Retrospective: 26 February 2006: The Sum of the Remainders

[To view the post in its original context, click here.] “What is interesting, as always, is the aftermath.” —Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String 1 Home 1.1 He sighed as he placed his left index finger on the light switch and looked down at her. 1.2 She closed her eyes and turned her face away from him as he obliviously dug his thumbnail into the rind of the orange. 1.3 They didn’t feel it move through them, but they saw the stain as it began to spread. 2 Work 2.1 Not noticing the puddle of water at his feet, he prepared to press the buttons required to receive a candy bar. 2.2 He looked his boss squarely in the eye, and said, “Good morning, Sir.” 2.3 She hit the send button. 3 At Large 3.1 He took the very center of the french fry between both forefingers and thumbs and squeezed, causing the hot center to squirt out like pus from a pimple. 3.2 They shook hands and agreed that perhaps everyone else was quite foolish for not listening to their warnings. 3.3 As she stepped from the curb, she sneezed.

Retrospective: 24 March 2005: Why is the Rocket Going Nowhere?

[To view the post in its original context, click here.] “And he sensed percolating from the kitchen, humble, squalid, time-marking human thought, marking time in one spot, always in one spot, going round and round, in circles, as if they were dizzy but couldn’t stop. as if they were nauseated but couldn’t stop, the way we bite our nails, the way we tear off dead skin when we’re peeling, the way we scratch ourselves when we have hives, the way we toss in our beds when we can’t sleep, to give ourselves pleasure and make ourselves suffer, until we are exhausted, until we’ve taken our breath away. . . .” —Nathalie Sarraute [see also: memos 104 11_04_03, 108 11_10_03, 110 11_13_03, and especially 117 11_24_03] Here is an excerpt from my unfinished novel Zen Arcade: As he was walking into the kitchen, he decided the project of building a human shell from dead skin cells was no different from the man who had decided to record every minute of his life in a diary. In Adam’s mind, the man had started out writing things like “walked from the desk to the refrigerator, poured myself a glass of milk, drank it and walked back to the desk,” but had soon realized he was leaving things out, things like picking up and opening the milk carton, placing it back in the refrigerator, and closing the refrigerator door. The realization that he was leaving some things out led to other realizations, which led to writing things like “unconsciously sent a message from my brain to my right leg, the muscles in that leg contracted to lift my leg and move it forward,” and on and on until eventually, the only thing the man would have been able to write was “I am writing the sentence I am writing right now. I am writing the sentence I am writing right now” over and over and over again until he died. Adam thought that sounded very much like eternally pushing a boulder up a hill, always up. And so the same with building a human shell one sloughed cell at a time. As soon as you had found and placed one cell, 20 more would have fallen off. His original estimate of seven years as the project’s duration had been way off. It was probably something more like seven factorial, or—once again, it was too early for math, and so he focused on making some coffee. He was daily amazed that the coffee pot his parents had bought before he was born was still working, as he had been through at least three tape-recorders in that time, and he used the tape-recorder far less frequently than the coffee pot. He picked the coffee pot up. He took off the lid and put it in the sink. He reached into the pot. He extracted the stem and the basket. He set the pot down. He disengaged the stem from the basket and placed it in the sink. He took the lid off the basket. He placed it in the sink. He opened the cupboard door under the right-hand side of the sink where the trash can was located. He knocked yesterday’s grounds into the trash. He placed the basket in the sink. He turned on the water. He adjusted the faucet so that the water was just a little hotter than comfortable. He rinsed the lid. He placed it in the drying rack. He rinsed the stem and placed it in the drying rack. He rinsed the basket’s lid. He put it in the drying rack. He rinsed the basket. He thought, What is today? Is today the day I wash everything with soap and water? He put the basket in the drying rack. He turned off the water. He picked up the pot again, and dumped its contents into the sink. He watched the day-old coffee as it swirled down the drain. He thought, Now certainly I have deposited skin cells onto the lid, the stem, the basket, and the basket’s lid, and those cells will get mixed into the coffee I will drink, and then. . . . I would have to strain my urine. That wouldn’t work. Of course, none of it would work. The only feasible way to perform the task of building a human shell was to be dead. If he were dead, he would no longer be sloughing off skin cells. At least, he thought, in this thought process, the boulder rolls back down the hill. He put the coffee pot under the faucet, and turned on the hot water. He filled the pot about half-way. He swished the water around in the pot. He turned the pot over and dumped the dirty water down the sink. He watched the water go down the drain. He righted the coffee pot. He turned the faucet’s handle all the way to cold. He turned the water on and filled the coffee pot up to the prescribed line. He turned the water off. He removed the pot from under the faucet, and set it back on the counter. He grabbed the stem from the drying rack. He grabbed the basket with his other hand. He placed the thin part of the stem into the receiving hole in the basket. He placed the basket-stem combination into the coffee pot. He opened the cupboard just above and to the left of the sink. He grabbed the canister of coffee. He put it on the counter. He pried off the plastic lid. He set the lid down. He reached into the canister. He grabbed the plastic measuring spoon inside of the canister and lifted. He dumped the little bit of coffee grounds in the spoon back into the canister. He liked to start with an empty spoon. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He put the spoon back into the canister. He put the plastic lid back on the canister by pressing down all the way around the edge. He put the canister back in the cupboard. He closed the cupboard door. He grabbed the basket’s lid out of the drying rack. He fitted it over the basket. He grabbed the pot’s lid from the drying rack. He pushed it down on top of the coffee pot. He plugged the coffee pot in. He opened the cupboard he had just closed, and took down his mug. He set it next to the coffee pot. He closed the cupboard. He sat down at the kitchen table. He waited.

