<= 2002.12

2003.02 =>

[JANUARY 2003.]

another month gone by, are you closer to heaven?

La Pianiste (2001). Nik and I are agreed that this is the most disturbing film either of us has ever seen. I had read a review that suggested it was a cute S&M love story, so we took the trouble to rent it from Netflix rather than Blockbuster, because Blockbuster is owned by Christians and cut it to an R-rated version by removing scenes like (for instance) the part where she mutilates herself in the bathtub. Turns out it's not cute; it's harrowing. It's shaped like a knife. It tapers to a point. Certainly it's the best film I've seen since In the Bedroom (probably it's better), but afterward all I wanted to do was rent some movie with cheesy, romanticized, completely unrealistic sex scenes so I could forget how this movie beats you around the head with what it's actually like. Nik had the Food Network recorded on his TiVo, so we ended up watching this cooking show on how to make coleslaw and watched them grate cabbages for a half hour and then we were able to sleep.


at the old spanish mines

La Santa Virgen
Move Toward the Light
William Blake: Poems and Prophecies
Cholla Forest


state of the onion

Today we are off to explore mountain caves. The pursuit of happiness: release the hounds!


fee, fi, fo, fum

The comment box appears to claim that this inscription from Ravenna, which I never could translate, reads "The blood of martyrs, Ravenna, is the seed of your faith." This makes sense, and calls to mind that quote from Tertullian's Apologeticum that everyone seems to phrase differently. It appears that what he actually says is "Plures efficimur, quotiens metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis Christianorum," or "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed."

I'm glad that hybrids are catching on, but they will never live up to my dream last week where I bought a hybrid car—and the thing no one knew about hybrid cars was that they flew, like the DeLorean in Back to the Future.


melancholy green cells

The word currently most applicable to the book is exacting. If the leftists in the Spanish Civil War could use expressionism as a weapon, then surely your own creation can take you to task and beat your head against the wall.

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita. This is an odd bird: not quite fable, not quite satire, not quite parable. It flits between the tale of Satan and his minions (a gangly choirmaster, a great talking tomcat) descending on contemporary Moscow, a Goethean love story about a tortured novelist, and the novelist's book-within-the-book, a sort of revisionist Gospel where Pontius Pilate takes center stage. The scenes ooze with mordant humor, especially in the beginning, and the set pieces involving black magic are as exhilarating as they are menacing. What the book can't quite deliver, for all its pyrotechnics, is conventional narrative drive. The first half manages to get by on mystery alone, but once it becomes clear how carefully the devil is orchestrating every event, much of the tension dissipates. It's hard to blame Bulgakov for going overlong with the scenes of hell-minions fucking with Soviet functionaries—no doubt he had a lifetime of bitterness to expel—but while the book's thematic architecture will surely provide enough material for a warehouse of dissertations, the story can't avoid a slide into flatness.


integritas, consonantia, claritas

The Turing Test for art is here.

"The question reminds me of the question that often gets asked in artificial intelligence," [Murray Campbell, one of Deep Blue's developers] said. "Is the system intelligent? It is because it produces intelligent behavior. If it does something artistic, then it is artistic. It does not matter how it did it."

If a man hacking in fury at a block of wood, Stephen continued, make there an image of a cow, is that image a work of art? If not, why not?

—That's a lovely one, said Lynch, laughing again. That has the true scholastic stink.

The Ulysses movie is on schedule for its release (in Ireland, and God knows where else) on Bloomsday this year, and it turns out someone actually tried to make a Finnegans Wake film in 1965. It appears to be available only from a Mrs. Cecile Starr in New York, who will lend it to you (if you qualify as an institution, and ask nicely, presumably) for ninety dollars.

AOL Time Warner owns the motherfucking "Happy Birthday" song.


fumo ergo cogito

All this research reinforces the results of small studies on humans by Edward Levin at Duke University's Medical Center laboratory, which found that using nicotine patches on people with Alzheimer's reduced some of their mistakes by 10 to 80 per cent.

Despite the encouraging data, some researchers are concerned that the public might misinterpret the results. In particular, they fear that some will conclude smoking is beneficial.

"By no means am I encouraging anyone to take up smoking or to continue smoking because clearly the adverse consequences of smoking outweigh any cognitive improvement," Prof. Levin said.


"It's really heart-rending when you get a call from someone who wants to know whether to use the patch, and you have to say [that] in a couple of years we will have a better answer for you," Dr. Levin said. "It's especially hard when they say, 'But my grandmother has Alzheimer's now.'"


"alternative food sources"

Local resident John Banda told me the lions' attacks had been taking place both during the day and at night.

