Friday, February 29, 2008

There is a mind I don't want to be in

That's a line from "This Plot," a poem in Alice Notley's In The Pines. I can't imagine what it would be like to be in her mind. Reading her is like entering a whole other dimension. It's destabilizing and dazzling.

Her language is constantly expressing and undermining identity and narrative in a way that is thoroughly disorienting. But that disorientation becomes grounding, the site of intimacy.

Using shattered and re-constituted language to get beyond the parameters of language, the conventions of self-hood, the familiarity of narrative, the burdens of dialogue, she allows her readers to enter the most unique, sometimes frightening, sometimes elusive linguistic plane. It is haunting; it is ever out of reach. It is why she is one of the most important poets writing today.

I have to admit, as much as I am lauding the "destabilizing" qualities of her work, I also find it difficult. I get lost and alienated in it. My concentration, accustomed as it is to those conventions, dependent as it is, falters. I find myself in a sea of disembodied words, voices I don't recognize. But it is okay. Definitely worth it. And, there is a weird way where everything she does linguistically, poetically, creates a completely unique and uncomfortable sense of intimacy. You are inside something. Someone?

"Yellow flower, don't get jealous of her."

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Well, the whole time I was watching Holiday with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant I kept saying to myself, I've seen this already. I think certain scenes and images are probably iconic.

I always have mixed feelings about these old classics. The predictability wears on me a bit, and the styled acting tends to make me cringe. At the same time, so much charisma carries the over-acting, making it rather pleasurable.

I'm definitely not a fan of Cary Grant, the goofball stuff he does seems very empty to me. And I think he looks kind of doofus-y.


I'm probably the only person left of center AND involved in the critique of medicalization who does not particularly like Michael Moore.

I just watched Sicko. I couldn't go see it in the theaters because I felt like everyone around me had drunk the cool-aid already. It is ironic because everyone around me is VERY well-informed on the health care issue and I would think that as much as they would appreciate his popularizing this very important issue, they would also have a big problem with the way he oversimplifies things. But everyone loves him. They love the way he draws easy scapegoats; they love the way he makes right and wrong so clear; they love that cloying sarcastic humor.

There was a lot in this documentary that I liked and that I'm glad he did. But most of it is his regular wheedling shtick that I find so intensely grating. His voice. That dripping insincerity, that cloying, patronizing false, rhetorical naivete. It makes me want to kill him.

I also dislike the cheesy way he manipulates stock footage to make his points.

But then again, for the record, I agree with the rest of the world that drug and insurance companies are the bad guys and that we should try and make our health care system as much like other Western Industrialized nations as possible.

It was also weird seeing how young Bill and Hilary were during their administration.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

I read a piece in The New Yorker on irrational spending behavior. In "What Was I Thinking?: The latest reasoning about irrational ways" Elizabeth Kolbert reviews a few books that have come out recently about things that influence our spending decisions. Most of these decisions, it turns out, have little to do with getting value, and a lot to do with things like "anchoring" -- positions and juxtapositions of numbers. The kinds of experiments and conclusions in these books seemed similar to those discussed in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Cialdini which I read about a year ago.

Anyway, the article didn't make me feel particularly guilty about my own spending, which was what I was most afraid of. Thankfully it didn't lull me into safely feeling like I'm no different than anybody else. One of the books reviewed recommends ways that organizations can help "nudge" people towards smarter decisions. I wish those policies would be implemented!

The Fuck-Up

I finished The Fuck-Up by Arther Nersesian on the subway home from class today. I've been reading this, mostly on the subway, for a while and am glad to be done with it. Although it was sort of enjoyable, it was also kind of sophomoric. This happened then this happened, etc. I really liked that it took place in New York in the late eighties, and depicted a particular moment that I remember well and fondly. There was a scene going on that I lived through, although without being a part of it. It kind of took place in the background of my life. I existed, relatively sadly, in the midst of it, but was not of it.

Basically my problem with this book was that it was all surface. Some good scenes, a good phrase or two here and there. But for the most part pretty shallow. No character development, no emotional center. I read it with my mind on other things without feeling like I missed anything. Of course, in the end, sap that I am, I got sucked in and was touched.

Here's a quote that I enjoyed although it is nothing special really:

" Wealth, like fame, provided incredible leverage to one's character; an adequate mind seemed brilliant if it belonged to a star. Non-repulsive looks made a blue blood stunningly handsome; mild sensitivity catapulted one into heights of sexiness; basic decency made them rivals of Mister Christ."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

paranoia as a form of intellectual egotism

David Denby's "Killing Joke: The Coen brothers' twists and turns" in this week's New Yorker is a wonderful review of their oeuvre. I'm so impressed sometimes with the way critics can put so many ideas and observations into words in such a way that they aren't just penetrating the work but are enhancing it. I mean, they go into the work at the same time that they bring it out of itself. If that makes any sense. I, clearly, am no David Denby.

Here are two things he says that I think are extremely well-put.

About a character in The Big Lebowski:

"Many of the Coen's idiots are obsessives, but Walter... is so fiercely methodical in his false syllogisms that you begin to understand paranoia as a form of intellectual egotism."

That's pretty brilliant. Less dazzlingly, about Fargo:

"The Coens grew up in Minnesota and believed that something strange was going on there -- a regional verbal tic that masked a collective nervous breakdown." (emphasis added)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mr. Miacca

A used library copy of Mr. Miacca just came in the mail and read it right away. I ordered it for nostalgic reasons. We used to love this as kids; it was super scary to us. A little boy in Victorian England isn't supposed to go into the street alone, or Mr. Miacca will get him. One day Mr. Miacca catches the boy in a bag and brings him home to cook. But he doesn't have the right spices, and when he goes out to get some, the boy tricks Mrs. Miacca into letting him out. But later he gets caught again. This time Mr. Miacca has him stay under the couch. He has trouble boiling the water and asks the boy to stick out his leg. He cuts off the leg for the stew, and goes to get his wife. The boy runs away, it was the leg of the couch that he had put out.

It is so amazing looking at an old copy of childhood books. I found two great websites. One is this Japanese page that has tons and tons of images of old books from the 50s, 60s & 70s. I guess they're for sale but it's all in Japanese. I can't paste the link because it's too long.

The other site is really amazing. All these people write in questions trying to find old books and people post in response. Just scrolling through it is so cool, because all these things vaguely ring a bell. I re-discovered Hanging out with Cici about a girl who goes back in time and ends up meeting her mother.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Derek Fenner and Ryan Gallagher at Unnameable Books

I went to a reading/magazine launch event at Unnameable Books, a wonderful used bookstore in my neighborhood. Ryan Gallagher read a bunch of wonderful poems (my favorite was "Couplet") and Derek Fenner read from his series of love poems to Katie Couric.

I came home with lots of goodies: a copy of the magazine, They Are Flying Planes, printed in super small font and including a magnifying glass; a beautiful collection of broadsides put together by Derek, featuring poems from all the evening's readers; and an extra special broadside of a mock restraining order keeping Derek away from Katie.

"I realize she's more than just a novelty, my Katie Couric, my sun. I move from her face outward. Yes, once you've seen something, it remains in your memory. With Katie Couric, days pass to night to days beginning again at the end. I'm smitten. I no longer believe in the sun."

- Derek Fenner, from "I Don't Believe in the Sun"

"My favorite color is red and my favorite
people are people who sing the blues,

a precious book of love, an unbound
lover, a poet monk writing by the moon

Often I am permeated through the pores
of all my poems just to get through the junk

because I'm just a head because my body
is a prison because I suffer fits of paranoia"

- Ryan Gallagher, from "Couplets"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Currin in The New Yorker

Yesterday, while on the subway and while having my roots done I read "Lifting the Veil: Old Masters, pronography, and the work of John Currin" in The New Yorker by Calvin Thomas.

I first saw a painting of his years and years ago at a Whitney biennial and was struck by the intensity of his images and kind of in awe of the old oil mainting great masters style. It was weird because there was something cartoonish and wrong about the figure.

After reading the profile I have a greater appreciation of his work -- what he is trying to do and why he succeeds so much. He talks about making things that are ugly and beautiful at the same time. He paints his figures with this exacting technique that makes the flesh and features so alive that there is a hyper-realism to them, and then he slightly distorts them, shifting the direction to the surreal.

I can't find a good quote from the piece right now, but what I enjoyed the most were the things that Currin said about art; I liked his mind a lot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

8: all true: unbelievable

I just read this charming book, a kind of memoir, more like belles lettres, I think. 8: all true: unbelievable by Amy Fusselmen is this controlled mental/emotional meandering, a meditation on time and bodies and joy. She explores these through musings on motorcycles, memories, healing, pedophiles, ice skating, the Beastie Boys, child-rearing and riding in taxis. I feel like I just enjoyed a wonderful conversation with someone that brought me into myself and out of myself at the same time.
"When we are small we do not know time. What we know are actions. What time is it? Time for a story, time for a snack. Time is for spending on actions, and we give ourselves fully to our actions. When we are four it takes a long time to go to the bathroom because there are many things in the bathroom that must be examined. We must examine the toilet paper holder and then the sink and the faucet and the drain plug and perhaps we will plug the drain and then let the water run in the sink until the sink is over-flowing and then use the toothbrush to stir the beautiful water and make that beautiful sound of water cascading on the tile floor, and then when the sink is overflowing and the water-cascading sound is constant we will pretend the toothbrush is a diving bird, flying high and then diving down into the water for a fish and then flying high again and then diving down again, and this is not cute or annoying: it is practice for when we get older. Because when we get older time will seem to have stopped because we have children and now we are busy surrounding them, swooping and holding them, enveloping them, ebbing and flowing around them, and in this ebbing and flowing we no longer beleive we are going forward, we think no, it is the children who are going forward now, in their relatively straight lines, thank God, as we watch them grow, watch them talk and walk and if they don't walk and talk exactly on time, we get upset, and this is why, in midlife, if we are unfamiliar with this feeling of time-stopping, if it makes us nervous to hover beside the sink for a long time and not think about the clock, we may want to get that feeling of going forward again, and that my be why we may suddenly want to buy sports cars or, um, motorcycles."
PS: I hate that this image has that "search inside" thing. I couldn't find another picture of the cover...
PPS: I hate that the spacing isn't working on this post

Friday, February 8, 2008

La Science de Reve

The Science of Sleep is wonderful. It is one of those fantastical whimsical alternate reality type things that I love. There were so many surprising and charming visual treats in it, a world made of cardboard and felt. Alongside it though, is a sad and unresolved story of a young man who is really fucked up. When looking for an image to post, I found someone else's blog who called The Science of Sleep the anti-Amelie and I totally get what they mean. Love is not found via fantasy and retreatism; the main character remains just as lonely, and even more tormented. At the same time, there was something extremely gentle, loving throughout. In a very weird way it reminded me of Harold and Maud, although it's nothing like it.

The Origin of the World

I love the voice that Lewis Warsh creates in his book The Origin of the World. His poems are written with these long, prose-like lines. Sometimes they read as non-sequitors. Sometimes they have a deadened, official affect, like the kinds of statements you would check off on a psychological test ("Some nights I feel too lethargic to hang up my clothes"). Sometimes they have the cold, concerned, and omniscient tone of reportage. But often there is a lyrical quality to them. Emotional content being recorded. Capturing bits of detail and sentiment and holding them together.

The cover of the book is of a collage that I think Warsh might have made himself and each poem feels like a cutting and pasting of mental fragments. Because of this quality, it's easy to lose sight of the whole poem, to forget that each has a kind of thematic coherence, an internal structure. Some have a more distinct narrative thread, but the narrative, which is often about a romantic relationship or the past or both, is constantly disrupted by other poetic detritus.

Anyway, I really liked this book a lot.

From "The Origin of the World":

The most resolutely fragmented work can also be presented as the total work

You leave behind the house you lived in as a child

You leave behind your parents -- they were never there anyway

You leave behind the neat tablecloth, the labels removed from the jars

"Depression," someone wrote, "is the hidden face of Narcissus"

I rushed forward into a world of bad endings & no forgiveness

I skimmed some money off the top & bought a car with a dented hood

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Number 23

The Number 23 with Jim Carrey is SO bad. I think it's supposed to be scary. I think it's supposed to be suspenseful. I think it's supposed to be complex, interesting.

And I suppose there was a slight chance it could have been. Basically, Jim Carrey reads a book found in a used bookstore that gets him obsessed with the number 23 and convinced that the book is either about him or searching for him. It was extremely convoluted and things just made no sense. Worse, it was kind of laughable. Poor Jim Carrey, taking himself so seriously. He didn't do a particularly good job, but I think he had no hope, with the ridiculous script and the over-the-top directing. At the very end, the story came together a bit. Just a bit. Not enough to stop me from kicking myself for having wasted the time watching it.


I just finished Chuck Palahniuk's Choke. There is so much I love about his writing. The voice he establishes, the rhythm. His incredible humor and his scewed and wonderful mind. Each page, so much to think about. So, this was a great read in a way. On the other hand, I never got absorbed. Not to the point of hating to put it down or needing to pick it up. The characters are wonderful. Wonderful. The scenes in colonial dunsboro were maybe my favorites. As well as the nursing home scenes. I guess it's a tie between them. Oh, but my absolute FAVORITE is the scene where he is trying to fuck a woman with a rape fantasy who has so many rules about how it needs to be done. It was one of the funniest things I've ever read.

But, like I said, I never got caught up in the plot. On the other hand, I started this book weeks ago. I usually go through novels pretty quickly, but with all the work I had to do last month, many days would go by without me touching it. I might have gotten more into it if I had kept up the momentum.

Here are some random and not necessarily typical excerpts:

For one flash, the Mommy had seen the mountain without thinking of logging and ski resorts and avalanches, managed wildlife, plate tectonic geology, microclimates, rain shadow or yin-yang locations. She'd seent he mountain without the framework of language. Without the cage of associations. She'd seen it without looking through the lens of everything she knew was true about mountains.

What she'd seen in that flash wasn't even a "mountain". It wasn't a natural resource. It had no name.

"That's the big goal," she said. "To find a cure for knowledge."


Every rock is a day Denny doesn't waste. Smooth river ganite. Blocky dark basalt. Every rock is a little tombstone, a little monument to each day where the work most people do just evaporates or expires or becomes instantly outdated the moment it's done. I don't mention this stuff to the reporter, or ask him what happens to his work the moment after it goes out on the air. Airs. Is broadcast. evaporates. Gets erased. In a world where we work on paper, where we exercise on machines, where time and effort and money passes from us with so little to show for it, Denny gluing rocks together seems normal.

MySpace suicide in the New Yorker

I read an article called "Friend Game" by Lauren Collins in the 1/21 New Yorker. It's about a girl who committed suicide because of an escalating MySpace scenario between herself and a boy who was really her neighbors. A whole family got involved in communicating with this 14-year old girl and getting her all worked up. The article went over those details as well as the problems between the two families since the suicide. I guess that something like this happened says something about where our culture is at at this particular moment, but honestly I found the article dissapointing and boring. Just kind of pointless...