I admit it. I’ve been googling myself again. It’s Sunday afternoon. I’m stalling. Around page nine of my name –a few entries away from the really strange link asking if I want to find intelligence on my father–I stumbled across (not to be confused with Stumbling Upon, which would have been way less creepy) an excellent review in The Rumpus of Dean Young’s The Art of Recklessness by Darcie Dennigan. The review includes Walt Whitman’s semen in a conch shell, Peter Pan, Gertrude Stein on a spring day, and lots of oceanic hullabaloo, including shipwrecks. I’m always quoting Leopardi: How easeful to be wrecked in seas like these.
This weekend I spent some time thinking about how much people love talking about MFAs, what they’re good for, who should get one, why they’re terrible, how much they cost, why they’re wonderful and on and on and on. I never imagined that a college degree could generate so much vigorous discussion. I love it.
At The Rumpus, Anelise Chen wrote an essay about the MFA Ponzi Scheme. It’s a great, witty essay that makes good, if not commonsensical points. The comments are pretty intense with all kinds of opinions being shared about the MFA with a great deal of cost/benefit analysis. I love when writers get all math-y. I don’t have much of an opinion on MFAs. I do not have one. I do believe one should never pay for graduate school but that a graduate education is awesome. There are worse things someone could spend their money on, like drugs, though for some, that might be something better to spend their money on. I don’t judge.
I actually started writing this as a private email to you, but then I thought that posting about it would be more in the spirit of the Rumpus, and that the resulting conversation might be a useful one–more useful than if it was just you and me emailing. So here goes.
Why do so many posts on The Rumpus start from the premise that the author is somehow incapable or a weakling? I feel like I see examples of this all the time, but looking at the frontpage right now, there’s the Angela Stubbs article on Gina Frangello (second sentence: “She’s [the] kind of person you meet and you know seconds after meeting them, they’re capable of things you’d never be able to accomplish.”) and then the newest installment of Sari Botton’s Conversations with Writers Braver than Me, which I’m sorry, is about as terrible a name for a column as I can imagine–which is a shame, since it’s a good column. Oh and there was the Steve Almond’s “One Over Forty,” which was, actually, in some limited but real sense brave, and yet insisted on assuming the posture of a whipped puppy, even though the only one doing the whipping was Almond himself. Other examples abound, if anyone wants to go dig them out. I guess what I am asking is, have other people noticed this trend? And what is the deal with it? Does anyone have any ideas?
Unsurprisingly, I have an idea–and it’s that the Rumpus just happens to be where I’ve noticed something that is much larger: part of a general trend in contemporary indy- and small-press lit-land that insists on modesty to the point of self-abasement, encourages people to get awestruck at the drop of a hat, and rewards the expression of self-doubt rather than self-confidence. I think it’s related to the question Blake posed the other day, about why writers obsess in public over their rejections in a way that they never would (and, crucially, would never be allowed to) over their successes. In the case of both the above-quoted Stubbs sentence and the Botton column title, the attempt seems to be to pay a compliment to the subject of the piece, but the actual effect is to deflect positive attention from the subject (Frangello; Gould) and back onto the writer of the piece in the form of negative attention. In both cases, the reader has been put on notice that the author may not be equal to her chosen subject-matter.
It has not escaped my attention that both these examples are of women writing about other women. I keep trying to figure out how gender and gender-role-enforcement might play into this, but it’s a little bit more than I’m prepared to take on right now, other than to say that in American culture women are consistently forced to adopt or rewarded for adopting an aww-shucks posture in relation to the people and things that they would champion. This is a tendency which ought to be resisted with main force. Last thoughts: There’s no honor in being called brave by a self-professed coward. If your goal is to tell somebody “you are awesome,” try not to follow it right away with “and I am shit.”
When I was younger, I used to read Dear Abby and Ask Ann Landers. Those advice columns offered brief glimpses into the troubled lives of others. Sometimes, the columns were lighthearted and humorous with advice on how to deal with inlaws or children who refused to move out at the age of 31. There were more serious columns that dealt with addiction, or the death of a loved one, or a crumbling marriage. The advice of Ann and Abby was always sage, albeit a bit tame. In a few sentences they applied down home wisdom and common sense but more than anything their advice felt like a brief reminder that we are not alone.
When I first took a job as stripper, I had no sense that my decision to do so would have any real, far reaching effects on my life. To the contrary, I found in sex work a solution to very nearly all my problems at the time. No longer homesick or lonely, my new job not only remedied the un-belonging I’d experienced as a foreigner, but— as a product of a broken, working-class household, the first in her family to go to college, let alone study abroad– through sex work I discovered in myself a seemingly unending source of power and autonomy relating but not only having to do with my newfound ability to make money, and lots of it, anywhere in the world. And yet…
- from “Not Safe for Work,” an essay by my friend, Melissa Petro, about the lasting stigma associated not with being but with having ever been a sex worker. It is on the front page of the Rumpus today, and despite its title does not actually contain anything that will get you in trouble at your job. Which is just one reason why you should go read it now.
Dan: [...] I also think that flirting with you sometimes felt like playing with a puppy. Lots of energy without any particular direction, light wrestling, and you’d have no idea what to do with the stick if I threw it for you.
Elissa: I’d know what to do with the stick—
Dan: No, you wouldn’t. I felt old around you. I felt like I did drugs. I felt like a person who got drunk. I felt like an Adult. The problem was that I said shit like, “I won’t sleep with you.” This is maybe important because right then, you are freely allowed to compare yourself with other girls that I HAD slept with.
from “The Exit Interview: A Conversation with My Ex-Boyfriend” by the funniest romper at the Rumpus, Elissa Bassist.
June 10th, 2010 / 4:59 pm
If you live in NY, you should not miss this. Look at that! Also, just announced, there will also be a first ever reading from the Sam Lipsyte Creative Ensemble.
The Rumpus folks have offered to give away a pair of tickets to a random Giant reader. If you live in town and can make it, comment and we’ll draw at random someone on Friday evening to get the goods.
Otherwise, tickets can be gathered here: http://www.highlineballroom.com/bio.php?id=1403
Here’s Bill Donohue facing off with Sinead O’Connor and some less interesting people on Larry King Live. BD, if you don’t know, is the rabid bull terrier of the Catholic League, a far-far right outfit whose exact relationship to Catholicism-proper I don’t know much about. In this priceless clip, he literally makes the “if there’s grass on the field, play ball” argument re child-molester priests. The best part is when Sinead asks him to please explain to her what exactly he means by “post-pubescent.”And hey, since we’re up on Sinead today, here’s her recent op-ed in The Washington Post, the scariest part of which is when she mentions that her famous pope-tearing-SNL-episode was eighteen years ago. Wow.
at The Rumpus, Drew Johnson has got a big fat interview with Brad Watson, author of Aliens in the Prime of their Lives, and the man about whom Barry Hannah said “Only the Irish geniuses wrote like this.” Speaking of which, don’t forget about the Rumpus’s 4/6 NYC Reading and their Read With Sam Lipsyte Contest.
Defaced, the tumblr blog we’ve all been waiting for. I can’t wait to start contributing to it seven times a day (see above artwork). via Rachel Fershleiser’s facebook. Also on facebook, Elliott David reviews the new Lost: “Totally pointless jerk off waste of time Lost episode. I was really rooting for Keamy to kill them both. The fucking Kwons are lame.” I don’t know what any of that means, and kind of hope I never find out. Hey, and how awesome is this? “Carly Fiorina: Breadless holiday of Passover is a time to ‘break bread.” (via Mark Doten’s.)
And oh boy! Sex stuff! via A&L Daily-
via same, At the American Scholar, Brian Boyd wonders about all the unpublished Nabokov that’s out there.
Apparently, Saudi Arabia has an American Idol-style poetry contest show. (!!!!.) In this clip at Jezebel, which aired on state-run TV, a competitor named Hissa Hilal recited a 15-verse poem criticizing–among other things–clerics who issue fatwas, and suicide bombers. The clip, though untranslated and unsubtitled, is worth watching. The audience applauds occasionally, and she goes on to win the round. And now she’s getting death threats, but I guess that’s just to be expected. The Abu Dhabi National has a decent-size article on her. In English, duh.
The Rumpus has a long piece on Darius Rucker’s weird second career as a country singer. Also, Funny Women #20: Holiday with Communists. Also^2, The Rumpus will be at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on 4/6, featuring Sam Lipsyte, Colson Whitehead, Michael Showalter, Alina Simone, & more. You’ll be hearing from us about this again, but consider this the early warning system.
