, I join you in your parade.
Let us be watched and let us be spoken of.
For today fascination is gone and even vanity
is undervalued. I have often misunderstood destiny.
I will misunderstand it no more.

Joshua Beckman, from the book Take It (Wave Books, 2009)

This poem sort of begins with “Simply…” for me, am unsure about what to do with the first half, although I see that it’s necessary…. The second half is fantastic.

July 16, 2014
The Novel = Modern (but not post-modern) Consciousness

"The novel is novel, but it is also typically, news—the tidings of the world around us… The novel reaches in and out at once. Like no other art, not poetry or music on the one hand, not photography or movies on the other, it joins the self to the world, buts the self in the world, does the deep dive of interiority and surveils the social scope… You can put yourself at any moment, as a writer, anywhere you want to on the spectrum, from the most introspective to the most documentary, invent whatever methods you can think of to bring both self and world into focus.

"The self in society: the modern question. The novel is coeval with other phenomena that first appeared in full-fledged form in the 18th century—like privacy and sensibility and sentiment and boredom, all of which are closely linked to its development. Novel-reading is indeed unusually private, unusually personal, unusually intimate. It doesn’t happen out there, in front of our eyes; it happens in here, in our heads.

[…] The novel was a smithy, perhaps the smithy, in which the modern consciousness was forged.

The modern consciousness, but not the post-modern one. The days of cultural preeminence have long since gone. The form rose to primacy across the 19th century, achieved a zenith of prestige in modernism, then yielded pride of place to the new visual media. […]

"This is not to say that great novels haven’t continued and won’t continue to be written. It is to start to understand why people have den mooting the ‘death of the novel’ ever since that shift in cultural attention, as well as why the possibility is met, by some, as such a calamity. Privacy, solitude, the slow accumulation of the soul, the extended encounter with others—the modern self may be passing away, but for those who still have one, its loss is not a little thing.

From, “How the Novel Made the Modern World," by William Deresiewicz, appeared in the June 2014 edition of The Atlantic (the one with the amazing article on the case for reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates)

April 30, 2014
Stamina

But I still believe that the unexamined life is not worth living: and I know that self-delusion, in the service of no matter what small or lofty cause, is a price no writer can afford. HIs subject is himself and the world and it requires every ounce of stamina he can summon to attempt to look on himself and the world as they are.

James Baldwin, from the introduction to Nobody Knows My Name

April 12, 2014

Production continues into the alienated night.
The first movement of a message

bodiless as light.
I mean, produce, distribute, then recoup

your losses.

Are you worth your place in space
is all the day-boss wants to know.
Emotional time is what is irrecoverable.

Fanny Howe, from the poem sequence “O’Clock,” in her Selected Poems.

February 25, 2014
My 20th Century

Alice Munro

Fanny Howe

Toni Morrison

Joan Didion

Renata Adler

Julio Cortazar

Adrienne Rich

Grace Paley

Susan Sontag

Ralph Ellison

Simone de Beauvoir

Clarice Lispector

Marguerite Duras

Elizabeth Hardwicke

Elizabeth Bishop

Sylvia Plath

Marianne Moore

Borges

Virginia Woolfe

Dorothy Parker

January 27, 2014

I tried to flatter myself into extinction; tried to bury alive in a landslide of disparagement ego and subjectivity and the first person singular pronoun. I ran identity to ground with the dogs of irony; I tried to kill, bury, burn, embalm, and erase the outlines of me, mummify myself in the damp wrappings of surrealism, sever and rearrange me with Stein’s cubisms, break, buy, bribe, drive a stake through me; tried to whip to death the whole frumpish horse-and-buggy, essentialist, runs-in-the-blood notion I had of who “I” was; like Stein I tried to bleed the bloody paragraph to death, killed the semicolon with the machete of my wit, tried to censor and edit, rewrite and emend me, my belief in lifeblood, marrow, core, and fiber; tried to swap my DNA at the DNA supermarket I read about in Philip K. Dick. So what is I still doing here? Why is I having to keep its eyes peeled? Its eye on the ball? Trying to steer by some dim star, that small, raw planet of self-loathing hammered into the night ahead? Why is I hauled forth over this choppy terrain like a tug on the rough boulevards of a black river? And by whom?

Lynn Emanuel, from Noose and Hook

January 9, 2014
echoseeker:

Happy Birthday, Simone de Beauvoir!
INTERVIEWER
In every one of your novels we find a female character who is misled by false notions and who is threatened by madness.
DE BEAUVOIR
Lots of modern women are like that. Women are obliged to play at being what they aren’t, to play, for example, at being great courtesans, to fake their personalities. They’re on the brink of neurosis. I feel very sympathetic toward women of that type. They interest me more than the well-balanced housewife and mother. There are, of course, women who interest me even more, those who are both true and independent, who work and create.
theparisreview:

“One should aim at inventing without fabricating.” —Simone de Beauvoir, who was born on this day in 1908.

echoseeker:

Happy Birthday, Simone de Beauvoir!

INTERVIEWER

In every one of your novels we find a female character who is misled by false notions and who is threatened by madness.

DE BEAUVOIR

Lots of modern women are like that. Women are obliged to play at being what they aren’t, to play, for example, at being great courtesans, to fake their personalities. They’re on the brink of neurosis. I feel very sympathetic toward women of that type. They interest me more than the well-balanced housewife and mother. There are, of course, women who interest me even more, those who are both true and independent, who work and create.

theparisreview:

“One should aim at inventing without fabricating.” —Simone de Beauvoir, who was born on this day in 1908.

January 6, 2014
The 2013 Book List, Part III

The stirring conclusion to my 2013 round-up.  I read 21 books, here are Nos. 1-7 ranked not necessarily in order of literary greatness, but in terms of my enjoyment of the book, whether it dazzled me with language, or made me think new thoughts, or made me want to make things, or made me feel something, or all of the above.

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1. Speedboat (1976) - Renata Adler (NYRB Classics, 2013 reprint edition. Purchased at Spoonbill & Sugartown. On the Permanent Keeper shelf, signed by R. Adler.)

New York in the 1970s, a peek into the insomniac consciousness of a journalist, a woman. Fragmented into perfect paragraphs. Paranoia, travels, anecdotes, affairs, drinking, childhood, politics, seen through sharp eyes and vulnerable soul. Brilliant.

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2. How Should a Person Be? (2012) - Sheila Heti (Picador, 2013 reprint edition. Purchased at a bookstore. Loaned to a friend.)

Ballsy. I admired Heti’s lack of fear in writing about art & wanting to make art, about sex, about obsession, about being petty, even. Very funny, sometimes. Sometimes annoying, when it aimed for grandiosity, but it annoyed me in the ways I annoy myself. It had the feeling of a graphic novel, maybe because so much of it was written in dialogue.

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3. Just Kids (2010) - Patti Smith (Ecco. Purchased at a bookstore. On the Permanent Keeper shelf.)

Second time I read this. A comforting book for the winter. She makes me want to draw, write, make collages, dream, with unabashed enthusiasm. A gentle book, gentle handling of Mapplethorpe’s hustling, episodes of lice, freezing winters, getting jeered on stage, etc., seen through the burnish of nostalgia. She recognizes this aspect, though, that the book is an act of love and therefore gentle about the difficult times. This time around, I noticed many more allusions to rock lyrics hidden in her text, and I admired the writing style - spare & elegant.

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4. Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (2001)  - David Bayles and Ted Orland (Image Continuum Press. Passed on to me by a friend, who found it in a book box on the street in Brooklyn. In the art book shelf.)

A second read. Like a voice of common sense in your head, a good talk with a friend: focus on the process, not the final criticism or adulation, keep making stuff, if that’s what makes you tick.

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5. A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Daily Life, Mysteries and Curiosities (2009) - Alberto Angela, trans. Gregory Conti (Europa Editions.  Purchased at B&N, USQ. Kept on the “will possibly re-read or loan to someone” shelf.)

The author worked in documentary TV, and the book gives this feeling, in a good way. Cinematic in its descriptions, a friendly narrative voice takes you on a tour of Ancient Rome from dawn until midnight, taking you through the homes of people of various social classes, the markets, the Senate, the Coliseum, the communal bathrooms… A social history I’ve always wanted to read: instead of focusing on battles and emperors, it brings the daily details of existence to life. A charming translation that retains the feel of Italian.

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6. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006) - Michael Pollan 

Wow was this book good. A lasting contribution. It felt so fresh, even 7 years after its initial publication and all of the hype surrounding it. I like that he went beyond taking an activist, awareness-raising perspective regarding American production, consumption and attitudes towards food (although there are shades of this) and assumed a bigger point view, which includes human evolution, philosophy, ethics and his own personal perspective, which was so open and touching. 

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7. Tender Is the Night (1934) - F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Glamorous, escapist stuff… The French Riviera, Switzerland, Paris. A golden couple with a secret.  Americans must have been so obnoxious, actually, taking over struggling post-WWI France. It was the first time I thought this reading Fitzgerald. Laughed at his digs at the British, they are always duds in this book.