Thursday, June 30, 2016

Modernism and inconsolable coherence

Isn't "deconstruction" an attempt to apply scientific principles to the analysis of language and what it implies? There is a lot of science - envy among the critics in the arts and humanities, and they've seemed to latched on to the extrapolated language of anthropology and linguistics in order to keep their jobs: there is an effort, in the mission of literature departments, to continue to prove that there is stuff of quantifiable worth to be extracted from the study of novels and poems, and that they in some way adding to body of knowledge.Somewhere, so far as the criticism has gone in the last half of the century, the link was made with other discourses, which made much of literary study something of a gawky laughing stock: not historians, not scientists, not psychologists, not philosophers, the gamiest of theory wonks could prate on and onward on fields not his own, keeping the tenuous connection between their specialty, fictional accounts of experience, and real time bathos and tragedy obscured with an ever deepening reservoir of agonized murk. 

The result, of course, is an abandonment of criticism and theory's original mission to seek clarity, comprehension. Among the critics who are incapable of giving serviceable interpretations of books they reputedly teach, too many have produced a feeling that literary is as unapproachable to the non specialist as would a technical article in a medical journal. The post modern critic, too often, become the things they are nominally opposed to: they become a priesthood, the place where power is located! Whether Ginsberg or Ashbery are post modernists skirts this issue, not uncommon here; it's more fruitful to trace post modern poetry's influences. Ginsberg is a romantic, sure, but he was one in the 20th century, confronted with mass-media, A bombs, televised unpopular wars, the whole 60s shot, and his response to these accelerated times had to push the hackneyed envelope. If he trusted his sensibilities to make sense of the world, apart from the mind of God guiding him ( the central conceit of the Romantic Movement and it's attendant schisms), Ginsberg had to expand his poetic line, blur crucial distinctions about well-rendered introspection, and essentially clear the field for further innovation. 

Ashbery, in turn, developed a secret language, a self-addressing voice that managed not reveal much of the soul of the poet, but did much to reveal the writer's mind engaged with the world, musing in elegiac lines of things, their places in the scheme , their displacements by other things--this is the Supreme Fiction of Wallace Stevens, and it sought to bring harmony to a sphere of unknowable phenomenon. Both Ginsberg and Ashbery, coming from Romanticism and moving straight ahead into the Modernists' obessession with inventing new forms from old to gain new ideas about a world that won't yield itself to the individual mind, quite cannily opened the territory for the poets who would be called post-modern poets, wh0 would be, I think, anyone from Ron Silliman, Rae Armentrout or Bob Perelman of the Language school, to the Nuyorican poets, the slam movement, rap and hip hop, and even the largely odious New Formalist group. 

Post modernism, it appears, comes in as many stripes and hues and apologies as Romanticism, Modernism, or even classicism, and there is no hard rule that states that one cannot be a post modern Romantic. It's a reasonable distinction. Though a writer can bring all their resources to bear when they write, a certified grounding in philosophy isn't required to write fiction and poetry. 

The learning doesn't hurt the work if the writer is possessed of demonstrable inspiration, or genius, if you will, but what is essentially an act of the imagination is not required to furnish it's own critical aparatus in it's length. DeLillo, for example, can parse his own imagery and subject them to a cold analytical eye, and creating a haunting poetry about the signifiers fading resonance in a reality that never stops blinking, but his genius is rare. John Barth is very clever, some times brilliant in his deployment of knowing literary conceits in his work, best, I think, in the The Floating Opera, End of the Road and The Sot Weed Factor, and it can also be said , though, that in spite of the "special learning" to attain the rarified information that was needed to construct these novels, Barth wrote the works to operate as novels, as entertainments, first before all, not as formal arguments against prior literary movements. The process is as instinctual as it is deliberate, I think, as is good criticism, who's task, repeat, is to interpret the books in an activity separate from the novel.


The artist DOESN'T choose his influences, rather, he finds himself chosen by them.

