October 29, 2009

"Severe but just"

Flaubert to Maupassant:
"You complain about fucking being ‘monotonous’. There’s a simple remedy: cut it out for a bit. ‘The news in the papers is always the same’? That’s the complaint of a realist – and besides, what do you know about it? You should look at things more carefully … ‘The vices are trivial’? – but everything is trivial. ‘There aren’t enough different ways to compose a sentence’? – seek and ye shall find … You must – do you hear me, my young friend? – you must work harder than you do. I suspect you of being a bit of a loafer. Too many whores! Too much rowing! Too much exercise! A civilised person needs much less locomotion than the doctors claim. You were born to be a poet: be one. Everything else is pointless – starting with your pleasures and your health: get that much into your thick skull. Besides, your health will be all the better if you follow your calling … What you lack are ‘principles’. There’s no getting over it – that’s what you have to have; it’s just a matter of finding out which ones. For an artist there is only one: everything must be sacrificed to Art … To sum up, my dear Guy, you must beware of melancholy: it’s a vice."
(via LRB)

October 16, 2009


Today is the 150th anniversary of the raid by John Brown and twenty-one courageous others on Harpers Ferry that sparked the Second American Revolution, otherwise known as the "Civil War." We're still in need of a Third Revolution, one that abolishes white supremacy and wage slavery.  In that spirit, I'm reprinting a statement by Noel Ignatiev and the Race Traitor editorial collective that was read at Brown's gravesite at a memorial event in 1999 honoring the abolitionist's birth:

Renew the Legacy of John Brown

If the task of the nineteenth century was to overthrow slavery, and the task of the twentieth century was to end legal segregation, the key to solving this country's problems in the twenty-first century is to abolish the white race as a social category - in other words, eradicate white supremacy entirely.

John Brown represents the abolitionist cause. Nominally white, he made war against slavery, working closely with black people. Those who think it saner to collaborate with evil than to resist it have labeled him a madman, but it was not for his madness that he was hanged; no, it was for obeying the biblical injunction to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. For those who suffer directly from white supremacy, John Brown is a high point in a centuries-long history of resistance; for so-called whites he is the hope that they can step outside of their color and take part in building a new human community.

John Brown's body lies a-mould'rin' in the grave, but his soul calls out to the living. He is buried alongside family members and comrades-at-arms near North Elba, New York, in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, which he often said had been placed there to serve the emancipation of the American slave. For many years African Americans and others celebrated May 9th, the anniversary of his birth, by gathering at his gravesite. We call upon those who share the vision of a country without racial walls to join hands there in 1999 (his one hundred and ninety-ninth year) to honor his memory and the memory of the others, black and white, who fought alongside him, and to rededicate ourselves to the fulfillment of the tasks for which they laid down their lives.

Signed by:
Russell Banks, Derrick Bell, John Bracey, Robin D.G. Kelley, Martin Espada, Herbert Hill, Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Theresa Perry, Ishmael Reed, David Roediger, Sapphire, Pete Seeger, Dorothy Sterling, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, and the editors of RACE TRAITOR.

October 7, 2009

J.G. Ballard on Chris Marker's "La Jetée"

"Not once does it make use of the time-honoured traditions of conventional science fiction.  Creating its own conventions from scratch, it triumphantly succeeds where science fiction invariably fails." 

From a brief 1966 review published in New Worlds.  Full here (registration required).

October 6, 2009

The Little Miseries of Human Life

"In 1843 Grandville published Petites misères de la vie humaine, based on a text by his friend Forgues.  In a series of genially perverse illustrations, Grandville gave us one of the first representations of a phenomenon that would become increasingly familiar to the modern age:  a bad conscience with respect to objects.  In a leaky faucet that cannot be turned off, in an umbrella that reverses itself, in a boot that can be neither completely put on nor taken off and remains tenaciously stuck on the foot, in the sheets of paper scattered by a breath of wind, in a coverlet that does not cover, in a pair of pants that tears, the prophet glance of Grandville discovers, beyond the simple fortuitous incident, the cipher of a new relation between humans and things.  No one has shown better than he the human discomfort before the disturbing metamorphoses of the most familiar objects [. . .] Under his pen, objects lose their innocence and rebel with a kind of deliberate perfidy.  They attempt to evade their uses, they become animated with human feelings and intentions, they become discontented and lazy.  The eye is not surprised to discover them in lecherous attitudes.

Rilke, who had described the same phenomenon in the episode of the coverlet from Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, observed, with a revealing expression, that the ‘relations of men and things have created confusion in the latter’.  The bad human conscience with respect to commodified objects is expressed in the mise-en-scène of this phantasmagorical conspiracy.  The degeneration implicit in the transformation of the artisanal object into the mass-produced article is constantly manifest to modern man in the loss of his own self-possession with respect to things.  The degradation of objects is matched by human clumsiness, that is, the fear of their possible revenge . . ."

—Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas:  Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1977)

He could have been writing about this:

October 1, 2009

New Story at Sein und Werden

When I read that one of my favorite publications, the ineffably weird and wonderful Sein und Werden, was planning an upcoming issue on the theme of “All Things Move Towards Their End,” I thought to myself, “Gosh, I have the perfect story for that!”  (Actually what I thought was “Jesus fuck!” but I like to avoid profanity on my blog).

My story, “The Scythian Idol,” I had an enormous fondness for, not least because in it I thought I had come closer than in any of my other works to the ideal of “lightness” that Italo Calvino speaks of so eloquently in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium.  I sent it to many publications, only to see its splendid fleetness waved off time and again by heavy editorial hands.  But I kept faith, and finally Neddal Ayad, one of the guest editors (along with Nicole Votta) of the “All Things Move Towards Their End” issue, sent me a note which indicated, in a few pithy words, his intelligence, taste, wit, aesthetic acumen, discerning eye, good looks, and courage.  In short, he accepted the story, and I can think of no better place for it, at least on this terrestrial plane, where

In this issue my humble story has the privilege of the following company: 

The Clock (L'Horloge): Annie Stephens

The Ending Tastes Just Like the Beginning: Roberta Lawson

Phrenology: John Brewer

Mark on the Wall: Louise Norlie

Swing: Neddal Ayad

I Sleep With a Dog: Matt Dennison

That Which is Lost: Brian Collier

A Dragonfly and Her Dead Shadow: Azucar Shoots

Dust: Matt Dennison

Tropical Estuary: Rochelle Potkar

Silver Umbilical Corded: Marc Vincenz

The Irksome Settee: Bobby Morris

The Immediacy: Matt Dennison

The Fog Rolls: Neddal Ayad

Borges' Escape: AE Reiff

The Mysterious Mustard Kings: Eugene Thomas

As She Tries to Feed the Stranger Inside: Chandra Kavanagh

Character Sketch: Neddal Ayad

I Bet You'd Like To Know If My Knickers Are Still On: Ludo

The Stars Will Have Their Way: Nicole Votta

(Thanks are also due to Rachel Kendall.)