This Blog’s 10th Anniversary

Hello. If you're still here after all these years, congratulations! However, because this has become such a sporadicly updated thing, unlike other, different blogs I run, I have considered, on this, this blog's 10th anniversary, shutting this here thing down, posting a farewell post, linking to the other places online where I am more active. But as this auspicious date has approached, that thought has become less and less attractive because even though I only sporadically post, even though I allowed the counter to break and stay broken so that now I have no idea who, if anyone, is visiting at all, even though this site was subject to a pharma-hack and it took me a long time to fix it, even though it often seems to me as though I don't really care about this site as much as I used to, it is still a record of some of my thoughts and has been for ten years now. And, unlike other blogs I run, I host this one myself, meaning that the content belongs to me, rather than some large corporation in California or NYC. So, even though the heyday of the blog is perhaps long past, I'm going to let this thing here limp along for a while. And hey, let's considering the Beckett tagline again, limping along is perhaps the only way to do this at all, the only honest way. So here's what I think I'll do: The next ten posts will be a curated collection of the last ten years of this blog, one post from each year. Let's see what happened.

You Can’t Get There From Here by Jason

Love can be manufactured. A body can be manufactured. Sensation can be manufactured. There is the body. There are the body’s processes. There is the reality of touch. Sight is a kind of touch. We have learned not to trust our sight. That touch is a reality would seem to contradict this. Mobs with axes, pitchforks, and torches are performing touch. Mobs with axes, pitchforks, and torches are performing a kind of love, an erotics of fear. The assistant is usually overlooked, has a life of its own, wants also to be the actor, the processor, the manufacturer. When the assistant is not overlooked, it becomes the mob’s love object. How dare anyone manufacture? How dare anyone love? Hey . . . Jason_youcantgettherefromhere

