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January 5th, 2007

01:46 am - You should read Misery, if you haven't already
I know I've said before that Stephen Kind was kind of my stepping stone from The Uncanny X-Men to Kurt Vonnegut. I've been giving genre authors some time, lately. I select an author known for contributions to one particular genre, and then track down something the author wrote outside of that genre. *Hearts in Atlantis* is basically two novellas and a few short stories, all inter-related.

Seven hundred pages, it took me less than a week to read. The only line that's stayed with me is "If you touch her again, I'll kill you. If you touch me again, I'll burn your house down."

"Chaos is a word we've invented for an order that remains to be understood."

I'd like to say the above is a Henry Miller quote, verbatim, but I can't and looking it up would kind of be like cheating. But that's a line I think I remember out of Tropic of Capricorn. It makes a bit sad, knowing I can quote Stephen King, but not Miller.

What makes me even sadder is the movie adaptation of Hearts in Atlantis. Here's the story to both the book and the movie: Some dadless kid gets a psychic dad. The psychic dad gets hauled away by thugs. At this point, the two forms of the story diverge. In the book, the kid turns into a strutting badass. He stalks down an enemy and beats him the fuck down with a baseball bat. At which point, he says "If you touch her again, I'll kill you. If you touch me again, I'll burn your house down."

Which wasn't in the movie.

Damn them.

They killed ANY merit that story had.
Current Music: Trans Am--Red Lines

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December 4th, 2006

11:07 pm - Names and stories

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11:06 pm - A Book That Kicked My Ass

Roberto Calasso's The Ruin of Kasch was published in 1983 in Italy. The English translation hit the Kelknap imprint of Harvard University Press in 1994.

The book is written in an aphoristic style, although the aphorisms therein aren't that short, and sometimes aren't that memorable. I'd guess the book is usually stocked in the history sections of bookstores, but it could it easily turn up in philosophy, literature or anthropology. The prose, in English, is some of the smoothest and meatiest I've come across in awhile. Here's a typical passage from the book, this one concerns Louis XV:

"We shall never with certainty know much about his licentiousness, just as we shall never with certainty know much about his childish games. But one account tells us that, when he was seven, his courtiers entertained him by filling a vast hall with sparrows and then suddenly releasing some hawks, which mutilated the little birds with their sharp beaks. According to another account, 'The king had a white fawn that, since he had fed her and raised her himself, would only eat from his hand and loved him very much. He had her taken to La Muette and said he wanted to kill her. He chased her off, fired at her, and wounded her. The fawn dragged herself toward him and nuzzled him. He again had her placed at a distance, shot at her a second time, and killed her. The act seemed very cruel.'"

And here's another:

"Within Chinese society, within all societies, the park of the Son of Heaven once epitomized all nature in miniature. Now all nature is our park, and we do not know what it epitomizes."

The book contains over forty chapters, varying in length from just a few to a few dozen pages. These chapters are full of anecdotes, journal entries, all manner of philosophizing, anthropological and economic inquiries, and good old fashioned story telling. It would seem that Calasso disregards a hard and fast distinction between "History" and "Literature." And he doesn't see much of a point abiding by any chronology or linearity. Someone asked me to sum the book up in ten words or less and I said: "The origins of Modernism from the French Revolution."

But that doesn't really do the book justice.

It basically starts out as a biography of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, a French diplomat who worked alongside Napoleon Bonaparte. Calasso regards Talleyrand as being very in touch with the times, very much with the zeitgeist. He and chalks up Talleyrand's success to his ability to negotiate without ever standing on one firm principle. His outstanding achievement was holding no scruples.

The life of Talleyrand isn't told in typical biographical fashion, and is intercut with first hand descriptions of the places Talleyrand frequented, and anecdotes relating to the times from the likes of Goethe. From Talleyrand, Calasso moves on to the books namesake, the legend of the ruin of Kasch. It's a damn good story, and I'm not about to do it the disservice of relating it here, but let's just leave it at it being a proto-Sheherazade tale with a larger scope and nastier implications. Afterwards, there's a good deal of writing about sacrifice, and its development along with society from the most distant, to the most recent. The last third of the book seems to examine the advent of bureaucracy, capitalism, tyranny and psychosis. Worldwide, culminating in an Indochine Hell on Earth.

