Dec 30, 2009

Worse than the time before

Tom Waits on what you get out of working in movies
One hundred posters, minutes, days, and influences
We still need Marx when we study religion in the 'post-secular' age
John Starkey, Indiana photojournalist, dies at 67. May he rest in peace.
9,000 pages of Nietzshe now available in digital facsimile
Can LA change public perception of public transit?
David Foster Wallace was not a grammar oracle
What the Large Hadron Collider will accomplish
How the right wing hijacked the thriller genre
Jonathan Letham reviews Patricia Highsmith
Books most likely to be on 5-finger discount
David Levine's authoritative images gallery
Large Hadron Collider and the second try
Review of Best American Short Stories 2009
Herta Müller and her discontinued people
Mountain Goats: Experiments in sincerity
Can we hope for another communism?
Sugar Ray Robinson's 'transcendence'
Conservative of the year: Dick Cheney
The horrid tradition of end-of-year lists
How not to build a revolutionary party
James Cameron's white guilt fantasy
Polarization of Supreme Court clerks
40 years of the Whole Earth Catalog
Defending the faith of nonbelievers
War where we find it (photo exhibit)
Forms of writing = forms of thinking
Zadie Smith: "The real slim Zadie"
What the Arab media cares about
How to teach physics to your dog
Freedom is being a bike courier
The where and how of reading
Germany's exported Christmas
25 ways to get smarter in 2010
50 years of listening to aliens
Puddles and the modern city
Top ten years of the decade
When Rigo will return home
Dissertations on the Dude
How Zadie Smith reads
NPR's Jazz of the year
A year in book covers
The decade in design
Graphing gravity wells
New Russian writers

Dec 29, 2009

This was his Florida now

The phone was attached to the wall in the kitchen, which was okay, since that was the only place he could smoke. He smoked while he waited.

Stan couldn't see the sea from here. Couldn't see the sky. There was an orange tree, though, where the oranges were starting to turn ripe for the winter, and he could see between the backs of bright and flamenco-colored houses to the warehouse store with a blank beige wall and the steel steps of the loading dock. At night when the window was open you could hear the trucks back up. In the morning when the wind was right you could hear the highway going up to Orlando. He smoked and waited. He watched out the window at the houses and the back of a superstore as an old neighbor lady in a night gown seemed to scowl and inspect the grass of her brown back yard. He waited. He smoked again. The woman went inside and night came slow, pink and then gray and then murky night, and he still waited for the phone.

He waited in the morning when the papers came, crashing into the backstops of the doors down the street, and waited when the commuters he could see through the bent blinds in the front all drove off. He waited when the mail came. Waited by the phone. He lit his cigarettes with a plastic lighter that said FLORIDA in an arc over a bouquet of oranges. Six months in the sate and he hated Florida now, and this was his Florida. He flicked the finished cigarettes into the sink when he was done, then saw they were still smoldering, letting off single spirals of filter fiber smoke and he stood up and ran the tap. Soggy butts lined the bottom of the sink like slugs.

Around 11 he ate two hot dogs. He boiled them on the stove. The old lady was out in the yard again, walking around with a pointed stick she kept poking into the ground. He wondered if she was watching him. The phone was between two sheets of wall paper, hung between the seams. It was white but yellowed as he watched it. The cord was kinked in places, stretched out until it lost the loops in others. It didn't ring. He picked it up a couple of times to listen, but hung up again and sat down in the chair between the stove and the window.

He ran out of cigarettes at about 1. He smoked the last one and instead of putting the pack back in his pocket he let it lay on counter. He played with the edges for a few minutes, turning the pack and turning it again, and then took $5 and hustled down the block for some more. He cut across the lawns, jogging, and then walked fast past the low row of stripped stores: Chinese food; dry cleaners; laundry mat with a woman in sandals slumped in the molded metal chair; empty; hair salon; empty; and a corner grocery with lettuce and broccoli browning, match-3 machines in the back with high stools and a little, hard-faced grandma behind the bullet-proof glass. She was sorting and stacking magazines, racking them facing out through the glass. and didn't look at him for a long time. When she finally did he slid the five through and said what he wanted and she found his brand, found his type, rang it up, made him change, printed up a receipt and passed it piece-at-a-time through the glass.

