Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Name in Lights

The coolest gig since the glorious Aspidistra days.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Truth and Illusion

It’s news if you either don’t all ready know about it or haven’t really thought about it, right?

Yesterday afternoon I once again realized how it is nearly impossible to remain staunch in any political view. I can’t remain a loyal democrat or republican (that’s for sure) but more importantly, I can’t even remain patriotic or sympathetic or nationalistic.

Let’s back up.

I was reading a piece of news from mi niña regarding Guatemala’s Presidential elections. Rigoberta Menchú is one of the individuals running. Menchú came to international fame with her autobiography detailing her family’s life in Guatemala and the horrors of being an indigenous person opporessed by state power. A reality for too many and worthy of international attention. Except she lied. Though of Mayan stock, Menchú had a realitively easier life than most. I won’t go into the fabrications, admitted by Menchú herself, but you can read about them by typing her name in Wikipedia or going here:{2BB200C2-53D6-43CA-B055-E6EDAAF18030} I will warn you that this link will bring you to an article with significant right wing bias. Yes, the author has an axe to grind with not only Menchú but also Che Guevara and any living or dead cult figure from revolutionary Latin America, though this is not overtly expressed. I post the link for a good reason. The more people fabricate in this fashion, the worse they make my side appear.

Lesser examples of this, but no less infuriating, are the films of Michael Moore. I agree with the majority of what Moore has to say, but I hate the way he presents his views. While I was entertained by Bowling for Columbine (except for the annoying, self-righteous ending where Moore held up the dead girl’s photo for a bumbling, senile Charlton Heston) the numerous reports that followed, all citing errors, fabrications, creative editing and other intentional forms of cinematic manipulation, really sapped credibility from Moore and thus eroded meaning from the film’s point about gun control. Well, not really, but the right harped on Moore and ignored the larger message. The defenders of Moore attacked back, but again the message of the film was ignored.

Worse: Moore’s annoying. I liked him in Roger & Me and The Big One because it was new and more than a little entertaining to see a guy try and wade through bureaucratic waters, but by the time Bowling for Columbine came out I tired of his confrontational method of making people look stupid. You really don’t need to run up to a Kmart employee and ask to return discharged bullets lodged in a shooting victim or chop up a conversation with a doddering old man to make the right look bad.

So, as in the case with Moore and Menchú, the larger concern is often buried by the bullshit. Menchú got a Nobel Prize for her book (which the Nobel committee refused to take back after it was discovered that she falsified her story) but not a lot of people are talking about her fake book, not mearly the way they did with James Frey. This is for two reasons, all rooted to the same phenomenon: the cult of personality.

Frey is a bigger story because Frey’s book was picked up by Oprah Winfrey. Any book/cause/issue she agrees to place her name and aura near gets attention. People were upset when they learned Frey peppered his memoir with fiction. (Though if they knew how to read critically they might have suspected it was a tall tale in the opening of the book as Frey boards a plane covered in vomit, blood and other bodily fluids, never once stopped by airport employees, stewardesses or anyone else.) Readers felt decivied and Opray crucified Frey on her show. Whatever good Frey did by writing a book that inspired people to get sober was ignored.

Now, I think Frey is a jackass and a lousy writer, and he deserves to have his moral character called into question not because he wrote a bullshit memoir (they’re all bullshit folks, accept that or don’t read them) but because he got a swelled head from Oprah. After her book club, Frey went around rehab centers and clinics speaking with recovering addicts, all the while saying things like “If I can do it, you can do it.” Not cool. The guy never had a problem with any substance. He invented things to get some dubious credibility and publish an unpublishable novel as a memoir. And then he bought his own bullshit.

If Frey deserves to be criticized for co-opting the suffering of others, so does Menchú. She lied about experiences she didn’t have, though she may have witnessed or heard tell of them. For her efforts she won the most coveted of prizes and has been placed firmly in the eyes of the world as a social leader and spoeksperson. Even though she lied to get there.

