Friday, March 13, 2009

the smell of burnt flesh

We alone are the face of our Time

"In America Mayakovsky felt hopelessly limited by his inability to speak English. He stayed close to Burliuk whenever possible, using him as an interpreter, but there were many awkward moments, for example, the New York party Mayakovsky later described:

"But just consider my situation in America. A poet’s been invited. They’ve been told he’s a genius. A genius – that’s even better than being well known. I arrive and right off I say, "Gif me pliz sam tee."
They serve me. I wait a bit and then, "Gif me pliz..."
They serve me again.
And I keep it up, varying the intonation and phrasing.
"Gif me de sam tee, sam tee de gif me." I say my say.
The evening proceeds.

Respectful old fellows listen reverentially. "There’s a Russian for you. Doesn’t waste words. He’s a thinker ... Tolstoy ... The North."

But the ladies move away when they hear for the hundredth time the same request for tea, even though it’s enunciated in a pleasant bass voice. And the gentlemen distribute themselves in the corners of the room laughing at my expense.

So I shout to Burliuk: "You translate this for them. Tell them that if they knew Russian I could, without even dirtying my shirtfront, nail them with my tongue to the cross of their own suspenders, that I could roast this whole collection of insects on the sharp turnspit of my tongue."

And the honest Burliuk translates. "My eminent friend Vladimir Vladimirovich would like some more tea."


Hectocotylus said...

(This anecdote can be found in Wiktor Woroszylski's THE LIFE OF MAYAKOVSKY.)

aurelio said...

...ah, the perils of misunderstanding!

...also liked the David Foster Wallace profile from the New Yorker. Funny, it was in the New Yorker that I found his work, this was a years ago, while he was publishing parts of Infinite Jest in various magazines, before it was published as a whole.

What a great writer he was!

aurelio said...

...& found this exibition on Ken Anger @ PS1 in new york:

(cut-n-paste link into browser)

Hectocotylus said...

I'm glad you liked the DFW article. If you haven't read it, his 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address is fantastic. I have yet to read any of his novels, just some essays, interviews, biographical information etc. Nonfiction. I saw him interviewed by Charlie Rose and he was likable enough, but he seemed hyper concerned with all the different ways he could be coming across - very self-conscious in an almost crippling way. I'm worried that his writing is held down by this mind at odds with itself... The New Yorker article quotes some descriptions of his work that seem very fitting with the man I saw interviewed: "self-conscious self-consciousness", "too eager to show how smart he was", "irritatingly clever." And Wallace on himself: "...vapid urge to be avant-garde and post structural and linguistically calisthenic. This is why I get very spiny when I think someone’s suggesting this may be my root motive and character because I’m afraid it might be.'" I get the impression that his fiction does not exhibit any living, breathing bodies, but dead bodies trapped in ice. That being said, any book that takes place in "The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment" demands to be read in other ways, and certainly must contain various worthwhile and humorous satire, right?

Have you seen any of Anger's films? I'm curious what you think.

aurelio said...

…there is something to be said for being satisfied or having gratitude. Knowing that “hunger” is a given & a bottomless pit, can be helpful too. Really having gratitude for one’s life is often (if not always) impossible to perfect. I wish I felt it more often.
On DFW, I’ve been thinking of him too (re: the New Yorker) & was saddened by his suicide last Sept. I think what was so painful about his death (for me), was that this man of such extreme talent couldn’t gone on living. He was at a point where lots of people aspire to & yet he was profoundly unhappy (& it seemed, somewhat dissatisfied with what he had in front of him). It is worthwhile to mention that I do not agree that suicide was (is) the way to go. There is no victory in death & I’m reminded by his example to really be more self-satisfied & more grateful…I have to give that to me, no one else can.
“Talent is its own expectation.” --David Foster Wallace
…& I found this quote from a former student of Wallace’s in the magazine n+1 (on DFW):
“After graduation, when I had been out of school for a while, I called to ask his advice, ostensibly about what the life of a writer is like—though what I really wanted was an easy answer to what I should do with my own life. I wanted him to give me some sort of commandment to go forth and be a writer. I paced around my parents' house, talking nervously, trying to keep up with him, vainly trying to impress him. He refused to give me the validation and satisfaction I wanted. It's not going to come from writing, he told me. Writing can never do that.”

...I have yet to look into Anger's work--I sent the link because I know you are a fan.

Hectocotylus said...

I enjoyed Jared Roscoe's reflections from Pomona College - thanks for the link.

Your comments reminded me of something DFW said in his interview with Charlie Rose. (I watched the interview again to extract this comment but also to see if my impression / interpretation of him had changed. I noticed that his overwhelming need to be EXACT can sometimes be mistaken for self-consciousness.)

DFW, 1997.
Rose: Do you see yourself chasing a brass ring now?
Wallace: This is what's very interesting... There's part of me that wants to get attention and respect. It doesn't really make very much difference to me because I learned in my twenties that it just doesn't change anything, and that whatever you get paid attention to for is never the stuff that you think is important about yourself anyway. So, a lot of my problem right now is that I don't really have a brass ring, and I'm kinda open to suggestions about what one chases. [...] The people who most interest me now are people who are older and who have sorta been through a midlife crisis. They tend to get weird because the normal incentives for getting out of bed don't tend to apply anymore. I have not found any satisfactory new ones but I'm also not getting ready to jump off a building or anything.