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I've never seen the life of the writer Raymond Roussel
condensed so marvelously as in David Macey's The Lives of Michel Foucault
(Foucault wrote a book on Roussel
), where it becomes a kind of perfect literary life: a life of weirdness, alienation, mental illness, addiction, and suffering, all capped with a mysterious death:
Enormously rich, [Roussel] travelled the world but rarely left his hotel room or his cabin. He financed the publication of his own writings and the staging of his own plays, which were invariably expensive failures accompanied by riots among the audience. His writings excited little interest in his lifetime, though some of the surrealists — notably Breton in his Anthologie de l'humour noir — appreciated them. For much of his life Roussel suffered from serious neurotic illnesses provoked (or at least triggered), it is thought, by the spectacular failure of La Doublure (1897), a long verse-novel, written in alexandrines, about a stand-in actor. He was treated by Pierre Janet, who failed to see any literary talent in him and described him as un pauvre petit malade; Roussel is the "Martial" whose case is discussed in the first volume of De l'Angoisse à l'extase (1926). Roussel was a homosexual, though little is known about his sexual tastes and activities, and became totally dependent on barbituates in his later years. He died in Palermo, where his body was found in his hotel room, lying on a mattress which he had — presumably with great difficulty, given his physical state — pushed up against the door connecting his room to that of his travelling companion. The door, habitually left unlocked, was locked. Whether Roussel was murdered or committed suicide has never been determined. (125)
You have succeeded as a writer if someone can describe your work as "invariably expensive failures accompanied by riots among the audience".
Alfred Hitchcock in conversation with Francois Truffaut:
To insist that a storyteller stick to the facts is just as ridiculous as to demand of a representative painter that he show objects accurately. What's the ultimate in representative painting? Color photography. Don't you agree? There's quite a difference, you see, between the creation of a film and the making of a documentary. In the documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is the god; he must create life. And in the process of that creation, there are lots of feelings, forms of expression, and viewpoints that have to be juxtaposed. We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it's not dull. A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow.
Two passages from Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot by Anna Beer
, concerning the early 1640s:
As with the Internet in this century, people expressed real fears about the sheer number of new works appearing. Others condemned the whole notion of publication, particularly for money. Publication was imagined as "epidemical contagion", and "Pamphlet-mongers" were castigated for writing for "a little mercenary gain, and profit", as "poetical Needy-brains, who for a sordid gain or desire to have the style of a witty railer, will thus empoison your pen". The proliferation of new pamphlets was also resented by more (allegedly) serious writers, who complained that "such a book as that of thirty or forty sheets of paper is not likely to sell in this age were the matter never so good, but if it had been a lying and scandalous pamphlet of a sheet of paper ... to hold up Anarchy" then the printers would print it, knowing it would sell, be "vendable ware". (128-129)
Print proliferated because almost every opinion generated a response, which in turn necessitated a counter-response from the maligned author. When the Smectymnuans, for example, attacked Bishop Hall, he replied, condemning their views, to which their response was a 219-page answer. The speed of these exchanges was often remarkable. Milton's own first pamphlet on Church reform received a reply within days of its publication. Vicious abuse of one's opponents characterised much of the debate. When in May 1642, around the time of his marital expedition to Oxfordshire, Milton wrote An Apology against a Pamphlet (in itself a response), he claimed to be furious at the way he had been personally attacked. Immersed as he was in this world of cheap print, he cannot have been genuinely surprised. Colourful, personal, and at times obscene invective was the order of the day, the religious and political pamphlets picking up the techniques of the earlier forms of popular writing, whether ballads or jestbooks, almanacs, or tales. (139-140)
Corey Robin, from The Reactionary Mind:
One of the reasons the subordinate’s exercise of agency so agitates the conservative imagination is that it takes place in an intimate setting. Every great political blast—the storming of the Bastille, the taking of the Winter Palace, the March on Washington—is set off by a private fuse: the contest for rights and standing in the family, the factory, and the field. Politicians and parties talk of constitution and amendment, natural rights and inherited privileges. But the real subject of their deliberations is the private life of power. “Here is the secret of the opposition to woman’s equality in the state,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote. “Men are not ready to recognize it in the home.” Behind the riot in the street or debate in Parliament is the maid talking back to her mistress, the worker disobeying her boss. That is why our political arguments—not only about the family but also the welfare state, civil rights, and much else—can be so explosive: they touch upon the most personal relations of power.
Some photos from the filming of How to Steal a Dog in South Korea:
Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
|Guy Davenport, illustration from Apples & Pears|
I've just begun reading Andre Furlani's Guy Davenport: Postmodern and After
, a magnificent book (so far), and went to track down one of the items cited there, a 2002 interview by B. Renner for the website Elimae
. Alas, the site seems to have died, but god bless the Wayback Machine: here it is, cached.
The interview is not as meaty as some others, for instance Davenport's Paris Review interview
, but it's always interesting, and I was particularly struck by this:
DAVENPORT: At Duke I took Prof Blackburn's Creative Writing course (Bill Styron and Mac Hyman were in the class) and got the wrong impression that writing is an effusion of genius and talent. Also, that writing fiction is Expression of significant and deep inner emotion. It took me years to shake off all this. Writing is making a construct, and what's in the story is what's important. And style: in what words and phrases the story is told. (William Blackburn, the full name. His guiding us all toward autobiographical, confessional, "emotional" writing is -- in reaction -- why I write about concrete objectivities that are fairly remote from my own experiences. I like to imagine how other people feel in a world different from my own.)
ELIMAE: Almost none of your stories take place in the U.S. or involve American characters. Is there a particular reason for this? Are Americans and the U.S. less noteworthy than other peoples and places, especially Europeans and Europe, or is it as simple as a matter of going to subject matter that hasn't already been done to death by other American writers?
DAVENPORT: A clever critic might note that they are all set in the USA. "Tatlin!" is a fable about totalitarian governments strangling creativity, not always blatantly and openly. At the time I was lecturing on Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil, the classic study in our time of Government and The Poet. Vladimir Tatlin's genius suffocated by Stalin seemed to me to be paradigmatic and timely. I learned from Kafka's Amerika that you don't have to have a realistic knowledge of a place, and from Nabokov that "realism" is simply a fashionable mode.
We are still immigrants. Culture imports and exports. There was a great anxiety that European culture would be obliterated twice in the 20th century. I became interested in "Europe" through Whistler's etchings.
And then there's a Davenport desert island list!
ELIMAE: Here's my version of the "desert island" question: if you could select any six books (besides your own) originally written in your lifetime, and be the author of those books, which six would they be?
DAVENPORT: Your 6 books question is diabolical! I couldn't have written any of 'em.
Eudora Welty, The Golden Apples
P. Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower
Michel Tournier, Les Meteores
Isak Dinesen, Anecdotes of Destiny
Mann, Doktor Faustus
Finally, I also found an interesting mention of Davenport in this interview with John Jeremiah Sullivan
, whose whole response about the connection of writing and reading is great, but here's the Davenport part:
That said, how do you get to be a better reader? I asked Guy Davenport this question one time, because talking to him could really make a person despair; he just knew so much, he’d read so much in many languages, but not in a pedantic or scholastic way, in a really passionate way. He gave me what I thought was very solid advice, which was: first of all, start reading and don’t stop. The other thing is to follow your interest. He said there ought to be a phrase, “falling into interest,” to go with falling in love.
Follow your interest; follow the writers who energize you, not the ones who exert a sense of obligation on you. The books that do the one or the other will change, as time gone on. The landscape shifts. Don’t adhere to systems unless that feels good.
The late David Markson
did not have a computer. In March 2004, Laura Sims told him that there were things written about him on blogs. He replied:
NO, I've no idea what a Blog is. BLOG?
Sims sent him print-outs:
Hey, thank you for all that blog stuff but forgive me if after a nine-minute glance I have torn it all up. I bless your furry little heart, but please don't send any more. In spite of the lost conveniences, I am all the more glad I don't have a computer.
HOW CAN PEOPLE LIVE IN THAT FIRST-DRAFT WORLD?
They make a statement about my background, there's an error in it. They quote from a book, and they leave out a key line. They repudiate a statement of fact I've made, without checking, ergo announcing I'm a fake when the statement is 100% correct. Etc., etc., etc. Gawd.
I have just taken the sheets out of the trash basket & torn them into even smaller pieces.
From the wonderful little book Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson
, edited by Laura Sims.
Are you a writer who will work on songs on a daily basis, regardless of whether you’re feeling inspired?
Yes. I still think you have to wait for the inspiration, but unless you’re there, waiting at the bus stop, you ain’t gonna get on the bus. If you’re doing other things all day, a song ain’t gonna get on the bus.
[So get on up there to the bus stop, y'all.]
Some days I fear writing dreadfully, but I do it anyway. I've discovered that sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better. Not writing at all leads to nothing.
Came across this from School Library Journal during a recent office cleanup. I made a gazillion Yoohoo boats for this.
The construction is the most important goddamned thing. It’s like building a house–you have to build the outside properly before you put the bits and pieces inside afterward.
Get your story, get your architecture right, and you can always add your dialogue afterwards. A story starts at the beginning, it develops, it works itself out, and it works up to its finale.
The great essence of construction is to know your end before your beginning; to know exactly what you’re working up to; and then to work up to that end. To just start off and wander on the way isn’t any good whatever… because you’re wallowing.
I am so looking forward to going to one of my MOST favorite schools tomorrow. And how can I not love seeing this as the students prepare?
Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong.
From a Q&A in the New York Times with Teju Cole:
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
I have not read most of the big 19th-century novels that people consider “essential,” nor most of the 20th-century ones for that matter. But this does not embarrass me. There are many films to see, many friends to visit, many walks to take, many playlists to assemble and many favorite books to reread. Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping. Also, my grandmother is illiterate, and she’s one of the best people I know. Reading is a deep personal consolation for me, but other things console, too.
A wonderful lady sent this to me in an email this morning and it inspired me, and so I want to share it with you too. Have a wonder-filled week!
“We lay there and looked up at the night sky
and he told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls.
I told him I’d never heard of them.Of course not, he said,
the really important stuff they never tell you.
You have to imagine it on your own.”
-Brian Andreas, Traveling Light, Stories & Drawing for a Quiet Mind
You know how sometimes the perfect quote comes along at the perfect time? When I read this a few weeks back it breathed new life into me. This quote made it very clear that I am exactly where I need to be. I hadn’t been paying attention to my own bliss for a very, very long time. Life is too short to give your bliss away. Are you following yours?
I’ll announce THE STORYTELLERS giveaway winners tomorrow….
From "James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78" at The Paris Review:
You read contemporary novels out of a sense of responsibility?
In a way. At any rate, few novelists interest me—which has nothing to do with their values. I find most of them too remote for me. The world of John Updike, for instance, does not impinge on my world. On the other hand, the world of John Cheever did engage me. Obviously, I’m not making a very significant judgment about Updike. It’s entirely subjective, what I’m saying. In the main, the concerns of most white Americans (to use that phrase) are boring, and terribly, terribly self-centered. In the worst sense. Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be.
Are you suggesting they are less concerned, somehow, with social injustice?
No, no, you see, I don’t want to make that kind of dichotomy. I’m not asking that anybody get on picket lines or take positions. That is entirely a private matter. What I’m saying has to do with the concept of the self, and the nature of self-indulgence which seems to me to be terribly strangling, and so limited it finally becomes sterile.
And yet in your own writing you deal with personal experiences quite often.
Yes, but—and here I’m in trouble with the language again—it depends upon how you conceive of yourself. It revolves, surely, around the multiplicity of your connections. Obviously you can only deal with your life and work from the vantage point of your self. There isn’t any other vantage point, there is no other point of view. I can’t say about any of my characters that they are utter fictions. I do have a sense of what nagged my attention where and when; even in the dimmest sense I know how a character impinged on me in reality, in what we call reality, the daily world. And then, of course, imagination has something to do with it. But it has got to be triggered by something, it cannot be triggered by itself.
What is it about Emily Dickinson that moves you?
Her use of language, certainly. Her solitude, as well, and the style of that solitude. There is something very moving and in the best sense funny. She isn’t solemn. If you really want to know something about solitude, become famous. That is the turn of the screw. That solitude is practically insurmountable.
Enter to win a a $75 gift certificate to spend at WiseDecor Wall Decals.
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Two years is about long enough for things to stay exactly the same. If they stayed put any longer they might grow mossy. ~ Anne of Avonlea
If we have friends we should look only for the best in them and give them the best that is in us, don't you think? Then friendship would be the most beautiful thing in the world. ~ Anne of Avonlea
It is never pleasant to have our old shrines desecrated, even when we have outgrown them. ~ Anne of the Island
We mustn't let next week rob us of this week's joy. ~ Anne of the Island
But FEELING is so different from KNOWING. ~ Anne of the Island
We are never half so interesting when we have learned that language is given us to enable us to conceal our thoughts. ~ Anne of the Island
Experience teaches sense. ~ Anne of the Island
When you've learned to laugh at the things that should be laughed at, and not to laugh at those that shouldn't, you've got wisdom and understanding. ~ Anne of the Island
But a few italics really do relieve your feelings. ~ Anne of Windy Poplars
One can always find something lovely to look at or listen to ~ Anne of Windy Poplars
Are there, or are there not, two 'c's' in recommend'? In spite of the fact that I am a B.A. I can never be certain. ~ Anne of the Island
Somebody else's experience can never be yours. ~ Blue Castle
Oh, if I could only put things into words as I see them! Mr. Carpenter says, 'Strive--strive--keep on--words are your medium--make them your slaves--until they will say for you what you want them to say.' That is true--and I do try--but it seems to me there is something beyond words--any words--all words--something that always escapes you when you try to grasp it--and yet leaves something in your hand which you wouldn't have had if you hadn't reached for it. ~ Emily Climbs
Well, it all comes to this, there's no use trying to live in other people's opinions. The only thing to do is to live in your own. ~ Emily Climbs
Don't let a three-o'clock-at-night feeling fog your soul. ~ Emily's Quest
There is always such a fascinating expectancy and uncertainty about the mail. ~ Emily's Quest
However, I feel much better now than when I began this entry. I've got quite a bit of resentment and rebellion and discouragement out of my system. That's the chief use of a diary, I believe. ~ Emily's Quest
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews