Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Newsroom goes dark

Slate magazine asks the question if Aaron Sorkin forgot how to write a television drama and, recounting the problems with this post West-Wing work , answers "yes". I prefer to think that Sorkin hasn't forgotten what he did so well on the acclaimed Sports Night and WW so much as he doesn't care. He certainly hasn't forgotten how to write , as his writing on the superb motion pictures "Charlie Wilson's War" and "The Social Network" showed he could create his self-styled "sound of intelligence" with the pacing, phrasing and character development that makes his hyperactive dialogue believable and occasionally exhilarating. Sorkin has the skill to make the facts sexy, dynamic, the grounds for dialogue that sometimes brilliant in the way it becomes a tone poem of intellectual awareness and petty chatter. It seems, though, the writer needs matters that he cannot change, ie history, to keep his tendency toward nuclear effusion in check.

Both those films, though, were based on actual events and people and although it's obvious that Sorkin took liberties with the historical accounts he was restrained by vetted fact; his plot outline was presented to him . What he demonstrated was a wonderful knack to dramatize, enhance recent events and social trends. For television, though, his sense of plotting is herky-jerky and the dialogue, especially on show premised on a work situation that should have been ideal for imagined smart talk, a newsroom, came off as a sort of cold virtuosity an uninspired musician resorts to in the belief that how fast one plays (or in Sorkin's case, how fast one talks) is a measure of genius and artistic grit. It isn't. 

There isn't any conversation, so called, in 'The Newsroom" that I found memorable or worth quoting days later. As has been pointed out, the effortless command of facts, figures, the arts, history, statistics and the general ability to sound like a chipmunk while punching out a Foghorn Leghorn quality of eloquence made you aware of how impatient , angry and unrealistically confrontational the characters were; there was serious blockage happening that only a  gruesome disaster could resolve.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An unmade bed and plastic comb left on the water heater

Russell Brand, the Tiny Tim of  leftist celebrities , continues to irritate. It's a lesson in personal humility , I suppose, in that I would, in a world that made sense, agree with the general drift of his otherwise twearker critiques of an economic system that has made him a rich man. Rich people espousing progressive cliches generally doesn't bother me. Russell Brand bothers me. His is the kind of personality that makes you want to knock  yourself unconscious with a bullpen hammer rather endure his prating presence.Why are we listening to this preening narcissist?

His gummy stew of post-
structuralist jargon, adjective-glutted paraphrases of Marcuse and Chomsky and his actorly declarations that we must strive toward a universal consciousness that transcends the offending ideologies he deplores is the species of self-regarding assistant professors sprinkle over their undergrads. 

Brand, though, does nothing to guide people to other sources for astute and clear critiques of what's exactly the matter with politics and culture and what we can do to it. He is the worse thing to happen to progressive politics since the hey day of the essentially relativist obscurantism of Derrida, and Baudrillard and the impotent and empty symbolic gesturing of the Occupy Movement. Their message at core is that Real Power is in place permanently, attempts to get power and change the world are illusions, and what seems like victories against racism , sexism, homophobia and the like are themselves an illusion, allowed only because the mechanisms of the machine are such that we are given the delusion of autonomy while things in the world does not change. Doing nothing at all, in other words, is as effective as anything else you can do. The Great Refusal is what Marcuse called it in "One Dimensional Man", a book I admire greatly since I read it in college, as it is an acute critique of how consumerism is a powerful form of social control; anyone who follows the news regarding the way entities like Facebook , Amazon and other online services have infiltrated daily lives and have , in a brief amount of time, radically change the way we behave and the way we regard the structure of the world, will realize how prescient his thinking on this matter was.

There is a point of departure, however, and while we can make smarter choices and refuse to offer ourselves to the altar of consumer capitalism and likewise refuse to contribute to the devastation of economies in its perpetuation, we have to realize as well that simply retiring and living as hermits and enlightened, stoic primitives does as no good. We will not return to Marx's Eden of pre-capitalist agrarianism. Voting matters, running for office matters greatly, becoming active in causes that have legislative has consequences. Voting and not voting in elections that have candidates and issues at stake have consequences at stake; tax increases, school bonds, infra structure spending, laws regarding fairness , politicians sworn to dismantle the Safety Net, end Medicare and Social Security and create new laws allowing corporations to further exploit American and foreign workers. Each vote not cast makes the world a worse place to live in.