He lit the first one outside, but then walked back, smoking as he went, his exhales over his shoulder. It was a bright day, for winter, and the sun looked solid. When he got to the door he could hear the ringing. He dropped the key. When he pulled it out of his pocket he spilled spare change across the concrete steps and dropped the key and the phone rang, paused, and rang. Stan put his shoulder into the door when he turned the lock, panicking as the phone's each pause seemed to last too long, and when the door clicked he flung it open and fell inside, slammed it into the white wall hard and he ran as the phone rang, across the six steps to the kitchen. He said her name. He cracked as he cried it into the phone, "Linda!," he said and his throat was dry, but then there was nothing except a tone. It was flat. And dead. It was one tone extending forever in an infinite line, extending unbroken or interrupted, extending unstopped and unstopping without even a waver, a quiver, a moment of modulation.

It extended even as he hung it up. He sat down heavy and stared away from the phone, staring at the window, not through it at the houses and the old tree and the old woman in the yard, but at the window, the surface, the glass. He could feel that tone between his eyes. He shook out a cigarette again.

Dec 28, 2009

That they might float away like angels
"Doc had outrun souped-up Rollses full of indignant smack dealers on the Pasadena Freeway, doing a hundred in the fog and trying to steer through all those crudely engineered curves, he'd walked up back alleys east of the L.A. river with nothing but a borrowed 'fro pick in his baggies for protection, been in and out of the Hall of Justice while holding a small fortune in Vietnamese weed, and these days had nearly convinced himself all that reckless era was over with, but now he was beginning to feel deeply nervous again."

-- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Dec 25, 2009

Self portrait of us in a warm bakeri on a cold week for weinachten
I wanna ask the angel when

I wanna ask the angel when. Can we could we, will we here. But when. Tidings bid and peace promised as if it were only infinity unfurled. If this is real, then when. Learn to hope, it has been said. I would ask but then the angel would or maybe should ask it back, throw it back and ask it at me: yes and when? Or perhaps not that question which was mine, but instead another, a better one with a clearer answer and one that is not so abstract, a question where with the answer in the thump of organ tissue blood and flesh.

For an angel, if this was or there were an angel then it might be right at the end of that to ask. Don't assume the angel knows. This is God absurd. Don't assume the symbols from a story boiled down. Accept or anyway start at least with the weirdness of this. Something of the dada's been diluted now. But this is. God gives up: God no more: no more power and heaven empty, no glory, transcendence, no force or army no more. No more all in all and all and God's an accident here, no longer absolute but contingent now -- and didn't this used to be the insult for the enemies of YHWH? Your God is sleeping, crying, too small and human, away or indisposed, and now it's true and chosen. Now a choice. The insult embraced, weakness preferred. God here gives up being over all. He'd rather be a baby.

Baby born in slime, slick with fluid of birth and afterbirth and blood - I remember blood but it's later denied - mucus and crying, contingent, accident unto us, boy unto us and born, contingent to die and dying already. The face all squished: all babies alien. Misshapen head and features mushed at first. Here's a cord that has to be cut, umbilical, cut and clamped and knotted purple where a belly button will be, drying until it falls away.

Dec 21, 2009

The whole world green

In the ascending elevator the people were unhappy and complained. There was no sun. It was Florida in Spring, green and glowing, warm and with recorded birdsong symphonies broadcast from every bush and bunch of flowers in the resort. But, the people said, there was no sun. The elevator opened on the eighth floor and they got off, glum and silent. They were replaced by a young couple in sandals and swimwear with towels and the elevator descended again. It was all shiny metal and mirrors, and the pair saw themselves reflected there, on the inside of the elevator, smiling and holding hands as they went down. The pool outside was perfect blue, the kind of water where you can see straight through and it seemed, to them, a perfect day.

A mallard landed in the pool leaving little ripples, a gentle wake of his glide. His head was green and held high and he swam in a circle, a surveying king. Besides that it was empty.

The young couple brought their own towels, taken from the room, and draped them over the plastic poolside chairs with their sandals and his glasses and the key to the room. Then he saw and pointed out the resort had whole stacks of towels there all ready by the pool. The towels were white and thick, folded in stacks that seemed endless. She said, "well, now we know for tomorrow," and it seemed like tomorrow was a long way away, and when it came it would last for forever, and everything was at peace. Then they swam in the pool, under the overcast sky, and the place was mostly empty and completely calm as they swam. The woman did laps back-and-forth and the man floated on his back and looked at the sky. He closed his eyes, and with the light through the trees, everything was green. She swam underwater and came up to surprise him. She laughed and made a funny face and they laughed. She wiped the water from her eyes and he kissed her.

