Jan 29, 2010
What are we going to say about J.D. Salinger?
J.D. Salinger is dead.
He's dead but his absence was already enshrined. We loved him in his perfect, God-like silence, but his silence was against us.
How can we organize his wake? He didn't like us. He doesn't want our love. Even just saying his work changed our lives, he doesn't want to hear it. Even if we just say, "Rest in peace," he hears that like a big "Fuck You":
"That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write 'Fuck you' right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say 'Holden Caulfield' on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say 'Fuck you.' I'm positive, in fact."
His was a voice of alienation from a deeply alienated man, but he's alienated even from us. He gave voice to two assassins: What makes us think he makes a distinction between them and us?
He's dead and still has no plans to publish. Those two or 15 novels he has finished and locked up? They're not for us. He doesn't like us.
Do we get this? Yes, he understands us, and we disgust him.
But, rest in peace anyway, Mr. Salinger. We're going to say what we're going to say, and you're free from us now. We hope it's better. We'd be sorry if we could be, but we don't really know how. We loved you for all of it anyway.
Jan 28, 2010
Part of what conservatism has meant, as a political idea, is a circumspect attitude towards knowledge. It is this position of doubt, a claim about the limits of our ability to know, a claim of "unintended consequences."
I'm very sympathetic to this idea, but not persuaded. I find it fails, first, to translate into any coherent political plan or program (how are the unintended consequence of cutting taxes substantively different from those of raising them?). This is especially the case since conservatism and this idea of human limitation has not been parlayed into efforts at preserving a status quo, but has been focused on reversing policies, abolishing or neutering institutions, and radically remaking society in the form of an imagined past. This is surely as ambitious and as unmarked by doubt as any New Deal or Great Society plan. Second, unintended consequences ought to be as pernicious in private action as in public programs, and this seems to be ignored by those who would privatize everything (consider the unintended consequences of Blackwater). Third, I don't see why the unintended consequences should necessarily be negative. That's a move that doesn't seem to have any logical support. Fourth, and finally, the negative unintended consequences of progressive programs, historically, seem to be piddly, when compared to the real, positive effects. Social security saved lives, outlawing child labor saved lives, WIC saved lives, and yes of course there were unintended consequences to these programs, but it's preposterous to say their net effects have been negative.
Maybe more critically, though, it is profoundly odd that a political philosophy that takes doubt and systemic uncertainty as central has consistently found philosophical moorings (or at least common cause) with foundationalist theories. Why, if we believe human knowledge is dramatically limited, would we rally to support natural law, with its claims that right society and correct living are not only completely knowable in all important ways, but also immediately knowable. Why wouldn't we go from "unintended consequences" to postmodernism, where doubt and uncertainty and the limits of knowability are central? Why not something like a "hermeneutics of suspicion"? It doesn't make sense. Philosophically, conservatives have said anything short of absolute certainty is tantamount to and is nihilism, while, politically, conservatives have hoisted up this idea of doubt.
Or, perhaps, it was just the canard of a new know-nothingism, but I find it hard to take talk of unintended consequences seriously.
Jan 27, 2010
Weegee's method was proximity. He was, we are told, "proud of being the only photographer to have obtained the privilege of installing a police radio in his famous Chevrolet.” When he wasn’t out on the street, Weegee was in the police station. He was as close as he could be. “Here’s what I would do,” he said, “when a story came out over the police teletype, I would go to it.”
Proximity also pervades the myth of Weegee, with constant references to “Weegee’s World,” his city, and his people. Proximity marks and makes his style, with the iconic photos taken from the viewpoint and position of a detective, showing corpses on the street, for example, the way an officer would see them squatting at the scene, and from the viewpoint of the crowd of onlookers, from the middle of the mass of people who lived in the slum world where tenements burnt down and suit-wearing men were “offed” with some regularity. He has been called “a great photographieur of backs": this is his style, and it’s meant to be taken and is taken as testament to the great value of his photographs, which is to say the way they were, in the words of Robert Capa, “close enough.”
Weegee himself thought the value of his work was directly related to his proximity to the subject of his photography, saying, “When you find yourself beginning to feel a bond between yourself and the people you photograph, when you laugh and cry with their laughter and tears, you will know you are on the right track."
Close proximity, especially with regards to violence and death, is the first and primary value and criterion of documentary photography. This goes unquestioned.