Or maybe not. Calasso leaves it to you to connect the dots, and I'm never quite sure where he's really laying his emphasis. In one section, we're told about an episode involving Goethe, ending with him saying "Damn, I got drunk for nothing!"

Whenever I read a book, my mind usually splits into three different parts. . . or, better, it adapts itself into a mode wherein it takes on three different tasks. The second task is the actual reading of the book, essay, poem, etc.. The second task has my mind adding what is being read to what has been read. The third would be the situating of a space for the end of the book, a space that excludes some possibilities and allows for others. . . a sense of where it all is going.

The Ruin of Kasch completely confounded this three-fold task that I call reading. I hadn't had such trouble reading through a piece since I tried reading On the Genealogy of Morals stoned, about ten years ago. I plan on re-reading it in February, and seeing what I'm able to take away from it.

When's the last time a book's kicked your ass?

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November 29th, 2006

01:54 am - Baby Blue Bug

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01:53 am - What do they dream about?
Jim is home free. He's a drifter. I often see him on Shattuck. There's just a hint of the South in his voice, and it's prone to cracking. He has a mustache, his skin is weathered, he stands at five-eight. He's thin. Rugged. Wears a cowboy hat and flannel shirts. Dark colors, always. Blues and blacks, mostly. He smokes Marlboro Lights and usually has a twenty ouncer of Coca Cola or Dr. Pepper at hand. Don't know if the soda pop is spiked, or not.

I wouldn't hold it against him, if it was. He may very well be an alcoholic, but it isn't alcoholism that keeps him on the streets. The alcoholism, at the most, might be a symptom of what keeps him on the streets. What it is, exactly, I won't even bother to guess, right now. I reckon one day, sooner or later, I'll ask him. He isn't likely to blame anyone, so I don't fear putting the question to him.

Jim has a companion. Her name is Faraday. I thought she was a pitbull, but I was mistaken. She's actually an American Staffordshire Terrier. The breed is unique due to the bone-structure of its skull and the shoulder musculature. It's also larger than it's English cousin. In crueler times, this animal was set loose upon bulls and bears.

Bloodsports. That's how the crowds kept themselves entertained.Collapse )

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November 27th, 2006

11:28 pm - Porchlights

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09:47 pm - Just Say Magh-Bagh-Gagh-Bagh!
Just the other week, I watched Altered States. I must have had come across some truly primo shit, back in the day, because I remembered next to nothing about this film. I had the image of a naked scientist, in my head, floating in a sensory deprivation tank. I also had some vague, trippy, residual visuals from the film. But when I slid the disc into my laptop, I was pretty sure I'd be watching a film that, in one way or another, had some kind of statement to make.

I now suspect I might've been guzzling psilocybin tea while first watching it, so many years ago. Or perhaps I sustained a closed head injury immediately after the first time through.

At bottom, it's a mad scientist won over by love story. In this case, the mad scientist is convinced he can locate and apprehend the basis of human consciousness through self-exploration. He spends hours at a time in a tank, hallucinating. This much I remember. The visuals are. . . okay, at this point, in the film. Religious in nature. You get to see a guy with a ram's head crucified. The ram's head has thirteen eyes. Lots of flaming crosses scaling into the lens, too.

Then the mad scientist goes down to South America and falls in with some mountain tribe. They give him some sacramental potion they'd spent a week concocting and BLAMMO! he's tripping balls. Let's just say the representation of Hell, at this point, is top of the line. You should watch this film just to see the director's take on Hell.

So, the mad scientist goes back to Harvard with his mountain tribe, vision quest stash. He starts doing up massive doses in his tank. However well-intentioned the film may have been up to this point, whatever semblance of verisimilitude it might have had, it suddenly takes a very wrong-headed and unintentionally comic turn.

See, the mad scientist's psyche gets so close to the bane of our existence his physical form actually devolves into that of a protohuman. Nancy Reagan couldn't have penned a better metaphor.

Best line of the movie, from the coming-down mad scientist to his wife, totally straight-faced: "I suppose getting a call at 2:30 in the morning from the police to the effect your husband has been found sleeping naked in the city zoo might've caused you some concern."

This, after we watch a naked protohuman hunt down, kill, and eat a ram.

