Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Projected success for my currently-not-being-written novel, solely on the basis of the title: 63.7%.
On the other hand, my Greek translator didn't like Omega Minor at all, and suggested The Future of the World -- which has a 26.3% predicted success rate.
Which is why I won't show up in Athens anytime soon.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
More precisely: What do writers read about when writers read about love?
Expertise in a domain comes with changed perceptions.
Chess masters don't see individual pieces on a board, they see chunks and clusters, dance moves of unfathomable complexity, a fast battement of exhilaring possibility perhaps, or a slow slump towards near-certain defeat. (Chase and Simon did that work.)
Painters aren't just better with the brush -- their visual grasp on the world is quicker, more secure; their mental eye roams around objects at will, zooming in on details hidden to all but them. What pleasure they must derive from the ballet of colors on a simple walk through the park on a fine autumn day! (Aaron Kozbelt did that study.)
Musicians, we are unsurprised to learn, have a keener ear for emotional expressivity: They need only a whisper of a hint to tap into a player's moods, they hear much quicker where all this is going. The very good ones, it turns out, also understand us, mere listeners, better: They play with just the right touch, with just the right amount of variation in tempo to make it work -- anything less would have been dreary, anything more would have turned deliciously spun sweetness into a syrup-soggy mess. (Dan Levitin's experiments.)
So too, it seems to me, has the writer's eye and ear been twisted; his sense of rhythm sharpened: Sounds seep more sweetly in his soul.
And stories! We've read them all, we know their twists and turns, all characters are sisters and brothers to us now. Oh and do we know authorial intent!
So when we writers read about love, we do not read about love: We read a story about love. It could become our story, were we to choose to write it, or were it to choose us. And even if we don't, it does.
This is the moment I know I am ready to write: When resonances sing; when whatever I read is in tune with my voice; when harmonies ring from (written) page to page (to be). This state of joy is also a curse: I cannot turn her off, this impertinent muse perched on my shoulder, tugging at my ear with apert impatience, except at my own peril: Were her dictation to go ignored, wouldn't she (shouldn't she?) flutter away, never to return?
Here is the clincher: To write means to have entered the great Hall of Stories (Hall, that too, of Fame and Shame) -- the peril is no longer yours alone, but that of a World for which you have rashly crassly brazenly and foolishly assumed responsibility, by the mere touch of a finger on a key, by the lighting of an eye on innocent lines.
(And, no, that research study has never been done. And may it never be.)
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Also, Amnesty argues/urges for the criminal prosecution of GW Bush.
(And, hey there, NYT: They call torture torture; even if it smells sweet to our former president.)
We all now where this will go: Exactly nowhere.
But it still needs to be said.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Fortunately for her, someone caught this on video.
What does headstomping guy say in an interview?
"I don't think it's that big of a deal. I would like for her to apologize to me to be honest with you."
The man who held her down, by the way, was wearing one of those nice 'ellow flag buttons that say: Don't tread on me.
Headstompin' man is also member of an organization that endorses 'open carry' laws -- meaning you should be allowed to carry firearms openly in public spaces. In case his feet get defective and/or his thug buddies aren't around, I suppose.
Irony is now officially dead, and stock for brown shirts is soaring like crazy.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Less love for the NY Times' application thereof.
As for instance here.
Cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid -- that's not torture; that is merely, sez the Times, 'abuse' -- a physical maltreatment. (Step up from an oopsie, shall we assume?)
Enter Rob Beschizza, with his awesome and insightful NYT torture euphemism generator.
I hope the LTI-inspired folks at the NYT (and in our government) click and click this app until they finally realize what they are doing.
And hang their head in shame.
Merriam-Webster's definition of torture:
1 a : anguish of body or mind : agony
b : something that causes agony or pain
2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure
3 : distortion or overrefinement of a meaning or an argument : straining
(Under definition 3, of course, the NYT is clearly torturing the very definition of torture.)
