Ktismatics

14 August 2008

Prop O’Gandhi by Doyle

Filed under: Fiction, First Lines, Reflections — ktismatics @ 2:51 pm

At quarter to nine in the morning Prop O’Gandhi went into his Laboratory and turned on the lamp. Prop liked to crank the 3-way bulb all the way up to 200 watts. Sometimes he’d stop at 150 watts, especially when he was worried about the electric bill. Sometimes one of the filaments would burn out in the 3-way bulb, marooning him in a world of 50 watts. Then he would go to the utility closet, once again find that he had no spare 3-ways in there anyplace, and once again wonder what happened to the extra one he’d bought the last time he went to the superstore. Prop O’Gandhi would return to his Lab and think in embittered darkness. He could never stand it for more than two or three days, though. Annoyed but resigned, he’d get in the car and head to the superstore for a replacement 3-way bulb, plus the spare that never seemed to be in the closet when he needed it.

This is the first paragraph of my unpublished novel Prop O’Gandhi. Patrick Mullins is now reading it, and he suggested that we discuss his reactions to it here at Ktismatics. Though no one other than Patrick will have read the book, perhaps the conversation will pique the casual reader’s curiosity. Patrick’s commentary begins thusly:

* * *

“I started ‘PROP O’GANDHI’, and now realize why it took me so long to get started: Once you find out why Ulrich Daley chooses this alternate name, it makes sense within the text, and becomes very charming and funny. But as a TITLE–use it if you feel that strongly about it, but it does not come across there as ‘charmingly eccentric’, but rather tacky, like a kind of entry name into a contest for a new name for peanut butter or something. I can’t say much more now, because it’s going to develop, and I’ve just gotten to the coffee break part. But the character’s ‘loser-identified’ status thus far will be all the clearer with a number of words and sentences and phrases that are sleeker, smarter and sharper–these are somewhat related to what I’ve described about the title, so that we finally have one thing to thank Michel Houellebecq for, who is good about writing about depression and dingy places of torpor and dark intertia, but in a style where it lasts at least for the duration of while you’re reading it. These are not extensive revisions I’m talking about, and think it flows along very nicely. I’m going to be interested to see how it moves INTO something portalic or not. Thus far, it is talking about doing that but not quite getting there, unless Prop O’Gandhi in itself is already the beginning of the portal. An example of what I meant to make it sharper is that there is one false sentence even within the matter of its being fiction: that about the patronage system and Mozart being dead. This does not render it ‘neither here nor there’, but rather was once the answer and now maybe there is another answer, these alternatives of going in to choose from musical objects, some of which were not usable (this was very clever), but the word ’songs’ is not, for example, good after using a sophisticated term like ‘musical object’. Until you find the right one, even just ‘piece’ would do. Otherwise, it is like when I played the first of the Bach 3-Part Inventions at an offertory at church when I was visiting once when I was about 22, and my beautiful but half-educated cousin Mary Helen, of honeyed Southern belle tones, came up to me and said ‘Pay-att, I liked your song…’ You know, things like that. It becomes funnier when the wife and daughter come into it, and the fact of the LAB’s haphazard structure within your house is hilarious. You are an interesting kind of weird-oh, and all I can do for it is suggest ways to ’spiff it up’ if you happen to want to. What you do to make it public after that I am not sure. You may have to find some sort of hand-in-glove situation such as I have with Christian. While I did send a few things out in the ‘pavenment-pounding’ way early on, the very idea of what I think you meant by ‘portalic’ precludes expecting that to be much more likely to succeed in terms of targeting markets than just driving on the freeways endlessly and getting a narcosis from it.

“But this is already one movement, and you can mention whether others have read it and what suggestiong they have made if they have made them. I’m apparently the first that demanded a printed copy, and this already ‘publishes’ it–from the moment you printed it out–beyond what it was just sitting here in all the grease of the internet. Another step was taken by me when I intuited that I must read the autobiography of Edith Evans in order to read your book with ME reading it. That turns out to have been right. It also helped me get over the dread of reading something with a title like that. This title made me think the book would not be very good. Where it goes I don’t know, but there is already much that is good in it. The Mozart concerto probably needs a fuller traditional description–just a few extra pieces of informantion, like the key, not just Kochel numbers, characters of the different movements, why it stands out somehow from the others that the character would have also heard, etc. And things like ‘the world’s coffee’ don’t have quite the right sound, but those are the kind of details that take only the smallest alteration to make sparkle. Again, like Houellebecq, whom I do not otherwise like, you want to get a sharp picture of the shabby (when it is) as well as a sharp picture of the sharp (if it becomes more so, although there may be a subtext of non-publication that afflicts you and/or the character), rather than a shabby picture of either. But most of it is not shabby, and I was able to see the connection between your blog-writing and this more formal writing–it’s often very silvery, and so therefore especially here, it all needs to be that way.

“You could possibly use ‘prop o’gandhi’ in a subtitle, or ‘the story of Mr. Prop O’Gandhi’, etc., which is better than without the ‘Mr.’, because it is the pun status of the invented name by itself that is going to annoy with its identification with ‘propaganda’, unless you want people to be wondering when the propaganda comes in at some point, or if that is, in fact, all of what the text is.”