The problem with Brand's messaging himself; he is an abrasive autodidact who seems only to read and retain things in order to demonstrate how smart he is. It shows in his sneering voice and his knitted brow. He mistakes talking down to and talking over others, as he does in interviews, for winning a debate and carrying a message. His message is other than what he intended "I'm a jerk."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Triumph at the Biltmore — Norman Mailer — Medium

Triumph at the Biltmore — Norman Mailer — Medium:

J.Michael Lennon,  author of 'A Double Life", the terrific biography of Norman Mailer, has written a fine and delicately argued introduction for an expensive re-issue of a famous Mailer essay, 'Superman Comes to the Supermarket". It's prime Mailer, set in the Sixties, describing JFK's quest for the White House. It's a fine piece of writing, and with  it Mailer waxes poetic and apocalyptic as to what the election can mean for a greater or grimmer America.

It's interesting that Taschen is reproducing what it considers marketable portions of Mailer's books ("Of a Fire on the Moon") or turning stand alone essays like "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" into singular books . The problem is the essay, which is an inspired piece of journalism that influenced writers for decades to come, is book length. At 370 pages, this edition is doubtlessly graced with many fine photographs of the time, but the effect is that it's a coffee table book which makes Mailer's prose something of captions that accompany the images. In addition, the price is absurd, at $100 retail. I support introducing Mailer to new readers with new editions and new critical overviews to limn his relevance to literature and our culture, but the price tag on this finally skimpy sharing of his work is not the way to do. Mailer himself might have been flattered by the treatment, but even he would have to admit the irony of being made into a commodity that can be molded to suit the seller's needs. A piece of plastic , in other words, Mailer's worst nightmare.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ian McLagan: 1945-2014 :: Music :: News :: Paste

Faces Keyboardist Ian McLagan: 1945-2014 :: Music :: News :: Paste:



Damn. The Faces were, in my view, the best of the chunky, Chuck Berry influenced bands of their time, especially when Rod Stewart was their lead singer. The music was simple and cranky, effectively unslick, the highwater mark of non-virtuoso blues based rock. They were more clash than flash, more pugnacious than punky. It was a music that got you out of the seat, made you strut, move the arms and work   out the shoulder blades as if you were  bracing for either a fight or  an oversized schooner of ale. At their best, which was often, they  sounded  like they were about to fall apar, a rickety, badly assembled machine that groaned and lost bolts and t and yet still held together , if barely. It made for some of the most rousing rock and roll of the period, crankier and gruffier than Free, feistier and less bombastic than Humble Pie (which , ironically, featured original  Faces singer Steve Marriot when they still had the 'Small" qualifier at the front of their name). McLagan's keyboarding was as much responsible for the band's rakish, knockabout personality as were Ron Wood's guitar bashing and Kenny Jones' kickstarter drumwork; he was the spirit of the honkey tonk, the road house, the whore house, he was blues and gospel and soul , not a soloist but an essential , crucial element of the band's collective genius. These elements, brought into focus by Stewart's wonderfully  harsh, expressive and remarkably versatile singing, made The Faces one of those bands where each member was indispensable in making a sound that was unique, galvanizing and which remains after decades the sort of music that raises the roof and makes neighbors call the police  His piano work was the Rosetta Stone through which much of the musical styles that influenced the band collectively and individually were brought into play in very fine, shamefully under appreciated band. Hats off to Ian McLagan.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

notes for a Mark Strand poem

Mark Strand's  prose poem The Enigma of the Infinitesimal  shows us a poet who want us to consider those people we all have seen (as he claims) who have a purpose driven life consisting of one goal, to get to the nothing between the noisy and multiple somethings the rest of us have to navigate with purpose:

You’ve seen them at dusk, walking along the shore, seen them standing in doorways, leaning from windows, or straddling the slow moving edge of a shadow. Lovers of the in-between, they are neither here nor there, neither in nor out. Poor souls, they are driven to experience the impossible. Even at night, they lie in bed with one eye closed and the other open, hoping to catch the last second of consciousness and the first of sleep, to inhabit that no man’s land, that beautiful place, to behold as only a god might, the luminous conjunction of nothing and all.

