Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This is old news, but I finally got around to reading Jonathan Lethem’s much publicized, debated, lauded and criticized essay on the subject of plagiarism. It seems ludicrous that there is such privilege paid to the idea of originality when so little can be original. And if a seemingly singular voice comes around, chances are its influences are apparent, provided you peel back enough layers.

As many have pointed out, including Lethem, even the Bard was not above synthesizing things he read into his plays. Lethem cites Romeo and Juliet, but the most obvious example I have read is in The Tempest, wherein Willy bites off a big chunk of Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals.”

Like Marquez? Read Faulkner. Like Faulkner? Read Anderson. And so on. Yes, even my most cherished authors could be derivative at times. Arenas certainly studied his moderns, as well as Orwell and Kafka. Bulgakov, it is rumored, lifted some things for his masterwork, The Master and Margarita. And then there’s the whole Winterson by way of Woolf thing. None of this will get me to stop reading these wonderful writers.

The real question is not whether or not a writer or actor or musician is picking up other’s examples and running with them but whether they are doing a good job of it and, one hopes, placing their stamp on the old standby. God knows the Stones and Led Zeppelin copped their sound from American blues men. I’m not even going to talk about Quentin Tarantino. So why do we expect more from writers?

Anyway, Lethem does a better job than I am doing, so without further ado:


Book burning: it’s not just for Nazis anymore


Prospero’s Books is a (putting it kindly) midlevel used bookstore in KC, MO that could never live up its title both as a reference to The Tempest and a Peter Greenaway film। I have been to the dump a few times, never leaving with any satisfying purchases. I found the place poorly set-up, pretentious and stocked with mediocre books and high prices. It is not surprising that the proprietor would conduct himself in this way, considering the guy has no clue how to run a decent bookshop. The biggest problem he has encountered when trying to give away his overstock is that no one wants it. Well, god knows I didn’t want his overpriced mid-grade fiction ($10 for a very used and very worn paperback of Byatt’s Babel Tower? C’mon…) and I certainly didn’t share his fondness for out-of-date books that look decorative and serve no purpose. If anyone ought to be accused of promoting illiteracy its shop owners that make a buck off some bullshit leather bound, poorly translated “classics.” Maybe the problem with giving away overstock is that his store kind of sucks so, naturally, his rejects truly suck. Or that he lives in a town that, while there are some great people there (what up, Xtop and Matty), is not, um, interested in independent bookstores. Or books in general. Probably not… never mind. Forgive my urban snobbery. There are some fine used and new bookshops in KC, just not the one referenced in the attached article.

Anyway, this story would be upsetting if it were any other store burning what I am sure are better books। So let’s all have a read and marvel at the idiocy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Once in a swimsuit and once in evening dress

Though I have not read much of Proust (to my own shame and dismay) I know the general idea behind the staggering series of novels that make up what is titled (depending on who you ask) In Search of Lost Time. Still, being interested in the man lately, and always being interested in Monty Python, I found this page and laughed and laughed again: http://www.tempsperdu.com/summ.html

72 and still terrifying

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Day in the Life

It begins with technological breakdowns—a printer stops working, then the copier—which in today’s modern office results in a dead stop of activity, save for the unrealistic demands from up above. When the call comes from on high and the machines revolt, there’s little more to do than sit and panic.

After staying at the useless office until 7 at night, just before the alarm is about to go off, the sight of an approaching bus is welcome, especially if it is one that will take you steps from your door. Sadly, the bus driver may, at will, decide to stop the route 1.2 miles before your street. The sun is out still and the weather is nice, so you walk it all the way home, only to realize that tomorrow is street cleaning and you are parked on the wrong side. You will get a $50 ticket if you don’t move your car. So you walk to the two blocks, find the car and spend twenty-six minutes looking for parking. Everyone else got home earlier, so there are slim pickings at this point.

The car parked safely, you walk home. The light has dimmed and night has fallen. On the sidewalk in front of your building, two rats fight for a scrap of food some asshole thoughtlessly discarded. You dodge the vermin and make it upstairs, thinking you ought to call your landlord but the last time you did the landlord didn’t do much. Just told you they laid poison in the back where the garbage cans are, poison that undoubtedly drove the rats to the front. You make a note to call the city, though you worry that—considering the breakdown of technology, the transit system and, seemingly, all established systems of order—nothing will get done unless you do it yourself. You think of maybe buying your own rat poison and peppering the ground with it but you realize that you’d also have to make a warning sign to dog walkers and does this constitute taking the law into your own hands?

