Monthly Archives: May 2010

Concrete Patio

Whenever I read a book in my field, the first thing I ask myself is if the author happened to demolish a concrete patio (and sidewalk) with a ten-pound sledgehammer during its composition.

The answer is usually no.

I’ve made a number of enemies in the inanimate object kingdom over the years, but rebar now rules over them all.

This captures stage two of the enterprise, the shoveling of particulate concrete matter into a wheelbarrow, then to be wheeled precariously a hundred yards to a dumpster and re-shoveled.

n+1, 1&2

I ordered all of the issues of n+1 a while ago, and they arrived today. I’ve never actually read a print issue of it before, though I have followed the magazine’s career with interest.

I liked Joshua Glenn’s “The Black Iron Prison” from the first issue, and Chad Harbach’s piece on Oblivion has speculations about what we know now to be The Pale King that are interesting to consider in retrospect. I liked the essay by Masha Gessen also.

In the second issue, “Trends in Network Television Comedy” by Peter Frankel, a pseudonym, apparently, is my favorite thus far. Observe

TV and film development is just like the game Battleship. Executives flail about blindly, making wild guesses about what combination of coordinates will hit, and when they do stumble across something that connects, they just keep firing away at the same general area and hope to connect three or four more times with the same exact formula. Witness three CSI shows and soon a fourth Law and Order.

And, also:

There’s also the comedy of Dennis Miller, who strings together cultural references into rambling sentences that have the rhythm of jokes, but are not, frequently, jokes. He’ll say things like, “I haven’t seen a tax plan this poorly constructed since Tony Orlando did Jäger shots with Buzz Aldrin,” and the crowd will, inexplicably, bust its gut.

That last bit, especially, is very apt. Speaking of television, I was reminded of a first-season voiceover David Simon did when he regretted giving in to network pressure to incorporate a flashback in a Wire episode when watching Lost last night. Except that I don’t think it was network pressure there. The Frankel essay, near the end, mentions that the decision to award Conan O’Brien the Tonight Show in 2009 is a good sign. The pseudonymous writer lets slip that he was in school with Jedediah Purdy in the midst of a bit about Jerry Seinfeld’s reaction to Purdy’s anti-irony treatise. You wouldn’t have to read very far in n+1 to guess what school this was.

(I also don’t get the bit about the pronunciation of Coetzee’s name in the Kunkel piece in the second issue. No one would think the last vowel is to be pronounced as schwa, would they? The only two options would honey bEE or BEEthoven, right? And the first syllable is like “foot,” right? Maybe that’s all part of the joke.)

Voyelles

Alex Golub, an anthropologist who’s blogged for a long time, is running a series of personal associations with Library of Congress call letters, which is a truly great idea for a series of posts. He’s starting each one with a color association, and I don’t know if that synaesthetic twist came from the Rimbaud sonnet or just memories of book covers, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

I’ve read Golub’s blog since I was a graduate student myself, and he used to write amusing pieces about computer games. One bit in particular was about how he imagined the in-game status updates of some type of 4X’er being read in Joe Pantoliano’s voice. (I’m a bit surprised he didn’t remember M is for music, though.)

Steve Erickson’s Tour of the Black Clock

I read this while giving an exam today. I had forgotten to bring anything to write with, and I was angry, for I was struck with what seemed to be an urgent thought about the book: that Dania’s dance was plainly derived from Slothrop’s V2 attraction. I found a pen at rest on a chalk sill, then scrawled out that and the rest of my increasingly irritated observations: The Man in the High Castle, etc.

While trying to figure just why the book irritated and disappointed me so much, I read Larry McCaffrey’s interview with Erickson in RCL:

Q. Your writing also seems more emotional. But I have sometimes felt like comparing your character Dania in Tours of the Black Clock to Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow because whenever Dania dances someone seems to die, whereas whenever Slothrop has sex with someone, a V-2 rocket lands there.

A. I wasn’t conscious of the similarity. In Tours of the Black Clock I apparently failed to make one particular clear. The real point of Dania’s dancing has to do with voyeurism and obsession and men transforming women into their fantasies. In the scene when the detective Blaine is out on the little house on the river, he finally meets Dania, after all the time he’s been watching and following her, and says to her that every time she dances, someone dies. And she says back, “Don’t you see, it could just as easily have had nothing to do with me. It could just as easily have had everything to do with you. You thought someone was dying every time I danced, but maybe that wasn’t it at all. Maybe someone was dying every time you watched me dance.”

But, you see, what gets me about this is that if this is the secret history of the twentieth century—the horrible imago—do we need Hitler to make us see? Couldn’t something a little less dramatic or hackneyed, as far as the alternate history trope goes, be more effective?

I’ve always felt like that there’s something I’m particularly attuned to in contemporary fiction that Erickson should be one of the main examples of, but his stuff has rarely worked for me.

(Another tidbit from the interview is Bataille’s opinion of Wuthering Heights as the “cruellest novel.” I suppose this must come from Literature and Evil, which I haven’t read in a while.)

The Swedish Model (on Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

This text seems to concern itself at some level with a proposed determinative relationship between finance capitalism and male sadism. Within its fictive logic, the transition from industrialism to a speculative economy is timed more-or-less with the Gottfried Vanger’s death; but Wennström is his true son. Gottfried dies, as I remember, in 1966, which is close enough for government work to the dissolution of the Bretton Woods agreement. Wennström then begins his speculative career, while Martin labors under the repetition-compulsion of the old regime. His crimes, horrible though they are, become something of an atavistic rebellion against the transformative new order. He loses, except in the final desperation of being caught, any connection to the race insanity (Levitical parody) that motivated Gottfried’s violence.

Lisbeth Salander, then, is an immunological response. She couldn’t be other than an informatics savant with her mildly anachronistic punkism only a gesture toward origin. She’s an antibody, an undoer; and her heroism and magic powers reflect what I think is a weakness in the novel’s cultural imagination—rather than being an accident, she is something that the inherently benevolent Swedish social democratic state has created to defend itself. Harriet has returned to agriculture and yet still created a business empire with sound financials. She returns purified, to guard the new truth of Millennium.

I think a good deal more could be done with the psychodynamics of the book, along vaguely Jamesonian lines. As a more general reader, however, I couldn’t help but wonder why we had to know the square footage of every residence. And God help you, I suppose, if you ever have to spend time in a Swedish minimum security prison. And there also seems to be a fairly clear amount of compensation or reaction-formation in what seem to be Blomkvist’s masochist tendencies (his otherwise inexplicable affair with Headmistress Cecilia Vanger with her delicately hinted voraciousness of appetite, and Lisbeth’s mocking reference to Erika Berger’s BDSM background, etc.); I wouldn’t be at all surprised if critics had said this attempts to disguise what is essentially a text that exults in its depiction of violence against women, solemn statistical epigraphs and all. I’m not sure that’s fair, or even slyly intentional.

I haven’t said anything about this book’s curious popularity, yet that remains an important sociological problem. I scanned the several hundred reviews on Library Thing, for instance, and none of them seemed anything other than annoyed by the financial background, which I am assuming might be the unarticulated explanatory need it’s tapping. But that’s not a good explanation of book-buying trends, however fun it would be to think so. I also think that the English title is actually a better description of the book’s fundamental principle than the original.