d.h. lawrence rages against the english

Cover Image


I wuvs you, Mummy!

"Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rutters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today."

—D.H. Lawrence, after failing several times in 1913 to place Sons and Lovers with a publisher

martin amis on nabokov’s the original of laura

Nabokov composed The Original of Laura, or what we have of it, against the clock of doom (a series of sickening falls, then hospital infections, then bronchial collapse). It is not “A novel in fragments”, as the cover states; it is immediately recognisable as a longish short story struggling to become a novella. In this palatial edition, every left-hand page is blank, and every right-hand page reproduces Nabokov’s manuscript (with its robust handwriting and fragile spelling – “bycycle”, “stomack”, “suprize”), plus the text in typed print (and infested with square brackets). It is nice, I dare say, to see those world-famous index cards up close; but in truth there is little in Laura that reverberates in the mind. “Auroral rumbles and bangs had begun jolting the cold misty city”: in this we hear an echo of the Nabokovian music. And in the following we glimpse the funny and fearless Nabokovian disdain for our “abject physicality”: 


  

“I loathe my belly, that trunkful of bowels, which I have to carry around, and everything connected with it – the wrong food, heartburn, constipation’s leaden load, or else indigestion with a first installment of hot filth pouring out of me in a public toilet . . .” 


 

  

Otherwise and in general Laura is somewhere between larva and pupa (to use a lepidopteral metaphor), and very far from the finished imago. 

  


—from Martin Amis, “The Problem with Nabokov,” The Guardian, Saturday 14 November 2009

 

james wood’s pitch-perfect parody of paul auster


Roger Phaedo had not spoken to anyone for ten years. He confined himself to his Brooklyn apartment, obsessively translating and retranslating the same short passage from Rousseau’s “Confessions.” A decade earlier, a mobster named Charlie Dark had attacked Phaedo and his wife. Phaedo was beaten to within an inch of his life; Mary was set on fire, and survived just five days in the I.C.U. By day, Phaedo translated; at night, he worked on a novel about Charlie Dark, who was never convicted. Then Phaedo drank himself senseless with Scotch. He drank to drown his sorrows, to dull his senses, to forget himself. The phone rang, but he never answered it. Sometimes, Holly Steiner, an attractive woman across the hall, would silently enter his bedroom, and expertly rouse him from his stupor. At other times, he made use of the services of Aleesha, a local hooker. Aleesha’s eyes were too hard, too cynical, and they bore the look of someone who had already seen too much. Despite that, Aleesha had an uncanny resemblance to Holly, as if she were Holly’s double. And it was Aleesha who brought Roger Phaedo back from the darkness. One afternoon, wandering naked through Phaedo’s apartment, she came upon two enormous manuscripts, neatly stacked. One was the Rousseau translation, each page covered with almost identical words; the other, the novel about Charlie Dark. She started leafing through the novel. “Charlie Dark!” she exclaimed. “I knew Charlie Dark! He was one tough cookie. That bastard was in the Paul Auster gang. I’d love to read this book, baby, but I’m always too lazy to read long books. Why don’t you read it to me?” And that is how the ten-year silence was broken. Phaedo decided to please Aleesha. He sat down, and started reading the opening paragraph of his novel, the novel you have just read.

—from James Wood, "Shallow Graves: The Novels of Paul Auster." The New Yorker, November 30, 2009.

Read the rest here.

make-believe gloabl summit with foucault, barthes, lacan and lévi-strauss


One day, way back in the 20th century, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Roland Barthes sat under an equatorial tree, living in their own imagined primitive past, discussing Global Studies. “What,” asked Barthes, “might the four of us contribute to a field that analyzes the world as a global system, stitched together—as Michael Curtin deftly puts it—by trade protocols, governance covenants, and communications networks?” Lévi-Strauss checked his notes, Lacan thought introspectively, and Foucault answered complicatedly. Each spoke of the cultural schemes that inform public policy and that structure debate about contemporary life. Let me summarize their conversation—translated from French.


On public issues of human rights, health, trade and transit, and environment—key foci of Global Studies—all agreed (though Lacan sat quietly) that global market integration between 1880 and 1914 and again beginning in the late 1970s drove a convergence of cultural practices that intensified human connectivity. In other words, this quartet concurred with what Suzanne Berger would later argue (2003): that 21st-century globalization had historical precedent, and that contrary to the classical idea of law as the rule of reason over human action, global norm-making is shaped by a few key ideas—including liberal-democratic ideas about resource distribution, social justice, equity, and popular sovereignty, which are themselves at the core of a few liberal democracies, including but not limited to the US, UK, France, and Germany.


