Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday Nabokov Blogging

I have never been interested in what is called the literature of social comment (in journalistic and commercial parlance: 'great books'). I am not 'sincere', I am not 'provocative', I am not 'satirical.' I am neither a didacticist nor an allegorizer. Politics and economics, atomic bombs, primitive and abstract art forms, the entire Orient, symptoms of 'thaw' in Soviet Russia, the Future of Mankind, and so on, leave me supremely indifferent.
From the 1963 preface to Bend Sinister.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Withdrawal Symptoms

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the relative merits of withdrawing and staying the course. It is hardly surprising, given the stakes, that people are so aroused by this issue. I'm still trying to work through all the ins and outs, so what I hope to do in this post is discuss the various positions as I see them and perhaps suggest some way of resolving the matter.

As you would expect there is a broad spectrum of opinion on this subject. At one extreme are those who argue that by pulling out at just the right moment we can reduce the likelihood of making an already dicey situation worse. However the complete withdrawal position is vulnerable to the criticism that it may already be too late to prevent unwanted consequences. For example, in his recent paper “Cut and run or stay for fun?” Dr. F. Cowpers argues that “if the damage has already been done, and we have good reason to suppose that it has, we might as well enjoy the rest of the ride now that our lives are ruined anyway.”

The middle ground is occupied by those who favour a staged withdrawal, raising once more the vexed question of timing: pull out too soon and we risk missing out on the satisfaction of a job well done; too late and we may find we have reached the point of no return. The recently mooted “reduction” method appears at first glance to have some merit, but it is difficult to envisage how we could reduce our presence while continuing to thrust towards our objective. The needs of the other party must also be considered. If we did pull out could we still guarantee their satisfaction? One suspects that they would prefer us to stay the course and attempt to reach our individual goals as part of a team.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who are determined to see the task through to its completion come what may. Proponents of this position argue that pulling out will result in a big mess that we will probably then be obliged to clean up. This scenario is possible, but provided the withdrawal is handled correctly it is not inevitable. Aside from the timing factor, the main concern is with the fall-back position. If we remain too near there may be unpleasant consequences; on the other hand, we must ensure that we are close enough to provide ready assistance if required. Our ally may well be able to achieve its objective on its own, but it would be remiss of us to relinquish all involvement, especially considering the specialised equipment we have at our disposal.

This is clearly a complex issue, yet we ought not allow ourselves to become discouraged. It is easy to spurt forth globules of rhetoric but what is needed is sober reflection. When you want to come to the table with a sensible, workable plan, then that is the time for arguing, but until then relax, don't do it. I feel that the way forward is for us to communicate with our ally, to understand their needs, then progress from there. If they are comfortable with us pulling out then let's do it, and do it right. If not, then let's stay the course. The important thing is that we've already fucked them, no matter how we decide to end it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Lucky Martin

Is it April 1 already? I ask because I've been reading about Martin Amis becoming a university creative writing teacher and the only response I can muster is: Are you havin' a laugh? Is he havin' a laugh?

Of course Amis isn't havin' a laugh, he's havin' a midlife crisis. Another midlife crisis. Seems he wants to reconnect with da kids in the hope of rediscovering his muse - or maybe just so can score some decent weed. Oh, and he reckons he might get a novel out of the experience. Because there just aren't enough novels set on university campuses.

I reckon Mart'll make a pretty good teacher, but that won't be why students will be rushing to sign up. No, they'll be signing up because having Martin Amis as your creative writing tutor is a win-win situation. If he commends your work, well, wouldn't that be a thrill? If he hates it, though, you can have a good rant about nasty old elitist Martin, wouldn't know good writing if it mashed in his plummy mug with a right hook, hasn't written anything decent since Money, which was overrated anyway, lucky sod, never would've scored a publisher if not for his old man [etc, etc, ad nauseum].

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Watch Out, David and Margaret!

My Dad went on a rare trip to the fillums last night; I made the mistake of asking him about it today.

Me: So, what movie did you see?

Dad: Broken, ah, something. Breaking something, maybe.

