Sorry, Cormac, maybe next year.
… according to a magazine nobody bothers to read any more. I think this article is mostly, or probably, or at least hopefully a load of crap, but the subject is certainly on a lot of people’s minds. Maybe because a lot of people want to write novels, but still … c’mon now!
The novel still stands, sure enough, but it stands uneasily, a kitschy McMansion whose vocabulary is steadfastly outdated, a form that can only look backward. I can’t think of a single full-length novel published in 2014 that did anything new. Most of the ones I read rehashed the same realistic formula that has held at least since Raskolnikov wandered through St. Petersburg’s dingy courtyards.
A McMansion? Really? Might this have more to do with which particular shelf you choose to browse?
We interrupt this casting call to bring you some really old news about Bob Dylan. Somehow I missed this when it came out at the end of Spring, so if one of the others has posted this already, well … so what?
I’d read about Dylan’s use of the Yakuza autobiography, which made a funny kind of sense, and then of course his impersonation of the Civil War poet, which made a lot more sense, but some of the stuff in this A.V. Club article shows how he took it to a whole ‘nother level. Surfing with Mel fans, take note:
When Warmuth found similarities between phrases in Chronicles and Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’s book about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, American Rhapsody, he was dumbfounded. “Even I was thinking, ‘There’s no chance,’ but as it turns out, some of the more salty lines in Chronicles comes from Eszterhas!”
Jack London, John Dos Passos, and even self-help author Robert Greene are all fair game.
Dylan’s response to charges of plagiarism?
“All those motherfuckers can rot in hell,” he said. “Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff….It’s an old thing,” he said of appropriation. “It’s part of the tradition. It goes way back.”
Makes you wonder why anybody would spend $250 for the right to quote from his lyrics to Gotta Serve Somebody, Trouble in Mind, and I and I.
Maybe add “sucker” to that list.
I. Word House
Where Amherst’s hermitess had bitten
The Puritan tongue with reproof,
Spokane now speaks such song, begotten
As rain, pronounced as raftered roof,
Refined as wine in cooling cellars.
What whirrs there through the threshold’s pillars?
It sounds to be a potter’s lathe
That spits out earthen sparks to bathe
The night with reason: words are shelter
For faith which palates reach with speech
Like star to planet, wave to beach.
The mystery of diction’s altar:
In stormy house, a world of calm –
In sonnet’s hovel, castled psalm.
II. Beard Nest
A formal nudity is shameless
Because the body knows what lust
Denies to serve: the many nameless
Conspiracies of love that nest
Like birds within the beard of Jesus.
Will darkened theaters cease to please us
(More known than knowing) just because
The plight of Job excites applause
For pleasure’s picture show? With Satan,
The naked frame reveals; but beer
Is found as near to elbow’s cheer
As language brewing roots in Latin –
And here, a man and woman found
A common tongue on common ground.
III. Water Board
The sifting surf is sorting shingles
Upon the beach. The clashing sounds
Of armies, ignorant as angels,
Is drowned as holy rage compounds
The wave that builds. But you know, fuck it.
A man can throw up in a bucket –
So justice gains what mercy lost –
A man can take his licks on a post –
So blood and history are bonded
As Adam waxes up his board
Now bounden where he lay, a lord
At play. Sea-savaged and up-ended,
He’s framed by grace – and tries to name
Its aspect ratio to fame.
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
The span of years hasn’t helped the eyes
Adjust to beauty’s knot in troubled times,
Nor eased the heart into its frame. Surprise
Is taken wedge by ounce
With gin and limes
We raise to give to Providence its half a chance.
You wrote to say that beauty’s gauge these days
Has been a ratio of swans per wing
To children growing old. – Here lie the ways
That lead to winter, straight
From early spring
To bleeding grapes which fill the untapped tun of Fate….
You said that swans preferred the Danube now
To Rhone or Rhine: in lamentation’s flight
Or drifting flocks of Charon’s candid dhow,
Each freights the stony ken
Of final night
In multiples of starry Cygnus – cob and pen.
