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[DECEMBER 2002.]

spirit of strom

I cannot believe this. And this is also disturbing.


virgil reality

The uncertainty principle has taken a lot of abuse through slipshod interpretation over the years, but the Northumbrian random sheep poetry (from the comment box) may set a new standard.

Nicholson Baker, The Everlasting Story of Nory. You're liable to love or hate this one. No plot to speak of, just two hundred pages in the mind of a nine-year-old American girl living in England, full of observations like:

Shakespeare's name was probably William R. Blistersnoo but he thought he needed a preferable name in order to be famous, and since there was tons of stabbing and spearing of people with swords in his plays he thought, 'Let's see, William Swordjab, no. William Fight? No. William Killeveryone? No. William Stabmyself? No. Aha! William Shakespeare! Yes, that will be just the thing.' In Shakespeare's plays what they would do, according to the drama teacher at the Junior School, is they would have an outfit on and they would sew a pig's bladder in a little tiny place under the outfit that would have a little mark on it so that the person knew right where to stab. The guy would go king!—stabbing lightly at that particular spot, and blood would instantly coosh out from the pig's bladder.

'But wouldn't they run out of pigs quite quickly?' Nory thought to herself. 'And therefore run out of pig's bladders, and therefore they could not do another play?' Shakespeare would have to go on stage before the play and say, 'As you may know, we cannot do any of the blood we were going to do tonight, because we have run out of our lovely pig's bladders. We checked in the cupboard this morning, but due to good business, and a number of highly gruesome plays, we have run out. Please enjoy the show. You can have your ticket refunded if you would rather not see the show without blood, since early next week we will have more fresh pig's bladders shipped to us. We are also going to be getting some big, fat, juicy cow bladders in stock that we will be using for some extremely disgusting effects in a play I will be finishing soon. So please, dear friends, sit back and enjoy the show.' And say if somebody was in too much of a rush and forgot to empty out the urine and pour in the blood? In the big swordfight Shakespeare would stab the guy. 'Die like a filthy scoundrel, you midget!' And then, pssshooo, oh dear, that blood's a bit on the yellow side, hm. 'Oh, yellow blood, is it?' Shakespeare would say. 'You monstrous, yellow-blooded confendio master! Hah-hah! Return to your imperial distinctive land!' Hack, chop. And a little later he would take a smug giggle and walk off the screen.

I loved it.


the short days

They've turned on the smoke machine in the mountains and covered the sky with a dirty gray tarpaulin. The weather report tells us to brace for more.

We didn't get a Christmas tree this year. Not that people in apartments usually get trees, but when my sister and I came down here in July we brought a few boxes of ornaments and figured that we would set up a small pine when the time came. It didn't happen. Things like Christmas trees just don't occur to you when you live this far on the margins of society. Having no school, having no job, I have met precisely no one since moving here. This is partially my fault, but where to start in a city with next to no intellectual life outside the closed system of the university? Plenty of cities are like that, of course. I'm sure Iowa City was like that; we just didn't notice at the time, since the grad program came with a built-in community.

I spent last year making noises about how overrated the young/hip/urban thing was, and I still believe that to an extent, but I was not prepared for this loneliness. So long as I was writing the book, I could ignore it. I love the desert, but I am questioning how long I can stay in this city.


public service



Trent Lott sez:

I mean, for many years I'd go up to Sen. Thurmond—some of you know where he sits there on the floor, and, you know, we've had—I'd kid with him and say, "Strom, you'd have made a great president." And he always looked up and smiled big. And it was just that kind of a, you know, platonic, almost father/son relationship that we had.

Come now, Trent. Everyone knows that platonic love is only platonic for one of the two.





If there is bad Fri-13 air about, it will probably manifest in the fact that we are going to see the new Star Trek movie today, because we are big dorks, but reviews are not encouraging. It may well be the first bad even-numbered one.

Comic Book Guy: Yes, finally. I would like to return your quote unquote, Ultimate Belt.

Storekeeper: I see, do you have a receipt, quote unquote, sir?

Comic Book Guy: I do not have a receipt. I won it as a door prize at the Star Trek convention, although I find their choice of prize highly illogical, as the average Trekker has no use for a medium-sized belt.

Storekeeper: Whoa, whoa. A fat, sarcastic Star Trek fan. You must be a devil with the ladies.

In Austria, Baby Jesus brings your Christmas presents.



If indeed we say the hell with it and go back for a Ph.D., which we may want to do in a year, given that literary fame and fortune are unlikely to descend from the blue in the meantime, we are going to have to do something about the GRE literature exam, which historically has kicked our ass, at least on the practice tests. Damn it, Dryden, I thought we were through.

Do we want to spend 4-5 years in New England or somewhere, thinking about modernism and getting thinner while the snow falls? We might. It would be nice to meet more litnerds, to have someone pushing me to finally learn French or German. It's a significant fraction of one's life, no question—but the decision is still some time away.

For now follow the sun. Apparently there's a network Tucson sitcom now, and I just don't know what to say.


recipe for christmas flan

This is from Eric.