Around them, though, everyone was unhappy. At the restaurant an older couple ate without speaking: he the clams with wine sauce, she the roast beef with couscous and asparagus spears, both of them frowning and picking. Out in front of the resort, where the shuttles were supposed to stop, a man in board shorts and a flowered shirt kept shouting, "Is that what you want?" At a bench outside a boy played a gameboy while a man, maybe a father for whom this was custody, asked questions that were not answered. He phrased each one as if it was interesting, and then paused and said, "hmmmm?" At the hot tub two little girls splashed and jabbered as their father tried to read the USA Today. The younger girl splashed and shouted through the bubbles and the older one saw the mallard dripping and waddling and began to screech "he's so cute!" until the father snapped the paper and said he was trying to read. The hot tub was immediately silent then except for the bubbles, and the younger girl began to cry. Against all this, above it, behind it and around it, ignored, the birdsong kept playing, trilling and tripping like happiness with a whistle.

Then on the third day when the couple woke up the woman was sick. She had a fever and ached and it felt like the flu. This was the third day at the resort, the fourth they were married. She threw up in the bathroom. Her head hurt and throat hurt and she lay in the bed and wanted to cry or at least sleep. The man went and got nyquil at the supermarket outside the resort, driving a mile and then two to find it. He bought cans of soup and orange juice and rented two movies. He had to wait to be checked out because the clerk, a pregnant woman chewing gum, was talking to the police about two teens she'd seen stealing condoms. They were, she said, dumb little fuckers. Then he went back to the resort and up the elevator, letting himself quietly into the room.

The woman was asleep but woke up to say, "you're here," and he crawled under the covers and held her. "I'm here," he said. He told her what he bought and she said he was wonderful. The afternoon air was sweet and came through the curtains open to the balcony. He held her and watched the curtains. She sighed and closed her eyes again to sleep.

Dec 20, 2009

About to pop

Writing while riding on trains
A history of shooting sideways
Terry Gilliam and the Imaginarium
Edward P. Jones' Ballad of America
Edward P. Jones and black nostalgia
Edward P. Jones after the MFA program
Charles Dickens' savage and magical style
David Foster Wallace's German hit, Un Enlicher Spaß
Can a man who makes his living off of war be a humanitarian?
Derrida, unofficial translations and copyright challenge
Why David Lynch didn't do Return of the Jedi
Arab homosexuals were invented by the West
The David Foster Wallace grammar challenge
The minister who heads the brothel lobby
Censorship, obscenity and comics in Canada
Women and the mastery of the short story
The destructions of Patricia Highsmith
Mathematician who subtracted himself
David Foster Wallace: "Wiggle room."
Paul Auster's artistic oblivion
Zomia and the anarchic ideal
Writing advice from Dr. Suess
Interview with Thomas Lynch
David Bryne's movie voodoo
Hubble advent calendar
Lady Gaga, feminist?
Graphic design '00
Missing the point
How you say "Lolita"
Trademarks of illegality
No bookstore in Loredo
Value of a short story: $3.99
Best Jazz of the year, decade
Super heroes throughout history
Evangelicals and intellectuals
Looking for life in the multiverse
Gary Johnson, the next Ron Paul?
Attempts to rehabilitate Lenin studies
Photos of the odd and strange everyday
Movie of the decade: There Will Be Blood
Asking for forgiveness for 10,000 deaths
Obama and his Niebuhrian foreign policy
Breaking down the brilliance of Kind of Blue
Oral Roberts and the return of the prosperity gospel
Sugar Ray and the rise of urban African-Americans
A criminal justice system practically built to perpetuate crime
Anxious middle class caught between prole zombies and vampire toffs
Robert P. George, architect of the newest declaration of Christian Right
Crime of shadows: trolling for predators in the corners of the internet
Oral Roberts, Pentecostal with TV empire, dies at 91. May he rest in peace.

Dec 17, 2009

The last time I saw Oral Roberts

"Oral Roberts, the Pentecostal evangelist whose televised faith-healing ministry attracted millions of followers worldwide and made him one of the most recognizable and controversial religious leaders of the 20th century, died Tuesday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 91."