Friday, October 22, 2010
Now we know.
Those killed in six years (1/2004-12/2009) of the Iraq war:
- 23,984 'enemy' (those labeled as insurgents)
- 15,196 'host nation' (Iraqi government forces)
- 3,771 'friendly' (coalition forces)
- 66,081 'civilians'
Suggestions for a healthy discussion here in the US:
- Why are the Iraqi 'host' forces more than 4 times as likely to get killed than the coalition combat troops? Given that this isn't their war, how do we justify this?
- Why isn't there a public outcry (or even public acknowledgment) that this needless war has now killed more Americans than the 9/11 attack?
- How on earth and in the name of what g*d can anyone justify the death of 66,000 civilians, 60% of the casualties?
What the discussion here in the US is going to be about: How Wikileaks' info dump is going to endanger 'our troops'. (Well then: Pull them out already.)
The Guardian has processed all this into more manageable data formats, including a Google map of every incident.
Markus Baram writes:
Most shockingly, the documents allegedly show that US troops abused prisoners for years even after the Abu Ghraib scandal and that the US ignored systemic abuse, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, according to several news reports.
The allegations of prisoner abuse by US troops from 2005 to 2009 occurred despite a crackdown on such behavior that was promised in the wake of the 2004 scandal over abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which reports that "303 allegations of abuse by coalition forces were reported in the military files after 2004."
Another piece in The Guardian details:
• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.
Which would also lead one to ask whether certain recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize can be un-Nobled.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Last week, I found this entry on a secret prison the US is running at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Nicknamed the Black Hole. The military (and that's okay; it's part of their job) denies the existence of this prison, which seems to be running on the tired principles of sleep deprivation and individual humiliation that have now become hallmark for how the US treats prisoners of war. The alleged abuses (which have been documented before by the BBC, but I somehow missed that) occurred well after Obama issued his benighted angels-from-on-high executive order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations, which was supposed to put an end to these kind of antics and bring the Shining Beacon back in line with (yeah, I remember it fondly) international law and (golly, almost forgot about those!) the various treaties we have signed over the years (like the Geneva Convention for starters, and the UN Convention against Torture). Plus, of course, well, uh: US law.
After I quit screaming my head off in first utter disbelief and then utter disgust, I started wondering why I needed the BBC to tell me that. The organization which is now pushing this story is based in New York, so it isn't, I presume, that they only talked to the Beeb. And it's not like, you know, you need complicated Internetzmaneuvers to get your hands on the original document. It's also not like well-known human rights organizations have not taken this up. Amnesty International tries to save the day by simply assuming a benign forgetfulness on our part, or perhaps 't is that we here in the good ole' US of A have kinda lost our appetite for self-examination. Ah! Good ole' US of A! Tired of the discourse, eh? The story first broke in April; now, in October, the DoD is still saying they're gonna look into it, you know, when they got, maybe, like, some time on their hands? Attention to this story in the media down here, including the lefty political blogs I so love to waste time on? Zero. (More interested in Aqua Buddha and whether some Latinos under the right light might look Asian after all, and let's bet that by the time you read this you've already forgotten what the heck I'm talking about.)
Well, we can now at least cast aside the notion that Obama was an innocent bystander dragged into a war he was going to make all better once he fully understood it.
Also -- where the fuck are my sisters and brethren in, just to name one, the literary world (except for you, Nick, darling) with your electrifying prose when this nation could need a nice artistically executed kick in the gonads*? Right: Too busy writing white-folk family sagas, or else too caught up in the romantic occult to see the real vampires we're all in bed with.
So, inevitably, stupidly, maddingly: So it goes.
But need it go so?
Fuck the power; sharpen the fangs?
* I have absolutely NOTHING against a nice mixed metaphor.
Monday, September 13, 2010
It's the kind of flag local toddlers point out to their mommies: "Look, mommy: 'Ellow flag!"
BRIGHT yellow, in fact.
