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Interesting look at art vs. propaganda here:

There is a difference between artists and propagandists -- and a similar difference between admirers of art and admirers of propaganda.

The root of the difference is intention. Artists do what they do because they can hardly help themselves. If one can be said to decide to be an artist, it is only in the same sense that one could be said to decide to scratch an itch. Despite the impression you get from those monsters of ambition on American Idol, artistry is seldom a smart career decision. Poverty and rejection are the artist's fringe benefits. No one gets into the business to become rich -- no one sane, anyway.


Yes, but while the artist desires attention, he does not want (except for the merchandising part of himself, born of poverty and necessity) to draw anything from the audience but attention. Oh, he probably wants love, approval, admiration, and all that -- but only because his gig is so psychologically damaging that he cannot get enough of these primary emotional needs met in the normal way. (That is part of the reason why artists are such problematic friends, lovers, and credit risks.)

If he has made a political work of art, the artist may think he wants a political result, but his observers know better. Do you really think Oliver Stone made JFK because he wanted the assassination files opened? No, obviously he made it because he felt a deep soul-ache that could only be healed by mass viewing rituals in cineplexes across America.

But the propagandist wants souls turned his way because he wants them to do something for him. He wants results. In his black, rubber heart, he does not get the appeal of Madame Bovary or Lolita or The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. What action plan follows upon these? What agenda is advanced? What polling results will be affected? Whereas a well-crafted Swift Boat ad, or blog, or National Review column will make people do things -- vote, or fail to vote, or stay mad at the people you want them mad at, or stay worshipful of the people you want to remain unquestioned.


To him culture is not a spring that refreshes the spirit, but a storehouse of destructive power to be used against his enemies.

What a thin, choked, stunted way of life and of thinking that is! Yet these people get big pay and loud megaphones, while great poets, as Charles Bukowski used to say, die in steaming pots of shit. Is this any more or less the way of the world than once it was?

There's more to say.  But some other time.  Some other place.


GeeCue reviews & interviews Jonathan Lethem:

One of the characters in the book kidnaps a kangaroo from the zoo. This isn’t the first time you’ve had kangaroos in your books. There are talking kangaroos in Gun with Occasional Music. There’s also a picture of a kangaroo on your Web site. What gives?

I never knew I was gonna write a second kangaroo book. In a way, I think I always owed them a correction. In my first book, I gave a male kangaroo a pouch, and he goes through the whole book with a pouch, and only after I published did someone point out that male kangaroos don’t have pouches. So I had to come back to the subject in order to at least get the pouch right.

I’m sure they appreciate it. Here you tell the story of a band and their one great gig. Were you living out your rock-star fantasies?

My relationship to music is always vicarious. In a way, one of the big subjects of Fortress of Solitude was that yearning—when you feel you can’t make music yourself, but you feel in some way that your emotional life plays out through that art form. As totally different as these books are, the one thing they have in common is that they’re about that yearning.

I love the song titles in the book: “Hell Is for Buildings.” “Canary in a Coke Machine.” “Actually Quite Funny.”

If I were ever in a band, I would probably have song titles just as stupid and clever as those. It’s not like I’m really making fun of anybody, because those are things that I find funny. But definitely, I was fooling around and trying to get into the state of mind that I associate with the brief period of time in my twenties when I still had the delusion that I might become a musician.

It’s your picture on the cover of the book—next to a guitar. Is that why?

I’m such a poser in that picture. I think it was taken in 1988. There I am beside this Telecaster guitar that I bought—and didn’t know how to play—and my shirt is buttoned up to my neck. I loved it as a souvenir of all of those embarrassing feelings, where you glamorize yourself for the mirror. When the book was in very early production, I brought it to my editor and kind of jokingly said, “We ought to use this as the author photo.” Somehow that joke ended up on the front of the book.

The Village Voice?  Not so sanguine.


