Salceda portraitslady L

[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)

Weinrich Tom SeaKing L

[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.

8 thoughts on “ART & THE FREEWAYS”

  1. Much of the best writing about Southern California has long favored a post-apocalypse setting: in addition to Octavia Butler’s powerful Parable fo the Sower, I immediately think of Aldous Huxley’s Ape and Essence and Steve Erickson’s novels. But the darkest, most toughminded predecessor of McCarthy’s The Road is undoubtedly Ward Moore’s ‘Lot’ and ‘Lot’s Daughter’, a single novel published as separate novellas in the fifties. It is a savage indictment of L.A. culture (post-nuclear bourgeois survivalism turns into incest), a counterpoint to his hilarious ‘the lawn that ate L.A.’ novel, ‘Greener than You Think.’ Moore, in my opinion, was a much more talented writer than Fante and a far more interesting (and sympathetic)character than Bukowski. I urge younger readers to track down and discover his work.

    warmest – md

  2. thanks for the info, Mike! great to hear from you.

    while we’re talking apocalpyse – one of my favorite future eco-dystopias is John Brunner’s ‘The Sheep Look Up’ — hysterical but great. if i recall correctly in the opening scene one character makes a dreaded drive to L.A. for work, gas masks for streetwear and pay-water in the office bathrooms.

  3. Not a fan of Parable of the Sower at all- I found the characterization simplistic and the writing poor on a sentence-by-sentence level. Liked the Road but not close to as much as the great McCarthys like Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses.

    As far as post-apocalyptic novels go, I recommend Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson. First paragraph:

    “Here, and also south of us, the beaches have a yellow tint, but along
    the Keys of Florida the sand is like shattered ivory. In the shallows
    the white of it turns the water such an ideal sea-blue that looking at
    it you think you must be dead, and the rice paddies, in some seasons,
    are profoundly emerald. The people who inhabit these colors, thanked
    be the compassion and mercy of Allah, have nothing much to trouble
    them. It’s true that starting a little ways north of them the bodies
    still just go on and on, and the Lord, as foretold, has crushed the
    mountains; but it’s hard to imagine that such things ever went on in
    the same universe that holds up the Keys of Florida. It strains all
    belief to think that these are the places the god Quetzalcoatl, the
    god Bob Marley, the god Jesus, promised to come back to and build
    their kingdoms. On island after island, except for the fields of cane
    popping in the wind, everything seems to be asleep.”

  4. My favorite Mike Davis book is a collection not many people mention, Dead Cities. In terms of literary discussion in that one, I especially like the references to J.G. Ballard (who shouldn’t be left out of any discussion about apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction) and H.G. Wells. To Mike Davis, I like a few of your books.

    And, yes, Steve Erickson has done some fine writing too.

    Jace, thank you for the recommendation of the Octavia Butler book. I haven’t read much of her work, though I’ve meant to. I met her back in 1985, when I was a youngster attending a Clarion West workshop (and she was one of my teachers, for a week). Seemed like a nice person, sad that she died.

  5. Second (or third) Brunner love (The Sheep Look Up is the ONE, although my favorite of his books is probably the magnificient The Squares of the City–a study of South American politics wrapped around the framework of a real life chessgame). Also recommend for LA Apocalypse-fans KW Jeter’s The Glass Hammer (and to a lesser extent Dr Adder.)

  6. I have just finished reading Erickson’s Zeroville, which I really liked, although I was craving some of the dystopian, nocturnal schizo reimaginings of California he usually dishes out. Temporal psychogeography, popular music as the collective unconscious, the willful amnesia of late capitalism, mapping the apocalypse; his L.A. is my favorite fictional American city… I love the almost incidental way he presents these alternate realities, like some nocturnal apocalyptic urban magical realism.

    And Mike: Thank you for collecting “Evil Paradises.” The hallucinatory decadence of postmodern wealth is the most frightening thing I’ve read in a while. “Speer meets Disney on the shore of Araby” Hay, cabrón, que miedo…

  7. I loved parable of the sower, it motivated me to go and read Wild Seed, which is another one by Butler I thought was great (not urban dystopic, it starts in africa during the slaving period with a demon for a protagonist). I don’t agree with the complaints about her writing style, it’s not fireworky or overtly poetic but I felt it fit the task very well. If “the sand is like shattered ivory” is your idea of good writing… You do you and I’ll do me.

  8. this is so funny – our radio show has just shifted formats to completely talking about surviving the coming apocalypse (in whatever form) and we’ve been talking about these books – and compare the road and especially parable to masterson’s novella(?)/short story “i am legend” – also set in LA (and unlike the movie completely) – also consider a comparison with the stand. different ways of imagining what could/will happen – most people dead, with a few survivors, lots of resources but other threats (ie vampire/zombies in i am legend, satan’s imp in the stand) vs lots of people dead, lots of human survivors, no resources and with intense competition for what’s left and extreme threats from fellow humans (the road, parable of the sower).
    everyone has writing styles they don’t like but for me octavia butler is one of the best, and not only her style but also the fact that she centers issues of race gender sexuality etc in her stories and often has powerful female protaganists as opposed to the ad naseum machismo of like stephen king for example. even in the road women are pathetic, and in i am legend either dead b/c they weren’t protected by the man, or out to get the man.

    for intro insight into what to consider for yourself as the collapse of civilization/government/economy/environment approaches, check out “when technology fails”….

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