Finally you pour a bowl of cereal and collapse in bed, no time or energy to study or read or talk to your overly inquisitive roommate. You just stay in bed and watch the shadows dance against the wall and think about how early you’ll have to go into the office and how a little bit more of you slips away each day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sonny Bono vs. Proust

Thanks, DC for hipping me to this Sonny Bono Copyright law that will hinder these United States from getting a freshly translated tail end of Proust’s magnum opus. Read this: http://www.slate.com/id/2114257 for all the skinny on every literary type’s favorite Madeleine eating French writer.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I regret missing this

Sometimes I amuse others as well as myself

Last night, in class, I got a laugh when I made reference to the less than helpful staff of Myopic Books.

“Are they not knowledgeable about books?” I was asked.

They are, I said, but they’re too busy standing behind the counter listening to Bright Eyes or whatever the hell the kids are into these days.

Half start taken too far

The following in more like 4 posts in one, as it strays from topic all too often. Apologies in advance but untangling it would be too much right now, what with the studying to be done and political strife, domestic and abroad, not to mention my empty stomach and need for a cup of tea and the fact that this is a blog and who really gives a shit?

The Rev. Bill Hicks, in one of his many anti-marketing rants, told anyone in his audience who worked in the industry to kill themselves. “Suck a tailpipe, borrow a gun from an N.R.A. buddy…” etc. Marketing, to him, was lowering our cultural stock and making us all dumber, lazier and less tuned in to the greater truths of the world. It’s difficult to disagree, and today I was thinking about the way in which art in particular is marketed. The struggle between artistic purity and making a buck is a difficult one and the results can be interesting, if not a little upsetting.

Recently I have had debates with my roommate about two films I have enjoyed and he has not. Or, he liked them but not nearly as much as I. There’s no accounting for taste I know, but I figured out that the reason he was so disappointed had more to do with marketing than the films’ content.

The movies in question: Pan’s Labyrinth, a wonderful movie, and Hostel, a grisly gem. We saw Hostel, he and I, and his reaction, though amused at the chainsaw scene, was to dismiss it for not being as gory as he thought it should be. The ads made it seem as though it would disturb and damage the average viewer—something akin to over-the-top “This movie will fuck you up for life!” ad within Crazy People. My roommate, not damaged by Eli Roth’s little shock fest, felt ripped off. Never mind that the first thirty minutes of the movie is full of bare breasts— that did not compensate for the lack of severed limbs.

But looking at the film closely, there is no lack of severed limbs. Sure, it is not as shockingly violent a film as any by Takeshi Miike—Roth’s clear influence— but it still packs a bloody punch. There’s severed Achilles’ tendons, slashed throats, dangling eyeballs, a meaty pile of arms and legs, chainsaws to the chest, suicides on train platforms, and small children pounding men in the head with large rocks. It’s got some splatter. It’s got some breasts. It’s got some shock. And it’s got sweet, sweet revenge. In short, it’s a fine little horror film. But the marketing of the movie did make it appear as though watching it would be the equivalent of taking a walking tour through a slaughterhouse, after which one would never be the same. Sadly, my roommate represents a large number of the population who swallows that shit clean and believes a lot of what they see in ads.

Jump forward to Pan’s Labyrinth. I though the film was terrific. It had all the cool special effects and computer monsters that make everyone in this post Lord of the Rings world drool. It had a damn good story as well. I was touched and, to use a tired but true metaphor, on the edge of my seat. The end of film was moving and sad and beautiful all at once. I loved it. My roommate? Not enough fantasy, not enough monsters. The ads made it seem as though the movie would be more like The Dark Crystal. Perhaps the title of Guillermo del Toro’s film, containing the word “labyrinth”, conjured up memories of David Bowie prancing about with a bunch of muppets. Jump, Magic!

There is nothing going on in Pan’s Labyrinth that lacks the absurd. The fantasy sequences are strange, to be sure, but even the scenes filmed in “real life” are nothing short of bizarre. Seeing a Franco bastard smash a farmer’s face in with a bottle (though shocking) strikes us as infinitely more acceptable than fairies and giant creatures with eyes in their hands. There’s a sense of horror throughout the film regardless of the dreamlike or all too real setting. Nevertheless, the lack of goblins and wizards was felt deeply by a significant audience, epitomized by my roommate. He felt cheated by the Spanish Civil War setting. Not enough room was made for the patently surreal.

Again, I blame the ads. Marketing departments within movie studios feel it is their job to save a movie, which the directors have ruined. They have to cut a trailer to tease an audience and get those important asses in the seats. They really do believe that the director has fucked up the project and will inevitably bring ruin on the studio if they do not make the perfect trailer, a three-minute white lie designed to dupe the dupes into paying nine bucks to see a bungled project. This is their belief, for if they had faith in the movie they would not need to market it so incorrectly.