1. In the bowling alley in the afternoon everything was quiet and the TV would be on wrestling and religious programming. The woman that ran the place was always watching prosperity preachers. Her son watched wrestling. She liked the charismatics. He liked the Undertaker. It was mostly empty in the afternoon, a dusky quiet, a business that wasn't booming. She left the door propped open to the parking lot and cleaned the tables and floor and cooked hotdogs before the league bowlers came in in the evening, and the only sound was really the TV. They'd switch it back and forth without fighting about it, and after awhile the shows seemed seamless: Chris Benoit and Joel Osteen, the Undertaker and Creflo Dollar, Christan Cage, Oral Roberts, Word of Faith and WWE.

2. At the abandoned gas station on the corner, a kid lay among the leaves and stains of brake fluid, antifreeze and oil. The kid had had the spirit since he was ten and was, before this, in seminary. A sort of seminary: it was a school of eight in the basement of a charismatic church, unaccredited, with a curriculum of prophecy and prosperity, faith, visions, healing and miracles. The boy was also getting his GED. He had a spot at ORU if he finished the equivalency. He had been prophesying a lot, lately, "seeing the invisible," "doing the impossible," "filled with the spirit." He was starting to preach some Sunday nights. His schizophrenia flared up in the Fall, though, and he thought he saw snakes and the devil. The police thought he was high and he had a knife so they shot him three times at the Shell station, and he died there, several miles from the church.

3. Up on a hill in the hills East of Bakersfield, the elderly woman was alone since her husband went home, and no one had worked on the yard since he died. Her house was set so she could see the sun sink through the city. The place was overgrown with olives trees and oranges that fell to rot like a carpet in the weeds. She got a discount on the yard work since she was a window and when they came one of the men agreed to carry her letter down to the mailbox, a prayer request and her last will, legacy tithe to Oral Roberts. The rooms were dark except for the orange light of the sun setting in smog, and she stood in the window wearing her oxygen mask and watching the men at work on her yard. When they finished she gave them lemonade and glasses with ice and copies of Expect a Miracle.

Dec 14, 2009

Jonathan Franzen

Problems arise from the conflation of what something is and what something should be. For one thing, Franzen’s definition of the literary novel doesn’t really leave space for a failed work, something that takes the human condition as its subject, but isn’t successful. He also, at this point, took a little hop-skip and said literature is about “people as they really are” – as if realism were as natural as breathing. In fact, novels are not and never could be just simple reflections of reality, but are always and have to be constructions, artificial and formal mediations, interpretations.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear that this description of literature as being about “people as they really are” will divide writing in the way Franzen wants to divide it. It doesn’t seem obvious that a story about a man turned into a bug, just to use Franzen’s own example, is about humans “as they really are,” in some way that, say, Leonard’s story about former ’60s radicals on a for-profit bomb spree is not.

Read the entire essay, Jonathan Franzen, honesty and the lines of literature, @ The Millions.

Dec 10, 2009

"... behind every lurid desire lies a grace waiting to overwhelm you into seeing the world differently"
            -- Tim Parrish on Denis Johnson's theology in Jesus on the Mainline

"... a man dressed as an elf allegedly told the mall Santa that he was carrying dynamite"
            -- AJC, Man dressed as elf causes mall evacuation

Jesus, Denis Johnson and Lou Reed
David Foster Wallace's last work
Pynchon in California, 64-70
Best books never translated
The journalists in jail
Writing about war
Store closing
BNE
This recording
Colliding particles
The jazz loft project
Your best photo 2009
Langston Hughes in jazz
Stuart Little is not a mouse
What Roberto Bolaño read
Evolution and Brit birdfeeders
Top ten singers who can't sing
Lonliness spreads like a virus
Raymond Carver was the rage
5-part interview with Rene Girard
What happened to Cornel West?
No principle of charity in reading
Trotsky bio and history falsification
Books as sculpture and art objects
Science -- webcast brain dissection
Place your particle physics bets here
Apologizing for the uncool Christians
From Irish simian to Homer Simpson
"The Word of God was messing with us"
Attempting to authenticate Hitler's skull
Can a man be more than his rap sheet?
Is philosophy limited to the leisure class?
7,000-year-old corpses were cannibalized
War photographer: I just see dead people
2009's best fiction & non fiction from the LA Times
Midpoint in the postmodern Western: Way of the Gun
Raymond Carver and "this salvation of American literature"
Doctorow and Lethem write a new kind of apocalypse novel
David Hockney: the artistic equivalent of finding religion late in life
Malcolm Wells, champion of 'gentle architure,' dies at 83. May he rest in peace.

