Paisley Rekdal got two Facebook messages last January from fellow poets who had some disturbing news: a poet in England by the name of Christian Ward had taken an old poem of hers and published it, barely altered, as his own. Her first reaction was to wonder if it was some kind of experiment. Perhaps by changing the gender of the author of a poem about infidelity and infertility, he was teasing out new meanings?
Then she saw the “new” poem, with its new line breaks and minor but grating word changes. It was obviously a work of deception, not conceptual play. “That’s the thing that enraged me,” she said recently. “If he had just plagiarized the poem and published under his name, I would have been less annoyed. When I saw he wanted to take part in something I had done myself and claim it as his own, I felt kind of violated.”
Rekdal, who responded to Ward with a righteously angry blog post (and later a more melancholy one), is not the only one feeling violated these days. The poetry world experienced something of a plagiarism epidemic last year. CJ Allen withdrew from the shortlist of England’s Forward Prize in September when it was revealed that he had plagiarized some of his past work. Australian poet Andrew Slattery was stripped of three prizes when it turned out he had cribbed from Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, among others. When caught, he claimed the poems were written in the cento form, in which each line is pulled from another source; he also called his work “a cynical experiment.”
The list goes on: British poet David R. Morgan admitted last spring that many of his poems, stretching back to at least the 1980s, had been plagiarized. Rekdal’s perpetrator turned out to have stolen from several other poets, including Helen Mort and Sandra Beasley. Graham Nunn, longtime organizer of a major Australian poetry festival, was accused last September of at least eight instances of plagiarism, which he defended in part as “sampling”; on his blog, he wrote that “[r]eading and listening to music are a vital part of my process” and that “parts of the original text are creatively appropriated in the formation of a new work.” These are all published, and often prize-winning, poets—they are not students or amateurs. Why did 2013 become the year of the plagiarists?
Writing is a dance that involves imitation, inspiration, and originality. But all things considered, writerly disapproval of plagiarism has remained remarkably consistent over the centuries—really, even over millennia. The Roman poet Martial accused his rival Fidentinus, whom he called a “miscreant magpie”: “My books need no one to accuse or judge you: the page which is yours stands up against you and says, ‘You are a thief.’” Martial was particularly galled that Fidentinus had mixed in his own inferior work with Martial’s original material. Yes, approaches to borrowing and attribution have shifted over time, but wholesale copying has never been kosher.
T.S. Eliot, who relied on other sources for much of “The Waste Land” (plagiarism or allusion?), famously wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Less often quoted is the next line, “Bad poets deface what they take.” This is what seems to gall many victims of plagiarists: to see their poems reprinted in weaker versions than the original.
Ruth Ellen Kocher, a Colorado-based poet and professor, recently learned that her 2004 poem “Issues Involving Interpretation” had been plagiarized online by an Australian named Vuong Pham. Pham kept her line breaks intact but changed a few words and added some new lines. “When he stole my work, he didn’t make it better,” Kocher said. “If my work was going to be taken and pilfered in that way, I would have loved to see it undergo a transformation and evolution.” Instead, she said, it reminded her of a “reverse revision”: his small changes actually made the poem worse.
Since the 19th century, when the Romantics embraced what Marilyn Randall, a professor of French studies at the University of Western Ontario and the author of a 2001 book on literary plagiarism, calls the “authentic poetic soul,” borrowing has become even more cemented as a literary crime. (Rekdal refers to her plagiarist as a Romantic, because “he was trying to tie his own imagination to the poem and claim it.”) Even in our age of collage and appropriation and “intertextuality,” it’s only at the extreme edges of such experimentation that you’ll find even mild defenses of outright plagiarism.
Despite the fact that plagiarism has always been taboo, readers are often more forgiving of historical offenses. As Thomas Mallon puts it in his insightful 1989 book on plagiarism, “Stolen Words,” “Everyone enjoys a good scandal in the present…. What we seem far less able to endure is that plaster cast falling from the library shelf: Its shattering somehow bothers us more than the live body going off the cliff.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for example, was an inveterate thief, but he remains firmly in the canon. Hart Crane borrowed heavily from a lesser-known poet named Samuel Greenberg, most notably in his early poem “Emblems of Conduct.” (“No doubt he meant to acknowledge his debt,” James Laughlin wrote in 1939. “It simply slipped his mind.”)