Times being what they are, you hate to make any bold predictions.  However, this prolly will stand as the craziest thing your pal will read all week (in RP's italics):

The main idea of "The Secret" is that people need only visualize what they want in order to get it -- and the book certainly has created instant wealth, at least for Rhonda Byrne and her partners-in-con. And the marketing idea behind it -- the enlisting of that dream team, in what is essentially a massive, cross-promotional pyramid scheme -- is brilliant. But what really makes "The Secret" more than a variation on an old theme is the involvement of Oprah Winfrey, who lends the whole enterprise more prestige, and, because of that prestige, more venality, than any previous self-help scam. Oprah hasn't just endorsed "The Secret"; she's championed it, put herself at the apex of its pyramid, and helped create a symbiotic economy of New Age quacks that almost puts OPEC to shame.


Worse than "The Secret's" blame-the-victim idiocy is its baldfaced bullshitting. The titular "secret" of the book is something the authors call the Law of Attraction. They maintain that the universe is governed by the principle that "like attracts like" and that our thoughts are like magnets: Positive thoughts attract positive events and negative thoughts attract negative events. Of course, magnets do exactly the opposite -- positively charged magnets attract negatively charged particles -- and the rest of "The Secret" has a similar relationship to the truth. Here it is on biblical history: "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of." And worse than the idiocy and the bullshitting is its anti-intellectualism, because that's at the root of the other two. Here's "The Secret" on reading and, um, electricity: "When I discovered 'The Secret' I made a decision that I would not watch the news or read newspapers anymore, because it did not make me feel good," and, "How does it work? Nobody knows. Just like nobody knows how electricity works. I don't, do you?"

You know what really makes millionaire baby Jesus cry?  The estate tax.


Looking for the truth of Theodore Roethke's death:

He was like Shakespeare's Falstaff—the guy who commits "the oldest sins in the newest kind of ways"—and who Prince Henry calls "the tutor and the feeder of my riots." Roethke was the tutor of my riots. Both Falstaff and Roethke preach a gospel of anarchic freedom. Both were heroically exuberant, corpulent, caustic, and drunk. You can sense Roethke's drinking in his writing—the bump, the rhythm, the rhyming, the jump-cut attention span, the fixation on immediate details and despair about the future—from the first line of "My Papa's Waltz" to the final chorus of "Gob Music": "Oh, the slop-pail is the place to think/On the perils of too early drink,/Too early drink, too early drink/Will bring a good man down." Roethke's poetry was familiar in its setting but dislocating in its movement, and produced, in my mind, the same thrilling trick of intoxication—making the familiar foreign.

I took my first legal drink in the Blue Moon tavern, mostly because I had heard that Roethke spent many hours draining glasses at its bar. I nervously nosed my way in on a gray winter afternoon and ordered a pint of stout (I was young; I thought I needed beefing up) and turned to my right to find a table. There was a portrait of Roethke hanging on the wall. He was rosy cheeked and round faced, hoisting a glass of dark beer. He's holding a stout! I'm holding a stout! It was my old friend, there to toast my maiden barroom voyage. At least that's how I remember it. I haven't been back to double check. I don't want to be wrong.

Our reporter goes on to try to determine if Roethke drowned while drunk, but, as always, the mysterious answer lies with Phil Collins, and Phil Collins alone.


Hearty congratulations to Mr. Sarvas.  Well done, sir.



Jonathan Lethem: 3 reading tour dates in the Denver/Boulder area!  I been waiting for this ever since Jerry died.  And Phish broke up.  And String Cheese went all commercial.

Now if we can just lure John "Pathological Fear of Colorado" Darnielle here....


This is what it sounds like, when your soul dies:

A Bolivian-born jaguar named Jorge that killed a Denver zookeeper was well-behaved as a young cat, but he had a twin brother who was so mean that his handlers named him Osama, a Bolivian zoo official said today.

This is front page e-news, ladies and gents.  Special irony:

Jorge and Osama were captured by a family in the countryside of the tropical lowland state of Santa Cruz, in eastern Boliva, and were keeping them as pets until a local conservation group brought them to the zoo when they were 6 months old, Ugarteche said.

The pair did not have names until two or thee years ago, she said.

"We named him Jorge, like President George, the president of the United States, and the other one Osama, because he was the bad one of the two," she said.

The upshot is that we've found Osama, pacing about angrily at a zoo in eastern Bolivia.  Unfortunately, we've just bombed and invaded Brazil in retribution.  They have all the ethanol.


