On Monday November 2 I’ll be participating in the BEST MUSIC WRITING 2009 launch party in New York City – a night of readings hosted by Greil Marcus. It goes down at SoHo’s fantastic Housing Works Cafe, 7pm. Afterparty at Puck Fair around the corner.
Along with yours truly, there’ll be eight other authors from the anthology reading, with a bit of audience Q&A thrown in. I like it when critics get out and speak their words in public.
Monday, November 2, 2009, 7pm
Housing Works Cafe
126 Crosby Street, NY
Free (books to donate highly encouraged)
Greil Marcus, Guest Editor
and 2009 Contributors:
Josh Eells, Charles Talyors, Jace Clayton, Nick Sylvester, Carrie Brownstein, Jody Rosen, Paul Ford, William Hogeland, Jesse Serwer.
Anne Boyer sent a handmade book to an address where I haven’t lived in over two years. It arrived to me, eventually.
excerpt from 20 difficult ways to publish poetry:
18. Monumental Architectures
Join terrorist cell. Encourage terrorist cell to blow up dams/create dams on major waterways. Control the flows of creeks, streams, and rivers so that they sculpt the United States into your poem.
supplies: mock ideological fervor, dynamite, concrete, map.
(alternate strategy: forgo terrorists, enlisting beavers to do the same)
…is the name of a piece of mine recently published in n+1. I mentioned this before – now there’s an excerpt online.
This issue also contains a nice Bolaño poem, yet another anxious-to-crown Bolaño review which leaves you with the impression that the reviweing author hasn’t read anybody else from Latin America except García Márquez and maybe Vargas Llosa (we don’t need more reviews of The One Or Two Big Foreign Authors, we need more translations – of everybody else), and David Harvey discussing the financial crash.
Here’s the beginning. An excerpt of the excerpt. if you’re into it, it’s worth getting the journal, as the piece is long, offline and in full honesty/demystification mode:
I’ve DJed in more than two dozen countries. What I do isn’t remotely popular in any of them.
It’s hard to reach North Cyprus—the Turkish portion of the island that seceded after a war with Greece in 1974—not least because only one country, Turkey, officially recognizes it. Yet there we were, whizzing through arid country past pastel bunker-mansions, the architectural embodiment of militarized paranoia and extreme wealth, en route to an empty four-star hotel. We were going to rest for a day and then play music in the ruins of a crusader castle. It was the year 2000. I was the turntablist for an acid jazz group from New York City. The band didn’t really need a DJ, but it did need someone to signify “hip-hop,” and that was me. There were six of us—our saxophonist leader, Ilhan Irsahim; a singer, Norah Jones, before she was known for anything besides being Ravi Shankar’s daughter; a bassist, a drummer, and a Haitian sampler-player. There were four attendants in the hotel casino, bored behind the gaming tables, and only two other paying guests—British pensioners, holdovers from remembered pre-1974 days when Cyprus was undivided.
I sat beside the pool talking to our host, trying to figure out why we were there. Down the coast, thirty miles away in the haze, a tall cluster of glass-and-steel buildings hugged the shore. “What’s that city?” I asked. It looked like Miami. “Varosha,” she said. Completely evacuated in the 1974 conflict. A ghost town on the dividing line between North and South Cyprus. The only people there were UN patrol units and kids from either side who entered the prohibited zone to live out a J. G. Ballard fantasy of decadent parties in abandoned seaside resorts.
If North Cyprus represented the forgotten side of a fault line of global conflict, how were we getting paid? Who owned those scattered mansions that we saw on the way from the airport? Was our trip bankrolled with narco-dollars, to please the criminals hiding out in an empty landscape, or with Turkish state funding, to win tourists back? I never found out. I bought a laptop with my earnings, quit the band, and moved from New York to Barcelona.
a big shout out to the Mudd Up! commentors who recommended Stanislaw Lem — I finally found time to read him, and the title I’ve begun, A Perfect Vacuum (Amazon|Google Books), is incredible. It’s a collection of reviews of nonexistent books, erudite and extremely funny. (The best bookstore in Barcelona takes its name from one of the books here discussed: Gigamesh.)
As explained in the A Perfect Vacuum’s opening review of A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem (tip of the iceberg, this):
Reviewing nonexistent books is not Lem’s invention; we find such experiments not only in a contemporary writer, Jorge Luis Borges (for example, his “Investigations of the Writings of Herbert Quaine”), but the idea goes further back – even Rabelais was not the first to make use of it. A Perfect Vacuum is unusual in that it purports to be an anthology made up entirely of such critiques. Pedantry or joke, this methodicalness? We suspect the author intends a joke; nor is this impression weakened by the Introduction – long-winded and theoretical – in which we read: “The writing of a novel is a form of the loss of creative liberty. . . . In turn, the reviewing of books is a servitude still less noble. Of the writer one can at least say that he has enslaved himself – by the theme selected. The critic is in a worse position: as the convict is chained to his wheelbarrow, so the reviewer is chained to the work reviewed. The writer loses his freedom in his own book, the critic in another’s.
