Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"like a dissertation on alcohol"

This is about "Day of the Dead, The Mysterious Demise of Malcolm Lowry," by D.T. Max.

One of the most exciting things that happened to me in the last 6 years was, somewhere in there, the sudden release of my attention from a prolonged period of intensive reading.

Anyway, I began to wander through the three dimensional world noticing all kinds of shapes and textures that I hadn't the week before. Neat.

At another point, I endured a period of frantic skimming (not reading) and then, suddenly, when my time was my own, again, I tried to read a mystery novel. You can't skim a mystery novel. And I had to adjust my readerly attention. Also neat.

Brijit summarizes Max's article and calls it a "massive, well-written feature" but I read it in one evening, so I wouldn't call it massive exactly. And, if you can't skim a mystery you really can't summarize one either. But I did love it.

Max lends to the baffling air of mystery by adding a son. The current online version includes the correction. Nephew, not son.

In related news, I recently read that in the 19th C, reviewers of Wilkie Collins presumed that his novels would not be read twice by the same person, the sensation being a kind of "once in a lifetime" effect. For this 20th C reader, let me tell you, this does not hold. On the one hand, I certainly believe that people read differently in different historical and cultural moments. On the other hand, the very fact that Collins was published serially, and then in volumes, suggests that he was read twice, even back in the day . . .

I will say, though, that D.T. Max has this funny habit, in the Lowry article, of quoting full sentences of Malcolm and/or Margerie and letting them sort of just sit there, as if the language proved something or other - that Margerie was a brilliant editor who curbed Malcolm's florid prose, that Margerie was, on her own, a hack mystery writer, that Malcolm was, in the end, truly gifted, etc, etc . . .

Me, I couldn't tell the shit from the Shinola. Maybe I'm out of practice. Or maybe I just like hack mysteries too much. Anyway, best line in the whole thing is the quote that heads this post, which is pure Margerie. Malcolm being dead by that point.

And yeah, Max call her Margerie and him Lowry. How very 1940.

Monday, December 24, 2007

feeling relegated

If you found Dan Chiasson's review (Nov 19) of the work of poets Mark Strand and Robert Hass a little frustrating and dissatisfying, and put it down after the first paragraph or two (I did), consider this:

"Biographical criticism often trivializes a poem by ignoring its larger philosophical questions and reducing it to simplistic emotions. That Strand chooses to omit biographical details should tell readers that he wants the focus on other, larger issues, and that the poems are driven by powerful, complex emotions that have more than one source."

In a letter from Sharon Bryan, Dec 24&31.

"Chiasson's review of Robert Hass's new book of poems characterizes Hass as primarily an autobiographical poet whose work consists of 'small dinner parties and hikes' or 'a recipe for onion soup' . . . Yet Hass undercuts these pleasures by situating the lyric within a larger history of violence, suffering, and collective indifference. In eliding the political and historical work contexts of Hass's work, Chiasson replicates the very 'American amnesia' that Hass indicts and furthers our cultural tendency to relegate poetry to an art of the quotidian."

In a letter from Jessica Fisher and Margaret Ronda, same.

Both letters seem to fault Chiasson with a mis-reading of the poets' work as biographical, (worse) quotidian and, finally, apolitical. But I have to say, I was guilty of that very same mis-reading of Hass and Strand (based on only slight exposure to their work) before I started Chiasson's review, and I wasn't interested in reading Chiasson state the obvious. I think the question is WHY are these poets open to such a misreading. If we cannot address that - and, as they appear in TNY, these letters don't - we're pretty much stuck, poetry-wise.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

check it twice

Really awful dinner companions may have heard about Gladwell's "misreading" of some point in The Bell Curve. Take your cue from Gladwell; what the Bell Curve authors actually do claim is "not, if you think about it, any less ridiculous" than what Gladwell had thought that they advocated. Maybe it would come up at the office party or something.

Remember Gawande on the ICU checklist? That might be good for some family gathering conversation. Benj liked that one too.

UPDATES: Kottke notes that evidence from the world of horse racing suggests that "Nuture is really kicking ass these days" and Roger Ebert's best film of 2007 is Juno. Good to know. See below.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

for everyone on your holiday list

For those wed to genetic explanations of everything, and their unfortunate dinner companions. Highly recommended by Amardeep Singh and my partner in crime - Gladwell on IQ.

For those who are considering seeing Juno, or being pressured to do so. Emdashes reconsiders the Knocked Up debate, feminist angle. And my heroes at reverse shot blog, the "quirky" debate, pseudo-indie-bullshit angle. Not once, but twice they slammed this manipulative nonsense.

I'm buying everyone local organic honey and staying home, alone.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

on having it both ways

White Bread and The New Yorker, a visualiterary pun. I like to think that the creative people at Sara Lee have most deliberately created a public meditation on consumer culture and the historical construction of "taste" that addresses the material, visual and gustatory sensorium.

The heads up (and a charming excuse that mentions the ever-controversial BLT) came to me from Emdashes, the image comes from something called MarketingProfs Daily Fix.

Best of all, you can find this work of art and social commentary at a grocery store near you.