Monday, May 28, 2007

chase's book of excuses

I took a break from my other reading to join a group of friends in reading Gould's Book of Fish. There's no way I would ever have run across this novel if the group hadn't recommended it, which makes this more fun than the other 3 things I'm reading now, in that it's a total surprise. It also managed to be completely unexpected, even after reading the synopsis and reviews. Despite the ongoing metanarrative (a man who makes fake antiques finds a book that proves to be a hoax about an imprisoned forger who becomes not only a fish but also most of the characters he invents, including the man who finds his book), I feel like I learned plenty about a time and place I knew so little about, a 19th century Australia which the British are attempting to reform. The perspective of this culture and it's history combines with endless meditations of the creative process in a novel that proved to be a damned quick read.

Now back to Don Quixote.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

post-Parzival pre-Don Quixote reads

Oprah's book club just got a little more badass. This....this is the best thing I've read in years. There was no way for me to prepare for the brutality of this particular post-apocalypse. Just completely harrowing. For someone who loves Haneke's "Time of the Wolf", where an unnamed plague has forced everyone to flee cities and fend for themselves in the wild, and someone who wished that the third half of Polanski's "The Pianist" had lasted 3 hours (where the protagonist wanders amid ruins looking for something to eat and a place to sit down), The Road is the crowing achievement of a genre, and a crystallization of everything I want from a novel. Genius. Blacker than moonlight on a moonless night.

I thought I was finished with Philip K Dick, but it was either this or Maze of Death at the used bookstore and I had some store credit to abuse. Good thing, too. You read the wrong PKD novel, you feel as if they're all the same and you've got it covered. Martian Time-Slip taught me that its still worth it to find all the gems among such a massive output. Most of his novels do an incredible job of replicating the feeling of an acid or mushroom trip. This one applies those techinques towards anxiety, something that Philip K Dick was afflicted with (I should say, in his case, extreme paranoia and likely symptoms of OCD). So I'd say more people can relate to this one, or at least bypass the denotations of a psychodelic sci-fi novel. Martian Time-Slip crept up on me and slapped me in the face like the best of them (Dr. Bloodmoney, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, etc).

Plot Summary:
On the arid colony of Mars the only thing more precious than water may be a ten-year-old schizophrenic boy named Manfred Steiner. For although the UN has slated "anomalous" children for deportation and destruction, other people--especially Supreme Goodmember Arnie Kott of the Water Worker's union--suspect that Manfred's disorder may be a window into the future. In Martian Time-Slip Philip K. Dick uses power politics and extraterrestrial real estate scams, adultery, and murder to penetrate the mysteries of being and time.

copied and pasted chumps.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yeah, son. Parzival. I've been putting this one off but anticipating it as something as central to my being as is Goethe's Faust. Parzival is the fool, who succeeds in his grail quest by luck and randomness and who pierces God's heart (or is pierced by God) and magically wins the day. The grail is portrayed as the philosopher's stone, with no connection to the body of Christ, as a greenish sacred stone, lapis lazuli or something or other, which brings eternal life/food and drink aplenty.

Too bad I was entirely off-base. First - the downside. Parzival bored me. Half of the time Gawain ruled the story, ninety-eight percent of the time ideal monogomous courtly chivalric love colored every single aspect of the story, the remaining sentences (due to this new translation?) contained Wolfram's awful method of elaboration ("No richer pfellel-silk was ever brought from Ipopotiticon or from the vast Acraton or from Kalomidente or from Agatyrsjente than the silk that was used for his adornment") well as the constant use of passive voice, which bores a reader to tears......
The weird grail mysticism (even including the Castle of Wonders, analagous to the grail castle) takes up so little of the narrative that I found it was hardly worth trudging through all the duels and lovely maidens and lavish pfeffel-silks to get to. Parzival's holy ritual that makes him lord of the grail? Minimal coverage is given to the specifics of such a thing (damn this passive voice). It's possible that I actually had Troyes' "Perceval" in mind, which elaborates on the figure of the Fisher King (and a more Christian grail), but it too apparently turns into a Gawain tale (Parzival and Gawain probably represent the holy and secular realms, which compliment each other harmoniously). Just really wasn't what I had hyped it up to be, and it's difficult to place it as the greatest medieval work next to the Divine Comedy as the introduction states.

