Archive for June 2010
Interesting, special disaffinity for watching sports with other people, listening to people talk about sports, having people in my living room while I am trying to watch sports, and so on. Not sure what it is. Best guess is that in my line of work you don’t often meet people who, like me, devoted (were made to devote?) approximately 90 percent of their mental and psychological life to a game for that extended period of time that is often called childhood.
Especially don’t like people who, while watching sports in my living room, make snarky comments about the size of my television and the grandeur of my satellite television package. Ah academia. When I first got to Ivy League PhD Institution, the first set of friends that we had covered their television with a table cloth when people were over. Not in Cardinal, Ontario or Memphis, Tennessee anymore, we kiddies realized! Said tablecloth didn’t apparently stop them from coming over to my place to watch Wimbledon (wtf?) on my cable when tennis was in the summer air.
The total count of people with whom I don’t mind watching sports totals three: my wife (she’s been well trained in the art, we used to hold partial bleacher season tickets at Yankee Stadium mind you, and by the end had moved up into the insanity of the front rows…), my father, and as it turned out during the volcano, SEK.
Story. When my wife and I were first together, back in, yep, high school, she came to a game that I pitched against one of the Oranges. Can’t remember which one it was, though pretty sure it wasn’t West Orange. Sat in the stands with my father. (Looking back, wow, way to take one for the team, dearest…) I took a no-hitter through six (high school games were only seven innings long), fucking them up with sliders, until some kid plinked a single off of me with one out in the seventh. Shit. I would have made the Daily Record, or even the vaunted Ledger, the next day if I’d pulled it off.
Anyway, I was afterward supra-surly and, really, cussish when I got off the field. She didn’t understand at the moment, but I think in the long run (how long-term couples work, I suppose) this moment earned me a lifetime of overloud and vaguely Nova Scotian Goddammits while watching things on TV. That’s mostly the sort of talking that I do, and prefer to do, while I watch this stuff rather than discussing the reasons and costs behind my blinged out, sorta white trash media center in the center of the most used room in the house. Which I have because, unlike the rest of the freeloaders, yes, I admit that I like to watch vast quantities of sports on the weekends, feel deprived if I cannot watch them because of subscription issues, and as of lately, yep, like to watch them in HD.
Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is one of those books that has lingered at the front of the to-be-read pile for years and year. I dip in for twenty pages in a stolen moment, and then… it drifts back to the shelf waiting for another start.
I am delighted by Pessoa, but even more than delight it is probably recognition – the recognition of an orientation parallel to mine, of a project similar enough to one of my own projects (namely, the one that you are reading right now) – that informs this slow-motion compulsive pattern of starting and then leaving off, again and again, for probably something like a decade now. Take a look, for instance, at this passage which comes close to the start of the work:
I envy the people – well, I don’t know if I actually envy them – whose biographies are written or who write their own. In these disconnected impressions, which I deliberately leave disconnected, I shall narrate my autobiography in an indifferent sort of way, without facts; my history without life. These are my Confessions, and if I don’t say anything in them, it’s because I really have nothing to say.
What does it matter that someone confesses his worthiness or that he serves some useful purpose? What happens to us either happens to everyone or only to us: in the first instance, it’s banal; in the second it’s incomprehensible. By writing what I feel, I can cool this febrile sensitivity of mine. What I confess is unimportant, because nothing is important. I compose landscapes out of what I feel. I compose carnivals of sensations. I completely understand women who embroider out of grief or knit because life exists. My old aunt used to play solitaire during the course of infinite family gatherings. These confessions of feeling are my solitaires. I don’t read them, the way people read cards to know the future. I don’t put a stethoscope to them, because in solitaire the cards don’t really have any value. I unravel like a multicolored skein, or I make yarn figures out of myself that are like the ones braided by tense hands and passed from one child to another. I just take care that my thumb doesn’t miss making the final knot. Later I turn my hand over and the image changes. And I start over.