I remember the trailers for the Three Colors Trilogy being particularly misleading. Red mentioned something about a beautiful model meeting a seductive stranger who shatters her life, or something. Blue and White were equally bizarre. I felt bad for anyone who came to the films expecting international intrigue, sex and so forth. Sadly, many a viewer's first instinct is to blame the film and not the marketing department that fooled them. The trailers are never wrong; it’s the films themselves that don’t deliver. To the duped, the movies are always to blame because, as sad as this seems, they were more entertained by a brief glimpse at a director’s vision than the full version. A trailer takes a few minutes and delivers quick thrills while a movie requires at least ninety minutes of one’s attention—far too much time to spend when there are no explosions or naked people to be seen.

I’m trying to remember the tag line for Mike Leigh’s Naked. I think it was, “A cross between On the Road and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Dear lord…

According to some articles I’ve read, book publishing, while victim to the same sort of disease, feels above this sort of thing. Nevertheless, the oft-practiced art of selective quoting, which has long been employed by Hollywood marketing machines, is to be found on book jackets eliciting outrage and even exile from the publishing community. But it has not stopped so whenever you see ellipses in a blurb, take warning. It’s not as though literature is above cinema and should be exempt from these practices. Cinema is a legitimate art form. I find the salacious tactics silly and sometimes offense, regardless of the medium. Still, I think we are trained to expect this sort of thing from movies (they take less time to disappoint us) than from books. If we are going to shell out nearly twenty bucks and invest a week or more in reading a book, it ought to deliver. Or so we tartly believe. We feel doubly angry when a book’s duplicitous jacket, lined with lauds and praises, suckered us into investing that much time with so little pay off.

I suppose this is logical but it also speaks to the developing idea of cinema as pure entertainment absent any intellectual and/or artistic pleasure. Yeah, Hostel is trash, but wonderful, well-crafted trash. There’s a place for that and I’ll defend it to the death (pun?) Saw II, on the other hand, is just bad trash. Oddly, I think more people liked Saw II than Hostel, as it delivered the expected amount of artless gore.

While we have come to accept more and more films that move away from the nebulous arena called “art” we tend to demand that books remain sacred. This worshipping of the printed page is difficult to understand (I am more than guilty of this). While books do maintain a certain holy allure that cinema—with its ceaseless remakes, incestuous plots and give-‘em-what-they-want challenge free effects— has lost, there was a time when popular movies and art did not seem so mutually exclusive and books themselves were largely considered silly distractions. Maybe I’m misreading my history but it seems that the film was once on par with the best of what literature had to offer. And yes, I am aware that novels have a history of being dismissed, ridiculed and even advised against by many a revered thinker, right down to the fathers of this country. (Little has changed in that regard.) For whatever reason, the current state of things is that print and film culture are met with different expectations. Is it the films that are to blame for being so damn moronic? Is the books fault for being so smart? God knows there are pop novels and bodice rippers galore that are as insipid and offensive as any schlock movie spewed from the most infected open sores of the Hollywood beast. I’d dare say a good majority of the books printed in one season are unreadable wastes of time. Still, if it is printed and bound, it gets a bit more leeway than celluloid. Even "printed telelvsion" is somehow held up as being special. The mere fact that people read anything, no mater how inane, seems to be worth celebrating in our culture. [I disagree, but this is really getting off track. See how it it is all slipping away? How's he gonna pull it back into place? Oh no, the train is beginning to derail]

I blame marketing for this. [Somehow, amid all the above digressions, it starts to wind back... here look, I’m tying it all back together!] Marketing has raised our expectations for art and, in the cases where we are duped, brought about disappointment. Subsequently, we have become jaded and simultaneously hungry for nothing but the basest of fares that will provide instant, easy gratification. When a movie or book fails to deliver on what we expect, we get upset and dismiss the effort and ignore any artistry or challenge that might be present. It is easier to find something that resembles what we have previous experienced and digested, as that effort was taxing enough and we’d sooner not repeat it. Just more of the same, please.

Then again, there has always been trash. [Really getting off topic now.] Every time someone speaks to the great works of art that were being produced in the past, I get suspicious. Sure, there were great bands in the 1960s. One might believe that every album released was on par with the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Kinks… but look closer. More shit came from that decade then we know. It just didn’t survive the test of time. Similarly, I am sure Saw II and its ilk will not be thought of very often in the coming years.

[Christ, while I rant about the decline of artistic product, I also realize that this is a dull and tired call to arms. Its only purpose is to call attention to the ranter and evidence his/her great cultural awareness in a sea of stupidity. It is only meant to boost an ego and intimidate the uninitiated. Still, I rant, guilty as charged.]

[And the essay trailed off at this point like Gogol minus the madness and genius. I present it here so that the humble readers of this blog, both of you, can see a working example of the manner in which my mind tends to fixate on one thing well out of proportion and then plop into something only tneuously tied. Enjoy. i'm off to get tea.]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Boarding Home

Friday, May 11, 2007

Zoran Živković

Go here to read a great interview with my latest literary interest, Zoran Živković:


And go here to read about his reading event in a zoo cage:


This corresponds to the pages I stayed up late reading last night, as this book, Hidden Camera is obsessing me. I cannot focus on much else until I finish it, hopefully tonight or tomorrow.

Want a copy? Go here:


You won’t be sorry.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dalai Lamapalooza

My beloved niña snagged tickets for the grand event last Sunday, an appearance by his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Sunday morning we made our way to Millennium Park, which, I might add, was my first trip there since it was unveiled, rather late considering its title.

We lined up with the rest of the eager Lamaheads, a predictable hodge podge of (paraphrasing mi niña) post-menopausal tantric hippies, Gucci Buddhists looking to get their Zen on, and a few actual Tibetans. The Dalai Lama did agree to meet the Tibetans after the talk— good move, Tenzin—though I suspect any number of the attendees would have sacrificed gobs of karma just to sit at his feet and soak up the energy. I personally thought it was good of him to meet with the displaced Tibetans (he is one himself, after all) but that leads to my interest in the event.

I went largely because I like spending time with my beloved and I admit my inclination is to view the Lama as a political figure, not a religious one. This is my old liberal gene kicking in, telling me to separate church and state—an allegedly American quality that I wholeheartedly endorse, though often it feels as though such a belief exists more on paper than in practice. (Don’t get me started.) But as a political figure I find the Lama interesting. What he might have to offer spiritually is less important to me, I will admit. I am not proud of my religious/spiritual skepticism, but I can talk about it at length having spent considerable time pondering exactly why Christianity in particular is such bullshit.

[This marks where my original draft got deleted due to some sloppy actions by yours truly, mainly my inability to click the save icon periodically, thus ensuring that I lose chunks of eloquently constructed prose. I even lost a page of an essay for school the other day. Damn, I really ought to train myself to fucking click save. I mean, how hard is that for Christ’s sake?]

What was the message? Something along the lines of be good to each other, love each other, don’t engage in violence, reflect often… that sort of thing. All of this is good but I was struck by its simplicity. It did seem relatively simple at first, but further consideration of the simplicity of these teachings struck me as complex in a very depressing way. Let me attempt to untangle: the fact that the message of the Dalai Lama strikes one (me, to be specific) as simple is sad in contrast with a world that needs this sort of advice. Were we universally more in harmony with and less inclined to bomb/stab/shoot/smack the shit out of each other we would laugh at the Lama and say, “and birds go tweet.” Kind of sad when you think about it.

[I just saved. My lesson has been learned.]

The scores of Lamaphiles falling into that before mentioned post-menopausal description still hungrily devoured this message. Alas I had to walk past these aging hippie women bouncing tantric-sex style along to the beat of Tibetan percussionists. I may never recover. Though I did not see the gleam in their eyes as they absorbed the Lama’s energy, I can imagine it. And it ain’t pretty. And it might have been nice for the Lama to spend a wee bit more time discussing the political situation of Tibet, but that’s me being greedy. The guy clearly has other things to say and I ought to try and see that as opposed to wanting to hear nothing but stories of the Chinese invasion. It’s similar to the way the Northern Irish poets I recently saw seemed disinclined toward discussing The Troubles at length. Anyway, I can always rent Kundun for that, which I probably will soon.

Prior to the speech and the performance, a good three-hour event in all, I did as many were doing on the lawn: I took a little outdoor nap. When in Rome, as they say. Blanket spread on the grass, I dozed under the relatively tame Chicago sun. Or so I thought. As of today, my forehead is still peeling. Considering my disinclination toward summer and my time normally spent studying or drinking in bars, it is rare for me to get any sun. The peeling skin really compliments the unruly hair. I’m something to behold, let me tell you. Oh, and I promptly got sick after the event. I blame my roommate who was sick all last week (clear logic, I’d say) but he thinks it was the result of being in close proximity to hippies. Subsequently, I have missed two days of work and am only now feeling able to focus long enough to read/write. This is worth mentioning because (A.) I still managed to get my homework done under the fog of illness, and, (B.) it’s my fucking blog and I’ll mention whatever I want. Anyway, I have spent the last few days eating spicy food (Pad Thai with added red pepper, Indian food con mi bella, eggs with hot sauce) and drinking every kind of tea imaginable. The body gets sick to remind us of something… not sure what. That we are transient beings? Well, either way it’s curbed my smoking. To aid with this I watched The Insider yesterday while collapsed on the couch. It made me not want to smoke for numerous reasons, one of which is to stop making tobacco companies rich. Check with me in a month and see how I’m doing with all that.