But there's an upside. By abandoning the mysticism I began to detect the propaganda at work in Parzival, and the role of the audience in insuring the tale's survival. Parzival isn't the lucky fool to fulfill any sort of magical anecdote....only finding adventure (and the grail castle) by wandering aimlessly as if that subverts rational attempts at seeking the mysteries. He's the daydream of a poor knight, who constantly proclaims his own illiteracy, or at least his own very modest education, and he's the ultimate role model for Wolfram's audience, masses of poor uneducated warriors who deem themselves poetic and the women who adore them. Parzival just happens to be the most handsome knight on earth. Every woman he comes across is hotter than the last. He never loses a joust, though he has zero miliary training. He wins lands, ladies, castles, and finally the grail simply because it chooses to call on him. By riding his horse into the forest will no will of direction he comes across half naked damsels in distress. All this from a boy raised in seclusion, uneducated but with lots of heart. It's almost a sports training montage. Wolfram's hyper-chivalric code pleases both a raping and pillaging warrior and a very modern courtly woman, where the ultimate relationships are monogamous yet battle-inspiring. The survival of the story is a very medieval and brutal contest. So many have been lost; only by perfecting the desires of the mass audience (now seems a detestable practice) can they be hailed as today's classics.

I enjoyed Antoinini's "Blow-Up", I read plenty of Borges, I heard "Hopscotch" is one of the greatest novels ever, I finally got around to Cortazar. Maybe that's too much namedropping, but my friends and I have elaborate theories about the interconnection (interconnectiveness?) of everything that's, well, awesome. You'll run into familiar folk on these paths, etc. Kindred spirits have laid out specific paths for you to follow, something or other. Anyways, at first I felt let down. These stories seemed so elusive. The first half of the book, with "Axolotls", "The End of the Game", "Continuity of Parks"......all were sort of nice in their own way, written absolutely beautifully, but left me wanting. By the end of the book I came around to appreciate that wanting, I guess the author succeeded in filling me with a sort of desire for his narratives in a way that became positive. The ones that stand out are "The Distances" - where a woman travels to save someone she's been seeing in visions only to become her when the two finally meet, "The Gates of Heaven" - a sort of requiem for "And God Created Woman", "At Your Service" - a wonderful play on words with a maid taking a job to stand-in as a grieving mother at a funeral, "The Pursuer" - the story of a mad genius of a jazz musician; absolutely one of if not the best short story I've ever read, and "Secret Weapons" - another brutal reincarnation story (there are several of these in this volume). I'll be recommending this to all sorts of people in the future.

Lastly, I had this great idea to go back, now that I'm older, and read another Thomas Hardy novel. I've always thought of myself as an admirer, forced to read Mayor of Casterbridge in high school and enjoying how incredibly bleak he can be. At some point I also read Jude the Obscure, that may have been in college (not as great, but still capital B Bleak). But damn and hell if Return of the Native wasn't sappy and melodramatic (starting to understand claims that Hardy is the ultimate misogynist......hell even if he's a feminist here he's a tedious sap, I can't even use the term "Romantic" because that would be a compliment). I felt like I was reading a trashy Dickens novel for housewives (no offense to housewives). I quit halfway through even though it was mildly enjoyable, honestly I had set myself up for something with more substance. Remind me to remember that the blurb stating that a novel is "probably the most representative of an author's work", means that it sucks.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

these might come in waves for a bit

The first 750 pages or so of "Against the Day" had me bewildered at all of the mediocre to negative reviews directed at Pynchon's latest. His claim that "no reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred" - equally confounding. My intuition that the Chums of Chance's airship Inconvenience reflects the nature of new technology and worldwide networks of information in the present well as the nature of the surname Traverse, and backlogs of characters that are each given detailed histories with no regard to how long they remain on the stage........I couldn't stop myself from applying the aforementioned Baudrillardian view of the folly of the new technologies.....while Pynchon is intead engaged here in a sort of constructive nostalgia...creating maps of the unknown (which is narrowly adjacent to our reality/history). As mindnumbingly carnivalesque, brainfuckingly zany, kneesmackinly brutal as the narrative is, I was a bit daunted by what should have been the meat of the book, the real heart of the matter, pgs 800-1000 or so (in book 4, which shares the book's title), where a love triangle between a bisexual former mathematician, her doting queer spy, and one of the Traverse kids supplants several seemingly important storylines. But then again, the shift reflects a move from America to Europe (and Central Asia), where international intrigue sparks the dreaded tititular Day, so this really works in the novel's favor.
I own most of Pynchon's other works, but with a new one on the horizon I wanted to begin there and work my way backwards (not counting the two times I've read the first 150 pgs of Gravity's Rainbow before getting sidetracked). Anyhow, Against the Day should prove to any critics and pretentious unhipsters that Pynchon writes sublime bubblegum pulp - not exactly rocket science. Everybody should try one.

These Vintage covers are beyond hideous. Revolting. I don't even want to write about this.

Ok. Well, there's really no need for me to read any more Philip K Dick. Then again, I wouldn't mind reading all of them. In this one (most of them), a drug with fantastic properties gets people who may not exist in this timeline into loads of trouble, and awful alternate futures are averted by the end. Women with destructive personalities ruin the lives of everyone around them before collapsing in upon themselves. Finally, a beautiful young girl has a mystical healing affect on a confused and half-dying headcase. Who could get tired of that?
Really I had picked this up used, due to frustration at my inability to find "Radio Free Albemuth" at local bookstores. That's the last thing Dick wrote before he died, and it picks up the themes from the Valis trilogy, so I've got to find a copy at some point.