Close proximity also means a loss of perspective, though. In pretending to be unmediated and have no perspective, photography with the priority of proximity becomes either a thing of romanticization or trauma.
In Weegee’s work capturing the life of the streets, for example, everything seems to be either romantic or traumatic (or both). These are his only two modes, and he oscillates between then. His photographs of kids and bums, hookers and late-night lovers in park and diners are all very romantic. They could have served as models for Norman Rockwell. On the other hand, his crime photos are very dark, portraying a world of death and betrayal, casual murder and corpses on cold concrete. These photos in fact did serve as models for film noir. There’s no in between for Weegee. It’s one or the other. And sometimes it’s one right after the other: In one story, Weegee takes a photograph of bum sleeping on the street, walks away, hears the man run over by a car, and returns to take a photo of the fatal accident.
There's a loss of nuance here, when we are only left with these two modes. A loss of explanatory power. This is the gamble of the myth of what it means for a photo to be "true." This is the gambit of proximity: try to get close enough to be true in a way that means unmediated, uninterpreted, unquestioned and simple, just truly true and present, but risk maybe getting stuck in wild oscillations of mood and two too-simple modes and losing the ability to capture complexity, the ability to explain, and the ability to be analytical about the photos taken.
Jan 26, 2010
Wendell Berry: "The reach of responsibility is short."
The ostensible reason to hide a homosexual or push a homosexual out of the civil rights movement (thinking Bayard Rustin here) was always other people. It was because of the way J. Edgar Hoover or Joe McCarthy and gang would use it against the cause of civil rights. Oddly, Hoover, the state department and more than one presidential administration used exactly the same logic of displacement of responsibility: it wasn't that they necessarily had any problem with people being gay, it was that communists would use it against democracy, etc.
This same displacement of responsibility happens in some of the public arguments against gay marriage, so that while an adult has no problem with gays getting married, he or she is going to go ahead and act homophobic for the children (in which case we're opposing gay marriage the same way we believe in Santa).
Displacement of responsibility is an interesting thing. It is one of the most effective ways homicide detectives have of eliciting a confession. The detectives, in the interview room, offer an explanation, a way for the suspects to explain how the death happened while, at the same time, not say they're responsible. It was an accident. He was coming at you. You didn't mean to. Feeling trapped, suspects are often sucked right into the confession, because the responsibility, and maybe the guilt, has been put somewhere.
Louis Althusser's idea of authorship and ideology makes exactly the opposite move, though, taking a responsibility which might naturally seem to be somewhere out there, and placing it with each person. We are, he said, "'hailed' or summoned by ideologies, which recruit us as their 'authors' and their essential subject … ideologies speak to us and in the process recruit us as 'authors.'" The word "ideology" makes it sound nefarious or something, but I think this happens with any story: first on a market level -- little poetry published, Conan canned, no more Haiti on TV, James Patterson, Inc? We get what we want. Collectively, yes, but the personal force of this can't be dismissed -- but also, this happens in the sense that we are invited into the story. We own it. Like authors. Ideology or not, be in Jesus or the Green Party, The Smiths or Quentin Tarentino, it becomes our story. If we follow Althusser's move, though, we quickly come to this place where we can't displace responsibility. It's never "other people." It's always me.
Jan 25, 2010
All men are mortal.
Socrates is mortal.
Therefore Socrates is a man.
Some logical fallacies are taught just because they're common mistakes. Slippery slope. Ad hominem. To some extent, Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. But there is also a second, maybe more important purpose. They're mistakes, yeah, common, yes, and you want the students to see those mistakes and correct them, but becoming aware of some fallacies in particular preforms another function. When something clicks and it is clear why an argument doesn't work, clear how, is suddenly obvious why Post Hoc isn't Ergo Propter Hoc, it's suddenly possible for the students to critique their own arguments. It opens up the possibility for reflexive thinking.
