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…