This marks another first author, starting with his latest release (next up - Cormac McCarthy). Not much to say about this. Garcia Marquez composes a beautiful bittersweet tale about a writer who finds true love at the age of ninety, in the form of a fourteen years old nubian whore. It was short and delicious and exactly what I expected. I'll read One Hundred Years of Solitude at some point (since it's already on the shelf), but I'm in no rush. On to the next thing.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


I've been a fan of Baudrillard ever since Sam Gordon tossed me his copy of "The Evil Demon of Images", a set of lectures outlining the concept of the hyperreal. He also gave me the first fischerspooner album that week. Good instructor, that Sam. Anyway since then I had only read an article here or there (most memorably - Cybernetics and the New Technologies, where Baudrillard addresses global information networks as mazes that the individual seeks to lose itself in, not as bridges that are in fact making the world smaller, a notion I can't help but to agree with, think myspace, IM convos, avatars), but I've anticipated reading everything I could get my hands on. First had to be Conspiracy of Art. Baudrillard, obsessed with proclaiming the end, uses Warhol as his timeline's catalyst. After Warhol we can only seek to engage the irony of art's status in the postmodern, no longer able to seduce with illusion. Honestly I'll have to reread to check if that sentence was accurate. What astonishes me is that, though he reminds us constantly that he's an outsider and not commenting directly on current art practice, Conspiracy of Art became an instant phenomenon in the art world, with a generation carrying a copy around like the Communist Manifesto. Oh irony of ironies. The all-devouring art world created by the avante-garde strikes again. My own attraction to Baurdrillard's theories has very little to do with my art practice (that's sort of silly isn't it, if it means I'd have to say the same about my other reading material?)....
Other lectures and interviews in this collection discuss a great variety of topics, though much of the politics is quite foreign to me (though Le Pen also has a role in Grant Morrison's The Filth). There's also a hilarious interview discussing the Matrix, where Baudrillard concludes that if the Matrix were real, the Matrix is exactly the movie that the Matrix would produce about itself.

High replay value on this bitch.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

catching up.....mammoth post warning

I found this at a used bookstore and felt an immediate affinity. Either it was written strictly for me or I in fact wrote it in the far future. Postmodern Revelation examines the polemics behind John's use of Sabian/pagan/astrological imagery to relate Christian truths. Astrology is consumed by this process, where it is constantly alluded to but never named. Contemporary readers would recognize imagery associated with their cultural identity, but now brought under the guise of the lord (which Chevalier constantly refers to as "the Verb"). Just fascinating. I'm now dying to read both Jung's "Answer to Job" and Chevalier's three book series on the 3-D mind, focusing on neurology. I can't imagine who I'd recommend this to, but it's now one of my prized possessions (along with "Alchemy and Mysticism, collections from the Hermetic Museum"). I give it 10 gold pentagrams up.

In Daniel Martin, Fowles exorcises some demons using the character of an English screenwriter coming to terms with his Age. When it is revealed that the major conflict between Martin and his Oxford schoolmates comes from a play where he used their personal lives as subject matter, exaggerating their faults as characterization, I have to wonder which novel Fowles does this in (knowing him, it's this one). My only qualm here is that I really couldn't give a damn about English identity, and have no way of relating to someone who grew up before the war, lamenting an age that was lost and some sort of identity crisis that followed. The politics really dragged much of the story into the muck, though there were plenty of beautiful moments, mostly recollections of Daniel Martin's youth and past loves (threesome with girls from a song-and-dance troupe). And the last 250 pgs or so jump into Egypt....also problematic. But it's at least closed with a fantastic bittersweet ending (what author can end a novel with such a damned crescendo as Fowles?) where SPOILERZ Daniel Martin begins writing the novel of his awakening, which may or me not be the book you've just been reading.

Fowles's first novel, The Collector, lacks his later scope (I wanted to say lacks the epic, but the ending is very much a beginning, implying the epic), but makes up for it with brutal tone and frantic pacing. Most of the story is told from the abductor's point of view, up until the final day, and then the story retreats to the beginning to present the captor's point of view. This build-up and cliffhangery carries an element of disappointment which ends up working in the novel's favor. By the time you reach the final days Fowles has rebooted the tension so that his ending is doubly catastrophic. Finishing is a completely harrowing experience. Do it.