The same thing happens when philosophy and theory are applied to pop culture. Before, when it was about rarefied things, distant, high-class things, Plato and Shakespeare and the stuff of school, theory and thinking are cordoned off into homework, something separate from life. But when it's applied to "Seinfeld" or "Pirates of the Caribbean," Lady Gaga or Coco Puffs, there's this rip and we realize we live in theory and it's all around us. It's like becoming aware of breathing or the ocean of air. This is why the aesthetic response to Chuck Klosterman is to start coming up with theories that connect some pop culture ephemera (Scarlet Johannson's voice, faux hippies, sharks in hip hop artist's homes in "Cribs") to an explanation of something important about us. The feeling with which we respond to Slovoj Zizek's toilets or David Foster Wallace's cruise is one of enlightenment, even if we're not quite precisely sure what we're enlightened about (note, e.g., DFW's negative reaction to the applause he gets from the speech that became This is Water). Jacques Derrida, in the documentary about him, says deconstruction is not about a TV show about nothing, but he's wrong. We look at pots to understand Pompeii. Deconstruction, if it's going to do anything, has to open up a space where we can be critical of ourselves and think about our thinking, where we can be critically aware of the culture like air around us.
This function of theory, like the light bulb that goes off sometimes when talking about logic, is to make self-reflexive criticism possible in a way it wasn't before.
All lips are red.
The truck is red.
Therefore, the truck is lips.
Jan 23, 2010
Let poetry die
Foot on a bomb
Jazz of civil rights
The DIY book tour
Walt Whitman blogs
Art gallery of death
A history of memoirs
Fear, graphic designed
This is your brain on art
William Burroughs' bunker
Women at work in Germany
History of pop music falsetto
Why do we go to grad school?
Moves in contemporary poetry
All writers repeat themselves
Zadie Smith's quirky pleasures
The president and the narrative
The sex lives of Civil War soldiers
The post-racial conversation now
"Kafka was a slightly strange man"
Military buys bible-inscribed guns
Crayola and the doubling of colors
T.C. Boyle story: A Death in Kitchawank
The black power behind Barack Obama
5 reasons libertarians shouldn't hate govt.
Robert Parker left his mark on detective fiction
Heroic moments in modern poetry 1, 2, 3, and 4
Journalistic education of Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Were the American expressionists all "coonskins"?
Conservative skepticism vs. hatred of the government
Book called "Paranoia" suddenly removed from shelves
Children's scribbles and the "manifestation of gestalts"
Chambers, Trilling and the lessons of anti-Communism
Ayn Rand and the dismal inspiration of vast incuriousity
The great Joe Rollino, 104, killed by a minivan. May he rest in peace.
Robert Parker, prolific Mass. crime writer, dies at his desk at 77. May he rest in peace.
Dennis Stock, photographer of portraits, dies at 81. May he rest in peace.
Steven Lovelady, editor with deft touch, dies at 66. May he rest in peace.
Inside the Edwards campaign, nothing was too strange to be true
Racists empowered Mugabe, Mugabe empowered racists
Returning the remains of those taken for Europe's "human zoos"
100 years after Chesterton said what was wrong with the world
Literature and children: Towards a theory of surprise
Hitchens praising J.G. Ballard, the "Catastrophist"
Profile of George Noory and the oddest radio show
What Bill Clinton can teach Pres. Obama
The conservative case for gay marriage
Infinite reading Roberto Bolaño's 2666
Avatars and noble savages and Navajos
The slow collapse of the Wash. Post
Pat Robertson's explanation of Haiti
Don Miller's response to Robertson
Thinking about that "Negro dialect"
Forgotten Chinese photojournalist
What was eating Richard Wagner?
Even censored Internet in China
P.D. James' personal reflection
Subatomic particles being born
Jonathan Letham's Brooklyn
"I just want my wife's corpse"
Your water tower, your home
Making out with Roger Ebert
Burden of the system of bail
The other Winston Churchill
Top investigative journalism
Top 10 places you can't go
Slang and linguistic trends
What's wrong with Jay Leno
Earthquakes and journalism
7 "best" literary magazines
The work of WWII pacifists
Lady Gaga approximately
The paralysis of analysis
Documentary on sheep
Blasphemy in Ireland
Hear Niebuhr's sermons
The real Jane Austen?
Sweaty British soul
Talking to aliens
Jan 21, 2010
Jan 19, 2010
Little Mike stopped on the downhill side of the rise. He put it in park but left the truck running. He opened the door but didn't close it, stood there and shaded his eyes. The coyote was on the far side. He was smelling the wind which was coming down the valley between them. The wind was pushing the last of the stray clouds up against the foothills, holding them there, bunching them up there until they were black enough to rain. The coyote was belly deep in the brown grass, but his head was up, smelling the wind. Mike lifted the gun off the rack on the back of the cab and cradled it.