It seems clear enough for me that Strand is talking the desire for a personal oblivion without having to do any of the heavy lifting, that is, he wants to witness the area between the crowded materialism of the earthly plain and the over lit expanse of whatever form of Heaven is in the collective thinking. I think what he means is that he notices his own concentration on the scant inches between things piled on one another, the remaining centimeters of space that still exist before leviathans, politics and economics crowded up the earth with a seamless babble concerning what's important. No business, no church, no politics to decide for you how to spend your time, your imagination; he wants a momentary respite somewhere that is not sleep nor death but still free of static and the overflow of voices and traffic sounds. 

This , ironically, becomes something of a reason to live, to go on despite the horror of life's eternal drudgery; in a sense that seems very much like Samuel Beckett, these numinous creatures seek that space and that state that cannot be found nor reached even with the wildest imagination; all one can do is hatch new schemes, seek new cracks in the architecture, attempt to lose a little more of themselves in the details and the grain of existence in some wan hope that they might transcend the cluttered bounds of earth and witness the perfection of nothing there at all. It would be a kind of Heaven, unspoiled, unassigned, unreconstructed, not blemished a bit by any one's lisping conceit as to how the space is to be used, purposed, designed. 

One might imagine that this  Death Wish defined, the desire for death institutionalized in our personal rituals, but what we have, I think, is Strand grabbing onto to something that Beckett surveyed so well ; the desire to live becomes, instead, the obsession to keep the ritual in order and the tedium in place; while the waking ego expounds a poetic urge to escape the mundane and to live in radical proximity to the sublime elegance of negative space, the body knows more than the spirit and maintains the grind one would other wise claim murders the soul. The soul flourishes, the body would say, because of the tedium, the grind, the unending repetition of habits we've filled the world with; without the tedium there would be only a life that is nasty , brutish and short. The same old same old is the foundation on which our hopes of deliverance rest; without it, there would be no yearning for impossible things.What the poem implies is not an envy for the otherly shadow people seeking that negative space between the brick and mortar, but rather a desire on Strand's part to achieve something like death so as to be relieved of the grind and grunt of daily life. He speaks of them in the third person, but the awareness of their routines and their desires is intimate, it has the lyric yearning of someone speaking from their own experience.  

Even at night, they lie in bed with one eye closed and the other open, hoping to catch the last second of consciousness and the first of sleep, to inhabit that no man’s land, that beautiful place, to behold as only a god might, the luminous conjunction of nothing and all..  

The "lovers of the in between" seek to "inhabit that no man’s land, that beautiful place..." which , to my mind, indicates an obvious desire for something permanent. Not death, but death like, as I mentioned before. "Oblivion" , "near death" and the like are synonyms for Mark Strand's concept of "...the luminous conjunction of nothing at all." Strand's desire is for a permanent condition, what some might consider a zen condition where the ego vanishes and there is only oneself and the verythingness of the world, unadorned by materialist clutter. Still others might equate the poem's yearning with Pink Floyd's song title "Comfortably Numb". The idea is closer, in my reading, with the poems , plays and novels of Samuel Beckett, who managed to extract a dynamic literature from the monotony of existence; as with Strand's reluctance to embrace death by name, Beckett's characters become obsessed with an irresistible urge to transcend their bounds and yet refuse to upset the stratification they claim is killing their spirit. These people Strand speaks of , meaning the poet himself, are pursuing what they know to be an impossible goal; that way means that nothing in their life has to change.

It's one thing to imagine a fictional aberration, a shadow person, lying in bed , still awake, but Strand's detail belongs to someone who them self has spent nights half awake , half dreaming of a perfect, painless oblivion. This is not a prose poem expressing envy of anyone; although he furnishes distance with by avoiding first person in the telling, this poem is a confession, a bittersweet gushing of an impossible dream that underlies all other motivations to get through another day.

