Friday, December 31, 2004

tied to a door

My first day of a ten day holiday has enjoyed auspicious (if slightly mixed) beginnings. Last night I read for hours after N went to bed. i listened to my head phones and enjoyed a strange commingling: Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre troupe reading Julis Caesar followed by Green Day's American Idiot. I thought both were appropriate, each dealing with tyranny and responsibility. As I am soon to complete the first volume of Foote's Civil war narrative (a week behind schedule in my best imitation of McClellan) I am harboring a desire to read a slim volume of fiction before beginning the second installment of the Foote. I had originally thought of Red Calvery by Issac Babel but given the moribund trajectory of the past 24 hours (if not this week) then I think that Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Illych is a better fit. Indeed as client from work passed on yesterday and I then discovered this morning that Artie Shaw was laid to rest I pondered my own fortune. I have seen only one corpse in the past year (that was today, at noon) and that person died in their sleep. Oh, I often shudder at my comfort.

A return to Ivan Illych is important for myriad reasons, most notably for my friend J Barry who reccomended such over decade ago. I was struck then by its singular flame, its absence of angelic comfort. It is easily matched by The Kreutzer Sonata but that is for another samovar.

I was dealt a sinister laugh theother day when Joel cited Rumsfeld's logic "with the troops" that you have to tie yourself to the tree that you have in the tsunami, not the the tree you'd like. Such language is sadly not bound (bad pun) to our own era as I have reached the section in the Foote where Bragg has liberated Kentucky from the despotism of the Union. Not to ponder partisan but if you OWN people should you be tossing about rhetoric of Liberty? Obviously, Abolition was a secondary issue to most who fought for either side; preservation of the union and resisting invasion were the ideas held high, but i find a sour tint to such considerations.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Morbid Thaw

Have been able to read much here at work this a.m. A late start to programming. This afternoon I was reading a piece by Tony Horwitz and discovered a quote from Dr. Johnson:

A Man is to guard himself against taking a thing in general.

Hardly profound, it did linger and as Sam Johnson, lexiconographer understood, when one is constantly awash in data and etymology, one is forced into generality as a means of perspective. Such is also the means of absorbing the complexity ad horror of the American Civil War. This brief post will be crowned with the final stanza of a poem by Updike that i found in the same issue of the New Yorker.
Nature is never bored,and we whose lives are linearly pinned to theseself-fascinated cycles can't complain.

Spin moves in the Paint

Alas, as the afternoon lapsed into another forzen evening my attentions did not go to Solzhenytsin but drifted more detailed reports from the tsunami in South Asia and following that catlyst into the Obituary Issue of the New York Times Magazine. While i found the writing quite electric (the piece on Brando from an anterior, over-the-shoulder, perspective) it was interesting to ponder the distillation of a life into four paragraphs and what circumstances could've possibly led to the omission of Elvin Jones?

I did return to read 40 more pages of the Foote as the sun had declined into memory and procurirng chinese food became the order of the evening. The infighting between Lincolne and McClellan (largely fostered by Stanton, that rogue) has obsfucated key opprtunities for Army of the Potomic to potentially end the war with a strike on Richmond. The Confederates are hampered by dwindling reserves and an indifferent Europe. The south enjoys supperior efforts on the ground, thanks to it being a defensive struggle (this is more sound than the some "natural" attribution), and the Union only dominates, as such, with its naval and artillerial capacities. The historical approach of viewing the conflict as a panopoly of personalities is also suspect, especially given the apparent seizure disorder of Jackson, the familar liquid moodiness of Grant and the babes in the woods which were Davis and Lincoln. A dearth of intelligence appears to lord over the various campaigns like a penumbra of fear and doubt, thus prompting disorganized routes of adjustment and retreat, thus allowing irascibles in politics and press to speak of folly and treason. What a recipe for armageddon it must have appeared!

Monday, December 27, 2004

Holidays and a retreat from reading

Befanged with excessive weather the fever pitch of the season was lanced with a deadening stillness as all plans for calculation and evasion of familial matters was broad-axed by the snow and subsequent gnashing of the beartrap of the sentimental holiday dinner. I survived such with nary a scar save for my sister's latest supernova.

My reading these past days has been diminished by my, em, shopping on Friday and other incidental matters since. The break supplied by Nikolai was welcomed and i was pondering another detour for this afternoon. If A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich isn't a holiday book, then what is?

This season was also rather consistent as to book buying for others. Cloud Atlas was the runaway winner with a few copies being disseminated here and far. I look forward to rereading it with my mates in month or so. Susana Clarke's Jonathan Strange saga was also purchased for my mother. I must admit that reaidng a few pages while on the couch yesterday afternoon was enjoyable. I bought my dad Confederates in the Attic as he appeared interested atwo weeks ago when I told him of my enjoyment with Shelby Foote. I read the Horwitz a few years ago after Roger exclaimed his love for such. It was principally cook books for my wife who has finished Death in Venice and is pondeirng a change of course, perhaps in srpski (serbian to our wayward drawl.)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

an icy detour

Braving the snow-choked streets my wife and I went for a lengthy stroll through a the city, cadaverously mute, it was an interesting perspective on the dormant polis. Upon return I elected to take a break from the Foote, picking up a volume by Gogol and rereading The Overcoat for the fifith time, I believe. this summer i read a Cultural History of St Petersburg by Solomon Volkov with some firends and it was the positioning of Gogol as the incarnate of the Petersburg mythos which was so captivating. The 30 page story is both nightmarish and yet riddled with humor. It remains an encapsulation of bureaucrats everywhere, though its wanderign glances along the breadth of Mother Rus is singular in its bile. The story was completed with the abrupt pallor that concludes the life the maligned copyist and i was pleased with the opportunity to revisit such mastery.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Alabaster Asunder

Two weeks ago I returned from a respite in Chicago to attend mandatory training for my work, this involved viewing videos and frequenting lectures - the same which I have for over ten years. Outswimming ennui was achieved by my recalling and noting each of the 50-odd books I have completed this year. Such was a marvelous exercise which opportuned a return to many enjoyable reads and situations. Topping my list were a pair of Russian epics: War and Peace and Grossman's Life and Fate: the latter decidedly modelled upon the former. Grossman's weaving of Stalingrad with the parallel perils of Stalinism and the Final Solution was achieved with daunting verve. As for Tolstoy, who could belittle such sound, titanic gestures? Who can argue with Gorky who said of the relationship between Lev and God as being two large bears in a small cave?
Though humbled in rank, I often empathize with Pierre. Who doesn't long for transcendence when one's material wants are sated? I doubt I shall ever be a Freemason nor should I ponder lenscrafting. It appears that few dogmas can fit over my swollen, mistrusting head. Within my soul, Hope and Cynicism devour one another more out of integrity than sport.
Fortune again favored me a week ago as i found a copy of Grossman's other book in English, Forever Flowing at a thrift store for twenty cents. This indictment of the Gulag system and Lenin, above all, has been characterized as the entire Gulag Archepeligo in two hundred pages. I must heartily, and humbily, concur.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Friendship and fanaticism

No, I'm not wearing a beret. I am listening to Gershwin on a sunny Saturday morning, portents of an impending winter blast abound but I am warm, dressed and enjoying a cigar and some rancid coffee. I am also sober.

Yesterday while nursing a few pints in honor of Saturnalia, my reading of the Foote narrative became intertwined with a more general discussion of Ken Burns and popular history. It was polite conversation which broached the specific periodically and through that warm haze of alcohol I continued to appreciate my friends and the myriad directions of their influence. It was Roger who has engendered my interests in so many historians: Howard Zinn and Foote being only two recent examples. Ed endorsed Wilson Craig's Enemy at the Gates a few years back and such culminated in it being a selection for a fecund group discussion. My friend Mark keeps me honest per the classics (where I sorely lack) and more intellectual history. As for my friend Joel, countless avenues have been sought as a consequence. While he still depends far-too-much upon the crutch of theory but such is his livelihood. I picked up a novel by Ken Kalfus which I have coveted for sometime and it was holiday a few years back when Joel sent me collection of Kalfus' stories Thirst. I have never cared much for short stories but it appears that much of the currency of exchange between Joel and I has been in that anomalous (to my own interests anyway) format. George Saunders and Rick Moody being other examples thereof. It is towards other novelists that I exude a far more resonant gratitude. It was Joel that first picked up Faulkner albeit for grad school. I recall chiding him in his work on Sound and the Fury as to whether he had actually read the novel, as opposed to aping the critical responses. That said, it is uncertain as to when I would have embraced Mr. Faulkner and his vertigo of lyricism sans my friend's attention. Recently it has been Evelyn Waugh who has been the reference of note between that scholarly drunk in NYC and myself.