—from
Amy Stambach, “What 20th-Century Theorists Have to Say about Our World Today.” global-e: A Global Studies Journal, Volume 3 Issue 8 (August 2009).


Read the rest
here.

“those beat people just about drove us crazy!”

—Jerry Hulse, "Beatniks Beat Bongos in Basement, Hearing Told," Los Angeles Times, 29 August 1959, sec. 1, p. 2. From the L.A. Times blog.

beckett on writing poetry

Beckett held the idea of the ‘professional’ poet in abhorrence. To him it was virtually a contradiction in terms. Craft, structure, rhythm, linguistic energy were assumed prerequisites, but poetry was a calling, not a profession, not something you could decide to do at a certain moment. He meant what Keats meant, whose work he knew so well, when he wrote that ‘if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all’. He certainly did not mean that poets should not earn money – he himself had taught for a while (was miserable during that time), had translated prolifically, written essays and reviews — but that the poem itself should not be academic or intentional, that the library shelves must not crush the furze. Beckett was a poet down to his teguments, ligaments, cells; standing or sitting, poetry’s presence in his presence was as pervasive as oxygen.


—from Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett. Faber & Faber, 2001.

“my mother explained the ’60s & ’70s to me by giving me her worn copies of Joan Didion’s essays”

It was 13 degrees outside. The winter light was piercing on the western side of Park Avenue. I had on two sweaters under my wool coat, a pair of leggings under my jeans, and winter boots with fur trim up to my knees. An ill-fitting knit hat scratched at my forehead and my sunglasses sat cold on my nose. I had just stepped out of an office where a doctor had told me about my inverted cervical spine, the herniated disc in my thoracic spine, and the pain I would need to accept.

At a previous appointment, another doctor had pressed on my back and said, “You know the old ladies you see up here on the East side that are all stooped over? This is the beginning of that.” I had always imagined that it was the weight of decades of city living that had made those women curve in on themselves. When I thought about it this way it did not seem inconceivable that at the age of 23, and after three years of living here, my own spine would begin to buckle. For four months I had visited this office three times a week for physical therapy with no improvement. The doctor suggested six additional months of the same. He and I both knew that I would not be coming back.

The sidewalk was nearly deserted as I started walking north. There was only one other figure in sight: a small woman with striking white hair, very pale skin, and large dark eyes. She had a cane and was picking her way slowly across 57th Street in my direction. Her tiny frame was draped in a thin coat more suited to 60 degrees than 13. She wore white slipper shoes, thin white chinos, and her ankles were bare to the icy wind.

My first thought was of the doctor’s words, “this is the beginning of that,” but this woman’s spine was straight. This was a woman I had never met, but thought of everyday. Between doctor’s appointments, I had been reading and re-reading my way through her work. This was Joan Didion. I recognized her immediately. She was looking at my boots and then she peered up at my face as we crossed paths. Startled perhaps by my look of recognition, she quickly looked down at her feet and kept walking. I stood there and watched her go.

When I was a teenager my mother explained the ‘60s and ‘70s to me by giving me her worn copies of Joan Didion’s collected essays. Haight-Ashbury was Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Howard Hughes was “7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38.” I knew “John Wayne: a Love Song” before I had any idea who John Wayne was. My mother read these titles off to me with a deep reverence and it sounded like a different language. This was before I knew writers to have distinct styles. I would not understand the full meaning of many of the cultural references in Didion’s work until later re-readings in college, but I learned to associate the eras of my parents’ youth with the severe rhythm of a Didion sentence. I did not see Didion’s style as belonging to Didion; I saw it simply as the way sentences were written before I was born. I thought it was as much an indication of time passing as the yellow of the pages. My mother was captivated by Didion’s California and it became the California of my imagination. I would read “Los Angeles Notebook” and get the words mixed up with my mother’s voice.

But my mother’s personal geography never included New York. When I was run down and sought to think of New York City as a force responsible for the bend in my spine, it was Joan Didion’s words that I wanted to hear.

At a dinner party that same night, in an apartment overlooking the Natural History Museum, I tried to relay my afternoon encounter to the group—all writers of varying ages. It was the younger writers who could most appreciate the excitement of the sighting—the ones who still read “Goodbye to All That” repeatedly, who were still unsure of New York City themselves. We had all worked together over the past few months and Didion’s work had been a frequent point of conversation. What did I think of the cane, they wanted to know. Was it temporary? Did she look sad? Why was she dressed so strangely? Our hostess, a contemporary of Didion’s, begged us to change the subject. She hadn’t been able to get through The Year of Magical Thinking, which she thought portrayed an idealized version of Didion and John Dunne’s marriage. There were friends of friends in common, she had heard some stories. The professor among us, a successful essayist in his own right, told me that he would never see her on a pedestal. She was, to him, just another successful writer who had done some very good early work. He could not read the words, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” or “In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature,” and find in them messages on how a life can be lived.

