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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JUNE 2006

June 29,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

If you listened closely, you could hear the sound of planes in the sky. French or enemy? No one knew. "Faster, faster," said Monsieur Péricand. But then they would realise they’d forgotten the box of lace, or the ironing board. It was impossible to make the servants listen to reason. They were trembling with fear. Even though they wanted to leave too, their need to follow a routine was stronger than their terror; and they insisted on doing everything exactly as they had always done when getting ready to go to the countryside for the summer holidays. The trunks had to be packed in the usual way, with everything in its correct place. They hadn’t understood the reality of the situation. They were living two different moments, you might say, half in the present and half deep in the past, as if what was happening could only seep into a small part of their consciousnesses, the most superficial part, leaving all the deeper regions peacefully asleep.

--Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

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June 28,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Transamerican Quarterly, with which some of you are familiar, is an excellent magazine, I believe, though reading it gives me a headache. I don’t think I ever read it through . . . . The magazine gives you a general frontal headache, a dull glow of a headache that can’t be concentrated upon and so can’t be shaken, as you think, Just what is the New Radicalism?, after you’ve read fifteen smudgily printed pages. And what is "Action Theater," after all? ("’Action Theater’ tears away the walls of the bourgeoisie and destroys totally the idea of Theater; it is the only art from that will ultimately bring about the long-awaited synthesis of ethics and aesthetics . . .") Pieces on "Soviet Economic Growth" and "China: The Sound of Tomorrow," de rigueur and harmless enough; also, "An Open Letter to Our Young Friends of the New Left." Lyric reviews: "This young poet has vitality, wit, paradox, firm technical control—and yet—and yet curiously enough his poems do not succeed . . ." "It has become increasingly difficult for me to take American art seriously . . ." And on and on, uh-huh. The stories are all experimental . . . and you’ve all read the poetry:

stroking her hair, singing

the Teevee goes on, I weep

Oh, she is sleeping!

. . . I read late and reconcile

Abraham Lincoln, the Talmud, and God.

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

[N.B.: JCO is now regarded as some kind of gothic misanthrope, but, way back in the misty past, when her 100-odd books were just a gleam in her gimlet eye, she was a first-rate satirist (Franzen, quit slouching, sit up, and take notes). What happened? I dunno. But her early work is a wonderful revelation. I love, love, love JCO. Her witty bit of prosaic poesy reminds me that we have not checked in for a while at the Norman Mailer Bad Poets Corner. Here’s a snippet of the lead poem from the June 2006 issue of Poetry magazine (which, currently, is undergoing a robust revival and should be subscribed to) by Mary Kinzie:

The scene feels a little like a Bunuel film

or a Fellini

                                  the same

crowd going to all the dives and waysides

with all the attendant rustle

                                 getting in and out of vehicles

taking their seats obtaining refreshment I think

I’ll have a cassis with vermouth says Gary Snyder

That’s always the sign of good sarcasm—it limns the rotten core of human nature which never changes even though the surface is ever plastic, ever malleable.]

 

Bucket O’ Beckett

Every once in a while I come across an article in a review that actually alerts me to a book that I had no idea had been published—as opposed to providing a lukewarm review of a book that had been published months and months ago but is by some esteemed old guy whose feelings should not be trenched upon and so some poor schmo must produce a poison-pen paean. An example of the latter can be found in the current issue of The New York Review of Books which features a sad performance by one Jonathan Raban who spends the vast majority of his space praising John Updike’s latest travesty, Terrorist: "My, my look at that glittering prose on the curb; and those insightful descriptions of clothes, how perspicacious; oh, and don’t forget that unmatched ability to create a sense of place, but, wait, what’s this right in the middle of the path . . . oh dear . . . ‘Terrorist does so many things so well—is rich in scenes, or at least sights, of arresting brilliance, and sucks the reader into a gripping and suspenseful story—that it may seem churlish to harp on the one thing it does badly, which is to imaginatively comprehend the roots and character of Islamist jihad against the West. Because Updike shrinks from giving any real credence to the ideology that drives his plot (in both sense of that word), the book becomes a temporarily enthralling, but ultimately empty shaggy dog story.’"  And that is how the review ends.  That’s also how the reviewer ends as a good writer himself.  As I have noted before, there are a number of pitfalls for the writer who engages in journalism, as brilliantly limned by Cyril Connolly in his Enemies of Promise (woefully out of print, of course—ain’t it great to live in the era of copyright tyranny?).  A particularly deep pit with sharpened bamboo spikes at the bottom is to undertake the task of reviewer where one is asked to review a book by a well-respected elder writer who has, alas, turned out a stinker (or, in Updike’s case, an unending stream of stinkers).  What is the budding writer to do? He does what Raban did: write a long, generally glowing review but save for the end the revelation that the book is a failure.  Thanks for wasting my time, Raban. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.