Dec 8, 2009

The last suite

The dust wasn't good for the cello. The cold wasn't either. The strings were slightly harsh, reverbing sharp, and the wood face was coated with the dust that was concrete and ash and still falling like dandruff on the city.

Carlton played and watched the people go by in parades. They had hard hats and coveralls and those little painters' masks hanging from strings around their necks. They were white with the dust. Baptized in it. It covered them like a fur, a thin and prickly fur, except for where their sweat had made streaks and swirls, and their hair was white, their faces like flour, their hands and arms, their coveralls and the tools they had, everything except their eyes where they blinked the dust the away was covered with a coat of the cremation. He played as they went by, bent over, played for the parade of slow and crippled men. He played, Bach and Bach and then the Beatles, and no one looked up and they kept coming, covered and trudging out of the financial district at night and it wasn't enough, wasn't enough, and no one looked up and Carlton just played until dark and cried.

He was going there again on the next day, feeling the dust in his skin even though he had showered again. He was working his way down into the city past where the subway now stopped, wearing his suit and America-flag tie with his cello strapped on his back when he saw the paper with the Saudi son's face, smiling and bearded.

The next day he signed up with the Marines.

Dec 4, 2009

HAP Grieshaber and the artist's problem of history

The artist, a funny-looking man who described himself as someone who just wanted to live on a mountain alone with his animals, was an answer to an often-posed theoretical question. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger once famously asked, “What are poets for in a destitute time?” Theodor Adorno, who left Germany to escape the Nazis, gave a name to the “destitute time.” He called it “after Auschwtiz,” arguing that poetry or any art in an era dominated by ideological murder of millions “is barbaric.” As an Orthodox Rabbi posed the problem, what can we possibly say that is credible in the presence of burning children? Grieshaber’s woodcuts show an answer. His works speak of the way humans relate to nature and to each other. His works speak about recognizing violence, rejecting violence, and hoping and working for an otherworldly peace, the intervention of an angel, a dove, a spirit of love.

Read the rest of the essay, Woodcuts in a Time of Destitution, @ The Currator

Dec 3, 2009

Back when Beaumont was mostly still a white street

He threw the gas cap, flinging it back as soon as he had it uncapped. It was one half twist left and loose, off and he flung it. His hands were shaking he was so mad.

The gas cap hit the pavement, pocked it, bouncing with a dull ding and rolling into the trash in the gutter of Beaumont. The black bag was split open, spilling out, the diapers and fast food wrappers, receipts and rotting meat bones spilled out into the pile of pieces of paper and stray cigarette butts scattered and bits of glass broken and sparkling there. In the middle of it all a box of frozen spinach was melting, a mush, oozing a mottled green, and the gas cap hit the box and hid behind a Big Mac bag that rustled.

The man's hands were thick, his fingers, fleshy. The hair on his arm continued up on the back of his hands and the first joints of his fingers had sparse hairs sprouting brown. He had plumber's PVC glue stained on his pointer and middle finger, the sealant a shiny, peeling skin. His knuckles were red from the cold and his nails were cut back but square, like the heads a screw drivers. He wrapped his hands around the T shirt he had, twisting and wringing it until it was wound tight like a thick rope, and then he fed it down the throat of the gas tank.

It took two tries to light the match. He was shaking and there was a November wind. Then he had it.

The parked police cruiser didn't explode but the fire seemed to flicker for a moment and then inhale, take a deep breath, and then the whole car was on fire. The black paint on the back bubbled and burned, the windows shattered and the ceiling liner was consumed except for black bits that fluttered up with the smoke. The headlight covers cracked, the tire under the gas tank popped and the paint on the police lights melted and ran. Someone called the fire department and said there was a police car on fire in front of the plumber's house at 19772 on Beaumont, so everyone was screaming to the scene to see if an officer was hurt and asking what part of Beaumont that was that, block or white. Almost everyone was there, including the chief who, if he won, would be the last white mayor, when the black officer came out unexplained and with his shirt unbuttoned from behind the plumber's house.

The smoke seemed to boil up in the afternoon, unfolding fragments of burnt police car up into the city sky. It sounded like a gargle from a dry throat, and that was all. The plumber walked the other way, swearing incoherently and wanting to punch something. He grabbed a bag that was wet on the bottom and threw it into a wall, but it just left a wet spot and a smell on a his hands.
What speaks

"... the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world."
-- Abraham J. Herschel

"If I could do it, I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement.”
-- James Agee