Too flat an absolute a statement to be useful here: Bloom's refinement of a dialectical model to describe, in sweeping, how influence forms new writing is spectacular, but he over reaches, and over states his case with an insistence that influences choose the writer rather than the other way around. This is a deconstructive reversal that's cuter than it is precise. It's half the tale. Better to have it half and half: the writer certainly exercises choice so far as who they opt to read through their lifetime, and makes judgments based on their reading as to who matters more than others in the forming of a idiosyncratic aesthetic. The writer, as reader, is not a passive agent here. A writer "being chosen" by their influences makes more sense, I think, when he place the statement at the moment when the writer is actually writing, when inspiration, imagination, and whatever other resources a writer has at their behest combine, churn, swirl, and combine in ways during the drafting that could result in interesting, original work. 

Process is a word that's horribly abused and bled of meaning these days, but here it's appropriate. Creative process is a strange ritual unique to each writer, an idiosyncratic set of habits that are the basis of the discipline needed for a writer to actually stay seated long enough to produce and bring the work through all it's stages. It's the mysterious clutch of protocols that unleash the influences into the creative roil , and it's here, during these churning, erupting , fever pitched sessions where a writer looses the ability to control the influences about them, large and small, whether from their personal reading, or from the larger culture: it's here where the writer is literally "chosen" by the influences and styles about them and literally have their style defined and guided. So it seems to me, anyway. For the force of the unconscious in the work, of course: memories emerge, scenarios spontaneously form, and arcs are drafted and written out to link disparate sketches on a narrative spine that rapidly becomes a fleshed-out work. Of course. But the steps to get to the point where writing actually commences, I believe, begins with some conscious choices the writer makes in the world that's given to them: deciding what has value among the given--whatever we mean by that-- constitutes choice. What happens beyond that is what becomes problematic, and subject to niggling disagreement. But conscious human agency is not


How could the beliefs be useful if they weren't true? I could have many false beliefs that are coherent, but of what use would they be? The test of any theory is in how it works, and the gauge for how it works is in whether it's employment is of observable benefit to others, i.e., does it give some one and their community a coherent and workable structure to live life, to promote what would locally be defined as the Greater Good, and likewise provide a means for helping a community absorb change, how however and why ever it happens. The test of whether a theory is useful, if I remember my James, is whether such a methodology leads one to a truth that's germane in situ.

The usefulness of a theory is judged by how it side steps the confounding and conflating "proofs" of what constitutes Truth, with the big "t", and instead enables one to find something that works in mending the immediate situation. Speaking for myself, Lost in the Funhouse is nicely written gripe in which Barth, flowing of pen, voices a buried resentment against his own reading habits, a collection that's kind of dull: he voices the complaint against the dreary optimism of modernism, the same dull complaints, in fact, and yet wishes that had been him, rather than Joyce or Faulkner at the key moments of break-through novel writing: a Bloomian moment with his career, with his writing desperately bloated books, his "literature of exhaustion" to demonstrate how much more radical he would have been had he the power to intervene in recent literary history, and also a classic example of the School of Resentment. Barth, I think, resents his teachers, or at least writes like he does.. His work, though important in the postmodern genre, is among it's dullest. The Floating Opera, though, is a masterpiece: brief, funny, unusual, un-selfconscious in it's re-formation of the novel. Allen Ginsberg, speaking of a conversations he had with his mentor William Carlos Williams, gave a definition of Modernist perception as being that "...the thing itself is it's own adequate symbol..." Further, there is the strong suggestion that there is no God in this scheme, that the "thing" being perceived did not require an ideal type, or any other kind of Ideal superstructure in order to exist, to be. Ginsberg, and later poet/critic Jerome Rothenberg, gave a suggestion that this was Western writing's back-door approach toward more open structures, to decidedly unsystematized philosophies, witnessed in the Beat flirtations with Zen. This brings us knocking at the door of an extended Modernist approach--a style in which avant-garde procedure became an ironic protocol to literary writing--that became, in some critical finessing, post modernism.


