Monthly Archives: February 2011

“Backbone”, by David Foster Wallace.

More DFW: a story over at the New Yorker.

No one ever did ask him. His father believed only that he had an eccentric but very limber and flexible child, a child who’d taken Kathy Kessinger’s homilies about spinal hygiene to heart, the way some children will take things to heart, and now spent a lot of time flexing and limbering his body, which, as the queer heartcraft of children went, was preferable to many other slack or damaging fixations the father could think of. The father, an entrepreneur who sold motivational tapes through the mail, worked out of a home office but was frequently away for seminars and mysterious evening sales calls. The family’s home, which faced west, was tall and slender and contemporary; it resembled one half of a duplex town house from which the other half had been suddenly removed. It had olive-colored aluminum siding and was on a cul-de-sac, at the northern end of which stood a side entrance to the county’s third-largest cemetery, whose name was woven in iron above the main gate but not above that side entrance. The word that the father thought of when he thought of the boy was: “dutiful,” which surprised the man, for it was a rather old-fashioned word and he had no idea where it came from when he thought of the boy in his room, from outside the door.

Read the whole of “Backbone” by hitting the link.

[via The New Yorker]

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David Foster Wallace documentary

There’s a 45-minute BBC documentary on David Foster Wallace over at Vimeo.

Surely you can spend 45 minutes.

[via Conversational Reading]

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Rojak: Busy Week

Assorted

Forty-six in queue (three stacks on the left, plus one on loan); five currently being read (right-most stack).

Over at my blog, I had a look at my reading queue. [via a modest odyssey]

The Muppets sing LCD Soundsystem! [via YouTube]

The new R.E.M. album is coming next week. [via Wikipedia]

Jeff Beck talks about Les Paul. [via Maximum Performance]

What would Faulkner drink? [via The Book Bench]

Bulletin

This week, we had:

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Omnivore: Little Reading Edition

Very little reading done this week. Finished a Kuo Pao Kun play and a Haresh Sharma play for class. Started on John Banville’s The Infinities. Nowhere near completing it. It’s been a busy week.

Music is a different story. Mostly dominated by The King of Limbs, but my playlist also found space for R.E.M., Jimi Hendrix, and Van Morrison’s lovely Astral Weeks.

I hope to get my hands on Let England Shake next.

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Howl Review Round-Up

The Telegraph:

Franco, garrulous yet vulnerable, gives an excellent impersonation of Ginsberg. Every frame of this ambitious and sometimes fascinating film is visually striking. But it feels too celebratory, too triumphant: it captures Howl’s joy, but not enough of its terrors.

[link]

The Guardian:

It’s decently acted, particularly by Franco, who is always watchable. But it fails to engage the heart and the question of why we should read Ginsberg now is unanswered.

[link]

The New York Times:

And “Howl” is an exemplary work of literary criticism on film, explaining and contextualizing its source without deadening it. A few academic and critical experts show up in court to defend the form and content of “Howl” — notably frank in its discussion of drugs and homosexuality, blasphemous and excremental in its apocalyptic visions — or to declare them worthless. Jeff Daniels has a wry, priceless turn as an English department stuffed shirt who pompously explains his “objective” conclusion that “Howl” is without merit.

[link]

Ebert:

What feels right about “Howl” is that it is set before those days, before the beard and the mysticism and Tibet and the public persona and the levitating of the Pentagon. The bold, outspoken man of later days is seen here as still a middle-class youth, uncertain of his gayness, filled with the heady joy of early poetic success, learning how to be himself.

[link]

Variety:

But therein lies the rub. Russell’s films, good and bad, had blood coursing through their veins, whereas this one, while clearly motivated to celebrate the life force embodied by Ginsberg and his work, is itself wood-dry. It’s a paradox born of the film’s fundamentally informational and historical perspective, one viewers will just have to live with.

[link]

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“Two Tutors”

An early Thomas Bernhard story, first time in English, as translated by Martin Chalmers.

While the new tutor has until now remained silent during our lunchtime walk, which to me has already become a habit, today from the start he had a need to talk to me. Like people who for a long time have said nothing and suddenly feel it to be a terrible lack, as something alarming to themselves and the whole of society linked to them, he explained to me all at once, agitatedly, that, really, he always wanted to speak, but could not speak, talk. I was no doubt familiar with the circumstance, that there are people, in whose presence it is impossible to speak . . . In my presence, it was so difficult for him to say anything that he was afraid of every word, he did not know why, he could investigate it, but such an effort would probably vex him over far too long a period of time. Especially now, at the beginning of term, under the pressure of hundreds of pupils, all of them hostile to discipline, under the pressure of the ever coarsening season, he could not afford the least vexation.  “I permit myself absolutely nothing now,” he said,  “I consist one hundred per cent only of my personal difficulties.”