This scrotum business is utter bullshit.  If our "thinking" gets much more retrograde, we might as well give up and start letting our club-wielding cave kids ride to school on pterodactyls.  Ooga booga.

YPTR must dig into the RP archives, so's we can all get this straight.  Y'know, for the record:

Now if the bedroom is dirty to you, then you are a true atheist, because if you have any of the mores, the superstitions, if anyone in this audience believes that God made his body, and your body is dirty, the fault lies with the manufacturer. It's that cold, Jim, yeah.

You can do anything with the body that God made, and then you want to get definitive and tell me of the parts He made, I don't see that anywhere in any reference to any Bible. Yeah, He made it all. It's all clean, or all dirty.

Grow some scrotum, librarians.


Here are some embarrassing books not written by Dan Brown. 

No, wait.  He's here, too.  In drag.  As "Danielle."

Nonetheless, enjoy Annie Proulx, from the immortal Making the Best Apple Cider:   

The heady fragrance of fresh sweet cider running from the press is a wonderful blend of mellow apples, the faintly acidic scent of fallen leaves.

Makes me wanna ride fences.  And if you think there ain't a sequel, guess again.


DFW invoked in $2000 "Colossus" Jeopardy clue/answer: "Immeasurably great, like the 'Jest' in a David Foster Wallace title".


On torture and Terry Gilliam's Brazil:

In the film called Brazil, Michael Palin is the torturer as the civil servant who might conceivably have been doing something else, such as selling life insurance. In the country called Brazil, the same role was usually played by a psychopath. (The key document proving this is Brazil: Never Again published in 1985. By the time I bought my copy in 1988, it had gone through 20 printings.) We know from the fascinating long interview published as Gilliam on Gilliam that the Palin character in the movie was slow to take shape. The first three drafts of the script were written by Tom Stoppard. Finally Stoppard and Gilliam parted company because of disagreements over some of the characters. One of the characters in question was the torturer. The way Stoppard wrote the part, Michael Palin would have had the opportunity to play against type: He would have embodied evil. Palin is a very accomplished actor and could undoubtedly have done it. But Gilliam insisted on Palin's full, natural, nonacting measure of bland benevolence.

On the set, Gilliam gave Palin mechanical things to do while acting—eat, for example—so that Palin would be distracted from developing any nuances on top of his natural projection as Mr. Nice Guy. It is a moot point which of them was right, Stoppard or Gilliam. In the long run, the Banality of Evil interpretation of human frightfulness is not quite as useful as it looks. It helps us appreciate the desirability of not placing ourselves in a position where the rule of justice depends on natural human goodness, which might prove to be in short supply. But it tends to shield us from the intractable facts about human propensities.


Unfortunately for our hopes of innate human goodness, all the evidence suggests that the torturers were keen to get on with the job even if it was meaningless. All the evidence was still there afterward, including photographs taken at every stage of the torment. Back in the late 1950s, on the sleeve of the Beyond the Fringe record album, Jonathan Miller made a dark joke about his worst fear: being tortured for information he did not possess. The assumption behind the joke was that if he had something to reveal, the agony would stop. He was looking back to a world of polite British fiction, not to a world of brute European fact. In the Nazi and Soviet cellars and camps, people were regularly tortured for information they did not possess: i.e., they were tortured just for the hell of it. Kafka guessed it would happen, as he guessed everything that would happen. In his Strafkolonie, the tormented prisoner has to work out for himself what crime he has committed and is finally told that it is being written on his body by the instrument of torture into which he has been inescapably locked. Kafka was there first, but he wasn't alone for long, and now we must all live in a modern world where the words "No no no no no no no no" can be recorded with perfect fidelity for their sound, yet go unheeded for what they mean.


Forget Gwen Stefani.  When it comes to nonsense pop, Robyn is down by law.  Metal machine music, indeed.


Here's some Hunter S. round-up from the Black Table archives, marking two years since the Doctor killed himself.  He's now been dead almost as long as Ms. Britney Spears.  The mind boggles.

Also and elsewhere, my pal John Dicker asks political raconteur and RP favorite Matt Taibbi about being called the New Bob Dylan:

TP: Will people ever stop comparing you to Hunter S. Thompson?