My slight bit about Derrida is that his central contribution to the analysis of literature was creating a rhetorical means by which a generation of coming literary critics was relieved from having to discuss a book in a way that shows that they've actually read it. I've struggled with Derrida's work for several years, and have absorbed quite a bit of writing by him and about him and his ideas, and evasion of the book, the author's concerns, seems more the game rather than explication. 
Many times when one thinks they've come upon an oasis of actual discussion in this varicose discourse , both Derrida or an apostle one might be reading makes a hard turn, left or right, from whatever metaphorical road or river you might have been traversing; in any event, every side road, alley, tributary and inlet was wandered into and prated about until exhaustion drove the reader from the chair and desk they sat at, not convinced of Derrida's and deconstruction's vague premises, but rather resigned that this was a peculiar literary mafia who had no intention of treating literary work like it had an intrinsic worth. Derrida and his supporters argued otherwise, in their few moments of assertive writing, and maintained that the deconstructive process intends to reveal a multitude of interpretations by demonstrating what contradictory positions compose nominally “authoritative” texts. 
It's a grand project on the face of it, an investigative premise intriguing enough to be worth a try, but the results of twenty plus years of post-structuralist theory applied to an arbitrarily termed "canon" produced not clarity, nor comprehension, but only more confusion. One understands why Harold Bloom, a former proponent of Derrida's method, tired of the nihilistic wallow of post-modernism and turned his attentions again to a more fruitful mission of literary criticism and the attending philosophical/religious digressions, how literature gives a reader and a culture a malleable interior superstructure one filters raw experience with. Derrida's accomplishment , I think, was to take assume an array of philosophical tropes available from credible philosophy survey course , add his own egregious seasoning to the unpalatable stew, and turn what used to the sort of infinite prattle of the cocktail party poser into book contracts, tenured positions, and all the other perks of being a celebrity intellectual. It's significant about Derrida's contribution to literary criticism that his name rarely, if ever, arises when useful quotes about authors and their books are the subject of a conversation. 

This is a twofold irony, the literary critic with nothing useful to say about what they've been reading, and an incredibly bad writer as well. That such an awful scribe makes such a dent in the upper reaches of the culture ought not surprise us, just as the success of Jackie Collins is a twofold irony, the literary critic with nothing useful to say about what they've been reading, and an incredibly bad writer as well. That such an awful scribe makes such a dent in the upper reaches of the culture ought not surprise us, just as the success of Jackie Collins no longer distresses mainstream book reviewers. Often times talent and ability have nothing to do with an author's good fortune.

My principle misgiving with Derrida's ideas was his insistence that one cannot argue a point with certainty; there is a lot more to his arguments, subtle, abstruse, and obscured with every evasive trick of the tongue and pen he could muster, but this cluster of notions is at the heart of his life's work. I'm willing to grant that Derrida's intentions were all for the best--that he would expose how the production of meaning, and with it a hazy notion of "authority" comes from a socially constructed set of binary oppositions which, of course, entrenches in constrained ideas about reality-- but his failure to be clearer with his method and aim, and more useful in how readers and citizens can configure a discourse that might lead to ways of ridding the world of its internalized malfunctions has given us instead a sort of relativistic nihilism that advances the severest reactionary premises with what to do with the planet we live on. Baudrillard, certainly, has take the opening as a chance to advance his set of tightly quipped solipsisms that insist, at the heart of their gnomic devising, that apathy is as effective and meaningful political gesture as any collective might take on. 

