7 December 2011

The Word Never Made Flesh

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:54 am

I’ve been editing the latest novel. The first draft is short and it will stay short, but even as I finished writing I knew it would need to be plumped up a bit in places. Here’s a textual implant I stuck in there this morning. The main character, name of Bud, happens to be a fiction writer (yes, I know). He’s burned out, no longer wants to write. Now he finds himself embarked on a weird sort of Pilgrimage that may or may not re-inspire him and rekindle his authorial passion. After I’d read the first draft through I jotted this in my notebook:

So, somewhere in the Pilgrimage Bud has to arrive at the realization that he is like other writers, that all books have already been written.

It’s an integral part of the authorial burnout: Bud has come too late to the party; there is nothing new to be written under the sun. Do I implant this idea as part of a conversation that Bud is having with somebody else he encounters on his travels? Or is it a thought that takes shape inside Bud’s head? I decided to try making it an observation of the third-person narrator, who for the most part never intrudes in the story. Here we find Bud, early in his voyage, climbing a Mediterranean mountainside trying to reach a set of railroad tracks perched halfway up the ascent. I’ve included a bit of context before and after the implanted paragraph.

…Bud came upon the charred and tumbled remains of an old cottage, the stub of its lichen-encrusted stone chimney rising from the undergrowth. At this partial clearing Bud slipped his pack off and uncapped the water bottle. Turning around he could see that he’d made significant progress. Below, the sea curved around him, framing an almost primeval landscape showing no sign of human settlement. From here the terrain got steeper, the mountain now looming above Bud, though at this acute angle he could not see the railroad tracks.

It might have been on just such a trail, clambering up from this same Sea, amid the ruins of some other forgotten civilization, that old blind Homer leaned on his staff and listened to the gods tell their tales, their voices sometimes whispering, sometimes booming across the mountains. Or perhaps he had been reclining on his island seaside terrace drinking orange juice and eating pastries as the gods recounted their adventures and intrigues with words carried on the waves and the tides. Even then the stories were old – was there ever a time when a new story could have been told? The men and women in those tales acted strangely, at times with heroism, at other times with cowardice and treachery – perhaps only a blind seer could discern the hidden presence of the trickster gods who with such casual self-assurance took possession of the mere humans swarming in their midst. And what of those who listened to the stories? They would enter into the lives of the characters, the kings and their wives and sons, the mariners and the warriors, the sirens and the lotus eaters, until the listeners in their turn became possessed. Was there ever a time when someone could be different from everyone who came before? Even Homer wasn’t Homer – it’s just a name, collectively assigned to those anonymous cover artists who retold the tales that had been told to them, back and back into eternity past. Every teller of tales, and every listener too, is possessed by the blind spirits of wraiths, demiurges of the word never made flesh.

The trail kept going, kept climbing. Bud had to start using his hands now, grasping at boulders and shrubs and roots as he scrambled his way up the mountainside…


  1. If you hadn’t said that it was a narratorial intrusion, I would have taken the added passage to be a thought that took shape inside the character’s head.


    Comment by Asher Kay — 7 December 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  2. Yes, that’s good, it could be either one. If I’d written “It might have been on just such a trail, Bud realized,” or some such thing, then it would be clearly marked as the character’s thought. But the “he thought” bit is omitted. What’s that narrative technique called again? I read about it recently in Margaret Doody’s The True Story of the Novel… Ah yes, “free indirect discourse,” which Doody describes as “a device whereby the authorial voice assumes the views and attributes of a character.” Then there’s this source:

    free indirect discourse involves both a character’s speech and the narrator’s comments or presentation, or direct discourse and indirect discourse… free indirect discourse is a more comprehensive method of representation–one which many times makes indistinguishable the thoughts of the narrator and the thoughts of a character.

    I thought this passage would be a good place to use free indirect discourse, since the narrator (i.e., yours truly) does share many of Bud’s views on this subject. Bud is a storyteller, and the narrator is telling Bud’s story. Even poor Bud is just a character in somebody else’s story. Okay fine, we’ve got some PoMo metafictional devices going on here too.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 December 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  3. Ktismatics:
    I would say that there is too much parallelism here between the authorial predicament and the terrain; burnt over and uphill. This can seem like Jung by numbers. You could have him going downhill through orchards in bloom feeling the sweet pain of fruitfulness (ouch). Land always speaks but generally I think only when there is a central character to whose consciousness we have privileged access otherwise the geography would be too confused.


    Comment by ombhurbhuvao — 7 December 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  4. Jeez, ombhurbuva, where were you a few months ago when I first started writing this part? I’ve got a feeling you’re not going to like it when the train goes into the tunnel.