[via Little Star Journal]

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The King of Limbs impressions.

Some brief and disorganised thoughts on The King of Limbs after several listens:

  • It is certainly Radiohead’s most cohesive album so far, even more so than Kid A. The brief length of the album (at about thirty-eight minutes) is deceptive because not a single second is wasted. It feels more like a suite than a collection, and several tracks appear to me to be significantly weaker when taken individually as opposed to a part of a whole. This is particularly true of the opening pair of tracks, the instrumental “Feral”, and the more melodic tracks of “Codex” and “Give Up The Ghost”.
  • On the flip side, the tracks that stand out as the strongest individually are “Lotus Flower” (which one suspects is a shout-out to Flying Lotus) and “Separator”.
  • The album is the natural evolutionary step to take from In Rainbows. Texturally rich, delicately balanced, intricately imagined, and at times wonderfully emotive, it plays out like the more precise and less aggressive genius child of In Rainbows and Amnesiac. Voices, sounds, choruses all fade in and out much in the way Thom Yorke approaches his performance of the lyrics, eschewing clarity for suggestion and sound, blossoming and decaying in the same measure.
  • Structurally, the album is divided nicely into two, with the first half made up of five tracks: “Bloom”, the album’s opener, is a glitchy and haphazard track that reminds me of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew; “Morning Mr Magpie” continues with the general aesthetic of gloriously imagined basslines and complex percussion in a markedly kinetic fashion; “Little By Little” is a dissonant and dreamy track that reminds me of a twisted folk song; “Feral” is a skittering interlude reminiscent of the Amnesiac days, except with greater focus and impoetus; and this section closes with the truly wonderful climax of “Lotus Flowers”, a minimalistic single where Yorke’s voice dances above a tightly-constructed rhythmic section.
  • This section of the album is driven by the amazing bassline, the numerous syncopations and meticulously thought-out percussion. In contrast, the second part of the album takes turn towards the melodic, and feature reverb effects as well as rich brass arrangements. “Codex” and “Give Up The Ghost” are as ballad-like as Radiohead tunes have ever come, melancholic and affecting meditations that genuinely surprise. The closing track, “Separator”, reminds me most of the Beatles’ Revolver. A brilliant positivity dominates, with the bright guitars and the floating vocals, with sounds cascading all over the track. This is something new for the band, and is a more than gorgeous hint for what lies in store in the future.
  • Overall, I think it’s mostly unfair to take the album apart to look at it in a track-by-track way. From start to finish, it’s a pretty complete experience that covers diverse sonic territory. There are pockets of true beauty in the album, and that alone makes it worth the price of admission, though it offers much more. Here is a band refining the methods of expression it has spent the past two decades looking for, and producing something worthy of their efforts in the process.

So yes, I really like the album.

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Nota Bene: Blood Meridian

“And the answer, said the judge. If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes. This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.”

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy

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The 2011 Tournament of Books

The competitive bracket for the 2011 Tournament of Books has been posted. Check out The Morning News for all the details. [via The Morning News]

The bracket is as follows:

  • March 8: (Sarah Manguso) Freedom v. Kapitoil
  • March 9: (Jennifer Weiner) Room v. Bad Marie
  • March 10: (Rosecrans Baldwin) Savages v. The Finkler Question
  • March 11: (Anthony Doerr) A Visit From the Goon Squad v. Skippy Dies
  • March 14: (Andrew Womack) Nox v. Lord of Misrule
  • March 15: (Jessica Francis Kane) Next v. So Much for That
  • March 16: (Matthew Baldwin) Super Sad True Love Story v. Model Home
  • March 17: (Catherine George) The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake v. Bloodroot

And let me just say here that Super Sad True Love Story and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake both have titles I wish I’d thought of first.

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Microscripts

Microscripts, by Robert Walser and translated by Susan Bernofsky, sounds like a remarkably interesting book:

This is not a book to simply be read. It is a collection of secrets, devised by the author, only to be initially dismissed as gibberish, sorted by a caretaker sometime later, taken in by an amateur who thought otherwise, transcribed into German by a team of two over a decade, then finally, expertly translated into English and re-ordered and edited in book form.

The stories and fragments are for the most part without titles, rendered in a defunct miniature script, never meant to meet the reader’s eyes. They rely upon a portrait before each translation begins, the first sentence sometimes dictating a makeshift title.

Read more over at Three Percent. [via Three Percent]

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