Of all the things a man could do, this was what he did. And why was that except that he'd liked pigeons, wanted to raise them and then joined the 4H, found the ad Big Mike had there and said, yeah, he'd be willing to muck out an old barn and bang together some fence posts for money. That was 12 years ago. Big Mike was retired and the dairy company moved him into the Route 2 house. He watched the calves, every spring, pulled them out when they were breech, and kept the bulls in hay in the winter. He put the catalytic converters back in the two trucks ever summer for the inspection sticker, then pulled them out again in the garage so they wouldn't start any fires when he idled in the fields. He worried about having enough water, and every day watched the way the dirt dried. He watched the sky, wanting clouds, and carried a gun in the cab. He supposed any particular profession out of the vastness of things a man could do might be weird. But this seemed strange to him. The other place he'd applied, 12 years ago, was making popcorn at the movies in Visalia. Because of a couple of homing pigeons, this was his work.
Little Mike had the gun out and a bullet from the box, a .223. He levered it in and worked the bolt, resting the rifle up on the frame of the door. He had one boot on the step of the cab and the other on the dirt. The dirt was hard and showed no mark from his heel. He breathed, exhaled half way and held it, lined the lines of the scope across the front shoulder and squeezed. The Remington was rifled clockwise, 1-in-12. The pin hit the primer, which exploded, lighting the powder, which expanded rapid into gas, sending the bullet in a spiral to the right. It went across the valley, over the field. He wanted to hit the lungs or the heart. The coyote jumped, but he couldn't tell if he hit it or not with his shot, and he knew in the wind his bullet could have tumbled. He'd have to go over there to look for blood. Of all the things a man could do. He worked the bolt and ejected the cartridge into the cab. The copper casing, still hot, rolled on the rubber mat on the floor.
Jan 15, 2010
Note Book Monster
1. In Ralph Ellison's short stories, Flying Home, the characters all have a narrative they can appeal to. It's a narrative about being black. Something about being black in American. When the characters are young, they feel the edges of it, hear it and start to assimilate it, and when they're older it's there and they can use it, make recourse to it. It explains something -- even when it doesn't quite, when it's only very awkwardly applicable. But whenever the characters are confronted by confusion and their own powerlessness, by the world's hostility, they have this narrative. One of the peculiarities of white American experience in the 20th century, particularly with poor whites and with those were shocked to discover their disempowerment, has been the lack of any natural narrative to appeal to. Marxism might make sense here, but there's an inoculation against it. This gives rise, I think, to a fleet of unnatural narratives, strange and unsettled stories of conspiracy, populism, and lot of different, ill-formed end times meta-narratives.
2. Look at the worlds we construct. In David Foster Wallace's Oblivion, in the very last story, there's a couple of characters who are very lower class and very Midwestern. They are also a joke and kind of a crass one -- the kind of joke that gets titters, not laughs. What was interesting about this, though, is that it was the first time any characters didn't have a college degree, didn't have careers, weren't white, upper class professionals. The book is brilliant, and Wallace is great, but it strikes me as very strange that this world, Wallace's world of Oblivion, has no garbage men, no tow truck drivers, no cops or yard guys. It does have a lot of people in therapy. It does have a lot of people who are good at math and/or some type of high-level analysis. There's nothing wrong with this -- this is Wallace's world -- but it's still worth noting and there are, I think oddly, an awful lot of white-collar-only worlds in literature. How many working men are there in Updike, Roth, Bellow? In Jonathan Franzen's The Twenty-Seventh City, which I'm reading right now, there's a minor character from the lower classes who kind of infringes on the narrative. He's an old high school friend who works at Sears. I'm not really sure what he's doing in the story, and he's not described very well. One character says, "I thought he'd fallen by the wayside." The limitations of worlds are not always about class, either. No one in Raymond Carver's stories ever seems to go to church. Think about that: no one.
3. When I hear Hegel thought Napoleon was the manifestation of the ideal, or something like that, that he adored him and went, breathlessly, to see him, I think that's odd and wonder why he thought that. When I hear Adorno disliked jazz and thought it was an example of everything he didn't like in music, I automatically distrust everything else he says. I can't really explain the difference in my reactions.