Me: Uh-huh.

Dad: Jude Law was in it.

Me: Yeah, doesn't sound familiar, but I don't--

Dad: Although it might have been Sting. The guy looked a lot like Sting, but I thought he was a bit young to be Sting. But then I don't really know how old Sting is. Or what he looks like.

Me: What was the movie about?

Dad: It was sort of, I don't was more a girly, you know, love story than anything else.

Me: Bit of a chick flick?

Dad: Yeah. No. I don't know.

Me: Did you actually watch the film?

Dad: Yeah, it's just...I don't know.

Me: Ok. [lengthy pause] So... [slightly longer pause during which Dad starts pretending to be occupied with a newspaper crossword] Um, think I might get going.

Dad: [dismissive grunt]

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mart Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor wants to know if Martin Amis is "into it". Judging by the accompanying photo, I'd say Amis is in fact way, way out of it.

Is that Martin Amis or Rene Belloq?

I do like this line of Amis's about Mel Gibson's depiction of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ: "One thing that was caught very well by that film was the idea that he was godlike in some ways: He could endure a great deal of pain – but it really hurt."

UPDATE (10/2): It must be Amis month: Slate's appropriately-named Keith Gessen wonders where Mart's "warring impulses" will lead him next, while the NYRB features John Banville's review of House of Meetings, which almost - almost - makes me want to read the book again.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Thursday Baby Blogging

We've had "mama", "mumum" and the like for a couple of months, and occasionally there's a "boh-boh" as her formula warms in the microwave, but this week - at long last! - a breakthrough:

"Dada! Dadadada!"

Actually it sounds more like "Gaga". Well, I suppose I am that, too.

Light Reading

I feel English literary culture, in sharp contrast to the musical and fine arts culture, has retreated into a safe little Englander mentality, imagining that merely by writing ‘about’ great events and deep subjects you are producing great and deep works of literature.


I find contemporary works that take themselves terribly seriously a pain, as I’ve said. I’d much rather read a good thriller or a good comic novel than one that is bidding to become a Booker prize-winner (and often succeeding). Unfortunately even thriller writers - especially American ones - these days want to show they are ‘important’ writers, which is a disaster for their work. But there is also a large historical issue. For complex reasons art before the Romantics could be both profound and ‘light’. Homer’s and Shakespeare’s plays are cases in point. After the onset of Romanticism it’s as if depth had to entail solemnity, weightiness. Contrast Mozart and Beethoven, Pope and Wordsworth, Fielding and George Eliot. I love many works written after 1800, but I wish it were lighter. And I can’t stand those great nineteenth century works that take themselves so seriously and try to found a new religion, like Mahler’s symphonies. That’s why I love Stravinsky: for me he has everything: wit, lightness, precision, yet a plangency that is deeply moving...
Gabriel Josipovici, interviewed at Ready Steady Book.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Postman Knows Where You Live

Local postman William “Ice D” Denton says you better “check yo’self” because he knows where you live.

“181 Arcadia Grove,” the postie told a press conference yesterday. “It’s right there on your gas bill. Muthafucka!

Denton, who describes himself as being “straight outta Burwood”, claims that last week you almost clipped the rear wheel of his bicycle with your Subaru.

“Bee-atch, donchew be tryin’ that shit agin. And don't be askin' me for no lacka bands either. I don’t wanna have to use my AK. So far, today’s been a good day.”

"Bad ass letter-deliverin' muthafucka": Mr Denton
models his custom-made postie bike. "This muthafucka'll
make the Kessell Run in less than twelve parsecs, bee-atch."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Crispy Classics

Kathryn Hughes of the Guardian's books blog (my one-stop-shop for ready-made blog fodder) reckons Weidenfeld & Nicolson's plan to publish "slimline" editions of certain lengthy 19th C novels is a great idea.
Many of these books, while marvellous, also suffered from being originally produced in installments, which meant that each section had to end with a cliff-hanger, regardless of whether the narrative required it or not. Others had to be finished in a hurry to meet a publisher's deadline.

