Tuesday, October 13, 2015

more about despair


Raymond Carver was the supreme minimalist laureate of grieving alcoholic heartache. His is a fiction couched in language that is cheaply dispensed, muted, damaged beyond the capacity to express rage or hope of any sort; in his capacity to demonstrate the damage to both self and the community surrounding him, a typical Carver protagonist is someone we see in the middle of a life coming undone one brick, one plank, one nail at a time. It’s less that we get a demonstration of how alcohol in the lives of underpaid, under worked blue collar families. That would, in effect, be too easy to do, too flashy an effect. Carver’s stories, set around bad faith affairs, hooch in coffee cups in kitchens cursed with bad wall art and torn furniture gathered from curbsides, come across like episodes in static, god awful, horribly depressed television series; each week, another nail, another brick, another shingle falls off the structure of one’s life, every week another heartbreak is achieved and turned into a badge of perverse honor. Each story shows something else, small but vital in the lives of the characters trapped in the circle of despair, die. Worse, for the reader, there is no gallows humor, no poetic despair, no irony to distance the reader from the unrelenting drunkenness and slow death being witnessed. Carver provides no relief. There is something masterful in all that, even if it gets old and even trite as his career continued. 

Carver's all these years after college; he is one of very few writers I've read in the post-Hemingway generation who's minuscule language, always sharp, always exact, managed to achieve a profound effect despite the paucity of language. He equals Hemingway in large part (assuming, of course, that the stories that editor/writer Gordon Lish didn't in fact rewrite Carver's work to his own idea of style), and what I admire is that his effect was different that Hemingway's. There's a coarser grit that comes through Carver's prose, through all those closed conjunctions andtruncated metaphors. The sentimentality, that of the lonely and brave man abiding by a personal code in a world where World Wars have made morality suspect; Hemingway still held out for the human capacity to find some goodness despite the convenient cynicism that would have made one's social graces easier to move around in.

 Carver's is that lonely cynicism filtered through Beckett; everything is broken, used up, deracinated compromised and prostituted so far as a protagonist's personal character and ethical strain is concerned. Carver's is the world of the already dead, blunted perception and bad faith all around. A little of him does go a long way, though I will say I think he's a better writer and poet than Bukowski. John Fante is better than Bukowski.I actually don't think Wallace is hollow, only that nfinite Jest was over rated and which operates as an experiment where one is attempting something analogous Keith Jarrett's prolix and lugubrious piano improvisations. The talent behind the book is obvious and sometimes impressive, but is weighed down by lack of focus--others claim that is well the point of IJ, that the narrative is de-centered to the degree that it reflects a Bergsonian idea of perceived experience more as spread , like drops hitting hard ground , with its essence cast over great , diffused distance, that rather than the linear line where the main river of plot dominates, with diversions and subplots being only minor points to bolster the main thesis and world view. I think it possible Wallace may have found himself in some competition with Thomas Pynchon.

 Anyway, the novel suffers for it. I have greatly enjoyed Wallace's other books , though, especially "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again”, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" and "Oblivion". Wallace , contra Carver, seems set to make the sentence do things and hold clauses not normally associated with contemporary prose style, and given his knack of noticing everything, seemingly, in what he's writing about and including it in his flow, I would say that the shorter forms--short story, journalism, the essay, travel writing--are best suited to containing his very real brilliance.<BR/><BR/>I take your point about verbal skills more acute when one is actively disliking something they've read, seen or heard. Why something gives you pleasure is a subjective matter, with reasons undisclosed even to the reviewer, and I think one has to invent rhetoric in order to make the approval one feels comprehensible to a reader. There is something to be said about reviewers and their positive critiques; they don't seem as surefooted as a well-turned negative notice. It may have something to do with the old adage that beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, but ugliness is universally recognized. I'm not nearly that reductionist, but among certain reader communities, a strong element of what's bad, awful, lame, pretentious and inept is shared, and it's easier, I think, to draw a fresh invective from the common stock. Negative reviews, let me not forget to mention, are more fun to write<, and it's a struggle to resist writing them en masse. There is nothing more boring than a bored cynic,no?

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