Comes very close – perhaps all too close, per what I said above – to the implicit, generally unconscious operating principle in place behind much of what I do here on this blog. ads without products started out, years ago, as a standard-issue editorializing site, commenting on the news, connecting the news with what I was reading, obliquely discussing my work, etc. But over the years, and I suppose because I’ve lived through what the shrinks call a transition crisis, the blog changed. As I went from grad student to assistant professor to lecturer, moved from America to Britain and before that from New York to somewhere else, and above all else fell abruptly from the prolonged adolescence of urban irresponsibility to the previously unimaginable heavy duties of parenthood, things changed and the blog became (for the most part – some of the old style stuff still trickles through) something else, something like my own book of disquiet.
Some very nice people have written me suggesting that there is a book scattered throughout these Sunday posts and the like. It’s a tempting thought, and incredibly heartening that they say so. (I’m well aware that there are others, if they’ve not long since gone away, who’d like nothing more than for me just to get back to the old stuff and think I’ve gone made with solipsism and the like). I’m working on a novel right now, a relatively conventional thing with a plot and characters and a setting, something that’s meant to be sold as literary fiction and sold to a publisher that publishes that sort of thing. There’s an incredibly optimistic thought at the back of my mind, a problematic thought whose optimism isn’t the worst of its problems. The thought is this: that if I were successful at publishing this novel, and maybe another like it, then I would free myself to work in unconventional forms, forms ranging from the sort of thing that I was up to here or some sort of Weight of the World style compendium of semi-fictionalized everyday life.
But of course I’m not stupid enough to think, down deep, that that plan really makes sense. No one, nowadays, earns themselves out of responsibility to the satisfaction of market demands, and the trajectory of most writers now suggests quite the opposite – with each work ever more vivid evidence of their fealty to the satisfaction of convention. This isn’t a personal failing on their part – it’s a structural attribute of the market and atmosphere in which we live. (The academic parallel is tenure, which of course is supposed to liberate American professors unto their own idiosyncrasies, but that’s is rarely the case. Having run the full race-track, 99 percent either collapse into mediocre unproductiveness or keep churning out more of the same stuff they’ve been pavlovianly stickn’carroted into doing to earn tenure).
So if I were smarter (I’m not sure whether “and braver” should be here or not), I’d just skip ahead to the formally challenging, market-resisting stuff that I’d like to do down the road, because neither success or failure the other way is particularly likely to open that door in the future. So what to do?
I’m not going to abandon the thing I’m working on because a) I keep doing that, three or four times with nearly complete manuscripts, and that’s starting to get really annoying if not super-deeply symptomatic and b) I like it OK, somedays and c) I’m 21,000 words in, which is quite a lot when you think about it. But I am also, this week, going to work on something semi-fictional and bloggic and with interesting images interspersed for another opportunity, one as exciting to me as anything else.
(For the record, this has not been a Sunday post, despite the fact that it is in fact Sunday morning, the traditional time of their composition. This was housekeeping, and like all housekeeping meta in the wrong way, meta with the wrong sort of banality….)
As it turns out, I was right. And last night at a World Cup party, in the course of horsing around about my sniffing out his sniffing me out, I ended up disclosing the existence of this thing to quite a number of other colleagues, or maybe in fact all of them.
Christ, let’s hope that contract for the monograph comes through. Or else I’m going to be making one hell of an argument about my blog’s impactfulness!
The word “ideology” is banned, as it does not exist, not really. It exists only in the way that things like “art in general” exist. Henceforth, we will discuss only “public relations,” the actual tactics and material instantiations of the engineering of consent, the traceable paths of cause and effect involved with it.
We are not named by the policeman on the street who calls to us. We are named by our parents. Of course it is important to remember that we enter into language and then we never leave language. The problem is that the abstraction involved in the deployment of a term like ideology permits, no nearly mandates, that we stop just about there. The cop, the street, and then us, newly and irrevocably named – nowhere to go from there.
There is a malicious, ill-formed fiction at the heart of most theoretical errors – that is to say, I am starting to think, most theory.
Abstraction is a net that allows us to neglect the hold, to fall without worrying about reaching the next rung.
He promises himself not to take it out on them, just as his father promised that he would not take it out on him. And we all know how well that went.
When he takes his older daughter into the bookstore or the newsstand, often enough they stop to look at things that he has written, that her mother has written – as yet exclusively in the magazine and newspaper bits of the store. “Dadda wrote this piece… Yes I know it’s smaller than the other ones… Yes, we have a copy at home, I just thought you’d like to see it…. Do you remember when Dadda had to work last weekend – well, this is what he was doing, writing this…. Yes, sweetie, I know it is smaller than the others. That’s not what is important. What’s important is that Dadda wrote this piece.”
Or there are books. “Do you remember the man who came over last month? Do you remember Lola and her sister. Their father, yes. Yes, this is his book. Yes, he wrote all of it – the whole thing…. I don’t know if he did it on weekends or not, probably, at least some of the time…”
What a fundamentally different relationship to a bookstore, which for him was a sort of sacred shrine visited weekly with his mother. The people who wrote those were nowhere, elsewhere. You read what they wrote and you were thankful for the opportunity to do so. He never once thought of them, the people that he read, as alive and sitting at typewriters somewhere knowable, somewhere one might visit.
Still today, when in stress, he buys books. He never – until today – understood exactly what it means. Today, sitting in the Ikea cafeteria with his daughter, the older one, he received an email about his novel. Nothing bad – just preemptive feedback from an editor at X that his…. agent (?) had spoken to about it. When they were home, and after he had built the tiny child furniture they had purchased, he asked for time out to work and then stopped at the bookstore before making his way to the coffeehouse where he works.
The bookstore, the books he buys, in short, mean security against, recidivism in the face of, the unbearable task of doing something that he simply isn’t suited, for a thousand reasons, to do. By nature and by upbringing, he is a reader, a semi-passive recipient of these things, not one who makes them himself. That is for other people, those people whose parents took them to bookstores to show their children the articles and books they had written.
Later, he returns home and watches a repeat of the Yankees – Mets game on ESPN America. The reliever for the Mets throws at 3/4ers, just as he did. Throws a slider that shivers the legs of the batters, just as he did. This he could have done – this he was groomed, unlike his own father, to be large and brave in doing. He should have, he thinks, taken up the chance to pitch at university. What went into the pious decision to work instead? What sort of misplaced confidence, what sort of working through of class?
In lieu of writing at night, he smokes cigarettes and drinks beer. But before that, well before, as he and the same daughter, the older one, walked to pick up pizza, he told her “You know, actually you don’t know, but your grandfather almost ran this company… Yes, Pizza Hut. He was recruited, we went to Wichita, Dadda almost moved to Kansas, something we can both be thankful didn’t happen. But, yes, your grandfather almost made these pizzas, right from the very top….”
Decided to take a chance on this: we’re trying to work out a summer holiday, basically from late July till the end of August or some portion thereof. And what we’d like to do is work out a swap with someone – or at least rent our place out and then rent a comparable place somewhere else. We’re not having a lot of luck finding something we want, so I thought I’d try on here, just to see if one of my readers isn’t in the same sort of situation or would like to be.
So… If you live in an interesting place anywhere in the world, preferably an urban one, and you have the sort of place that would suit 2 adults + 2 young kids, and you’d like either to rent it out for the period listed above or part of that period or you’re interested in swapping it for a place in North London for the same period, please do get in touch. Oh, and we’ve got two low maintenance, non-aggressive cats that would stay here – just need to be fed and not let outdoors.
Our place has 4 bedrooms (one of them crib sized, not bed sized), a garden, is about 30 minutes from central London (1 bus to Finsbury Park Underground), all the usual amenities, and we live in a nice neighborhood for kids with lots of parks and the like, reasonably close to Hampstead Heath, etc etc etc.
It’s not available on-line unless you have a subscription, but Charles Nicholl’s piece in the LRB on Christopher Mountjoy (and by implication Shakespeare) and his ‘naughty house’ is quite something to read. Almost makes me believe in ‘research’ again (again?) and suchlike!