4. There seems to me to be a change in how literary theories are evaluated. In how their worth is measured. As we're going through the class I notice that some literary theories stand out as interesting to me -- some Marxisms, some structuralisms, some parts of work of Russian Formalists -- but that I find them interesting for very different reasons than they themselves would hold as the standard for measuring the accomplishment of a theory. Up until a certain point every theory, conservative or radical, sets for itself a standard of comprehensiveness. The idea is that, like a scientific theory, it should explain everything, account for everything, and give a complete answer. Each of the theories want this sense of finality, as if they would end the need to read literature. Once we get to post-structuralism, though, the value shifts from finality to fecundity. A theory that valued finality would attempt to take in and read very broadly in order to bring everything into it's oneness, it's conclusion, where a theory with the ideal of fecundity would accept a breadth, be interested in that width and range, and delight in that multiplicity, that diversity. A good theory, now, is one that opens up a multitude of readings, leads to more and interesting interpretations. This makes theory worthwhile. It is, for me, even retroactively, even obliquely, interestedness that makes a theory interesting.
5. There are two serious criticisms of deconstructionism1. First, obscruantism, that all the ways of talking, all the jargon and phrases and everything are a deliberate darkening, a dumb game of making things harder to make deconstructionists seem smarter. Second, supervenient reading, so that all deconstruction does is reduce everything into deconstructionism, so every reading turns every text into a plot that is always about deconstructionism, and every text repeats the point again. Both of these are definitely true in cases. I can't figure out, though, why it would be necessarily true. The critiques seem to be about how it is practiced, not about the practice itself.
1An ever-present, not-serious critique being the boogeyman "nihilism." One, this seems to only come out of misunderstanding of the idea, the sort of misunderstanding that usually involves not having read any primary material. Two, nihilism is poorly defined, and acts more as a phobia. When it is defined, the definition is normally equal to not believing in some particular idea, which is not, in fact, a meaningful definition. I'm not sure what they think they're talking about actually exists. Third, the only time I've ever seen nihilism (as characterized by those who abhor it (possible different characterization: the nihilism of speculative realism?)) embraced, has been by people who came out of those anti-nihilist groups and accepted the idea that nihilism was the only alternative to whatever it was they believed before.
Jan 12, 2010
Listen to this, he says, and he puts it in. The CD changer grinds a dry grinding sound and for a moment there's nothing. The CD is in and there's nothing but the sound of driving, traffic and the hush of air, the interior of the closed car, compression, the windows up and the suck of sound the trees make as you pass them on the road. This isn't the first time he's done this. This isn't the first time he's done this for me or probably even for others with this CD and we drive, an afternoon indistinguishable and blue, and we drive, it's winter and the countryside, and we drive, and the digits of time on the dash are gone, blinked out. The first song on the CD registers 01, registers 00:00.
The promise is that this could be a beginning. This could be when I see. This could be enlightenment, ecstasy, when I see and see as if for the first time, time from this moment, hear now, from here now when we were in the car and in the pause, as the final zero goes to one and the silence fills up everything, when I would find the words which were someone else's words and then need words no more.
I really think you might like this, he says, and searches for a second for something to say about it, some fact, some factoid, some detail from the making-of or something from the linear notes, not really because I need to know or even, after all, because he does think in fact I'll like it, but just in case I don't. It's his safety line out of the suspense of the promise and the seconds it takes for the song to start. I say nothing though. I say nothing and make no move to shift away from the center of suspense, nothing to save myself from the full force of anticipation. I act as if I do not hear, focusing instead on the first of the sounds that has yet to come, not accepting the way out, the alternative, casual conversation, not accepting anything that would modify of modulate this waiting. Everything is heightened. Every detail sharp as frost. Every scent like the last scent forever. The CD dash time registers two, and then three, zero-zero-colon-zero-three, and then we know I'll know immediately, and either I will wonder what he was thinking and if he even knows who I am, sinking into isolation in my seatbelt, on my side of the car, or otherwise I will be transported, transfixed, transformed. Everything will be beautiful. Everything changed. And I will say damn.
Then there's the first note, a base note, a line. And there I am.
Jan 10, 2010
Theology for atheists
Four Bolaño for 2010
Cell phone tower trees
Body parts book covers
In praise of Philip Marlowe
Pixar's small-c conservatism
This American Life illustrated!
