Three conversations with god: first

At dinner, casually, god said: I came across another one today.
What?
On campus. This scrubby bush, with pods like lima beans. It’s a pine tree, they say.
Michael, don’t start.
For chrissake, it’s nothing like a pine tree. It’s only because they used to make kerosene from the beans.
Turpentine, you mean. Kerosene is made from petroleum.
That doesn’t make it a pine tree.

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A writer’s education

A writer’s education

A trip though the online discussion groups which have threads involving advice to aspiring writers is revealing: a great many haven’t a clue how to go about writing a story or a novel. Mostly a novel — it’s the prestige form. Writers want to see their book on the bookstore shelves, or in Amazon. Never mind that the novel is the most difficult form of fiction to do.

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Obsolescence

Quite a few years ago, maybe 1995, I wrote a science fiction novel of a rather ordinary sort about some astronomers who were part of a generations-long project to send a probe to a nearby solar system which had a planet it was thought probable would support human life.

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The new Mysteries of Paris

Mirable dictu, a new translation of Eugène Sue’s Mystères de Paris has been published after 171 years. It is difficult to believe, considering the book’s unprecedented popularity, that it fell so rapidly and thoroughly out of English-speaking readers’ consciousness lets us know that the late 20th century practice of the blockbuster is not as new as we think it is.

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Paul and Theo: children’s literature now and how it was

My friend Paul Mosier writes super children’s books. Well, not children, exactly…

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The Vanilla Library, with a glance at Chris Kraus

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I Love Dick. Semiotext(e), 1997: Chris Kraus and the vanilla library
In an article by Elaine Blair in a recent issue of the New Yorker (11/21/16 p42-47) “A Female Anti-Hero” she notes that Kraus’s novel sold 100 copies a year until it first attracted any real notice in 2006. … the writer’s business is not to find her audience but to make it. The author who strives only to put another can of beans on the shelf … [read more]

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Among the Natives

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You can turn off the background music with the button in the upper right corner. One button is the Chinese character for chi, breath or life. The other is a crushed chi.

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Burying the sun

default

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You can turn off the background music with the button in the upper right corner. One button is the Chinese character for chi, breath or life. The other is a crushed chi.

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Old, eccentric, tuo zio

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The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
is thought to be by Franceso Colonna, is considered one of the most beautiful books ever published, and also the most bizarre and inscrutable. It is an astounding example of bravura typography only half a century after Gutenberg, the work of Aldus Manutius in Venice in December 1499. (Manutius is also the inventor of Italic type.) Intended for Quattrocento aristocrats, it also draws from a humanist tradition of arcane writings. The text is written in a bizarre Latinate Italian full of mysterious invented words based on Latin and Greek roots. The illustrations include Arabic and Hebrew words, and the author invented new languages when the ones available to him were inadequate. The story, set in 1467, consists mostly of precious and elaborate dreams within dreams of courtly love.

Helen Barolini has written informatively about it in Aldus and His Dream Book (Italica Press, 2011) and has herself written an interesting collection of stories entitled More Italian Hours (Bordighera, 2001), poetry, essays, and a book on courtly love.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: “The Strife of Love in a Dream”
More Italian Hours & Other Stories

 hypnerotomachia

This is, I will suggest, the first artists book. Of course, virtually every manuscript book before it might count — books of hours, the Lindisfarne Bible — and perhaps Gutenberg’s own Bible. But I ask you to notice the difference, indeed the chasm, between the work of Aldus and Colonna and what we now call by the name of artist’s book. I ask you to notice the ambition of this book and compare it to the nakedly capitalist livre d’artiste.

 Hypnerotomachia

 Hypnerotomachia

I ask you notice the little art of our times — the starved and etiolated writing of Raymond Carver (compare that other minimalist Hemingway), the meager efforts of new MFAs constrained by foolish and timid injunctions to “write what you know” and “show, don’t tell” as if we were all in kindergarten and had been on summer vacation to the next village. I ask you to notice the imitative and derivative bricolage of our theatre and ask you to compare it to O’Neill or Ionesco. I ask you —
Nertz. Get thee to a monastery, and meditate on these things.
But wait. Without attempting to make a special case for Aldus’s book, what is the status now of the values it embodies? I’ve been re-reading Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! What strikes me is how much my own writing owes to Faulkner, and how often my writing has been disapproved of for that very reason. This is not your Elmore Leonard “Ten Rules for Writing” stuff. This a taste for elaborate expression, words and wordplay, for their own sake. This is not Walter Gropius, this is Antoni Gaudi. This is the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
There’s another issue. So many people want to write these days — well, perhaps they always have, but with the advent of e-books and self-publishing, now they do. And they do it before they have learned anything of the basic craft of writing. Yet they all want to begin with a novel, the hardest and most complex fictional medium. It’s as if someone who did know how to hammer a nail were t set out to build a mansion. As if someone were to pick up a book of Dickenson’s poetry and say “Heck, this doesn’t look so hard.” Or, as so many people did say in the early days of Abstract Expressionism — “My kid could do that.”
And perhaps those are more common ideas than we might think. The underlying and controlling assumption in so many wannabe authors is that writing is easy. Anyone can do it. And they expect to teach themselves how to write in their spare time. I have to ask, what did they do to do the job by which they get their living? Some years getting an education and then an MBA, perhaps? An apprentice period, and then time working their way up the employment ladder in order to have enough free time to even consider writing something? And — and here we get to the mud — what have they read? Elmore Leonard? Maybe a little Hemingway (who is way harder and more complex than he looks). Fifty Shades of Gray? The da Vinci Code?
Faulkner? I don’t think so. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili I don’t think so.
Come aaahn. I’ll save the jeremiad for later. Live a little.

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Is noir hardboiled?

+Trash

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Last week I was provoked by political and social developments to write something of my feelings and this blog was my best opportunity, so I added some remarks at the top of an already published post, and apologized for its being so little, but it was what I could do to stand up for the values I have lived by and which are now threatened. I will continue to add these notes to already planned and written posts, which may still be of some interest.

General and President Ulysses S Grant

When Lincoln finally found Grant one of the things he said about him was “I like him. He fights.” Previous generals had waffled and prevaricated. Grant knew what this war was and what was expected of him. The loss of life was appalling. So far you may think I speak in the name of Trump, his supporters, and the legitimately aggrieved of our country. I do not. Why I do not is as much or more to do with what happened after. At Appomattox, Lee and his army were treated with dignity and humanity. They were allowed to go home without reprisals. They were allowed to keep their ceremonial weapons and such of their others as they might need to feed their families in the future. Lee himself was treated with quiet retrospect.
As a president, Grant was the last to defend Lincoln’s reconstruction policies which might have healed the wounds and the gap between the modernist industrial north and the agrarian traditional south and gone some way to lease us a rational rational policy which might have done much to relieve our present vicious hostility to Blacks, Muslims, Latinos, and others whose rights and very lives we put at naught.
It was not to be, We were left to the mercy of greed, corruption, naked self-interest, and the worst ravages of market capitalism. And the Ku Klux Klan and the horrors of violence and evil. It is important to remember that Grant was a humble person. He slept in his clothes. He wore few symbols of his authority.
I am no historian. People better than I will dispute with me. But look at what we face now. That may be what we deserve, but who does it benefit? I’m too old to have much at stake except my life, what little there is of it, and my livelihood, both of which were to go to benefit not me but my — no, our — children and theirs. It is they for whom I weep.

You can turn off the background music with the button in the upper right corner. One button is the Chinese character for chi, breath or life. The other is a crushed chi.

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