Vanity Fair presents something they call The Bookopticon, a kind of half-brilliant half-idiotic look at “the incestuous web of the publishing world.” The “interactive field guide illustrates how 10 young authors with potential best-sellers coming out this spring and summer fit into the firmament.” The first thing the chart reveals, before you even start clicking around, is a rather generous conception of the word “young”, which I think here means “under 40.” Now, I’m sure I’ll appreciate that generosity in 10 years’ time, but right now I’m going to go call BS (except on Simon Rich and Nick McDonell, who are both 26) because even the NBCC and Granta manage to cut their “young whippersnapper” lists off at 35 (though sometimes Granta cheats–but they also don’t know what the word “novelist” means; so let’s just figure they’re doing the best they can). ANYway. The chart is worth checking out and clicking around on, though a few key pieces of information are missing. For example, it’d be interesting to know how many of these people have the same agent, or who their agents are. Second, Vanity Fair fails to state the obvious, which is to identify themselves as participant observers, whose creation and presentation of the chart will almost certainly affect the thing they’re measuring/predicting (and hey- good for these guys!). There ought to be a VF node on the chart itself, to which all ten writers are connected. For those of you playing along at home, here’s how to figure out where you fit in: Start by ignoring everything but the Big 10 Names. Give yourself two points for each person you know personally. Give yourself one point for each person who is known personally by one or more people that you know, and with whom you could reasonably expect to be put in touch by the end of the business day (assuming of course you had some business to conduct, which you probably don’t–but if you did). Give yourself half a point for each person you do not know and could not reasonably be put in touch with today, but whose name rings a bell to you. Deduct a point for each person you have never even heard of. Also, if any person who got you two points is linked to Norman Podhoretz, you lose ten points. Now spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what those points translate into. I bet you can’t. (Also, I scored a 4 1/2.)
And finally, one more piece of useful advice from our friends in Dentonville, this thorough and practical post from Lux Alptraum at the very NSFW Fleshbot explains “How to be a dirty perv in the digital age (and not get caught).” The first answer, obviously, is dress like the Saudi poet whenever you’re going on Chatroulette, but the other stuff might be good to know, too.
Over at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow gets around to reading Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, a study of consumer behavior that challenges the “rational consumer” hypothesis. CD also links us to this NPR story on obsolete professions, such as switchboard operator, ice-deliverer, and “lector,” who is the guy hired by all the cigar workers in the factory to sit in the center of the factory floor and loudly read the workers left-wing newspapers and pro-union propaganda, so that everyone can better themselves and become less alienated from their labor. If this job ever makes a comeback, I want to do it! The NPR piece has photos of each profession and audio clips of very, very old people talking about when these things existed and they themselves–young then–did them.
Dennis Cooper is testing your sight recognition skills at a French wax museum. I already failed utterly.
The Rumpus asks: Would you like to write about poetry (for the Rumpus)?
Tell us about the last poem or book of poetry you loved, no length requirements. The best will be published right here in the blog. Send your entries to poetry-at-therumpus-dot-net.
They’re also looking for people interested in reviewing full-length poetry collections. But FYI: Stephen Elliott and I had a long conversation the other night about the problems with book reviews for sites like his (and ours); we are both highly suspicious of the kinds of “reviews” that read like press releases or protracted blurbs, because they don’t tell us anything we can’t glean from a blurb, which is two lines long instead of seven paragraphs. The site-meters prove that these pieces don’t get read or linked the same way that more incisive, interesting books-pieces do, so neither the book nor the review-author nor the site is benefiting. If you’re going to try and review some poetry for The Rumpus–which you absolutely should–be sure and give them some red damn meat to sink their teeth into–something we’ll want to link to after they publish it, something that tells me something about the book I couldn’t glean on my own from its Amazon page. Good luck!
NYTea Time: Lydia Millet loves on the new Lipsyte, and Laura Miller likes the new John Banville, but Allison Glock seems to like Tammy Wynette less after reading Jimmy McDonough’s new biography of the country star.