The history of "Proper" English
Issues of newspapers excision
Excerpt from the new Monk bio
Foreign news correspondence
Blackwater still inside with CIA?
A beginners guide to black holes
The education of Richard Dawkins
Useful lessons in how not to write
Most beautiful math structure found
Tim Burton's relationship to high art
Where righthanders sit in the theater
Ghost galaxies may haunt Milky Way
What deformity does for David Lynch
A dreamy novel of machines and time
Lester Bangs' writing in Rolling Stone
Conservatives' support for Abu Ghraib
Does Philip Roth's sex still bother us?
The origins of the Oregon psychadelic novel
Is Milbank sock-puppeting through cyberspace?
Misreading the very virile David Foster Wallace
Girard's apocalypse: "The aggressor has always already been attacked" and so feels justified
The hysteric moment: James Wood, Zadie Smith, J. Franzen, culture and what is the the point or project of the novel
Jan 7, 2010
May he rest in peace.
The first thing they shot was aluminum cans. Mr. Stample said they should learn to shoot and they didn't even think to ask him why that was. He gave them each a gun and an old box of old pop cans. Hez had the bolt action, a .22 that shot shorts, and Levi had the revolver, all blued metal, a .22 too, and it was like they were cowboys, except cooler. Stample took them to the berm that was the back of the pond he had and they shot the pop cans there. He filled one up with water, 80 percent like a person, and showed them how when you shot a can like that it exploded. They already knew how to aim and he had his little safety talk, and then he let them shoot.
They got pretty good. Levi said what would happen if they shot right through the embankment and the pond poured out all of the sudden, gush! Hez said that would be awesome. Hez set up some cans on the side of the berm and shot them so they'd jump in the air when he hit them. Shot the lower lip edge of the can and they flipped up. Levi laughed and said that was so cool.
The second thing they shot was rats. They might of been mice, neither of them really knew. Mr. Stample had a hen house that was infested and he hooked his tractor to it, moved it a few feet to the side towards the house, and all of them, gray little guys with whiskers, went running around in a panic. Hez and Levi shot them as fast as they could, shooting them as they ran. Levi was a lot faster, since he had the handgun, and he got more. After a while Hez switched to a shovel, then he got more too. The ones he killed were crushed or cut. The mice didn't explode when you shot them, not like the can did when Stample filled it up with water. Maybe mice aren't mostly water like we are. Levi said they should do this for like a business. Make money shooting mice. Hez said he'd have to have a revolver too, since you had be close up and quick. It was a good idea though and they thought it'd be cool to do this for a business. Mr. Stample moved the hen house a few more times and when they were done they counted the corpses and there were 42. He gave them $20 to split and they shoveled up the mice and put them all in the burn barrel he had. That night they felt like soldiers coming home from a wild war. They smelled of must and feathers and dried-but-moldy feces.
After that there was only the cans again. All of them already had holes. It was Dr. Pepper cans, and Mrs. Stample's Diet Mountain Dew and the holes all had sharp edges, especially on the back where the bullets punched though. Day after they killed the mice they went out again and shot again, but it wasn't the same. They shot a lot though, and it got so the cans were shot all through, not cans so much any more but shredded strings of aluminum.
Levi said he wished there was more mice to kill. Hez said yeah. Hez said you know I thought there'd be more blood. Levi said do you remember that one, did you see that one I shot when it was almost getting away? The gun barrels got hot after a while and Levi burnt his hand holding it as he changed the bullets in the revolver. He said a word he wasn't to supposed to say. Hez got mad then too and said another word and said this shit was boring. It was. It was the most boring day of winter break. There was nothing to do.
Jan 6, 2010
Jan 4, 2010
There is in here a compulsion, a need, why I read. It is not a reason, even though I'd like to frame it that way, not a program, not a plan, not a choice or a syllabus. There are obviously elegant and approved apologia for this, for this act, for this reading, as antisocial and deeply needy as it is. There are prose poems in praise of this and library posters with knights and castles, space ships and wind-blown lands. There are speeches spieled on this, arguments argued in essays by authors, defenses offered, pronouncements made of preciousness and importance from podiums by canonists and promoters of programs in schools of every level. There are cliches for this, sentiments to set off, values to elevate, romanticisms to reel on about even thought we know or anyway I do that these are not the reasons, that this is not a thing of reasons. There's just the need.