    Not wanting to unwind Bud’s trail at this late stage, I offer two defenses. First, Jung by numbers is perfect. Bud is concerned that there’s nothing new to be written, that every new text must be absorbed back into the archetypes. For new inspiration Bud is trying to heed the call of the world and of the forces that move the world. So what sort of thing would call to someone who already feels trapped in the archetypes? The Mediterranean and the mountains seem like good bets for someone whose self-transcendent sensibilities have been schooled by Tolkien and Nietzsche and Mann and, yes, Jung. As a matter of fact, when I describe the trail leading up to this mountain I’m picturing a goat trail leading from the sea to the hilltop village of Eze in southern France. It’s known as “The Philosopher’s Trail” because it’s the one that Nietzsche climbed the day he envisioned part three of Zarathustra. Bud could try to resist these archetypes-turned-stereotypes, but it’s that very resistance that he’s trying to resist. Maybe if he was further along on his Pilgrimage he could, like Joyce, see these protean forces transposed to different terrains, like Dublin or Detroit. He’s not there yet.

    My second defense for the mountain that Bud is climbing is that it’s a real mountain, one that I see every day, one I can see when I look to the left as I step out of my front door. I had seen this mountain every day for three years before I realized that there is a railroad track circumnavigating it about halfway up. When I was trying to imagine a place for Bud to go next on his Pilgrimage I was out taking a walk, looking at this mountain, wondering about where the tracks go after they wrap around the back side of the mountain. And so I had Bud wonder about it too. I moved this mountain from the Rockies to the Maritime Alps or perhaps the Sainte Baume, where Bud already was traveling.

    I will concede that the charred stub of a chimney might be a bit much. Maybe I’ll have Bud make a self-aware comment to himself about it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 December 2011 @ 4:58 pm

  5. I recall some of the same elements in Big Two Hearted River by the master of geography. For all the lyricism in that story there was unease but we were never told what the matter was. The power of conscious ommision I suppose. Being spare and oblique is a good trick when you don’t know it’s a trick.
    – That’s right.
    – Sure it’s right.
    If Ernie forgives you, I forgive you.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 7 December 2011 @ 5:45 pm

  6. The pilgrimage template is a good one allowing for multiple ironies. Now that I’ve mentioned E.H. I think of A Moveable Feast which had in it the darshan of the modernist great amongst other things.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 December 2011 @ 3:21 am

  7. Forgiveness? That suicidal bastard should be thanking me for invoking his memory, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all (who wrote that saying?). Earlier in the story I refer to a Riviera hotel where the Fitzgeralds often stayed, followed by the introduction of a character named Henry Miller. I mentioned your mention of Hemingway to my wife. That’s strange, she said, but I was just thinking about Hemingway the other day. What brought him to mind? She couldn’t remember, but then she realized it was after I’d read her a later episode in my book, in which a writer is telling a story about another writer who kills himself by sticking the barrel of a gun in his mouth. It’s probably a distinctly American sort of burned-out writer who would take a Pilgrimage to France and Spain, retracing the footsteps of those particular literary heroes, trying to rekindle the spark. It’s cliché by now, but that’s part of the point.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 December 2011 @ 6:56 am

  8. I will concede that the charred stub of a chimney might be a bit much. Maybe I’ll have Bud make a self-aware comment to himself about it.

    I think the self-aware comment is an excellent idea.

    I think ‘Bud’ is kind of campy, and that you even know it, don’t you? It tickled me when I first read it, esp. after ‘Rik’s’ and the Nautilus sign.

    Off-topic (will explain why I’m putting this here later), am reading the new (and first collection) of Don deLillo’s short stories. I’m almost sure you’d like them, and I just read the first too. Ms. Kakutani has read too much, even though is a deLillo devotee, didn’t like but the title story that much. I think delillo is the best writer in america still. But in the ‘world war III’ one, the two astronauts do the kind of technical talk you’re good at.


    Comment by Jllegal dances of new york city — 9 December 2011 @ 3:11 pm

  9. I agree that it’s campy, and certainly an American sort of nickname. When I was first “designing” this character I started assigning to him some of the traits of a guy I once worked with whose name was Bud. I’m sure he had a real name but I have no idea what it was. I might change the name on subsequent edit, but I’ve gotten to know this character as Bud now.

    I put in a request for the DeLillo compilation, though there are a few other holds so it might be a month or so before I get my hands on it. I loved the first chapter of Underworld set at Yankee Stadium, which would have stood alone as a great short story, but I’ve not read any of his short fiction.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 December 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  10. i just read the 3rd one, it’s called ‘The Runner’, very short and very smart. Thought of your reports from your runs and walks, you’ll like it. I’ve read maybe 8 or the novels, thought they were all good, including the ones the discerning Ms. Kakutani has decided are ‘not as distinguished’, these are the ones since 9/11.