The life story of the fame/drug-addled brat is nothing new, but McDonough wants more than for us to appreciate Wynette, he wants us to like Wynette. Because he likes Wynette — a little too much at times. He writes a handful of chatty letters to his subject. Page 1 begins: “Dear Tammy . . . Don’t worry, I won’t spill all the beans — I can’t. There’s just too much about you that will never be resolved.” Putting aside the dubious choice to shoot your biography in the foot on the first page, writing mash notes to a dead woman is oddly creepy — and only grows more so as the letters progress, one recounting a dream he had about her in which she wore “a yellow pantsuit and matching headband.” At another point he admits to having had “the hots” for her.
At The Rumpus, Vanessa Garcia reviewed Kathleen Rooney’s new essay collection, For You, For You I am Trilling These Songs. Garcia’s consideration was highly ambivalent, and she ultimately rendered a verdict against. Then all hell broke loose in the comments section. Daniel Nester, Kyle Minor, Elisa Gabbert, and Tim Jones-Yelvington are just some of the local (to us here) luminaries who weighed in with complaints against the review. Rumpus Books editor Andrew Altschul has responded several times; he and Nester are particularly aggressive with each other. What makes this more interesting than a flame war is that the vitriol seems not excessive, but central and perhaps necessary, to an earnest conversation about how nonfiction–memoirs in particular–ought to be read and discussed. My one critique of said discussion is that there seems to be an undercurrent of umbrage–palpable but pointedly not articulated–at the fact of a negative review having been written at all. Critics who pan things should expect to have their prerogative cross-examined, their biases speculated upon, their motives questioned, etc.–which is not to say that Garcia’s critics are wrong, only to point out that a positive review is never reprimanded for its angle, however wrong-headed or idiotic that angle might be. If we are willing to court and accept facile praise, do we have the right to demand anything better from our detractors? (Again: not to suggest Garcia’s piece is facile, or “wrong”; having not read Rooney’s book I withhold judgment on both it and the crit of it.) Anyway, the comment-thread is still active as of this morning, and the whole thing is worth giving a look to.
I’ve gotten so used to thinking about The Rumpus as one of my go-to sites, and linking to something of theirs in damn near every web round-up I do, that I’ve nearly forgotten about the days when I used to put posts together that focused exclusively on them. Let’s do that now.
And in Books Stuff: Virginia Konchan reviews Catherine Bowman’s The Plath Cabinet; Andrew Altschul on Marisa Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music; Catherine Brady on Eric Puchner’s first novel, Model Home; and that Steve Almond piece about self-publishing that I linked to yesterday.
All that and more. But hey, here’s something else important: New York folks, on March 11, Rumpus editor Stephen Elliott will be lecturing on “Writing From Experience,” something he damn well knows something about, at the LGBT Center on West 13th street. $30 reserves you a space, and you can buy your ticket here, but there’s also one free ticket up for grabs, and you can win it by leaving a comment on this post. From Stephen: comments can be “about anything at all, it could be why they should get it, what their project is about, or just random thoughts about the weather.” He’ll be looking over the thread and will choose the commenter whose post somehow says “Yeah, I’m worth giving free shit to and spending two hours with.” So, yeah. Happy Friday!
PS- Art by Ryan Lauderdale, who has a show opening at Red White Yellow gallery in Houston on March 13th.
Top of The Rumpus today is our own Alec Niedenthal on Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography.
Homeboy-in-chief Kyle Minor wrote a massive piece on “A Kidnapping in Haiti” that went up yesterday. You should make time for it.
Ronnie Scott, editor of The Lifted Brow (which we’ve been excerpting all week here) has a long interview with Jonathan Lethem.
Also, New Yorkers, don’t forget that the Giant/Rumpus Event is tonight at Broadway East.
Employee: See, the thing is — and I don’t know how much you know about it — it’s all stored in a database on the backend. Literally everything. Your messages are stored in a database, whether deleted or not. So we can just query the database, and easily look at it without every logging into your account. That’s what most people don’t understand.
The Rumpus has scored an interview with an anonymous Facebook employee for Conversations About the Internet #5.
In giddy pleasure for our sisters, we are pleased to announce and celebrate the one year anniversary of The Rumpus, who for that whole full year has been feeding the nonstop glow of daily good. Now it’s time to enjoy that in the flesh (if you’re a NYer anyway). Those of us elsewhere can hang out in the spirit. But for those around, the digs are juicy. Looksee:
The evening will feature readings by a line-up of literary stars:
WHEN: January 21, 2010
7:00pm – 10:00pm
Hope to see you all there! Big love.