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November 26th, 2006

01:42 am - Working While High and Rocking

When we first moved in, it took awhile for me to get used to the lack of jackhammers, screaming women, and street musicians. This neighborhood is the quietest I've ever lived in, and I've come to appreciate the peace and ease inflated rent affords. The atmosphere is occasionally disrupted, sure, but most of the time it’s welcomed. You get trumpets, laughter, kids yelling.

Maybe it was the second or third night, around two or three in the morning, we heard a car roll up. Actually, we heard the car rolling up from the corner. Prince, circa *Purple Rain.* "Darling Nikki," it was. The rocksteady beat and preening, wiry synthesizer riffs lingered out in the street for a full two minutes. We heard our landlord, who lives RIGHT THE FUCK NEXT DOOR, stomp down the steps and throw the front door open. The music didn't go anywhere.

After awhile it did, though, and we heard the landlord's door close, and his feet mounting the staircase.

waswas This kind of thing happened five or six more times. Always in the earlier hours of morning, always the booming stereo (and the guy's got a tricked out system), always with something groove heavy. It was always music that I liked, so the volume and obnoxious spirit working the dial never bothered me so much. I'm all for playing Big Black at three a.m. and telling the neighbors they can all get fucked.

But the then, the other night, I was finishing up with a movie and stepping out for a cigarette. I hadn't checked any clocks, but it was well after the bars had closed. To my left, came a rumble.

The car pulled up. Looked like a late-model Grand Prix. The door opened and a man got out. A huge man. Taller than me. Must've had at least a hundred and fifty pounds on me. He had a bald head, and he wore a black apron. He was carrying a rolled up newspaper. I said hello to him, and he only nodded in return, leaving a sweet, weedy wake behind him. Somehow, the fact that he was earning a living changed something. I wanted him to play his music louder. He didn't even bother closing the door.

He climbed the steps to our building and stopped in front of the landlord's door. He brought his heavy arm over his head, and whipped the newspaper down onto the doormat at his feet.

With grace, confidence, and what must have been a sweet buzz-on, he strode past me and sat back down into his car. The chassis sunk down, closer to the road. He drove away, and after a minute or so, there was only silence.

And it gave me a moment to reflect on just how badass the baseline to Sade's Paradise is.

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12:27 am - Moonlight On Vermont (Reprise)

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November 23rd, 2006

05:28 pm - One Dirty Buzz

I've never liked Bradbury, but I figured I'd give *Dandelion Wine* a chance because it wasn't a genre piece. Neither sci fi, nor fantasy. Two types of storytelling I dislike immensely. My logic, as usual, is simple: Why fuck around with Martians when you can read about real life?

The whole damn book reads like it was written to sell to a mass market. The copyrights go back to 1947 and this is way bad news of the house-on-fire variety. Bits of it were published in Charm, McCall's and Everywoman's Family Circle. Time, according to the back cover, had this to say: "Dandelion Wine is fine and new and rare. . . A giddy leap into nostalgia."

In the summer of 1974, Bradbury wrote an introduction for the book, from which I now quote.

"The wine still stands in the cellars below. My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark. The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer. Why and how? Because I say it is so."

We are able to forever keep the joys of the past present in our minds, through memory. Bradbury never doubts memory's infallibility. The idea that memory can keep us rooted to our pasts comes up quite a bit, in the novel. The wine referred to in the title serves as a metaphor, throughout the stories, for this very idea.

The plot is (barely) held together by the protagonist discovering he's alive and that he must also, one day, die. That's an outstanding premise, but it is all so poorly executed that I'm still aching from some passages. Not that any one, in and of itself, is ever that bad; but the way they stack up on each other, revealing a crude nostalgia for a cast of family members and townsfolk that interact with one another with all the depth and feeling of sock puppets gets grating, after awhile.

The sentimentality of this novel, and it gets pretty damn thick, is almost as bad as the wooden, Jerry-Mathers-chatting-it-up-with-Hugh-Beaumont dialogue. The ridiculous situations (two brothers rescue a fortune telling mannequin), flat characters (the preachy grandfather was particularly unbelievable, only because Bradbury depicts other characters actually listening to the old fart), out-of-place props (The Happiness Machine), and general lack of focus make this a testament to bad American storytelling.

I put the book down with the impression that Bradbury's memories were turned sour by bad child actors (from both radio and television) and the desire to market short stories and radio dramas.

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