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[MAY 2005.]


Things have been moving faster than reportage on said things. The record is mastered, though I reserve the right to continue tweaking it; a silly legal/accounting knot with the structure of the record company has been untangled; it will probably be out in a month or so. I'll give it a real release date soon, and fancy up the web presence all around—I've been meaning to set up an RSS feed for like a year. Soon, really. I hope you find that you can look back on your May with satisfaction and peace.


Okay, you fuckers. China can do it. Why can't you? You stupid, shortsighted, greedy fuckers. You'll kill us all. (Warning: that second one is the worst link ever.)


Graduate school: cotillion for eggheads (by Timothy Burke, blogger and prof at Swarthmore). Perhaps I'm feeling sanguine simply because I got out of this year with my head in one piece, but it has not been quite that bad. There are plenty of good points in the essay, and if it has dissuaded any naïve young Bambi-eyed students from walking into the graduate-school abattoir, it has almost certainly done them a service. But Burke's contention that grad school is more about socialization than education hasn't really been true in my case; the spirit of intellectual inquiry is alive and well around here (even if it inevitably goes wrong much of the time), and I think we have the faculty to thank for this. I very much believe that most of the major strategies our discipline has developed for talking about literature are inadequate and misguided, and that useful criticism happens in spite of these methodologies rather than because of them—but even if cranky and blinkered ideologues write most of the essays I have to read around here, they don't lead the discussions. As a group, the faculty I've worked with this year have been incredibly committed to pedagogy and open to any number of intellectual approaches; if this is unusual for the discipline as a whole, then it's one reason I'm glad to be here in spite of the university's financial woes. (Naturally I don't think that any of the faculty take such an extreme interest in their students as to read their whiny weblogs—but thanks anyway, folks.)

Burke also writes that "academia is a total culture. It changes your standards for what is good and what is bad, what is smart and what is dumb. Independently evaluating academic life from within its confines is a near-impossibility." Scary. But if this is what's in store for me, it hasn't happened yet. I am again fortunate in having some intellectual bulwarks to remind me that talk about literature goes beyond the boundaries set by English departments; of course there's the novel, and more generally the entire worldview I took away from Iowa, but just as necessary have been those brilliant and educated but non-academic friends, online and off, from whom I continue to learn new things and who constitute a crucial benchmark to make sure I'm not turning into something I hate. Thank you, thank you.


el más corto entendimiento

Shamefully, blogging about the book continues to be easier than writing the book. I think I have found a new epigraph in Don Quijote. (I had been using a passage from Borges's "El Aleph," but it was starting to seem too literal and facile a connection.) To render the Cervantes into English, I started with the Ormsby translation and have been taking it apart in order to get a better rhythm. Also, none of the English versions I've found render quimeras as the obvious "chimeras," which is probably because of differing connotations or something, but how can anyone ever pass up the opportunity to use "chimeras" in a sentence? Here's what I've got (Don Quijote talking to Sancho, book 1, chapter 25):

¿Que es posible que en cuanto ha que andas conmigo no has echado de ver que todas las cosas de los caballeros andantes parecen quimeras, necedades y desatinos, y que son todas hechas al revés? Y no porque sea ello ansí, sino porque andan entre nosotros siempre una caterva de encantadores que todas nuestras cosas mudan y truecan, y las vuelven según su gusto, y según tienen la gana de favorecernos o destruirnos; y así, eso que a ti te parece bacía de barbero, me parece a mí el yelmo de Mambrino, y a otro le parecerá otra cosa.

Is it possible that in all this time you have been going about with me, you have not come to see that all things concerning knights-errant seem to be chimeras, stupidities and nonsense, and to be done all topsy-turvy? And not because it is really so, but because there always walks among us a pack of enchanters who switch and alter all our things and turn them as they please, as they are disposed to aid or destroy us; and so what seems to you a barber’s basin seems to me the helmet of Mambrino, and to another it will seem something else.


conduit for nature

What goes into the drip coffee at Peet's? Speed, apparently. A small cup at three in the afternoon kept me up for the next twelve hours, having Ideas. The right kind of Ideas. There were a few tangles at the end of the book that I was going to have to face sooner or later; at two-thirty in the morning, lying face up in bed, I dissolved them. I am one hundred percent settled on an ending, even though it does commit me to more of the weirdness that I was trying to avoid for marketing reasons. It is quite a hoot to remember that I started this one with the intention to write something commercial. But at least it is going to make perfect sense and close up perfectly neatly on its own terms. I wonder if anyone will ever read it.


economies of scale

Today is one of those despondent days when it seems that this book will be completely unpublishable; it's just getting too long and weird. I'm still forecasting that it will sail into harbor at 200,000 words or slightly above, and it happens that Amazon has started posting word counts for much of their inventory, so it's now possible to see just where this fits in the Doorstop Novel Sweepstakes.