Gateway – Frederik Pohl. Don’t let the cover fool you.This isn’t a novel about space or brave men doing fancy things, it’s a novel about waiting around in a cramped, miserable future, where people pay enormous amounts to take lethal gambles using technology left behind by a vanished alien intelligence, cryptic technology which starving humanity needs but can’t understand. The protagonist is a man called Robinette Broadhead. Robinette spends much of the novel talking to his robot psychoanalyst, Sigfrid. Each chapter contains clippings from the mediasphere of the time – classified ads, lecture fragments, etc. Ennui and risk, psychoanalysis and artificial intelligence, sex and boredom. (Pohl edited Dhalgren, btw, and his take on sexuality is like Delaney drained of wonderment.)
There’s very little ‘action’ in Gateway; sci-fi tropes get mostly discarded, and there’s no technophilia in sight – the aliens are long-gone and left no trace except for random pieces of weird equipment, the space travel sections are all about how awful it is to spend months in a vehicle the size of a Lower East Side apartment living room with four other people, etc. The sequels probably try to bring in action, which would tip the scales and make this less special…
I was hoping to scan some covers and share impressions of my summer reading – but it’s past Labor Day (Americanized MayDay) so summer is being ushered out. Time to get started!:
Shah of Shahs – Ryszard Kapuscinski. This book – about social upheaval, large-scale repression and its lingering impact, wrong-footed modernity, individual heroics and weaknesses that stitch together society – is almost too beautiful. Every page radiates poetic lucidity, even – especially – as he covers some of the more horrible aspects of Iranian life under the Shah leading up through the subsequent revolution. Kapuscinski’s observations spill into now; I can’t imagine a time when this book will not be relevant.
An excerpt from the introduction:
What’s more, you are never sure who has locked you up, since no identifying marks differentiate the various representatives of violence whom you encounter, no uniforms or caps, no armbands or badges–these are simply armed civilians whose authority must be accepted unquestioningly if you care about your life. After a few days, though, we grow used to them and learn to tell them apart. This distinguished-looking man, in his well-made white shirt and carefully matched tie, walking down the street shouldering a rifle is certainly a militiaman in one of the ministries or central offices. On the other hand, this masked boy (a woolen stocking pulled over his head and holes cut out at eyes and mouth) is a local feyadeen no one’s supposed to know by sight or name. We can’t be sure about these people dressed in green U.S. Army fatigue jackets, rushing by in cars, barrels of guns pointed out the windows. They might be from the militia, but then again they might belong to one of the opposition combat groups (religious fantatics, anarchists, last remnants of Savak) hurrying with suicidal determination to carry out an act of sabotage or revenge.
But finally it’s not fun trying to predict just whose ambush is waiting you, whose trap you’ll fall into. People don’t like surprises, so they barricade themselves in their homes at night. My hotel is also locked (at this hour the sound of gunfire mingles with the creaking of shutters rolling down and the slamming shut of gates and doors). No friends will drop by; nothing like that will happen. I have no one to talk to. I’m sitting along looking through notes and pictures on the table, listening to taped conversations.
ok. more books soon!
[Rocío Rodríguez Salceda, Potrait of a Lady/Potrait of Lady (detail) 2008]
I’m trying to experience more visual art this year. If you’ve seen any outstanding shows currently up in NYC, please let us know… To break the ice:
tomorrow, Tuesday, School of Visual Art’s thesis show @ Visual Arts Gallery, 601 w. 26th, 15th floor. opening reception 6-8pm.
Two talented artists I’ve worked with will be showing, Rocío Rodríguez Salceda (whose painting graced Minesweeper Suite) and Tom Weinrich (whose painting ‘Noon’ will appear on the cover of Uproot)
[Tom Weinrich, Sea King (video still) 2008]
30 min. NYC radio rip over at Dutty Artz.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road made a huge splash in 2007. If you found that novel moving, I strongly recommend Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (written 15 years earlier). I’ll try to find time to write about them together, in depth.
Rather tellingly, and in an entirely different context, after an extended meditation on “The Literary Destruction of Los Angeles” in Ecology of Fear [PDF link of David Harvey’s review], Mike Davis places Butler’s novel (“low-rise dystopia”) against the “strangely anachornistic and suprisingly unprescient” film Blade Runner as the far more accurate “extrapolative map of a future Los Angeles”, using the book as touchstone for the concluding chapters of his book. Davis’ reading of Parable of the Sower downplays the tenacious hope expressed in Octavia Butler’s vision but he, like me, is floored by the stark, vivid plausibility of Parable’s world.