What an amazing image: Lindbergh flying solo to campaign across the country, winning over the heartland with soundbytes and heroism, while secretly getting in bed with the Nazis who may have been behind his son's abduction. Aunt Evelyn dancing with Ribbentrop in the White House, young Jews traveling to the south to learn to farm (integration as slave labor),......
these concepts are for more engrossing than the actual narrative: the story of an 11 year old boy who collects stamps. The final chapters of news and radio footage are a step in the right direction. I couldn't help wishing this one was a bit more Man in the High Castle.

I adore Bret Easton Ellis novels. The only thing missing here is a chapter of track by track examinations of soft rock 80s albums, otherwise this would beat American Psycho as my favorite. A blurb on the back cover compares the story to the Shining, but Poltergeist (rated PG?!?) is more apt. So the 80s are definitely present (80s has begun to imply early 90s somehow), whether Ellis details his early success or panics over recent strings of child abductions, though the setting is technically post 9/11. Pat Bateman wanders in and out of this story as one of the demons haunting Ellis, but so does Detective Kimball, who shows up all business investigating some nearby murders, with no explanation as to how he made the jump from one fiction to this semi-autobiographical b-movie. Ellis sits across from Kimball sweating in doubt, in Bateman's position, while the two of them discuss a copycat killer aping himself after Pat Bateman. "You're not a fictional character, are you, Mr. Ellis?" Ellis never seems to recall that Kimball comes from the same novel, creating this sort of classic wormhole where nothing can be trusted (but everyone wants to believe a haunting. and every haunting requires a large supply of drugs nearby so that a nonexistant skeptical audience can deny what's going on).
Anyway, I'll end up reading through this again in about a year, I'm sure. What happened to the Glamorama movie anyway?

I was expecting four times the length and six times the detail from a book on zero's history. This, on the other hand, was a light and fun crash course. Which doesn't mean I was in the mood for it. Read it on a plane, sell it back to Mckays.

You can start to see the sort of breather I require after Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and during Conspiracy of Art. Plus I have time for leisure reading on the clock at the lab. This more condensed version of Illuminatus! is extremely enjoyable and nowhere near as frustrating (maybe that was Robert Shea's doing). Wilson has a great technique of allowing you glimpses of Joyce-light wordplay - The Tree Swifty Ate, Sir Talis - at a rapid pace before dropping the curtain to tell the reader that 368 and Aleister (Crowley) are implied. Joyce is usually hanging out drunk in the background listening to the narrator along with Einstein. It's amazing how quick Wilson can shift from hilariously absurd to genuinely frightening (not as many actual scares in this one as in Illuminatus! though). I really wish that Rainn Wilson was Robert Anton's son, but I'm pretty sure wikipedia has failed me and that one has been debunked.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

early autumn conquests

William Shirer's biographical account of life in the third reich, or "the life of an Englishman in the press reporting on the Nazi regime's rise to power and rearmament" (alternate title) proved to be entertaining easy reading (1150 pgs), despite providing several stages of disillusionment. As far as I know, it has attained the status of "definitive", but my own ignorance of the subject matter on the whole led me to repeatedly assume that the western invasions, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the Nazi occult bureau or Thule society, crematoriums, and other tangents from the story of World War II would somehow assert themselves in the narrative. Instead I found myself reading a highly romanticized account of historical events (days when Hitler looked under the weather, coincidence of an especially dreary day during a failed military rally, calms before the storms in the streets of Berlin, demonic possession not only of Hitler but definitely of Chamberlain, who scribbled the what would become the party's elaborate racial philosophies in a trance like state, not recognizing the voice of his own pen upon waking) most of which have guided popular opinion for decades. Though the narrative never strayed from matters of the reich, via the author's background the story's concerns become those of Britian - degradation of a naive Chamerlain, Churchill's foresight, strength of British navy, role as the world's superpower, extent of its empire, etc. I would have enjoyed a few chapters on the Nuremberg trials, views of the regime abroad......well I would have enjoyed a different book, but no such book exists. Anything more comprehensive than Shirer's account would suffer from hindsight, lack of first person accounts, or dilution of detail necessary to cover all bases. Of course I'm glad to have read it; fundamental Christianity's negligence in taking account of worldwide atrocities (as anything other than precursors to the events that will take place under Antichrist) fascinates me....but more on that when I finish "A Postmodern Revelation".

Following a breadcrumb trail left by Grant Morrison, Philip K Dick, Borges, and James Joyce I arrived at Flann O'Brian. What is it with the Irish? Circular narratives set in inescapable least this one is a comedy, populated by obese policeman with names like Inspector O'Corky, MacCruiskeen, and Fox. Hell's mechinations are guided (in either affirmation or contradiction of) the philosophies of de Selby, the book's insane prophet, an idiot savant who fills the protagonist and the reader's heads with one disgusting paradox after another......I can see de Selby as the father figure in the heavens in conjunction with the policemen, hell's archdemons, proving that making any distinction between the forces of good and evil is an improper reaction to their battle, which only drives everyone insane. But at least it's amusing.