More recently, the British conceptual poet Ira Lightman, who was behind many of last year’s revelations, got involved simply because he didn’t see anyone else doing it. “The poetry world is genteel,” he said. “People don’t like to make any kind of stir.” Lightman has taken it upon himself to comb through suspect work, alert the victims, and publicize his findings.
But even Lightman, who spent untold hours last year ferreting out violators, doesn’t want to banish them indefinitely. “I don’t see them all as these sinister, plotting, Machiavellian characters,” he said. “I see it as a corruption. And we’re all vulnerable to corruption.” He suggests that transgressors retreat to self-publishing for a few years, prove themselves honest, and then return to the fold.
If plagiarists are not sinister and Machiavellian, then why do they do it? This question gets asked every time there’s a fresh revelation of plagiarism, whether it’s in the literary world, journalism, or academia. There’s never a satisfying answer, but there are at least lots of guesses, often somewhat at odds with each other: laziness or panic, narcissism or low self-esteem, ambition or deliberate self-sabotage.
In poetry, at least, everyone agrees it’s not about the money. “One of the hardest things is that the stakes in poetry are not very high,” Kocher said. “I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m not going to cure cancer with one of my poems. I don’t get paid an extraordinary amount of money, and I don’t have any great notoriety outside of the writing community. So to take something that most people engage in as an act of joy and sully it this way—it just seems one of the most egregious offenses.”
But does anyone write just for the money? Laurence Sterne, the plagiarist author of Tristram Shandy, said he wrote “not to be fed but to be famous.” Now, of course, he is. It worked.
The Internet has made both plagiarism itself and its detection much easier for everyone. But the major cases that came up in 2013 have all concerned British and Australian poets, often, but not always, cribbing from American ones. Despite some speculation that our national character makes us less likely to plagiarize—Americans are obsessively respectful of private property! American egos are too big to rely on other people’s work!—there’s also the possibility that Americans have simply been lucky enough to not be caught in the current dragnet.
For one, the primary detective is British, more familiar with the Commonwealth scene than the American one. And it’s not as if Americans haven’t been caught in the past. An Iowa poet named Neal Bowers, a former editor of Poet and Critic magazine, wrote a 1997 book about tracking down the Illinois elementary school teacher who published work copied from Bowers in 13 journals over the course of a few years. “It’s a very uneasy feeling,” Bowers told the New York Times at the time, “a bit like having a stalker.”
The gut reactions of the plagiarized are hard to predict. The poet and essayist H.L. Hix, for example, found out in October that his work had been lifted by Graham Nunn in an Australian anthology of love poems. He said his first reaction to getting the news from Lightman was sheer surprise: “As a poet one gets used to being completely ignored.”
Some victims feel moved to reach out the perpetrators. Kocher sent a note to Pham through Facebook after he posted a brief apology, which has since been removed, on his blog. She hasn’t heard back. (Pham has defended himself by saying he was simply naive and not taught about proper attribution; he also recently wrote that he has become a victim of cyberbullying.)
After Paisley Rekdal posted her open letter to Christian Ward on her blog, she also asked online for an apology from him. She got one: a one-sentence email that she recalls as something to the effect of “I’m sorry, I’m not this kind of person.” It’s the kind of open, vacuous statement that could make you hate someone, or feel sorry for them, or both at once. “He gave me what I asked for,” she said, “but he gave me no more than what I asked for.”
Is there such a thing as a resolution to a plagiarism story? Plagiarism isn’t a crime, there’s no universally accepted punishment for it, and the perfect expression of contrition may never come. Hix, for his part, says he has no plans to get in touch with Graham Nunn. “These were love poems that are being stolen,” he said. “I don’t have any more interest in speaking with Mr. Nunn than I would with the person who had broken into my house and stolen my property.”
Janey Smith is a writer in San Francisco.
What struck me immediately after my dad died is that the grief I felt seemed simultaneously the most and the least unique feeling in the world: in its singularity no one could understand it; yet in its universality, to some extent, everyone could. I was comforted by this; by this sense that millions and millions of people have been in this situation and got through it. Time rolls on.
I find it interesting that in the therapy I’ve had since he died uniqueness and originality are subjects I’ve returned to again and again. Primarily, it has to be said, I’ve spoken about these subjects in terms of disappointment at realising that aspects of my personality I’d always thought were just completely my own are not really, after all, so unique. I don’t know what it might mean; perhaps it’s some sort of accounting I’m carrying out: what’s me; what was him etc? Perhaps, as well, I may just have sublimated the wanting of an original grief; that desire then emerging in another form? I find a possibility of truth in that. I realise I have a problem with grief: I feel guilty about indulging it. My dad dying was the terrible thing and that anything else might come close to causing me an equivalent level of pain – I mean even my grief over him dying – feels like something awfully hard to accept.
Last Thursday it was exactly four months since he died. I went to work; I sat at my desk; I talked to my colleagues; and I checked Facebook and my Gmail. I left at half five for an appointment with my therapist. The beginning of the week I’d felt very focussed on the coming Thursday; I’d expected it to be a tough day. As it turned out, for the biggest part of the day, it wasn’t tough at all. After seeing my therapist though things seemed totally to fall apart. I don’t know how to describe what happened other than to refer to those times a person feels hyper: a lot of energy; and, I guess, a kind of excitement at the things you might be able to do whilst in this mood; with it only slowly dawning on you that this excitement is a waste of time as this energy is directionless and impossible to focus. Well I had kind of the opposite of all that. There seemed to be a hyper-ness about how I felt, sure; yet instead of excitement featuring it absolutely was a down mood. And even now, two days later, I still don’t feel certain what happened: either I’d accessed something I’d tried to deny or I’d given one thing the name of something else out of a sense of dutifulness or, perhaps, a mixture of the two.
I wanted to tell my friend on Thursday about the significance of the day. I didn’t though. I wanted to tell it just as news but I was concerned, rather, it might come out as some kind of plea for sympathy. I’m not in a position yet to be able to assess the rights and wrongs of this.
This time last year I was involved in a brief relationship with a woman I’d met, in all places, via Facebook Scrabble games. I’d been playing online Scrabble for months – not in the hope of meeting anyone; just because I liked Scrabble – and opponents always seemed to be from London or Australia or somewhere; anyway, places very far away from where I live; this woman was from Stockport – just round the corner, effectively. Anyway, her dad had died some years earlier and she missed him very much; and she got it into her head that she wanted to meet my dad. As time passed this seemed to become more and more of a preoccupation for her; yet, it began to seem to me, more a kind of theoretical preoccupation than an actual one. What I mean is she liked to discuss meeting my dad yet never wanted to make any actual plans to that end. So the meeting never happened. She would always ask though, often even before she’d asked how I was, if my dad was okay. Since he died I’ve wondered on several occasions if I should get back in touch with this woman to let her know about my dad. I haven’t though. I think the occasions when I do consider this are times when I very much do want sympathy – and not necessarily perhaps for reasons connected to my dad. To use his death then as a means of acquiring that sympathy would feel very wrong to me.
Empathy is possible, absolutely. Regarding this idea of ‘genuine empathy’, well, if ‘genuine empathy’ is only possible between like and like I reckon it’s an idea that’s better off ditched. A person can understand and share another person’s feelings, sure; of course though they can’t access those same feelings in their particularity and uniqueness. Over these past four months I’ve been hugely grateful for the support of family and friends.
Since he died I have cried loads. The most recent time being last night at the thought of sorting through his clothes which I knew I’d be doing today. So far I haven’t cried today.
Tonight I will drink two cans of lager. Two because it’s that there are only two in the fridge. In the days and weeks following his death I drank loads and I drank all manner of stuff. The main reason for my drinking was, I think, because I just didn’t want to be at home – the home I’d lived in all my life with my dad. Drinking took me to the pub. It put me amongst people – alright, most of the time not people I was talking to (generally I’d be in the pub alone with just a book for company); it made that period between getting into bed and falling asleep last probably just minutes; drinking had a lot going for it. Today, mentioning to my aunt about the two cans I’d had last night as well, I realised something had changed: recently I’ve been drinking less.
About a month after my dad died the mothers of two friends at work died. Then the month after that the mother of a third friend died as well. I don’t think there were sky high expectations of me being able to prove particularly empathetic given what I was going through myself; and that was perhaps fortunate for me. Mike said to me though that people he would have expected a lot from at that time had, he felt, let him down; whereas people he didn’t expect so much from had really delivered. The reason for me saying this – I assume it’s clear – is that he felt I’d delivered. He meant, I think, I’d said stuff to him which was appropriate and which was useful. I’d found that easy to do though. As I said to him, perhaps I knew what to say because I’d so recently gone through this stuff myself. And that easiness is something I just don’t trust. It feels like due to it being so easy for me to know what to say what I said can’t have meant too much. Really, I mean, how useful are words? And I feel my sense of their uselessness takes something away from them even as I’m saying them. Still though, at such times words are often all we have to give.
How do we learn about death? We can learn about it from books, sure; but from books we’ll only take the generalities. Death in its horrible particularity is something we can only begin to learn about as we see those around us we love die.
Richard Barrett lives and works in Salford, UK. His poetry collections are Pig Fervour (Arthur Shilling Press, 2009); Sidings (White Leaf Press, 2010); A Big Apple (Knives Forks and Spoons, 2011); # (zimZalla, 2011); The Shangri Las (erbacce, 2013); with, forthcoming, Free (Blart Books, 2014). His work has been widely anthologized; most recently in Philip Davenport’s The Dark Would. He is a co-organiser of the Manchester based reading series Peter Barlow’s Cigarette.
As 2013 came to an end, everyone made lists of the best books of the year. Sadly, most of the lists published in popular sites (again, I said most, not all) focused on whatever came from the Big Five during the year and left out the gems that came from indie presses. Then the same thing happened with covers. I read/saw best lists covers at places like Flavorwire and The New York Times, and none of my favorite covers were there. Sure, there were a few good ones, but most were unoriginal, unbalanced, mediocre, etc. You know, fake ripped paper, bad photography, a few birds. I held a lot of covers in 2013, and most came from indie presses, so I decided to make my own list of best covers. Here they are in no particular order.
Sociopaths in Love by Andersen Prunty. The cover image by Dorothy Bhawl is great. Plus, a naked man riding an old stationary bike while wearing an elephant mask has to be on any cover list you make. Grindhouse Press publishes outré literature, and their covers let you know what you’re getting into.
Bizarro superstar Carlton Mellick has made wise decisions throughout his career, and working with artist Ed Mironiuk is one of them. You don’t need to see Mellick’s name on a cover to know you’re looking at one of his book. As every year, Mellick released a few novels and they all had good covers. However, Clusterfuck gets the top spot because it reminds folks of Apeshit‘s cover, pays homage to all things 1980’s and gory, and because no one else out there has the guts to make underboob a recurring element in his or her cover art.
Michael J. Seidlinger is writing fantastic novels and editing/publishing top-notch literature over at Civil Coping Mechanisms. With whatever time he has left, he designs great covers. CCM covers are always different, and this year the best one was the cover for Heiko Julien’s I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death. It’s fun and wild and dirty, like a weekend in Vegas. Seidlinger is giving alt lit a look, and with the upcoming (June 2014) release of CCM’s 40 Likely to Die Before 40, and anthology co-edited by Seidlinger and Lazy Fascist’s editor Cameron Pierce and featuring work by Sam Pink, Scott McClanahan, Ana Carrete, Richard Chiem, Heiko Julien, Chelsea Martin, Megan Boyle, and many others, it looks like he will be doing it for a long time to come.
Chances are you haven’t heard of Dynatox Minitries yet. In 2014, you probably will. Author Jordan Krall started it as a project to publish limited edition books by neo-beat, neo-noir, horror, surreal, bizarre, and just plain weird authors he thought deserved a chance and weren’t getting one. It worked. Besides writing, editing, and publishing, Krall also does most of the covers, and some are as wild as the words inside. My favorite for 2013 is based on a painting by Krall and was designed for Randy Cunningham’s short story collection The Man With the Donald Sutherland Face.
It seems Two Dollar Radio is doing everything right these days, and covers are not the exception. I loved the image on the cover of Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia, but the best one this year has to be Jeff Jackson’s Mira Corpora. The color is unique and the art is eye-catching with a touch of creepy. Also, kudos to artist Michael Salerno for proving that with enough talent and drive, great things can be done with something as simple as a Flickr image.
Reading those rigged lists everywhere was hard for many reasons, but not seeing a Matthew Revert cover anywhere was insulting. Revert, who besides an outstanding designer is one of the best authors out there and whose novel Basal Ganglia made my list of best reads of the year, is the go-to man when it comes to eye-catching covers. Broken River Books, Lazy Fascist Press, Copeland Valley Press, Grindhouse Press, Dark Coast Press, LegumeMan Books, Swallowdown Press, and Raw Dog Screaming Press are some of the outstanding indie presses that regularly turn to revert for the kind of designs that sell books. Remember that famous cover that resembled a whisky’s brand and made Patrick Wensink a viral sensation? That was a Revert cover. Have you seen those recent books by authors like Jedidiah Ayres and Stephen Graham Jones that made Broken River Books the best thing to happen to crime fiction in 2013? All of them had Revert covers. All of Revert’s work deserves to be on this list, but I’ll give you the one for Pearce Hansen’s Street Raised and suggest you check out the rest of his work on your own:
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth (Eraserhead Press) and a few other things no one will ever read. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Verbicide, The Rumpus, HTMLGiant, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Z Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Word Riot, and a other print and online venues. You can reach him at email@example.com.
My sister died a year ago today. I would like to believe my grief is original, but it isn’t.
In “Plants and the Limits of Empathy,” Michael Marder argues that it is impossible for people to genuinely empathize with plants because we are too different. Any semblance of empathy is pure anthropomorphization.
To those who have not lost, they cannot empathize.
Make me human, darling, anthropomorphize me.
Ode to William Forsyth
by Sean Kilpatrick
I asked my friend Gerard Breitenbeck to portray sublime crack-smoking mafia rampage screen icon Richie, who is brought down way too quick by Steven Segal in Out for Justice. From an ode in progress honoring actor William Forsythe.
note: I’ve started this feature up as a kind of homage and alternative (a companion series, if you will) to the incredible work Alex Dimitrov and the rest of the team at the The Academy of American Poets are doing. I mean it’s astonishing how they are able to get masterpieces of such stature out to the masses on an almost daily basis. But, some poems, though formidable in their own right, aren’t quite right for that pantheon. And, so I’m planning on bridging the gap. A kind of complementary series. Enjoy!
January 7th, 2014 / 10:14 pm
- Here’s a gift idea: a two dollar bill. They’re fucking cool. It’s so usual and unusual. Here’s another one: a book of linked poems.
- An analogy is a comic roast. YOU ONLY ROAST THOSE YOU LOVE. Same with shooting a book. I only shoot books I love.
- Damn, that woke the neighbors.
- Tiny compressed mythologies.
- Fun fact: Thomas Jefferson was a bad, sloppy dresser.
- Numbering all whacked.
- There is a running, weeping elephant in this book.
Anytime someone excels at a first person narrative I’m kind of in awe because I think it’s really difficult to do well and sustain over pages. Creature, a hybrid thing of short fiction, memoir, and diary like confessions, by Amina Cain, had me initially extremely skeptical in its bold “I” format. But her voice is real, honest, and so crystal clear in her daily observations that I read the book in one sitting. Strange, sad, funny, caged-by-having-to-live, Cain attacks you in multiple ways and does so effortlessly. The narrator, an extension of Cain, also strives to become a good person and I enjoyed spending time with someone fighting not only the external world but the intimate and internal.
I met Alicia Escott walking along Church Street. I followed her to her studio at which point she turned around and introduced herself. To follow someone you don’t know is a creepy thing to do. Although, there are probably a few of you who might think it romantic. Politically, if you follow someone as an acceptance of their leadership, you may be thought of as a conformist, as someone incapable and unwilling to lead your own life. Within the arts, if you follow someone, you may be thought of as really smart, as a leader among artists, as someone who tries to bring art out of the gallery (if your following takes place out of the gallery) and into the street in order to explore issues such as space, time, and the human body. I follow people when I feel attracted to them, or when I feel bored.
On facebook, instagram, pinterest, tumblr, and twitter one’s social status and self-esteem are determined by the number of followers one has. Some people have made an art out of their tumblr accounts, posting sexy pictures, personal art, their day-to-day activities, and their creative writing. Other people have become so popular on twitter and facebook that they have multiple facebook pages and twitter accounts to accommodate their thousands and thousands of followers.
It would be silly to believe that the internet is a place where vast fortunes of time allow people to parade their private neuroses and/or personal accomplishments as public exhibitions, or that it somehow magically gathers knowledge for the security state and private corporations, which have come to know more and more about us while we know less and less about them. We are smarter than that. We are artists. We know, for example, that the internet is a special place where curiosity has not necessarily been liberated but bent to corporate profit, and we’re okay with that. We get it. With these things in mind, I humbly introduce the first of what I hope will become a series of posts that celebrate the time I kill at my day job, working on my personal brand while also working to ensure the security and profitability of the corporate state.
My favorite facebook photos of my facebook friends for the month of December, 2013.
In Following Piece (1969) Acconci tracked individuals through the streets of New York and into “public” spaces. Each pursuit is carefully documented with photos and time coded text. The chase could last for hours if the subject remains in what Acconci considers public spaces – streets, parks, movie theaters, restaurants – and ends only when the public person “goes private,” entering a residence, a car, and so on.
What seemed to designate a public space for Acconci was his ability to gain access and to not be noticed. Private space begins where one might be denied access or forced to identify oneself. Invisibility is paradoxically present in Acconci’s definition of publicness. As Acconci remains public, unnoticed and unidentified throughout the piece, so does his subject, typically seen from the back, faceless and anonymous.
When compiling the nonfiction list I limited myself to twenty titles, even though I could’ve easily made it thirty or fifty with the amount of good material published this year. For the fiction list I bumped the number to thirty, but could’ve easily exceeded it. For the poetry I decided on thirty-five. I’ll present them in no particular order. (N.B. I’ve omitted works published by fellow giants, which was hard considering the awesomeness of Klassnik’s The Moon’s Jaw or Lorig’s NODS. to name but two.)
These obviously represent my own interests and therefore omit plenty of titles I’m sure were great. Also, in the interest of transparency, my click-throughs use my Amazon Affiliate number, which means that I receive pennies when you click on the titles and end up purchasing something, pennies I save up and use to buy baby supplies.
In the comment fields of life, there are no on & offs. There is no accept & delete. There is no excess & there is no restraint. Or maybe there is. Certaintly there is access. There is willingness & unwillingness. There is acknowledgement & avoidance. Engagement & disengagement. Inclusion & occlusion. There is hi & goodbye. There is yes & no. There is a river & there is a storm. There is water either way.
Because there are also maybes. There are I’ll consider its. There are that’s a fine points & what else have you got to says. There are I respectfully disagrees & there are I need to think about its. There are apostrophes taken & ignored, acknowledged & untaken. There is a wealth of unexplored landscape. There are loops & holes & loop holes & there are twists & turns & twirls & I dunnos. There are especially I dunnos. A succession of them, like a foolish parade that swallows itself in a smatter of red.
Apology is not a precondition of saying I dunno. “I dunno” is full of flavor & sometimes vigor & definitely spice. Some say opera, others say life. Some say private & some say public. Some say pirate, others say privateer. Whatever the sphere, it’s been made clear, we are all a little less than godly. We are shit, gaudy at best & at worst we are naked.
Maybe that’s not right. Maybe at best we are naked.
The weird thing is, when I look into the night, I hope to see satellites, but all I see is stars.
Note: This is a small handful of books that I’ve either recently enjoyed or merely received in the mail, a more extensive review is probably in the works for a few of them, but for the moment I wanted simply to list the things themselves with notation where it seemed apt.
1. APOLOGY Magazine #2 I actually wrote the magazine’s editor Jesse Pearson about this one because I’d read that in the first issue they featured a Frederick Exley piece and that made me very happy. He was kind enough to send me the second issue and I’m planning to review it in a similar fashion to that tome I wrote about Out of Nothing, as these two things (Apology/OON) are some of the most exciting printed literary journals/magazines/etc. I’ve come across in quite some time. #2 features work from noir master David Goodis, as well as an interesting photo/essay from Richard Kern; and hijinks from Tim Heidecker; work from Steven Moore, Jerry Hsu, Anthony Berryman, and many others. I love the way this magazine feels very much.
2. Gigantic Failures by Mark Anthony Cronin. I bought this collection of short fiction (Disconnected Stories, the cover reads) awhile ago because I’d read a bit of Cronin’s work here and there online and was curious about the effect of one continuous block of his headspace. I was not disappointed. This is probably my favorite collection of short fiction put out by a small press this year, and reading it I was reminded of a younger version of myself voraciously reading through Jesus’ Son or The Big Hunger. I spoke with Cronin once about his appreciation for P.T. Anderson and since then can’t shake the notion that the absurdist-yet-highly-emotive world depicted in these stories connects easily to the fragments of a Magnolia or Boogie Nights. I fucking love this book. Amber Sparks, another author of a fascinating recent collection May We Shed These Human Bodies, had this to say “’The Man’s name was erased, totally forgotten. He became something beyond himself: a sermon given unto the world…’ Make no mistake: Mark Cronin has given us a collection born of myth and archetypes. Despite the modern settings, despite pop culture references sprinkling the stories, despite the piles of Walmarts and McDonald’s and AK-47s—these are stories that get at the heart of very simple, age-old truths, and the dream of what it is to be human in any time.” An excerpt was published at Volume One Brooklyn, and you can order the thing here.
3. Technological Slavery: The collected writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, a.k.a. “The Unabomber” introduction by Dr. David Skrbina Over the summer I had the immense pleasure of reading Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, and as a result have since kept my eye out for the occasional potentially-fucked narrative pressing the reach of reality that much farther. For awhile I was convinced there was something deeply profound in the connection between the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson and Charles Manson, and as a result purchased Wilson’s solo record and spent several weeks researching that element of the Manson ordeal. I came up with very little, but that isn’t really the point. Lately, a research obsession has been Kaczynski, and it’s largely due to my ignorance of the trajectory of his life thus far. When I was younger “Unabomber” was simply something people said when you wore a hoodie up and a pair of sunglasses, but since then I’ve realized that Ted Kaczynski is easily one of the most striking and disconcerting figures America’s ever seen—akin to Howard Hughes, I’d say, or the entire Kennedy family and all intertwined in their narrative rolled up into one man. Entering Harvard at sixteen, he then went on to become UC-Berkeley’s youngest professor before entering the woods to eventually embark on a mail-bombing spree that baffled the country until his “manifesto”—featured in this volume—“Industrial Society and Its Future” was published by the New York Times and a family member noted his writing style and he was locked away. He’s still alive, and recently sent his address in prison to the Harvard Alumni Association along with a list of accomplishments including his prison sentence. All that aside, because the list of Kaczynski’s criminal charges isn’t nearly as fascinating as the rest of his life, I bought this book because it felt like a source of information regarding our world that won’t even be considered for years to come. I think of entire college classes devoted to studying the Nazis in Germany in small Midwestern Universities and the prospect of this happening in 1950 being completely preposterous. I think of years to come when entire disciplines will exist devoted solely to the analysis of the Zapruder footage, say. I applaud Feral House for publishing this and other highly important titles. I am very excited that I as a living human animal am able to read this sort of thing without being arrested or something and that information is out there for us if we desire it, I dunno. I’m an idiot.
I failed several times to organize an in-person interview with my friend, writer David Fishkind. We web-chatted at length about drinks in the East Village of Manhattan. In the past, we had sometimes gone to…
Last week I did a Nonfiction Shopping Guide. Now I’ve got this list of fiction titles published this year, for all you last minute shoppers.
When compiling the nonfiction list I limited myself to twenty titles, even though I could’ve easily made it thirty or fifty with the amount of good material published this year. For this list I bumped the number to thirty, but could’ve easily exceeded it. I’ll present them in no particular order. (N.B. I’ve omitted works published by fellow giants, which was hard considering the awesomeness of Baumann’s Solip and Simmons’s Happy Rock to name but two.)
These obviously represent my own interests and therefore omit plenty of titles I’m sure were great. Also, in the interest of transparency, my click-throughs use my Amazon Affiliate number, which means that I receive pennies when you click on the titles and end up purchasing something, pennies I save up and use to buy baby supplies.
Comment in the thread here for a chance to win a copy of Ravi Mangla’s Understudies:
“a deadpan, sharply-observed novel about the sadness pervading a contemporary world fixated on simulation and celebrity. Like so much of America, the small town where Understudies takes place exists under a mediated, televisual spell. Everyone’s chasing fame, desperate for that particular brand of social capital endemic to the internet age.” – Michael Jauchen (3 AM)
A winner Ravi chooses from the comments will receive:
so, comment away (& I’ll notify the winner in a few days)
I wish this were fiction, but about three months ago, having not had sexual intercourse for almost two years, I researched homemade fleshlights, found loyal demonstrations on youtube, and went out to a hardware store the next day. It’s pretty simple: wrap a latex glove in a folded hand towel, using rubber bands to negotiate and sustain tightness, insert folded towel into a large plastic cup for mounting stability, then squirt about 2.5 fl oz of lotion into the glove, whose “lip” is folded outward around the towel, creating a simplified vulva, and well you get the picture. This simulated a woman pretty well, save the cold lotion and useless banter, and I fell into consecutive relief of this contraption until my dozen latex gloves ran out. In 1998, the Department of Psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh (Nature 391, 756) reported “an illusion in which tactile sensations are referred to an alien limb,” commonly known and repeated as the Rubber Hand Illusion, whose effect revealed “a three-way interaction between vision, touch, and proprioception.” Basically, test subjects looked at a rubber hand cloaked as if it were their own, while their actual hand (laterally blocked from view) was touched in non-corresponding ways. Results showed that visual perception of a false finger (e.g. middle) being touched would override the actual finger (e.g. index). This is a fancy way of saying that instead of looking at porn from a distant omniscient third i.e. the male “third wheel” cuckolded voyeur, planted in a room like a fern, I found life-size pictures of women’s faces looking into the camera, and displayed them on my laptop situated in correspondence to where a woman’s actual face would have been. The results were stunning, thanks to a fairly malleable ape brain. And yet, despite airbrushed perfection and a sterile brazilian wax, I missed — wondered about, as if assembling buried clues like an archeologist in a life after this one — some uniquely flawed person lying on me, a sack of fear who found repose, a quiet opening, in my own. We hold sad movies closer to us because they feel more descriptive, like morning breath and eye crust, acne and eczema, pube stubble you rake your tongue across, into the sudden flowering of your lover’s void.
THE OTHER NIGHT I had yet another great encounter in the Nod House. She and I were both in and outside a film, making out, when I became aware that soon the dream would be over and I’d once again have lost out on an emotionally & physically rewarding relationship. I asked her what other films she’d been in, so I could look her up on IMDB once I was forced back into wakefulness. She went on to list a few, none of which I had heard of — the most interesting of which was a horror film about a toilet with a set of eyes embedded in its tank, facing the wall, which no one ever discovered were there.
In any case, I woke up, sighed, and went about the business of trying to figure out what the fuck planet this *is* anyway.
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It would often seem that the women I meet in my dreams, divorced from the sheer mechanics of fantasy, have at times provided a fuller, more complex, and healthier array of experiences than those I’ve been romantically involved with in the waking world — tho certainly not for lack of hope or trying. I’ve fallen in love, been married, known passions unexplored otherwise, and had weepy moments of self-reflexive conversation in which we addressed whether our interaction was founded on past lives, cognitive magnetism aspiring toward actualization, or simply the phantasmal workings of my mind alone. I’ve written of experiences of this sort before.
Regardless, I’ve recently been considering my personal foundations for attraction, no matter their plane of operation. Everyone has their first crushes, grade-school infatuations and the like. Personally, I can’t remember a time when the romantic impulse didn’t thrive inside me. In kindergarten, there was a girl named Leanne Wolff. I tried to convince a friend of mine to help me build a net to use to catch her so she’d marry me. In first grade, braving mutual embarrassment, I knelt and kissed a girl’s hand in front of our entire classroom. Then in second grade, my first official girlfriend, Crystal Shepherd, and, next year, Crystal Lakes. I’ve been steadily heartbroken ever since.
Sexual awakenings, of course, are of a different sort entirely.
I did this last year and some folks seemed to dig it; plus, I enjoy the hell out of making lists and reading lists like these so I’m doing it again this year.
Even granting that these represent my own interests (film, philosophy, art, literature, etc.) and therefore omit plenty of titles I’m sure were great but fall outside my purview, with so many badass nonfiction books published this year it was nearly impossible to select only twenty titles. Tough cuts had to be made.
So my thinking behind this list was to present you with books that might not already be on your radar. Which is to say, a brilliant book such as Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia: A Biography of Place, or Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, or Jamie Iredell’s I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac, for instance, aren’t on this list because I figure you’ve already read them or are at least aware that they are completely awesome and that you need them.
Without further blah blah, you can expect two more of these in the coming days, one for fiction and one for poetry.
If you’re like me and haven’t even begun shopping yet, hopefully this list will help you find something for someone. Oh and for those who care, my click-throughs use my Amazon Affiliate number…the pennies that come back to me when you click on the titles go toward diapers and baby soap for my four month old son.