_________________
I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this poem, as Strand, since I first read him in the Seventies, has never been one of my favorite poets; he continually demonstrated a rather fine lyric sense that could make the banal details of a street, a room, a sound transcend their roots in the commonplace and suggest something more behind the utility of mere definition. His world seemed to pulse with significance that was tangible , conspicuous, yet hidden.

 He has been, though, too much of a worry wart for me, there was nearly always something terrible that has happened or about to happen or that didn't happen at all but the thought of which gave his poems a nervous, anxious quality that stopped being exhilarating after a few dozen poems . This, though, is a collected bit of consideration, a pause to remark on a personal mood that has nothing to do with catastrophes of fact or fiction and wonders instead not about the awful things that might befall his surrogate narrators but rather what it might be to consider a space that is perfect solely because it vacant. The nervousness, real and feigned, gives way to a poem perfect for someone who is tired of holding on to the hand rail too tightly.   I am not, though,thrilled by Strand's preference for the paragraph form--I have a fondness for prose poems and enjoy the writings of Whitman, Silliman, Bernstein, Goldbarth and Gertrude Stein precisely because the paragraph is the perfect way to have unlike things collide , conflate and fuse together in radically transformations; there is a sense of havoc being visited upon a number of worn out referential templates that are suddenly made to make sense in ways no one intended.

 The language gets a long and severe road testing there and we, I think, are better for it. Strand's poem, though, is not accumalation, not collision, but a pared down consideration, observation, revelation: I am convinced the poem would be more effective, powerful, lasting in memory if there were line breaks . I hear cadences that the paragraphed original cannot suggest. There is a human voice here, detectable, vulnerable and surprised at what it finds itself talking about, and one wonders about the breathing space between the sentences, the pauses. Line breaks would have the effect of slowing down the poem, to bring to the piece a tentativeness that is already there, waiting to be discovered by the reader who has an ear for such things. The paragraph is airtight and deadens the effect, at least at first. That first impression likely prevents more than a few readers from giving it a second scan.

Here is my version of Mark Strrand's poem, "The Enigma of the Infinitesmial", with traditional free verse line breaks:  
  
You’ve seen them at dusk,
walking along the shore,
seen them standing in doorways,
leaning from windows,
or straddling the slow moving edge of a shadow.

Lovers of the in-between,
they are neither here nor there, neither in nor out.

Poor souls, they are driven
to experience the impossible.

Even at night, they lie in bed
with one eye closed and the other open,
hoping to catch the last second of consciousness
and the first of sleep,
to inhabit that no man’s land,
that beautiful place,
to behold as only a god might,
the luminous conjunction of nothing and all.


I understand the attraction of a paragraph over line breaks for a reader; Strand may be intending a seduction of sorts with the form he chose, luring an audience with something that looks familiar. The effect is that they would read something unlike what they usually come across in a brief, stand alone prose block.    A free verse form suggests the in-between state or nothing at all state that Strand addresses in the poem. On the left, there is an elegant murmuring about the neutral zone as a kind of mythic Eden , and on the other, the emptiness of the right hand margin, the white space. This would suggest that the world of things , noise and motion is along side the "the luminous conjunction of nothing and all".


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Joni Mitchell Nixed Taylor Swift-Starring Biopic

Joni Mitchell Nixed Taylor Swift-Starring Biopic | Rolling Stone:

I give Joni Mitchell the respect she is due as a singer- songwriter and as a visual artist, a painter specifically. Her music and her art have given me much joy and inspiration through the decades and she was, among other influences like Dylan, TS Eliot and Allen Ginsberg, part of that wave of artist that made me want to be a poet. That said, I've always found her to be a spoiled, arrogant, perennially discontented diva in her interviews; she has , through the years, angrily denounced critics for bad reviews.I think I understand Mitchell's bitterness over the the fact that Dylan, Simon, Lennon and other problematic white male songwriters received for more attention and were taken far more seriously than the she or her other women writers. At the time Mitchell was about all there was in terms of a major woman singer/songwriter "rock poet" who was also a media celebrity; there were others of great talent and skill at the time I knew, but Mitchell was the one the rock press and mainstream media focused on and she was the one who got dogpiled on by reviewers who disliked her post "Court and Spark" work, the more experimental adventures that were beyond , I feel, her technical grasp. But Mitchell was the ground breaker and it seems to be that the weight of her influence was felt a generation later, with Patti Smith, Chrissie Hind, Aimee Mann, Melanie Safka and other adventurous women writers coming to the fore and offering up their work for consideration , acceptance or rejection without fear of what men think. Besides producing a body of work that is , in large part, worth returning too again and again, Mitchell is one of the brave who took the initial hits by being a creative woman who wouldn't hide her own work for any male's sense of well being.  In this case, I side with the critics, since Mitchell did do a string of dodgy projects; she wanted more than to be a pop star and sought to rise again as a high modernist composer, a jazz performer, a confessional poet with cubist sensibilities, meaning her work went from being Crystal clear and evocative to abstruse, opaque, painfully,portentously indirect. 

Mitchell has, despite her bitterness over bad notices, recovered well artistically in the intervening years, joining her strengths as a surreal pop-lyric confessionalist , a melodist, and her interest in modernist art-song into forms both relatable, compelling, and indicative a talent far from being done with the work. She was , all the same, pretentious and reviewers called her on it. In that respect, I think Taylor Swift got the better end of this deal. 


D.H. Lawrence is said to have written “Never trust the teller, trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.” I align myself with both these statements; great artists can be horrible human beings, great human beings, but human beings all the same, having great expressive gifts none of them including the ability walk on water. The need for critics and good criticisms is to keep cults of personality from over taking the art, or at least keeping it relevant to our on going discussions of seeking those things in the world that confirm our experience and which provide us wit a sense of not being entirely isolated , whether inside our homes or in our heads.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mailer and the middle finger

Another Mailer obsessive posted in an online forum dedicated to the late writer's life and work that he was of the opinion that Advertisements for Myself was the most audacious work produced in 20th century literature. I scratched my  head, figuratively, and wondered if he meant in all languages, or in literature written exclusively in English? And if the criteria was English only, what titles did Mailer beat out to be the most audacious?

 More than Naked Lunch? Gravity's Rainbow? Ulysses? The Recognitions? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Howl? Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note? Wise Blood? Myra Breckenridge? White Noise? The Balcony? Post Office? 

Advertisements for Myself was audacious and brilliant indeed, but claiming it as most audacious for an entire century is more audacious than factually accurate. Mailer has done better and more daring work since that book, more audacious, if you will--An American Dream, Why are We in Vietnam, Ancient Evenings. And I think any number of writers from the 20th century can have an equal claim to literary daring do. 

This is not to take Mailer down but to simply assert that he is rare company, writers with incredibly idiosyncratic lives who managed , against the odds of getting in their own way with fancy and folly, to write literature that is genius of the rarest form. Mailer had competition in that regard, making himself the center of his writing. Bukowski certainly isn't shy showing warts and all, Henry Miller was especially arrogant enough to write about himself past the point of genius to wretchedly excessive confession, and the likes of Lawrence and Genet were prone to make most of their male characters fanciful versions of their public biographies. What matters , 
is the degree of genius the writing reveals; I would agree that Mailer's track record is rather high on the scale.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The stars are lackluster