* * *

Patrick’s ongoing commentary and related conversation about the book continue in the comments…

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41 Comments »

  1. Now that you’re into the Prop O’Gandhi book I’ll give you a bit of background. I wrote Part One of this book and the second half of Part Four very quickly just as we were returning from France the first time. I had just finished my first novel and felt a burst of energy that I could tell would dissipate fairly quickly once back in the States. Its structure, consisting of very short episodes loosely linked together, came about because I originally thought of these episodes as if they were a serial. I had written a series of cartoons, and in the first version of the book the cartoon installments alternated with the Prop O’Gandhi episodes. Each episode in Part One I wrote in a day, so I think this section was finished as a first draft in about 3 weeks. Eventually I excised the cartoon and left O’Gandhi as a stand-alone piece. I added the rest of the current version of the book over the subsequent year.

    As you observe, it’s partly autobiographical, as of course are all novels to a greater or lesser degree. My first novel, the narrator of which is also a Prop from the Salon Postisme, takes place both in Europe and in the States, oscillating in place and time. It’s much more continuous in its story line than O’Gandhi, focusing on a kind of postmodern pilgrimage reality. I’ve thought about various third novels, but I think a continuation of the first novel is the one that sticks with me the most. At the time I wrote the first part of O’Gandhi it felt like an entertainment between more serious writings, but it expanded in ways I’m generally pleased with. I will certainly value your observations and recommendations on it. You are the first person besides my wife to read any of it, so of course I’m a bit anxious. At the same time it’s now a bit distanced in time, so I’m less touchy about specifics than I might have been when I was still flushed with creative fire.

    As for the title, originally I called it “Adventures in Portality,” which is now the title of part one. This title was in keeping with its comic-book format. Maybe that’s still a better title, though I like the character’s name. The connection with “propaganda” came to me after I invented the name. Incredibly I later discovered that there’s a Canadian punk band named Propaghandi.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 14 August 2008 @ 2:55 pm

  2. Incredibly I later discovered that there’s a Canadian punk band named Propaghandi.

    More incredible that you invented the name before realizing it was the homonym of propaganda, pronounced in Southern, as in ‘want a li’l sod-ey?’ The text continues very funny, and I am taking a break to ask if the fancy espresso machines’ vacuum seals are not replaceable? I realize this is rude to ask a practical question suggested by a fiction, but I always have a horror of replacing the rubber gasket in my much simpler but perfectly serviceable espresso machine (is that gasket not the same thing? anyway, serves the same purpose), and 2 years ago I thought that the evil Italian girl who was living with me at the time had caused the current one to perish. I quickly measured in panic and went to the hardware store, which doesn’t always have exactly the right size (and it has to be). This time they did, but it turned out my fears were unfounded, and to this day that old rubber gasket is still functioning–and I have one of the few spares of anything, catalogued as to its exact whereabouts when I need it. There is no going without Coffee Drug.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 15 August 2008 @ 10:43 am

  3. Wonderful. I presume that replacing the gasket is in Prop’s machine is possible, but that Prop isn’t materialistically inclined enough to think of it. Replacing light bulbs is hard enough for his kind of thought worker, but replacing gaskets in a complex device of interconnected moving and dangerous parts? I’ve abandoned these infernal contraptions for one of those little Italian jobs, hourglass shaped in profile with a decagonal(?) footprint. Not quite the same but simple, and the object itself is quite iconically elegant.

    Regarding the vignette on Mozart, did you mean that the patronage system isn’t quite dead? Can you tell me anything in this regard? Once I know the truth I can decide whether Prop himself should be made privy thereto.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 August 2008 @ 11:00 am

  4. No, that since the musing was about Mozart and the patronage system, it could not be entirely immaterial that both were ‘dead.’ For future obsessive portalic ambitions, it could mean that, since there is still patronage, but not like that in the 18th century, isn’t structured on a large scale like it once was. It seemed that if one found Mozart and his visits to his Portals, where he found some things and discarded others –and he would have definitely done plenty of discarding (he would have been able to do this very quickly), by the way, it just seems like there would have been no time to come up with this many finished works had he had to deal with ‘composer’s block’; of course, the very prolific composers who are composing on deadlines and come up with near-perfect work do often compose with great ease, and it will come out in whole sections–then it doesn’t really sound right to say that ‘it didn’t really matter any more’ if anything about its origins mattered. Much more interesting is the idea that the Duke would have ‘paid the toll to open the floodgate for awhile’, since you do pose this as if it were interesting, which it is. To say something ‘doesn’t matter’ because it’s dead cancels out the previous, doesn’t it? And anyway, they’re not exactly dead, the music itself proving that, not to mention vestiges of the patronage system. That reminds me that one of the most famous popular versions of these ‘Vaudeville is dead’ is surely only a half-truth except in certain literal forms.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 15 August 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  5. one of those little Italian jobs, hourglass shaped in profile with a decagonal(?) footprint.

    That’s what mine is, but it has the gasket. Surely yours does too?

