The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

.

Monday, December 29, 2003

.

In CASE YOU WANTED TO KNOW
Seven minutes of Christopher Lee were apparently cut from the last Rings movie, which were described as being a pretty exciting coda. There were too many endings to the movie, anyway, so i can understand why they cut it. If, like me, you think receiving a paper cut from each page of the Tolkein books would be better than reading them, here's what happened to Saruman in the end.

.

Life DURING WARTIME

Christmas then: Sleep a complete impossibility on Christmas Eve, after I've opened the final double-door of my advent calendar, my mother pumps me full of cough medicine in a desperate bid to anaesthetise me. Wake up fantastically early. All presents spectacular.

Christmas now: On Christmas Eve fall asleep like a fucking genius, like someone who's been doing it for 26 years -- all thanks to the chemical a bottle of champage, three glasses of guinness, a pack of cigarettes, staying up until 5, and driving in a friend's car fast, to and from the same party, screaming the wrong words to fifties hits.

Wake up at 1 in the afternoon. Open the presents from my parents, prepared for the sweet but predictable socks, Beano annual, sweaters, and desk calendar. My parents' main Christmas gift this year was seven sheep. For some reason they sent them to a kid in Africa instead of me. They had worried that my vegetatarianism might be disgusted that they had snet these sheep to the slaughtering knives of Africa in my name. No, that's fine. But were these sheep really given to children and do they know how to pronounce my name? They had better. And I want a thankyou letter with a postmark on it that says "AFRICA" soon. And the little fuckers had better spell everything incorrectly, so that my heart strings will be more appropriately tugged. Have you seen the end of 'About Schmidt?' Nothing else will do.

Christmas then: Go to church. Look forward to the arrival of relatives for dinner.

Christmas now: Make peace with the beingness of nothingness. Start war with the nothingess of being. Peel and roast potatoes for four hours, hungover. Burn my hands while carrying the potatoes to a colleague's home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

.

Rights OF VEGETABLES
From Samuel Butler's 'Erwehon,' a late victoria satire on Dariwins amd Socialism.
Let me leave this unhappy story, and return to the course of events among the Erewhonians at large. No matter how many laws they passed increasing the severity of the punishments inflicted on those who ate meat in secret, the people found means of setting them aside as fast as they were made. At times, indeed, they would become almost obsolete, but when they were on the point of being repealed, some national disaster or the preaching of some fanatic would reawaken the conscience of the nation, and people were imprisoned by the thousand for illicitly selling and buying animal food.

About six or seven hundred years, however, after the death of the old prophet, a philosopher appeared, who, though he did not claim to have any communication with an unseen power, laid down the law with as much confidence as if such a power had inspired him. Many think that this philosopher did not believe his own teaching, and, being in secret a great meat-eater, had no other end in view than reducing the prohibition against eating animal food to an absurdity, greater even than an Erewhonian Puritan would be able to stand.

Those who take this view hold that he knew how impossible it would be to get the nation to accept legislation that it held to be sinful; he knew also how hopeless it would be to convince people that it was not wicked to kill a sheep and eat it, unless he could show them that they must either sin to a certain extent, or die. He, therefore, it is believed, made the monstrous proposals of which I will now speak.

He began by paying a tribute of profound respect to the old prophet, whose advocacy of the rights of animals, he admitted, had done much to soften the national character, and enlarge its views about the sanctity of life in general. But he urged that times had now changed; the lesson of which the country had stood in need had been sufficiently learnt, while as regards vegetables much had become known that was not even suspected formerly, and which, if the nation was to persevere in that strict adherence to the highest moral principles which had been the secret of its prosperity hitherto, must necessitate a radical change in its attitude towards them.

It was indeed true that much was now known that had not been suspected formerly, for the people had had no foreign enemies, and, being both quick witted and inquisitive into the mysteries of nature, had made extraordinary progress in all the many branches of art and science. In the chief Erewhonian museum I was shown a microscope of considerable power, that was ascribed by the authorities to a date much about that of the philosopher of whom I am now speaking, and was even supposed by some to have been the instrument with which he had actually worked.

This philosopher was Professor of Botany in the chief seat of learning then in Erewhon, and whether with the help of the microscope still preserved, or with another, had arrived at a conclusion now universally accepted among ourselves—I mean, that all, both animals and plants, have had a common ancestry, and that hence the second should be deemed as much alive as the first. He contended, therefore, that animals and plants were cousins, and would have been seen to be so, all along, if people had not made an arbitrary and unreasonable division between what they chose to call the animal and vegetable kingdoms.

