Archive for the ‘sunday’ Category
- The fascination of cities, of infrastructure. Remember that? With a stable life came thoughts of infrastructure, a continual fantasy that the business pages, folded inside out and turned upside down, transliterated through some sort of magically optimistic and dialectical point of view, would reveal heaven itself. A moderate heaven, a modulated paradise of production and railroads.
- From the window of his upstairs bathroom he sometimes saw the tops of trains passing on the line to the north. He tried to tell himself how happy this should make him, how finally he is living amidst European modernity rather than American dysfunction and disorder.
- Now, from where he sits, he can see half of London, including some trains on the overground lines. There are very few places he visits downtown (and he goes downtown less and less) that he couldn’t safely say “I can see this, the skyward extensions of here, from my little balcony where I will sit and smoke tonight.”
- A Saturday with nothing to do but read, write if the mood captures him. What would he have traded for this a few months ago? But now, proving out some horrible but easy truism of human psychology, it is nearly unbearable. He paces.
- He writes students, trying to re-schedule missed meetings. Even on Saturday, yes. It is good to have something scheduled, some break in the run of the day. Someone told him this and he listened. His father tells him to make sure that he finds something to do everyday, especially on weekends.
- He feels that this is an experiment with, no, not just a form. But a mode of being in the world, or at least of seeing it. When he reads the new round of attacks on the literary status quo, he says to himself “At least here, in my Sunday posts, I am experimenting.”
- After a literary contest that he has judged, he is asked to say a few words to the contestants. He recommends Dubliners, of course. “How many of you have read it?” Two hands go up, though there are two hundred hands in the room, mostly the hands of “young writers.” The anti-epiphanies, the very torque of short fiction from the get go, he tries to explain. Later, in the bar, a young girl comes up to tell him that he is completely wrong about Dubliners. In no mood, and since this is off the clock, he basically tells her to fuck off and leave him alone. She is not his student; he is in no mood to engage with stupidity.
- Earlier that day he meets with his “agent.” He doesn’t want to talk about the novel though, and so they talk about other things. The state of the industry etc. Another day, he sits and helps friends who are in something of a bind. He tries not to expect anything in return for the good deed he is doing. He is slightly jealous of their something of a bind.
- He takes his phone off of silent, off of buzz. It rings, he talks. It rings again and he talks again. And then it rings no more.
- He owes emails and is sorry for that. He has missed meetings and is sorry for that too.
- His mother doesn’t have lung cancer, just pneumonia. In his family, this is called “good news” which explains all too much. He finds it interesting, slightly baffling, to talk to her when she is tremendously high on pain killers. The timbre of her voice changes, she giggles, is almost flirtatious, and he wonders yet again about their familial psychochemistry.
- Personal mythology about going to seed and writing. That the former might have to come before the later, but that the entire process is wrought with tremendous risk.
- He suspects he might write something excoriating about Tom McCarthy. There’s something about this new novel that rubs him the wrong way, just as Remainder did.
- Kafka’s notebooks in German on on the shelf next to him where he types. He is tempted to make a project for himself. To recapture a language lost. The problem is that – he has to admit in shame – that he finds them boring even in English. This would be a labor of love, respect, self-respect and for Kafka too.
- Tomorrow he will wander out to see the sea. He will write in his notebook words like estuarial, words like eel trap. He wonders what an eel trap looks like – this is the sort of question that now seems to him worth answering. It will be good to get out of London, to stop staring at this wonderful view. He would prefer a muddy bit, nothing too scenic, not even Nova Scotia. Something half-random and without proper amenities.He will walk and count on the world and his debit card to provide what is needed. He is the son of a tourist town; his grandmother sold tourist trinkets to Americans on bicycling tours who came over on the ferry. But still the sea, a sea wall, and that smell.
- He has never been and will never be a tourist when visiting a cold water seafront, haunted by fisheries that operate or operate no more. Florida is another matter, but along the mud and pubs of northern coastline, this is where he lives, wherever he is at the moment.
- He is becoming differently male. He finds that he, for instance, has less and less to say, and somehow this seems related to his maleness. Perhaps the point, he thinks, is to sit silently, whether alone or together. The other things are for print, for pay. It suddenly occurs to him that there is an economy of speech and writing, and that his economy has been unbalanced on this point.
- He talks to his parents daily now. Yesterday his mother fell in the bathroom. Today, they went to the hospital to x-ray her chest. Abrasions, contusions only from the fall. But beyond that, and unrelated to the fall, a panoply of problems. Two fractured bits of spine. “Nodes” in her lungs that may or may not be…. But, whatever, this is the sort of thing that happens all the time, the three of us agree.
- His friends and loved ones wonder why he has such a complexly dark relationship to his own physicality, even his corporeal mortality. If in an interview he were to be asked about it, he would simply say “Try growing up deep in the shadow of a degenerative disease and then get back to me.” He would then pause, take a drink, and then continue: “Oh, and Roman Catholicism.”
- But it is not only his relationship to his own body, he would not continue in this interview. It’s his relationship to women too that was affected by the same factors.
- He meant to write, finally, a long-planned story today. A quasi-fiction tilting over into an essay, complete with illustrations. Stills from porn. Instead he took a walk and then read Craig Raine’s bizarre Heartbreak and then had a nap and then made a series of phone calls.
- Below his balcony a young woman sits on the bench texting into her phone. She seems to him iconic – a living statue of an indeterminate age.
- The day before, during an anxious morning, he took pleasure and comfort from the sight of a man trimming the hedges at the girl’s back with an electric device.
- A few nights ago, the following notes toward the Sunday Post:
- The end of lurid
- The backlighting that makes the thing. The backlighting, he imagines, even behind the girls on the strip just off the tourist streets, if any actually exist anymore.
- No matter the make of booze, the same red glow. Christmas lights along the bottom, and mirrors.
- Ice carried in buckets. Later the ice will melt in glasses.
- Now the relationship to the television in the corner. Think of the television people, where they are, the studio, the cameras, the air conditioning. All only to place a human animal, animals in pairs, to chat silently above the scrolling sports scores here.
- (Milton on the lurid)
- Later, now, he checks: the word “lurid” doesn’t appear in Paradise Lost, despite the fact that it was available to Milton, according at least to the dictionaries. He feels, as he does this, that he has done this all before.
- The trick of Handke’s Weight of the World – and no book in years has influenced him so much – is that the crisis or the crises (and there certainly must be some) are never mentioned, are held backstage, while the patter of everyday life, its ups and its downs, runs on the foreground, despite the crevasses it has to surmount.
- If he returns to the USA this week, thirty to forty percent of the reason why will be to cure his recent and profound bout of anorexia.
- Yesterday he experience deja vu so profound that it felt as though he had fallen into a temporal house of mirrors. When he said aloud “Ah I am feeling deja vu” he heard himself saying it before, and saying that he said it before, and before that, ad infinitum.
- A story called “Moleskine.” What do you fill the notebook with in certain situations when you write in order not to look alone. The negative space of writing, graphomania driven by vanity, in place of the usual theory of trauma making it all happen.
- He asked himself “If I took another pill would everything go differently?”
- She says “I am a nurse, actually” and then “It’s my husband’s birthday and that’s why I’m here.”
- Communal psychopathology and glue-stuck semi-vintage porn in a bar. Or is this simply what we might call “Animal Rights”?
He can hardly wait to get up to his room to watch his movie! There are movies that you can watch on the computer, and sometimes the car chimes with a ring that’s so beautifully engineered as to make him wonder why he ever developed doubts in the future.
He overhears, woman to woman: “Big news! I got my first paying customer this week!” The other claps. “Fifteen hours work. Fifteen hours work for one-thousand dollars! I picked out her entire wardrobe, right down to the underwear and accessories. She’s so busy, with the business, that she says she just doesn’t have time. And so my first paying customer!” The other asks a question about her sweater and she replies, “Yeah, Anne Taylor.”
He is not sure that he has any use any longer for the New York Times email updates. Over the years, he has subscribed to them and unsubscribed from them only to subscribe again. They are an index of a certain mood, and as such are unbearable once that mood has slipped away.
A woman sits at the next table listening to a tutorial on her new iPhone. He listens too, percolating in anger.
An older guy says “red wine for me” and his younger wife says “make it a big one.”
Crossing the street, he hears a scream, really a yell. He thinks, first, “The surplus of our industries shouts at passing buses from street corners” and then, as he crosses another street, “Our industry’s surplus shouts at buses from our corners” and then, much later, “The future like the past. Sometimes moreso, sometimes less so.”
He can’t understand what his daughter says on the phone. Most of his side of the conversation revolves around asking her to repeat what she just said.
Later, reading Bookforum in the backseat of the car until he gets woozy, his mother asks “What do you call a PhD in physiotherapy?” He responds “a PhD in physiotherapy.” Later he is asked several times if he has ever been to this particular chain restaurant. Each time, unfailingly, he responds in the affirmative.
They seem happy enough, the people playing golf.
On the TV, someone says “One thousand of these are being offered exclusively to the viewers of this network.”
A life lived with only the most casual relationships. The people who serve you various drinks, the people who sell you various items, some of them on a daily basis. The people who work on airplanes and who work in airline terminals. The people on the phone. This life somehow balanced awkwardly, verging even on imminent collapse, with the increasing mandate to “up-sell.” He is offered credit cards and membership cards and other special offers and opportunities to make donations to local charities. His drinks go from small to medium and then to large, though he refuses the option of a shot of flavor, hazelnut maybe.
Mid-range relationships: Doctors and therapists. Long-distance friends. The colleagues he doesn’t really talk to. Parents.
His father says “Boston really blew it signing this guy” and then “You know I don’t know half the players on either Boston or Tampa Bay” and then “Oh, Longoria got picked off.” He tears another page out of Bookforum.
He handles, earlier, an iPad in the Apple Store. Just as one tipped off as to a catastrophic terrorist attack would ready in his mind the phrase like a Hollywood movie! he has readied It looks and feels like the future! Though he’s had the opportunity to handle one before, he has put it off as long as possible – put it off until today. He nearly purchases one just to have something to think about for awhile – like an irresponsible person in a personal crisis would purchase a pet. He pictures himself, his future, laying in bed reading ebooks and watching movies and then realizes that his future feels less metal and glass and ebooks and more cigarette butts and paper cups and humidity both inside and out.
His father says, “The course was designed by Arnold Palmer. That’s why it doesn’t have any fairways near the greens. Arnold Palmer believed, at least at one point, that you should be able to make the green in one.”
He notices that the road in has been built on a berm and then he sees the tiny stream. He pictures first a flat and flooded road and then the building of the berm with fill.
1. Sitting outside at a cafe in Chapel Hill, where I’ve been sent (or is it taken) for a bit, Chapel Hill I mean not the cafe. The guy next to me in the smoking section outside is sitting with laptop open and a book positioned between his chest and the keyboard, taking notes.