The problem is that liberals and academics of this country are always quick to prop up someone in Menchú’s position. There needs to be a spokesperson for this cause. Once upon a time it was Fidel Castro who managed to ensnare the liberal leaning educated by revolting against the excesses of capitolism and the dominance of the United States. While it is true that Uncle Sam has long had vested interests in Latin America, the answer is not always as black and white as the Cuban Schism of the U.S.A. vs. Fidel & Co., and any liberal supporting gay rights, for example, ought to be outraged at Castro. Nevertheless, these figures take on a strange sort of cult status that enchants otherwise thinking liberals. Since Menchú is seemingly a perfect figure to represent the oppressed, why not try and downplay the facts? The usual response, and the link above points this out, is that while her facts may not line up, she drew attetion to a more than worthy cause. I might agree. I said the same thing about Frey. If his book managed to inspire people to give up their addictions, then what difference does it make if none of it ever happened?

The cause is valid and important, so much so that I think it deserves better. But people were informed, so where’s the harm? Menchú didn’t really hurt anyone, though she did exploit instances and horrors that were not hers. Are we able to fogive her for what she gained in light of what her book achieved in regard to raising social awareness? Perhaps so, but to completely discount her gains (financial being one of them, the Nobel Prize comes with a nice check) ushers in a sort of contradiction for anyone liberal quasi-socialist and member in the cult of Castro and Che. You can’t ignore that money and fame was netted by Menchú via a form of exploitation. How capitalist is that?

I don’t know why this is consuming me so much today. I read about James Frey’s new book deal, which upsets many, but this time he wrote a novel and if it gets published, who really cares? You don’t have to buy the thing. And again, no one seems to be mentioning Menchú’s fabrications as she runs for President of Gutaemala. I’ll leave that to the Guatemalans, as they are in a better position than I to make judgments, I’m just wondering where the lines are drawn and who gets to draw them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ugly... fecund... boiling...

I saw this show called The Hills over the weekend. My roommate is fond of it as, “the chicks are hot.” I have decided that this program is the official nadir of American culture.

As far as I can tell, it’s some sort of reality show where cameras follow around rich kids from Beverly Hills and document their insignificant drama, which is comprised of the things people think are important when they’re in high school. I do my best to forget those years and I certainly don’t want to vicariously experience anyone else’s.

I cannot support this trend of making rich people famous simply because they’re rich. They don’t act, sing, write, dance, or even fuck on camera, thus there is no reason to make them famous. Never watch this show. Not even to feel better about your own life in comparison to the shallow lives of the blond robots on The Hills (which is clearly the point of all these programs—mocking and feeling superior even though we struggle to pay bills and may never get to have sex with anything so blond and stupid).

I need to fly a plane full of napalm over Beverly Hills and let the fire drop, spread, burn.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thank You NEA and Dalkey

Oh man, get ready...

Which to see? Both!

One of the first things ever posted on this blogthing was about missing this performer. It seems fitting that I see both shows to even things out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Even more Bulgakov!

Just when I thought I had them all, here comes this:

Yep, a 5th translation of The Master and Margarita. It came out last year and I may have a copy, I'm really not sure. I bought a copy of this my favorite book while in Taipei. It was, and still is, factory sealed. So I have no idea which translation it is and I aimed to keep it that way. I obsess over this shit way too much so I figured the ultimate protest against my goofy disease would be to leave the book neatly in plastic, shelved alongside my many other copies. But now it seems there is another translation and I might have it! I could find out or I could just keep it intact and hunt for another copy. I will probably leave it alone. I need some mystery in my life.