    Comment by Idnyc — 9 December 2011 @ 7:32 pm

  11. Maybe this:

    …After about half an hour Bud came upon the charred and tumbled remains of an old cottage, the stub of its lichen-encrusted stone chimney rising from the undergrowth. “Jesus, not a charred chimney stump,” Bud said aloud. “It’s like I’ve walked into a Hemingway story.” At this partial clearing Bud slipped his pack off and uncapped the water bottle…

    I kind of like it: no beating around the bush.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 December 2011 @ 9:43 am

  12. Oh yes, much better. You know, arpege has informed us that we are all so well-cultured by now that we really need attend only to populist requests. I find it important to reflect this in ‘new characters’ so we can keep writing noir, and walking around outside and doing Christmas most pleasantly, as in eating many new Thai dishes (I had no idea they’re so incredible if you ask for the spicy ‘medium’ so the flavours are still primary–as Jade Noodles w/pork, duck and crabmeat–that one less than $8, and as good as french or italian.)

    i think, though, that you have to be very careful with the ‘self-aware’ inclusions. Not only should they be rare, but say, the ‘Rik’s’ and ‘nautilus sign’ ought not to be given the ironic twist that the self-aware comment has, because it’s totally worth it to take the chance that even if someone thinks it’s a cliche (not that those are) or derivative, that you take the chance that it will still be taken at its face–value, that it’s a given that there are readers who are post-modern or post-post-modern that don’t see any beauty at all, and that to say too much about one’s bemused sense of ‘living in art’ is pandering to these ugly-loving types, who’ve decided that’s all that’s left. remember what the troll did to my trip to La Scala, which was a special thing? I put them in the book, because they were an example of the meanest kind of mind: He reduced the creamy wine to ‘glasgees in brown paper bags’, and there wasn’t a thing amusing about it. It was simple, pure hate and malice. Not that parody isn’t sometimes truly great, of course. I thought dejan’s thing on Anthony’s ‘self-pollution’ absolutely hilarious: Indeed ESCHATOLOGIA is an epic meditation on how Angelina’s self-pollution ultimately leads to the Apocalypse.” the ‘northern tuff’ troll is not why I went ‘independent’, of course, there is too much pain at CPC and it is intended on some parts. I suppose parody requires the cruelty of the ‘northern tuff’ type, but I simply won’t be exposed to it anymore. You and Dejan and his troll are all better at laughing this off–and I almost lost it briefly on that account myself. But they’re doing okay without me.

    okay, let me just say again that things like a beautiful restaurant experience, if it’s rare and not gluttonous, an unexpectedly brilliant yellow rose which I just discovered, soft warm skies and cool, are not things that supposedly ‘really exist’ anymore. The ‘tuff’ isn’t the only one saying this, of course, but of course, I like a lot of the work that the one I called ‘garden-variety post’ does. and, while I don’t agree with Kakutani about deLillo’s stories (I’m about to read ‘Esmeralda’, the one she raves about, not liking everything equally that someone writes is not hostile.

    I think that ‘intertextual’ idea (which was well-known before Julie Kristeva) that I mentioned on the ‘Herodiade’ threads is very natural, if only ‘intertextual’ from, say, one Robbe-grillet work, one roman to one cine-roman to another, to an actual film is something you ought to think of (and probably are) doing in a very subtle way when you find something in your prose which echoes another writer’s. It can seem fresh anyway, so that only the most obvious ones are seized on for their embarassing irony. You just don’t want to let all the secrets out. You asked me, for example, about that post I wrote about Harman’s writing style, and I wouldn’t answer you, because it was very intertextual, but not intended to be–it’s just that a style I had recognized elsewhere came into being as I wrote the piece. It was bitchy, but your comments at re-defining ‘style’ as ‘sales pitches’ was something I simply hadn’t thought of as ‘style’. But yes, it is, of course.


    Comment by IDNYC — 10 December 2011 @ 3:48 pm

  13. I absolutely agree about not overdoing the self-aware inclusions. Yellow roses are no less beautiful merely because others have also seen their beauty. Entire texts can be embedded in irony quotes, which is the central idea of the paragraph at the center of this post about all texts having already been written. But that cynical or discouraging view is only one side of this particular thematic conflict between repetition and difference. I hadn’t consciously thought about the truncated chimney in terms of burnt-out castration when I wrote it. I was thinking about real burned houses, and it is truly the case that when a house burns the chimney is often the only part of the structure still standing. Maybe we need a new metaphorization: even after the rest of you burns to the ground you can still mount a comeback if your chimney is still up. I’ll let Bud’s self-aware observation stand for now, because it liaises well into the abstract paragraph that follows. Just today I finished the first intense round of edits and implants; I’ll revisit it again on the second round.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 December 2011 @ 4:39 pm