2. What would it take to get back to work? It’s not of course as if I don’t do any – I imagine that I’m still, despite it all, in about the ninetieth percentile or so amongst academics, even if idiosyncratically so. The reviewery keeps falling from the skies of London, and I keep my deadlines or almost do. And for awhile there I was adding 2000 words per day to the novel, but even that was entre some very wavy lignes. I did 1900 today at a mall-lodged Barnes and Noble, after buying the Glen Beck novel with great embarrassment, all ready to explain that I want to write it up, negatively of course, for some very important foreign magazines. (Long readership prize if you can explain in comments what my angle for a comment piece – not a review obviously – on this book might be…)
3. Colleagues write and say that they like or even love the blog. Especially the darker bits. Ah hem. Don’t encourage me. What a slim membrane stretched between life writing and living to life write. (A question for a Barthes translator working on a text Barthes never wrote, or maybe even some that he did: why are the terms available in English for, um, creative writing (see?) so horrendously whimsical sounding or constrictively unabstract, just as our sex talk inebriatedly veers from the gutter to the sexual health clinic without stopping in the realm of the lovely and/or poetic?)
4. Want to stay here writing but my father will worry that I’m out drinking if I do. I won’t be able to finish this at their place, though, even though I’ve discovered today the snus. Not like I’m kissing anyone while I’m here, just in case you were worried…
4a. There’s a great bit in that new thing about Wallace by David Lipsky where, while on a plane, the former taunts the latter about his ability to enjoy nicotine enjoyment because of his dipping. Even better is the fact that he makes up an excuse for the flight attendant about having a plastic allergy so that she’ll give him a styrofoam cup rather than a clear plastic one, which would gross his fellow passengers out. I’d quote it if I were at home rather than sitting outside of Caribou Coffee in Chapel Hill.
4b. Snus requires no spitting at all. I tried it today and confess here on my confessional blog that I looked in the mirror to see if you could tell I had it in. Not to hide it from my parents, no, but rather with the thought that I might pop one in during long grad seminars. (Again – DFW prize if you mark the subtext in comments…)
5. I try to explain to my father why I have to write here and not there, now and not before or later, and under these conditions and not those, by saying that it’s like baseball – ticky, idiosyncratic, strewn with homespun and ad hoc mythologies and auto-gnomisms.
6. There are bugs walking around this sitting area that are so big that if I saw them in London they’d be mice, if not rats.
7. The fifth point was supposed to conclude on a different word, but I simply couldn’t remember it. It’s there but it’s simply not coming. The sensation of having a word but being not quite able to reach it, pull it out of the back of the mind. The fantasized geographies and topologies of the brain that one develops when this happens. Saw a horrible picture in the paper of a US soldier who had a third of his head blown away but somehow survived. One can’t help but wonder if certain words, turns of phrase, are missing. I imagine they are, along with much else, despite the redundancies and double wiring built into the system.
8. An engulfing, overwhelming fear of being alone and the way that the blog solves this so tantalizingly incompletely.
9. Horrible what enabled me to start writing this post. Fearful that it happens like that, terrifying my inability to learn easy lessons.
10. Is it America that makes me unable to write this in the third person that I normally take up in these?
11. A.O. Scott a few months ago in the NYT on Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask and the meme of “Generation X’s Midlife Crisis” in general:
Note the sudden swerve from world-historical grandiosity to consumerist banality; the attempt to camouflage sincere confusion with winking insouciance; the obsession with generalizing a personal experience.
While the terms on offer here seem intimately familiar to me, and likely to you if you read this blog, I on the other hand don’t fit the Gen X mold, at all, that Scott describes elsewhere in the piece. The slackerdom, the insolent refusal to grow up! I went straight from undergrad (where I took 39 separate courses while everyone else took 32, five per term except the first, while everyone else took four), went straight into my PhD, got my first tenure track job at 28, had my first kid at 28, got my second job at a more prestigious place and abroad at 32, had my second kid at 32, and hopefully (cross your fingers, or don’t at this point) will have two books out in 2011, at the age of 34. I am the purest child of meritocratic striving that you’ll ever meet, and now, sure, it’s starting to look a bit Greenberg at a premature age. Anyway…
11a. I was carded today buying cigarettes. The age to buy them is 18! What flattery. And the girl who did it said I never would have guessed you were that age. I wanted to respond, but didn’t, Well give it a few more years of this.
12. There’s a two-table outdoor smoking area at this cafe. I am seated in one of the tables. (The guy with the book is long since gone – actually he left last night. I’ve been writing this post for a long time now, albeit in the same place. Long enough that I actually remembered, earlier today in the shower, the word mentioned in 7, but it’s departed again. Stupid untrainable brain folds!) Just now, two young girls were seated at the next table. One of them said the phrase quotatation marks, then described herself in laughter as really really stupid, I just said “quotatation marks”!, and then caught my eye as I looked over. She must have thought this was a flirtatious move, on both of our parts. I was actually thinking, when I looked over, yes, you’re really stupid. Ah, the American South! Ah Southern girls!
13. Oh to be in London now etc.
14. What a malignancy this writing trade is. The psychopathology of house comparison, car comparison, that hovers like a fog over my parents’ community is nothing compared to New York Times Book Review anxiety, the anxiety that comes of seeing how smartly funny the start of Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask is.
15. A cockroach just ran up to my left foot. It’s getting near time to leave. I’m sure they have a different word for what that is, here in the South. Undoubtedly it’s a June Bug or something. But, reader, we know… A giant fucking cockroach.
16. If America is a nation of children, its sobriety renders it very adult compared to England. If England is a nation of adults, its inebriation renders it ominously childlike compared to America. And here I am, drinking coffee in the heat, about to roll home in a ridiculous car listening to satellite radio, worried that one of those June Bugs got into my bag, reeking of smoke but with mints in my pocket…
17. And there, as if on cue, are the fireworks…. Pictures of golf courses to be posted tomorrow or at least soon…
1. His shrink warned him once: in almost every case, the net result of perfectionism is not the creation of perfect things but rather mediocrity. One can’t quite face the work or the release of the work, the work becomes literally unbearable, thought drifts toward the meta-consideration of why the work isn’t right rather than what the work actually needs to be, one tries too hard or gives up and tries not hard enough. Whatever – the net result is generally the same.
2. He thinks about the deep compatibility of the internet with such attitudes and patterns of behavior. He thinks of the way it services a need to work that cannot face the work itself. He thinks of the outlet that a blog provides for the logorrhea that does indeed require outlet, but only ever in a space of effort without consequence, no possibility of reward or the failure to attain a reward.
3. They are sitting outside Medcalf in Exmouth Market.
Brooklyn-vibe, sunny. The hipsters are the next table who kept asking them for a light have given up on asking, just come and wordlessly do their business with the lighter on the table and then return to their own places.
A pause, and then the conversation resumes.
The agent says: “I would, if I were you, try to make it funny.”
“Funny, yes. Well, it’s not not funny. It’s funny, in a dry sort of way. I think it’s funny.”
“You just wouldn’t want to be po-faced about it. Given the subject matter, given what it’s about.”
From the bar across the pedestrianized street, a roar of expectation and then a roar of disappointment. South Africa v. Mexico. He puts his hand on his bag in the seat beside him. Expensive ultralight laptop, Macbook Air.
He says to the agent, “I suppose I know what you mean. But if it is funny, it is funny in the way that Coetzee’s Disgrace is funny.”
“Disgrace doesn’t strike me as a particularly funny novel.”
“No, actually I can name at least three, no four, no five funny things in it. The bit about the prostitute in the beginning, what does he say, ‘a moderate, moderated bliss….’ Funny.”
“The bit about Emma Bovary, Lurie’s fantasy of Emma Bovary coming out with him in Cape Town.”
“And of course the ending, the three-legged dog.”
“I guess that’s funny. I don’t know, maybe I’d call it…”
“The three-legged dog! Listen do you want another drink? I want another one. What is that, what sort of white?”
Minutes pass. South Africa - Mexico has come to an end, a draw. And the he returns, drinks in hands.
4. Later that night, he is drunk and discusses the matter in depth, sort of, with his wife.
5. The next morning, he checks his Current Fictional Projects for signs of humor. He is not sure. But when is he ever funny? When do people laugh at him? His students laugh, and people laugh at his lectures. But he decides that he is funniest when, in the murky confidence of a pub or a party, he is vicious about other people, says the worst things in the world about a mutual acquaintance. A Catholic school skill, a survival technique for smart kids, lexically inclined – you caption the weak lest ye be captioned yourself and become, then, the weak. Could he do this in fiction? Construct devastating little à clefs about people that he knows in the real world?
6. Later that morning, while the kids are still asleep, he sifts the piles of unsorted, unopened mail, a week’s worth, on his kitchen table. Ah! The New Yorker‘s “20 under 40″ fiction issue. Just the thing to cheer him up! He puts it aside.
He spends the rest of the morning writing emails to invoice magazines and get back to publicity editors and responses to his pitches, which makes him feel slightly better but not in a lasting way. He writes n+1 to tell them that one of his pieces seems to have disappeared from the new website.
A bit better but not much better. It doesn’t last.
7. He has the thought that if he simply could stop thinking about writing and simply do more of it… Well, sure…
8. He can only remember one occasion when he laughed aloud a something in a piece of fiction. Surely there were other times, but if there were he can’t remember them now. It was a scene in the middle of Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Television when the protagonist / narrator is futzing away some grant-funded time in Berlin, during which he’s supposed to write an academic book. Futzing around, he comes to a large park in which it’s permissible to sunbathe in the nude, even if no one’s actually doing it where he is at the moment in question. He decides to take off all of his clothes anyway, and is walking along in the nude when he happens to run into the members of the board who offered him the grant. He ends up having a conversation with his bosses / benefactors, middle of the day and CABNM (clothed academic board naked male to put it into a porn category that doesn’t exist but perhaps should) about the progress of his work and the like.
It made him laugh, anyway. Who knows…
9. On the toilet in the early afternoon he finally opens the issue of The New Yorker and reads Rivka Galchen’s story “The Entire Northern Side Was Covered With Fire.” Here’s the beginning.
People say no one reads anymore, but I find that’s not the case. Prisoners read. I guess they’re not given much access to computers. A felicitous injustice for me. The nicest reader letters I’ve received—also the only reader letters I’ve received—have come from prisoners. Maybe we’re all prisoners? In our lives, our habits, our relationships? That’s not nice, my saying that. Maybe it’s even evil, to co-opt the misery of others.
I want to mention that, when I sold the movie, my husband had just left me. I came home one day and a bunch of stuff was gone. I thought we’d been robbed. Then I found a note: “I can’t live here anymore.” He had taken quite a lot with him. For example, we had a particularly nice Parmesan grater and he had taken that. But he had left behind his winter coat. Also a child. We had a child together, sort of. I was carrying it—girl or boy, I hadn’t wanted to find out—inside me.
I searched online for a replacement for that Parmesan grater, because I had really liked that Parmesan grater. It was the kind that works like a mill, not the kind you just scrape against; it had a handle that was fun to turn. There were a number of similar graters available, but with unappealing “comfort” grips. Finally, I found the same model. Was it premature to repurchase? Two days passed basically like that. Then, on Wednesday, my brother called. I gave him the update on my life.
Ah, now there it is! The Parmesan grater! Is that the funny that he is meant to do? The quirkily revelatory detail, the absurdity of everyday life, of kitchenware? Our essential triviality, our accoutrements, our tick-work preoccupations! And then rendered in voice, a voice that knows that it’s being listened to but still doesn’t get it – doesn’t hear quite what we hear… which is the funny! The author pretends to be the sort of person who says things for effect that doesn’t know they are saying things for effect. Fucking brilliant!
It made him laugh, anyway. Who knows…
10. At night, after the World Cup game, which his wife spends reading The New Yorker, she makes a joke about their ages, the fact that they still have time etc. He asks her, completely seriously, po-facedly even, how old he is – whether he is 33 or 34. He is sure it is the latter, but as it turns out he’s wrong. 33, still the interminable Jesus Year, a year in which he has laughed, he is sure, less than in any other year of his life.
He is sitting behind a guy on the bus to Finsbury Park last week. Said guy is holding his iPhone such that it is easy to read what he is texting, the texts that he receiving. Her message is first and then his:
- still in bed x
- in cab x
The scenarios that would inform such a lie – he is not where he is supposed to be, he is trying to impress her and thinks (or know?) that bus travel isn’t the fastest mode of transit into her deepest deep – proliferate in his mind until they don’t.
Next he tells her that he is being sent to Bradford to cover some murders that happened, x.
He is sitting on a train, riding back from a conference in a small city (pop. 44,000). He is sitting with a young but still quite successful novelist and and another academic, a theorist. He talks to the novelist about reviewery, the vicissitudes of teaching writing, the advances that the latter received, the meeting that he himself is having with a literary agent this week. He, they, ignore the theorist, though later he will feel bad about this.
A couple is sitting in the seats across the aisle. She is reading a magazine, he a novel. Not long into the trip, he drops the book noisily on the table between them, pulls out his phone, and begins to play a game instead.
He wonders whether a) he was bored with the novel b) bothered by the volume of their conversation c) bothered by the content of their conversation.
Earlier, at the conference dinner, he receives advice about dealing with agents from a novelist who would know. She outlined the differences between working with a big agent at a small house and a small agent at a big house. Later she hinted at the possibility of him reviewing her next novel – joked about whether she would or wouldn’t have him sent a copy, and then made a joke about the Canadian fishing village where his mother grew up, which she knew of, had even visited, or so she let on.
At this dinner, he fails to finish his quattro formaggi pizza, or even half of it. He had forgotten that this chain of Italian restaurants was the one where he doesn’t like one of the cheeses on the quattro formaggi.
It is embarrassing, for a man of his size, not to finish – especially in England, where everyone finishes. He is relieved when the wait staff has taken the husk of it away while he is out for a cigarette.
Earlier than that, before the dinner, he worried throughout the conference about his extremely persistent cough. He worried for two reasons – that he was really bothering others in the audience was one reason.
When he meets a Canadian, say at a conference, he feels a need to prove his Canadianess to them, though he has only ever visited the place. Likewise, when he meets a writer of fiction, he needs to do the same – subtly somehow prove that, despite the fact he’s published nothing nor has he tried to publish anything, at least prospectively he is one too.
The fact that he has a Canadian citizenship card does render the former task easier than the later, but both are in their way confidence games, aimed to sell himself as much as his interlocutor on aspects of his identity that are only themselves fictional, even if legally or prospectively true.
A review in The Forward of Joshua Cohen’s forthcoming novel Witz ends on the following note:
At more than 800 pages of involved and unusual reading, “Witz” is a book for those who are prepared to spend the time and effort of a full 40-hour workweek reading a novel. It is a week of work that will be quite unlike any other you’ve ever experienced.
It has taken him at least a full 40-hour workweek to read it, but a work-week entirely conducted after-hours and on buses and trains.
At some point this weekend, he decides that he will work exclusively on his novel and not at all on his scholarly work, this summer. Though this, of course, is a lie.
On Sunday morning, he reads Terry Eagleton’s review of Christopher Hitchens Hitch-22 in The New Statesman. Later, as he buys the book at his local book shop, the woman at the counter jokes about the picture on the cover, that it is a flattering one given what Hitchens looks like now. She uses at one point the word “sexy,” but he misses the rest of the sentence and doesn’t ask her to repeat it.
Later he uses the index to look for references to the graduate seminar that his wife took with Hitchens during the Fall of 2001 and finds just what he is looking for, which confirms one story that he told someone at the conference the day before. Other stories remain unconfirmed.
The night before, upon returning from the conference, he orders both of the young novelist’s novels and discovers, to his surprise, that the young novelist is actually four months older than he is. This is a relief, and explains why this novelist groaned as loud as he did when saw the line on the backcover of Witz: “JOSHUA COHEN was born in 1980 in New Jersey.”
He, like the young novelist, was born in 1976.
Later, when he discovers that a podcast of his conference lecture has been posted on the web, he watches it, calls his wife down to watch it. It’s been a long time since she has seen him lecture, years.
She leaves him to it after a few minutes, clearly put off by his fascination with the video, the rapt attention that he pays, there at the kitchen table, to himself.
He takes decongestants for the cough to no avail – the cough persists. In addition, he has a strange, sore spot on his head, the back of his head. Sore to the touch, but the source of the pain is underneath the skin, between the scalp and the skull. He beat hypochondria, and beat it conclusively, years and years ago. But beating hypochondria brings its own dangers and with them its own even deeper fears.
He is reading Witz in the living room while he wife looks up options on sabbaticalhomes.com for the summer, for their daughter’s summer break. Six weeks, from mid-July to the end of August. There are people eager to rent a place like his in London, people with kids, people willing to take care of cats, but no one with a place for rent in New York. He wonders if they should go to a European city instead, and she agrees that since they are here, they really should at least think about that. But Italy would be too hot, and so would Spain, and Paris they’ve done, and Germany is boring, and they’ve just been to Amsterdam. And he hasn’t been to the new Yankee Stadium, though he promised he’d never in his life go there, a year or so ago.
Someone has a place available in Maplewood, New Jersey, located just at the base of South Mountain. A strange siren song sings itself in his heart, but no, for chrissake, come on. He suggests staying with his grandmother, in Nova Scotia, in the fishing village. Think about the babysitting.
On the train back from the conference, the novelist mentions that he and his girlfriend spent six months in Buenos Aires while he finished his second novel. When he and his wife were in Buenos Aires, just after the devaluation, they joked about buying an apartment with their credit card, putting down a downpayment anyway, but there was grad school to return to, work to return to.
Later he thinks that he is not sure there was a better time than when they were in Buenos Aires, and wonders if they shouldn’t in fact go back for those six weeks.
He sends his father, who has never seen him teach, a link to the podcast of him lecturing. He anticipates receiving a message back telling him that he read too quickly, way too quickly, as his father once took a public speaking course with William F. Buckley’s brother which seemed to have only two takeaway points: 1) Speak very slowly. 2) Print your speach with no more than 40-50 words per page.
But he is wrong, that’s not what he gets in return. Rather, an hour later he receives an email from his father featuring a podcast starring an engineer from BP, explaining the efforts the corporation is taking to seal the leak in the Gulf. No reference, none at all, to his lecture in his father’s email.
This surprises him for only about seven seconds, which is perhaps the time that it takes for things that are obvious and inevitable to unseat things that are wished for but impossible.
This is also the reason why this post – its form, its content, both together – exists.
Earlier, Sunday afternoon, he discusses all of the above, except of course for the things that would happen later, with his wife as they walk with the children into town to get some lunch. His older daughter assumes that her parents are fighting – pouts, fits, cries, and then demands that only her mother take her to lunch and that he father “go to work, because he has a lot of things to do at work.”
Things spin a bit, his mind fills with anxiety, anger, guilt all at once. He is silent and away for the first ten minutes of lunch and then returns, tries to speak.
1. Amidst bouts of very adult sadness, the kids’ pictures and drawings and things that hang on the refrigerator are at once a beacon of hope and a source of torment: Just join the dots to complete this picture of a super sunflower and a beautiful butterfly. A sort of simple and joyful structural support of the world, where it starts, but one that is bound to rust and crumble into the anxiety and even psychopathology that is adulthood.
And then a grimmer sense that I am getting even this wrong.
2. At the National Gallery this afternoon, stopped by the Van Goghs to look again at this for a bit:
Am falling in love, at an only somewhat careful distance, with the brilliant bêtise of Van Gogh and his work. Leaving aside the humble craftsman, humble chair, but would a humble craftsman ever paint himself as a humble chair? question implicit in this painting, I am keep laughing to myself about the portrait of the artist as his packet of pipe tobacco thing, as that seems to be the ultimate joke of the piece. There is a strange erotic component to it too, a cockeyed metonymics of sexual parts on display, except they don’t work quite right (in short, you put the female stuff inside the phallic thing and smoke it…) Whatever – brilliantly fucked up painting, and I only wish that the gift shop had had one for sale so that I could display it in my office in a gesture of angry post-bourgeois glee.
3. My own kitchen table and chairs don’t fit the space they’re in. We bought them for the previous house, which was much bigger, and even had a lovely breakfast room along side the dining area. It was a beautiful house, and I remember it fondly, even though I’m not a better homes and gardens sort of guy and have a bit of a perverse streak when it comes to my own living spaces. But somehow the current arrangement, the fact that one of the chairs is pinned to the wall by the table, as there’s no room for it to fit otherwise, pleases me. I will never allow the table to be replaced, not while we live here.
4. In lieu of Van Gogh’s Chair, I purchased for my daughter a print of his Sunflowers:
I thought to tell her the story about VVG hanging these in his guest bedroom for Gaughin, but realized I didn’t want to tell her the rest of the story of their friendship and how it turned out, and so we left it at the Sunflowers themselves.
5. We were at the National Gallery for a lovely thing they put on for kids every Sunday morning. Because we have, to different degrees, exceded many of the probables and likelies encoded in us by our respective upbringings, we both get a kick out of the fact that our kids go to a thing at the National Gallery in London on some Sunday mornings. (I first visited an art museum was I was fifteen.)
6. It is 3 AM and the International Herald Tribune just dropped through the mail slot. Something disturbing and alluring at once about being up so early and hearing it hit the floor.
7. On the way with all of the kids and the parents to look at the painting that we were all going to look at together at the National Gallery, we passed Poussin’s Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake….
… which T.J. Clark wrote an interesting, but more than slightly compulsive, book about, which I started but did not finish. For some reason, I hadn’t realized that it was in the National Gallery. But we had been warned by our handler not to dawdle and look on our way to the painting of the day, and so I let it be.
8. The painting that the guide chose to talk to the kids about today was an odd one: Drouet’s Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame. Meh. I think the selection principle at play has one main determinant: there has to be a doggie, or animal of some sort, involved:
At one point, one of the kids asked if she was the queen. The guide only half-nervously answered No, not quite. She was more like the kings, um, special friend, right parents? Softly nervous adult laughter was laughed and I thought to myself Laugh softly, like a nervous adult. This is the time for nervous adult laughter, softly.
9. Later at lunch, my daughter asked us what we were going to be when we grew up (thanks, kid) and we turned the question on her. She asked, in turn, what we thought she would be and my wife said I think that you might be a doctor who helps people, because you’re very good at helping people, which made my daughter happy. I did not tell her that I thought, and secretly hoped, that she would end up an artist, going to art school and the like, like all of those no good hipsters that I rage at, generally sotto voce, daily.
10. I am supposed to be teaching her how to read as the utterly-to-be-expected-to-happen happened: one of the other kids in her class has emerged as a reading prodigy. Son of the only other academic parents in the group, the kid is basically reading his parents’ monographs at night to put himself to sleep.
I think instead I want to teach her to do something that I absolutely cannot do, like draw.
I do not want her to go into the business that I am in. At all. Any of the businesses that I am in.
11. Much is left out, but what strangely honest posts these are, my Sunday (or immediately post-Sunday) numbers. I actually go back and edit out inaccuracies and half-truths. For instance, above I had originally written that I told her the story about Van Gogh and Gaughin, except for the end, but this was untrue and so I changed it, as I told her nothing on this point.
12. What happened after we returned from the museum and lunch, and after we stopped for groceries, I cannot say. Things got very bad in a rather amorphous way, and then I slept, and now I am writing, which makes me feel better, though not as much as the sleep did.
13. Things that nearly made me cry this weekend… I mean palpably have the tears come up only to be forced back down through force of will and masculine embarrassment:
- Sunday, as we prepared to enter the gallery, the guide warned the children not to touch any paintings, and then warned the parents to ensure that the children did not touch any of the paintings.
- Saturday, at her school fair, my daughter found on the used toy table at Barbie doll missing her top. It was the sort of Barbie that comes with the clothes attached, and this one was missing her top. She begged us to buy it for her (40p) and we did and then there was the sight of her gripping it and stroking its blonde hair and showing her friends that she had a new Barbie.
- Other things, some of which I can remember, some of which I can’t.
14. Despite the fact that the logorrhea that is fueling this post should be as worrying as the affectual state that preceded it, it almost impossible to see it that way, to believe that that is so. One takes the mania when it comes, seeks the mania when it is gone, would pay any price just to keep it here rather than slip into its psycho-chemical dialectical partner.
15. On the way to the Van Goghs my daughter stopped us at Carracci’s Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way:
Strange picture, based on the apocryphal Peter-in-Rome stuff. But my daughter is fascinated by Jesus (stupid UK state school system introduces her to the story, has her draw pictures of Bible scenes and the like… America is rarely secular, but when it is, thank god, it is truly secular…) and wanted to know what is happening and so we told her:
You know that the man with the cross, Jesus, got in trouble with people and was killed. The man on the right, who was Jesus’s friend, pretended not to know him afterward. Three times people came up to him and asked him, “Do you know this Jesus guy?” And each time he said no, so that he wouldn’t get in trouble. And now, in the picture, he’s having a bad dream about it because he’s feeling guilty.
My wife said the dream part, and I corrected her. Not quite a dream, but still. We moved on…
16. Amazing how fast, when I am in a state like this one, that my imagistic vocabulary, metaphoric tendencies, and general narrative sensibility turns back to the Roman Catholicism that I long ago abandoned. Everything goes Heaven and Hell, venerated images, and a sense of femininity / sexuality organized by constantly collapsing binary oppositions.
Sometimes I wonder if I am one of the last people (in my part of the world) to truly go through the experience of Catholic education – education considered quite broadly. Could this even happen here and today? I am glad that I won’t find out from my own daughters.
17. I am reading a big new novel for a review, something that you’ll likely be hearing about in a few weeks, especially if you’re American and interested in such things. I am disappointed with it – it tries for manic lyricism and ends up with what to me seems more like Joycean pastiche. This in turn is nudging me to rethink Joyce himself, the bloodlessness of his self-conscious verbal play.
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am – have always been – trying to write. Actually, as you can see, I am constantly writing. But very little of it passes muster – my muster, not anyone else’s as I never send it out. I do not send it out. But lately it is becoming more clear to me what it is that I have found to be lacking in the stuff that I do… Something like the opposite of bloodlessness, something like the lurid. I have cast my lot with the artists of precision, and would never give that up to fall into the other camp. But still, between the hard folds of rigorous self-consciousness, I’d want there to be something organic, animal, leaking or even in spots spurting through.
18. Two versions of the Christian lurid are contained to two relatively recent and similarly controversial films about Christ. The corporeal materiality of The Passion of the Christ and the limbic romantic (sur)realism of The Last Temptation of Christ. Obviously I’m talking more about the latter, as applied to my own work, but who knows – maybe there’s something I need to sort out on this point.
It now seems to me that one could sort each of the paintings posted above into one of the two categories, with only a bit of stretching.
18. Watching Linha de Passe last night, I found myself wishing that I had a brother, or even brothers. But perhaps if I had a brother, or brothers, and they were likeminded or at least sympathetic, perhaps I’d send all this stuff to him or them instead of writing it out on here in letters to all of you.
Stupid only-child fantasy of fraternal intimacy! I’m sure it almost never happens!
19. I am working on a story, something like a primitive or proto version of this aggregate fiction stuff that I keep going on about. There probably are more subtle and thus better ways to get at the aggregate, but one way that suggests itself rather insistently is to let architecture do the work. That is to say, you can find places where the individual subject and the mass of subjects blur and become complex in certain architectural situations, where the interior experience remains at once distinct and idiosyncratic but perhaps predictably so.
I had my start thinking about the aggregate in fiction after writing about it outside of fiction and then teaching Don DeLillo’s Underworld in an MA seminar. In particular, the following passage from the first section, set at the Polo Grounds, stood out to me:
Men passing in and out of the toilets, men zipping their flies as they turn from the trough and other men approaching the long receptacle, thinking where they want to stand and next to whom and not next to whom, and the old ballpark’s reek and mold are consolidated here, generational tides of beer and shit and cigarettes and peanut shells and disinfectants and pisses in the untold millions, and they are thinking in the ordinary way that helps a person glide through a life, thinking thoughts unconnected to events, the dusty hum of who you are, men shouldering through the traffic in the men’s room as the game goes on, the coming and going, the lifting out of dicks and the meditative pissing.
The thing I am working on at the moment is something like this, extended into a (somewhat) progressive narrative. But it is set not in a men’s room but, to borrow from Dante, lo passo che non lasciò mai persona viva – the hellmouth.
20. I suppose one simple and stupid way to put it is that just as VVG took pastelish Impressionism and rendered it lurid and generally off-kilter, that’s sort of what I’d like to do with prose fiction. You take the rational but insipid phenomenology of the sophisticated standard issue, but then do it over it fucked up dense colors and on inappropriate themes, often with inappropriate focus and focalization.
It’s not completely clear to me what the aggregate has to do with the lurid.
The best part is I have only the dimmest sense of why I would want to do this. Which seems, intuitionally, a good thing, but also a bit frightening.
21. What balls I have, or something else, to write this way about writing, on here and like this. Interesting to note that if you had me in person, whether my best day or my worst, whether drunk or sober, whether we were lifelong intimates or airport-intersecting contingents, I promise that you’d never in a million years hear me talk like this, have me tell you any of this.
Further, I will push the button to post this, and then I will have a cigarette and think of twenty other things I meant to say…
Very much regret that I couldn’t come along on Owen’s Piccadilly Line tour today. But then again, I’m pretty sure that none of the Holden designed stations feature one of these, which I saw today doing the same, um, walking tour I do almost every weekend – Highgate to Hampstead, hitting every playground in between.
I took a lot of nice pictures of Hampstead Heath along the way. Really starting to develop extraordinarily warm feelings for the Heath and for this stretch of North London more generally. Starting to wish that I lived even closer to the former than I already do (it’s about a 15 minute bus ride from my house).
The country is so very verdant, that even the dead trees have a bit of life in them.
There are few directional signs in the Heath, and many forks in the path, some of them leading through fairly dense old growth forest. So the first time I walked from Highgate to Hampstead, I used the GPS system on my iPhone to naivgate my way through. Worked like a charm. But it has a funny effect, this GPS thing – maybe something worth thinking about / writing about a bit more. I had anticipated taking a picture of the following the last time I was there – had the camera with me this time.
But as I took it, I couldn’t help but think – probably given the way I’d navigated last time – of what the tree I was taking a picture of would look like on google maps. In fact, I persistently today thought of myself as walking through a map, a satellite image – couldn’t stop thinking about myself from an imagined god’s eye view. Here’s the tree again, as well as the path from which I took the picture:
Odd to think that men and women walked around for so many centuries thinking, at least in part, from the god’s eye view, only to lose it, to see for themselves and at level angle for a bit, only to resume where they had left off due to gps and google maps. At least google’s satellites don’t care about your sins. Er….
At any rate, we made it to Hampstead, I put the camera away. We delivered our daughter to a birthday party, had a nice dinner (accompanied by a semi-sleeping infant – the other daughter), didn’t buy any books at Waterstones or Daunt, and then came home via one bus and then another. I’m getting my most hits ever today, by the way.
Lars von Trier is famous for never flying, and thus never visiting America, despite the fact that he’s set most of his recent films there. Some laugh about this; others compare him to Kafka when the latter is up to this sort of thing:
As Karl Rossmann, a poor boy of sixteen who had been packed off to America by his parents because a servant girl had seduced him and got herself a child by him, stood on the liner slowly entering the harbour of New York, a sudden burst of sunshine seemed to illumine the Statue of Liberty, so that he saw it in a new light, although he had sighted it long before. The arm with the sword rose up as if newly stretched aloft, and round the figure blew the free winds of heaven.
Back to Antichrist: Americans do not as a rule own Scandinavian-style summer shacks deep in the woods, unreachable by car, and which they arrive at on weekends via train and then taxi and then hike. We don’t have trains like that, and if we did we likely wouldn’t have taxis like that either. We drive. This even goes for psychotherapist/grad student couples who live in Seattle, who would pull the Subaru up to the sidedoor of their cabin just like any other red-blooder USAer.
That said, there’s a way that Von Trier’s strange euro-goggling of America and my own meet. When I lived where I lived before London, my little rust belt burg, I extremely often coped with things by imagining that I was actually living in some sort of small, Mitteleuropean city. I’d tool around the autobahns (interstate highways) in my VW, shop at a food-coop where all the brands were not the brands that I grew up with, eat lunch outside at a wine-bar cafe, buy furniture at IKEA and the like. It was a coping mechanism that didn’t really work – there weren’t any trains to take anywhere, and no one spoke any interestingly baffling languages on the streets.
One of the ur/unwritten posts of this blog is a post that I have been meaning to write for years about the IKEA catalogue and notions of Europeanness. I wish there was someplace where I could look through back issues, as there’s one image in particular that’s stayed with me for years, but which I’ll never find again in all likelihood.
At one point, I thought somewhat seriously about buying a little plot of land on the shores of the prettier of the two Great Lakes in the vicinity and planting on it one of those prefab little cabins, the sort where a truck pulls up and dumps your parts and an instruction manual and then you work on it every weekend until its done. This seemed like a very Scandinavian idea to me – weekends at a remote cabin without utilities, on a lake without tourist infrastructre. Obviously, I never did it.
At any rate, please don’t laugh. We all cope with America whatever way we can – it takes a lot of coping, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person with self-made psycho-visual filters and screens devised for such uses…. But think about it for a second. Von Trier consistently sets his films in America because he wants to criticize this place that he has never visited, but in setting his films there without really knowing the place, he ends up creating a strange Euro-slanted America, the America that is the America of my dreams when I am stuck there, hating the place. Or even, in a certain limited sense, the America that I’d love to see happen.
Of course, I dreamed these little waking half dreams mostly on weekends, on Saturdays and Sundays, as that was when I had the most time to look around and to worry about what I was seeing.
Saturday night I went out back for a cigarette and smoked while listening to the kids next door. Parents are away, teenager is having a party. She has had parties for three straight nights. They go on about this or that and then suddenly, at one point a phrase slips through my mind: When I am 18 again I wonder if..
Ah dumb brain! Tragic paraphraxis! The entire history of religious belief as merely a prolongation of a mechanical fault in the wires. How much of life do we live with stuff like that floating about in the back parts, only barely audible, visible, legible? How often do we ignore it? And what sort of deformative effect does it have upon the stuff in the foreground?
K-punk has a really good post up that brilliantly ties together his recent honeymoon at Disneyland Paris (huh!) and Michael Jackson. It ends in the following way:
Postmodernity has meant the repudiation of the Father. Fathers are either absent, bad or ineffectual. Cosetted by the maternal superego, no-one wants to say no… no-one wants to pay the price of success….
But the problem isn’t that childhood is curtailed too early, it’s that it never ends… This is how Jackson exemplified our plight… To truly overcome the Father-Thing you would have to occupy its place, but who is willing or able to do that?
I have been wondering the same thing lately, but (of course) in a more personally-directed and much less abstract way. That is to say, I have been wondering about what it would take for me to “occupy [the] place” of the Father-Thing, once and for all.
My wife is going to start guestposting on my blog so watch out for that! She’s a better writer than I am, so this can only be to the good. Unless she chickens out. I wonder what will happen… Sorting out an account for her tonight.
We worked that out – that is to say, I hired her – while we sat on Primrose Hill Saturday, one kid asleep and the other not. We’d already done the Zoo, and later we’d have dinner at Marine Ices in Chalk Farm, which, I must say, makes pizza good enough to eat and is kid-friendly so there you go. We lolled, we were run into by our neighbor (the husband of the woman who’s becoming my wife’s best friend, it seems….), we talked about writing.
The other thing we talked about – our theme of the day, really – was our disgust and incomprehension at the way modern day men in big cities of the developed world comport themselves post, say, 25. In particular, we were serially shocked by what we already knew, all too well, which is that grown men dress stupidly, childishly. The tee-shirts! Tee-shirts with cartoon characters on them! Tee-shirts with very dumb jokes written on them! The Arsenal-wear and the Hotspur-wear!
There is a dad of a kid at my daughter’s school, a normal looking guy who is probably in his worklife a lawyer or tv executive or something, who on weekends dresses up in his favorite CBeebies t-shirt and rides a fucking scooter around the neighborhood. It’s more than just a getting in touch with my toddlers sort of thing, as it’s a relatively common site to see the family at the park, mom watching the kids in the playground, while dad scoots or skates around the other parts of the park, trying out moves on an apparatus that is his, that does not belong to his children but was probably some sort of father’s day present or something.
We talk, my wife and I, about the women attached to these men. We talk about the deformative effect this sort of thing must have upon their sex life. Maybe some women would find that sort of thing cute and boyish and thus warm and maybe from warm get to sexy. But I, imagining things through a woman’s eyes (do I imagine anything any other way? Les femmes, ces sont toutes moi) can’t quite work out the erotomath. On the other hand, I’m sure the kids love it… Until they start to really, really fucking hate it.
Disclosure: I adore athletic wear, officially branded merchandise. I love soccer jerseys and baseball hats – there is perhaps nothing I love more purely and simply, though of course, as posted recently, it’s probably not all that simple a love at base. I will further disclose that I have a rather large collection of the stuff hanging in my closet. But I do not wear it out! I am not a child! I used to wear a River Plate windbreaker when I lived in Brooklyn, but that just had I’ve just been to Buenos Aires hipster appeal, the most hipster appeal I could ever muster. But even this has been left hanging in the closet now that I’m, you know, fully adult.
Engels lived for a long, long time in Primrose Hill. See?
I had a hard time finding a bank machine tonight with funds available after the long drunken weekend (London’s not mine) and thus ended up wandering past Blockbuster (yep, they’re over here too, sadly), did a little doubletake misstep on the pavement, and headed inside to rent LVT’s The Idiots, which I’d never seen.
(Worth mentioning, and definitely fodder for another post, but I am one of those people who can and does fantasize themselves the world’s leading expert on certain novelists and one filmmaker on the basis of reading (or, in one case, seeing) one or two or maybe even three of their works. Not sure whether it’s a fox / hedgehog sort of thing, or just delusion. But I pull it off, and it works, and who knows, maybe in a few cases I’m not that wrong. I feel no responsibility to the oeuvre! What’s up with that? Another post, another post.)
Wow! What would it be to have the balls to waste your audience’s time for 95 minutes all in service of an astoundingly brilliant final 5 minute run? Un coeur simple meets Baader-Meinhof! A vertible cinematic thesis on the incisive question of the minor character.
We didn’t fail to note, as we watched it, that the male characters spent much of the film wearing really stupid T-Shirts. Is that part of the idiotic pose or not?
Today, we had a lovely picnic in the park and some wiffleball to boot (we use a bat that has a huge MLB logo on it, imported natch, so that the local yokels don’t think we’re playing fucking rounders.) We’re not – this is plastic baseball. My daughter has surprisingly sweet swing, liners to all fields, for a four-year old. She refuses to pitch to me or play catch so I guess it’s the American League for her, when it’s time. My broken finger, still untreated, forces me to throw with three rather than two fingers on the ball.
During and after the picnic we talked more about this whole “adulthood” and “child rearing” issue and decided that it’s impossible to speak publically about without sounding like a dick, generally a resentful dick. So perhaps we’ll leave it at that till next weekend.
The FT had lunch with Lars Von Trier this week…
Asked to “justify” the making of the film, he refused outright, reminding the members of the press that they were his guests, and attributing the work to “the hand of God”. And then, for good measure, he informed his audience straight-faced that he was “the best director in the world … and I am not so sure that God is the best God in the world.” Many artists cite divine inspiration for their work; not so many assert their overt disappointment at what their deity has to offer.
You know, as artist / divinity comparisons go, that’s not bad. I happen to think he is “the best director in the world,” and I certainly would agree with the God part, if there were a God.
LVT has four kids. I didn’t know this, and actually I was wondering in light of the child-death stuff in the film. But it makes sense… The first sign that She is going mad is an episode of phantom crying… And if you’re a parent, you totally understand the uncanny realness of that sort of thing. You’re sitting in your living room, having a drink, watching tv, when suddenly there it is clear as day. Somebody is crying, somewhere. You leave your seat, you go to the bottom of the stairs, and it is gone. I tend to think that it has to do with the attunement of your audial receptors to certain frequencies, frequencies that can be hit by other sounds but signal only child in trouble once you’ve got an infant.
Going through the process of having a couple of kids certainly does open up one aspect of the work that might be a bit harder for some to see. Or several aspects, actually. IT, who’s already written what looks to be a fairly definitive post on the film, labels the opening scene “almost comical” in her post. Here’s the full quote:
The moppet that dies in an almost comical opening scene manages to combine the trauma of the primal scene with the premature suicide of a little Oedipus in a matter of moments; the film is not about his death in any meaningful way, and the very creepy abuse – creepy because so utterly minimal – that we discover his mother has inflicted on him (routinely putting his shoes on the wrong feet leading to a mild distortion of the bones noted in the autopsy report but not deemed a significant factor in his death) says far more about Gainsbourg’s disturbed mind than it does about the child.
And it is comical, in a limited sense – the limited sense of the comical, always struck through with tragedy and gore, that pervades LVT’s work. The corpsestink grinning that he does is what makes him a properly (converted and now ex-)Catholic artist, and its really no wonder that the hacks keep comparing him to Bosch and the like.
The perfume-ad-quality of the sex bits of the montage, the obviousness of the primal scene moment (but these things do happen, don’t they?) and of the scenario in general might make you think comic, yes. But on the other hand, the child death isn’t played, I don’t think, primarily to comic effect, and it certainly won’t’t strike, from what I can tell, most parents who see the film that way. Rather, this is the very stuff of cliché, generic, yet all the more powerful for that, as it taps right into the deep parental anxiety, the nightmare dreams that I am sure all of us in the family way have and probably on a nightly basis. The reason why people worry about the height of the crib bar and install those awful fucking gates on their staircases (far more likely to kill you as you stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night than save your toddler), why I have to wear a jacket when I go outside to smoke (SIDS / smoke exposure), etc.
My own version of the dream is as stock as they come. I am getting myself and my daughters out the front door. The oldest one takes off out to the sidewalk, as she always does, and I am struggling and getting frustrated. I catch a glimpse, just a glimpse, of her pink jacket disappearing between two parked cars. And then another car, this time moving, comes to a sudden stop in the street. There was a low thump, a thump knowable at once but which you only hear somehow a few seconds afterward and then likely forever and ever and ever after that. Stock, see… And just to get it from the other end of the montage (again, this is obvious, but I’ll go on anyway): There is almost nothing (sure, I mean there are some things, god) more psychologically disruptive to a couple’s sex life than the birth of a child. It’s not just a matter of having no time and the like. It’s that you’re constantly (if lucky!) sneaking away to steal a few minutes (can’t ask really for more than a few minutes) but once you’re there you don’t so much fuck as wait to get caught fucking. Phantom crying morphs into phantom footsteps and door creakings, and the funniest part of all is that even after you’ve stopped action several times because one of you has heard something, even then, with uncanny regularity just before the finish of things, then the door does in fact silently open, no footsteps at all, or if you’re lucky enough to have locks (there are other problems with having locks – Christ, do I have to explain everything on here? No but we should get some locks…) and everyone rolls away and covers up and curses under their breath and exchanges meaningful looks and takes care of the kid, who may or may not just have seen the scene (again? how many times can it still be primal?) that they talk about in the crazy-people books.
Sorry to be crude about it, but it’s like they somehow know when you’re about to, erm, finish. And really, why wouldn’t they – its a vexed issue for them on the wider level, the sibling thing. More partial gene carriers good, spliting up the family fortune very very bad, etc.
Anyway, all the reviewers who have kids seem to mention the disturbing power of the opening scene in what they write. From the FT piece again:
Forget the bloody mutilations, I say. As the father of a young son, it is the first 10 minutes that are the most unbearable to watch. “Yes,” he nods. “I have four children. You think that the more that you have, the easier it gets but that is not how it is. You worry more and more.”
I believe him on this score. And there’s more to it than that. The most bathetic thing in the scene, the way the kid’s little stuffed animal follows him down out the window, commits the same meters per second per second contortions on the way down, he’s not only playing yet another familiar, and familiarly evocative thing for parents, he’s setting up one of the major (and majorly ambivalent) rhymes of the work as a whole. The pacified animals that He sees at the end – animals that appear double-cooked in film, spliced in from some sort fading reel out of the archives labelled Bambi-vivant – represent a nature retamed, restuffed, a reversal of the children’s book trope of the stuffed toy come to life.