But let’s move on to the much happier higher ground of the former case alluded to above—a wonderful book (or, in this case, set of books) that I didn’t otherwise know about. That would be the Grove Press’s sumptuous four-volume hardback set of Beckett as edited by Paul Auster. Just go here and drool. Thank you Tim Parks for your pointer in the NYRB bringing it to my attention. The review itself is also well worth checking out—and Tim Parks is a good writer in his own right, too (one rarely falls into a pit by reviewing the work of the revered but safely dead—as opposed to the revered but living dead).

Oh, there’s also a fine review (an introduction to an NYRB-published book, actually) by Joan Acocella about Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity.  I’ve been posting on Zweig for a few months now and am more than happy to move over and make room for others who admire this forgotten author.  Toodles.

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June 27,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

There are many opinions concerning abortion. The old-fashioned religious belief was that it was a crime, and it is still a crime in many states. However, if we look at the situation objectively and scientifically, it is clear that a couple, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, may make the decision themselves about what to do. I personally believe that marriage in such circumstances is a poor solution. For one thing, it would cut down severely on your youthful experiences in the world, to be married in your teens. Think of the fun you’d miss out on, the dates and dances! And it suggests that sex is something very, very serious and not just a normal part of life, something to enjoy . . .

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

[N.B.: I thought this observation from the pontifical Dr. Muggeridge, who is giving a sex-ed lecture in a high-school auditorium (this character, by the bye, is probably a satirical send-up of the then well-known British talk-show personality, Malcolm Muggeridge), made for an interesting cultural artifact given that these remarks preceded Roe v. Wade by half a decade or so.]

 

The Passing of a Legend: A Tribute to John Trimble

I reckon you young whipper-snappers ain’t heard tell of John Trimble, eh? Well, it won’t bother him none. He tweren’t one to hog up the air and poke his nose into other folks’s bidness. He was mighty low to the ground, thatun. But why don’t ya’ll pull up a chair here and listen to your pappy tell ya’s about this here Big John Trimble. Huh? You’ve got squirrel huntin’ to do? Well, at least jump on over here  and read up on this nice interview with John Trimble who taught the legendary Expository English course at the University of Texas for nigh on 30 years and wrote just the best darn little book on writing style out there, Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. Some folks must have thought something of it since its been reprinted 32 times, a record for its publisher, Prentice Hall. But don’t take my word for it; go on and do your squirrel huntin’; not like they ain’t goin’ to be around as long as there’s a bunch of nuts willin’ to run after them.

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June 21,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

Expensive People is nevertheless valuable as a fabulous excursion into the realm of the orally obsessed. Food abounds in this memoir. Sex is metamorphosed into the more immediate, more salivating form of food, so that it can be taken legally and morally through the mouth. But, as if to deny this surreptitious gratification, the novel is also filled with vomit. Those of us who have read Freud (I have read every book, essay, and scrap of paper written by Freud) will recognize easily the familiar domestic triangle here, of a son’s homosexual and incestuous love for his father disguised by a humdrum Oedipal attachment to his mother. Author Everett, obviously an amateur, failed to make the best use of his oral theme by his crudity of material. He should have had the crazy young hero gobble down hotdogs, ice-cream cones, ladyfingers, all-day suckers. Instead, Everett doesn’t bother specifying the food imagery. It is this lack of skill that sets him apart from Nabokov, whose every sentence is calculated, whose every image calls up at once from the deepest reservoirs of our souls Freudian responses of the sort that make Great Literature.

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

[N.B.: It is fashionable of late to denounce the great 20th-century fraud of Freudianism, but here’s JCO in 1968 making mock of it. Certainly, we so-called enlightened folk may look back on Freudianism as we would at Marxism and dismiss it as a curiously quaint 20th-century system of intellectual quackery (although both had their roots in the 19th-century, the chickens didn’t come home to roost, so to speak, until the 20th). One reason, of course, that Freudianism existed so long was that it spawned a lucrative profession, psychoanalysis, which had a vested interest in its perpetuation. Marxism fell faster because no one, other than a few grotty, tenured professors, actually made his living from its teaching. Although Marxism claimed to be a champion of the proletariat, it never caught on in the United States, unlike Freudianism which did seep down into the sump of our culture. Just think of those last, interminable ten minutes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho where we our subjected to a mini-lecture on Freudian motivation. Yes, we just flip off the movie at that point today. But I think an interesting book could be written about how, at least in the United States, this popularization of Freudianism had a profound effect on the average person’s worldview, particularly during the height of the Cold War in the ‘50s and ‘60s. ]

 

The Paragon of Modern Int-Lit: The Corrections

First, a confession: I sometimes listen to books in my car which I suspect of not being particularly worth my while to actually sit down and read (in other words, the books I’m about to comment on below I was already predisposed to dislike; mea culpa). A couple of months ago I got about half-way through listening to Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, a truly dreadful book apparently written for twelve-year-old aficionados of zombie movies who feel they are not receiving enough blood and gore as part of their daily entertainment diet but find comic books too much of a challenge in terms of sophisticated plot and character development. I’m now listening to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections which, I can honestly report, exceeds this standard and, at least in heavy traffic, makes for bearable listening.

As one might remember—or perhaps not, since the daisies in the field have a longer lifespan than last year’s hot novel, not to mention one published in the misty past of 2001—Franzen’s The Corrections was a runaway bestseller (for all I know, it may have sold more copies than Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary) that was almost garlanded with the greatest literary recognition possible in today’s age: a designation as an Oprah-book-club selection. But then a curious thing happened: Franzen protested that his book was not such middle-brow fodder. His book was smart and snappy. It had brains, by gum. In short, it was intellectual. Oprah, rightfully so, withdrew her proffered title and left Franzen to sulk in his monk’s mantle of pretentious moral righteousness.

Why was Oprah correct in having withdrawn her favor? Because The Corrections is not a suitable book for her club or her program—indeed, when read with just a modicum of engagement, it is clearly an insult to the folks who watch her show. The book is one long, sustained attack on modern bourgeois mores, in other words, just as Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary is an update on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Corrections is an update of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, but with the crucial difference that there is no lovely Emma Bovary doppelganger. Instead, we are treated to the vicious vicissitudes of the Lambert family, all of whom are one-dimensional cardboard villains who are deeply unlikable and lacking in any redeeming moral or intellectual qualities. They are, instead, modern caricatures of Mencken’s boob-oisie. And as such, they are tedious and dull. Further, the so-called background details that could have differentiated the characters and may have livened up the story have been neglected, resulting in a lazy sameness where a railroad engineer is the same as a corporate raider is the same as a college professor is the same as a banker is the same as an Eastern European political party leader is the same as ad nauseum. Unlike Flaubert, who at least went to some lengths to learn about surgery, as mal-practiced by Emma’s husband, Charles, on the club foot of a local yeoman, Franzen doesn’t even bother to learn the details of any the professions supposedly engaged in by his characters. For example, Denise, the daughter, is an executive chef at a trendy restaurant, but the details of her profession, which could have provided some welcome relief, at least on a minor, Tom-Wolfean technical level, from the unremitting sarcasm that Franzen otherwise insufferably indulges in, are left as fuzzy and indistinct as the fabulous recipes she apparently whips up at the drop of a sous-chef. But this laziness does not extend to the mere grit and grime of how some poor schlub of a character earns his grubby living day to day. Nope, Franzen encompasses a whole country in his laissez-faire literary lackadaisicalness. He sets a good chunk of the novel in Lithuania, which he clearly did not bother to learn anything about and figgered we were just as lazy as not to notice.

So why is The Corrections Int-Lit? Because it pushes all the hot buttons that make intellectuals squirm in waves of warm, wonderful wavishment. For example, there’s the scene of the greedy corporate suits pitching their worthless quack pills to a gullible investor public. Continuing this shop-worn theme of corporate greed, the entire country of Lithuania is treated as the latest corporate takeover target. And then hilarious hijinx ensue! I suppose latte-licking intellectuals find this sort of sophomoric humor funny—right up there with the antics of Jerry Lewis. But, trust me on this, for everyone else it’s just tedious. This recitation, however, in almost every tedious detail, of the co-op cocktail-partier creed represents the true brilliance of Franzen and his work. Examples like the ones just cited abound in the hundreds. In this very narrow respect, the work is truly first rate. Ironically (that one note that Franzen beats out on his keyboard until his fists turn bloody), that one outstanding quality, is what reveals Franzen for the niche he fills in modern literatue: He is not the new Waugh—just the old intellectual wah-wah.

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June 20,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

The whole point of the doomed child is his legendary quality: exemplary of the American confusion between orders of being, of our perpetual conversion of sexuality into one kind of art and the consequent depletion of the sexual by being turned into emblem and shady metaphor. This entire problem was taken up only two months ago by the "Faintest Idea" troupe, who are running an amateur living theater in San Francisco, and their insistence upon definite ritualistic analogues and socio-emblematic drama have, in my opinion at least, cleared up this issue once and for all. Their shattering play, Genghis Proust, which takes place on a pitch-black stage, has been reviewed at length earlier in The New Republic, and I need say no more about it except to underscore my feeling that only at such points of moral infinity can this new energy find its proper mode in the creation of revolutionary substance. Expensive People, traditional as Charles Dickens, is therefore an irrelevant exercise. . . .

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

 

Int-Lit

First we had Chick-Lit, then Lad-Lit and now, as far as I know, Nit-Lit, but there is one form of genre literature that dare not speak its name: Int-Lit. What is Int-Lit? Before we tackle that weighty question, it would help perhaps to take a survey of the ground regarding these plebian literary forms. Let’s start with the most venerable, Chick-Lit.

Chick-Lit self-consciously wears its foibles on its Givenchy sleeve, with matching Manolo Blahnik pumps, no less. Jane Austen, although failing the cardinal rule of not peppering her prose with high-toned product endorsements (Count Cagliostro Corsets anyone? anyone?) is honored as the genre’s progenitor. Indeed, her Pride and Prejudice takes pride of place. What is so special about her Elizabeth Bentley, the star of Pride and Prejudice? She is the very model or the modern major Chick-Lit heroine, as confirmed by her doppelganger retread in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. Certainly, I would not wish to suggest that Jane Austen is some kind of 19th-century backwater bimbo. She is at the very pinnacle of literary greatness. But her bare-bones model—attractive, relatively wealthy young people fall in and out of like and love in a variety of amusing situations ending with a happily-ever-after marriage for everybody, all told from the slightly arch viewpoint of the omniscient narrator—has proven to be a 200-year-old recipe for a successful and very durable franchise.

The same is true for Int-Lit whose progenitor is none other than Gustave Flaubert and his masterpiece, Madame Bovary. So what is Int-Lit? It’s light reading which appeals to the predilections and prejudices of intellectuals. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, both exemplifies and supercedes the genre it created. His book, as he was wont to explain to all and sundry, is a sustained, vituperous attack against the morals and manners of the bourgeois as exemplified in his heroine, Emma Bovary. But a funny thing happened on the way to the literary scaffold—Flaubert, too, fell victim to Emma’s charms and wound up creating a fully fleshed-out character that is not a mere collection of bourgeois prejudice and viciousness but is also a lovely, delightful woman who evokes the reader’s interest and sympathy. I would argue that it is this basic conflict which has helped to make Madame Bovary not only a well-respected model of literary deportment, a bookish Mr. Turveydrop if you will, but also a well-loved classic, the bibliophile’s Mr. Micawber.

So what got me thinking about Lit-Crit as a genre? Well, I finally have gotten around to listening to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which is a perfect illustration of this light-weight literary category. More about that next time.

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June 19,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

Maybe there are some of you who have, in your homes, dog-eared copies of The Writer with earnest articles that will see you through crises of mental blocks, third-person narration, limerick verse. If so, I should call your attention to these short, cheerfully blocked-out, and fast-moving chapters. Or aren’t they fast-moving? No matter. I have based some of them on an article concerned with "building suspense" and—you see how honest I am—even dull stretches can be used to build suspense if there is the promise of some violence to come.

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

 

A Humble Retraction

After reading the New York Times Book Review cover review yesterday of John Updike’s Terrorist, where Robert Stone defends this trashy khaki-ripper as a "fable," thereby absolving the author of his numerous leaden plot gimmicks, cardboard characters and overall limp textual-dysfunction, I now realize that my own defense of Ian McEwan’s Saturday with its unbelievable plot climax probably should not have been so vociferous. Okay, so maybe there’s no principled defense, not even on the grounds of an atheist’s fairy tale, of trying to justify the recitation of poetry as an effective means to avoid violent rape as occurs in Saturday. But I really, really like Ian McEwan. Well, if you still have a hankering for Islamo-fascist fairy tales or fables, I still heartily recommend McEwan’s.

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June 15,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

And beautiful, heartbreaking, are the chance encounters in a library—that reverent hushed tone, that respectful, resigned seriousness even the most flighty of ladies cannot help—all these are beautiful. For, in front of that very bulletin board a lady in a powder-velvet lavender hat stopped to chat with my Nada, a handsome, ageless woman of forty or so, gloved, nicely shod, friendly. "We would be so very, very honored if you would come to our little meetings sometime," the lady whispered. She indicated the orange poster. "Of course we’re just amateurs but we absolutely love to read. We’re just wild about literature. Especially the very latest things. And the oldest things too, I mean the classical things that will never die out. Do you think you might ever come talk to us about your own creative writing? Please think it over, we’d be so grateful! Next month is my turn to present a talk. I’m in charge of the Italian Renaissance and it’s such a responsibility. I get so frightened standing in front of a group, but the minute I begin I forget all my nervousness . . ."

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

[N.B.: Sure, it’s easy to make fun of suburban mores—and it’s certainly a tired cliché nowadays (although one-hit wonders like Jonathan Franzen, on his latest album, The Corrections, still keeps a beatin’ a mean mambo on those tattered horsehide bongos)—but one excuses JCO who does so with such elan. This description, though, of a library as a place where people who at least have some desire to acquire a faint patina of sophistication will deign to patronize makes me pine for those lost epochal fjords. I still go to the main public library about once a week. Not for books, heaven’s no. I go there to check out DVDs from its huge selection of classic and foreign films. And my concern is more with not meeting the eye of some dusty bum resting up for the night’s boozefest, then making small talk with "a handsome, ageless woman of forty or so, gloved, nicely shod, friendly." Whatever happened to gloves? And men’s hats for that matter? I’m lodging a formal protest with the front desk. ]

 

The New Poet Laureate: Donald Hall

The New York Times has an interesting article about the new poet laureate, Donald Hall, who is well-deserving of the honor. As mentioned in the article, he was married to Jane Kenyon, a great poet in her own right, who died tragically of leukemia in 1995. His most recent writings have concerned their relationship and her last years. I picked up a couple of months ago his latest prose work, The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon.  I look forward to reading it, although I’ve learned, from past experience, not to include something in my "to read" pile because, invariably, when I’m ready for a fresh book, I never find anything in the pile quite as enticing as a lascivious book winking at me from the shelves.

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June 14,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

I hide my hostility toward you, my readers, though I know beforehand that you are glancing through this book as you sit in the bathroom attuned to other activities, or as you wait in someone’s downstairs den for that someone to announce he’s ready, or as you wiggle and waggle around the library Browsing & Drowsing shelf, thinking Expensive People must be a social guidebook to Philadelphia highlife.

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

 

 

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June 12,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

Have I ever mentioned Nada’s total lack of interest in politics, in events, in reality? She never read the newspaper, never listened to the radio. Never. She might have believed that only vulgar people kept track of history, I don’t know. "For me, history is what is in this room, nothing more," she had declared pompously to someone, sometime, within my hearing. She might have believed her brain too finely developed to be overloaded with the trivia of daily reality, daily suffering. Her brain was instead stuffed with books. What was "only real" couldn’t be very important, and I have to confess to feeling this way myself. I have caught her solipsism from her, the way I used to catch colds and flu from her. A contagious woman!

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

 

The Private Library

The business section of the Sunday New York Times, of all places, has a fascinating article about the archaic existence of a few private libraries (apparently, all on the East Coast, natch’). Just looking at the photo of the Boston Athanaeum’s main reading room is enough to induce drools of envy. Who is that nattily dressed and bow-tie bedizened fellow at the table and what book could he be enjoying? Perhaps it’s not so far fetched that this mercantile creature would be featured in the business section—after all, membership fees of around $200 to $300 per year seem to be the going rate for one who wishes to enjoy his or her "velvety silence" in an austere, elegant locale that does not seem to be the main lobby for the bum’s rush express and flop house. Further services include the individual mailing of books to subscribers (who said Netflix had an original business model?) and multiple reading groups. One such library actually has three book groups devoted to Proust! Proust! So, when are the rest of us getting a private lending library? Where’s our donnish Donald Trump? The vulgarity answers itself, unfortunately.