“You should have offered her your boots,” one friend said. “She was cold.”

—from V. L. Hartmann, "Joan Didion Crosses the Street." The Morning News, November 18, 2009.


Read the rest
here.

“holed up in the library with a bottle of wine and read books”—james ellroy’s road to writing


ellroy.jpg image by tomasutpen

Portrait of the artist as a young dipshit.

INTERVIEWER


Is that when you started writing—after your father died?


ELLROY


The first thing I did after he died was snag his last three Social Security checks, forge his signature, and cash them at a liquor store. From ’65 to ’75, I drank and used drugs. I fantasized. I swallowed amphetamine inhalers. I masturbated compulsively. I got into fights. I boxed—though I was terrible at it—and I broke into houses. I’d steal girls’ panties, I’d jack off, grab cash out of wallets and purses. The method was easy: you call a house and if nobody answers, that means nobody’s home. I’d stick my long, skinny arms in a pet access door and flip the latch, or find a window that was loose and raise it open. Everybody has pills and alcohol. I’d pop a Seconal, drink four fingers of Scotch, eat some cheese out of the fridge, steal a ten-dollar bill, then leave a window ajar and skedaddle. I did time in county jail for useless misdemeanors. I was arrested once for burglary, but it got popped down to misdemeanor trespassing.


The press thinks that I’m a larger-than-life guy. Yes, that’s true. But a lot of the shit written about me discusses this part of my life disproportionately.


INTERVIEWER


Aren’t you responsible for this? You’ve written a lot about this period, and you frequently talk about it in interviews.


ELLROY


I’ve told many journalists that I’ve done time in county jail, that I’ve broken and entered, that I was a voyeur. But I also told them that I spent much more time reading than I ever did stealing and peeping. They never mention that. It’s a lot sexier to write about my mother, her death, my wild youth, and my jail time than it is to say that Ellroy holed up in the library with a bottle of wine and read books.


INTERVIEWER


Still, writing couldn’t have been exactly in the forefront of your mind at the time.


ELLROY


But it was. I was always thinking about how I would become a great novelist. I just didn’t think that I would write crime novels. I thought that I would be a literary writer, whose creative duty is to describe the world as it is. The problem is that I never enjoyed books like that. I only enjoyed crime stories. So more than anything, this fascination with writing was an issue of identity. I had a fantasy of what it meant to be a writer: the sports cars, the clothes, the women.


But I think what appealed to me most about it was that I could assume the identity of what I really loved to do, which was to read. Nobody told me I couldn’t write a novel. I didn’t live in the world of graduate writing schools. I wasn’t part of any scene or creative community. I happened to love crime novels more than anything, so I wrote a crime novel first. I didn’t buy the old canard that you had to start by writing short stories, and only later write a novel. I never liked reading short stories, so why the fuck should I want to write one? I only wanted to write novels.


—from “James Ellroy, The Art of Fiction No. 201.” Interviewed by Nathaniel Rich. The Paris Review. Issue 190, Fall 2009

the recently discovered vivian maier—who chronicled life in chicago from the ’50s to the ’70s

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Read about and view the work of Vivian Maier here.

some of zadie smith’s favourite writers


Then something remarkable comes into your hands. Not very often – no more or less often now than in the 1930s, or the 1890s or the 1750s – but every now and then, you read something wonderful. (Despite all the dull talk of the death of literature, the rate of great novels has always been and will always be roughly the same. By my reckoning, about 10 per decade. Although behind them are dozens of very good novels, for which this reader, at least, is grateful.) Every now and then a writer renews your faith. I’m looking around my desk at this moment for books that have had this effect on me in the not-too-distant past: Bathroom and Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, Number9Dream by David Mitchell, Hilary Mantel’s An Experiment in Love, Dennis Cooper’s My Loose Thread, The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, the collected short stories of JG Ballard . . .

For the reader who cares above all for perfection, there are many sophisticated, beautiful and aphoristic side roads in literature that will lead you safely away from the vulgarity of novels with their plots and characters and settings. Off the top of my head: David Markson’s Reader’s Block, Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World, Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces and Other Pieces and Kafka’s own Blue Octavo Notebooks . . .


Read the rest
here.