Saturday, January 31, 2009

To be youthful in spirit is the only real virtue, he thought, as he closed The Savage Detectives and fell asleep.

visceral realism savage detectives roberto bolano

* * * * *

In this book, Bolaño has mythologized his life and friends in much the same way Kerouac did with the Duluoz Legend. It's my favorite book; not for all time, not six months from now, but at this very moment. The kind of book that you almost feel a friendship develop with and are sad to finally finish.

The middle section of the book breaks into more than 40 first-person narratives (it's an oral history) revolving around the protagonists Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the avant-garde poetry gang the Visceral Realists.

The Savage Detectives is a novel for people who can appreciate the unsure, incidental humor and pretense of youth. It's a novel for people who feel a little bit lonely after finding a legendary out-of-print book in a used bookstore only to realize they don't know anyone who has heard of it. A novel for people who get excited when they hear their favorite obscure writers evoked casually in conversation. A novel for people who, during their reading, compile lists of newly discovered writers for later exploration. A novel for people who read Pedro Páramo in the doctor's office while waiting for their father to finish his colonoscopy. A novel for people who dream about scorpions that only come out at night.

(I just purchased a beautiful three book edition of Bolaño's posthumous opus, 2666. I'm eager to read it, but for now I'm going to place it by my door on a special shelf where it will sit like a gargoyle and protect me from spirits while I sleep.)

infrarrealistas savage+detectives roberto bolano
second from left: Mario Santiago Papasquiaro ("Ulises Lima");
                                          far right: Roberto Bolaño ("Arturo Belano")

Friday, January 23, 2009


He opened the book randomly to sample its style; what he found felt like his long lost diary:

"...Since the old says, since the beginning, what have I done with myself? Nothing, I am already on the downhill slope. Because that hunting-call reminded me of the past, it seems to me that I am done for, that I haven't lived, and I feel a longing for a sort of lost paradise.

But it is no use my imploring, it is no use my rebelling, there will never be anything more for me; henceforth I shall never be either happy or unhappy. I can't return to life. I shall grow old as peacefully as I am sitting today in this room where so many human beings have left their trace, where no single human being has left his own.

This room can be found anywhere. It is everybody's room. You think that it is closed, but no: it is open to the four winds. It is lost in the midst of similar rooms, like the light in the sky, like one day among other days, like myself everywhere.

Myself, myself? Now I can no longer see anything but the pallor of my face, with its deep eye-sockets, buried in the dusk, and my mouth full of a silence which is gently but surely stifling and destroying me.

I raise myself on one shoulder as on the stump of a wing. I would like something of an infinite character to happen to me.


My brain is empty; my heart is dried up; I have nobody around me; I have never had anybody, not even a friend; I am a poor man who has been washed up for a day in a hotel room where everybody comes, and which everybody leaves -- and yet I long for glory! Glory mingled with me like a wonderful, astonishing wound which I would feel and everybody would talk about; I long for a crowd in which I would be the principal figure, acclaimed by name as by a new cry under the face of heaven.

But I can feel my grandeur diminishing. My childish imagination plays in vain with these exaggerated pictures. There is nothing for me; there is only myself, stripped by the evening, and rising like a cry.

The time of day has made me almost blind. I guess at myself in the mirror more than I see myself. I see my weakness and my captivity. I hold my hands out towards the window with fingers outstretched, my hands with their appearance of torn objects. From my shadowy corner I raise my face towards the sky. I lean backwards and support myself on the bed, that big object which looks vaguely human, like a dead body. Lord, I am lost! Have pity on me! I believed myself to be wise and happy with my lot; I said that I was free from the thieving instincts; alas, that isn't true, since I would like to take everything that isn't mine."

To this day that is the only passage he has read from the book, for he knows that in the rest of it lies his story.

* * *

[excerpt from Barbusse's Hell (1908)]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

negative space

He couldn't do it. Too much frustration and a page covered in abortions. All he could manage to write was everything in between all the things he wanted to say, all the black space between his thoughts. He gave shape to things by writing with negative space like the painter who creates a white vase by painting everything around it black. What was left sometimes made a picture, and sometimes he could recognize it, but filling the in-between spaces was never his intent; it was simply all he could manage. He felt like a mute. Every time he read over what he had written, he heard a voice in his head quoting Prufrock: That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.