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June 7,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

We swung around and drove back home, seeing for ourselves how handsomely Fernwood emerged out of the anonymous miles of suburban wasteland that lay between it and the city. First you passed by a jumble of motels, gas stations, bowling alleys, discount stores, drive-in restaurants, overpasses, underpasses, viaducts, garished by giant signs of plump-cheeked boys holding hotdogs aloft, and one sign that caught my attention: a very American-looking man holding aloft a can of beer, with a puzzled expression, the caption being, Read a beer can tonight. Do you think I could have made up something so marvelous myself? Never, never! America outdoes all its writers, even its amateur writers!

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

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June 5,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

One thing I want to do, my readers, is to minimize the tension between writer and reader. Yes, there is a tension. You think I am trying to put something over on you, but that isn’t true. It isn’t true. I am honest and dogged and eventually the truth will be told; it will just take time because I want to make sure everything gets in. I realize my sentences are slack and flabby and composed of too many small words—I’ll see if I can’t fix that. And you are impatient because I can’t seem to get started telling this story in any normal way (I don’t mean to be ironic so much, irony is an unpleasant character trait), and you would like to know, whimsically enough, whether I am in a mental institution now or crazy in some less official setting, whether I am repentant (a tongueless monk, maybe), whether much gore will be splattered throughout these pages, many violent encounters between male and female, and whether after these extravaganzas I am justly punished. Just punishment after illicit extravaganzas is usually served up for the benefit of the reader who feels better. But, you see, this is not fiction. This is life. My problem is that I don’t know what I am doing. I lived all this mess but I don’t know what it is. I don’t even know what I mean by "it." I have a story to tell, yes, and no one else could tell it but me, but if I tell it now and not next year it will come out one way, and if I could have forced my fat, heaving body to begin this a year ago it would have been a different story then. And it’s possible that I’m lying without knowing it. Or telling the truth in some weird, symbolic way without knowing it, so only a few psychoanalytic literary critics (there are no more than three thousand) will have access to the truth, what "it" is.

--Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates

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June 4,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

I must say that writing is a very serious matter for me: it is not an amusement or an outlet or a relief.  It is not because I never forget that written words can do a lot of good but also a lot of evil, they can heal as much as kill.  Read History and you'll see that behind every event of Good or Evil is a piece of writing.  A book, an article, a manifesto, a poem, a song.  (A Mameli Hymn, for example.  A Marseillaise,  Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Or a Bible, a Koran, a Das Kapital).  So I never write rapidly, I never cast away: I am a slow writer, a cautious writer.  I'm also an unappeasable writer:  I do not resemble those who are always satisfied with their product as it they urinated ambrosia.  Moreover I have many manias.  I care for the rhythm of the phrase, for the cadence of the page, for the sound of the words: the metrics.  And woe betide the assonances, the rhymes, the unwanted repetitions.  For me the form is important as much as the substance, the content.  It is the recipient inside which the substance rests like wine inside a glass, like flour inside a jar, and managing such symbiosis at times blocks my work.

--The Rage and the Pride by Oriana Fallaci (trans. from the original Italian by Oriana Fallaci)

 

The Re-Birth of the Screed

Dull opinions make for dull writing.  Of course, such opinions may ultimately be the closest to the truth, as one might perceive such matters, even though the writing must be blah, blasé, in short, un-bloggy.  But then, one comes across the likes of Oriana Fallaci who has somehow stepped forth un-singed from the Seventeenth Century.  She is all fire and rage.  Indeed, her first of a trilogy of books (only the first two having been self-translated into her own brand of idiosyncratic English because she quarrels with translators about mangling her meaning--how very firebrand of her), The Rage and the Pride, I just finished reading because a number of court cases have been brought in Europe seeking to have it banned (it's anti-Muslim, in a particularly screed-like, scurrilous and vindictive manner).  Of course, I'm still mired in The Sixties, so just scream, "censorship" in a crowded free-speech house, and I'll come a runnin'.  And here's a coinky-dinky, The New Yorker has a profile of her in the latest issue. I can't say it's favorable, but, given the source, that's a compliment. 

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