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 15 August 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  6. Indeed. And you’re right: it must fit perfectly. We have two such contraptions that look identical, but if I mismatch top with bottom the water leaks out the seams and the coffee doesn’t make.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 August 2008 @ 4:07 pm

  7. Well, maybe you meant something for the character about the Mozart thing that makes my point not relevant. Things like that are hard for outsiders to catch–say, if he is first interested in the Mozart processes and then maybe, I’m not sure, decides it’s not important for his own project. In any case, not clear to me.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 15 August 2008 @ 5:55 pm

  8. Of course I’ll take what you have to say about the Mozart into consideration when it comes time to “spiff it up.” I had in mind that patronage doesn’t matter for musical reality travelers of the contemporary era, that this sort of free ticket through the portal was no longer available. I’ll go back and look, maybe excise the “dead” phraseology altogether.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 August 2008 @ 6:08 pm

  9. I haven’t read enough to really know the character that well yet. But it was contemporary in itself that one could even talk about Mozart and the Duke as Portals (they may have done it, but they didn’t know that’s what it was), so that even though Mozart is physically dead and patronage as a system is islets of intimate activity, even their own ‘Portality’ per se is new. Mozart was just thinking of what he was doing as very quotidian, not mysterious or awe-inspiring. The Duke just thought of Mozart as a superstar in the way anyone in any other system thinks a talent is great, I just think the historical details are interesting, because they show the mechanisms as they once existed, and then they now exist in other ways. But I could be mixing up things you didn’t intend–like that Prop would think of this but then decide it was unimportant. i think I didn’t see how he could think about how his Portality existed in previous eras and decide that the form it took at any time would not be interesting, but rather only that ‘somehow it happened’. Maybe, in his inability to deal with the espresso machine he likes only to think of the sensation and end, and not the means.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 15 August 2008 @ 7:09 pm

  10. I realized on the way to the beach today that I had an image of Prop which is not at all like I imagine you to be, at least not if that person you resemble is like you (I actually had imagined you somewhat like that). He is a bit more cartoonish, as in some of Ben Katchor’s comics, but not exactly, because those are always reclusive urban hermit types (but they’re not like me). I’ll put a link to his site at some point. It’s peculiar, that image of the character was always in mind, but I didn’t become fully conscious of this image, however always there, until I pulled myself away from ‘being supposed to read more of the text.’ (don’t take that personally, that’s a kind of process I go through with all books, watching how I move through them). This may sometimes move fast, sometimes slow, and I hope I’ll be able to intuit how best to do it. I may read some more of it tonight, since I’m caught up some other things that were dreadfully pressing; although there’ll then be some more pressing things by Thursday or Friday.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 17 August 2008 @ 4:58 pm

  11. I’m a multifaceted character. I mentioned that this book began as something like cartoon installments sans drawings, so Prop’s cartoonishness is intentional especially in Part One.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 17 August 2008 @ 5:09 pm

  12. You are multifaceted or Prop is? In my cartoon image, he’s a bit more Peter Lorre-shaped and aphid-like than I think John Doyle is.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 17 August 2008 @ 6:34 pm

  13. Anyway, I had hoped you were multifaceted. I like to think of myself that way too…

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 17 August 2008 @ 6:35 pm

  14. No, I don’t think I bear much resemblance to that image. It’s interesting that you’d envisage a physical type for the character, especially since no physical description is proffered in the text. I wonder how universal the mental image would be. In Day of Cine-Musique I pictured the narrator as slight, wiry, lithe, self-possessed in bearing.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 17 August 2008 @ 7:27 pm

  15. I thought so too, since it didn’t remind me of my image of you from writing here or in emails. I’ll be letting you know about this, in particular, as I move on. As for the narrator, those qualities are still much like me except for the ‘slight’, but the others stay because of the way I carry myself–which is that I like to take up space even, and it is fine with me that those who preferred me when I was reedlike go elsewhere. But those qualities might come across because I’m always looking for more and more slender crawlspace, which I then like to open up to much more spacious, once I’m comfortable. I’m sure that’s how I’m going about approaching your work as well, which would, as something on my mind, be intertwined with gathering wild roses and phlox and sea grasses to replace the ones that Jack was able to start a painting of 2 weeks ago, and continue one week ago, but they didn’t last beyond that. I couldn’t pick the incredibly thorny wild roses 2 weeks ago, so this time I brought scissors. And he’d said the other night the he wanted something red in it, I could only remember all that vining stuff that may have been the cause of poison ivy I got out there last year, so I was thinking of snipping a couple of roses at night from one of the traffic islands. Then I remembered the wild roses, but was upset yesterday and couldn’t make myself go. There were only a few left too, as well as these incredible wild phlox which must have naturalized from somewhere, and have the most exquisite scent and an ineffable lavender-white colour. The new arrangement is much more bountiful than the previous, but I wouldn’t have gone if he’d not mentioned wanting something red in the arrangement. That’s all by way of explaining how these things get worked in together–because I might have finally put the cartoon-image into my head consciously some other way, instead of just always having it there quite aware of it but still just short of holding it up and inspecting it–but I don’t know when. All that sort of thing, plus how the transportation serendipities affected what I then did and did not do at the beach, etc.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 17 August 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  16. “Slight” was the least confident adjective in my description of this character: I changed it a couple of times before finally leaving it there. Notably your descriptions of flowers are more elaborate and precise than of yourself. This is true also in your book: physical description of the narrator isn’t what came to you while you were writing it, though you offer very nuanced descriptions of situations, psychological responses, etc. I’m thinking here of the narrative portions of Cine-Musique, but of course the film discussions are interesting in this light as well: you focus on subjective responses to specific details of the movies, without describing the movies per se. These are matters of what things call attention to themselves as you write. So my book offers quite detailed descriptions of certain small details in Prop’s immediate surroundings, but no descriptions of Prop himself. Thesea are the things that came into focus during the writing.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 18 August 2008 @ 2:48 am

  17. Notably your descriptions of flowers are more elaborate and precise than of yourself. This is true also in your book:

    That’s because it’s more socially acceptable, but even so I’d say they were more elaborate but not more precise. That’s much description, or a veering around it, of my physical self in the new book, because it is in deciding on New York as the place, I also necessarily have to decide that the body is the place. But still it’s mostly affects hovering around me, because such things are easily reducible to uncontrolled pleasure-seeking in terms of putting them into writing. They are like you creation of Portals rather than writing about them. Because the days of my preferring flora to fauna have long gone the way of loss of innocence.

