Thursday, January 29, 2009


So, Sebastian Barry won the Costa Award.

Hurray for Sebastian! and all that.

Turns out some of the members of that jury are very willing to talk about the flaws in the book. Very willing. We didn't like the ending, this or that character wasn't believable, etcetera. Bitching, basically. But then they gave him the award anyway and had a long good therapeutic talk with the newspaper.

Presumably, that made them feel better.

But what about Mr. Barry? Will he slap the bitches back? Ask, for instance, what a frigging comedian is doing on the jury of a lit award? Inquire, sweetly, which of the members of said jury has, indeed, produced an undisputed masterpiece? Or will he simply go for the fastest revenge -- go the ceremony and sit and grin until the 25,000 pounds get firmly ensconced in some inner pocket of his tweeds?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


...or so critics/reviewers/readers of the English version of Omega Minor (oh, gimme a break, you don't want actual links here, do you?) have told me.

To which I have replied: (...)

That is, I am too lazy, too tired, and too g*ddamn blasé to actually take the trouble to defend my literary choices, to stand up for the carnal incarnations of my imagination. Plus, you know, postmodern guy and all that: The text, my friends, nothing but the text, and @#$& the author! @#$&! I say! (And hang the DJ while you're at it.)

Still. It nags. Can they not read, those self-declared Friends of Letters, those self-assured Pruners in the Gardens of the Word, those perilous potentates of semi-porous poetics, those gaudy groundhogs grinding their teeth underneath my bed? The writer tries to shrug it off, but oh -- the gnashing and gnawing at his feet!

Well. One reader, so it seems, can. And did. And wrote about it.

Lazy I still am, so read, if you must, Mr. Lambert's blog entry, wasted on my ever-shrinking novel. (Mr. Lambert is not lazy: He wastes a whole damn blog entry on my frigging no-good death-of-me broke-my-back brick of a book.)

An excerpt (including an excerpt):

The novel opens with a description of a sexual encounter that sets the tone for most of the sex in the novel. There isn’t that much of it in terms of pages, but what there is shares a relentless, near-pornographic quality that might have something to do with Verhaeghen’s not being a native speaker. It’s a strange amalgam of the poetic, the urological and the simply weird, as in this extract from the second page:

Behold the purple head that sways so swiftly on its heavy stalk; see how it glistens with her spit and juices; watch the little crater at the top spit out its zigzag line—out shoots the slime, the whirling weathervane, the drunken comet that climbs past the stars: In the moist cloud chamber of Donatella’s room, a signal lights up in silvery white, an almost perfect circle described by the tumbling ribbon of spunk, an acrobatic snake snapping at—but missing—its own tail: an ancient Greek symbol, the latter Omega, capitalized—Ω.

This opening scene does more than establish the tone and central elements of the novel’s theme. Crucially, the sexual act is being described not by a protagonist, but by someone who observes, himself unobserved. The novel is deeply concerned with what it means to be a witness, and with the kind of power, and lack of power, this involves. It goes beyond this to question the nature and permeability of the boundaries we draw between those who act and those who watch, and how historical and personal blame should be apportioned between these two groups, taking into account the extent to which any distinction made between them might be facile, or false. Dangerous ambiguities are evoked as the novel progresses – through confession and dissimulation - and even the aphoristic moral certainty of such a sentence as “There is a world of difference between an act that is permitted and an act that is permissible” is undermined by what the novel does.
What the man says, man.

Why do the readers who, the writer feels, understand always have to live too far away to simply buy them an honest beer?

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Here was my Sunday homework for next week's class, in case you want to emulate:

a. The first 10 seconds of Stevie Wonder's Superstition, on repeat, over headphones. Close your eyes and concentrate on those hi-hats -- those hi-hats! I said: THOSE HI-HATS!

b. The Adagio Cantabile from the Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata. How to make a yearning melody by starting a third above the root, tease the listener by going down, but then go up, and generally postpone the appearance of the root until measure 8. Then cursorily skip&hop away, of course. Beethov': you tease!

c. Burial's Near Dark. Beats done and undone, shells clattering, surf breaking, heart aching -- After which sure-fire remedy had to be applied:

d. Feed the Animals, by Girl Talk, at full volume, fingers pointing disco-stAAAHl, while fixing some chiles anchos rellenos con picadillo de tofu. (A man's got to eat.)

