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Death

R.I.P. Rik Mayall

Massive People / 3 Comments
June 12th, 2014 / 2:00 pm

Amelia Gray’s Threats

cereals

Once I read Amelia Gray’s first novel, Threats.

I wanted to read it because I like threats, since they connote violence. I also wanted to read it because Amelia Gray is such a pretty name. Four out of the six letters in Amelia are vowels, the prettiest variety of letters. And gray is one of the best colors, being the color the sky turns when it’s stormy out.

The stars of the novel are a husband and wife, David and Franny. It was really refreshing to see a novel about a traditional husband-and-wife couple, especially nowadays, with so many liberal losers French kissing the tushies of same-sex couples.

Being traditional (i.e not a bisexual weirdo) is not synonymous with being bland. David and Franny are quite exceptional. A former dentist, David had “a keen ability to sense weakness prior to its development.” David can foresee when a tooth is about to be terrible before it actually is terrible. As for Franny, she’s dead. Being dead is much more special than being alive. Randi Zuckerberg, Sherly Sandberg, Kenneth Goldsmith — they’re all alive. Are they special? No.

Amelia’s narration of the peculiar couple’s tale is lucid. Using neatly constructed moments, Amelia discloses how eerie this boy and girl are. There’s one scene in which David takes out all of the old, neglected freezer food and starts to put it in his tummy. “There were bricks of ground beef fuzzed over with frost,” says Amelia, in a splendid sentence, where two words begin with “b,” two words start with “f,” and every word but one is a taut syllable.

Franny, who worked at a salon before dying, met her husband at the grocery store. The grocery store is an endearing place. It’s where one purchases hot cocoa, cookies, and other delicious delicacies.

Besides Franny and David, Amelia’s story contains lots of other captivating characters. There’s a contemplative popo named Chico, a girl who resides in David’s wasp-wrought garage, and a boy in search of sugar cereal.

As for the threats that David continues to uncover, you should read Amelia’s book to find out about them.

Author Spotlight / 5 Comments
November 20th, 2013 / 1:35 pm

I Like Church A Lot

Hey, I had to go to a church recently. I was doing some childcare for a relative, and it was on a Sunday. Kids of a certain age lead an orderly life. Included in the order of the lives of the kids for whom I was providing some childcare was their regular Sunday morning visit to a Unitarian church in Seattle. Being a dutiful relative, I agreed to keep the child to the child’s orderly life and attend a Unitarian church service with the child.

And I had a pretty good time. It seems I like church a lot.

Turns out even though I stopped going to church 28 years ago, and even though I attended an Anglican church during the years I attended church, I still had all the rhythms of church hardwired in me. I may not have known the specifics of the creed or the words to the hymns and the prayers, but I felt like I knew all the gestures and the sentiments. I knew when to stand and when to sit. The Unitarian service’s language seemed a little strange to me—it was 19th century, and felt American, and seemed weirdly concerned with architecture—but everything else clicked into place pretty easily.

Best of all, though, it gave me an opportunity to sit and really think about death. I mostly don’t really write anymore. I mostly just sit and think about death. I mostly try to sleep and can’t sleep because I start to think about death and then find I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about death. And I mostly feel weird about lying in bed thinking about death because it doesn’t seem like the right place to be thinking about death, so I don’t sleep. I should be trying to sleep. I should be trying to clear my mind. I fight to clear my mind. I fight to clear out thoughts of death. And I fail and fail and fail.

Churches, as I’m sure you are already aware, are all about death! They don’t ask you to clear your mind of all thought of death.

And the church didn’t just give me a place to think quietly about death. It was a place to think about it actively and in a participatory way. It gave me plenty of cues telling me that I was in a place where thinking about death was encouraged. I found myself thinking about death in the proper setting. The right context. It was fantastic.

Like:

Many of the seats in the church have little plaques on them. The plaques say that the seats were “given” to the church in honor of someone. And that someone is dead!

Many of the books in the church have bookplates in them. And the bookplates say that the books were “given” to the church in honor of someone. And that someone is dead, too!

The programs they give you when you enter the nave to find a seat are filled with the names of the dead. The songs sung in a church are slow and quiet and mention death a lot. There are moments in a church service when everyone is asked to sit quietly, and during those moments, you can hear little creaking noises and breaths and coughs. Human bodies are filled with gas, and after death they make creaking and sighing noises. And the “death rattle” is a sort of choking cough people near death make when their throats fill up with saliva they can’t swallow because they are dying and all their energy is going to that instead of to swallowing.

And, of course, a church was just lousy with older people who are really close to their own deaths. They’re the ones making most of the noises in the moments of quiet reflection. Because their bodies are getting away from them. Because getting older is just the our bodies getting away from us. Until finally, we can’t stop our bodies from getting so far away from us, they cease to function entirely. Try as we might to stop it from happening, our bodies just give up. Think about that next time you are unable to keep from coughing. Your brain fights and fights, but you cough, because you can’t will your body to stop. You’re going to die someday, and it might be like that. Your mind might be sharp or it might be dulled with medication or decay, but it might still try to will your body to keep going, but your body won’t have you telling it what to do. It will just stop working.

Thinking about that in church felt far less menacing to me than it does when I’m in bed, and the person next to me is asleep. And I’m not asleep, but I’m trying to sleep, and instead I’m worrying about death.

I like church a lot.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

I Like __ A Lot / 5 Comments
November 15th, 2013 / 8:02 pm

We Got Sick of Theory and Talked About That

alec-ken-conversation

Between July 9th and August 5th , Alec Niedenthal and I had a long & blabby conversation that began when Alec enthusiastically responded to me saying “I’m almost completely gagged now by fucks like Deleuze.” Knowing Alec mostly as a fellow young philosophy & theory head, I asked after his newfound disillusionment with the stuff.

That conversation posted here—mostly unedited—in hopes you find it useful or rousing.

Ken: What literature strikes you as bullshit now?

Alec: Your question is great, but I’m not sure that I’m equipped to answer it. I’ll explain why. First, I’m not sure how possible it is today to talk about what sort of art is valueless, ie bullshit, when the role of art is so unclear and, less evidently but no less significantly, when we as avant-garde writers are unsure whether there should be an institution called “Art” any longer. That’s to say, it’s hard to even talk about what literature should be doing when the “should”-level claim about literature in general—basically, what it ought to depict and how to depict it—is supposed to be. READ MORE >

Random / 6 Comments
September 17th, 2013 / 9:18 pm

Now the earth really is dying

I’ll try writing something more substantial about the man and his work later, but I just heard the sad news that author Jack Vance passed away. And on the same day as Otto Muehl, to boot (26 May). He was 96 [not 98 as I originally said, whoops].

Vance’s Dying Earth books rank among my favorite works of fantasy ever—hell, favorite books ever. As many have observed, Vance was one of our finer, stranger authors who never got the attention he deserved largely because his books had covers like this:

The_dying_earth_by_jack_vance

Here’s how Carlo Rotella put it in a 2009 NY Times profile:

Dan Simmons, the best-selling writer of horror and fantasy, described discovering Vance as “a revelation for me, like coming to Proust or Henry James. Suddenly you’re in the deep end of the pool. He gives you glimpses of entire worlds with just perfectly turned language. If he’d been born south of the border, he’d be up for a Nobel Prize.” Michael Chabon, whose distinguished literary reputation allows him to employ popular formulas without being labeled a genre writer, told me: “Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. If ‘The Last Castle’ or ‘The Dragon Masters’ had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he’s Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there’s this insurmountable barrier.”

I haven’t read anything more than The Dying Earth series, but have always intended to. Shame on me. (Jeremy M. Davies, who first got me to read Vance, was just telling me last week that I should check out The Languages of Pao.)

I know of only one Vance film adaptation: in 1961, his mystery novel The Man in the Cage was adapted for television, as an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller. You can watch it here (I’ve not seen it myself).

I’ll try writing more about The Dying Earth later, and why it moved me so. Until then, godspeed Mr. Vance, and I only hope your passing inspires others to check out your great work. (You can read some here.)

Massive People / 1 Comment
May 29th, 2013 / 9:22 pm

Dear White Race,

One dead white peoples equals how many dead non-white peoples?

Huh?
Huh?
Huh?

xoxo,
Baby Marie-Antoinette

***

– 14 April 2013: 30 children were killed in Syria.
– 15 April 2013: At least 37 people were killed in Iraq.
– 15 April 2013: 3 people were killed in Boston.

The icky white race says:

Picture 7

Picture 11

Picture 5

***

Baby Marie-Antoinette’s “Dear White Race” letter was first published 15 April 2013 on the cute literary corporation Bambi Muse.

Mean / 91 Comments
April 16th, 2013 / 3:45 pm