    The idea of Portal is repeated so many times it is like a mantra, but it is an attractive and desirable enough concept that it can bear repetition easily, and this can go quite outside reading and writing and the lack of sensuality of paper, not to mention the greasy screens. As I move further on, I find that I don’t really yet find anything I’d interrupt or suggest regarding your vision, which is very quirky and enjoyable–just the occasional problem that one ought to be rid of in all forms, namely, ‘a couple years’ somehow came into being about 20 years ago, but it has to be ‘a couple of years’, especially in written material.

    I, too, have had strong resistance to feng shui. I’m sure it’s because the forms in which we receive it are the Plastic New Age ones, as when the Juilliard girl in Los Angeles told me that using my hot plate to cook in the bathroom of my motel was ‘connecting to shit’, and that sharp-edged objects pointing at me from a distance while in bed would ‘cut me’. She was dismissed from my life by the next day.

    The Mel character is very funny, and he’d always say ‘a couple beers’. I’m sure you know what I mean…

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 18 August 2008 @ 9:45 am

  18. “Because the days of my preferring flora to fauna have long gone the way of loss of innocence.”

    Heh.

    Yes I understand about “couple” versus “couple of.” Some sloppiness to tidy up, because I think both Prop and this narrator would ordinarily include the “of.” I’m glad you like Mel. At first his name was Ned, but my daughter reminded me that Homer Simpson’s neighbor’s name is Ned. When I was growing up a friend down the street’s parents’ names were Mel and Flo, which I always liked. You may recall that the first novel is called The Stations, which refers in part to the Stations of the Cross. So it’s a recurring theme. Have you ever seen Barnett Newman’s huge Stations installation at the National Gallery in DC? Enormous white untreated canvasses, each with a vertical “slash” of varying dimensionality and contour. Very portalic, very imposing when assembled together in their dedicated room.

    A Chinese architect friend used to work in Hong Kong, and the clients would have her feng shui the buildings even though she wasn’t a practitioner. It turns out she’s a direct descendant of Confucius (they keep track of such things), against whose teachings the Taoists came up with their alternative.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 18 August 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  19. Yes I understand about “couple” versus “couple of.” Some sloppiness to tidy up, because I think both Prop and this narrator would ordinarily include the “of.”

    Thank God for that, that’s the kind of thing that would have really shown you the Louis XIV in me. But yes, of course they wouldn’t say it, because you are not using an extreme colloquial voice in the rest of it, if you were using it throughout the narrative it would be different. That’s why it was jarring, although I personally cannot stand it even in informal speech; I tolerate ‘different than’, which has found its way into TV news speech by now, ever so slightly better. Although when I say ‘different from’, I get no shock of recognition either. Alas.

    More later.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 18 August 2008 @ 4:59 pm

  20. On the use of language, I once sent the first part of my first novel to a friend who wants to be a writer of TV scripts. I think she’s had one accepted for a scifi program. She thought my dialogue sounded stilted, unnatural. For example, from Chapter 1:

    “Nevertheless,” persisted Mrs. Dervain, “I have come to see you primarily with respect to Mr. Obispo. There is every reason to believe that your concern for his well-being equals or exceeds my own. Would you like to quell your curiosity, or perhaps your anxiety, as to the fate of Mr. Obispo? Mr. Hanley, I have come here to entice you.”

    My friend thought this sounded like some sort of Jane Austen dialogue, and that people don’t really speak like this. My response: Mrs. Dervain speaks like this. Here’s another bit of dialogue in Ch. 2:

    I swallowed down the rest of my drink and grimaced. “So, you came all the way over here because you thought I could help you become a better dream artist?”

    “No.” Mrs. Dervain began to fidget with the edge of the table; she looked like she really could use a cigarette. “I’m good at my work. I frequently receive unsolicited requests for film treatments. The pay is sensational, by the way. If you’re interested I could…”

    “So what is it you do want from me?”

    Mrs. Dervain starts slipping into contemporary parlance when she turns her attention to her job and the money. Her interlocutor cuts her off: he doesn’t want to hear her talking like this.