Plus: It had an animal, always a hit with the under-three crowd.
A snake, to be precise, all coiled up, ready to jump, fangs at the ready, its rattler high up in the air.
It had a caption too, in all caps: DON'T TREAD ON ME.
Not exactly cute, but toddlers can be forgiving -- the 'ellow and the sayk! simply override everything else.
Sultry S and I assumed it was a sporting flag of some kind -- folks here fly big letters T on game days, or flags with elephants and the final four letters of our president's name, or else rather grim-looking honeybees.
But this flag stayed up all the time.
This was either a football team on a perpetual winning streak, or something else entirely.
Turns out it's the unofficial flag of the Tea Party, that delightful extreme-nationalist, racist-but-we're-too-chicken-to-admit-it, let's-not-bother-with-actually-understanding-the-Constitution-we-claim-to-defend oh-so spontaneous pol movement that is emphatically so not part of the GOP.
Mottoes are telling -- that's why we adopt them.
The general slogan of this great nation is E pluribus unum: unity from diversity. (Or: We're all in this together, man.)
This whole don't-tread-on-me sentiment being waved a block from our house thus seems somewhat anathema to the sentiment expressed in the national motto.
Well: to each her/his own, I say.
Still, one wonders exactly what effective statesmanship could spring forth from the tightly wound coils of a defensiveness so clearly mass-produced, yet so uber-individually wrapped in near-frontier-mystique levels of hysteric paranoia?
(Or one shudders to think.)
(But that would be meta-paranoia, right?)
Friday, September 3, 2010
This bothers me.
As far as I know, similar, if not greater circumference of ego and larger heights of arrogance have been achieved (or so the presses tell us) by entertainers of such diverse plumage as say, Lebron James, Bono Vox, Axl Rose, at least one of the Williams sisters, John Mayer, and Sarah Palin -- and literally nobody cares. But when a serious writer or artist takes her/his righteous spot in the limelight -- here I am, see what I did?, look at me! -- we heap ridicule and we demand, we demand humility.
Is what Franzen did -- putting 300,000 or so bloody words one after the other in a breathtaking sequence [dixit the Times, I haven't had the time read them all], a feat of immense improbability -- any less exceptional than writing half of Welcome to the Jungle or throwing balls through hoops with high speed and precision? Why do we accept that rappers and athletes boast, but demand, demand that the serious artist sits back, tsk-tsk's at her/his successes and humbly offers all the glory to the muse?
Why, in other words, do we insist that those who produce art (who hold up a mirror, who tell it like they see it, perhaps even tell it like it T-I-is?) should be our performing monkeys, neatly kept on a leash, to dance only for our pleasure (only for our pleasure; only for our pleasure) and otherwise be quiet, accept our peanuts, and fling no poop?
What matters in a book, a work of art, is the book, the work of art. If you happen to be the creator of an exceptional piece, why not be allowed, once in a while, to express that you feel just that -- exceptional?
Friday, August 27, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Thursday, July 1, 2010
I dare bet this is the first time anybody reading Gravity's Rainbow made the cover of ANY magazine.
(Loved the shoot, not just because the photographer was quick and good, but also because diving at random into GR is quite the thrilling experience. Never met a TRP sentence I didn't like.)
UPDATE: In response to c's comment below, here's what I, uh, wrote by way of recommendation:
(Also, I opine that everyone who is able to do so, should go see a Foxy Shazam live show. There, I said it.)
Sometimes engineers make darn good writers. One of my current underexposed favorites is George Saunders, once a mining engineer, but now a learned professor and certified-by-the-MacArthur-Foundation genius. Saunders – imagine him, if you will, as the tragic lovechild of Twain and Vonnegut (ha! another writer-scientist!) -- is our most deeply satirical and most disturbingly funny writer. But what to recommend? There’s his first short-story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, but might stories about a Civl-War-themed theme park hit a bit too close to home for comfort, Atlanta? Then there’s the novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, about a country so small it can contain only one of its inhabitants; the other six live in a transit zone within the neighboring country. What ensues is hilarity, war, and genocide. Hm. Perhaps better skip Saunders for this audience.