MT: I think the thing is with that — I admit to doing drugs, I'm a comic, and I write in the first person, mainly about politics, for Rolling Stone. So no matter how silly it is, I'm going to get that comparison a lot. One of the reasons there's been so much speculation about "the next Hunter Thompson" over the years is because Thompson was just about the last writer, of fiction or of non-fiction, who really had a big impact on the whole population here. Since he stopped being really productive a few decades ago, a lot of Americans, me included, have really been waiting for that one writer whom they can depend on to help make sense of things and put things in perspective. So I think that when people talk about "the next HST" they aren't necessarily waiting for a repeat of that particular act, i.e. a drug-gobbling freak endlessly careening off a behavioral cliff in page after frenzied page. I think they're just looking for someone who can handle the responsibility of being that kind of clear, dependable, defiant voice for so many people. I myself am always looking for that person. And while I'm flattered that people say that about me sometimes, to be honest I think that the reason I get that comparison has more to do with the fact that my manner of telling jokes superficially resembles Thompson's than it does with anything else. I don't think there will ever be another Thompson, but when the next great one shows up, we'll all know it.


The Last Word on Auster

Mr. Sam Jones sent along this link to a review of Auster's Travels in the Scriptorium, asking: "Did this negative review by a skilled critic enlighten?"

Yes, Mr. Jones.  It did:

With its earnestly literary atmosphere not far from self-parody, it's hard to imagine anyone other than die-hard Auster fans warming much to Travels in the Scriptorium. What makes the book so unsatisfying is how its whole scenario is a high-concept but ultimately pointless gimmick. This is always the risk hazarded by metafiction and is the standard knock on Auster delivered by his critics. Unfortunately, there's no refuting that view here. In the New York Trilogy, Auster surmounted the problem because its narratives were anchored by an unnerving feel for the self's vulnerability, the sense that any one of us might find ourselves suddenly confronting the revelation that even in life we are little more than barely sentient ghosts. Similarly, Auster's portrait of his father in The Invention of Solitude as a spectral cipher who lived his everyday existence as a kind of absence is at once harrowing and compelling. But many years have passed since he created these works, and in the interim Auster has lost connection to a true subject. In Travels in the Scriptorium, the insubstantiality of Mr. Blank has no real resonance other than to fill the echo chamber that Auster has made of his career. Despite the emphasis on the fundamental actions of his body—crawling, shitting, ejaculating—he remains, like the rest of the novel, a stillborn creation. A proper retrospective, by making us see things that we hadn't realized were there all along, should inject some fresh vitality into our sense of an author's work. Travels in the Scriptorium sucks out whatever life there is in Auster's invented universe, leaving a sterile vacuum of self-regard.

This is scathing stuff, but at least (taken as a whole) it grants Auster and his book the consideration they deserve.

(YPTR's only quibble is with Gibbons cherrypicking a sentence from Auster and showing how it suffers in comparison to Bellow's "opening salvo" in Herzog.  That's not cricket, Mr. Gibbons!  No need to stack the deck.)

Champagne Wishes & Vibrator Dreams

I'ma (re)posting this for all you modern lovers.  It could be quite lousy as far as love poems go, who knows, but it reminds me.

All the Earth, All the Air


I stand with standing stones.
The stones stay where they are.
The twiny winders wind;
The little fishes move.
A ripple wakes the pond.


This joy's my fall. I am!--
A man as rich as a cat,
A cat in the fork of a tree,
When she shakes out her hair.
I think of that and laugh.


All innocence and wit,
She keeps my wishes warm;
When, easy as a beast,
She steps along the street,
I start to leave myself.


The truly beautiful,
Their bodies cannot lie;
The blossom stings the bee.
The ground needs the abyss,
Say the stones, say the fish.


A field recedes in sleep.
Where are the dead? Before me
Floats a single star.
A tree glides with the moon.
The field is mine! Is mine!


In a lurking place I lurk,
One with the sullen dark.
What's hell but a cold heart?
But who, faced with her face,
Would not rejoice?

--Theodore Roethke

Loaded For Barra III: You Decide

Paul Auster reads from Travels in the Scriptorium.  He doesn't sound wrongheaded.

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