    This friend wrote a teleplay about the battle for who would be the first men to fly: the hobbyist amateur Wright Brothers or the well-financed government scientist Samuel Langley. (My friend works for NASA and is, I think, disenchanted with her work. Langley Research Center is NASA’s flagship R&D facility.) In her story the Greek gods are rooting for the little guys, helping the Wright Brothers win the contest. Her gods talk as if they came straight out of Disney’s Hercules cartoon: hip and slangy. So I’m reading this and I’m wondering: is this how the Greek gods naturally speak? Looking down through the centuries from their eternal home on Olympus, is early 21st century American the style they regard as the most fitting vessels for bearing their divine thoughts? I told my friend that I thought, for the sake of dramatic tension, there should be at least one old-fashioned god who wanted the Wrights to fail. This contrarian god should speak like the gods spoke in their prime: epically, heroically, Homerically. I don’t know if she ever took my advice, but she said that even though she had vetted her story through her screenwriting group, my ideas had been the most helpful to her.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 August 2008 @ 8:10 am

  21. I don’t know if she ever took my advice, but she said that even though she had vetted her story through her screenwriting group, my ideas had been the most helpful to her.

    I love it, she herself talked like a synthesis of Mrs. Verlain’s two modes. You even had to write it up that way, and it comes up across perfectly as something she’d say over her little General Foods International Coffees moment (I stole that from the bitchy comedienne ‘Kennedy’, who argued with Erica Jong about Monica Lewinsky on Bill Maher one night years ago…)

    In other words, in describing her, you have achieved a surprisingly uncanny caricature, such that I might call it ‘best-seller sound’, because the fact that your ideas were the ‘most helpful’, but that you don’t know whether she ever actually used the ‘heroic tone’ is truly best-seller mode, could be either Grisham or Danielle Steel. Good for you.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 19 August 2008 @ 8:28 am

  22. Sorry, Mrs. DERVAIN, but I like my inadvertent attraction to something approaching VERLAINE. Your friend is thinking commercially, of course, and is not really concerned, from what I can tell here, with whether Mrs. Dervain talked like that or not, only whether it will ‘go over’. She’s disenchanted with NASA, but not so much she’s ready to go beyond a literary version of NASA (or even Langley? Is she the fuck out THERE? I’ve been out to THE Langley, and it took me 3 weeks to get over it–James Fucking Bond in the Woods!. I most love the single road sign that has 3 or 4 places on it, one of them being ‘CIA’.)

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 19 August 2008 @ 8:37 am

  23. She’s at the NASA Ames research facility in N. California, working on the space station. She brought us a couple of NASA mugs when she came to visit — she was up for a writing award at the local Moondance Women’s Writing Festival or some such thing. Sadly, we sold the mugs in a yard sale before moving to France.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 August 2008 @ 9:03 am

  24. You have a little of Ann Beatty short-storyism in this raccoon removal and Curtis, which is like a short story itself, or could be easily made into a nice one, I think. That’s thinking plastically and ‘commercially’ (not necessarily ‘money-ly’, which you and Arpege both tend to think in slightly too literal terms, I think–you’re already selling it within the story by talking about not selling it and then having me read it), but those are the nuggets that substitute nicely for the long rhapsodies about Portalism when one really decides that, as you say, ‘the creation of a real portal is more interesting than the description of one’. If you come up with a short story within the long lecture about Portals, you’re forced to ‘use it’ outside all the Portalism, because I saw it was a short story which could not be cancelled by the advent of the Face in the last paragraph.

    It begins to put Boulder, Colorado on the map for me in a way that it hadn’t been before–neither from an old boyfriend who got his music degree there, nor a Juilliard genius who now teaches there in his continued brattiness, nor Jon-Benet either, this–because that is where you are right now, although it may not be set there. This could all change, of course.

    Your Portalism is to some degree a state of confusion, and thus far, its ‘real creation’ is anchored by writing through it, which takes a weird skill–but makes the description of it at least as interesting as its real creation up until such time as the Pernicious Consumer wants to agree with you that it ought to be taken to state functions and be presented less like a Communist revolution Featuring Acid-Trip-Like Alterity than a performance at the White House, etc.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 28 August 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  25. Much of this raccoon story actually happened, and at the time I was in the right mood for seeing it. I sent it to my father, which is I think the only excerpt of any of my writings I’ve sent him. He thought it was a lot of words to devote to such a trivial event, but I think he liked it anyway. At first I pictured it as a short film, since it does have some good visual potential; later I decided to write it into the O’Gandhi as the beginning of a new turn in the saga. But yes I think it could stand alone. And with respect to money, I’d be happy if everyone in America were to buy this book, as I believe that having read it they would become slightly better human beings.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 28 August 2008 @ 9:52 pm

  26. I’d be happy if everyone in America were to buy this book, as I believe that having read it they would become slightly better human beings.

    Oh, how Dale Carnegie…

    I don’t know why anyone thinks ‘slightly better human beings’ is a desirable goal. I don’t believe in caring about everybody in the world or even in all of American, and nobody else ever has either! It is a weak formulation…therefore always adopted by Marxist theory, since never carried out…

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 28 August 2008 @ 10:18 pm

  27. Well my formulation was a bit tongue in cheek, not because I don’t wish it but because I know it’s not practical.

    To be clearer (or not), my wishes are less psychological than phenomenological, or even ecological: to put readers in a place where some other, perhaps better part of themselves might be stimulated and make itself known to themselves, at least for awhile.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 29 August 2008 @ 6:07 am

  28. Looking back at the raccoon chapter, I observe the kind of passage that a movie can’t do very well:

    Prop wondered: for how many kinds of mundane jobs is there an elite class of ultraprofessionals, secret societies of animal removalists and carpet cleaners and attic fan installers, embedded in a marketplace of mediocrity where neither the practitioners nor the customers really give much of a damn, perfecting their arcane specialties in isolation for the sheer personal satisfaction of doing this one thing right? They wouldn’t gather in groups to share tips and network and reinforce one another’s self-esteem, for the genius these über-workers possess is essentially individual. Still, through word of mouth they would come to know of each other, perhaps even meet each other, and in those seemingly chance encounters the craft itself, that one little corner of the vast mansion that is human civilization, would be extended another inch over the abyss.