One last thing in this line. One of the things it’s principally about is the staggeringly heavy effect upon a couple of having an infant, in this case an infant that dies in the opening sequence of the film… But enough of the movie is invested in figuring out just what happened last summer, presumably the first full summer of the child’s life, that it remains a film about the fatal first two years of parenthood. All of a sudden, and despite all the good PC thoughts you were thinking when you decided to have the child, some very important things get set straight for you during the first few years of your first child’s life. The character axis of the film hits heavy on one of the most important things. He gets to keep working, gets to keep being the same indifferent rational machine-type being that he’s always been. She, on the other hand, gets all feral and animally. It’s hard to explain what it’s like, for both the male and female parties involved, the first time you see a new mother’s tits start to leak because it’s feeding time, a bit late for the feeding. Stigmata-y, except its animality rather than divinity that’s being revealed in the flow. The resentments that pass back and forth between the characters, but particular from her towards him, are familiar too. What else is She saying, other than something like I understand that this doesn’t accord with the rational plan for your life that you came up with when you were seventeen, but buddy, I’m bound up in something here and it’s calling the shots, not me. So get in line. What is that thing that’s calling the shots? “Nature” is one word for it, I suppose, but not quite the one I would want to use.
Under normal conditions, though, father and mother stay just too fucking busy to stop and fully consider the consequences of what has just been revealed to them, startlingly, about the way things really are vs. the way they’re talked about over shabby-elegant brunches on idle, childless Sunday mornings. But remove the child from the scene, and thus the busyness of parenting, and one might imagine all of this stuff coming back with a vengeance. We’ve been thrown out of Eden, and now lo and behold here were are again – except we’ve already learned the stuff about our nakedness, the fact that we’re more like the beast that we’ve named than the Guy who made us, as well as what the Guy said about bringing forth children in sorrow. There is an extra-therapeutic explanation for why She – despite the fact that motherhood seems not to have suited her – keeps jumping He for sex and why he keeps trying to resist her advances… It’s not him that’s throwing the thousand upon thousands of acorns on the roof of their place, it’s her…
I am going to keep writing about this film for a good while yet… I’ve not even started to say what I’d like to say about it. Despite the fact that IT seems slightly nostalgic for the hardy days of high child mortality and the survival only of the fittest of the brood (mourning the child becomes a bourgie “indulgence” in her post – as if they should just churn a few more out and see which ones can figure out how to use the can opener by themselves and certainly not waste time worrying over the ones that fall from the nest – where have we heard that sort of thing before, in another field of culture?) (UPDATE: IT has posted a response to this and adjusted her post slightly to remove the line I hammered on. I want to say that I feel pretty bad about what I did here… As I know very well that IT doesn’t support the things I’m saying here…) I’m extremely happy to live in a world where you have one or two or three and they’re likely to make it through to adulthood. But like most modern developments that I’m (we’re) happy about – like for instance sexual freedom in general, survival past the working prime, etc – this development undoubtly is no doubt deeply out of sync with ageold and hardwired instincts and not easily adjusted psychosocial patterns. We, as a species, are very good at getting better at things, and that’s perhaps our biggest problem – and the problem that the film brilliantly takes up.
I only admire artists who work with a palette smeared in received technicolor, generic cliché. The only two moves are overmuch and undercut, and the rhythm of performing those two moves is what makes up the dance, the only dance, that I am interested in. Stock images make us feel because our feelings are stock. There is no shame in this, save for the very shame of being human and thus thrown and programmed, not really ourselves except in the sense that we are everyone else too. I admire LVT, admire him ever so much, because he understands this. The chatterering types get locked into a cyclic reiteration of this is too much and he’s having one over on us. They’re right, but they don’t quite understand the underlying point, the fact that there’s no other way to do it, not anymore or perhaps it was always already the case.
One last thing from the FT interview, something that perhaps overturns the entire post in the very act of tying it all up. As it turns out, LVT himself is one of those Child Men that were bothering us this weekend:
Von Trier, 53, is dressed in what I take to be Danish summer casual style, T-shirt, cargo trousers and sandals, which suits his portly figure.
Cargo-trousers? Sandals? Summer casual?
sunday evening post: columns, bad dads, drink, london, women, men, sex, procreation, cricket, birthday parties
Noticed this attack on female “confessional journalism” by Hadley Freeman in the Guardian the other day:
Here’s how it goes: a female journalist describes her obsession with her weight/breasts/ageing face/food or alcohol problems/inability to have a happy relationship. The article is illustrated by the journalist looking as miserable as possible. There are tales of daily woe. It concludes with the writer still sufficiently unhappy to be commissionable for another very similar piece.
This genre has nothing to do with journalists opening a window into what life is like for women today. It does women no favours at all. It is entirely about perpetuating an editor’s misogynistic image of what women are like (self-hating, self-obsessed) and making a semi-celebrity out of the writer in the belief that readers like to read journalists whose names and faces (and breasts) they recognise.
I have no doubt that the women who write these articles truly feel the emotions they describe. But these women need help; they do not need to be made to feel that their professional USP is to play up their misery.
Aside from everything else, this kind of journalism sets feminism back by about 50 years, because not only does it perpetuate offensive stereotypes about women as needy, helpless, childlike narcissists, it suggests that the most interesting thing a woman can offer up to others is her own battered, starved, bloated, enhanced or reduced body. And that seems a lot sadder to me than any shocking revelation I ever read in a single piece of confessional journalism.
Sure, of course, this is all true. But what else is true that the second-smoothest path for women into the papers, after the ritualized self-abuse that she describes here, is to write a piece slagging off other women for doing X, Y, Z. Doesn’t really matter what – writing confessional pieces about being fat is a good if safe choice. I live with a woman who dwells (or dwelt, back before she was working on her book / having kids, but soon will dwell again) in fragrant corridors where la commentaire feminine is manufactured, and it is a testament to her ethics and general above-the-frayness that she resolutely and persistently disregards my suggestions that she write this or that take down of some misdirected female writer or trend.
And so I put these ideas on my blog instead. Refused male musery mine!
But just to keep all these balls in the air, I want to confess that I’ve fallen under the spell of my own confessional columnist – a male one, but one who’s been doing a sort of pitch perfect translation into guy-voice of just the sort of thing that upsets Freeman above. Honestly, it’s not since Hitchens came unwound in the pages of The Nation in the weeks after 9/11 that I’ve actually purchased a magazine on a weekly basis in order to read a columnist. But now, instead of flipping through The New Stateman and making a decision up or down on whether to buy a (reduced-price, via the UCU store) copy, I purchase it without flip-through, as I’ve become a devoted reader, perhaps to my discredit, of Nicholas Lezard’s “Down and Out in London” column.
(Just to be clear, I’ve generally read anything that Owen or Dr. Power have in there before I have an actual copy in my hands… Apparently, I can read Lezard that way too – not sure why this hasn’t occurred to me before…)
Anyway, I’m not going to cut and paste any of the Lezard stuff, and I think the effect 1) works best cumulatively and 2) might only work for those who can understand the situation he is in. And I certainly can… He’s got two kids and apparently was kicked out of his house for good for coming home one too many times plastered, and now lives in a shabby flat with another guy, spends quite a lot of time at his local, is broke, etc. Um, well…. Right. So I’ve seemingly gotten a lot better and have at least one of my nine or so lives left as I’m still here. But there were moments when it definitely looked like a grubby shared flat with nothing but my MacBook Pro and a hasty selection of my clothes had become my immediate and irremediable future.
Having kids is hard on marriages, partnerships. Unspeakably hard, really. The paradigm shift that’s slowquickly been happening over the past few decades, making marriage into a union of buddies and workpartners who (often) spend significant portions of their formative years together and childless only to take the big dip fairly late and find that everything has changed forever. Unexpected though age-old gender roles reassert themselves when you weren’t looking, and you learn how much you depended on that hour-and-a-half walk that you took every evening. Often, one partner works (in the out of the house sense) less than they used to, and different forms of dependency take root. You have no time or venue to talk, or fuck, or be by yourself. When you see friends as a couple, you see them differently. Everything changes, everything is really hard.
But there’s something else, a little less personal and identificatory, that appeals about Lezard’s column in the NS, something I’d like to post more about later. It somehow, his column captures and encapsulates the specific sort of squalor that characterizes London. It’s a very different sort than tinges the atmosphere of, say, New York. There’s a bit of Hollywood to the New York sort, a sort of intersection of money and sex that comes through – just for instance – in the bar girl that I once watched for an entire evening trying to work the fucking Midtown Marriott lobby during the Christmas season. I’ll say more about this later, but London is, in part, about conventional types going softly but insistently wrong.
Over the course of the weekend, my wife said two very dirty things that were also very funny. I can only remember one of them now. I threatened to put it up on here, but clearly I am too much of a gentleman for that.
There’s an Italian restaurant / cafe at the centre of my neighborhood, literally at the old Roman crossroads or whatever it is, that is known as the sort of characteristic neighborhood establishment. We have started eating there every day that we can, as it is cheap and the food is good and you can eat outside. So…. it’s the characteristic neighborhood establishment of a neighborhood that is in some (class limited, of course, of course) sense the characteristic North London neighborhood. Since I am a real North Londoner now, I further believe that North London is the truest embodiment of London as a whole. So…. this place is really fucking Londony, in some strange but true sense. (Cf the bit in Conrad’s The Secret Agent about London Italian restaurants – that should sort some of the logic that I’m not writing out longhand for you if you need that to happen….)
When I go in there, I absolutely and in a way that happens in none of the many other Italian restaurants I’ve eaten in during my time here, absolutely, positively, feel like I am back in New Jersey. Hmmm. It’s all a bit joisy guido – they show the Godfather on plasma screens over the dining room, the decor screams Rt. 17. Is this hard to understand? Fine, here’s a small but telling materialization of what I’m talking about, from the Men’s Room:
What we have there, folks, is the product of the unholy union of High British Paternalism (“mind the gap, morons!”) and the italomammalovethathurts that embraces my native state and its great recent artistic products in its sagging, well-fed arms…. Uncanny! The way you found them…. Ha!
One of the hardest things to decipher: the look that young women give to men pushing strollers filled with children. It seems neither, at least not in any obvious way, to mean mmmm give me some of that wouldja. Nor does it completely not mean that, from what I can tell. It is hard to describe. Perhaps its the look of the generic erotic, the animal gone human and social, of the code playing its games of generality and specificity right there on the high street, shortly after pasta lunch.
Later, Saturday afternoon, I walk out and onto my bucolic street of terrace houses to get a bottle of water at the off-license at the corner. Two women, stylishly dressed, attractive, are stumbling a bit as one of them tries to work her phone. They have just come out of a house, three doors down. The phoneless one says to me, as I pass, “Carry me.”
She translates my eyes-on-the-pavement non-response into the question, “Where would you want me to carry you?” for she answers in turn,
“Just to the end of the street, or wherever. Just carry me.”
I walk on, unable to translate the bolt of British vernacular that she drops on me next into Sober and American. They are gone when I return, swallowed whole by the bucolic, the terraced, and the directions someone gave them over the phone.
Sunday morning, on the way to Hampstead, my wife said to me, I looked at one sentence of the Ballard that you left on the kitchen table last night and I knew immediately what you mean.
There’s a post coming on what I mean. I flew through the first fifty pages of Crash, a bit excited. Since then, well, slower going. I’ll tell you about it soon.
The Jews for Jesus were out in full force today in Hampstead. I can’t even imagine how or why that works here, though then again, maybe I can. But it’s sublimely odd.
I visited both Daunt Books in Belsize Park and Waterstones in Hampstead. All I bought, sadly, was Vladmir Sorokin’s The Queue. I’ve never heard of it, but I’m excited to read it. I wanted to buy something else, but it was on 3 for 2, and I couldn’t find another 2, and so I left it for another time. Waterstones needs to think carefully about that promotion – likely I would have just bought the book if it weren’t for the sticker on it.
Another Sunday, another kid’s birthday party. Woof. A lot of them now, almost one a week. Luckily this one was better than a lot of the others – and there weren’t any birds. The parents in question went lo-tech with the thing and just scheduled it for the lovely fenced in play area in the Parliament Hill part of Hampstead Heath. Since the weather was pretty much perfect today, it was actually a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, lolling on the grass, watching the kids do their thing.
This is going to start to sound a bit newspaper column-ish, but I’ve started to take more and more note of something kind of interesting. Most people at this party (the adults I mean – the kids were all 3-4) were in their early thirties (like us) to mid-forties – the general and universally prevalent age of childbearing for urban professional / intellectual types in the English speaking world. In fact, this scene, owing to the neighborhood I guess, was a little younger and hipper than the one that we’re a part of by virtue of the school that my daughter attends in our neighborhood. Someone was wearing a Joy Division shirt, and the mom of the birthday boy only wears vintage stuff. You don’t see all that much vintage stuff where we live.
In addition, though, to the parent / child parings, there were four extra adults, childless, in their thirties by the looks of it. It took me awhile to figure out that they were childless; so distracted was I by their supermarket bags full of Stella Artois and white wine that they had brought with them that I simply became reflexively envious and paranoically resentful that I didn’t have my own bag full of fun stuff to drink that until my wife pointed their non +kid status, I simply didn’t notice they were ohne Kindern.
So they were drinking and looked incredibly bored. Of course they were – they were childless adults at a farking four-year-old’s birthday party. But who knows, maybe they were bored in other ways as well. And the parents were certainly bored too – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one glacing a bit enviously at these people without shit stains on their shirts and who didn’t have to whip out a tit every 45 minutes to sooth the thing hanging from your front in a Baby Bjorn and could instead just crack open another can of Stella and think about what they were going to do for dinner later. Maybe the four of them took off just after we left to sit around doing adult things like getting shitfaced in a pub. Who knows.
But here’s what I’m trying to get to: there’s an interesting sort of tension, a fraught detente, that starts to form between the childless and the childed during this stage in life. Most of the time it’s not right on the surface, perhaps, but when they’re forced into co-presence (whether through a birthday party like this one, or more casually at restaurants, on transit, and the like…) it starts to come through. From what I imagine, further, there’s a bit of tilt on axis that comes a bit later. Right now, the parents of infants can’t help but think, however much they love their children, christ what did I get myself into – I’m only fucking 32! while the still childless can look on with the there but for the grace thing running through their heads. Give it a decade, less, and many of the childless will have punched their own ticket into the exciting world of parenting. But the others who haven’t may have different strings running frontcourt and back through their minds.
Banal, column-fodder, but still true and hugely important. I’d like to do more serious writing about this, actually. Having kids (or not having them) brings to the front some really big questions about society and its perspective on happiness, time, work, life. All the issues that any proper socialist needs to think through first before taking a single step forward toward the development of a theory, let alone a practical path. It’s a shame that more men don’t take up the issue – perhaps I’ll start, perhaps I have started.
Ooops. I just posted this and noticed that the title promised cricket. Here:
I watched some cricket on the Heath today. I like watching it; I still don’t understand it at all.
Again the kids are asleep by the time we make it back from the Heath, so we take advantage and stop somewhere for a bit. By the time I return to our table with the beverages, a sodden guy is talking to my wife. I overhear, Ah but you must know what part of Ireland your people come from, because god do you ever look it, and you know I would knows as you can tell from the way that I speak I come from there myself and do you ever visit? Would you want to? What the fuck. I sit down and he’s not sure whether to refer to her as my wife or not, and probably for more than one reason. He is fifty years old. He lost his glasses, ha ha, last night. He is a clean man whose clothes are dirty. And his friend has run to Tesco for something. He asks me what part of Ireland I am from, and I respond that I am not Irish. He is getting very confused. But before we leave, break ruined, he tears a menu in half to write down his email address and tells us to be in touch – come and stay! – if we are ever in rural Ireland.
On the way home, my wife responds to my jokes and japes, “Yeah, there’s nothing I’m more attracted to than sodden drunk guys like….”
Significant pause. Cue laughter.
It was a very nice weekend indeed.
I’m not sure exactly why I’m driven to record my familal jaunts, my Sundays, in bland photoessays on here. The one I wrote two weeks ago worked out pretty well, so whatever, I’ll keep doing it and see what happens.
We had no plans when we woke up this morning. Today is my sleep-late day and I actually made it to 9 AM, which is rare. I’m headed into old man territory, very suddenly, with my sleep patterns. For my entire adult life, I’ve gone to bed only begrudgingly before 2 AM, and while work often mandated an early rise, if permitted I’d sleep fairly late. All of a sudden, in the last few months, I’m down before midnight and up before the alarm rings, generally no later than 7 AM.
We had no plans. It suddenly strikes me that Sunday afternoons, and what you do with them, might be read in the same way that one reads a dream. Left to one’s own devices, without the pressures of work (even if the mandate to mind children remains) one’s leisure choices form patterns that sometimes are only discernable after the fact, and sometime not really discernable at all.
I don’t really know why I woke with a strong desire to go to Islington, to Upper Street to be exact. We’d passed through on the bus a few months ago, and it’s not all that far from our house. And we’ve been around Angel for various reasons (me for Kinofist what seems like a long, long time ago and both of us together to buy couches when we moved into our place). But never to Upper Street. It’d take changing buses at Finsbury Park to get there, but buses are easier than the Underground, as we are always a large and heavily encumbered party-of-four at this point.
At the busstop near my house, we couldn’t take the first bus that came by, as there were already two strollers onboard. Another nine minutes. So I walked away to have a cigarette. When I returned my wife was having “the smoking talk” with my oldest. Ah me. Bet you my remaining days of nicotene-tint are few and getting fewer all the time. It’s just what happens, isn’t it… I suppose it’s for the best.
Ah there we are. Upper Street. There’s a farmers market on Sundays behind Islington Town Hall, but we didn’t want to keep the produce all day in the heat, so we bought nothing but pastries. The place was loaded with Americans – another woman with her own set of two kids was dropping her purchases into a Trader Joe’s bag, which made us chuckle – fucking Californians! Our own bag comes from a co-op in the rust-belt city where we lived before all this – and almost certainly marks us as academics in the Expat staring contests that occur constantly in neighborhood like this one.
A few minutes later my wife and the kids ducked into a children’s store and I had a cigarette out on the street, and took the photo that appears above. A second later, I turned to the right, and saw….. this:
Mexican food! In London! I’ve had it exactly once in the more than 1.5 years I’ve been here. It simply doesn’t exist as a food category here – there’s like a total of eight places in the entire city, and generally if you look one up and head there you find that it’s closed for one reason or another. I bounded back to the wife, who was coming out of the shop, wildly pointing toward, yes, that! And yelling, yes, yes I will, yes we will eat there! Yes! But she reminded me, though, that it was only 10:45 AM, so a little early for burritos. And plus, “tex-mex” is an ill-omen, and doubleplus (or doubleminus), good Mexican restaurants don’t ever serve tapas too. (Look closely at the sign). WTF? Yeah, Mexico is not in Spain, hmmm… I conceded she had a point, at least about the tapas part, and so we moved on.
But here’s the kicker. This Desperados, object of my gleeful pleading, is located on the site of the former Granita Restaurant, where the “Granita Pact” between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was supposedly sealed in 1994. According to wikipedia:
According to several authors, Gordon Brown agreed not to stand in the Labour Party leadership election, effectively giving Blair a clear run, and letting him lead the Labour Party in the 1997 general election. In return, Brown would be allowed wide powers over domestic policy. This was apparently confirmed by a copy of a note published in The Guardian in June 2003. The note mentions Blair’s commitment to a “fairness agenda” consisting of “social justice, employment opportunities and skills” under a Labour government.
Further, according to the Guardian, if we had gone in, we might have gotten to sit at the very table, preserved as it was, where this deal that in the long-run seems to have wrecked the Labour Party, perhaps permanently, was hashed out. I hope, when (if!) my wife reads this post, she realizes that my world-historical radar is very much in operation, even if it is oddly connected with my melted cheese radar system, and that she should always listen and willingly concede to my choices in lunchtime restaurantage!
(Hmmm… now I’m wondering if any world-historical events took place at the site of the Fuddruckers on Rt.1 right by the turnoff for the NJ Turnpike… I used to make my wife take me there for birthday dinners during grad school, because of the melted cheese machine. They should dig for Jimmy Hoffa in the parking lot!)
There is a Waterstones bookshop in Islington. I have to admit, I like going to a decent Waterstones better than the crappy little store in my neighborhood. On the front table, we saw this:
My wife made the same mistake that I did when I first saw this one. We had a long and lovely talk last night about aggregate fiction, and she lifted it from the table thinking…. But nope, no. If it were Twenty People, Two Years we’d be in business. But as it is, no not aggregate – just sentimental romantic trope. Pooh. I bought the first volume of Ballard’s Complete Short Stories and Ian Sinclair’s London Orbital.
I won’t have time to read either anytime soon, but I buy books when I am happy. And I was happy today. We ate lunch at Pizza Express. Soon, I will have eaten at all 400 or so PE outlets. During lunch, I goofed with my older daughter and discussed with my wife the strange fact that in London, people eat at chain restaurants all the time, while in NYC it would be considered quite gauche to eat at chain places. That is to say, there exists here a whole category of middle to upper-middle level restaurants that basically dominate the sub-really-fancy spectrum of eating, while in America it’s hard not to think TGIFridays when you see the same place in more than a single neighborhood. My pet theory about this divergence is that hip American cities have been populated with refugees from the suburbs (comme moi) who grew up eating and lower-middle to upper-middle tier chains on the side of highways. (For the record, Fuddruckers is distinctly sub-lower-middle, just in case you’re tempted to try….) and thus run away from them en-masse when they acquire the West Elm accoutred urban pad of their dreams. I imagine that labour issues are significant too – these fucking chains are rather merciless over here, and there’s not the endless supply of undocumented Latin Americans to shuffle the plates and make the salads.
Weird. There’s a mall in Islington. I like its name: The N1 Mall. Maybe everything should be named after its postcode – far more generic, rational, clean. (Big huge post coming soon, in the hopper, on city names, station names, predicated by an act of barbarity back in Brooklyn.) My youngest decided to poop voluminously, voluminously enough to make it through the clothes. Back with the first one, wouldn’t we have panicked… But we’re veteran parents now and so we just pulled over and took care of business right there in the stroller. Much, much nicer the second time around, I have to say. But malls never look right in the UK – or really anywhere but America. Why is this? Ah, because it’s nicer over here and they simply don’t belong.
How much nicer? This much nicer….
From what I can tell, it’s a co-op-ized former estate built on the site of a V-1 bomb attack during WWII. Islington took quite a lot of bomb damage during the war, and this is the reason why Caledonian Road, for instance, is basically a several mile long block of public or ex-public housing estates. This one (I think it’s now known as the Half Moon Crescent Co-op, though I’m not exactly sure…) is bucolic and lovely, and I sort of wish that I lived there…. But BoBos like us settle where the schools are good, where the Ofsted ratings top 90… And so we are where we are. Which is good, which is fine…
You can see the very top of my wife’s head in the picture, by the way….
We had two sleeping children by the time we boarded the bus on Caledonian Road for the trip back home. We stopped somewhere and looked at a copy of the Times whle they slept, especially the cover article about Michael Jackson’s nanny:
She confided: “When Paris had her birthday this April, I wanted to buy balloons, things, to make a happy birthday. There was no money in the house. I had to put everything on my personal credit card. I brought people to clean the house. The room of the kids needed to be cleaned. But they weren’t paid.”
Revealed within her account of their love-hate relationship was Jackson’s everyday life as a father and drug addict. Grace told me of pumping out his stomach after he took too many drugs and of how dirty and unkempt he became towards the end. Her stories of his attitude to the children shocked me.
Hard to know what to say to all that, and so we went home. It’s taken me over three hours to write this post, as my wife’s been upstairs working on a book proposal and I’ve been downstairs with the kids. One watched Cinderella for a bit, the other would sleep for 15 minute bursts only after 20 minutes of carrying her about.
I’m starting to think that I’d like to write a book someday, perhaps even someday soon, about Sundays. I certainly seem to have a lot to say about them. (Interesting to note that back at the founding of LS I was very against Long Sunday as a title – I favoured Por Ahora – maybe I’m slowing out of radicalism or something as I age, or slowing into another sort of radicalism, who knows…)
In his Politics of Time, Peter Osborne at one point quotes Benjamin’s One-Way Street:
In Nadja, Breton and Nadja are the lovers who convert everything that we have experienced on mournful railway journeys… on Godforsaken Sunday afternoons in the proletarian quarters of the great cities, in the first glance through the rain-blurred windows of a new apartment, into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense force of ‘atmosphere’ concealed in these things to the point of explosion.
I think it might just be my favorite snippet of critical prose that I’ve ever come across, even if I can’t decide for the life of me whether I agree with Benjamin here, with even the basic principles behind what he is saying. I go back and forth, and in a sense this oscillation, is an index of the rhythm of my entire intellectual life in all of its dimensions. And not just my intellectual life, but the whole burrito really.
So what happened today? Was woken up at 7 AM to watch the older one while my wife and the younger one got some more sleep. I sleep now in the loft, by myself, and have done so for quite some time. “Our” bed is the bed where everyone else sleeps. This, I think, is a fairly common situation.
Made coffee and got the milk out of the freezer. Our refrigerator stopped working on Friday and no one could come to fix it until Monday. So frozen milk.
Played “animal doctor” with the older one. She picked up the idea for this game a few weeks ago when we visited the school she’ll be attending in the fall. The reception class has in one corner a sort of veterinary clinic, complete with lots of real and realish medical implements and lots of stuffed animals to operate on. We had a hard time dragging her out of the classroom when our visit was over. So now we play at home, mostly looking at non-ear parts (including, yes, the bummies) with the ear-examination device. Then we give shots. And then we feed them tea.
My wife and I have always had problems with weekend mornings. Anxiety sets in. While most people with kids and many without have no trouble sitting the weekend out, relaxing at home, and the like, we’ve always felt this soft desperation about making our weekend days good and full. Back before kids, it was often the negotiation between work and play. Now it’s generally about the sort of things we can manage with the kids, what’s realistic, what can be done without collapse or tantrum or more trouble than it’s worth. She is frustrated – she hasn’t been to central London, save for surgical appointments, in months. But it is too late and too hard to go to Hyde Park or the like.
We settle on swimming. Our area is renowned for its swimming provision – a large complex with an indoor pool and what they quaintly call a “lido” in the UK. After a bit of passive-aggression passed triangularly – father to mother to older daughter and back again – we pack our old D’Ag bag with swimming suits and towels, load the double stroller and make our way to the pool.
Despite what the website says, the pool is closed from 1-2. It is 12:45 when we arrive. My wife gives a bit of lip to the attendant; the attendant doesn’t respond. And so we have lunch at a “cafe” nearby. There’s something they call a “cafe” here that roughly corresponds with the New York diner in their ubiquity, the quality and variety of food on offer, and the cheapness of the fare.
I hold the younger one in my lap while we eat. The older one eats all of her ham and cheese sandwich – she is coming along a bit lately on the eating, on not needing to be begged to eat.
We decide to save the big pool for another day and instead head to our usual park, which has a wading pool for kids. It’s the one pictured at the top of this post, and it is lovely. No frills but well kept, full of stuff to do but nothing glamourous or noteworthy. Tennis, a playground, room for football (but no fields or goals), blacktop for bike riding or basketball, and a wading pool with a cafe.
American parks almost never have cafes. Almost every park in London has one. They are lovely. I am sure they are cost-intensive, but they make you feel a bit like you live in Europe, at least when you’re an American. Perhaps Americans know what I mean when I say this – the Europeaness of sitting at a council-run cafe in the middle of a neighborhood park.
Luckily for us, one of the girls my daughter goes to school with is in the pool when we get there. We hesitate about whether we should move over to join the other mother – perhaps she wants her time alone, why didn’t she come over here near us, what will we say when we get there? My daughter is just now hitting the age where she can reliably and steadily play with other kids, with friends, without constant parental intervention. They splash about in the pool for an hour or so before another one of their classmates shows up, and then there are three. My wife takes the baby over to talk to the other two moms; I look at my iPhone and watch my daughter.
Then there are errands. A trip to the photoshop to pick up some prints. A trip to the office supply store for a posterboard – I never asked my wife why she needs that, it occurs to me now. And then home, where I answer an e-mail from a student who has just now written me, all too late, about doing a PhD on Joyce. He seems to be a foreign student, though he’s studying right now in London, and wants to self-fund. We are under pressure to admit just about anyone who will self-fund at this point, as it’s one of the only ways we are able to raise revenue, and raise revenue we must.
It’s four o’clock by then, and by implicit pre-agreement I am to get some work time this afternoon. (The math is complicated – but the fact that I got up at 7 AM this morning has something to do with it). I have to write a feature for a magazine and I am two weeks late. So I head back downtown to write for an hour-and-a-half in the same Costa where I always write. I write 400 words, drink two medium lattes, and I tell myself that I will finish the rest tonight.
On the way home, I notice one an advertisement for this week’s edition of the neighborhood paper. Waitrose, apparently, is moving into our shuttered Woolworths in the centre of town. This makes us happy, as we have fond memories of the Waitrose on Finchley Road when we lived a bit west of here. But it will likely put some of the local butchers and fish-mongers and fruit sellers and probably the independent grocery next door out of business.
I put the Yankee game on my computer. It is a terrible game – the Yanks are beating the Mets 13-0. We debate ordering Thai or making the Chicken Kievs that are in the freezer, and decide on the latter. I defrost then defrost again then preheat and then insert and then put a pot of corn on and run out to get a cold bottle of Coke (as the fridge is broken). What I buy is no colder than the unopened bottle we already have. I read the Observer as things finish cooking; the younger daughter is asleep next to me in her little bouncy seat.
The older one is now asleep or getting there and my wife is feeding the baby. The Yankee game is still on but it’s not getting any more interesting. I noticed that we can watch movies on our computer via our Sky subscription – maybe I can talk my wife into watching sex, lies, and videotape tonight, which is on offer. And then I’ll finish the piece – 1300 more words – or I won’t and I’ll break my promise to start working on the book tomorrow. My wife will take the baby up to bed with her at 10 or 10:30. I will go to bed at midnight, 1 AM at the latest.
So why am I telling you all this? Is it meant to be interesting – and if so, in what way? Am I bragging about my well-accoutred North London life? Or am I braying about the busyness of all this – the fact that there is barely time to work or even breathe? You might think I’m admirable or cowardly, you might want my life or detest it. You might find me disgusting for taking up space with the description of this day, or it might strike you as totally apropos, apropos of something, who knows what or maybe you know.
It was not a particularly interesting day – perhaps not even infra-interesting, though that’s a trickier issue. I am spending a lot of time thinking about the everyday lately, and on more than one front – intellectually, personally, perhaps artistically and politically as well. It is both lucky and unlucky that I am about to spend so much time thinking and writing about it, as it is something that I have an extremely ambivalent relationship towards. Odi et amo, as someone once said of something else. There’s a part of me that belongs exactly nowhere but in a semi-suburban living room or the aisles of a supermarket, the same part of me that buys too many newspapers – all of the papers, sometimes – and wants things calm and orderly and basically like some sort of Ikea spread-vivant, a family barbeque in a social democratic country, in a park that you get to by train or bus, and with food purchased at a kiosk whose sign is written sans serifs. But then there’s another part of me that is nothing but chaos and dysrhythm, grandiloquent thought and speech, drink and brokenness and poor poetry, crispé comme un extravagant, back-alleyed and ill-tempered and too loud.
Henri Lefebvre, in the first volume of his Critique of Everyday Life, has a section called “Notes Written One Sunday in the French Countryside,” and in that section is the following passage:
And in life itself, in everyday life, ancient gestures, rituals as old as time itself, continue unchanged – except for the fact that this life has been stripped of its beauty. Only the dust of words remains, dead gestures. Because rituals and feelings, prayers and magic spells, blessings, curses, have been detached from life, they have become abstract and ‘inner’, to use the terminology of self-justification. Convictions have become weaker, sacrifices shallower, less intense. People cope – badly – with a smaller outlay. The only thing that has not diminished is the old disquiet, that feeling of weakness, that foreboding. But what was formerly a sense of disquiet has become worry, anguish. Religion, ethics, metaphysicas – these are merely the ‘spiritual’ and ‘inner’ festivals of human anguish, was of channelling the black waters of anxiety – and towards what abyss?
I am trying to place it, the everyday, trying to figure out the frame and the use. What to make of the generic universality of certain elements – for instance the way that taking care of a child puts you through certain nearly universal or maybe fully universal (careful, careful) movements and gestures and probably thoughts. And I am trying to make sense of the lingering disquiet that Lefebvre mentions above. What is both hope-inducing and intellectually-terrifying to me is the fact that the recent recession of the dystopian imaginary – the backing up of the threat of the flash and burn and all of the other catastrophes has taken away an ideological-aesthetic crutch that allowed shorthand-in where only full consideration will really do. As if by fiat, we are suddenly under a mandate to stop changing the subject when it comes to the everyday. No news event is going to save us from the question that we are faced with, that we’ve long or always been faced with.
Instead we are brought face to face with the rhythm, probably permanent, of recurrent mild to severe economic crisis coupled with mild to middling affectual, ethical and intellectual crises. Please believe me when I say that I am fully aware of the class understructure of the question that I am asking (or trying to find the words to ask) about my day. I just happen to believe that much of what has gone on, for at least the last half-century, in the world is staked on this sort of Sunday – its pleasures, which are very real, as well as its equally-real if more softly spoken anxieties. The long sunday is an ad with products. It’s just still to-be-determined what the products are, which ones we want, and what to do about it once (if) we figure all of this out.