My Struggle vol. 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This book, which manages to balance a compelling and relentless narration of one life’s quotidian minutiae against the rather less quotidian thought processes that attend those minutiae, or at least the author of this book (and that is another interesting tension: the book purports to be the life of its author, therefore to be the author itself in some ways, but the back of the book says fiction, and of course it is) is convinced that examining minutiae destroys the very thing which one wanted to examine in the first place. It is as though the atoms of our lives are given weight by the protons of our thoughts and the electrons can either have location or velocity, but not both. In fact, the author says so multiple times:
p76 “Or was it perhaps that the light which illuminated the world and made everything comprehensible also drained it of meaning?” p414 “The eye which gave meaning to the world was a constant possibility, but we almost always decided against it. . . .” p487 “This was the problem with all representation, of course, for no eye is uncontaminated, no gaze is blank, nothing is seen the way it is. And in this encounter the question of art’s meaning as a whole was forced to the surface.” p503 “But the stars twinkle above our heads, the sun shines, the grass grows and the earth, yes, the earth, it swallows all life and eradicates all vestige of it, spews out new life in a cascade of limbs and eyes, leaves and nails, hair and tails, cheeks and fur and guts, and swallows it up again. And what we never really comprehend, or don’t want to comprehend, is that this happens outside us, that we ourselves have no part in it, that we are only that which grows and dies, as blind as the waves in the sea are blind.”

Black Hole by Charles Burns

A picture of a white slit. A picture of two bones tied together at a 120º angle. A picture of a broken bottle. A picture of a rip in the skin? A picture of the moon. A picture of a slit in a foot. A picture of a marijuana bud. A picture of a sharpened stick. A picture of a half-eaten burger. A picture of a tab of acid between two strips of tape. A picture of a sprinkling of stars. A picture of two thorny twigs intertwined to make a slit shape. A picture of a broken double popsicle. A picture of a tiny-toothed mouth (sideways slit). A picture of a picture of Rob. A picture of sperm cells swarming around a giant egg. A picture of a friend chicken leg. A picture of an orange. A picture of a flaming slit. The End. “Is it a mirror? Just a crack at first . . . a thin sliver of light. . . . and then it spreads, opens up. I don’t understand. Why does it have to be like this? Why do I have to go through all of this shit?” One hemisphere composed of an orange, a pipe shaped like a compact skeleton, shreds of paper, bits of bone, a length of rope or some segments of worm, a tail or a vine, a bottle cap, dried leaves, a book of matches, a bag of weed, a twig or two, a broken bottle. Another hemisphere composed of the moon, a cigarette, a picture of Rob, twigs and leaves, shards of glass, a bone with a bit of string tied around it, a baloney sandwich with one bite missing, a frog, a handgun. Our galaxy is a slit and a spiral at the same time.

Trees (issues 1-8) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

On page seven of issue seven, the professor character refers to the spaces that have grown up under the Trees as “interzones,” an obvious reference to William S. Burroughs, but the professor characterizes these interzones negatively, saying, “Nothing good grows in the shadow of a Tree.” Lots of things grow in the shadows of the Trees over the course of the first 8 issues of Ellis and Howard’s graphic novel, not all of them bad. The community under the Chinese Tree, for example, seems to be the sort of utopian interzone Burroughs had envisioned, a place where one can “live differently . . . be comfortable and safe” and not “work for a living.” But can one think of Burroughs’ visions as utopian, or does he mix utopia and dystopia in much the same way Ellis then does: The bad gets worse and the good gets destroyed (every place in The Cities of the Red Night that starts out living under the Articles eventually sinks into depravity, right (or do they start out depraved?)?)? It’s not yet clear what destruction means in the case of Trees. It might mean just that, or it might mean rebirth, which could, if one is honest, be much, much worse.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

On page 106 of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, one can find the following paragraph:
Of course he knew. They'd all been telling him so his whole life. When Tina liked Park instead of Steve in grade school, Steve had said, 'I think she feels safe with you because you're like half girl.' Park hated football. He cried when his dad took him pheasant hunting. Nobody in the neighborhood could ever tell who he was dressed as on Halloween ('I'm Doctor who.' 'I'm Harpo Marx.' 'I'm Count Floyd.') And he kind of wanted his mom to give him blond highlights. Park knew he was different.
This paragraph could be about me growing up, and not simply because I dressed up as Harpo Marx one Halloween. I identified quite a lot with all the characters in this book, though I’ve never been a girl or a parent, and that’s one of the many things this book does really well: it makes emotions everyone has and situations everyone has some experience with feel deeply personal. It’s also really well-written, with clear, clean prose and a (mostly) tight plot. Plus, for reasons I cannot explain, I really, really like the way the title could also be an intersection in a town somewhere and probably is.

Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs

Considering that the book is, in part, about a) 18th century pirates and b) a 20th century private detective (pirate police?) perhaps the fact that I read a pirated copy of this book is justified? I’m going to say no, because the hallucinatory effects of the (cut-up) prose were often mitigated and/or undermined by the thought that maybe what I was reading was simply uncorrected OCR scanning. Then again, the fact that I read a pirated electronic copy scanned from a paper book dovetails nicely with the fact that the book is also in part about the transmigration of the soul.

Thoughts on 5 of the books I read in 2014

1. Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän by Max Frisch I wish I had written this book: Small chunks of text, lists, images, repetition, and in the end, there is a landslide, but not the one you expect. I wish I had written this book, but I didn’t, so I wrote about it instead. 2. HHhH by Laurent Binet Another book I kind of wish I had written: A strange mixture of fact and fiction and meta-versions of both in small, relatively easily digestible bits all of which work together to prove that David Shields (see also) read the signs all wrong: It’s not reality we want—it’s fiction (or it’s fantastic reality, which is also fiction). It’s strange: I don’t remember many details of the story, but I remember the book. I remember being intrigued by it more than liking it. I remember thinking that intrigued by might be more important than liking. 3. Violenzia by Richard Sala I read Violenzia at least twice last year. I also read Sala’s work Super Enigmatix (link) as it was posted this last year. Both Violenzia and Super Enigmatix (as characters) are agents of chaos, not unlike the Joker in the Batman universe, but there’s something about a) the “flatness” of Sala’s drawing, b) the sureness of his lines, and c) his color palette which makes his chaos more insidious. In fact, those three things work together to create an almost Lynchian effect: The innocent, colorful, flat world you (think you) know is seething underneath. 4. The Robber by Robert Walser I read The Robber as research for an article I wrote for 3am Magazine, but didn't discuss it in that article. In an oeuvre spectacularly concerned with walking, this book feels as though it has given up the physical act of walking for a more fervent intellectual version—walking in tight mental circles. So much of what I’ve read of Walser just begs for a biographical reading, and all I want is to reject that impulse. Very nearly every sentence in Walser’s final (known) novel is itself a novel.
“Often the inflexible bends in its secret interior, and it is the rule of the immobile to invoke a longing, a motion, and it moves in its circle and comes over to look at him yet cannot catch a glimpse of him, but at least it's made the effort. Those who perambulate take on a task for those unable to do so, and it is always the stony that one seeks to soften and the soft degenerates into stone.”
5. Bluets by Maggie Nelson I had a number of lengthy discussions with two friends who also loved this book. My position is that, although the book reports (on) emotion, it is itself not emotional. That is not a value judgment. This is yet another book I wish I had written. More than HHhH, it is making a gesture toward David Markson’s work which I find well nigh irresistible. I think I read Markson, Perec’s Life A User’s Manual and parts of Tristram Shandy for the first time all within the same 9-month period and was infected by the idea that everything is composed of parts and that the connective tissues between those parts can be left out and the “story” will still make sense (or even more sense(s)). While reading Bluets, I also made the following playlist of songs mentioned (obliquely or directly) in the book:
    Let X=X—Laurie Anderson Mood Indigo—Duke Ellington I Get A Kick Out Of You—Ella Fitzgerald Pirate Jenny—Nina Simone River—Joni Mitchell Famous Blue Raincoat—Leonard Cohen Blue—Lucinda Williams Lady Sings the Blues (1956 Studio Version)—Billie Holiday Red Dirt Girl—Emmylou Harris