What about the prince of writer engineers – Thomas Pynchon? Gravity’s Rainbow is my all-time favorite. What is not to love? WWII, banana breakfasts, prescient erections in Blitz’ed London, a long trek to Peenemunde (lit. the end of the world) where the launch of a secret Schwarzgeraet (‘black engine’, serial number 00000) is being prepared, and along the way we meet Byron the Lightbulb, Katje (rhymes with ‘Gotcha’) Borgesius the sultry spy, Grigori, the well-trained octopus, and the apple-cheeked frau Gnabh, among many others. Silly songs, I mean, really silly. Three-page sentences. No way to even being to comprehend this mess. Goes on for, like, elevenhundred pages. I love it. But you might hate it. The nice thing: it’s easy to find out which way you’ll swing – read the first two pages and if they make you go WTF? (in a good way) ’tis the book for you.
Otherwise, oh, go read Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
It's always interesting to see how the novel travels -- the Germans seemed to not know what to do with it, the Brits read it as an intellectual thriller with too much sex, the Americans ignored it by tradition (foreign fiction by an independent)? c'm'n!), but the French seem to embrace the whole hog. For which I salute them -- it's a mighty beast, with a reek to match.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
But, psssst, here it is.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
In the meantime: more French podcast concerning Omega Mineur on Radio France Culture. New metaphor here: the novel is literary rafting.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
(Note: It's positively embarrassing to be quasi-called the best living postmodern American author. WTF happened to Pynchon, DeLillo, Gass, Barth, to name a few -- alive, all of them, all of them accused of being pomo, and all of them still kicking, my friends? Plus, nobody in my country of exile gets even remotely hot&bothered by my work -- my reviews are non-existent, my sales equally so, and my speaking fee, while I still spoke, was firmly fixed at zero dollars.) (Not bitter, baby, just realistic. There is in fact much fun in being a retired author and finally reaping some favorable reviews for a book you hardly remember writing.)
Friday, April 30, 2010
I think all Belgians, right now, have a need for curling up with a good book, each in our little corner of the bed, like any other old couple losing interest, then losing touch, then soon to be divorced.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
(Again, still waiting for the backlash. Le Monde des livres, perhaps? Liberation? My brothers in French-speaking Belgium?)
Well now. This. The more I read about myself and this book I am accused of having written, the less I recognize myself. Partially due, no doubt, to me now being 6-7 years older than the book and in general much more brimming with existential dread than in the days when OM was nothing but a minute but rapidly uncontrollable fire burning in my brain, said dread nicely held at bay by the general malaise of the then-prevailing fin de siecle.
Otherwise put: I am far too old for these literary games now. (So I think.) (Too tired anyway.) It's not a world in which I belong. I stumbled into writing, or, more precisely, writing stumbled into me. Forgive me. It's not my fault. It's not me; it isn't.
Fortunately, the comments on Assouline's blog, wrought by folks who never met either me or my novel, tell me exactly who I am and why and where it's truly at.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Not that I'm complaining at all, but this whole series of extremely positive reviews (or maybe it's just my bad French) is making me quite nervous. Backlash to start in 1, 2, 3...
Monday, April 12, 2010
Belgians have a certain reputation, deservedly or not, for (1) globalism, (2) startling outbreaks of interesting perversity.Which somehow inexplicably seems both terribly fitting and completely incorrect.
(Also this, which I love, for it coinciding exactly with my own experience as an ex-writer:
The part of me that's writing this, now, is utterly incapable of writing a novel. The part of me that just wrote a novel is profoundly unavailable, right now, and will remain so until the next time I have to go out and walk for miles, whistling for it, convinced its finally run away for good and all.)