People who are able to drill into their core and extract their innermost thoughts and feelings have the duty to find whatever is in them that justifies having such a gift and extract it for everyone to marvel at, he thought.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


One of the most amazing images I have seen recently: video of a giant Japanese Whaling ship, the Nisshin-Maru, with blood pouring out of the holes (scuppers) in its side. It was surreal and unexpected to see a ship bleed, even a ship known as a floating slaughterhouse, and immediately the blood came to mark this steel vessel as death itself, run on blood instead of oil.

The ship is helpless under the captain and crew, suggesting that the Nisshin-Maru is also a giant bleeding whale, and the people aboard - once thought to be in command - lose all control as they become part of this symbolic whale, fellow creatures being used for capital.

More surrealism:

whaling blood water
whaling sea blood

bloody whaling

Monday, January 12, 2009

QuoteS III

"To revolt or to adapt oneself; there is no other choice in life." —Gustave Le Bon

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." —George Bernard Shaw

"There is a lie to being alive, against which we are born to protest." —Artaud

* * *

"If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings." —David Foster Wallace, 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address

* * *

"Industrial man—a sentient reciprocating engine having a fluctuating output, coupled to an iron wheel revolving with uniform velocity. And then we wonder why this should be the golden age of revolution and mental derangement." —Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop, 1944

"But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in the old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before." —Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

"There's nothing to mourn about death any more than there is to mourn about the growing of a flower. What is terrible is not death but the lives people live or don't live up until their death. They don't honor their own lives, they piss on their lives. They shit them away. Dumb fuckers. They concentrate too much on fucking, movies, money, family, fucking. Their minds are full of cotton. They swallow God without thinking, they swallow country without thinking. Soon they forget how to think, they let others think for them. Their brains are stuffed with cotton. They look ugly, they talk ugly, they walk ugly. Play them the great music of the centuries and they can't hear it. Most people's deaths are a sham. There's nothing left to die." —Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, 1991/93

"Many peoples' tombstones should read 'Died at 30, buried at 60.'" —Nicholas Murray Butler

* * *

"The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting." —Charles Bukowski

"All governments, the worst on earth and the most tyrannical on earth, are free governments to that portion of the people who voluntarily support them." —Lysander Spooner, An Essay on the Trial by Jury, 1852

Five from de Tocqueville:

"As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?"

"In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own."

"In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them."

"I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all."

"There is hardly a pioneer's hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin."

* * *

"According to Proust, one proof that we are reading a major new writer is that his writing immediately strikes us as ugly. Only minor writers write beautifully, since they simply reflect back to us our preconceived notion of what beauty is; we have no problem understanding what they are up to, since we have seen it many times before. When a writer is truly original, his failure to be conventionally beautiful makes us see him, initially, as shapeless, awkward, or perverse. Only once we have learned how to read him do we realize that this ugliness is really a new, totally unexpected kind of beauty and that what seemed wrong in his writing is exactly what makes him great." —Adam Kirsch on Bolaño's 2666

Foucault on Derrida: He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, "You didn't understand me; you're an idiot." That's the terrorism part.

"Don't worry about other people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." —Howard Aiken, computing pioneer

* * *

"In an interview with Michèle Manceaux à propos the Black Panthers, Genet said: "The non-violent stance of the Whites belongs to a moral dilettantism. Nothing else." —William Haver, On Several Really Smart Things About Violence in Jean Genet's Work. (If this remark is applied more broadly to, say, modern day globalization protesters, we (more or less) arrive at a Derrick Jensen maxim.)

"A very popular error - having the courage of one's convictions: Rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack upon one's convictions." —Nietzsche

* * *

from Harold Pinter's 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "In 1958 I wrote the following: 'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.' I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?"

Bresson: "I don't think so much of what I do when I work, but I try to feel something, to see without explaining, to catch it as near as I can – that’s all... Thinking is a terrible enemy. You should try to work not with your intelligence, but with your senses and your heart. With your intuition."

Rossellini’s refusal to give dates or explain who people are has annoyed some audiences. “It’s up to the spectators to do that,” he retorted. “It’s as though we had a plate of good pasta in front of us. You want to wait and swallow it only after I’ve digested it. Disgusting.”

