I haven’t read Sheila Heti or Ben Lerner’s recent novels, the impetuses for Blake Butler’s recent, anti-realism-themed Vice article, but I’d like to respond to Blake’s finely-written itemized essay, because I, personally, continue to desire novels written by humans, which relate, slipperily or not, to human reality–subjective, strange and ephemeral as it is–novels which deal with such humdrums as sex, boredom, relationships, Gchat, longing, and, beneath all, death. I want a morbid realism.
I agree with Blake that a reality show like The Hills and social media such as Facebook create stories by virtue of humans doing simply anything. The documenting, sharing, and promoting of mundane everyday human life is more prevalent and relentless than ever before. In this environment, literature (and movies) about humans (most controversially, about privileged, white, hetero humans) that presents everyday drank-beers-at-my-friend’s-apartment life, wallows in self-pitying romantic angst, and doggy paddles po-faced through mighty rivers of deeply profound ennui can potentially seem annoying, or boring, or shittastical.
What kind of sandwiches do you like to eat? What kind of sandwiches do you like to make? Have you ever enjoyed a sandwich made by a stranger and attempted to make a copy of your own in private? Have you ever stolen a sandwich? Have you ever stolen food? Have you ever stolen anything that was quite expensive? Have you ever committed a felony? Are you a criminal? What is the most exotic animal you’ve ever ridden? Are you interested in ambergris? What is the longest you’ve ever gone without eating? Do you read anything that makes you think it is possible to interact with humans in consistently positive ways? Have you ever had sex on a plane? Have you ever seen anything no reasonable person would believe? What’s the best way to kill an hour? What is your favorite color? Do you know anybody named Fanny who is under 40 and isn’t British? Ever been inside a pyramid? How long have you gone without showering? Ever met a venerator of Satan? What do you think about globalization and the internet? What can you tell me about the “dark web?” How about that line from Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that mentions a “27-inch Zenith” which has in the interim become a respectably-but-not-shockingly-large TV size? Do you think you’d be one of the people refusing to administer shocks to someone with a heart condition if ordered to do so by an authority figure? Have you ever been really, really star-struck? Has anyone you’ve told about being star-struck appeared bored by your experience? Have you ever had intercourse on [a] psychedelic substance[s] and thought you were inside an octopus or that you were an actual octopus? What do you think about the narrative possibilities of a series of questions? Have you ever owned an Erector Set? If someone hasn’t read P.P. is s/he also allowed to construct a series of questions in book form and plaster excerpts in public places and make vimeo videos with celebrities and porn stars reading from the series and still love J.J. for implanting the image of an arm inserted elbowdeep in a male vulva in his/her mind and for coining (among xxxxxxx) pronouns “shis” and “hrim?” What’s your sign, birl? Have you ever been dangerously close to murdering someone? Maiming? Do you take the national security of the United States of America seriously? Would you take a bite out of a human heart (and not even necessarily swallow) for $3,500 (or for nothing if you must) if a donor had stipulated in THEIR will that THEY would donate $3,500,000 to all cancers if someone did the heart biting thing and took money for it.com? Do you ever slip into certain modes of thinking/speaking based on your level of ______? Does heavy whipping cream always sound erotic to you? Ever listen to “I Like It Rough” on repeat while beating yourself in the face with a velveteen hammer just to “see what happens?” EP UPI RBRT make coffee at night then put it in cup and place the cup somewhere so it can cool off and not “attract attention” then after it has cooled off place the cup next to your bed so it will be there when you wake up because if you wake up without the cup there you might not be able to get up and make coffee and you also like the shudder induced by the cold bitterness? Have you ever seen your name on a blimp/”met” Jason Schwartzman? Do you think I spelled it correctly without looking it up? Do you know what an SP-1200 is? What is the most notable song (and only one I can think of right now) referencing the SP-1200? Wanna go inside a pyramid?
Does anyone write disses like this anymore?
The literary convention of the time is so artificial… that, naturally, the feeble are tempted to outrage, and the strong are led to destroy the very foundations and rules of literary society. Signs of this are everywhere apparent. Grammar is violated; syntax disintegrated; as a boy staying with an aunt for the week-end rolls in the geranium bed out of sheer desperation as the solemnities of the sabbath wear on. The more adult writer do not, of course, indulge in such wanton exhibitions of spleen. Their sincerity is desperate, and their courage tremendous; it is only that they do not know which to use, a fork or their fingers. Thus, if you read Mr. Joyce and Mr. Eliot you will be struck by the indecency of the one, and the obscurity of the other. Mr. Joyce’s indecency in Ulysses seems to me the conscious and calculated indecency of a desperate man who feels that in order to breathe he must break the windows. At moments, when the window is broken, he is magnificent. But what a waste of energy! And, after all, how dull indecency is, when it is not the overflowing of a superabundant energy or savagery, but the determined and public-spirited act of a man who needs fresh air! Again, with the obscurity of Mr. Eliot. I think that Mr. Eliot has written some of the loveliest single lines in modern poetry. But how intolerant he is of the old usages and politeness of society – respect for the weak, consideration for the dull! As I sun myself upon the intense and ravishing beauty of one of his lines, and reflect that I must make a dizzy and dangerous leap to the next, and so on from line to line, like an acrobat flying precariously from bar to bar, I cry out, I confess, for the old decorums, and envy the indolence of my ancestors who, instead of spinning madly through mid-air, dreamt quietly in the shade with a book. -Virginia Woolf, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”
Check out James Joyce’s raunchy love letters [thanks to LL].
e.g. “I am happy now, because my little whore tells me she wants me to roger her arseways and wants me to fuck her mouth and wants to unbutton me and pull out my mickey and suck it off like a teat. More and dirtier than this she wants to do, my little naked fucker, my naughty wriggling little frigger, my sweet dirty little farter.”
These are some books I bought or otherwise acquired recently. A hill of words.
& that is a can of beans.
Pittsburgh, PA — 2010
I read most of this book at the park that is in the book on a pretty much perfect day and it was a hell of a pairing I have to say. It has the kind of restraint my own work lacks a lot. Makes me jells but not bad way. Read the rest at my ex’s apartment who is no longer my ex while she made me dinner, which I could not believe was happening and yet there it was happening. I often felt breathless and thought maybe that’s not such a dumb name for a movie after all. READ MORE >
1. Artists of genius, such as Goya, or those of merely remarkable talent, do their best work outside the bounds of capital, patronage, and today’s Great Strip Bar of Artistic Veneration that is New York City, and to a lesser and lesser degree, Paris. Autonomy of creation relies on autonomy of thought and production. –John Sevigny on Francisco Goya, at Guernica
2. “Wasn’t there a sentence in there somewhere that we don’t have now,” Simon asked Mills outside, “where he says — and this is a terrible sentence, but — ‘I went over to the house, and I was hoping there would be a message there or something’? I feel there’s an emotional bump between him talking about his father, which is real substantive stuff, to a moment of what sounds like, by comparison, almost petty practicality about, What I’m going to do with Dad’s house? It goes from one to the other and there’s no…” –David Simon on the set of Treme, a NYT profile
4. The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon. –the Abilene Paradox
5. “They are all there, the great talkers,” he answered, “them and the things they forgot. In Ulysses I have recorded, simultaneously, what a man sees, thinks, and what seeing, thinking, saying does, to what Freudians call the subconcious,–but as far for psychoanalysis,” he broke off, “it’s neither more or less than blackmail.” –James Joyce, A Portrait of the Man Who Is, at Present, One of the More Signifigant Figures in Literature, from Vanity Fair (1922)
6. In a series of mock gunfights with colleagues Bohr always drew second and always won. –The gunfighter’s dilemma, or, Always draw second
7. Seizing the moment I told him that I had been hustling him and had deliberately lost the first four games. His response was that I was a patzer. All during the filming of 2001we played chess whenever I was in London and every fifth game I did something unusual. –Playing Chess With Kubrick
You know who wears sunglasses inside? Blind people and assholes. — Larry David
It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision. — Helen Keller
I’m into the girls fancying me and stuff, mad for it. — Liam Gallagher
A man’s errors are his portals of discovery. — James Joyce
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about books considered legendary, classics, for their language and singularity in time. And then for how those books, over that time, have become books considered timeless and vital to the cause, innovators without which… etc. Joyce, Beckett, Stein, Faulkner, etc. The big names everybody deigns to have read, often via schooling, and who you often hear the more serious critics and often honchos in publishing referring to at large. Seems like I’ve seen or heard of a lot of speech where people in the publishing industry (particularly the larger sections) are talking about their influences and what they like, and many of them referring to these classics, and even if they haven’t said it aloud surely they would not shake their head at the idea that these books are the foundations of how we’ve come to where we are, and etc.
So, then, it becomes confusing to me, in this reckoning, when I think of how most any of these books, if approached today, would not exist. I can’t think of most any publisher, even the major and innovative independents, that would release Ulysses again right now, if instead of an accepted masterpiece, it were a third book by some Irish guy who had published a collection of short fiction and a weird novella. I can’t see even the more edgy presses like Dalkey doing it, or FC2 (EDIT: actually, FC2 recently published Vanessa Place’s La Medusa, which is the closest thing I’ve seen to doing what I’m talking about, which means they might have, maybe), or any of the other countless innovative-based upcroppings. Even the more “languagey” presses often don’t do books that are super-languagey, despite the seeming overwhelming admission that those monsters are the ones that defy time, and sell, perhaps gradually, forever. Maybe it would happen, but it would be a long fight, and a wellspring. I certainly can’t see a major doing it. That kind of freaks me out. Not only in that these works would not exist, but that their influences would not exist either, effectively turning off the power they’ve had in moving things forward over the time they’ve been around.
But those books sold then and sell now (and are curriculum!) for a reason, and part of it is because people since then are being taught not to read what they do not understand. A gradual and stuttered concept that could, over another gradual and stuttered period, be reversed.