People don't ordinarily meet the part of me that writes novels, and when they do, they must assume I'm not not doing very well. Which as a human being, right then, I'm not. In direct proportion to how well I might be doing, right then, as a novelist.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
And what if the best American writer of the moment were Belgian?April Fools Day jokes only work if they're believable, Chronic'Art, and that statement can only be mistaken for true (if only for a brief second) in the writer's own invariably addled infallibly ego-ridden mind. So, yeah, Olivier Lamm, who otherwise is nothing short of a Mensch (a title I bestow rarely, very rarely), played a very cruel joke on me, en plein public. Just to spite Mr. Lamm, here's a fuzzy phone pic I took last night. Even bigger than Paris. Ha! I tower over Roppongi Hills!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
But assuming it does: First (I think) French review of the French version of OM (appropriately coming out tomorrow, April 1). Here. (It's self-promotion because they like. I note that deep in my will-I-ever-write-again and is-this-novel-ever-going-to-be-over heart I do not disagree.)
Gentlepersons of the unFrench persuasion, start your Google-Translate engines!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
At the Tonys and Grammys, musical performance provides a level of entertainment that the other awards can't hope to match. Yet, the Oscars remain the most important awards program for many people, probably because the movies, at their best, make audiences feel things about themselves and life that other media don't bring into focus as completely or effectively. Only books, I would argue, do a better job.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Sunday, February 7, 2010
We’re forever on the brink of disaster.
It used to be better then, much better. In that unspecified distance of time, that unnamed expanse of past, those acres of unploughed, nay, unexisting memory.
Nuclear winter; stray meteors; climate change; advanced forms of socialism.
Always the brink, the eve, the dance at the edge of the crater, at the very fringe of believability.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Two screen shots from the excellent guitar documentary It Might Get Loud. Jimmy Page listening to one of his old 45s; Jack White's bloodied Gretsch after a Raconteurs gig.
When was the last time, I asked myself, that I airwrote with such obvious delight; the last time true blood spurted from my Parker fountain pen? How sad -- to practice* an art with no immediacy.
Which is why, dear reader, I finally took up the electric ukulele.
*Practice, practice, never perfect.
Friday, January 29, 2010
(Don't really remember those, but then -- I know -- what could possibly shock me?)
Well, here's what shocks me: Those damn gentiles, killing the poor Jewish girl over and over and over again.
(Because they really want her to be a catholic saint: not a human being. Not who she was.)
What is interestingly missing in the discussion of this rather strange story (namely, that 3rd graders should not be allowed to read Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? because its author is also alleged to have written Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation -- except that, you know, Bill Martin is, like, a somewhat common name) is the question: What is wrong with allowing kids to access ‘very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system’?
As in: aren't we actually forgetting how we got ourselves plus about 1/2 of the known world outside the US of A into the stinking economic mess we/they're in in the first place? (As well, may I add, two ongoing real and a few shadow wars as well?)
As in: WTF are you afraid of? As in: If you've got the best best diner in town, why fear that new Waffle House down the street? As in: Are you then, perhaps, deep down, oh fierce Republican schoolboarder, afraid that the American Way suddenly ain't the shizzle anymore?
Plus, you know, when I tell folks in Europe that a school here in the US actually banned the dictionary because it contained a definition of the term 'oral sex' and that the school board is now -- kid-you-not-wish-I-was -- reading the Merriam-Webster cover to cover for additional salaciousness (hands above yer blankets, gentlemen!) there is the sounds of a million ROFLs.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Which reminds me, for no reason, that my very first watch was of the Omega brand.
Which also reminds me that all the covers I had no input on (current edition of the Dutch version, the German version, this one) are clearly the better ones.
(Which teaches me you need to leave things to the professionals. I actually did the cover of the first edition of my first novel, Lichtenberg, myself. It was a horror.)
Now I can't wait to sample Claro's handiwork. His version of the first chapter was better than mine.
(Promo in Paris in the third week of March, if all goes well.)