How strange to think upon your mated swans
As each a year of moments gliding past us:
Their slender necks submit to clear-eyed Fons
As our own eyes blear with
Tears of Bacchus,
Who keeps us blind to Leda’s fortune – beauty’s myth.
Wisconglish for “Mass Transit System Career Opportunities – Now Hiring!”
Lucrative Perks…the parking lot in which the vehicle is located belongs to a newly opened microbrewery…Sunshine more than three days a year (even when it’s 40 degrees below zero!)… and, as always, unique camping experiences.
It’s the birthday of the man who asked, “What does a sane man do in an insane society?”: American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright Joseph Heller (books by this author), born in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. He didn’t begin any story until he had the first and last lines in his head, and the idea for Catch-22 came about after he thought of an opening: “It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, ‘Someone’ fell madly in love with him.” He didn’t have the character’s name — Yossarian — yet, but the story began to unspool from that first line. “It got me so excited,” Heller wrote in the Paris Review, “that I did what the cliché says you’re supposed to do: I jumped out of bed and paced the floor. That morning I went to my job at the advertising agency and wrote out the first chapter in longhand. … One year later, after much planning, I began chapter two.”
His agent started sending Catch-22 — called Catch-18 at the time — to publishers in 1953, when Heller was about a third of the way through with it. Simon and Schuster paid him $750 up front, with another $750 to be paid upon completion. Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it in 1961. They changed Catch-18 to Catch-22 to avoid confusion with Leon Uris’s new book Mila 18, and the title has entered the lexicon as a description of an unsolvable logical dilemma, a vicious circle.
Heller published six other novels, three plays, a collection of short stories, and three screen adaptations. He died in 1999, shortly after finishing his last novel, Portrait of the Artist, as an Old Man.
From today’s Writer’s Almanac.
Fun fact: Catch-22 was a finalist for the 1962 National Book Award—along with The Moviegoer, which won it.
(“Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it….” Rally Korrektiv, rally!)
And, in unrelated news yet to happen, there’s this…
JOB [To Interviewer]: “So, you better talk to Jonathan Potter about this, but it’s a great story. The way he tells it, or at least how he told it to me, Matthew Lickona was just beginning to get his life back in order, right? He was recently out of debt and was returning from some bigwig marketing meeting at the prosthetics company he was working for. Anyway, he decides he’s going to take a cross country trip by train – not bad, right? See a little bit of America’s ass side, spend some time knocking back a few in the dining car, snooze to the clickity-clackity rhythm of it all… Well, anyway, so he’s sitting there, America’s backyards and back alleys racing past his window in a cartoon blur. Meanwhile, unknown to Matthew, Angelico is seated two seats behind him. And so at some point during the trip, the train is about to take one of these God-sized mountain tunnels – it’s out in the middle of Utah or Colorado or something – and it just so happens that who? Right! Dorian Speed is walking up the aisle to the smoking car – she smoked in those days, Camel filterless if I recall – I remember because she started a three-pack-a-day habit soon after the giraffonet replaced the internet and she was having such a hard time transitioning – at any rate, Angelico thrusts his foot into the aisle because he’s got this cramp in his calf, see? He just made this big sell to Icon Productions for his client – but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself – anyway, so he puts his leg out like he’s going to kick a door in and Dorian, tripping on his leg, stumbles forward – but just then Jonathan Webb is walking down the aisle in the other direction, having just finished in the smoking car a Romeo y Julieta – a Churchill I think it was – you know, he could afford them in those days, what with the movie deals he was getting for the Death Fables and all – and he lunges to catch Dorian, but she meanwhile is putting her hand out to save herself from falling flat on her face, and in the process grabs Brian Jobe, who is also on the train – a seat behind and diagonal from Matthew – unbelievable, right? I thought so too! – so she grabs Brian Jobe by his black mock turtleneck – this was during his black period, the whole Propertius affair was still a fresh wound at that point – and she yanks him into the aisle as she’s falling and Webb accidentally grabs for the emergency brake – except, you know, it wasn’t accidental? Because just then Webb sees Matthew at the same time that Matthew spots Webb. Their eyes lock and for one furious moment – well, think crossing streams and Ghostbusters and marshmallow bits everywhere! Well, at the very least, fireworks, hello! So Matthew stands up and is about to punch Webb in his gob – because, you know, poor Matthew is still sore about Webb’s refusal to testify in the Gibson suit – but then Angelico, still rubbing his calf, sees Matthew and unaware of Matthew’s ire tries to get his attention by throwing a copy of Groundwork at him – which someone told me he’d found in the WalMart remainder pile – that’s where I find them, anyway – but anyway, the story – so instead, right? Angelico hits Webb with the book – his own client and he hits him with the book -and right between the eyes – and so, well, anyway, everything sort of went black for a moment as the train passes into the tunnel and…. well, look, I don’t know. This is just what I heard. The only one who was there was Potter. Ask him. He knows the whole story.”
This one goes out to all the Jonathan Potters of the world – Wear your grow and wear it proud!
H/T Number One Niece from Down Under Beth G.
Bird’s Nest in Your Hair turned a year old last week, and in celebration of that happy day I thought I’d post a chapter from about the halfway through the novel. In truth, it was brought to mind by Matthew’s call “to write some stuff” in the Slog, Korrektiv, Slog! post below, and Ironic Catholic’s comment #37910 in particular.
Every Monday at noon (Sundays and Mondays were her days off) Diana had a standing lunch date with a friend, Laura, born Catholic, but as Laura herself liked to put it, a recovering Catholic. They met at the hospital where Laura worked. Laura had been a classmate in school who had used her biology degree to go to nursing school, eventually becoming a Nurse Practitioner, a new title that required more education and brought more responsibility. Laura had originally wanted to become a doctor, but wasn’t able to get into medical school and decided on nursing. Her failure at getting into medical school gave her the kind of experience that Diana had come to appreciate while experiencing her own troubles at the lab where she used to work, while Diana’s adoption of the Catholicism was a subject of endless fascination to Laura because of her own experience growing up in a Catholic family, going to Catholic schools, and coming to see it from the inside as a lot of myth and superstition generated by people out of an irrational fear of living life to its fullest. As she liked to put it.
They each picked up a brown, plastic tray and began sliding their way along the metal rails in front of the salad bar. Diana took a dinner plate and piled up some lettuce on top of it. Laura was right behind her, adding cucumbers, carrots, and broccoli as they navigated their way past all the different selections.
“Don’t understand why you like those things,” said Laura, shaking her head as Diana added beets to the side of her plate. “Makes your shit turn purple!” she said, with all the attention to bodily functions that marked her as a true nurse.
“Jeez, Laura. I just want to eat without having to think about how it’s going to look in the toilet,” said Diana. Sometimes she tried to match her friend’s taste for explicit and crude remarks, but she knew she was at a disadvantage. Laura worked all day long with people who maintained the same irreverent attitude towards the body, all the while in service to it.
There was also a fair amount of irony in their conversations, an irony which both of them had come to appreciate with a sense of the greater implications of that irony, each of them still enjoying new insights offered by a different point of view. And because matters of faith have a tendency to blur into of matters of politics, political issues often became the fulcrum on which their conversation balanced. They scrutinized each other as their voices rose and fell like the ends of a seesaw. The only problem for Diana was that her reasons for becoming Catholic were extremely personal, so that even when she agreed with Laura she sometimes felt as if their conversations were missing the point.
For example, Laura was very much against the death penalty, even for the most hardened criminals. The recent execution of a convicted serial killer celebrated in the national media was a natural enough reason for bringing the issue up. True, this execution took place in Texas, but one of the statements Laura lived by was “all politics are local.”
They paid for their salads at the cashier’s station and moved on to one of the booths. It was over by a window and guarded on one side by number of huge plants. Sometimes Laura liked to gossip about work, and she had to be careful in the cafeteria.
“When you think about it, killing them is really a waste. They should be studying homicidal maniacs to find out what makes them tick. Then they might be able to do a better job of weeding them out before they can do any more damage.”