Since no definitive or authorial fixed moral argument can be made against racism, genocide, homophobia, imperialism, colonialism , pollution, et al,so the thinking goes, one may as well go about their way in this existence unmindful of what constitutes ethics or responsibility, and fulfill such base desires and impulses that give that transitory definition to one's existence, a fleeting sensation of purpose to be replaced by another fleeting fleet sensation, and so on, until one drops, spent, exhausted, dead. This encourages apathy in the pursuit of truth, I think, and in fact reinforces such paranoid mind sets which need to witlessly demonize whole sections of a society's citizenry as "other" and "evil". Racism and homophobia are allowed to thrive in the absence of the ability to make a principled statement, to have a debate, to reach a consensus about what constitutes an idea of right and wrong no longer distresses mainstream book reviewers. Often time talent and ability have nothing to do with an author's good fortune. My principle misgiving with the ideas was his insistence that one cannot argue a point with certainty; there is a lot more to his arguments, subtle, abstruse, and obscured with every evasive trick of the tongue and pen he could muster, but this cluster of notions is at the heart of his life's work. I'm willing to grant that Derrida's intentions were all for the best--that he would expose how the production of meaning, and with it a hazy notion of "authority" comes from a socially constructed set of binary oppositions which, of course, entrenches in constrained ideas about reality-- but his failure to clearly outline his method and aim, and more useful in how readers and citizens can configure a discourse that might lead to ways of ridding the world of its internalized malfunctions has given us instead a sort of relativistic nihilism that advances the severest reactionary premises with what to do with the planet we live on. 

Baudrillard, certainly, has take the opening as a chance to advance his set of tightly quipped solipsisms that insist, at the heart of their gnomic devising, that apathy is as effective and meaningful political gesture as any collective might take on. Since no definitive or author- fixed moral argument can be made against racism, genocide, homophobia, imperialism, colonialism , pollution, et also the thinking goes, one may as well go about their way in this existence unmindful of what constitutes ethics or responsibility, and fulfill such base desires and impulses that give that transitory definition to one's existence, a fleeting sensation of purpose to be replaced by another fleeting fleet sensation, and so on, until one drops, spent, exhausted, dead. At best, his expression of his ideas was a thick , lush weave of deferring equivocation and generous portions of gravity-defying association that thrilled you with the virtuoso language he could spin to keep on the edge of your expectation, sounding as if he were about to arrive at some set of something useful. One didn’t understand a phrase or a word, but one loved to hear him talk. At worse, he reminds me of Walter Benjamin, unable to shake his jargon lest someone find something in his writing they can interrogate in earnest. What he seemed to be saying, in louder or softer tones, and nearly always with the vaguest paint he could color his notions with, is that the authentic, the natural, the fixed reality we dream of returning to, is gone and never existed and how we conduct ourselves via strategies to oppose oppression and effect changes in our condition are doomed, finally, and illusory, since all is ceaseless duplication and variations of opposing versions of historical finality. It's all for naught, and we might as well do nothing at all , merely consume within the storylines and props given us and allow the puppets with the microphones, tv cameras and the Army and Navy to run their games. Remember, Baudrillard was brilliant at describing things and mounting details of what is contradictory, perverse or demonstrably false; notice, though, that he offered no idea on what anyone could do about the situation. My thoughts are that JB was a nihilist, and that the bald face of post modernism, in its global viralism, is to encourage inaction, apathy. There's much of the round robin in his rap, a circuitry that works any argument against itself. But it reveals a fatuous tendency to not answer a question. Agendas are not Baudrillard's strong suit, and after all the illusions that his evasions are a form of liberation and empowerment for those at the margins--the criminal, the student, gays , lesbians, transgendered, the perennially non white, we finally have a poetics that finds glory in things falling apart while the privileged reap their final profits. Their prescription for the population was what neocons wish for the voters;go back to sleep.


 This encourages apathy in the pursuit of truth, I think, and in fact reinforces such paranoid mind sets which need to witlessly demonize whole sections of a society's citizenry as "other" and "evil". Racism and homophobia are allowed to thrive in the absence of the ability to make a principled statement, to have a debate, to reach a consensus about what constitutes an idea of right and