Interstellar was good in terms of being a technical marvel and an example of what well-composed camera shots can get you, but the film wasn't so stellar as a thought provoking masterpiece that director and co-writer Christopher Nolan likes to attempt making. It has what one could term the "Apocalypse Now" syndrome, where an ambitious director of acknowledged skill and accomplishment attempts to grasp and discuss , in visual narrative form, a series of intellectually daunting notions that, for all the spectacular visuals and endless minutes of characters pondering metaphysics, resist an convincing transition to film.
As much as I have enjoyed "A.N." (I have watched a dozen times easily since its original theater release) , Francis Coppola didn't evoke "the horror" nearly as cogently as Joseph Conrad did in the movie's source material, the short story "Heart of Darkness"; as brilliant as many sections of the movie was , the Viet Nam saga relied on spectacle over interior rumination. Prose fiction has definite advantages over film with respect to seducing the reader into the private cosmology of heroes and villains. But beyond the keen distinctions between what prose and film are able of conveying, it's clear that Nolan is a terrible plotter; he cannot write a third act that provides a satisfying ah-ha!To coin a phrase, the harder he tries for significance beyond the thrills and visceral confirmation of what passes as truth, justice and irony in our popular culture, the more trying his films become to endure. Coppola, to his great credit, had a genius for creating outstandingly comic and absurd scenes even if the all-together philosophy that was to give Apocalypse Now gravitas wasn't achieved, not nearly. It is a watchable, memorable film. Nolan is serious like surgery, humorless, dour, vaguely depressed, mumbling in half-heard abstractions. Not fun."Interstellar" , in turn, concerning a mission to the far reaches of known space to ostensibly find a habitable planet for the population of a dying earth to migrate to, sub themes like love, honor, loyalty and the like are handily mixed in with hazier , not easily rendered subjects, physics and metaphysics alike, which means , of course, that there far too many instances where the otherwise attractive likes of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are sitting in their technological huts literally talking about the meaning of life. It is a ponderous exposition that makes the pace of Interstellar sluggish . Nolan, is at an instance where he has no other method to make his movies move forward. Nolan has a problem writing coherent third acts, most notably in his third Batman film and inInception". Nolan's fondness for large vistas and other sorts of visual exposition, both in "Inception" and "Interstellar". The tendency is chronic in the new film, with grand and sweeping shots of corn fields at the film's beginning and later, on one of the planets being investigated for possible human habitation , large, high contrast panoramas of frozen ice and mountain ranges.

The problem , as usual with Nolan, isn't execution, but duration. The cameras dwell too long on the shots, lingering sleepily. There is in 'Interstellar", as well, an overbearing music score, soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer; often times Matthew M's trademarked gritty whisper turns into hushed garble. Entire swaths of dialogue are lost in the conflicted soundtrack. It swells up at moments when there is an explanatory bit of conversation going on. Even the least interested person in the matter of how effective music background can be in creating dramatic tension has the innate awareness of when it works and when it does not; how anyone can leave this production and not feel manipulated , coaxed and otherwise coerced by the noise level to a level of nervous anticipation is, I believe, impossible. Direction, motivation and coherence diminish even more and one is puzzled why the music is bearing down on you when nothing interesting is happening. It is a mess, a hurried, hasty, careless mess. Nolan does not engage the senses, he bullies them.

The final sequence of the film is quite fantastic , a fanciful illustration of another kind of existence, and this is a sequence I would watch the movie again for, but there is the nagging feeling that the plot twist at the movie's mid point was less a what-the-hell?!-moment than it was a set up for the sort of deliberate virtuosity that was lurking around the corner. There is always a sense in Nolan's recent work that he was bored with the process of perfecting his script and rushed into production without really a clear vision of what he was trying to convey. It should be noted as well that Nolan mistakes length and vaguely outlined ideas as narrative poetry, as a sign of greater depth. I think it is actually a sign of weight, not gravitas, and that weight sinks the enterprise altogether.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In a nutshell, my least favorite and most favored Mailer Novels.



I regard "Barbary Shore" as the only total failure among the many brave books Mailer wrote. In "Advertisements for Myself" he discusses in detail his thinking about wanting to write something completely different from what made him famous--would he write "The Naked and the Dead" Go to Paris--and one can't fault him for wanting a reputation as more than a "war novelist". There are spots where the writing shines, but at the end of the day and the last page. the novel is turgid and reads like a better than average submission to a collegiate short story course. Mailer hadn't yet found a style that suited him and which would avail him a genuinely flexible style that would serve him effectively for several decades. The politics and metaphysics haven't aged well, the sex appeal is awful, the book is a plod. I've read where Mailer has defended the book , as well he should, but I'm fairly sure he acknowledged its shortcomings and  would admit, privately, to a confident, that it was a lesson in how to start and finish a new novel after the rush of creating the first inspired saga has ebbed and what remains to do be done is actual work.  