“Yeah, I agree with you. Executions are wrong. That’s why the Church has come out so strongly against it. But I’m not sure I can follow you all the way when it comes to something like profiling. More information is good, but it can’t be right to convict people even before they’ve committed a crime. That’s not right either.”
She also wondered how well this kind of profiling fit Laura’s generally progressive inclinations.
This made sense to Laura, so they were able to find common ground: profiling is bad, counseling ought to be offered to troubled people before things started to go badly, and contributing negative societal factors ought to be ameliorated as quickly as possible. It all sounded nice and they both felt better for having said these things. Of course, neither Diana nor Laura was a homicidal maniac, so they were on fairly smooth ground there. They both understood that things got a little rockier when the issues approached anything personal.
Another example: one of Laura’s pet theories for Diana’s interest in the Catholic Church was that Diana had once secretly had an abortion, felt guilty about it, and had decided to become Catholic in order to provide some kind of structure for the guilt she (in Laura’s view, unnecessarily) felt. That Diana hadn’t told Laura this only reinforced Laura’s understanding that Diana’s decision was deeply personal, and about this Laura was absolutely correct. As a matter of fact, however, Diana had not had an abortion. If Diana had had an abortion (she had mulled over the matter this much) she probably wouldn’t have told Laura about it for much the same reason that she had not felt like telling Laura that she hadn’t had an abortion. If it’s possible to imagine something more personal than the decision whether or not to have an abortion, Diana felt that somehow this was it. It was true that Diana’s choice to become Catholic was closely intertwined with personal problems, but she hoped these issues weren’t her only reasons for joining the Church, and didn’t like to see her turn toward Catholicism framed in terms such a limited way. Personal problems seemed to Diana a less legitimate motivation than an objectively verifiable truth.
What Diana learned to appreciate was Laura’s refusal to just come right out and ask her, Diana, if she’d had an abortion, if she felt guilty about it, and whether that guilt had been a motivating factor in her choice of becoming Catholic. She respected this reticence on her friend’s part, and honored it by not assuming (out loud, anyway) that this was in fact her opinion. She let Laura maintain this reticence by not telling her the full truth behind her decision, but one result of all this reticence was a certain lack of clarity in this area of their friendship. Another result was that instead of discussing the matter in personal terms, Laura discussed it in political terms, similar to the way she had discussed the death penalty, but with a good deal more circumspection.
“You know, I really went into medicine because of my grandmother,” said Laura. “She worked as a nurse in the fifties and sixties, and she developed a reputation for helping women who had nowhere else to go.”
“Wow,” said Diana, who knew where this was going, but didn’t want to commit to being much more responsive than offering a simple interjection here and there to help Laura along. She found herself less and less interested in politics as she deliberated over the Church more and more, but as Laura talked, Diana found herself holding peace.
“She grew up Catholic, of course,” continued Laura, “and I think she still considered herself a member of the Church even as she was helping women with abortions when nobody else seemed to care about them at all. For her, it was an issue of social justice. She was inspired by Dorothy, you know.”
Laura meant Dorothy Day, who in the midst of the Great Depression founded a magazine dedicated to social justice called The Catholic Worker. Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Thomas Merton and a handful of others had by mid-century become beacons for progressives everywhere. She was a pacifist who admired Gandhi for leading his followers down a path of non-violence. She also believed social justice required more than pamphleteering, and therefore ran the House of Hospitality in order to minister to the needs of the poor in New York City. For all this, she was a sign for Laura of the little that was right about Catholicism. True, Laura didn’t consider herself Catholic any more, but this was really the best way she had of talking to her friend about religion. Dorothy had become something of a catalyst for their conversations.
Diana was cutting her circular beets into halves by this time and eating them one at a time. She tried to make her meals last as long as possible, and finished by cutting those halves into quarters, and the last quarter into eighths. She imagined for herself where they would finally end up and started laughing. Laura looked down at her plate and started shaking her head from side to side in mock consternation. Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness was one of the books that had drawn Diana towards the Church. Although she wondered how Laura could square her commitment to legalized abortion with the strict stance on sexual morality taken by Day towards the end of her life, she never pressed the point.
“Yeah, I remember. Your grandma once met Dorothy Day, right?”
“Yep. In the seventies, after a talk she gave in Brooklyn. Grandma says she’s a saint, even though the patriarchy will never recognize her. They can’t afford to. They might appear weak.”
“Yeah. They agreed on almost everything, didn’t they?”
“Almost. Dorothy liked some article she’d written about systemic evil, but she was firm on the old churchy notion of sin. Grandma has always said that when it comes to evil, we always need to take contributing factors into account. Pick your battles. Being good is a luxury that the underprivileged can’t always afford.”
“Huh. That’s something.”
“You know that, don’t you Di? There are always contributing factors.”
Laura was smiling when she said ‘the old churchy notion,’ because she knew that Diana was right when she had insisted that Laura’s grandmother and Day had agreed on ‘almost everything’. ‘Almost’ said more about their most important difference of opinion than everything said about their agreement. She didn’t really mind that Diana did this, because it gave her a chance to say a little more about grandma and score a couple of more discussion points on her favorite topic. Despite their differences, Laura was nothing if not a good friend. It was important for her to help Diana understand that she wasn’t as guilty as she assumed she was—whatever it was she had done, whatever it was that had forced her into the Church.
Diana liked listening to Laura, and admired her for the tenacity with which she held onto her beliefs. While Diana’s own opinions could probably be considered liberal, she was beginning to feel more and more that political ideologies were insufficient when it came to religion. Since religion is by definition bound to tradition, and the preservation of tradition is usually associated with conservatism, it made sense that in the catechumenate she was finding herself engaged with conservative ideas more and more often. She was a little uncomfortable with this, but not enough to say anything about it to her friend.
After Laura finished her salad, they both got up as if on cue, and took their trays over to the bussing station. This was a long counter, behind which ran a conveyor belt that took the trays back to some unseen worker manning the washing machine in the back. Diana imagined how nice it would have been to have an operation like behind the bar at Queequeg’s. One of her least favorite parts of the job was running the bus tub from behind the bar to the dishwasher in the back of the kitchen. After they left the cafeteria they walked out to the main lobby of the hospital, where they both ordered drinks from an espresso stand by a giant aquarium.
It was relief to listen to her friend, whose commitment to political causes gave Diana a certain amount of elbowroom when it came to discussing religion. Diana no longer considered herself as liberal as Laura; but she didn’t exactly consider herself a conservative either. She’d been given several books by her sponsor that were in a more religious vein, including several popular books on theology by an author who had a cartoon doppelgänger in Ned Flanders of The Simpsons. Some of the books on her shelf that had helped lead her toward the Church included Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Others she hadn’t yet read, such as Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu. She had the official Catechism, of course, and a Bible broken up into daily readings. In her progress there she was about two months behind, all the way back to about a week after she started. For the most part Diana just listened to Laura, who seemed so much more steadfast in her beliefs. Diana did worry that this was something of a cop-out, a way of evading the real issue, but as she listened to Laura it became less clear what that real issue was. Diana wasn’t interested in converting her friend back into the fold. She was having enough trouble sorting out her feelings about the upcoming ceremony. She had the sense that pursuing the matter with Laura would only lead to greater confusion.
They stood up from their well-cushioned chairs and embraced quietly before walking towards the elevators.
“Yep, contributing factors. Know all about ’em.”
“Well, what the world needs are more people like Dorothy Day and my grandma.”
“Do you ever think about going into some kind of medical work, Di? You’re obviously smart. You should think about it.”
“You sound like my mom. I know I should. I am. Right now I’m just mulling a lot of different things over.”
“Well, we all need to do that from time to time.”
Diana stepped into an empty elevator and turned around to say goodbye to her friend.
“Yeah. I guess this is my time.”
Each managed a lazy wave before the doors closed. Diana pressed the letter for her floor in the parking garage, telling herself how lucky she was to have Laura as a friend.