He said people were so afraid that agricultural activities were becoming seriously disrupted.

He added that advice not to wander about alone did not seem to be working.

"It is not helping any more to move in groups since the lions do not seem to fear groups," he said.



This questionable English synopsis of Carmen must have made the opera-dork email rounds at some point, because now it's all over the place.

Act 4. A place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls is heared in the arena. Escamillio enters (Aria and chorus: "Toreador, toreador, All hail the balls of a Toreador"). Enter Don Jose (Aria: "I do not threaten, I besooch you") but Carmen repels him wants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabbs her (Aria: "Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me. I did kill her") he sings "Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen."

Graham Greene, The Quiet American. (The book, not the movie; movies don't come here.) We will ignore the fact that the character Phuong has no personality (if you're so inclined, you can excuse it on the grounds that this hard-boiled European narrator wouldn't be bothered to look for a Vietnamese woman's personality), and we will concentrate on the salutary technical aspects that made it a blast to read. The prose is spare, often surprising, and occasionally gross (a river full of bodies is "an Irish stew containing too much meat"), the moral dilemma is painfully sharp, and the structure is tight, tight, tight. The narrative drives like a locomotive, aided by a generous helping of vice; ten pages in, we're already saturated in murder, adultery, and opium. There is much to be learned from this.

John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist. If The Art of Fiction was his seminar on craft, this is his pep talk. It's probably a matter of temperament whether one cares for his grandiose moral prescriptions on the writer's life; I find him comforting and inspiring, but I know he pisses a lot of people off. (Frank Conroy thought he was completely bats.) This book is much heavier on practical advice:

While one is learning one's craft, then practicing it and hunting for an agent, then waiting for mail with the agent's return address, one must somehow make a living. Every writer hopes, like a medieval Christian, that after his period of honorable suffering, bliss will follow as a reward. So the writer takes some miserable part-time job, or lives off his parents or spouse, and writes and prays and waits. One day, the writer tells himself, the big break will come, and his money troubles will be over.

It's not true. At any rate, it's not true for the serious writer. Maybe one in a thousand serious novelists ever become self-supporting by means of their art. The writer, for all his childishness, needs to face this fact and deal with it.

He goes on to suggest that, if your pride and pocketbook allow, you should just live off your spouse indefinitely. Failing that, teach.

Denis Johnson, Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond. When Johnson came to Iowa last year, shortly after this book's publication, he talked about his strange periodic impulse to drop everything and run off to the most Godforsaken parts of the world he could find—Afghanistan, Somalia, Liberia—to put himself in as much peril as possible, as if fear of death were the newest drug for the old junky. "I can't understand that impulse now," he said. "No part of me wants to do anything like that ever again." Then he read the piece on hippies, which ends with a recollection of a high school friend who is now dead of AIDS, and he broke into tears.

Jane Austen, Emma. I wouldn't try to review one of the finalists in the eternal Greatest Novel of All Time contest; let's just say I'm embarrassed at never having gotten to it before, and this has been rectified.

Next are the Canterbury Tales. So far reading Middle English is rather like listening to someone with a severe speech impediment, but I suspect the dirty parts will still read dirty.


glamorous, amorous

Jewsinporn is some sort of conceptual Web art space; all of the selections are more or less the same thing, but it's an interesting thing.

Alexander Pope noted that "Chaucer's worst ribaldry is learn'd by rote," and the same generally holds for Shakespeare, except when you perform it in Iran.

In one scene, Leontes rages about Hermione "paddling palms and pinching fingers... and making practised smiles" with his friend. This contact has had to be cut and is implied instead.

"Men and women are not allowed to touch on stage. As the whole play hinges on a touch of the hands between a man and a woman, this presents a challenge," said Hamish Glen, the artistic director of the Dundee group.

In some cases the cast has relied on body language and simulated touches to get the play's message across.

"You have to find other means to convey affection," said Claire Dargo, who plays the king's daughter, Perdita. "So we tried to stand very close and lean in." Normally, her character wears a revealing summer dress but for the Tehran production Ms Dargo wore a long gown with long sleeves and a high neck.

We put up a scrapbook at the Muddy Bug site.


rag and bone shop company newsletter

It's perfectly reasonable to go to the symphony alone, says this suspicious columnist; it leaves you free to brood afterward. I'm only too ready to latch onto that suggestion, which probably makes it bad advice. Also, I have no idea what sort of women he managed to pick up in his persona of the Mysterious Concertgoer—that doesn't seem like it would work.