    Of course if the reader doesn’t like the narrator intruding like this in a fictional narrative then it’s no big deal losing it.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 August 2008 @ 10:16 am

  29. No, not at all. It was the most impressive paragraph in the chapter for me, and reminded me of the plumbers who worked on an emergency leak from my toilet into the apartment below last fall. There was a term for one piece of the plumbing called ‘leadbent’, which is the largest piece of the pipe in circumference. I had to prod them to finish the job that lasted till 1 a.m., but they had this brotherhood sort of attitude even more pronounced than usual, in their strange way of pepping each other up. I was able to add something beyond the usual attempts to be considerate of the workers by asking to keep this leadbent piece as a souvenir, which bonded me to them enough that the one who never would speak to me in the building is now always most effusive. They found it peculiar that I would find something so ordinary to them as exotic–and the piece I have displayed with other more obviously exotic things from my travels in recent years to New Orleans, Tahiti, and a gorgeous carved fruit bowl from pine that I commissioned a Guyanan man at Far Rockaway Beach to carve just before the beach was destroyed by development as a result of one of Giuliani’s most infernally repulsive p.r. gimmicks. I’ve written about this in the BOOK II of the new book, and Yoen, the fellow who did the magnificent carving, carved it out of a thick piece of scrub pine on the beach and made all of the rim to be sharpish ridges that I suggested to him by showing him no more than a single postcard of the volcanic mountains in the interior of Tahiti. Last week Jack then painted the sculpture (which is really what it is, and I’ve only rarely used it for bananas and pears, etc., Yoen in fact thought he was producing a salad bowl)

    So that that passage is probably why it really is more like a short story, really much like Ann Beattie’s, but that detail is probably a bit more like the kind of unexpected thing DeLillo would come up with. In ‘Mao II’, he wrote about the old 80s period of homeless squatters in makeshift shelters in Tompkins Square Park, and made this extraordinary kind of point about how dealing with this kind of squalid structure was a full-time job for the dwellers, whereas the rich man (when not decorating, renovating) need give (and does not) more than a thought or two to his house every couple of months or so. The cleverest part of such a remark is not the constant dealing with other inhabitants of the homeless dwellings, but rather that the rich one thinks of his so little–this is something we wouldn’t always think about, because the cliche is that the rich man is always so identified with his material possessions–so that, paradoxically, in doing so, he doesn’t have reason to think of anything in it, until such time as something seems jarring to his delicate sensibility or has to be repaired.

    By the way, I finally spotted an ‘each other’, used in no different a way from the way ‘one another’ is often used by you. I think nobody says ‘one another’ in any routine way anymore, it’s a bit ‘too Bible’, isn’t it? I wouldn’t be able to squeeze it out.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 10:52 am

  30. Day of Cine-Musique is of course a forum for your personal views, so your intrusion as narrator is to be expected. More evidently fictional is Deep Tropical, but it too consists largely of “the figure of endless summer” Lace Racy’s subjective impressions as flaneur and romantic lead. The reader is led gracefully through passages such as:

    The space could be rented indefinitely; and there was little danger of pressure from the garishly bejewelled and darkly encrusted enclaves not more than twenty miles away, to furnish it coarsely with classical allusions. Where there were people who liked to fund the arts, as long as the arts were preponderantly moribund, which kept them from having to know what art was…

    This sort of passage neither shows nor tells in a straightforward narrative that would be commanded to march in lockstep through the pages toward the climax like Sherman charging to the sea. I’d rather stroll through the pages. Also there’s something about keeping “theme” in the back of one’s mind that enables one to add these distracting asides to the amusing anecdotes.

    I wasn’t aware that I used “one another.” And Ann Beattie tinged with Don DeLillo: this is very good company for the raccoon to keep.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 August 2008 @ 11:49 am

  31. Also there’s something about keeping “theme” in the back of one’s mind that enables one to add these distracting asides to the amusing anecdotes.

    Oh yes, indeed. And I see my programme of The New Embellishment is bearing fruit: The ‘asides’ are themselves tendril-anecdotes growing out of the ‘anecdote proper’–a new term I just invented, and is itself quite ‘de trop’. This ought to get rid of anyone worried about getting too decorative. Architects have for some time been able to prove that sleek minimalism is not nearly always necessary for perfect functionalism. And one of the best things about so-called ‘post-modernism’ is that there has been magnificent architecture in the current period as well as the 90s. I’d say it’s the least decayed and depraved of the Arts by now. This incredible series from France Arte that disassembles not only old things like Socialist housing in Guise, France, and an absolutely mind-blowing house in Paris by Chareau for a doctor’s office and residence and entertainment space from 1927, by Chareau, are contrasted with the 1997 Bilbao Museum by Gehry, which is well-known, but not in nearly as much detail as I know it now, even though I went to a huge exhibition at the Guggenheim here that was all-Gehry in 2001. I don’t like nearly all his things, but this had marvelous things like how he was able to use very expensive titanium throughout the building because, for the only time before and after this, titanium’s price went below that of stainless steel (he said he had never been able to use it again), and the Pompidou Centre, although that goes back to the 70s. I do not care for some things like this ‘shelter bird symbol stationary’ over the TGV–it’s silly. But the thermal baths in Vals, Switzerland, etc., etc., there is so much imagination in architecture and has always been, but there is more means of carrying it out by now–and quickly. Probably the best of the newer things is still Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin.

    Point of all that skin-stretching being: Ornament on a huge scale in which it is of very solid and much less fragile material now makes old modernist straight sleek line not at all necessary as some kind of ultimate thing, which is what much of modernism with Mies was all about. Modernism and post-modernism ought not last as fixed terms for late-twentieth century movements, I’d guess. Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ was an interesting idea, someone had to do it, but it’s mainly of interest to the head-fucked student (lol).

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  32. The New Embellishment — I like it, as well as the correspondence with architecture, which I hadn’t previously considered. I agree about the Berlin Jewish Museum: wedged in there next to some governmental office, entry in from underground, gashes and scars on the carcass — very smart. I don’t know the Swiss baths or the Guise housing.

    I presume then that the new book takes the long way around, meandering down tangents on its way to its destination, which may not have been anticipated before the walk began. This is the European way far more than the American, as I’m sure you’d agree.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 August 2008 @ 7:05 pm

  33. It’s also why I was so able to work with Los Angeles: I did NO wandering, once I realized that, for one thing, your life is threatened down the wrong alleyway there, and applied a strictly New Yorkish and European central-city perspective to everything I’ve ever done there–down to never renting a car and using an enormous 6 x 6 bus map for the entire metropolitan area to get around to the most far-flung parts. They have over these years I’ve been going a lot added a large amount of new subway, however, and this is making the city much more navigable in the traditional ways.

    The new book is STILL meandering even though it’s basically written–it’s naked and obscene as a result of that being the only way to make flexible again this city which used to seem much more so. In the 90s with the advent of all the generic stores from the rest of the country and then with 9/11 PLUS the overlay of highly-clustered internet activity naturally occurring with especially great density here–there has been a sense of a frozen metropolis during 2002 and 2003 especially I noticed, but lasting well through 2006 as well. So that part of the book is to find many new routes and detours through many already-existing things that would be absurd to let go to waste. Because once there has come a flexibility to a city that is so pronounced that you can’t miss it, it can be excavated from all those things. Here I DO wander around and allow scores of things to happen spontaneously, I know it well enough not to have to be on guard all the time, and it’s at those moments that I can see New York working again. But that sense of a frozen New York–of Rite-Aids and old buildings full of Bed Bath and Beyonds stayed lodged in my mind needing a surgeon for at least 4 years. It just sounds neurotic, but I felt powerless to do a thing to get rid of it. So that’s when writing becomes sensual in itself, when it overpowers something oppressive and deadening. And the streets seemed like that for a long time after 9/11.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 7:38 pm

  34. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles

    This wiki link has a startlingly beautiful photo of Los Angeles when I was last there. Most don’t associate this kind of clarity of air with Los Angeles, but I have experienced it fairly often because of usually going in late December. This photo is the best I’ve seen of downtown though, and the snowcapped peak is Mt. Baldy. The tallest building is the Library Tower, which was not there when I first went in 1984. I really don’t pay much attention to Mike Davis’s books on Los Angeles or anything else anymore. Very few of his apocalyptic prophecies have come to pass, and that’s an example of somebody who sounds well-researched, and either isn’t, or it didn’t matter if he was.

    I also checked the square miles of the 5 boroughs of New York as compared to those of Los Angeles. New York has 303 square miles, Los Angeles has 493 (this is not the Greater Los Angeles Metro Area, or Southland, which is much vaster still). Griffith Park itself, the only huge park in Los Angeles, is 5 times the size of Central Park, and has rattlesnake warning signs, plus rampant homosexual activity, involving cars and all sorts of John Rechy style to it. Los Angeles is loose to begin with, which is why the approach to it has to be to tighten it.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 8:01 pm

  35. 498.3 square miles is the correct figure for LA area.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 8:03 pm

  36. Have you been to the Jewish Museum in Berlin? I haven’t, but the entrance was not only underground, but you have to enter it through the old 18th century Baroque pile, which is sheer genius. Prouve’s much smaller house in Nancy is also shown in this series–and involved matters of economy used by someone who was inspired and anti-formalist as well. This was a wonderful addition to the Chareau Paris house, La Maison de Verre, an extaordinarily luxurious affair of mind-boggling brilliance. But this is the kind of thing that is making this series prove to be great. Most people talk about the Spielberg ‘Always’ as being Audrey Hepburn’s last film, which it was literally, and amounted to little or nothing as all her films from about 1979 on did, but she did make this big and often beautiful PBS series ‘Gardens of the World’, and the big mistake was not focussing on some personal and private remarkable gardens done by individuals. After you’d seen the episode ‘Rose Gardens’, you really didn’t expect that all of a sudden the next one would be called, with Audrey exclaiming it ‘Flower Gardens’. I mean, big deal, etc. So you really only saw aristocratic gardens, which was not comprehensive enough. The only break was when she exulted in some naturalized daffodils, which she said ‘what I love most is when NATURE takes over’, which was said in much the same voice as when she brought first brought Peppard into Tiffany’s. She was just perfect.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 8:15 pm

