Friday, September 26, 2008


Salon has a new and harrowing piece about David Foster Wallace, and the final stages of his depression, and how he ultimately succumbed to it.
We know little about the link between writing and mood disorder, except that there is one: Famous novelists have a 50% probability to go through a major depression in their lifetime; for poets it's even higher (numbers come from Ludwig's book on the topic). Sometimes, folks seem to assume the link is direct: Depression is the driving force behind your writing (see this unfortunate interview with Pistanek). The DFW piece suggests otherwise. As most writers and clinical psychologists know, depression is debilitating, not liberating. It is a coffin, not a fount.
I (with Jutta Joormann and Rodney Kahn) am one of the few who've done actual empirical work on the causes of the link. In our paper, Why We Sing the Blues (see also the short digest in the APA monitor), we looked at the relationship between depressed mood, creativity, and rumination. Rumination is the kind of circling self-attention that is hard to stop, and is well-known to be associated with depression. (Folks who think hard about themselves and the world and their place in it, are bound to, well, not be so chipper.) It is also, or so we thought, something creative folks do, or maybe even need. What we found was that this is indeed the case: rumination begets depression, and it also begets creativity, but once you take this propensity to ponder into account, there is no direct link between depression and creativity anymore. In other words: Rumination might get you to sing, and it might get you the blues. Therefore, a number of folks who sing do sing the blues, because that is what they literally sadly experience.
The good news from our own work is then that therapy for depression, if successfull in lifting the depression, should also help with writing (contrary, again, to what Pistanek is asserting in his, come to think of it now, dangerous interview). But therapy does not always work -- as DFW's case demonstrates. We should be glad he gave us what he could while he could, but that does not take away the awful chill left by his departure.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Ayelet Waldman (and Michael Chabon) have noticed that writers and perhaps also lovers of literature in general carry their heart and their brains (and sometimes their cojones) on the left side.
So, she started
Books for Barack.
The idea is simple: If you are a US resident or a citizen and you donate $250 to the Obama campaign through her MyObama page (click the link above for more info), she'll send you ten randomly selected signed books, donated by their authors. The tally is at around 1,500, so you have a 1/150 chance it'll be a copy of
Omega Minor.
That is, as soon as I locate a big padded envelope in this big mess I call my house.

Let this thing with feathers soar!

UPDATE: They ran out of books. Already. Now it's just Money for Barack. In return, we might just get our country back. Also nothing to be snubbed at.

Monday, September 22, 2008


A most awesome and political (NSFW if you work for the govt, no doubt), and quite smart online art exhibit: America, the Gift Shop.

Includes an Oldenburg-like inflatable nylon Guantanamo cell, plenty-o-t-shirts, and a Cheney-shredding-documents sno-globe. Among other things.

Not timely enough to include the greatest gift of all: 700,000,000,000 dollars in debt racked up by the military-industrial complex taken over by us, the taxpayers, in one fell swoop, that is, at about 2,000 dollars per resident. (The elections just have become a moot point. We'll all be mowing lawns for the govt until further notice, every single Saturday of our lives.)

Friday, September 19, 2008


One of you came here looking for the following:
maximum safe time to tie up testicles
and left after 0:00 seconds.

I am so sorry to disappoint.

Therefore, for lack of usefulness or entertainment value, this blog will be suspended until further notice.

(But if you want my opinion: That time depends on what tasks you want those testicles to perform after unbinding. Bleed? Tie'm up longer. Provide baby-conception-quality sperm: Uhn-uhn! Also: Only tie up testicles if owner of said globules agrees with the procedure. Just sayin.)


Donald Rumsfeld, great warlord not so much, but poet extraordinaire, as we all know, today dethroned by Sarah Palin, who found this haiku rolling our of the mouth, just like that:

They don't flag, you know,
the molecules, where it's
goin' and where it's not.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


A few posts down, dglen asked if I have any thoughts to share on 2666.

Now, I am simply a reader and a singer of songs; I am not a critic, nor am I schooled in the proper ways of reading. I read partially by gut. Let the big guys like Fausto and Scott and Chad go after this one with their usual flair and the sharp instruments of their analysis -- they do it so well.

I'll tell you simply this: Read it. It's one of those books that comes along rarely, perhaps every decade or so, like Infinite Jest or One Hundred Years of Solitude or Gravity's Rainbow -- books that stretch the form because they must, because the existing form cannot capture what the writer needs to say. 2666 is dark and long and winding, repetitive in the way a Beethoven symphony is repetitive (although RB's tone is much more Shostakovich), and the way the writer circles (circles! no convergence!) around the main theme -- the black Void of Evil that is humanity -- is nothing short of breathtaking. Here we are taken aloft on the wings of some heavy dank creature to glide in ever shrinking spirals on the warm thermals of a deathly desert, safely aloof yet shaking with terror for right beneath us Hell's own maw gapes and burps. And yes, Bolano's Evil is ultimately banal, but -nosiree- it ain't trivial. Never before have I seen this done with this such sharp clarity and yet such clever circumspection: The writer stares at the Platonic shadows on the wall (that is, if darkness could cast shadows) and then does what he has to do. He sits and sets on paper the ever churning circles of his mind. Knowing, as Bolano did, that this novel would end with the writer's own death, is fully part of the novel's hidden narrative and its significance.

This is no hype concocted by the slimy assclowns of the publishing industry. For once, this is the real deal -- the raw deal.

Bonus question: Why are all the great writers dead? Why did we have to wait until DFW died to hear all this great praise heaped upon him? Why is writing such ungrateful work (see Flann O'Brien, see Willem Elsschot)? Shouldn't we start celebrating and hugging our living writers (and by extension all creative artists), maybe not to the extent we obsessively revere Matthew McConaughey's perfect abs and pecs or Jessica Simpson's wondrous hairdo, but still? Or do we await the artsy equivalent of a Wall Street collapse before we all rush in?

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I read Infinite Jest in the late 1990s. It blew my mind. It was all a novel needed to be. Novel, for instance, and containing, well, all. I took up permanent residence in the year of the Depend adult undergarment.

And in the literature of excess.

The novel I wrote after reading Infinite Jest contained 967 footnotes. My publisher made me scrap all of those.

And now David Foster Wallace has decided to scrap himself.

If any frigging writer in this frigging country was not in excess, if any one was needed, it was him.


Here are some of the things that make a man, or so says Krishna:
Suffering and the end of suffering; fear and fearlessness; birth and death.

Mr. Wallace: May you rest in peace, may you be read, and may you be, to the extent we can, understood.

Friday, September 12, 2008


In my culture, the dimple in his chin -- said her friend from far-East India -- signifies wisdom. (The vertical furrow in his brow does not harm matters, either.)

The mother bowed in silence. We will see, she then replied, realizing full well that for now her baby boy's considerable wisdom was attuned to the exact foreknowledge when during a diaper change his dad was within shooting range, and unaware.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


A while ago, Virginie Kippelen (multilingual herself, to the point where I'm afraid to practice my by now meager French on her) interviewed me for The Linguist, a British journal/magazine interested in, among other things, language and translation. I assume that piece will be coming out soon; Virginie has a small taste on her blog. In French.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Some book-related news from TIME magazine:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
Or as they say in some of those books with inappropriate language: Oh fuck!