He declared, and demonstrated to the satisfaction of all those who were able to form an opinion upon the subject, that there is no difference appreciable either by the eye, or by any other test, between a germ that will develop into an oak, a vine, a rose, and one that (given its accustomed surroundings) will become a mouse, an elephant, or a man.

He contended that the course of any germ’s development was dictated by the habits of the germs from which it was descended, and of whose identity it had once formed part. If a germ found itself placed as the germs in the line of its ancestry were placed, it would do as its ancestors had done, and grow up into the same kind of organism as theirs. If it found the circumstances only a little different, it would make shift (successfully or unsuccessfully) to modify its development accordingly; if the circumstances were widely different, it would die, probably without an effort at self-adaptation. This, he argued, applied equally to the germs of plants and of animals.

.

Food IN HEAVEN
Margaret Drabble gazes abstractly at Utopia's menu:
eating patés (sic) de foie gras to the sound of trumpets (Some guy in 1927)

lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon (Keats)

self-filling wineglasses on trees (Lucian of Samosata)

houses were made of barley sugar and cakes and sausages, the streets were paved with pastry (the land of Cokaigne)

cool and ethereal and self-supplying - manna, ambrosia, the milk of paradise. (Drabble)

done by women, and the slaughtering of livestock and the cleaning of carcasses is undertaken by prisoners and slaves. Hunting is beneath the dignity of free men, because it encourages blood lust. The Utopians drink wine, cider and perry, but not, curiously, beer, and they prefer to eat in communal dining halls, though they are allowed to take food home if they want to. (Thomas More)

the meal is as expensive or as simple as we please, though of course everything is vastly cheaper as well as better than it would be if it were done at home. There is actually nothing which our people take more interest in than the perfection of the catering and cooking done for them... ah, my dear Mr West, though other aspects of your civilisation were more tragical, I can imagine that none could have been more depressing than the poor dinners you had to eat.' (Bellamy)

with a bottle of very good Bordeaux wine (William Morris)

the pink grapefruit, the three slices of grilled streaky bacon, the two fried eggs with "the yolk looking milky because the fat had been properly spooned over it in the cooking, and the outer edges of the white trailing off into filigree gold braid". Naturally, he orders breakfast for lunch, and breakfast for dinner, until eventually he is tempted out to shop in the heavenly supermarket. (from Julian Barnes's fantastic satire on heaven)

.

Wait. I thought Beckett went into the grave isueless. So what's all this talk of sons?

.

Picasso's POETRY
An intriguing sampler on ubu's site. MAclamity's sampler sampler:
6 october XXXVI
in the painting of 30 april canvas #15 F. woman seeing herself in a mirror puts down a comb with some hairs in its teeth and some lice in her hair as well as some lice and if possible some crabs in her pubic hair

(charming idea to add to the package)



8-9 november XXXV

bullfighter's
jacket of
electric light bulbs
sewn with finest
needle
mist
invented
by the bull

[MacLamity sez: cf. Pink Floyd's live album cover. In fact why don't you take time to look at all of them. They're so portentous and absurd and great. In High School these covers struck us as so deep that should we reach the bottom of them we'd surely be staring into the face of enlightenment. Which reminds me. We collected Iron Maiden tour posters in boarding school as well, which are fantastically entertaining. A friend had a great one with the weird zombie flying a Spitfire. My 'Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter' poster was something of a coup since it involved a hot female some of whose painterly breasts you could see.]

9 December 38 [II]

sky sky sky sky sky sky sky sky sky violet violet sky sky sky violet violet violet sky sky sky violet violet violet sky sky sky violet violet violet sky sky sky sky violet violet violet violet sky sky sky sky violet violet violet sky sky sky violet green sky sky sky sky green green sky sky sky sky black green sky maroon sky sky sky black black black black black black white white black green maroon sky sky

hands hidden in her pockets the night sky [...]

Monday, December 22, 2003

.

Better THAN THE HOURS AND THE STROKES
A.N Wilson uses his Daily Telegraph column to praise Dickens's 'The Chimes.' I can't add much more to what he said. It is really frightening. It has a stupid ending. But, nevertheless, the ending doesn't change the fact that it is
really frightening.