Hey, The Rumpus scored an interview with Paul Auster. Way to go, Juliet Linderman!
Also, for ya’ll NYC’ers, The Rumpus is at the Highline Ballroom tonight for their monthly shindig. This round features Starlee Kine, Rick Moody, Jonathan Ames, Todd Barry, Eugene Mirman, Care Bears on Fire (which the website describes as quote kid-core, which I assume is Spanish for “must be seen to be believed”), and special surprise guests TBA–well not TBA actually, I don’t think they’ll be A’d at all, which is why you want to go, so you can find out who they are.
But let’s just pick one of the people we actually know will be there–and we’ll do it random–and talk about what we think of them. Okay, uh, Todd Barry. Have you ever seen Todd Barry? Todd Barry’s a funny dude. I’ve seen Todd Barry. I laughed at Todd Barry, which is just what Todd Barry wanted. He wants it, I whispered to the girl sitting next to me. And she nodded back, because it was true. There was also another time I saw Todd Barry, but I’m pretty sure that time I was sitting next to a guy. Oh, look, here’s Todd Barry now.
Been a little while since we checked in with Stephen Elliott and his merry band.
Rumpus original fiction! “Bobcat,” a short story by Rebecca Lee: “Ray was failing at being a person. He’d been fooled by life. It had triumphed over him. I wanted to call out to him, over his wife’s head, Hey Ray, life has triumphed over you.”
Jeremy Hatch points us toward “The Dark Side of Sustainability,” which is itself commentary on “A Good Without Light,” an essay in the new Tin House by Curtis White which is happily available in full online. Hatch: “White argues that our capitalist industrial technocracy, underpinned by an arrogant scientism, has led us into this mess and is incapable of leading us out; that we must look beyond this economic system, and draw from other “systems of value” (religion, the arts, even social science, and I’d add secular philosophy to his list) to find a way out; and that we can do this without necessarily discarding all of capitalism, industry, technology, or science.”
Ted Wilson reviews the Bible and finds it wanting: “Usually I’m better at finishing books, but the Bible is comically long. Whoever published it used super thin paper, so it’s like twice as long as it looks. (I think there might be some duplicate pages accidentally printed.) And it certainly doesn’t help that it’s written in that old-timey language. Plus, I’ve never liked fantasy and the Bible is full of magic powers and other worlds. That’s just not my thing. It would probably appeal more to Harry Potter fans.” To be perfectly honest, it’s this kind of well-worn “satire” that’s just not my thing. But I assume I’m in the distinct minority on this, so if the preceding entertained you, you might as well click through for a whole lot more of the same.
Max Ross reviews Sleeper’s Wake by Alistair Morgan: “[I]n Sleeper’s Wake, the first novel by the South African writer Alistair Morgan, Wraith’s penis is actually a pretty neat literary device. It provides character depth and motivation, is the jumping off point for learning about Wraith’s past, and is central to every plot twist in the book.”
And Stephen himself has new Notes From Book Tour (#10) : “Then yesterday I went to a free clinic in Alameda for H1N1 vaccine. When I arrived there was a line that stretched for three blocks, thousands of people, almost everyone pushing a stroller or holding a baby against their collarbone. A woman behind me blew her nose and an old man coughed loudly. He looked like he was dying. I thought it would be ironic if I caught flu while waiting for the vaccine.”
Oh and for New Yorkers, the Rumpus is back at the Highline Ballroom on 11/17, with Rick Moody, Starlee Kine, Jonathan Ames, Todd Barry, the Six Word Memoirists, something called Care Bears on Fire, and who knows what else.
November 11th, 2009 / 11:29 am
Inspired by 300+ comments thread on Blake Butler’s now-infamous “James Joyce Does Not Exist” post, Kyle Minor and I had a critical conversation about Joshua Cohen’s A Heaven of Others. It’s up at the Rumpus as of this morning.
Minor: Reading A Heaven of Others, I felt [...] there was that same kind of shock one gets when entering into certain works of Faulkner or Woolf or Joyce, where you simultaneously are thrilled and a little intimidated by the surface, but it doesn’t take long to just fall into it, since the text is teaching you how to read the text. It’s been so long since I’ve discovered a book like that, it feels new, but then one realizes that it’s also old-fashioned, and mourns that it’s old-fashioned.