1-get bored
2-go rummaging around your crazy dad's house looking for stuff to do
3-find box of instant flan
4-after making caramel coating and pouring it into dessert dishes realize that you have no milk
5-realize that you do have eggnog
6-realize that eggnog seems too thick after you have mixed in instant flan powder
7-thin mixture with whiskey
8-add cinnamon
9-see what happens

Later he reports, "It tastes Christmasy. It tastes like your drunk uncle."


too elliptical for our charts

Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon. This sits with Infinite Jest as the best reading about depression I've done in recent memory, though much of it is hard going. I have not figured out why it is that we find it affirming and strengthening to read of fictional characters' sorrows, but find it so painful to read the same of actual people. There's plenty of awful detail about Solomon's own depression, which makes your average weblogger look like Pollyanna (as in this New Yorker excerpt), but also discussions of history and politics, the pharmaceutical industry, depression in Greenland, depression in Senegal, depression among the American poor—and these last have life stories to make Napoleon weep. It's fascinating. It's awful. The concept of depression as an independent entity that rises without warning, a vine snaking up to choke a tree, is terrifying. I am also persuaded (as if I weren't anyway) never again to ingest anything stronger than marijuana, and probably not even that. At least he did title the last chapter "Hope."


supersonic cat

Out in the living room, a nice lady is tuning my piano. This seems to involve playing a long series of two-note intervals hovering around the same few notes. It's like Gregorian chant, weirdly hypnotic.

(The wand in Lynch's hand flashes: a brass poker. Stephen stands at the pianola on which sprawl his hat and ashplant. With two fingers he repeats once more the series of empty fifths. Florry Talbot, a blond feeble goosefat whore in a tatterdemalion gown of mildewed strawberry, lolls spreadeagle in the sofacorner, her limp forearm pendent over the bolster, listening. A heavy stye droops over her sleepy eyelid.)


(Hiccups again with a kick of her horsed foot.) O, excuse!


(Promptly.) Your boy's thinking of you. Tie a knot on your shift.

(Kitty Ricketts bends her head. Her boa uncoils, slides, glides over her shoulder, back, arm, chair to the ground. Lynch lifts the curled caterpillar on his wand. She snakes her neck, nestling. Stephen glances behind at the squatted figure with its cap back to the front.)


As a matter of fact it is of no importance whether Benedetto Marcello found it or made it. The rite is the poet's rest. It may be an old hymn to Demeter or also illustrate Coela enarrant gloriam Domini. It is susceptible of nodes or modes as far apart as hyperphrygian and mixolydian and of texts so divergent as priests haihooping round David's that is Circe's or what am I saying Ceres' altar and David's tip from the stable to his chief bassoonist about the alrightness of his almightiness. Mais nom de nom, that is another pair of trousers. Jetez la gourme. Faut que jeunesse se passe. (He stops, points at Lynch's cap, smiles, laughs.) Which side is your knowledge bump?


(With saturnine spleen.) Bah! It is because it is. Woman's reason. Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet. Death is the highest form of life. Bah!


You remember fairly accurately all my errors, boasts, mistakes. How long shall I continue to close my eyes to disloyalty? Whetstone!




Here's another for you. (He frowns.) The reason is because the fundamental and the dominant are separated by the greatest possible interval which...


Which? Finish. You can't.


(With an effort.) Interval which. Is the greatest possible ellipse. Consistent with. The ultimate return. The octave. Which.



(Outside the gramophone begins to blare The Holy City.)


(Abruptly.) What went forth to the ends of the world to traverse not itself. God, the sun, Shakespeare, a commercial traveller, having itself traversed in reality itself becomes that self. Wait a moment. Wait a second. Damn that fellow's noise in the street. Self which it itself was ineluctably preconditioned to become. Ecco!


(With a mocking whinny of laughter grins at Bloom and Zoe Higgins.) What a learned speech, eh?

Two nights ago I woke in the dark to the sound of furniture falling over. It sounded first in my bedroom, then out in the hall, then in the bedroom again, and I really didn't know what was happening; it's not like I have that much precarious furniture. For a few seconds I thought that the building was collapsing, that Al Qaeda must have come up from Mexico to take out my apartment complex. Then I found my glasses and turned on the light and found the cat sitting in my closet, swiveling his head in confusion and terror. The handle of a paper garment bag was wrapped tight around his torso. I don't know how he got entangled in it, but he had managed to rip the paper to shreds; it must have made a hell of a noise as he tore up and down the hall at Mach 3.

Jonathan Franzen must be stopped.


what left is left?

One chilly evening in late November, a panel discussion on Iraq was convened at New York University. The participants were liberal intellectuals, and one by one they framed reasonable arguments against a war in Iraq: inspections need time to work; the Bush doctrine has a dangerous agenda; the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East is not encouraging. The audience of 150 New Yorkers seemed persuaded.

Then the last panelist spoke. He was an Iraqi dissident named Kanan Makiya, and he said, ''I'm afraid I'm going to strike a discordant note.'' He pointed out that Iraqis, who will pay the highest price in the event of an invasion, ''overwhelmingly want this war.'' He outlined a vision of postwar Iraq as a secular democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens. This vision would be new to the Arab world. ''It can be encouraged, or it can be crushed just like that. But think about what you're doing if you crush it.'' Makiya's voice rose as he came to an end. ''I rest my moral case on the following: if there's a sliver of a chance of it happening, a 5 to 10 percent chance, you have a moral obligation, I say, to do it.''