.

Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTOON
Special Daumier, the only Frenchman to have a sense of humour, edition.


(Bonus TODAY'S HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTOONIST : "Earlier this year Plantu vehemently clashed with his bosses over a sketch (posted on his website) that showed Plantu's trademark mouse gagged while reading “La Face Cachée du Monde” (“The Hidden face of Le Monde”), a best-selling polemic about the editors' arrogance and abuses in their quest for political power.

We still have the naivety to believe in certain things,” says Plantu. “We do not have the detachment that characterises English humour, we are more militant. If we have a cause to protest, however minor, we tear open our shirts, run into the street and shout ‘Shoot me!'”)

.

Encouraging the patient to let it all hang out should be empowering for the 'analysand'. In fact, the reverse is true. Nobody except a megalomaniac can 'talk' (in a monologue) indefinitely without rendering themselves vulnerable to the suggestive interventions of that dictatorial wizard: the analyst. What may begin as a minor character trait is inflated into an obsession, then a phobic neurosis. There is little chance that an analysis will last less than several months, years or, in the most lucrative cases, decades.
As Todd Dufresne reminds us, Karl Kraus famously quipped that 'psychoanalysis is the disease of which it purports to be the cure'.
-- Review of "Killing Freud"

.

The no-HONORS LIST
The Guardian follos The Sunday Times's scoop and puts the list up on the web. (I meanwhile follo Andrew Sullivan's link to this) JG Ballard says why he didn't take the award, in a way that's ten times more gracious, more sparing to the feelings of the British class system, than the refusal of Benjamin Zephaniah. It's important to note that Ballard cites basic modesty, or maybe awkwardness at the idea of showing off, as a reason to refuse an honor. Zephaniah, on the other hand, showed none of that. He couldn't wait to tell the world that he'd refused something as big as an MBE. This is the old Nobel dilemma: do you, like Sartre, refuse a Nobel and thus stoke even more publicity for yourself (which you wouldn't have had if the Nobel did not exist) or do you, like Beckett, accept so as not to cause a fuss and then hide in a Tunisian hotel for a week and not talk to anyone?

Originally, I was pleased that David Bowie had refused a title. Sir Mick Jagger aristocractically ruins Mick Jagger like an 18th century master of the house would an innocent maid. But then, at the cinema last night, I saw, for the nineteenth time, Bowie's excruciating Vittel ad, in which Bowie manages to sell out not just one rock and roll persona, as Jagger did, but 13 of them -- every decemt one Bowie created (even the weird clown guy). All for French euros and a bottle of mineral water. In contrast, Lord Bowie seems much more of a substantial, Bowie-like concept.

Friday, December 19, 2003

.

"Seneca cautions us to treat Fortune as if she were actually going to do to us everything it is in her power to do. I am working on a film with the most practical of men. He is a technical advisor on a political thriller. He was, for many years, an operator of Delta Force, in rather continuous combat for thirty years. He spoke of a fellow on his first mission who said, 'We're going to kick their ass and take names' as he got onto the helicopter. The other soldiers looked at him with incomprehension and dread, and, at the end of the day, the man had indeed been shot up, and his military career ended."
-- David Mamet on words and names we must not speak.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

.

Alan MOORE
Alan Moore is a writer I want all to myself. I have the fanatacism that hates when other people write for other people about his comics. It pains me to recommend this. But what can I say? It's a superb introduction.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

.

Might I RECOMMEND A.S.S. TO YOU?
If Reverend Jen's appearances at open-mike nights throughout the Lower East Side are anything to go buy, you need to buy ASS.

.


From a surprisingly readable first draft of Finnegans Wake.

.

Edward TUFTE'S MANIAS CONVERGE
Bad graphic and chart design killed the astronauts on the Challenger, Edward Tufte is fond of pointing out. Scientists warned the NASA top brass that the cold would spell disaster, but they presented their findings so poorly that the executives coudln't agree. He also spends much of his life spitting on PowerPoint, its relatives, its children, and its inventors. Should he ever succeed in killing PowerPoint, Tufte will continue to spit, on its grave.

Tufte practically told the seminar I attended in 2001, that PowerPoint would kill people.

.

Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM PLOT SUMMARY
For 'Be Gone Demons!'
Meandering through the history of Iraq from Biblical times to the present
filled with paranoid
invectives against the Jews,

who delight in inciting troubles between
Muslim nations and encouraging
the Romans to attack Iraq.

The arch-villain is Ezekiel, an immortal
Jew whose presence runs
throughout time. He is a fat, evil old man.

The Iran-Iraq war began
when Ezekiel convinced the head of the Iraqi tribe
to invade his neighbour. The Iraqis, led
by a doddering old Sheikh, are quickly defeated
and Ezekiel seizes power in the country.

Enter the resistance fighter Salim
"a pure, virtuous Arab. Salim
is tall and handsome
with a straight nose"

The 1991 Gulf war is portrayed as an ambush
by Ezekiel, which Salim shrugs off, driving him
out of the country
with
the words,

"Be gone demon."

But Ezekiel returns
instead
with Roman allies.

In the ensuing battle Salim "fights
the Romans like a hawk". The onslaught proves
irresistible and Ezekiel and the Roman king flee

Then Ezekiel Hescel and the king
of the Romans saw the twin towers of the Roman's
city on fire. Ezekiel Hescel was beating his face
and saying, "Everything I've collected is gone."

One of the Romans was laughing at Ezekiel
and advised him: "Try building
Another two towers and sell the one
And rent the other to the Roman king!
Both you and the Roman king will rot in hell."

Arabs had set the towers on fire.
How adventurous they are when they become nervous!
The Roman watched the blaze
and wondered who had done it. The king
Said: "Our enemies are great in numbers."
Ezekiel Hescel answered no."Such a fedeyeen
attack could only be carried out by the Arabs".

Ezekiel Hescel and the Roman leader ran
away after
because they had lost their power and money.
--From Saddam's final novel

P.S. Saddam's favorite novelist was apparently Hemingway.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

.

ECLIPSE
Princeton has opened an online retirement home for avant-garde poetry books. They're getting old, but, like Keith Richards, some can still scare you. The collection's extensive. At the same time it distills the wide mix of UBU's collection into the obscure corners of the LANGUAGE movement. The books collected here never left a small circle of poets in the 1970s and 1980s. See the holes left by the vampiric stapler in Clark Coolidge's Suite V, to get a sense of how low-budget the works were. The editions were "limited" by demand and not supply. Most of them running at no more than 300 copies. Their attitude, however, has never learned limits. Even the index is a gigantic fuck you to books and convenient old ways of doing something. Highlights that I've found so far:
1. Easily the coolest thing is all the issues of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine. Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews managed to launch a whole movement with a photocopier and some staples. I ordered one of these puppies once at the New York Public Lubrary and it was comical to see a librarian reverentially call me to the desk to pick up my 9 sheets of old folded writing paper, which, apart from the stapling, looked like the typescript Jack Nicholson leaves for Shelley Long to read in The Shining. Like most L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets (the hugest exception being Ron Silliman) the problem with the magazine is its humorlessness. This can sometimes morph into witlessness. However its worth scanning 50% of every issue. Its charm lies in its Nietzschean will to power. These people wanted to take over the world with their new poetics (they never called it poetry, or them poems). Here's stuff I liked: Exercises (they're not really "experiments"), the laughable titles the magazine recommends to its readers eg. "Trucage and Film," "The Limits of Representation and the Modernist Discovery of Peresence" "The Idioms of the Text" (p. 13), Schizophrenic writing (p. 6), Silliman on "Zyxt" (p. 8) "The poet and the reader are equidistant from the meaning of the poem." and other aphorisms. (p. 43, This letter to the editor "if you don't kill Ted Kennedy, you'll never know who did" (p. 50).

2. Dracula by Lorenzo Thomas.

3. Aram (William's son) Saroyan's Aram Saroyan. This is a classic. This gives wanky nonsense lists a good name, a name like, Concrete Poems. "Lighght," is a poem I can't recite but love. It arrives in my head like the name of a forgotten friend every year or so. Check out the sudden explosion of radio stations as well.

4. Some parts of El Egg, like this part.

5. Men in Aida by David Melnick. This is pretty fun to read. And it's the only one where I can figure out the trick -- the trick, the rule, the gimmick being crucial to making these works satisfying, whatever the authors say. Melnick's taken some Greek classic (i think the Iliad since the epigraph mentions Akileos, ie. Achilles) and transliterated into English.