Indeed my friends have been a constant source of influence and inspiration. Irritation as well, but who wouldn't have it?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

definition and context

In Sweden, the term 'legitimation" refers to the government-issued ID that is essential for bureaucratic passage in the body politic. Such interesting terms also surface rather quickly in Shelby Foote's massive Civil War Narrative. Unlike War and Peace, Foote does not attempt to either explain the sequence of history or why such questions are meaningless; no, Foote eschews the philosophical mastication of Tolstoy and attempts to only chart the passage the conflagration, offering compelling thumbnails of each major participant and for analysis, he steps leisurely outside the Fog of War and delineates the sequence in rhythmic and elegant sentences which capture completely.

It must be admitted, that this present reading of Foote, much like my earlier quest about Empire and the desert, has been tempered by my country's occupation abroad. It is no surprise, the, that I was struck early in the text by an anecdote concenring the capture of an underfed Virginia militiaman by the Union. He obviously wasn't a slave-owner and he was asked why he was fighting. "Because you're here," was his defiant reply. Much that is regarded as senseless in the headlines these days is lost without such a focus.

Per the question of "Legitimation" and how Davis and Lincoln wished to appear provoked and invaded, if not for the sake of posterity but towards opinions abroad. The popular embrace of Grant after his successes in the western campaign also strikes a familar chord. He was loved as "He loves bad grammar, but it talks it naturally, as much as to say 'I was so brought up, and if I try fine phrasesI shall only appear silly.' "Make your own conclusions.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Such is certainly an unexpected bonus of this forum and i am thankul. I was not familar with the Mike Davis text cited (or his other work on Los Angeles) but am thankful for the reference and impressed by the work.
I read Grapes of Wrath a few years back, with my head shaved and my spirits shining and I headed north to see Rage Against the Machine. In KK's bio of the Bush clan, W is reported ot have called the film communist. Such imbecilic ejaculations are quite beyond me

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Saul Shallow?

It appears that Saul Bellow is receiving his due before passing on, Martin Amis, among others, have led a procession of adoration, promoting specifically Augie March as the best American novel of the second half of the 20th Century. Certainly AM is encyclopedic in scope, akin to Moby Dick, but the lukewarm generality of the protagonist is mirrored in the often shopping-list prose. It was during this latest critical parade that I remarked that every time I read Bellow I realize that I'd rather be spending my time with Faulkner.

I gave As I Lay Dying a jab on my last posting and would like to insist, that my meager complaint aside, who else has captured our space-specific sorrows so elegantly? Indeed, the Sun Also Rises, but such is an epitaph for an old world, lost in Mediterranean ritual and lapped up by former boxing champions bereft of respect or narrative. Who else can lyricize the setting sun passing through a copse of trees that signify the plummet of fortune, the failed charge into oblivion?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Gnarled Memory

I am back from Chicago and a mindful respite. The weather was cooperative and opprtunities for rwading present albeit with a certain contortionist mindset. As I Lay Dying was revisited in enjoyed, espcially the section on language and it being a surrogate for the absence in human experience. The narrative was remembered from the onset with an unsettling precision, it isn't often that I recall such plots after 10 years. The Bundsen family is so aptly skecthed that I reluctant to note that I wrestled incredulously with the scope of dysfunction depicted within. Faulkner felt compelled by an ambition to leave a swirling epic of heartbreak and inferior faculty tattooed on the members of these unfortuantes, yet does one readily accept, this grab bag of disaster which visits like deified wrath?
Sanctuary was breezed through afterwards, it is noir but capable of steering the reader to moments of unchecked beauty. It was largely read on the CTA and amongst wailing little ones, but it was enjoyed nonetheless. The trip also yielded an expected trove of buying opportunities. naperville, Chicago and Indianapolis all featured some quality finds with the highlight being the complete Civil War narrative by Shelby Foote, which is what I will tackle next, as noted beofre, I find this interest of mine to be odd, a fragment of someone's interests as if misplaced in the dossier from the Witness Protection Plan.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Grit, Glory and Spittle

My reading these past few month occupied an axis of desert terrain or questions of Empire in all its profound ambivalence. Was such motivated by a 24 news cycle originating in more arid climes? More and more, I suspect.
Not long ago I found a pair of novels by Tariq Ali and purchased them, respecting Ali as a polemicist and activist for post-colonial groups throughout the world. I decided to read Saladin, which is essentially a fictional account of the historical Sultan's life from boyhood up to the time he drove the Franks from Jerusalem and reclaimed it for Muslims. It is borderline hagiography and the less said, the better.

Following on the heels of such was delightfully powerful memoir by Aidan Hartley titled Zanzibar Chest. Being only a few years older than myself, Hartley appears to have led an exponentially more challenging life covering war in Africa throughout the 90s and thus treading the same ground as covered by Gourevich and Scott Peterson, all of whom appear to have been friends in various hellish locales. More puzzling is Hartley's attempt to wrestle with the legacy of his father who served the Empire in the middle east and in Africa (Aidan and his siblings were actually born in Kenya). The prose becomes more speculative in these sections and thus less immediate. An excellent book nonetheless.

I read Jarhead by Anthony Sworford and enjoyed the narrative, was moved by his moribund imagery, yet felt my emotions marginalized, This may have resulted from a deliberate adjustment in sequentially. The machinations of the Iowa Writers Workshop were evident and over emphatic at certain junctures. Somehow the idea that every memoir has to broach some damaged aspect of the family nuclear and I inevitably mutter, "what the hell?" No one is questioning the spectrum of dysfunction yet I fear its mutations are often exaggerated in the cause of compelling the reader. having written, such I find it interesting that I read Jarhead in two days.

It was the reading of two more novels and the purchase of Niall Ferguson's Empire which ended this flurry. Hari Kunzru's The Impressionist and William Boyd's Any Human Heart were truly remarkable, both addressing the period of youth with all its insecurity and wonder and how education establishes not only a sense of entitlement amongst the British but, more insidiously, a calcification of vertical authority between races and classes. That period has ended as inexplicably as it began for myself.

Pages turned

It was a rather productive morning, I was able to devote sufficent time to read two more chapters of T.R. Reid's United States of Europe, which I find fascinating but hardly scholarly. That said, this continental craze towards soemthing egalitarian, venerative and progressive is quite the tonic for a December morning in a red state.

The text was something I wouldn't have broached on my own; it selection is atestament to the myriad nature of a group started by firends of mine. Thus many doors I would've otherwise missed in my own crusade through fiction have been propped open and I have gained in spades. That said, there parallels between the Reid text and volume titled Voltaire's Bastards which the group devoured early last summer. The shared thesis being that a classic or domestic approach to a system or problem may not be of benefit. Indeed, the Bastards text is suspsicious that sytems themselves, in our present technocracy, may be the culprit. As the research librarian in the Gold Bug Variations, ponders: we are drowing in data and losing a palpable graps of the organic and important.

One could infer that an anthema of the super-structure (the image of Robert McNamera looming ominously) is likewise rise in fanataicism; that somehow the rise of the Evangelical and suicide bombers will sweep away the sterility of our spreadsheets: a new Jerusalem of thoughtless consumption and omnipresent wal-mart bags.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Pride and the Den

This mesys Leo has been pondering, the warm noise of the furnace prevents ina ctual listening, and as the night unwinds, its color filling bedside glasses, I sit awake, hunched incorrectly over my keyboard, unlike Larry Mullins, I don't like to hit things, I am curious and often ill-tempered. Perhaps some simple-minded Henry Higgins is an apt analogy. The past few minutes of this hazy evening have been devoted to my scouring on Powells, Amazon and ebay. Oh, I do pry and ponder. The questions of late have been epic and largely historical, though my selections betray metaphysics, I am afraid, for why else be concerned with the arc of the meek, the untimely vanquishing of the "Chosen" - who made the selection and how do meet it now? What do full bellies and walls against the tundra belittle?

My trip to Chicago shall require Faulkner. I plan on rereading As I Lay Dying and reading Sanctuary in its entirety. I remain prepared for the tepid stature of the latter, but am excited nonetheless.

Seldom sober

Somehow I imagine that I will fail that mythical breathalyzer for the lion's share of my future postings; deeper into the cups and eschewing all regard for decorum and syntax, ahh - I suspect that this will be a repository for much that should be forgotten with a pair of ibuprofin in the harsh light of day. cheers