I don’t even go to the grocery store without a book and usually two. When I go out to eat with you and you excuse yourself to the restaurant restroom, I will read. When you come back and I have a book you’ll say you’re sorry and be confused because you weren’t gone that long, but I was fine. Reading is when and where I’m fine. I read before classes and on buses and in bathrooms. When culture shock was cracking me, crushing me until I cried, I went and found books, Ham on Rye and Pynchon in the afternoon, because books is when I am okay. When I find myself in a city that’s strange and wander the streets that always seem to me to be surreal, I find a bookstore somewhere or a library, a public library, which is a refuge and which is where the “public” always appears to be kids who can’t be quiet, from families who can’t afford day care centers, and people who’ve pissed themselves, who sleep here instead of on the streets and sometimes get up and walk around and argue quietly with themselves or something hidden in the shelves, and I will find books by the stack here, I belong here with the homeless and the abandoned kids, find refuge here and a corner and read. I was the one who went to the library on Fridays in college and collected books from everywhere on everything and set them up around on the table like the walls they were for me, and I would read. Not for class but just because.
It’s not that the reasons aren’t right. Books might be about escape and education, empathy and expansion, but that’s not why I read. Don’t dismiss the desperation. Don’t misunderstand results as reasons: this is intransitive need.
I wanted to say too that when Y2K came and happened, or maybe didn’t happen would be a better way to say it, I was 17 and disappointed. I wanted it to happen, though I know now how strange that sounds. To me it was a millennialism, a meta history, and without it there was only this, life like this, flat infinity, life unimportant and unstructured forever, mundane and just this: world without narrative without end. I knew by the time when the lights were still on in the east coast that there’d be nothing, and I was depressed. We played Risk that night as nothing happened and I had an empire in Africa I couldn’t hold. On the day and in the days after I was bothered - deeply bothered - by my need, by my willingness to want Y2K to happen. My response to this was to read, and read everything. My response to this was to be deeply suspicious, as has been said, of meta narratives, by which I mean or want to mean especially my own. I say this only to say I don’t even read to understand or make things make sense. Maybe the opposite. I read for complication. I read for confusion. These are the functions I need. I read for the babble in books, because with every first person and third person story, with every worm- and bird- and God’s-eye view I get another layer and level of chatter, of confusion to confound my construction of towers to heaven. I need this Bable. Each book adds to the barrage, another bombardment of and siege to the certainty with which I would will the world to death, to darkness for the sake of some sense of self importance or abstract meaning.
I read because I need to read. Because I have to. Call it compulsion. I read in the same way I pray, which is to say that it will not make me a better person and it’s not just good to do, it won't pay off or profit, it's not a plan or a program and not, at all or in any way, with reason. It’s just need. I have to and need to and without it what would there be? I’d be left to my own devices.
Books read in 2009:
1. Prophecy & Apocalypticism, by Stephen L. Cook
2. The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams
3. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
4. Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler
5. Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski
6. The Inner Circle, by T.C. Boyle
7. Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote
8. The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
9. The Poet, by Michael Conely
10. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
11. Slumdog Millionaire, by Vikas Swarup
12. 2666, by Roberto Bolaño
13. Teaching a Stone to Talk, by Annie Dillard
14. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, by Charles Bukowski
15. White Butterfly, by Walter Mosely
16. The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene
17. Fathers and Sons, by Ernest Hemmingway
18. Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer
19. Close Range, by Annie Proulx
20. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace
21. By Night in Chile, by Roberto Bolaño
22. Killshot, by Elmore Leonard
23. This is Water, by David Foster Wallace
24. Public Enemies, by Bryan Burrough
25. Breath, by Tim Winton
26. The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño
27. Loving Che, by Ana Menedez
28. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
29. The Short Stories, by Ernest Hemingway
30. Cities on the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy
31. Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White
32. The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
33. Good Omen, by Terry Pratchet & Neil Gaiman
34. Where I'm Calling From, by Raymond Carver
35. The Armies of the Night,by Norman Mailer
36. The Street Lawyer, by John Grisham
37. Legacy of Ashes, by Tim Weiner
38. Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace
39. Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow
40. Literary Theory, by Jonathan Culler
41. The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
42. Slouching towards Bethleham, by Joan Didion
43. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
44. Flying Home, by Ralph Ellison
45. The White Album, by Joan Didion
46. Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes