2666 Revisited

Reading Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 again (and yet again, eternally it seems, which is a sort of beautiful curse, or a curse that has no end) and there is a terror, a real terror, to certain lines, and not because of any pyrotechnic language but rather because of the direct plainness of it, as in the very early section where Morini (wheelchair-bound Morini, or perhaps faking to be wheelchair-bound, a heretical reading of the text, I know) has a nightmare about Liz Norton (“when she suffered, her pain was clearly visible”) which makes her a person to fall in love with, a person to love without honor or at least without the codes that govern love without honor, a nightmare that involves a pool (a pool governed by shadows) and Liz and Morini searching for Liz in the fog and afraid that he may topple into the pool and the line “Morini was about to shout again and wave when he sensed someone at his back. Two things were instantly certain: the thing was evil and it wanted Morini to turn around and see its face” (47). These lines, somehow, correct the world, or a perception of the world, which is to say that the evil here is not of psychology (True Detective recently pushed against this model, until its final episodes, but so much of our narrative today resolves itself around the psychology of the protagonists, as if neuro-science has become the new meta-narrative, or as if psychology were not really the individual expression of a sickness, an aberration, a cosmic aberration that includes [a thought only thought in the darkest of night: humanity itself]) but rather of something at once more cosmic and more banal, as if time itself had leaked back into the world, and in leaking brought with it the rust of pipes.) Of all the recent books (Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and Mezzo and Pirus’s King of the Flies being the exceptions) 2666 comes closest glimpsing evil in both its capital E and lowercase e versions.





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Revisiting the Requiem Project

Back in 2010 I launched the Requiem 102 project, inviting theorists, writers, and artists in an exploration of Darren Aronofsky’s film Requiem for a Dream (2000). Here it is, and here is the introduction to the project. Each of the contributors’ posts was compelling in its own way, but one of my favorites remains Catherine Grant’s short video theorizing the film’s famous split screens. Grant’s work is powerful and creative, challenging us to use the tools of cinema itself in our study of cinema.

Establishing Split: On REQUIEM FOR A DREAM from Catherine Grant on Vimeo.

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10/40/70: Constraint as Liberation in the Era of Digital Film Theory is now available in paperback and e-book from Zer0 Books. If you’d like a review copy, drop me an e-mail. Related to that, look for the astonishing results of “the 70s” project at Berfrois in mid-April. And for the annual Film issue at The Believer I’ve got a review of the trailer for Neighboring Sounds (image above).

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The 70s Update

Here are the films/contributors to The 70s so far. The list includes film title, director, and first name of the submitter. Excuse all caps; my typewriter is stuck on them. Further updates to follow.


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Cleo from 5 to 7

Four frames from the extended walking sequence from the magnificent Agnes Varda film Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962).

Cleo1 Cleo2 Cleo3 Cleo4

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Oedipus / Anti-Oedipus

One of the reasons I buy used versions of books when I can, even when new versions are available for a better price, is the element of surprise in terms of the previous owners’ comments, markings, and doodles. This semester, in preparation for teaching Joyce Carol Oates’s 1966 story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I ordered from an indie bookstore a copy of an edition (Rutgers University Press, 1994) of the story and critical essays edited by Elaine Showalter. Although it’s marked-up throughout in red pen, one section caught my attention: an essay by Gretchen Schulz and R. J. R. Rockwood which originally appeared, in 1980, in Literature and Pychology. It’s an interesting essay that uses Freudian literary analysis (in the way that Freudian literary analysis was often used in the 70s and 80s, a bit heavy on Oedipus) but the anonymous earlier owner of the book obviously took exception, in delightfully “mad” ways, to the essay. I’ve scanned some images and include them, below.

A few speculations:

1. This was someone working on a dissertation, I think, because a few of this essays are marked “dis” or “dis.”–as if the person was thinking about using “x” essay in his/her dissertation.

2. Speaking of his/her: I think the person who marked up the book was XX not XY, based solely on my completely unforensic hunch about the nature of the handwriting. Am I alone, or when you look at handwriting–actual handwriting–do you associate it with a gender? And if so, on what basis?

3. What really haunts about marked-up books is the weird, blurred sense of audience. These notes seem to be private, for the person who made them, glosses for a later reading. And yet, isn’t there also an implied “other” audience? As if the person (whomever you are!) thought, even in the furthest back corners of her mind, that someday someone else (you, or me) would come across this book, and read the markings, and wonder. The beautiful, and sort of sad, thing is: I can never communicate back with the person who left these red notes.

4. I kept thinking of Judith Fetterly’s notion of “the resisting reader” during this.

5. Which is to say, if I could: I love you for your red comments, whoever you are, wherever you are. (And a while ago, at The Oxford American, something similar, from long, long ago . . .)





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A Bang and a Scream: Books 2013

books13Best books read in 2013. Not all published in 2013. The Anatomy of Fascism (2004) is by Robert O. Paxton, sticker obscures name in pic. His passages on how the Fascist party in Italy and the Nazis used “parallel structures” to duplicate “every level of public authority with a public agency” to win over the masses are superb. Cynthia Cruz’s poetry collection The Glimmering Room (2012) contains these lines: “On weekends we sit in the Rec Room / Halting the inevitable.” Robert Montgomery Bird’s descent-into-and-ascension-from hell novel Sheppard Lee, published in 1836, contains a sentence that goes: “I saw, stretched on the grass, just on the verge of the pit, the dead body of a man; but what was my horror, when, perusing the ashy features in light of the moon, I perceived my own countenance!” Deborah Levy’s Booker-nominated novel Swimming Home, from 2011, has lines of such beauty: “Nina opened the door of her parents’ bedroom and skated in her socks across the tiled floor. She was wearing socks despite the heat because her left foot was swollen from a bee sting.” There is a real and terrible darkness in King of the Flies, (published as Hallorave in 2005, and by Fantagraphics in 2010). In Jeff Jackson’s novel Mira Corpora, there are so may Polanskian, Lynchian lines: “There’s movement in one of the upper windows. The systematic blinking of a curtain, maybe.” Karen Halttuten’s book Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination (Harvard UP) is something I return to every year: “Nineteenth-century readers of popular murder literature avidly sought pleasure in pain, and beauty in horror.” Death Sentences, by Kawamata Chiaki was first published in Japan in 1984, and then by the University of Minnesota Press in 2012. It’s a very blank book. Here is one line: “What I am trying to write is not an illusion of time. It is time itself. I can put into words time itself, duplicating the time that binds this world. I can produce another time with words.” In 2006, Laura Mulvey published a book I wish I had written (and sort of did), called Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. And in 2012 Julia Kristeva published The Severed Head: “I begin by exposing the violence directed at me and I take the liberty of saying so. You made the choice to be a minimalist, to say as little as possible about it? You will inevitably come to maximum grief one day.” Geez, the screenplay for Synecdoche, New York, is even sadder than the movie as I remember it: “Good for you with your grant!” In Keith Ridgeway’s book Hawthorn & Child (2012) you feel yourself falling down, and then rising up, through a dark tunnel. There are sentences like this: “She imagined walking from school one day and hearing  a bang and a scream, and another scream, and seeing something happening at the crossing. She imagined running up, and as she got closer her friends trying to hold her back. She imagined seeing Stuart lying on the ground, pale, a trickle of blood coming out of his mouth.” In 1970, Joan Didion published a novel entitled Play it As it Lays: “She found a bench near Box 674 and sat down. At noon the last window slammed shut. Maria drank from the water cooler, smoked cigarettes, read the F.B.I. posters. Wandering the country somewhere were Negro Females Armed with Lye, Caucasian Males posing as Baby Furniture Representatives, Radio Station Employees traveling out of Texas with wives and children and embezzled cash and Schemes for Getting Money and Never Delivering on Piecework, an inchoate army on the move.” From Submergence, by J. M. Ledgard (2011): “She stood on the steps. The sign spelling Hotel Atlantic looked suddenly clownish. She was a stranger to him. He did not know her.” There is a play, called Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks, about a black man (and about other things) who is paid to play Abraham Lincoln as he is assassinated: “I like the job. This is sit down, you know, easy work. I just gotta sit there all day. Folks come in kill phony Honest Abe with the phony pistol. I can sit there and let my mind travel.” Brian Evenson’s sentences come back at you like the interiors of a plague. From Immobility (2012): “He circled around the circle but did not enter it.” Never sure what to make of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990) in our era, but I still find great value in it. From footnote #32: “Kristeva’s reading of melancholy in this latter text is based in part on the writings of Melanie Klein. Melancholy is the matricidal impulse turned against the female subject and hence is linked with the problem of masochism.” Back to Swimming Home: “There was something else under the bed too but she did not have time to find out what it was.” The Lebowski book. What can I say? A gift from my most excellent son, Niko: “BURNS: We loved you in Logjammin’. Did the cable ever get fixed? TR: No, the cable did not get fixed. He was a little too busy fixing other things. BURNS: Do people ever recognize you as Bunny Lebowski?” Cynthia Cruz’s The Glimmering Room, again: “Your sisters are witches. / I race the staircase as they chase me / With their knives. They hide / The money in the mouths of car seats. / In the backyard, the fresh cut graves / Wait, greedy and gaping.”

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