The effect was electrifying. The room, which just minutes earlier had settled into a sober and comfortable rejection of war, exploded in applause. The other panelists looked startled, and their reasonable arguments suddenly lay deflated on the table before them.

Michael Walzer, who was on the panel, smiled wanly. ''It's very hard to respond,'' he said.

It was hard, I thought, because Makiya had spoken the language beloved by liberal hawks. He had met their hope of avoiding a war with an even greater hope. He had given the people in the room an image of their own ideals.


the century gets slower

Sad cat, health insurance, New York literary establishment, hypothetical Tucson girls, dying spathophyllum: I don't know what you want. Last night we made peanut pineapple pizza. It was good, but why?

Lilo & Stitch: also good. The smartest and least cloying film Disney's made in quite some time.

On Thursday, while I was at the doctor's office, the building caught fire. They evacuated everyone down the stairs and out the door in a perfectly choreographed fire-drill manner; then the nurses concentrated all the elderly people with wheelchairs and drip stands into one corner of the parking lot and proceeded to attend to them. The fire trucks showed up and sent serious men wearing yellow flame-retardant suits into the building. Smoke was found on the third floor. The group of nurses standing next to me were worried about all of the compressed oxygen cylinders on the third floor, and were also worried about some nurse named José, who had boldly announced his plan to sign a waiver and stay inside the building until the flames were twenty feet from him. Apparently they had little confidence in José's ability to handle a hazardous situation. After a half hour or so, the doctor found me in the parking lot and said that I might as well go home—this was going to take all day.


inside the nova

Extracts from the shortlist for the Literary Review Bad Sex Prize 2002.

I thought of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, the story goes, knew the instant he heard the name Adolf Hitler that he had brushed up against the reason he was born. He had been living his whole life with this nagging sensation that he was waiting for something, and the moment he heard that name the feeling subsided into nothingness. He had arrived.

Now it's different, and to me it was shockingly humble, but there with my girl in my arms and our child in her belly I knew I had reached the moment my life had been waiting for. I was going to be a father and a husband.

I spanked her bottom and cranked up the tunes.


the angel of history

United States Senator Key Pittman was felled and sent prone in the gutter on Virginia Street yesterday after he made an unprovoked attack on Lytton Stoddard. The scene which occurred in full view of scores of persons on the street at 11 o'clock in the morning, was the culmination of a series of affrays, precipitated by Pittman. The aggregate results follow:

Struck Zeb Ray, democratic politician
Struck United States Marshal A. B. Gray
Struck Senator William F. Sharon
Struck Supreme Court Justice P.A. McCarran
Struck Deputy Sheriff Lee Updike
Struck H. Franley, Republican leader
Struck Lytton Stoddard
Struck Virginia Street

Reno Evening Gazette, 1914


contraria sunt complementa

The Devil and the Old Woman is a cute song, though I am suspicious of the site's Renaissance-faire connections.

Alex Ross, who did that nice highbrow Radiohead article for the New Yorker some months past, is back with an Arvo Pärt discography. I am curious about these early dissonant symphonies. Also, the site has finally fixed its excruciatingly-small-font problem.

Niels Bohr's coat of arms (from the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics): "Opposites are complementary."

contraria sunt complementa


thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

The blank sky, too wide.
Airplanes fall past the mountains.
My friends, you are far.


sucking, sucking, sucking

D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow. I thought I liked Lawrence, but this one sort of sucks. The back says that in this book "Lawrence challenged the customary limits of language and conventions," but in practice this means that he is less interested in the characters than in the theoretical archetypes that those characters embody. Certainly, if you look at the prose, those archetypes do an awful lot of the work. You can only read so many times that "the triumphant male in him" did this or that "the secret essence of her womanness" did that before the whole thing starts to seem like a put-on. As evidence of Lawrence's weird ineptness in describing actual people, I give three passages from the same page, all concerning the same young lady:

The Baron was almost dotingly curious and attentive to her. She, almost mockingly, yet quite happy, let him dote. Curious little thing she was, she had the soft, creamy, elusive beauty of a ferret.

She had a real charm, a kind of joyous coldness, laughing, delighted, like some weasel.

She despised his uncritical, unironical nature, it had nothing for her. Yet it angered her as if she were jealous. He watched her with deferential interest as he would watch a stoat playing.

Maybe you get some special achievement award for hitting the entire genus Mustela, but honestly. Also, this book should get props for publishing straight-up lesbian scenes in 1915, but all the sex scenes are really vague and filled with those archetypes and, well, unsexy. Half the time you can't even tell if sex actually happened. I'm sure that part of this is a limitation of the time and that, say, Lady Chatterley's Lover might do a better job, but there is plenty to read before I get there. Every time you open your bag on the airplane a different book is on top, so I am now part-way into The Tao of Physics, The Anatomy of Melancholy, and Bowleg Bill: Seagoing Cowboy.


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