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


album review
DYNAMITE  BOUQUET - Guy  Grogan
Guy Grogan is an established presence on the alt-rock terrain, someone who confesses his sins without fashioning a persona of being either saint or sinner. For all the hurt , malice, lurid joy and occasional bits of humanity and kindness this fellow chooses to write songs about with his hook-driven genius, Grogan is the common guy, the every man, the guy in the bar you see at the daily happy hour, or the dude you espy daily at the bus stop at the same time each instance, going somewhere, with things to do. His music conveys the stories of a regular Joe with tunes that are simple but melodic, guitars that rock but don’t bludgeon , lyrics that let it all hang out without creating ear ache .”My Own Way Out”, a medium rocker from his new album Dynamite Bouqet, commences with a killer power chords , is the testament of man giving voice to a feeling that he’s trapped in a conspiracy he is only vaguely aware of:

hey you come down from there when you feel like you’ve made despair come true sometimes I don’t much care for me sometimes I decide to leave me be

There pronouns change, from “you” to “I”, and there is the mystery of who Grogan’s is talking about; I’m in favor of thinking that he keeps his practice to everyday speech and uses the altering references as interchangeable ways of the narrator talking about himself. It feels natural, it feels un-strained , confused but not cluttered, startling in its brevity. With a voice residing somewhere between the nasal croon of Elvis Costello and the soulful braying of Tom Petty, his tunes are not guitar bashes alone, revealed in “River Like a Cry”, a ballad surmising the end of an affair that has gone deep to the bone, the moment of realization that any chance of reconciliation is passed , that all that remains for the parting couple is to
let it go with the river let it go like a cry you tell me when we will wither i tell you when we will die.

This does approach the bitter sweet pleasures Costello composes , but where Costello lyrically extends beyond his established talent at poeticizing miserable experiences and giving listeners a collision of competing metaphors and similes(some brilliant , some not so good), Grogan’s spare evocations make the telling more vivid, more heart felt, and there is the feeling this serves to create the underlying idea that life goes on, one pushes on , one is not done experiencing the joy and heartache that is their birthright.
An intriguing songsmith , Grogan is provides an album’s worth of tunes in a variety of styles that sweetly and succinctly reveals his weaknesses and strengths and the hard won humor a songwriter who remains in the trenches with the rest of us. Dynamite Bouquet stands a part from most others in the genre that is full of song writers who make their music unlistenable, in large measure, by theatricality they bring to their emotions. Grogan is more in the Hemingway school, a man with the knack for the terse summation, the toughness of getting on with it. The feelings go deep and still life goes on and still Guy Grogan continues to rock it as hard as he needs to. He makes his  awkward  phrasing and his mulling equivication over emotional hot    buttons whose loathsome pangs    don't abate into something endearing; this is the unique combination of a songwriter who tersely combines a world view of permanent ambivalence with  a guitar rock that contrarily makes you feel that he'll  get over his agonies and conundrums stronger but wiser. Waiting for that too happen has often enough a sore point with artists   who begin intriguingly as poets of post -college  emotional shapelessness but, over time, evidence arrested development themetically as they grow  older and release. 
For the time being, Groder's situation lures you  in     because of the compelling grind of his brand of guitar            roc. Will he age into a new Neil Young, who has used his advance   age to bring out a subtler world view  while still producing some of the grungiest electric guitar of this and the last century,  or will Grogan be the newest 60 year old teenager still  moping about lost love  decades after it happened? Stay tuned, and in the mean time enjoy this spikey set of condensed , 4/4 mood pieces.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pause for the Cause of Writing Something that is Greater than What Your Ego Imagines


Imitating pretentious writers makes you, in turn, pretentious. The added negative quality is that you sound like a ranting fool. That was the case today when I happened across a post on Medium from a fellow who insisted that , more or less, that one must emulate the habits of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady and never stop!  This would-be Beat is one of those scribblers who has the idea that one can create (and sustain) beauty with speed, sheer acceleration. Below is my response to him, less an effort to change his mind than it is an effort to allow air into the room. All that rapid perception can make things funky. This scribe, I should note, responded to a lengthy   anti- Kerouac diatribe I posted. Diatribe it was, but I made an actual argument against the turning of JK into a paragon of anything concerning real literature. Our fellow here responded with this non-response "u mad bro?" So yes, I was a little irritated. 



Well, you have to stop sometimes so you can appreciate what the senses have given you as you go your way through the world . You have to stop in order to write about the need to pursue the seductive logic of never stopping . But you have to stop before you go forward, as the brain absorbs only so much ; you stop , you breathe, you think, you connect what has happened recently with the narrative of a life already recorded.

This engages you with the world, truly, this is where the poetry comes from, not gushing hot lava adjectives and verbs while writing that the world is made more real by moving forward, with out apology, without pause or reflection, following the string where ever it leads. But this is not poetry and it is not lyricism. 

The writer in those times they stop agitating the gravel and take pause to reflect, meditate, consider the thingness of the world they’ve blazed through a little too quickly, there arises the sense that one forgets that they are a writer, the self-appointed priest of making things happen on the fly; the writing becomes about the world , the people, the places, the things that occupy the same space as you, the same patch of land your visiting.

 It becomes less about the writer, the seeker of knowledge attempting to gain knowledge through velocity , the impatient explorer more concerned with inflaming their senses rather than being genuinely curious about and teachable within the world. You have to stop , take a breath, create a language, a poetry, a prose style that convinces the reader that they’ve actually encountered something extraordinary in their travels through hill and dale, river and inlet, village and burg, that they’ve actually learned something they didn’t know before. Otherwise , I believe, nothing is revealed because nothing was learned and, despite all manner of ranting and such protests defending one’s unique view, that view is forgotten and another opportunity is lost to move a reader in ways you might not have expected.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The return of muscle tone

album review:
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON -Robert Nix 
There was a time when it seemed that every other single musician and band coming over the radio and over the transom had pretty much scuttled guitars as the centerpiece of pop music , preferring cascading and eliding keyboards, pianos and synthesizers both, as the preferred means to make listeners that music was no longer about Chuck Berry or Bachman Turner Overdrive. Welcome to the mid seventies, when matters of melody became serious, grandiose, bands like Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Kansas and even the power trio likes of Rush committing their resources to tricky time signatures,abrupt changes of tone and style, obligatory faux-orchestral atmospherics courtesy of the Moog and mini Moog synthesizers, and certainly, a surfeit of excessively earnest lyrics obsessed with sci fi themes or else wallowing in the shallow end of the pool of deep thought. Pretentious in other words. Not that pleasures were absent, though, as I had my share of record review rants proclaiming that rock and roll had grown up,matured, had become a “legitimate” art form, ready for the concert hall and the canon.

Nothing stings like 20–20 hindsight, of course, and let us say that the music of many an art rocker had not traveled well into the 21st century, sunk by their own pretensions and, most damningly, by producing music that was all parts with no sum to add up to. Save for Zappa , King Crimson, and the blessedly wonderful song-emphasis of Peter Gabriel era Genesis, so much of the era’s classically -slanted music was a disorganized , bloated mess, all arrangements and no music you’d care to pay attention to.

Robert Nix,  a multi-instrumentalist and composer besides, isn’t about to let the genre fade into pop music history with a reputation for grand-scale naivete . He brings impressive musical muscle, which is to say musical ideas to his new album Once in a Blue Moon ; Nix as composer has a superb grasp of the dissonant, the quarter phrase, the angular progression, the means where melody approaches the atonal to emphasize a lyrics message or mood, dense chords from guitars and a crucially compact compression of keyboard textures to heighten the mood of the lyrical ruminations. There is a sense of disruption in Nix’s music, the pacing is tricky and sufficiently abstracted, but there is a strong evidence here that the artist has studied contemporary theatrical musicals along the lines of Sweeney Todd ; Nix is not thematic , or as thematic, as the narratives that make their way to the proscenium , as his songs are stand-alone testimonials, but there is form and integration in his outlay, where his vocals, a bit thin and reedy but effectively talk -sung and multi-tracked, clash and reconcile with the contraction and release of the ever-active arrangements. The album moves forward, the music spirals, recoils and continually renews itself.



There is no lack of buzzing activity , there is not a moment when you get a sense of the composer offering up a bit of gussied up mood music so he might have a seat and congratulate himself for being serious. Nix keeps it hopping, as in a masterfully calculated track “I Will Not Go With The Flow”;cooly detached one moment that then evolves to matters suggesting a musical variation of cubism, a kind of sound that seems to unfold and reshape itself so the many sorts of nuances and attitudes of the tunes are exposed simultaneously, a personality arguing with itself.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sometimes crazy is merely crazy

Too many books are called "unfilmable" as matter of habit; each of us , I bet , can offer an example of a novel that" could not be adapted" that found a splendid movie interpreter. "An American Dream", though, is one of those books that truly does not lend itself well to what we regard as good moving making source material. This version was so redacted as to be something resembling an Saturday Night Live sketch rather than a vision of one's breakdown and journey into the psychic wilds. 

AAD was Mailer's best use of both his influences from Lawrence and his unique ideas about religious existentialism. It was a brooding, baroque and sensationalistic embrace of the irrational, the madness poet Allan Ginsberg declared that we must not hide , the intensely focused idea that the impulses beyond the Norm can actually deliver us, individually and collectively from a greater insanity that erodes our humanity, and worse, our masculinity  by the repuslive inch. Crackpot theories of all sorts proposing extreme and unsubstantiated cures for the ailing psyche were resonating in Mailer's mind at the time he took on the endeavour to write An American Dream on deadline, a chapter a month for Esquire magazine , the goal being to write quickly for equally quick cash. Mailer took the challenge , and never looked back, the result being what would be an utterly ridiculous novel saved only by the sublime and frenetic flights of language the author's fevered pace produced as each deadlined reared. It isn't surprising that Mailer had a few of his own, a spikey concoction taken from Marx, Wilhem Reich, Lawrence.It was a crime novel, a novel of metaphysical mulling, a tale of a spiritual quest, a black comedy, a confession, a serial about the dysfunctions of the wealthy.  The things that irritated readers in the novel--murder, sodomy, a battle with a black musician with a definite hoodlum style--are nonetheless presented with the frenetic brilliance of Mailer's prose, a rushing stream of continuous simile , metaphor and allegory of a man in the throes of a breakdown that leaves a good amount of wreckage in his wake while he pursues the impulse to learn how to be brave and to love genuinely by extraordinary measures. 

The film, the skeletal and deadpan rendition of the admittedly lurid plot, gets precisely none of Mailer's tone,nuance or inclination. This was Mailer's testing his theories about violence and transformation from "The White Negro" and what it revealed to Mailer, I believe , was that the kind of spiritual transformation through an embrace of a anti-social and psychotic definition of "courage" were results Mailer didn't expect, which caused Mailer to re-think his notions about the curative properties of his imagined road to genuine masculinity. It seems to me that the gulf between Saint and Psychotic was larger than he first thought, that the psychotic is in a state in which they remain psychotic and become to a threat to themselves and the communities in which they live. 

Do the pure products of America go insane, as WC Williams has remarked? In any event, his next novel, "Why Are We in Vietnam", a cannily refurbished telling of Faulkner's short tale "The Bear", puts too men in the woods hunting pray with far too much fire power and reveals characters trying to make nature bow to their will and weapons, with a narrator, DJ, telling the tale in a surreal mix of idioms--disc jockey, black hipster, southern baptist preacher, literary scholar--ranting on about God and men and penises and caca with no direct connection to anything outside nature , if only to insist in a diffuse ramble that all returns to earth as waste. And the question in the title is answered only on the last page, but with no direct answer but this ."Hot damn! Vietnam". Do the pure products of America go insane? Mailer gave an answer through his imagining his notions of achieving masculinity through blood rites: as pure American products, we were in Vietnam because we had to be. We end up being the things we choose to become, with results that run afoul of our ideas of resulting benefits.