  37. I neglected to say ‘Gardens of the World’ was made in 1992, just before her illness, and in between all those visits to Somalia and Ethiopia. Quite a tangent this, but Le Corbusier called Prouve ‘the ultimate builder’,as he was self-taught and never received an architectural degree, but Prouve hated Formalism, thinking it the enemy of architecture. I wonder if some of the Formalism is what caused the gracelessness of some of the urban projects, but I think that is rather not much a matter of anything about architecture per se, but just building needed housing on the cheap–except that they often weren’t cheap.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  38. What caused the breakthrough, do you think, that opened the city up to you again, that brought it back to life? You had mentioned previously that you’d found ways of tunneling through the city in new ways, which sounds wonderful. When we lived in Nice we used to marvel how the same familiar street could look charmingly engaging, then within seconds and without warning take on a somber, even menacing mien. Do you experience this in New York?

    I’ve seen the Berlin museum only in photos and diagrams. This sounds like an excellent television series. I don’t recall ever seeing the mountains as they appear in that spectacular LA photo; partly it’s the unusual photographic angle as well as the atmosphere. Even in Seattle the volcano is visible only sometimes, but then it’s well-regarded even from downtown, like it’s hovering in midair.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 August 2008 @ 8:43 pm

  39. What caused the breakthrough, do you think, that opened the city up to you again, that brought it back to life?

    Mainly just determination that some of the things I was hearing from the big media theorists could not be true. I didn’t believe them then and I don’t believe them now. In the early 00’s, it was still Virilio, Zizek, and Baudrillard who would pronounce on these decentering-of-cities things, but Baudrillard, old cuss that he was, was always pulling people’s leg, did understand New York, and was proud about a lot of things, but one of his marks of pride was not minding contradicting himself shamelessly. Virilio wrote all the Cybermonde things and other cyberspace statistics strategically placed, and also an excellent piece on the 1993 bomging. Zizek’s was mainly farting. You may remember Verso published slim volumes by the three of them a year after 9/11. I had to think about what they all said about the hyperreal, dominating virtual (Zizek at his worst and most insidious and Virilio well-meaning as always, but too doom-oriented not to be off-balance.) Beyond that, I then started writing about this specifically, and first produced the piece described so adorably by Robin Mackay as ‘an execrable piece of shit.’ Despite this insurmountable barrier from a Badiou specialist, I went ahead with it constantly, and the project continues well beyond the discrete text that Christian is struggling with at present (and is several books beyond the SHIT of BOOK I). Now, for example, with this specific new focus on architecture, I can take it still further and localize the metropolitan experience. For example, here’s another case of what I was talking about with your ‘brotherhood of uber-workers’ and DeLillo’s homeless dwellings and their constant undercurrent of irritating preoccupation, to wit, in all the talk of 9/11 by the leftist bloggers, you won’t find A SINGLE ONE of them who is interested in the rebuilding of Ground Zero. Probably there is not a one who even knows that, dreadful as the process has been, 7 World Trade Center was completed in 2006. They do not want to talk about Liebeskind. When I finally went down about a year ago and saw 7 World Trade for the first time (I hadn’t been able to focus on the planning with Silverstein, et alia, either), and found the old Globe Sculpture which had been reasssembled almost completely intact and by which I had once been caught by an employee at a temp job there drinking a bottle of Bass Ale at lunch, for which I was fired from a lowly job–once I saw this, then the rebuilding started becoming a subject of interest in my mind, and the 9/11 conspiracy theorists were no longer of any interest at all–even though there was a little cluster of them with their signs down there. Ground Zero is an important example of it. You’ll find that really most people don’t care about its rebuilding, that’s not nearly as thrilling as 9/11 itself. But once past all that guilt, then you want to see all of Liebeskind’s site design happen. And you are not worried that arguments like ‘Why the Iraq War Means We Don’t Deserve a 9/11 Memorial’ will surely emerge on many Third Party sites (lol).

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  40. I had read about the Globe Sculpture having been re-assembled and placed in Battery Park and had meant to get down to see it for several years. It was marvelous how nearly intact it was–and this was because it was in the center of that vast plaza there. You could definitely see that it had been altered, but it was very poetic the way almost all of it was there just as it had been when I had had to ‘drink on the job’ to get through this horrible spot I did for Shearson Lehman back in 1988–despite the tragedy, the newly assembled Globe Sculpture had not been distinguished before, and is now peculiarly humorous. It reminds me for some reason of Pogo, the cartoon character, but I have no idea quite why.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 30 August 2008 @ 9:27 pm

  41. That Al Qaeda attacked New York almost certainly affected the liberal political response nationwide. NYC is the unofficial center of gravity for American liberalism, but it’s also a distinctive place, different from anywhere else in the country. For New Yorkers the attack wasn’t abstract, something you could watch on television and to which you could formulate a theoretically nuanced response. New Yorkers responded personally and viscerally, because this was a personal, visceral attack. Terrorism may be the only forceful political act available to the disenfranchised and the powerless, but it’s also an act of premeditated, dispassionate murder. New York was able to express this personal sorrow and outrage on a national scale, not just in the immediate aftermath but in ongoing political and journalistic influence.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 31 August 2008 @ 8:03 am


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