If any of these books arrived on a publisher's desk today, chances are that an editor would be dispatched to wield a very sharp scalpel before the book was considered commercially viable. What, then, is so wrong about Weidenfeld & Nicolson deciding to do just that, albeit 100 or so years later?
Because of course everything, including the works of long-dead authors, must conform to this nebulous concept of "commercial viability".
In schools and universities the full texts will still need to be studied - knowing how and why George Eliot rushed the ending of Mill on the Floss tells you a lot about the kind of writer and person she was. However, for "ordinary" readers - people who want nothing more than to be diverted by some of the greatest prose writing ever produced - I can't see why it matters if they opt for a crisper version of a rambling old classic.
As usual, commenter Bellona manages to cut through the bullshit:
Then there's the appalling implication that "long/meandering" classics, as they are, are only suitable for utilitarian study. Only the philistine gods know why persons who ever champion the masses persist in painting them as homogeneous children who only want diversions--books being the replacement for baby mobiles?--and don't wish their pretty brains to be bothered; only if you're in academe could you possibly be intellectually curious!
I'm glad somebody has the energy to yet again argue this point. I'm mentally exhausted just from cutting-and-pasting Hughes's drivel.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Spinning Aground

Aw, and on the same weekend that she was dumped by her boyfriend! What a pair of cads.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Phun Phacts For Kool Kidz

It's back to school time, as I'm sure all you kids whose ADHD meds haven't left them in a fugue state are aware. And although we realise that the prospect of an entire year slaving in the turbines of the learning factory is a dismal one, and that you'd rather be spending the golden years of your youth pursuing carefree, innocent pastimes like obsessing over your Myspace Friends list and shooting digital hookers in GTA: Box Hill, you can rejoice that Sterne is here to remind you that learning is fun and easy. And that if you neglect your education, you'll probably end up like us. So shape up, you little douchebags!

To make it simple for you here's a conveniently categorised and completely true list of astonishing and edifying facts for you to unveil in class over the next few weeks. Amaze your teachers with your erudition! Stun your parents with your scholarly ways. And remember who to thank for the new-found boost to your brainmeats.

Geography - The capital of Australia is Canberra, which is Aboriginal for “Fucking Dull”.

Ecology - Whales only beach themselves because they enjoy being fondled by environmentalists. Whales are sickos.

Humanities - If your school library is a good one, it will have banned Harry Potter novels in order to keep your nascent mind free of satanic principles and pubescent urges conjured up by descriptions of brooomsticks. What your librarian doubtless is unaware of is that The Diary of Anne Frank contains lesbian scenes, Plato was dead-set keen on paedophilia, and that C.S Lewis banged on about the necessity of pain so often that it’s obvious he was into bondage. Also, the original draft of the Horse and His Boy needed to be censored, due to the unnatural direction the relationship between the title characters took in chapter 15.

Home Economics - Coca-Cola is made from cinammon, sugar, soy sauce and Easy Off Bam. Get mum’s permission to borrow the blender and experiment with making your own at home.

History –The famous explorer Marco Polo travelled to China, and brought home pasta, gunpowder, and cheap mp3 players which never really worked properly.

Social Studies - The fat kid in your class will usually smell like French fries when he sweats. Pointing this out loudly will get you major laughs and earn you the respect of your peers. Fat kids: you can achieve the same effect by spending recess sitting on the heads of those who mock you.

Religious Ed. - The names of Jesus’ twelve Apostles are: Peter (aka Simon), Matthew, Mark, Luke, John the Beloved, John the Slightly Less Beloved, James, John Who Nobody Really Got On With, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful and Doc, who betrayed Him.

Biology - If you took all of the veins in your body and laid them out end to end in a line, it would be incredibly painful.

Math - No one, and I mean no one, has ever used long division outside a classroom in their lives. Never. Don’t bother learning it.

Natural History - Evolution is only a theory. If your teacher claims otherwise, and gets high and mighty about fossils, carbon dating, opposable thumbs and similar inconclusive evidence, threaten to sue. Hilariously effusive apology letters from the principal will be forthcoming within the next twenty-four hours.