I Love Chicago Anew

My new favorite homeless man, who I simply refer to as “The Loon,” was just now spotted directing traffic on Madison and LaSalle. Oddly, he was doing a good job, though I thought I saw him instruct a car to plow through a wall of pedestrians. Still, he’s polishing his chops and anyway I give him credit for working through a mind no doubt glazed with Mad Dog and/or Night Train.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

State of the Disunion, May 2007

In an effort to shed winter weight, curb excess smoking and feel better about my health, I dug the bike out last weekend. I did not ride it, just dug it out— an important first step. Yes, it was covered in dust; no, I have not ridden it since living on Hermitage. As a result, the tires are as airless Billy Wilder’s films (that one’s for you, DC). I will try and have them filled and give the ol’ gal a ride this weekend. I am hoping it is not in need of repair, mainly because I dread walking into the Village Cycle Center.

I’ve come to realize that this is part of my resistance to riding the bike. I hate the Village Cycle Center. The people who work there tend to exude a holier-than-thou, I ride a bike everywhere!, sort of arrogance that truly displeases me. They all look and sound alike, which would not be so bad were they not a cadre of pricks that have married health-nut smarminess with the least palatable qualities of veteran salesmen. They’re pushy, rude, dismissive, generally unhelpful and, I suspect, untrustworthy. But they run a good shop, I must admit. It’s like walking into a mechanic’s shop, though. You just can sense how you’re getting fucked.

My distaste for the Village aside, I am going to give the bike a spin and see if I can open up the lungs, accelerate the heart and make things right as rain ‘round these body parts. This added to the classes and it ought to be an interesting, exhausting summer.

Other news:

I bought books online like a fucking madman. It began as a necessity. My classes required obscure, hard to find texts, the kind that appear rarely at Borders or even the ever-diminishing used shops of Chi. You know, Robert Hass, Peter Richardson, Rachel Zucker… the contemporary poets that get pushed in a university setting like mine. So I bought all my school books used from Amazon or Powell’s or Alibris. One thing led to another and there I was, online, hunting, credit card in hand. I snagged Ciaran Carson’s Star Factory, Sergei Dovlatov’s Ours and Bulgakov’s diaries and letters. These on top of an order of Russian poetry from the New York Review of Books’ website, which contains about 30 more titles I absolutely need. Way to spend a tax return.

I am not out of love with used book store hunts, just happy to find that technology serves a specific, correct purpose, mainly granting me access to difficult to find, and greatly desired, texts. As for the Chicago bookstore scene: Women and Children First, one of Andersonville’s main attractions, is thinking of shutting its doors for good. Not sure yet. Rumors have begun to circulate and that has resulted in a slight, but significant, increase of sales (or so my sources tell me). Perhaps they’ll stick around to push the gynocentric a little longer. Selected Works is moving from its long-time home on Broadway to the Fine Arts building—the 2nd floor, no less. Good luck to them, as that building has seen at least two other shops comes and go since I’ve been around, not to mention the Fine Arts movie theater. It’s a vanishing city at times, alas.

Other other news:

The workshop goes well these days. Last night I rambled at length about Shapeshift, the first book of what I hope is many by Sherwin Bitsui. Check him out here: http://www.bitsui.com/ . I had too much to say in too little time, and none of it was well articulated. The guy can write, that’s for certain, and while I managed a 6-page annotation of one poem I failed to capture much of what intrigues me about his work while gabbing to the class. At least I managed to point out Bitsui’s manner of laying image upon image. “The Northern Sun” is a goddamn image parfait.

Not much left of workshop one, just another meeting and some edits, a review or two, and then it’s portfolio time. The publishing seminar, on the other hand, continues on for a month. Readings galore and a 25-30 page final research paper that makes me dizzy upon mere contemplation. This week’s class should prove to be interesting. We’ll be discussing one of my favorite jackasses, Jonathan Franzen, and his disinvitation from the Oprah show. I’ve been preparing for this discussion for years! Soon we’ll discuss James Frey and I can really get some things off my chest.

I am seriously overdue for a haircut. It’s just comical.

And that’s all I got. Thank you for your time.