  14. I NEVER thought about the chimney metaphorically, it has a ‘description-cliche’ quality even when taken literally. I just got about halfway through ‘The Angel Esmeralda’, the one Kakutani did go nuts over, and partially because it harks back to Delillo’s Underworld. This takes place in the South Bronx, and for a minute, I thought it was that long section toward the end of Underworld that was also in the South Bronx. Obviously, here was delillo-intertextuality definitely going on, although I don’t think Kakutani mentioned the impossible-to-overlook relation to the underworld section. I should reread it, I recall finding it astonishingly impressive throughout, not only that opening tour de force. Delillo is so good other huge-name writers tend to cite him in person, and yes, even Joan managed to do it–and that’s saying a lot: at Barnard in 2001, a student asked her ‘What are you reading these days?’ which she found almost as annoying as most of the questions, and just spat out “Well, I’m reading the papers”, which was surely unnecessarily brusque.

    I’ve got a paragraph with a sentence from ‘The Ivory acrobat’, also in the volume, that is so good I’m going to do a post on IDNYC just to focus on it. Delillo is incredibly sensitive. A month after 9/11, the New Yorker did a big reading of some of the top writers, and there was a rare (and disgusting) appearance by Woody Allen, who in typical vulgar style, marked the event by saying “Who kee-ahs about Cincinnati?” Updike was also there, but deLillo was the only one whose words I can’t remember at all; he was so upset (but never lost control, quite, not like Dan Rather) that you could feel it. But he also probably knew a lot of the victims, as a native of the Bronx. He also loves the Simon Rodia Towers, and writes beautifully about them in ‘underworld’, it’s a kind of astonishment at Rodia’s conviction and commitment lasting over 30 years, after which he knew he was finished and never bothered with them again. I’ve never understood why he’d call them the Simon ‘Rogata’ Towers, though, as that seems purposeless. But he catches about this unique masterpiece what it’s all about: It’s as if even he, Don DeLillo, can’t quite do THAT. i’m sure that’s why I’m in such awe of them, and the second time, it really was different: In 2001, they were being worked on and were fenced; in 2003, you could touch them. They aren’t like anything else I know. DeLillo expresses a sense of ‘too-muchness’ of the Towers. Remember that sexy scene early on in underworld in which there is some cocaine-snorting, and the girl ‘starts to feel all L.A.-ish’, and wants to ratchet up this sensation. How many writers would have known what this was? Many. How many would have thought to write it? It’s such a relief to be reading some fiction again, which I haven’t since Mulisch. That 1999 novel ‘the Procedure’ I ultimately don’t care for that much despite its virtuosity, I don’t like all his talk of the ‘famous author’ and the ‘prizes’, he takes it too far. the ‘Siegfried’ on Hitler I thought was much better, but I don’t think it’s held in such high repute.

    Anyway, i think it’s interesting how hard it is to do physical description. That paragraph you wrote about the KFC containers and ‘throwing caution to the wind’ didn’t have anything in it (except that last line about the ‘successful flight’ maybe) that needed an internal pointing-out. It can be just as hard as writing dialogue, and I know when I’ve written bad dialogue. Didion was good at talking about writers who had a ‘bad ear for dialogue’. Sometimes I’ve remembered that even when I thought what I was writing sounded just like that; there’s a passage in Deep Tropical that has a ‘bad ear for dialogue’, but I want it there.


    Comment by idnyc — 10 December 2011 @ 6:51 pm

  15. Rushdie is another writer I heard publicly praising deLillo. At least they’ve chosen someone who really has IT.


    Comment by idnyc — 10 December 2011 @ 6:53 pm

  16. Ktismatics:
    If Bud is in the Mediterranean region then it is likely that the burnt house will have walls as well as a chimney. The hearth will be the focus of course if you will permit a little light etymology. His seeing the chimney as he comes to realise in his journal is the effect of the diaphane overlay like in an anatomy atlas of E.H.’s story. It isn’t true, good and perfect or seen at first light. Lay off me, I taught you everything you know but not everything I know (dead people talk to me)

    When he realises what he has done he resolves to go back. Yes I can go back. On the morrow with his steel shod walking staff, naming of parts here, the little plaques that towns along the Rhone sell to walkers on it, where he got it etc. Name the shop at the back of the meat market. Help my unbelief.

    I think that the Jamesian indirectness can turn your steel shod staff into rubber. Like football (soccer) the good first touch is all. The journal/letter is an old and wrinkled chestnut but still a conker. It adds that layer of facticity. Remember old Herzog.

    Don’t mind me, I’m just being a fascinating gobshite as they say. You’ve finished something, for that I ply the thurible and waft incense towards you.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 11 December 2011 @ 7:46 am

  17. Walking again this morning, staring at the mountain in question, thinking about the possibility of a house in that location. Most likely the old dwellings would either have hugged the shore or been perched atop the mountain, not positioned in the neither-here-nor-there ambivalence of the location I’ve assigned this house. If I want to introduce reflexivity here I should have Bud comment on this anomalous placement of the real estate in an era when “good view” wasn’t nearly as important as maintaining close access to the sea for fishing and trade while also protecting oneself from seafaring invaders. Now I’ve returned from my walk, read your comment, and agree that you’re right, ombhurbhuva: this would likely have been a stone house, on which the walls would have stood up to history at least as well as the chimney. It’s been helpful to call my attention to this relatively unimportant detail in order to maintain the seamlessness of the fictional illusion. Beginning right about here the reality that Bud traverses gets more and more tenuous, so an oddly placed house wouldn’t be amiss. Still, it ought to be a stone house, and it ought not to have been burned down, even though the terrain there is dry and subject to frequent forest fires. Is it god or the devil who’s in the details?

    Some of the other advice is too hermetic for me to follow. “Lay off me” — isn’t that what Fitzgerald asked of Hemingway? I should perhaps heed the call and get my hands on Moveable Feast, see what else he knows that he hasn’t told me yet. Name the shop = again, attention to detail increases the believability of the illusion? The light etymology does prove important, and I actually have the rosy fingers of dawn shining in on Bud as he writes in his journal on his balcony overlooking the sea. Truth be told I hadn’t thought about the light function of the chimney, so its metaphoric value isn’t yet exhausted. And he’s also selling his own house back in the US, so we’ve got the hearth-and-home thing going on too. I’m thinking now that this house, if it survives the editorial fire, will require more of Bud’s and the narrator’s attention. And I think the direct, non-ironic route will prove best at this point. Verging on delirium maybe, but not too much smirking.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 December 2011 @ 9:33 am

  18. After that virtuosic beginning of Underworld (at the Polo Grounds, not Yankee Stadium) the novel bogged down for me, so I stopped reading less than halfway through. I have absolutely no recollection of what transpires after that overture ballpark scene, which remains vivid. Maybe I’m hooked on plot, or maybe like so many others I have acquired ADD from too much internet. Similarly, I bailed out on Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon after maybe 250 pages, finding it quite monotonous: once he lays his clever cards on the table, he keeps playing them again and again. Paul Auster, another New Yorker, seems intermittent in his talents. Philip Roth nearly always hits the mark, though I’m sure some readers find him too to be repetitive.

    I made it through only about half of Land’s latest economic post. “We’re not in postmodernism any more, Toto” — oh my. It’s a weird idea to regard Keynes as postmodern — his emphasis on rational interventions in the economy in order to promote economic equality and growth strikes me as almost paradigmatically modern. But then again Land regards any interference with emergent order as an illusion, a simulacrum, etc. — I think this belief marks Land, not Keynes, as postmodern. It’s either posthuman or prehuman, but definitely Nietzschean and Ayn-Randian, to regard intentional human intervention in the economy as impotently standing in the way of the irresistible inchoate forces flowing through the world. In any event, this idea too features in my novel: if writers are channels of the demiurgic archetypes, so too are economists and bankers and stockbrokers channels of the Invisible Hand.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 December 2011 @ 10:31 am

  19. “I suppose parody requires the cruelty of the ‘northern tuff’ type, but I simply won’t be exposed to it anymore.”

    – Well, stop reading my blog then. It would be nice to separate meaningful reader stats from the usual OCD cranks (I know who they are – and guess where they all ‘germinate’ from?). I bet those stats would SWOOSH UP if I simply named a post ‘Nick Land’. Much more than one named ‘Didion’s Pussy’ anyway. Nothing funnier than pseudo-aristocratic ‘aesthete’ BS, especially when used to mask petty stupidity and sexual obsession. Many a humorist has had fun with THAT type.

    I like Delilo, but Underworld was just too dull to get through. It’s the Great American Novel trip-up, isn’t it? So self-consciously trying to be a ‘the important magnum opus’ that it feels written for NYT critics and Time magazine lists more than readers.

    Considering Land’s 90s niche among the (non-dancing?) techno-music boy’s-only-secret-hideout gang, I wonder how much of his ‘inspiration’ originates in the more fascistic corners of industrial rock. It reminds me of Boyd Rice/Abraxas Foundation spiel at times, dolled up with three-dollar words to flatter pseudo-lefties and bored PHD students. Might is right, and we’re all just germs gnawing at each other for survival. The contempt for anything that attempts to alleviate human suffering is quite striking. I suppose it’s all quite kinky for little boys with ideas above their station (especially when you hate actual sex). As for his bizarre rewriting of Keynesianism – no loves the big lie like a fascist does. After all, they used to compare Land to Colonel Kurtz without irony. Maybe they only saw the movie.


    Comment by David W Kasper — 11 December 2011 @ 2:17 pm

  20. “Nothing funnier than pseudo-aristocratic ‘aesthete’ BS, especially when used to mask petty stupidity and sexual obsession.”

    I’d never thought of Didion in quite those terms before. And with Underworld as in other instances I’m not sure where the dullness resides: in the text or in the reader. It is highly regarded by the critics to be sure, which isn’t necessarily a black mark against it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 December 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  21. I appreciate those remarks on Nick’s work. I have in the last few days realized that I think it’s an extraordinarily creative imagination, and the writing sometimes so dazzling that it surely is ‘artistic’. Nevertheless, I think I have been incorrect to try to force on him the term ‘artist’. ‘Being an artist’ is not quite the same thing as ‘being artistic’. When Didion did her play of ‘Magical Thinking’, Ben Brantley wrote that, even though he didn’t think the play version worked, that both were ‘great artists’. But now that I had my weird fit about Didion’s latest work (which has an ‘out-of-control’ aura to its whole release), I’m not sure how much the word ‘artist’ applies to her either. It’s great and unique writing (most of the time), but I think she ends up more a ‘great journalist’, or even an ‘artistic, orchidaceous writer’ and occasionally ‘great novelist’ –although only once for me, really. Now that I’ve read 5 of the DeLillo stories, the contrast is too obvious: DeLillo is a great artist, and there’s no way I (at least) can see that he isn’t. Didion and Dunne also made a lot of point to criticize Larry McMurtry’s script for ‘The Last Picture Show’, but neither of them wrote a piece of fiction that comes near ‘Lonesome Dove’. McMurtry, in his turn, wrote about the ‘bratty scriptwriters’ working at the time, he may have meant them, because they could call the shots even with a big Streisand vehicle. Dunne wrote a nYTimes op-ed sometime in the early 00’s about the agony of writing ‘Up Close and Personal’, concluding that they found out what the film was about: ‘two stars’. (Pfeiffer and Redford,) While this was a useful insight (and an important way to look at all movies that do include big name actors), much of the article was bratty and smug. And Joan’s endless lists of expensive names has begun not so seem in the interests of accuracy as it did back in the White Album, but rather a kind of brattiness right in the middle of her endless grief. something I just remembered: The 2003 california essays ‘Where I Was From’ include some talk about the pioneers (include some of her ancestors, who were in the donner-reed party (the group that escaped, including escaping the cannibalism), in which Didion talks about ‘there was never any time to grieve’ during those long journeys, when ‘you buried your child on the prairie’, to combine quotes from two of her essays, one from a New Yorker piece. The long-drawn-out-grief which she’s been devoured by for six years doesn’t seem extreme by comparison to that (which was in her 2000 profile of Martha Stewart), but rather to the grief the rest of us feel even when we have at least some time for it, and aren’t fighting the elements.

    Likewise, I don’t find delillo ever smug, and this has inspired me. i’m surprised you found Underworld boring, but this will explain your own novel as it progresses. I’m not that good with pieces taken outside the context while they’re in progress, so my remarks are less germane to what you’re looking for in this post than they may be when I read the finished work. You’re a much better traditional fiction-plotter than I am, that’s for sure. There’s more on that, but i’ll save it.

    But you’ll feel differently about the short fiction (this is the first collection of them, and so one hasn’t read them unless caught in the original journals at the time). Or not. He may not be ‘your writer’. One thing is sure, the fact that Kakutani pointed out some of the truly bratty things Jonathan Franzen wrote in a kind of autobio a few years ago are not something you’d find DeLillo indulging in. They were so gratuitous, and if she didn’t have such a secure position she would have been out of order to point it out: She talked about how he literally bragged about not making any donation to the Katrina victims, something like “Why should I do it?” When he’s the one who said the bullshit about the ‘terrible beauty’ of the second WTC 9/11 plane. One thing I liked that both Dunnes used to harp on was that ‘style is character’, and I appreciate Kakutani’s saying that about Franzen, his recent penitent articles about his old-fashioned, ‘lovable’ habit of bird-watching notwithstanding. I sort of just don’t like him in a special way, so I won’t read his books, at least at this point.


    Comment by idnyc — 11 December 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  22. Some writers, like musicians or film-makers, just aren’t suited for ‘epics’. Delilo over-stretched himself I think. I’m not saying acclaim is a ‘black mark’, but got the impression he wrote Underworld because it was ‘the done thing’ once American authors reach a certain level of prominence (that is, if they don’t end up rewriting the same shit over and again, like Auster).

    I only read one Didion years ago (and found that somewhat smug), so I doubt I’ll ever publish a post with that title.


    Comment by David W Kasper — 11 December 2011 @ 3:57 pm

  23. – Well, stop reading my blog then.

    I do not read it anymore, I read you only at Dejan’s, where you’ve been as finessed quite as well as they both claimed.

    “The contempt for anything that attempts to alleviate human suffering is quite striking. I ”

    You’ll find that Land, for one, is personally far less prone to causing human suffering than you are, dwayne. He is often over-the-top, but he is not really cruel like you are. When you talk about ‘cruelty and oppression’, you do not address your own. Ever. I was just thinking that your extreme attraction to ‘communism’ is because you find there a kind of ‘humanitarianism’ that requires (in your case at least) no action at all except blogging. seymour has read your beads with great skill recently, and you think that an ‘anti-communist’ remark is the same as an overtly racist remark. I hadn’t known that, but it goes with the forced Stalinism that allows do-nothings (as Dejan continues to hammer in about you) to assuage the guilt they feel at their own extreme impotence (which is blamed on literally everyone else.) My occasional difficulties with Land go way back, but they never get in the way of my respect for his brilliance. No one expects you to understand any of this, as you continue to spread your poisons everywhere, once you caved so obviously during the 9/11 anniversary (just couldn’t butch it out, could you?) Your remarks in the last few months have been as purposely cruel as possible, but you have never felt that they were anything but deserved by everyone at whom you directed them.

    What is most telling is the way you did manage to butch out about OBL for a good while during the summer, and even tried to make some obviously opportunistic points with ‘don’t talk about my old hobbies’, meaning OBL, and your talk about my quoting a Sayeau Twitter as if it were your business or illegal. And you’re claiming to me that ‘don’t you realize you’ve been PLAYED’.

    I’ve also got my problems with some of Didion’s recent evolution, but that has nothing to do with the great respect I have for her (esp. the non-fiction essays, which are masterful, and contain esoteric things about American life you wouldn’t find elsewhere.)

    But this is all lost on you. It’s just for the record, because you’re remarks are never published at my blog, and I would probably at least occasionally make a comment at Dejan’s if he agreed to delete you 100% of the time. I consider your writing to be of the most negative and bestial variety. Nick’s isn’t.


    Comment by idnyc — 11 December 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  24. Ben Brantley wrote that, even though he didn’t think the play version worked, that both were ‘great artists’.

    Neglected to mention he was referring to Vanessa Redgrave, who as an actress, is definitely an artist, esp. for the stage. I saw her do ‘Hecuba’ at bklyn Academy of Music in 2005, it was amazing how easily she can take over a whole stage and auditorium. There are a few others like that, Suzanne Farrell could do it with her dancing. Vanessa better onstage than movies, I’d say. I stopped there, though, Joan’s grief has had its ‘public day’, and if she writes another novel, that would be a real Pyrrhic victory, even if it’s not great. I hope she does.


    Comment by idnyc — 11 December 2011 @ 4:22 pm

  25. I was getting ready to comment about DeLillo and my tendency to read for sweep rather than detail. However, sometimes details do call out for my attention. I’ve noticed that when I write posts about my own novel-writing — progress reports, excerpts, etc. — they almost invariably devolve into skirmishes between the commenters. Often the dispute is precipitated by someone who has commented not at all on the post. I may be able to use this observation in a fictional context some day, perhaps with a character who, due to envy at another’s accomplishments, attempts to draw attention to himself. This of course is an egoist’s interpretation of the observed pattern, which suits me fine.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 December 2011 @ 4:26 pm

  26. That’s part of your charm, but it comes naturally, doesn’t it, till you’ve finished it? at least the digressions, maybe not the skirmishes (except that you alone allow them within bounds–I usually don’t even do them anymore, but at Dejan’s, he allows a free-for-all, and that’s why it gets dangerous: Here you allow more than I will, which may be admirable). but remember when you introduced IDNYC and wrote about your own work? That was cool. In any case, I think you are going to really like the delillo short fiction. those two I quoted at the bleug I’ll elaborate on later. But without your whole text, it IS hard to know how to see the same context you’re seeing, even in the literal sense.


    Comment by idnyc — 11 December 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  27. Clearly the blog isn’t a creative writing workshop, but I have found more thought-provoking comments here than I ever did with those two writers’ groups I attended. I’ve developed more of a taste for short fiction since I’ve been writing my own fiction, at least in part because the short works call attention to the kinds of details we’ve addressed here about the house on the mountainside. Short stories also support more radical stylistic departures crafted for a concise work of art but that can get burdensome for reader and writer alike over a long haul.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 December 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  28. That’s it, DW, let it out, let it all out. On second thought, that’s enough, it’s already gone beyond pathetic. Preceding comment now dumped in the trash where it belongs.

    In conclusion, I just read my paragraph highlighted in this post again, along with the supporting context, and all in all I’m well pleased. Lose the word “charred” and all is well; stones tumble when a wall falls, and it doesn’t say that only the truncated chimney stands. Hemingway can kiss my ass, and DeLillo too.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 December 2011 @ 5:10 pm

  29. Here’s a photographer named Duccio commenting on Kim Dot Dammit’s latest set of photographs:

    I think they look better darker. I’d like to suppress more of the detail of the place with more darkness because to me the pictures are about relating to the space, and not the small details. For me, the more detail that I see, the more the picture is about the details and not about imaginative mythology. It’s about that interior, and not about my interior.

    This observation is, I think, relevant also to the house and chimney in my text. I grant that it’s hard to evaluate that judgment with only a small excerpt to go on, where it inevitably draws more attention to itself than it does in the context of the larger episode/chapter/book in which it’s embedded.


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 December 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  30. Duccio might be applicable, but I haven’t got time to look at her website more than every 3 months. That’s a bit ‘art journal talk’, although that doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate, just sounds like all the publicity releases I read when I go into a chelsea gallery, the ‘about that interior, and not about my interior’.

    I think you were right about ‘charred’ being the only problem. Love the ‘hemingway and delillo can kiss my ass’, although we also hope they really WILL. I’ve had some ‘writer-awe’ with these DeLillo stories, but now am trying to keep Graham’s gorgeously generous little speech to Agnes Demille in mind, although even that will fail us at some point. when graham, much later than this meeting at schrafft’s, could no longer herself dance, she nearly drank herself to death. But then rallied, and lived and worked as choreographer another 25 years. Of course, she was a biological sport to do that.


    Comment by idnyc — 12 December 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  31. Duccio was right about the photos in question: better when darker, with the details made more obscure. This is in contrast with, say, Robbe-Grillet’s close inspections, and yours as well. If I were to pay closer attention to DeLillo’s long works I would expect to see alternation between the sharply focused close-up and the panoramic shot. His paragraphs you highlighted on your blog are masterful and worthy of study, there being no reason to cut off my nose to spite my face as the saying goes.


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 December 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  32. After about half an hour Bud came upon the tumbled remains of an old stone cottage, the charred stub of its lichen-encrusted chimney rising from the undergrowth.

    Editorial note: The charring would be the residue of fires that had been burned in the hearth. So now this:

    Bud came upon the tumbled remains of an old stone cottage rising from the undergrowth, the stub of its lichen-encrusted chimney charred by the countless fires that had burned in that ancient hearth.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 December 2011 @ 3:10 pm

  33. The lichen encrusted. I read that you can tell the age of buildings if you know the rate at which the lichen grows per year and that they are an indication of clean air. There’s a little ruin on an island just above the level of the bog near me. It’s overgrown by aspen and invisible. My neighbour tells me he remembers getting a haircut in the house. The towel, the clippers, the smell of 3in1 oil, the tickle of hairs down your back and then the gathering up of the fallen locks to throw out the door for the wrens’ nests.

    – What happened to them?
    – They died out.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 14 December 2011 @ 4:22 pm

  34. I would have thought that an overgrown ruin near a bog would be too old for anyone to remember its denizens, unless your neighbor is really really old. Now tell us, ombhurbhuva: what sorts of things do you write? There’s the blog of course, which is esoteric and entertaining, and I would regard it as “real writing.” You’ve got the style, the technique, the eye, the literary background…


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 December 2011 @ 6:43 pm

  35. As for the sentence in question, I’m reminded of Flaubert, whose birthday was Monday, who once said, “I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 December 2011 @ 6:48 am

  36. Well remember that my neighbour is in his 70‘s and we are talking about a thatch which gets sodden in a house without a fire and collapses under its own weight to make a perfect medium for propagation of any seeds that blow in. In this mild climate 30 years would be enough for the briars to overwhelm anything and tree roots will burrow under walls that have no foundation.

    Yes I scribble, scribble, scribble. In the past before the internet was a rumour I published a few short stories nationally in New Irish Writing now defunct, a good venue. It’s been a while since I sent anything away and I’m not sure if the print medium isn’t kaput. I like the speed of the blog, its ephemerality and at the same time its permanence. Private transmission to e-readers could be a way forward with donation for direct darshan/emails of the maestro. Imagine your word document with all versions intact and total history of emendation to feed the academic piranhas.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 15 December 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  37. “He stepped into a bakery and pointed to an apricot croissant in the display case, waiting with embarrassed helplessness as the small woman behind the counter sorted brusquely through the coins he held out in the palm of his hand for her inspection.” (me, 2011)

    “Edmund bought a ring of sesame bread and gave her half. He paid for things by opening his fist and letting the vendor sort among the coins. It proved to everyone that he was only passing through.” (DeLillo, 1988)


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 December 2011 @ 9:37 am

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