This, plus the new A Dog's Heart, aka Heart of a Dog, and White Guard... oh, it's raining Bulgakov on the shores of the Hungry Inferno and I couldn't be happier. It's 2007 and Comrade Bulgakov lives!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

More Bulgakov

And then Three Percent, the great website on world lit., available here: brought me to this blog:

This debate between the Glenny and Ginsburg translations, while important, ignores the two recent translations of The Master and Margarita by teams Pevear & Volokhonsky and Burgin & O'Connor. While I always look for Pevear & Volokhonsky's names on my Dostoevsky books, I am partial to the Burgin & O'Connor edition of Bulgakov's masterpiece. Perhaps it is just because I read that one first or due to the copious endnotes that accompany their edition (available thanks to the good folks at Vintage press). Regardless, the blog linked above, interesting as it is, ignores the recent translations which I think shed some light on not only this great book but the function of translation. To my way of thinking, if you admire a book enough to read it more than once, you might want to at least glance at different translations to see what you can glean from them. Each translation is a different perspective, and all perspectives are important in putting together a full picture. Anyway, every great book deserves a new translation, and The Master and Margarita is a great book.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that The Master and Margarita is my favorite novel, so of course I had an opinion on this whole thing. And sure this is not politics or oil prices or any other important debate, but damnit this is what I spend my days thinking about. I'm dreaming of taking a trip to Moscow just to visit Patriarch's Ponds and Bulgakov's flat. I'm a Bulgakov geek. Considering the recent release of a new A Dog's Heart (previously published as Heart of a Dog) and the rumored Pevear & Volokhonsky work on The White Guard it seems Bulgakov is living on beyond his mortal years. I couldn't be happier.

Intro to Dog's Heart,,2150862,00.html

And a wonderful piece of Bulgakov information.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Book talk, price

Apparently we’re not as bad as I thought. We’re worse in some respects, but, as the author in the above link asserts, economics plays a big part. Read on…

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I realized today:

that I would sooner listen to any song by Hall & Oates than Bob Dylan. In fact, I don’t care if I ever hear another Dylan song again, except for “The Man in Me” and that is only worth hearing in the context of The Big Lebowski;

that Messer Chups is the coolest band working;

that life is too short not to smoke;

that I may be dead by 50 if I don’t change my ways;

that the majority of what I do from 9-5 during the week is fairly inconsequential to the greater design of the universe;

that I am beginning to tire of alcohol but that will likely change;

that I am smarter than most people I meet but not nearly as smart as I think I am;

that I am not nearly as smart as most people seem to think I am;

that I am not as dumb as many people think;

that jobs ought to be outlawed;

that I am flying through life;

that none of this matters much to anyone but me;

that blogs are by nature ridiculous.

Book talk, mas

I very well may have purchased the most beautiful book in my library. When I say beautiful I mean physically beautiful. A hardback (or “cloth” if you’re in the publishing trade) book with heavy paper stock that felt so sensuous with every page turn I was often distracted when reading. The dust jacket is made of similar thick stock and the inside flap, while telling the reader something about the story they are about to read (should they be so lucky), provides a sort of guide to thinking about the novel. Quotes from the author, insights from the publisher, it all shapes the way you read the book as opposed to just lay down some eye catching points about the story in an attempt to make it seem akin to printed television.

The book in question is The Invisible Player by Giuseppe Pontiggia. I know little of this writer or his life, but I can attest to the craftsmanship of not only the book’s physicality but its story as well. Pontiggia’s novel is an often hilarious quasi mystery set in academia, always a great place for satire. I was swept into the story effortlessly and not content until I reached the last heavy page. A mystery without a real answer but, as Pontiggia asserts, the solution to any mystery is always its weakest point. I would agree. You read a mystery and the joy is in thinking about its possible solutions. Rereading a mystery is only fun if you wish to hunt for all the clues you missed the first time around. But, lacking a definite answer, there is a vast of pleasure to be had to rereading, rethinking and reworking the mystery without an answer. I always love this sort of ambiguity. I would not be able to stomach the film Memento without it. Ambiguity gets a bad rap.

Next up… The Obscene Bird of Night by José Donoso. Yes, yes, Proust as well, assuming I get through enough of it before school starts at the end of the month.