"Art is not a means to an end; it contains its own ends. It is one of the principal means, in our view, by which human beings gain their bearings in the world. It has an objective, truthful content. Profound artistic images reflect the world, in their own manner, just as accurately as scientific axioms. Art grasps the world in the form of images. The present-day postmodernist or left academic dismisses this objective, 'universal' element in favor of a cheap, flabby relativism." —David Walsh, A Conversation at the Swans Café

"And it is to be noted that it is the fact that Art is this intense form of Individualism that makes the public try to exercise over it an authority that is as immoral as it is ridiculous, and as corrupting as it is contemptible. It is not quite their fault. The public have always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity. Now Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic." —Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism

* * *

"In this material world run on injustice and terror, where "popular" is confused with "industrial," any cultural expression that does not hurl an angry cry or wail a song of mad love (often one and the same) merely collaborates in the regulation and preservation of this world." -Nicole Brenez, Abel Ferrara

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

wire walk

John Cage performs Water Walk on a popular TV show and Frank Zappa plays his bicycle on Steve Allen - aside from going together via the subject of music, these two videos comprise a very interesting comment on how American culture has changed over the past few decades. When was the last time a variety show (or any show) allowed so much time for these kinds of performances? It was refreshing to see an environment where things were allowed to happen organically, and no one was being rushed along to make room for the next guest. Neither show was the least bit concerned with boring their audience or showing them something they might not want to see. And even though they made jokes here and there, the hosts were respectful, and they weren't dripping with cynicism, irony, or condescension (neither was the perplexed and amused audience). The jokes themselves seemed to be joyful, tolerant, and appreciative.

* * *

In one of the extra features on the Man on Wire DVD, someone remarked that when most people looked at the World Trade Center they saw two towers, but when Philippe Petit looked at the World Trade Center, he saw the space between them. I was reminded of this while thinking about John Cage's piece 4′33″ (four minutes and thirty-three seconds where no instrument is played) and hearing Cage talk about silence.

4'33" helps to highlight the noises that exist over a performance by taking away the performance itself, and by highlighting them Cage is asking us to reconsider what constitutes "music." What's left are the human sounds of life: the turning of paper, coughing, rustling feet, bodies shifting etc. -- all the things that add to the sound of a live performance but are almost never considered a part of the performance. 4'33" shows us that we don't really hear or appreciate sounds because they are so often taken for granted, or, what probably lies at the root of the misunderstanding, we categorize them: music, noise, silence, etc. When I heard Cage remark that, all over the world, silence is now the sound of traffic, I realized that silence is perhaps better defined as whatever sound we hear when we choose to tune into everything at once. Not as some specific "anti-thing", but what we hear when we choose to include, listen to, and notice what lies "between the buildings."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Madoff's Missing Statue Found—With Note!

I saw that picture pop up while I was watching the news today! It was surreal, hilarious, and fantastic, especially since earlier I watched MAN ON WIRE, a documentary about Philippe Petit's illegal act(s) of genius.

from The Daily Telegraph:

Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff, who has been accused of masterminding $50 billion fraud scheme, has been handed an ethics lesson by thieves who stole a statue from his Florida mansion, and promptly returned it.

"Robbers who swiped a $10,000 (£6,900) statue from Mr Madoff's estate near Palm Beach, Florida on December 22, dropped it off at a nearby country club where the Wall Street money manager was a member, signing the return "The Educators."

Hanging from the four-foot statue, which depicts two lifeguards sitting on a raised stand, was a note, according to the Palm Beach Post.

"Bernie the Swindler, Lesson: Return Stolen Property to rightful owners. Signed by - The Educators," the note said.

The statue was not damaged and police are continuing their investigation of the robbery, the newspaper said.

The stunt mimics activity in the 2004 German film "The Edukators," in which revolutionary activists break into mansions - without stealing anything - and leave messages protesting against capitalist values.

Mr Madoff, 70, is under house arrest in his Manhattan apartment on a $10 million bail.

He is so far the only person charged in an alleged $ 50 billion Ponzi scheme in which major banks, wealthy private investors, universities and charities were among the victims."