.

.

These VOLTS HIT HARD
On my desk I have a Stepdown Auto-Transformer SD-13, made by Todd Systems, Yonkers, NY, USA. The address alone dates it to the age when there was a manufacturing industry around New York City, an age when cameras had metal cross-hairs on the top instead of little windows. The Stepdown is robust. It is the size of a rabbit, and if dropped on a rabbit, would kill. I don't know much about density, but I do know when the weight in my hands is nine times more than the weight that my eyes had guessed. I am going to use the Stepdown to slow and reduce Europe's electric current to a rate acceptable to an American microwave. This is what it takes to harness the mighty Voltage of Europe, which could do to the American microwave what the microwave can do to Peeps. Alessandro Volta would be proud. American might stops at the electric main.

.

Today's OTHER HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTPOON
From Albania

So what happened in Albania to so seriously affect the distribution of heads among the population?

.

Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTOON
From India

.

Underneath THE COCONUT TREE
...me hunny and me/looked on Brigadoon.
Praying mantises do not rattle; they make no noise at all. Pierre's botany is as inept as his zoology. Willows are imported exotics in semi-arid central Texas; if this is based on actual perception at all, he seems to have mistaken cypresses or mesquite trees for willow trees. And a Texan would say "market booths," not "market stalls." When you put these mistakes together with his hayride error, it's as though, in a scene set in the Irish countryside near Dublin, Pierre has described men in tartan kilts taking part in the Highland Games while snakes croak loudly under the coconut trees.
-- a Texan rips the Booker Prize Winner to shreds.

Monday, December 15, 2003

.

Now it's TIME TO FREE SLAPPY THE SEAL
The story of Keiko, the killer whale who played Willy in Free Willy, has obsessed me for about two years. To begin with, you had the mindbending spectacle of an enslaved whale playing a free whale, not just once, but three times. Then the movies created their own reality: Keiko was freed by movie fans who couldn't bear for the happy ending to be so inconsistent with brute facts. The brute facts soon showed how brutal they were, however, when it turned out that Keiko didn't really want freedom. Keiko nervously stayed in a Norway fjord, scared of the open sea, never daring to chase for uncertain food. Fans of Keiko would meanwhile swim out to him, and grip his back with their legs, and ride him.

Even with his death and quiet funeral, Keiko has a hold on me. His owners decided to bury him in the
ground, so Keiko stays locked in the land.

Since he was born, Keiko has been adored by humans. And because they adored him his life was hell.

Finally, Keiko, it turns out, has been roughly my age the whole time. He dead. Thoughts of mortality flood in on the wave left by him.

Friday, December 12, 2003

.

.

The LATEST SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD
Probably very uncool of me to like The Flaming Lips's latest album, but the lyrics to this song make my weekday and my weekend. And the lyrics work even better with the melody and chords of the unknown lover calling silently from far away.

Her name is Yoshimi
- she's a black belt in karate
Working for the city -
she has to discipline her body -
Cause she knows
that it's demanding to defeat these
Evil machines - I know she can beat them -

Oh Yoshimi
They don't believe me
But you won't let those
Robots defeat me
Oh Yoshimi
They don't believe me
But you won't let those
Robots eat me

Those evil natured robots -
they're programmed to
Destroy us -
She's gotta be strong to fight them -
So she's taking lots of vitamins
- cause she knows that
It'd be tragic if those evil robots win -
I know
She can beat them

.

Reasons I LOVE DAVID LYNCH
He can be so matter of fact about things that are matters of utter bizarreness. The opening to his
script for Dune
1. ARRAKIS - A SCENE FROM SPACE

Also known as DUNE, home of the Fremen, former
Zenzunni wanderers.

1A. INT. ROCK LEDGE - SIETCH TABR - NIGHT

BLACK

FADE IN to the dark eyes of the mysterious face of
the REVEREND MOTHER RAMALLO, who sits against smooth
black rock. Her eyes are deep blue-within-blue and
her skin is a haunting translucent white. Her voice
ECHOES as if in a great cavern.

REVEREND MOTHER RAMALLO
We are the secret of the Universe.

RESPONSE OF TWENTY THOUSAND VOICES
Bi-la kaifa.

.