Barbary Shore has defenders, but it hasn't the flow or rhythmic mastery of the Mailer writing that came with the linking narrative of Advertisements for Myself. Shore reads like an over controlled style, good writing on the face of it but reeking of the exhaustion one witnesses when they read a young writer trying and to not sound like the writers that influenced him. Additionally, I think he was too taken with the convenient metaphor of the boarding house being an existential hell that harbors various creatures who's nerve has failed them; what is obvious is that no one leaves the property for good until one of them makes a decision to do something, follows through on their choice, and then takes full and unapologetic responsibility for the results and / or consequences. Barbary Shore was a practice novel of ideas--he would later write some of the most brilliant fiction of his generation in short order.

In the other extreme , my favorite Mailer  novel is An American Dream, and has been since I read it in high school  in  1970. As was said before, this book is a fever dream, and it supports my notion that Mailer at this period was keyed in to the poetry and poetics of rage like no one else was. Rage, anger, possession by absolute venting makes the world a coherent and connected place, and Mailer's Roszak, an alternately roiling and quaking mass of revenge and maudlin tenderness, is off on a series of hallucinations in which forces behind the appearance of things command him to endure a series of challenges and tests. It is something of a Faustian pact, with the Devil being in the circumstances where Roszak decides to delve deeper into a willful evil in order to rid himself of what he imagines is a disease. Mailer had written so much about violence up to now that the fantasy that is An American Dream is Mailer's headlong test drive of this theories in narrative form, to see , in the act of violence, what new things might arise from the wreckage, what new experiences might result. By the end of the novel, at the phone booth at the edge of the Nevada desert, the hero is a mess, a new kind of man, somewhat flat in emotional affect, a harried soul who has effectively cauterized his anxieties and doubts by severing himself, violently, from his connections to a previous life. The book is simply astounding.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

GROOMED AND DOOMED (a poem)

GROOMED AND DOOMED
He  shaves therefore he is
the smoothest
visage for a
culture of spectacle that
dives behind the signs in the
road and snap cameras at him
that sound like silverware
being moved around a place
setting for the hungry world
that cannot consume his likeness
fast enough.

She wears clothes
 three sizes
too small,
eats only a third of what's
any plate she holds,
hangs a mirror on both
sides of every door
she is going through,
all this resulting
in an outline against
her living room curtains
that gets harder to see
as it shrinks
like hot plastic,

The two of them miss each other
in the morning
when it's the time
to take the day again,
he waxes his arms
to get rid of hairs
that look like
shadows that add
the look of pounds
the yield of years,
he'll lift weights
and walk for miles
on a rotating track
while yelling orders
into a cell phone
to buy, sell,
we'll get those sons of bitches,
and with all this,
the headache will not abate,
the throb
pulses and he feels something
popping in his head, a vein about to burst,
his brain on fire
with drugs
commanding the nervous systems
to drive itself insane,
he walks faster, he yells
louder, the stock market data
streams by him in a blur,
he dreams for a moment he's
in a parade
and has no idea why anyone
is cheering, gee, he thinks,
where did these pearly gates come
from,
and then
all he sees is the floor
coming up after him,
hitting him in the face,
he thinks,
my hair, oh god,
my hair...

She empties the Kleenex dispenser
to fill out a bra, rids herself
of eyelashes and then
plies the soft pencil
from the far sides of her brow
to the ridge of her nose
that shoots up and out,
petite and almost vanishing
as she stares at herself
again in the mirror, before
turning off the light,
a preview of what the world
sees in passing from
rushing bus windows,
from office buildings,
from restaurants
as she'll be carried along
with the hustle and tugging
insanity of crowds,
carried off into
perspectives until
she blurs in the background,
becomes the background,
vanishes already together
as she erases herself
in a dash for lean, flawless beauty.

They drink
the undrinkable,
kiss
lips that are
flush with
market research and
laboratory results.

Then they
make their way
back to the
layouts
that made them
such strange creatures
with body types

that shouldn't happen
to Frankenstein’s monster.

WHAT I'VE BEEN READING

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Ted's bookshelf: read

The Tortilla CurtainU.S.!: A NovelSlaves to Do These ThingsCrackpots: A NovelThe Incentive of the MaggotFrantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir

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