So, thank you, Daniel Levitin and Jonah Lehrer, for a corticofugal afternoon the neighbors will never forget.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Na lang aandringen heeft DWB eindelijk haar ding gekregen: Drie van mijn flash-ficties -- u las ze eerder al hier -- verschijnen, in Nederlandse vertaling, in het eerste nummer van dit jaar.

(Eigenlijk waren die ondingen deel van mijn dankwoord bij het dan-toch overhandigen van de Prijs van de Vlaamse Provincies aan uw dienaar, zomaar op de avond van de verkiezingen in de VS. Hadden ze die overhandiging nu 1 dag uitgesteld, dan had ik de 4,954 euro toch mee naar huis kunnen nemen, verdorie.)

In Nederlandse vertaling -- daar moet ik nu even over gaan nadenken, zie.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


You know things are bad when a single day brings two relatively independent stories about Guantanamo Bay and the perversion of justice there.

The WP reports a former military prosecutor's claim that detainee Jawad's case:
has been riddled with problems, including alleged physical and psychological abuse of Jawad by Afghan police and the U.S. military, as well as reliance on evidence that was later found to be missing, false or unreliable.
Some of those problems include Jawad's thumbprint under a confession written in Farsi -- a language he does neither speak nor understand -- and an alleged confession to US authorities for which the videotape went missing. Or perhaps "missing".

The article uses the word 'chaos', in part to avoid, one feels, the T-word.

The T-word does appear in a Reuters piece about the alleged 20th hijacker.

"We tortured Qahtani," Susan Crawford said in an interview with the newspaper [the WP again]. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.
Crawford is labeled as "the Pentagon official overseeing the tribunals for Guantanamo Bay". No small fish. Or: As close to an official confession of government-sanctioned torture we will ever get.

Note that this use of torture -- apart from violating the Geneva Convention and the UN resolution against torture, both of which the US, in the name of its citizens, signed -- is now effectively making evidence against terror suspects non-admissible in court. Which means that these two folks -- guilty or innocent -- can simply walk. (Or would, if we lived by the legal consequences of our legal actions.)

Which is not the way it's supposed to work. Some official dodo claims you did something illegal, you claim you did not, both sides present their case in front of an independent party -- a jury or a judge -- after which said party deliberates and hands you down a verdict. You know, uh, like: justice?

Locking up an innocent man -- that ain't right. Letting a terrorist go free -- that ain't right. Playing the game so that either, and perhaps both outcomes are highly likely -- if that ain't downright criminal, then at least it's criminally negligent.

In the meantime, in his open letter to our new president (in the latest issue of friggin' Rolling Stone, can-you-believe-it?), Paul Krugman calls for a national committee on Truth and Reconciliation, much like South-Africa's during the transition from Apartheid to democracy. No witch hunt, but a fair hearing, a fact-finding mission, a few well-placed prosecutions. Not that my opinion matters and not that Krugman's proposal is rocket science, but I agree.

Deeper than the reality of torture itself is the disturbing sense that we, as a nation, have been tainted by its reality as well as by our creeping acceptance of said reality. Like a dog that has once killed, its nostrils filled with the scent of human blood, we have had our little taste of the forbidden, its effects slowly building its memory synapses in the pinkish wrinkles of our brains. An atavistic taste of the forbidden and a dawning knowledge that we got away with it -- such is the legacy of the Bush regime. The dog don't know it, but he's from here on down forever untrustworthy, forever to be watched.

We need to wipe that smell away, people, we need to wipe that veil of hazy red from our eyes. We need to cut those synapses, chase those damn neurotransmitters from our skulls.


We are better than that.

Justice may be blind -- but that don't mean that all blindness is just.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Journalists are still not allowed inside Gaza. Always a sure sign something rotten is going on. Like, you know, throwing bombs on top of schoolchildren and not even being apologetic about it. (War-reporter history has shown that journalists' safety is never an issue, unless you're hell-bent on killing some civilians.)

In the meantime, let me present you with two screenshots -- both frontpages of newspapers of note. One is from the NYT, the so-called liberal newspaper in the USA, the other from De Standaard, Belgian's center-democrat newspaper.

Clearly, someone is getting less (and/or more filtered) information than somebody else. Those bloody body bags are not a figment of somebody's imagination. Except Mr. Olmert's, of course: He dreamed it all up.

Thursday, January 8, 2009



This is what a real writer looks like. (Click on the video.) He is also clearly wrestling with his, uh, craft and, yeah, vocation. Always the hallmark of the truly great.