What is wrong with Stars and Stripes?
Doesn't it know it's meant to be propaganda? Haven't they watched the scene in 'Full Metal Jacket' where the editor tells matthew modine "Joker, I've told you, we run
two basic stories here. Grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorants--Winning of Hearts and
Minds--okay? And combat action that results in a kill--Winning the
War. Now you must have seen blood trails ... drag marks?" So why is Stars 'n' Stripes reporting on low morale and Bush's apparent belief that not all U.S. soldiers can be trusted on Thankg day?

Thursday, December 11, 2003

.

The LATEST JACK CHICK COMIC: The Sky Lighter
Never hard to fathom, always insane.



The Sky Lighter is Jack Chick at his everyone-is-going-to-hell-and-by-everyone-i-mean-ALL-of-you best. The climax:

YUSUF: I believe what Jesus said because Muhammed never rose from the dead! Won't you make Jesus Christ your Savior, Abdulla?
ABDULLA'S MOTHER: That lying devil! I'll kill him! WAIT! You filthy infidel! Come back here!
YUSUF: Abdulla! Remember what I said.

"20 minutes later"
A'S MOTHER [to Imam]: He got away. He tried to poison Abdulla with his words. But my warrior will do his job.
IMAM: You must do this for Allah. Make us proud.
ABDULLA: If I must...

"One month later, Abdulla lights up the sky"
ABDULLAH: This is for Allah and his prophet, Muhammed!

"The devil wins... Abdulla is blown to bits including all those nearby."
KA-BLAM!
"Abdulla is in for a big surprise!"



Wednesday, December 10, 2003

.

The LATEST ROSENBAUM PIECE...
...defends Phil Spector's additions to 'Let It Be.' I used to think that 'Across the Universe' would be my favorite song if only someone removed the Aah-aah-ahhs which tag team with Lennon when he sings "Nothing's going to change my world". The voice needs to sound lost and alone for the song to work, I reasoned. Later, I decided that it was my favorite song after all. The trick is that in the Spector version, because the Aah-aah-aahs sound artificial and gratuitously added they don't make company with Lennon's voice. They sound like a party in the next room, and meanwhile Lennon continues on lost in abstraction. Fiona Apple's version is the best way to do the song without the Aahs. Bowie sang it as if "Nothing's going to change my world" was synonymous with "We Are the Champions." It isn't. For me, it's a delusion Lennon is reassuring himself with after a terrifying divorce from reality.

O, and for me, Phil Spector is a genius for "Be My Baby" and the album he produced for Dion.

Long, Winding Road For Phil Spector Guilty of Genius

.

Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTOON

Ye Spalpeen indeed. And is that Abraham Lincoln wearing a dress?

.

Holding CRITICAL OPINIONS WITHOUT READING A BOOK. Part II: Masterclass
Here is an attempt to understand how the four paragraphs introducing the NYT's best books of the year are and were allowed to be so magnificently dull. Follow me on the trail of The New York Times as it voyages into the heart of promotional copy on the back covers of books:
The best books of 2003 include four novels, an autobiography, two biographies, a history and a volume of reportage. They were chosen by the editors from a roster of 10 works of fiction and 11 of nonfiction nominated by individual editors throughout the year. Three of the novels are by American men and one by a British woman. Three nonfiction authors are women and two are men; three are Americans, one a Briton and one a Latin American.

Two of the novels are the first written by their authors, and the reporter's book is also her first. In no previous best-books list were a third of the choices first books. Actually, among the original nominations, six of the volumes of fiction were first books, along with two of the volumes of nonfiction -- an unusually high, if not unprecedented, percentage of the nominees in one year. Two of the writers on this year's list, both of them novelists, have appeared in previous best-books lists, one 16 years ago and one 33 years back.

Thematically all the novels are about the homeless -- immigrants who find the place they've journeyed to is not theirs and the one they left cannot be recovered; children of city streets taken from them by gentrifiers, leaving them with slippery memories of where they belong; flower children who abandoned middle-class America in search of nirvana and found Alaska; and a county of black people in pre-Civil War Virginia who have been whipped from home in so many senses one cannot bear to count them.

Labeling the nonfiction books is inadequate. Both biographies sketch the history of politically perilous times; the autobiography evokes in personal terms the history of a nation's collapse; the reporter's book is so colorfully animated it takes some effort to remember it is not a novel; and the history uncovers the truth behind a legend by resurrecting biographies of a dozen forgotten men.
1. I feel my passion for reading drain out of my toes as I read this, replaced with a blankness the size of my microcosmic universe. Is thought possible after such sensory depravation? I go on, regardless.

2. Did the Times editors read the books? Maybe. But if they did they wasted their time. They didn't have to! Deadline is fast approaching a blank space in the front of the newspaper. Well, let's see. Oof. 8 books. That's a lot. What have we got here? There are the author photos and the biographies and the plot summary. Three of the novels are by American men and one by a British woman. Well, that's something. Let's put that in.

3. Next year when they do this, they should say what's on the front of the book as well. Photos? Cool fonts? Does one have a painting of Fabio shirtless on the beach? That's all I need to know. I'll take it.

4. "Three nonfiction authors are women and two are men; three are Americans, one a Briton and one a Latin American." But, O New York Times, the authors bios and photos on the back give you so much more than this! Look at the photos and you could say, "One is hot, one I'd need to be drunk, one is tall, two are old." You could say "Four of the authors are photoraphed in black and white, two in color." You could mention all the useless prizes the authors have received on the back as well, so that could take up space. What's that? "Two of the writers on this year's list, both of them novelists, have appeared in previous best-books lists, one 16 years ago and one 33 years back." OK, so you did mention it. Nice touch that, adding the year they received the prize.

5. Underneath the authors' bios it tells us if they've written any other books. Good. Let's add that in. O no, they haven't written other books. O god what are we going to say now? What's that Carter? We can work round the other way. O i see. BRILLIANT. "six of the volumes of fiction were first books, along with two of the volumes of nonfiction -- an unusually high percentage of the nominees in one year." Actually make that UNPRECEDENTEDLY HIGH. No make it both and add IF NOT.

6. "Labeling the nonfiction books is inadequate." a. Except to label them as nonfiction, apparently. b. inadequate for what purpose? I find this sentence marvelously baffling. I have an image of a book store employee who has to apply the stickers telling you about the two for one deal. The employee is thinking "Into the depths of time and space my actions fall uselessly like sperm into a Durex condom."

7. If you say "reportage" when you mean reporting I assume that you say soi disant when you mean so-called and "persiflage" when you don't know what you mean at all.

8. Plot summaries. I want plot summaries. Plot summaries. They're easy.

9. Ah, lots of plot summaries.

10. Wait, you call these plot summaries?

11. The biography of Samuel Pepys sketches "the history of politically perilous times." Then it was a bit supid of Claire Tomalin to call her biography "The Unequalled Self" instead of "Samuel Pepys: A Man in Politically Perilous Times Just Like Nikita Kurshchev Was."

12. "A county of black people in pre-Civil War Virginia who have been whipped from home in so many senses one cannot bear to count them." But counting is what you do the best! You should have written: "Out of a county of 100 black people in pre-Civil War Virginia who have been whipped from home in a lot of senses: 15 senses are related to geography, 3 senses are touch and sight and hearing, one of the senses really does relate to whipping."

13. "The reporter's book is so colorfully animated it takes some effort to remember it is not a novel." Actually, only animated films are necessarily animated. And only in reference to animated films can I think it possible that the phrase "colorfully animated" could have any meaning.

14. The New York Times could have chosen to describe styles of writing, pace, vocabularies, narrative strategies, length, relationships with previous writers, what these books say about what literature is doing today. They instead told us that there were as many women as men. They didn't mention the race of the authors, nevertheless Latin America has become something people in the U.S. like to see when they look for racial diversity.

15. Finally, beyond giving plot summaries, the New York Times never told us why these books were interesting. They did give us plot summaries in intensely purple prose, and perhaps they thought that was enough. Journalists generally think that rhetorical flourishes in sentences pay tribute to the subject, just as the empty flourishes of trumpeters pay tribute to the medieval King in his entrance. Usually, this means that their first sentences sound like a bastard child of Hemingway and whoever writes movie posters. Rick Bragg, lately of The New York Times, excels at this ("Oseola McCarty spent a lifetime making other people look nice. Day after day, for most of her 87 years, she took in bundles of dirty clothes and made them clean and neat for parties she never attended, weddings to which she was never invited, graduations she never saw."). The Times packed its description of the books' plots with those kinds of sub-Hemingway sub-movie poster flourishes: "Children of city streets taken from them by gentrifiers, leaving them with slippery memories of where they belong."

16. By contrast, a review of nine Thomas Hardy books in my beloved TLS has me gagging to read Thomas Hardy because it has a broad vision of what makes a book good to read and forcefully argues how Thomas Hardy had more of it than 99% of us can dream of.

17. I think the NYT sees itself as a manual, like the ones in glove car compartments, which tells you how to operate a bookshop from the consumer end. For as long as it believes that it can never be interesting. It'll be less interesting and helpful than those back covers of the book's themselves which it summarizes so poorly.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

.

The HAUNTING
I've never read 'Middlemarch' and so don't really know who Mr. Casaubon is. Over the past month he's haunted my reading. In the dark corners of all my books this half-image of a man lurks. I can't see him. But everyone I read can. Mr. Casaubon's broken out of 'Middlemarch' and he's vanishing and appearing throughout the 21st century's intellectual presses. People don't know why they want to write about Mr. Casaubon. But they do. He appears in the TLS article on ur-words which I linked to last month. That was when I first saw Mr. Casaubon. I wonder if Christopher Hitchens even knew why he led with Mr. Casuabon in his review of Vitor Serge. There, I saw Mr. Casaubon as "the desiccated pedant." I glimpsed Mr. Casaubon again, today, in the Telegraph? This time I saw two white moles, with hairs on his cheeks. All these articles in some way defend Mr. Casuabon. But I still fear him. Return, O ghost, to 'Middlemarch' where your quest to discover the key to all mythologies remains futile. Stop trying to avenge your reputation!

.

See BELOW FOR A FAR POORER EXPRESSION OF THIS SENTIMENT
"This puts Dawkins in the somewhat paradoxical position of being an evangelical atheist in a country where evangelicals of any kind are largely mistrusted. At least until recently, his crusading seemed to many people in England a little bit over the top, a touch embarrassing. Surtout, pas de zèle: Talleyrand's excellent motto, goes down well in England, yet Dawkins is zealous. "

-- From a review in the New Republic

Monday, December 08, 2003

.

Chipping THE DEITY
I'd have more pride in my lack of religion if my fellow atheists would be like Jews and have the self discipline not to proselytize incessantly. Sadly, there's a certain strain of atheist which can't stop attacking religion in any form anywhere, who will fling themselves across a crowded room to tell a Christian that the trinity is stupid with the force of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland. Beckett showed the tragic sadness of this attitude -- "That bastard, he doesn't exist!" (Endgame) -- and its time-wasting stupidity -- "An atheist chipping the deity was not more senseless than Murphy defending his courses of inaction" (Murphy).

The Guardian shows the pathetic depths of its contempt for religion in this sophisticated 'Comment.' which essentially argues that America is so stupid because it is religious. And America, it argues, is in dire of salvation and must be plunged back into the Godless void, where everyone intelligent writes for the Guardian. Like a fund-raising letter from a small country parish for a mission to convert the heathen in Africa, the assumption of stupidity beyond the borders makes everyone outside them look intelligent and the writer moronic.

The writer associates religion as optimism. This doesn't sound so awful. He associates enlightenment, however, with watching a movie of Santa butt-fucking fat women. Behold, the sophisticated reaction to the Godless universe. Jesus, as they say, fucking christ.

.

What COMES OF TOO MUCH NIETZSCHE
New York has mellowed since I left. Back in the day, the police would kill an unarmed man with 42 bullets. Now they use only 14 bullets, they only wound him, he's naked and armed with a sword, screaming "I'm God Kill Me!" and they shoot one of their own out of empathy and even then, they've only wounded him.

.

The REAL TERRIFYING PYNCHON-ESQUE CONSPIRACY IN THE U.S.

A well-funded movement of neoprohibitionists is afoot, with advocates in media, academia, and government. The movement sponsors a variety of research organizations, which publish dozens of studies each year alleging the corruptive effects of alcohol. Those studies are taken at face value by well-intentioned policymakers at the local, state, and federal level. New laws are enacted that curb Americans' access to alcohol.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

.

What HAPPENED TO THE POSTS?
The posts disappeared with MacLamity to his home base on the Isle of Man. MacLamity will be back the fuck on, posting like a motherfucker, taking the truth on a walk into the domain of the public.

Even MacLamity has to relax and spend a week drinking beers in front of his parents' television set.