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude: 148,189
Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh: 155,506
Thomas Pynchon, V.: 159,508
Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude: 175,245
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections: 196,857
Donna Tartt, The Secret History: 200,772
Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: 221,865
Elliot Perlman, Seven Types of Ambiguity: 247,601
James Joyce, Ulysses: 261,873
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest: 479,198

Already past those first two, and much farther to go. Paper costs money. This all seems grim.


fun with the dictionary

uncle paul, i was an english major, but i'll be damned if I know what discursive really means. would you be so kind as to elucidate the matter?

Webster's Third gives several definitions, the best for these purposes being 1b, "proceeding logically or coherently from topic to topic," and 2, "reasoning from premises to conclusions or proceeding from particulars to generalizations: utilizing or based upon analytical reasoning—contrasted with intuitive." Both of those are probably overly kind descriptions of my English papers, but I basically meant it as a synonym for expository writing.

"Disherison," on the same page, means the act of disinheriting. That I did not know.

Early on in Don Quijote, when he and Sancho have just gotten together and are about to set out in the world, Sancho asks if he can take a donkey to ride, since he doesn't feel like walking all over Spain.

En lo del asno reparó un poco don Quijote, imaginando si se le acordaba si algún caballero andante había traído escudero caballero asnalmente; pero nunca le vino alguno a la memoria.

The translation I have around here (Ormsby) says, "About the ass, Don Quixote hesitated a little, trying whether he could call to mind any knight-errant taking with him an esquire mounted on ass-back, but no instance occurred to his memory." Which is just fine, except that in English you lose asnalmente as an adverb, which is a damn shame because it is obviously the best adverb ever, meaning as it does "in a manner relating to a donkey," or more briefly, "donkily." (Or "assily," if you like.) Whatever you do today, kids, do it asnalmente.


ingenioso hidalgo

A heavy writing period makes it hard to read modern fiction—all you see are people doing the same things you want to do, but far more skillfully. John Fowles was doing it over the weekend; I shudder to think what would happen if I tried to read Proust right now. For now I've staved off the problem by embarking on Don Quijote, which I do not feel competitive with and which makes me giggle. So far I am particularly fond of Cervantes's claim to be translating an ancient Arabic manuscript (strategically embellished with noble drawings of Rocinante) and the way our dear knight talks, which involves replacing his h's with appropriately archaic f's; so he boasts of his noble fechos and fazañas and compliments all the ladies on their great fermosura. This doesn't stop him from correcting a goatherd who keeps mangling the name Sara into sarna (scabies), though our knight must concede that "vive más sarna que Sarra." Good times.



You'll note the deadline is continuing to slide around up there, but the word count has started to move again. This year in school, as much as my occasional attempts to put forth reasoned arguments on this website, have driven home that the discursive, essayistic mode of writing is just not my strength; but I have not yet abandoned hope of being able to do it another way.


joyless knowledge

I thought I was down over the financial state of the university, but then I read that three-part New Yorker series about global warming and I thought well, if civilization is going to end in a hundred years, I might as well just jump off a bridge now. I would actually like to believe whatever nutjob conservative scientists they've trotted out to say that it's all a hoax.

[sequestered contemplation, making coffee, cleaning up cat vomit]

At least I wasn't planning to have children. And if the crocodiles evolve back into dinosaurs, maybe that's a kind of justice.


sucker's game

I think the lesson is to narrow one's sights early, with an eye toward getting a modest dissertation topic picked out now, and just finish the fucker, never mind if it's revolutionary or even particularly interesting, so long as it gets me out. (By the way, can I say once again how much academic Marxism pisses me off? It's so fucking smug. Don't you see, they tell you, the text is all about labor, and then they lean back and smile and close the novel, while outside the campus service workers are striking for health benefits.)

Rock-and-roll Marxism won't change the world either, but at least you can dance to it. We caught Gang of Four at the Fillmore last night. Simple rule: punk = going berserk at the end of a song, picking up a baseball bat, and smashing a microwave, while post-punk = providing the basic beat for a song by metronomically smashing a microwave with a baseball bat, at forty beats per minute, while you croon about alienation.



I had some plan to finish the pesky grad school papers by today so as to get back to the neglected novel—it was a noble plan, but silly. It will shake out somehow. In this sun I am slow and deliberative, a lizard climbing a tree. Wallace Stevens and Kant and Faulkner are big ripe gourds that have not quite dropped from the branches.

Hey, if you live in New York, do yourself a favor and go see La Niña Santa—last week on campus we caught it and a succeeding Q&A with the director, an awesome awesome Argentinian lady. You won't regret this. (The film opens nationwide in a couple of weeks—over here it starts May 13 at the Act I & II on Center Street.)


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