A college acquaintance performed on Letterman last night; bravo to her. I hate to say that I'm still a little fascinated by fame as a concept. That had better pass soon. Barring a Corrections-style debacle, none of us literati will ever make it that far into the public sphere.

Someone left behind a black beanie, brand name "Kangol," over New Year's. Was it you?


air fern

Last night Nik and I came up with a tagline for Song of Roland: "Women and men who hate each other... and themselves!"

The older Coleridge became, the heavier he used opium. It was a habit he could not shake, and a never-ceasing source of misery, both physical and spiritual. His nightmares became more frequent, more severe. He felt himself approaching madness. One of his letter to Dr. James Gillman, a physician and friend, was a heart-rending plea for help in escaping from "the terror that haunts my mind." The final eighteen years of his sad, slovenly life were spent in Dr. Gillman's home, at Highgate, where his opium doses could be carefully kept to a minimum.

It was at Highgate that "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan" (the first started and the second completed back in his Stowey period) were first published. The thin volume also included his poem "Pains of Sleep," in which he speaks of waking up screaming from a "fiendish dream," weeping, wondering why such sufferings had come to him. The poem closes with these pathetic lines:

To be beloved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love, indeed.

—Martin Gardner, The Annotated Ancient Mariner

It were best, I think, to be a bryozoan. No need for motion beyond the waving of cilia, no social impulse beyond the slow assemblage of intricate patterns from one's own body, the nagging urge toward propagation of the species painlessly satisfied from time to time through budding. Kind of like the carnivorous lichen in Interstellar Pig.


in this world, where people have problems

Buzz, buzz.


errant pedantry

As part of the new campaign not to feel like I'm going to vomit/choke/die all the time, tea has replaced coffee in the mornings. Currently it's this black/green blend called "Om." The teabag sez:

The word Om is frequently seen on prayer wheels, stones and flags as you walk through the Himalayas. To merely say it, [sic] releases a vibration of peace. Imagine what happens when you drink it.

Also, if anyone was wondering about the identity of the Greatest Thing Ever, it turns out to be Shostakovich's Thirteenth. (Texts by Yevtushenko here.)



I registered to take the lit GRE in April. Now I must not think about it for six weeks, because if I do any more studying I'll just forget it all in the meantime.

There was some composer, I seem to remember, who once ripped out his pubic hair in a fit of artistic rage. But Google is not helping me find him.



The Unseen Gulf War shows what it looked like on the ground in 1991.

Meanwhile General Aidid states that he intends to repeat the age-old errors, as he prepares to institute some sort of modern democratic government that will turn, if successful, to other nation-states for endorsement, support, military muscle.

But the nation-state, the twentieth-century geopolitical entity held together by the government's monopoly on the use of force—it's finished. The Kalashnikov rifle and the Stinger missile, and the world-wide dissemination of those weapons during the proxy conflicts of the Cold War, have changed things as much as the invention of gunpowder did in the thirteenth century. A determined Third-World people can now hold out against the greatest powers—witness Vietnam—and even a loose coalition of determined clans or factions can drive away the strongest armies—witness Afghanistan—and now in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia it's been made plain that even factions at war with one another can, with their left hand, as it were, stalemate the U.N. in its efforts to stop the fighting among them.

It begins to waver and dissolve, but still it stands, humanity's mass hallucination: the vision of a planet of united nations, the great delusion that the nation-state doesn't work yet, but someday will—that the governments who killed each year of the twentieth century, on average, a million of the civilians they claimed to protect and serve, can be trusted to cease their wars.

Another general makes ready to join them, all those people who've proven they can't run the world. Still they go on seeking order by making war, because anything's preferable to anarchy—so say the survivors.

—Denis Johnson, "An Anarchist's Guide to Somalia"


terror on the high seas

Sorry, around here the management keeps going unexpected places. We shall try to be more regular about this. In my absence, another of "those Stanford people" has popped up at I Hate You Toonces, and my alma mater has also decided to formalize the old boys' network. This is the sort of thing that is likely to make Marlowe apoplectic (he wanted to join MENSA and destroy it from within), but let's see if we can give him an aneurysm by linking The Right Stuff as well. "Smart is sexy," hm. The listed schools seem plenty liberal, but all the same (perhaps because of crusty alumni) the site doesn't appear to be interested in same-sex relationships.

Yesterday's bag-searching rigmarole in the Reno airport culminated in the security guard pulling an eight-inch steak knife from the bottom of my backpack. "Ah-ha!" she said.

"Gaah," I said. "Sorry, I forgot all about that." I had taken that same backpack hiking a couple of weeks ago and had used the knife to cut myself hunks of savory Tillamook cheese. Another guard came over and took the knife, and I made hand gestures at her to indicate that she was welcome to it, just get rid of it, I wasn't a terrorist and didn't want to go to John Ashcroft's back room.

"You could go back and put it in your checked luggage," she said.

"No, no," I said, "that's all right."

"You're giving it up voluntarily, then," she said, perhaps so that I couldn't sue anyone later.

"Yes," I said, "I relinquish it," and that was that.

The alarming thing is that the knife had been sitting in my backpack for a couple of weeks, so it must have been there on my first flight from Tucson to Reno. Even with the current police state in our nation's airports, even without my attempting to hide it, the weapon got onto the plane undetected.


the rake's progress

Fog on the horizon this morning, blurring the western mountains beyond recognition. We're having a rare wet spell here. Yesterday it rained briefly during my walk, and I still don't know where it came from; the sun was shining and the patch of sky directly above me was an unadulterated blue.

Going to Reno for a few days to see my mother, who is housebound at the moment. We are going to rent movies, make pad thai. I have drawn up a war plan for revising the book; it ought to take six weeks or so.


on becoming

I have spent the last two days wailing, moaning, gnashing my teeth and assaulting the bedclothes, throwing staplers around the room, taking long walks in the dark and contemplating a return to antidepressants, but I think the worst is over and I am returning to work. O there is a lot of work left. Damned Zeno's novel: every time you think you've written it, it turns out you've only written half. John Gardner sez:

If, on the other hand, you miserably fail, you have only three choices: start over, or start something else, or quit.


Finally, the true novelist is the one who doesn't quit. Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or "way," an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world.

I don't care if it sounds ponderous; I need it.


citizen vivisector

The Bassett Dispatch is up in Madison, Wisconsin, with savory recipes and political arcana, including doctor-hero-senator Bill Frist's surgery experiments on live cats. Ugh.

Baby I've been breaking glass in your room again
Listen don't look at the carpet
I drew something awful on it
See you're such a wonderful person
But you got problems oh-oh-oh-oh
I'll never touch you


nothing new

Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true. Let me question more in particular: what have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

Prison, my lord!

Denmark's a prison.

Then is the world one.

A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.

We think not so, my lord.

Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind.

O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.



I take it back—Dewey spelled that way not because he was Scottish, but because he didn't see why you shouldn't spell a word as it was pronounced. He hoped to convert the world as well; the introduction to the decimal classification contains several pages of "Simpler Speling Rules."

To all governed by reazon rather than by vizual prejudis the objection to simpler speling that 'it looks queer' will be more than offset by the arguments, both skolarly and practical, in its favor; while those who shrink from uzing simpler forms thru fear of being regarded iliterate may find curaj thru knowing that the movement is supported by the most eminent filolojic authorities, and there will be litl danjer that even the silliest of their correspondents wil bring the charj 'they don't kno how to spell', as result of their uzing simpler forms for such common and short words as ar, giv, hav, shal, wer and wil.


rock-whelk, etc.

The essential bit of news around here is that Song of Roland is not done after all. The agent who I hoped would bite sent me one of those "I admire many things, nevertheless I shall pass" emails, and Peyton had the temerity to make all kinds of suggestions after reading the manuscript. Even worse, she had the temerity to be right. There is probably a month or so of retooling ahead.

The cat is lonely again, and has resumed his habit of pacing the floor and making piteous noises. For the past week he had a whole bevy of playmates come to Arizona for the new year: Stewart and Jake who were allergic to him, Julia and Joe who enjoyed his company but balked at his occupying their laps during dinner, Peyton who happily acceded to his sharing her meals, and Lauren and Jen who wanted to take him home. (Pairing of names does not indicate a companionate relationship.) See L and J for descriptions of Marlowe's 12/31/02 party; I remember only the imp dance and the Jim Beam in the pool. The eight of us collectively posessed over one million dollars' worth of education. One of eight was currently employed.

Lauren located me a used 1942 edition of the Dewey Decimal Classification at Bookman's. (The classification itself is filed at 025.4.) It is nearly impossible to find a page whose list-poetry, seasoned with the odd Scottish spelling, does not entrance:

638.17   Wax
   .172    Apparatus: solar extractors
   .173    Rendering
              Wax presses. For refining see 665.2
   .176    Adulterants
   .177    Substitutes
       2      Of vegetable origin
       3       " animal      "
   .179    Uses
   .19    Bees in other than productiv relations
               Fertilization of flowers
   .199   Bees as nuisances
               Attacking horses. Runaways. In towns

This may be bathroom reading for the next year.


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