Saturday, February 28, 2015

the last book I ever read (Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman, excerpt two)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine:

I stand up carefully, lean and twist to stretch my back. The lower back pain isn’t necessarily age related—I’ve lived with mild back pain for years. What has changed is the complexity of the knots: in my younger years the back muscles felt like a simple bowline knot, whereas this morning they feel more like a couple of angler’s loops and a sheepshank. I’m able to name a few knots used by sailors, but I have never been on a boat. Joseph Conrad’s novels planted the seeds of love for sea stories. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News led me to read The Ashley Book of Knots.

I am a reader. Yes, I am that, a reader with nagging back pain.

When my bones ache or my back rebels, I consider the hurt punishment for the years of alienating my body, even dismissing it with some disdain. I deplored my physicality when I was younger, and now it deplores me right back. As I age, my body demands its rightful place in the scheme of my attentions. It stakes its claims.

Friday, February 27, 2015

the last book I ever read (Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman, excerpt one)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine:

For most of my adult life, since I was twenty-two, I’ve begun a translation every January first. I do realize that this is a holiday and most choose to celebrate, most do not choose to work on New Year’s Day. Once, as I was leafing through the folio of Beethoven’s sonatas, I noticed that only the penultimate, the superb op. 110 in A-flat Major, was dated on the top right corner, as if the composer wanted us to know that he was busy working that Christmas Day in 1821. I too choose to keep busy during holidays.

Over these last fifty years I’ve translated fewer than forty books—thirty-seven, if I count correctly. Some books took longer than a year, others refused to be translated, and one or two bored me into submission—not the books themselves, but my translations of them. Books in and of themselves are rarely boring, except for memoirs of Americans presidents (No, No, Nixon)—well, memoirs of Americans in general. It’s the “I live in the richest country in the world yet pity me because I grew up with flat feet and a malodorous vagina but I triumph in the end” syndrome. Tfeh!

Books into boxes—boxes of paper, loose translated sheets. That’s my life.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt fourteen)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable—if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt thirteen)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes and simple in its effect: on board the Nadir—especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased—I felt despair. The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture—a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I’m small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt twelve)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Television tends to level everybody out and make them seem kind of blandly handsome, but at Montreal it turns out that a lot of the pros and stars are interesting- or even downright funny-looking. Jim Courier, former #1 but now waning and seeded tenth, here, looks like Howdy Doody in a hat on TV, but here he turns out to be a very big boy—the “Guide Media” lists him at 175 pounds but he’s way more than that, with large smooth muscles and the gait and expression of a Mafia enforcer. Michael Chang, 23 and #5 in the world, sort of looks like two different people stitched crudely together: a normal upper body perched atop hugely muscular and totally hairless legs. He has a mushroom-shaped head, ink-black hair, and an expression of deep and intractable unhappiness, as unhappy a face as I’ve ever seen outside a Graduate Writing Program. P. Sampras, in person, is mostly teeth and eyebrows, and he’s got unbelievably hairy legs and forearms, hair in the sort of abundance that allows me confidently to be that he has hair on his back and is thus at least not 100% blessed and graced by the universe. Goran Ivanisevic is large and tan and surprisingly good-looking—at least for a Croat; I always imagine Croats looking ravaged and katexic and like somebody out of a Munch lithograph—except for an incongruous and wholly absurd bowl haircut that makes him look like somebody in a Beatles tribute band. It is Ivanisevic who will beat Joyce in three sets in the main draw’s second round. Czech former top-ten Petr Korda is another elastic-looking mismatch: at 6’3” and 160, he has the body of an upright greyhound and the face of—eerily, uncannily—a fresh-hatched chicken (plus soulless eyes that reflect no light and seem to “see” only in the way that fish’s and birds’ eyes “see”).

Monday, February 23, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt eleven)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that strange mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables. Given a net that’s three feet high (at the center) and two players in (unrealistically) a fixed position, the efficacy of one single shot is determined by its angle, depth, pace, and spin. And each of these determinants is itself determined by still other variables—for example, a shot’s depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined with some integrated function of pace and spin, with the ball’s height over the net itself determined by the player’s body position, grip on the racquet, degree of backswing, angle of racquet face, and the 3-D coordinates through which the racquet face moves during that interval in which the ball is actually on the strings. The tree of variables and determinants branches out, on and on, and then on even farther when the opponent’s own positions and predilections and the ballistic features of the ball he’s sent you to hit are factored in. No CPU yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single exchange—smoke would come out of the mainframe. The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then only unconsciously, i.e. by combining talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt ten)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

The most controversial bit of casting in Lost Highway is going to be Richard Pryor as Balthazar Getty’s boss at the auto shop. Meaning Richard Pryor as in the Richard Pryor who’s got the multiple sclerosis that’s stripped him of 75 pounds and affects his speech and causes his eyes to bulge and makes him seem like a cruel child’s parody of a damaged person. In Lost Highway, Richard Pryor’s infirmity is mean to be grotesque and to jar against all our old memories of the “real” Pryor. Pryor’s scenes are the parts of Lost Highway where I like David Lynch least: Pryor’s painful to watch, and not painful in a good way or a way that has anything to do with the business of the movie, and I can’t help thinking that Lynch is exploiting Pryor the same way John Waters likes to exploit Patricia Hearst, i.e. letting the actor think he’s been hired to act when he’s really been hired to be a spectacle, an arch joke for the audience to congratulate themselves on getting. And yet at the same time Pryor’s symbolically perfect in this movie, in a way: the dissonance between the palsied husk on-screen and the vibrant man in our memory means that what we see in Lost Highway both is and is not the “real” Richard Pryor. His casting is thematically intriguing, then, but coldly, meanly so, and watching his scenes I again felt that I admired Lynch as an artist and from a distance but would have no wish to hang out in his trailer or be his friend.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt nine)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Wild at Heart, starring Laura Dern as Lula and Nicolas Cage as Sailor, also features Diane Ladd as Lula’s mother. The actress Diane Ladd happens to be the actress Laura Dern’s real mother. Wild at Heart itself, for all its heavy references to The Wizard of Oz, is actually a pomo-ish remake of Sidney Lumet’s 1959 The Fugitive Kind, which starred Anna Magnani and Marlon Brando. The fact that Cage’s performance in Wild at Heart strongly suggests either Brando doing an Elvis imitation or vice versa is not a accident, nor is the fact that both Wild at Heart and The Fugitive Kind use fire as a key image, nor is the fact that Sailor’s beloved snakeskin jacket—“a symbol of my belief in freedom and individual choice”—is just like the snakeskin jacket Brando wore in The Fugitive Kind. The Fugitive Kind happens to be the film version of Tennessee Williams’s little-known Orpheus Descending, a play which in 1960, enjoying a new vogue in the wake of Lumet’s film adaptation, ran Off-Broadway in NYC and featured Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, Laura Dern’s parents, who met and married while starring in this play.

The extent to which David Lynch could expect a regular civilian viewer of Wild at Heart to know about any of these textual and organic connections is: 0; the extent to which he cares whether anybody got it or not is apparently: also 0.

Friday, February 20, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt eight)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

It seems journalistically irresponsible to describe the Hollow’s rides without experiencing at least one of them firsthand. The Kiddie Kopter is a carousel of miniature Sikorsky prototypes rotating at a sane and dignified clip. The propellers on each helicopter rotate as well. My copter is admittedly a bit snug, even with my knees drawn up to my chest. I get kicked off the ride when the whole machine’s radical tilt reveals that I weigh quite a bit more than the maximum 100 pounds, and I have to say that both the carny in charge and the other kids on the ride were unnecessarily snide about the whole thing. Each ride has its own PA speaker with its own charge of adrenalizing rock; the Kiddie Kopter’s speaker is playing George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” as the little bastards go around. The late-day Hollow itself is an enormous sonic mash from which different sounds take turns protruding—mostly whistles, sirens, calliopes, mechanized clown-cackles, heavy-metal tunes, human screams hard to distinguish from recorded screams.

It isn’t Alan Thicke, on closer inspection.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt seven)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

We’re about 100 yards shy of the Poultry Building when I break down. I’ve been a rock about the prospect of Open Poultry Judging all day, but now my nerve totally goes. I can’t go in there. Listen to the untold thousands of sharp squawking beaks in there, I say. Native Companion not unkindly offers to hold my hand, talk me through it. It’s 93° and I have pygmy-goat shit on my shoe and am almost weeping with fear and embarrassment. I sit down on one of the green pathside benches to collect myself while N.C. goes to call home about her kids. I’ve never before realized that “cacophony” was onomatopoeic: the noise of the Poultry Bldg. is cacophonous and scrotum-tightening and totally horrible. I think it’s what insanity must sound like. No wonder madmen clutch their heads and scream. There’s also a thin stink, and lots of bits of feather are floating all over. And this is outside the Poultry Bldg. I hunch on the bench. When I was eight, at the Champaign County Fair, I was pecked without provocation, flown at and pecked by a renegade fowl, savagely, just under the right eye, the scar of which looks like a permanent zit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt six)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

08/05/0905h. The man processing Press Credentials is bland and pale and has a mustache and a short-sleeve knit shirt. In line before me are newshounds from Today’s Agriculture, the Decatur Herald & Review, Illinois Crafts Newsletter, 4-H News, and Livestock Weekly. Press Credentials turn out to be just a laminated mugshot with a gator-clip for your pocket; not a fedora in the house. Two older ladies from a local horticulture organ behind me engage me in shoptalk. One of these ladies describes herself as the Unofficial Historian of the Illinois State Fair: she goes around giving slide shows on the Fair at nursing homes and Rotary lunches. She begins to emit historical data at a great rate—the Fair started in 1853; there was a Fair every year during the Civil War but not during WWII, plus no Fair in 1893 for some reason; the Governor has failed to cut the ribbon personally on Opening Day only twice; etc. It occurs to me I probably ought to have brought a notebook. I also notice I’m the only person in the room in a T-shirt. It’s a fluorescent-lit cafeteria in something called the Illinois Building Senior Center, uncooled. All the local TV crews have their equipment spread out on tables and are lounging against walls talking about the apocalyptic 1993 floods to the immediate west, which floods are ongoing. They all have mustaches and short-sleeve knit shirts. In fact the only other males in the room without mustaches and golf-shirts are the local TV reporters, four of them, all in Eurocut suits. They are sleek, sweatless, deeply blue-eyed. They stand together up by the dais. The dais has a podium and a flag and a banner with GIVE US A WHIRL! on it, which I deduce is probably this year’s Fair’s Theme, sort of the way senior proms have a Theme. There’s a compelling frictionlessness about the local TV reporters, all of whom have short blond hair and vaguely orange makeup. A vividness. I keep feeling a queer urge to vote for them for something.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt five)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Irony in postwar art and culture started out the same way youthful rebellion did. It was difficult and painful, and productive—a grim diagnosis of a long-denied disease. The assumptions behind early postmodern irony, on the other hand, were still frankly idealistic: it was assumed that etiology and diagnosis pointed toward cure, that a revelation of imprisonment led to freedom.

So then how have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating, but enfeebling in the culture today’s avant-garde tries to write about? One clue’s to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after 30 long years as the dominant mode of hip expression. It’s not a rhetorical mode that wears well. As Hyde (whom I pretty obviously like) puts it, “Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.” This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony’s singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks. This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome. It is unmeaty. Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites. I find gifted ironists work sort of wickedly fun to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures. And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300 page novel full of nothing but trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow … oppressed.

Think, for a moment, of Third World rebels and coups. Third World rebels are great at exposing and overthrowing corrupt hypocritical regimes, but they seem noticeably less great at the mundane, non-negative task of then establishing a superior governing alternative. Victorious rebels, in fact, seem best at using their tough, cynical rebel-skills to avoid being rebelled against themselves—in other words, they just become better tyrants.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lesley Gore: Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt four)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Pynchon and DeLillo were ahead of their time. Today, the belief that pop images are basically just mimetic devices is one of the attitudes that separates most U.S. fiction writers under c. 40 from the writerly generation that precedes us, reviews us, and designs our grad-school curricula. This generation gap in conceptions of realism is, again, TV-dependent. The U.S. generation born after 1950 is the first for whom television was something to be lived with instead of just looked at. Our elders tend to regard the set rather as the flapper did the automobile: a curiosity turned treat turned seduction. For younger writers, TV’s as much a part of reality as Toyotas and gridlock. We literally cannot imagine life without it. We’re not different from our fathers in that television presents and defines our contemporary world. Where we are different is that we have no memory of a world without such electric definition. This is why the derision so many older fictionists heap on a “Brat Pack” generation they see as insufficiently critical of mass culture is at once understandable and midguided. It’s true that there’s something sad about the fact that David Leavitt’s short stories’ sole description of some characters is that their T-shirts have certain brand names on them. But the fact is that, for most of Leavitt’s educated young readership, members of a generation raised and nourished on messages equating what one consumes with who one is, Leavitt’s descriptions really do the job. In our post-1950s, inseparable-from-TV association pool, brand loyalty really is synecdochic of character; this is simply a fact.

Friday, February 13, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt three)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Sunday-morning syndication is also intriguing because it makes for juxtapositions as eerily apposite as anything French surrealists could come up with. Lovable warlocks on Bewitched and commercially Satanic heavy-metal videos on Top Ten Countdown run opposite air-brushed preachers decrying demonism in U.S. culture. You can surf back and forth between a televised mass’s “This is my blood” and Gladiators’ Zap breaking a civilian’s nose with a polyurethane Bataka. Or, even better, have a look at 8/050/90’s St. Elsewhere episode 94, originally broadcast in 1988, which airs in syndication on Boston’s Channel 38 immediately following two back-to-back episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that icon of ‘70s pathos. The plots of the two Mary Tyler Moore Shows are unimportant here. But the St. Elsewhere episode that followed them was partly concerned with a cameo-role mental patient who presented with the delusional belief that he was Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He further believed that a fellow cameo-role mental patient was Rhoda, that Dr. Westphal was Mr. Grant, and that Dr. Auschlander was Murray. This psychiatric subplot was a one-shot; it was resolved by episode’s end. The pseudo-Mary (a sad lumpy-looking guy, portrayed by an actor whose name I didn’t catch but who I remember used to play one of Dr. Hartley’s neurotic clients on the old Bob Newhart Show) rescues the other cameo-role mental patient, whom he believes to be Rhoda and who has been furious in his denials that he is female, much less fictional (and who is himself played by the guy who used to play Mr. Carlin, Dr. Hartley’s most intractable client) from assault by a bit-part hebephrene. In gratitude, Rhoda/Mr. Carlin/mental patient declares that he’ll consent to be Rhoda if that’s what Mary/neurotic client/mental patient wants. At this too-real generosity, the pseudo-Mary’s psychotic break breaks. The sad lumpy guy admits to Dr. Auschlander that he’s not Mary Richards. He’s actually just a plain old amnesiac, a guy without a meaningful identity, existentially adrift. He has no idea who he is. He’s lonely. He watches a lot of TV. He says he “figured it was better to believe I was a TV character than not to believe I was anybody.” Dr. Auschlander takes the penitent patient for a walk in the wintery Boston air and promises that he, the identityless guy, can someday very probably find out who he really is, provided he can dispense with “the distraction of television.” Extremely grateful and happy at this prognosis, the patient removes his own fuzzy winter beret and throws it into the air. The episode ends with a freeze of the airborne hat, leaving at least one viewer credulously rapt.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt two)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Still strangely eager to speak of weather, let me say that my township, in fact all of East-Central Illinois, is a proud part of what meteorologists call Tornado Alley. Incidence of tornadoes all out of statistical proportion. I personally have seen two on the ground and five aloft, trying to assemble. Aloft tornadoes are gray-white, more like convulsions in the thunderclouds themselves than separate or protruding from them. Ground tornadoes are black only because of the tons of soil they suck in and spin around. The grotesque frequency of tornadoes around my township is, I’m told, a function of the same variable that cause our civilian winds: we are a coordinate where fronts and air masses converge. Most days from late March to June there are Tornado Watches somewhere in our TV stations’ viewing area (the stations put a little graphic at the screen’s upper right, like a pair of binoculars for a Watch and the Tarot deck’s Tower card for a Warning, or something). Watches mean conditions are right and so on and so forth, which, big deal. It’s only the rarer Tornado Warnings, which require a confirmed sighting by somebody with reliable sobriety, that make the Civil Defense sirens go. The siren on top of the Philo Middle School was a different pitch and cycle from the one off in the south part of Urbana, and the two used to weave in and out of each other in a godawful threnody. When the sirens blew, the native families went to their canning cellars or fallout shelters (no kidding); the academic families in their bright prefab houses with new lawns and foundations of flat slab went with whatever good-luck tokens they could lay hands on to the very most central point on the ground floor after opening every single window to thwart implosion from precipitous pressure drops. For my family, the very most central point was a hallway between my dad’s study and a linen closet, with a reproduction of a Flemish annunciation scene on one wall and a bronze Aztec sunburst hanging with guillotinic mass on the other; I always tried to maneuver my sister under the sunburst.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt one)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

To your average outsider, Central Illinois looks ideal for sports. The ground, seen from the air, strongly suggests a board game: anally precise squares of dun or khaki cropland all cut and divided by plumb-straight tar roads (in all farmland, roads still seem more like impediments than avenues). In winter, the terrain always looks like Mannington bathroom tile, white quadrangles where bare (snow), black where trees and scrub have shaken free in the wind. From planes, it always looks to me like Monopoly or Life, or a lab maze for rats; then, from ground level, the arrayed fields of feed corn or soybeans, fields furrowed into lines as straight as only an Allis Chalmers and sextant can cut them, look laned like sprint tracks or Olympic pools, hashmarked for serious ball, replete with the angles and alleys of serious tennis. My part of the Midwest always looks laid down special, as if planned.

The terrain’s strengths are also its weaknesses. Because the land seems so even, designers of clubs and parks rarely bother to roll it flat before laying the asphalt for tennis courts. The result is usually a slight list that only a player who spends a lot of time on the courts will notice. Because tennis courts are for sun- and eye-reasons always laid lengthwise north-south, and because the land in Central Illinois rises very gently as one moves east toward Indiana and the subtle geologic summit that sends rivers doubled back against their own feeders somewhere in the east of that state, the court’s forehand half, for a rightie facing north, always seem physically uphill from the backhand—at a tournament in Richmond, IN, just over the Ohio line, I noticed the tilt was reversed. The same soil that’s so full of humus farmers have to be bought off to keep markets unflooded keeps clay courts chocked with jimson and thistle and volunteer corn, and it splits asphalt courts open with the upward pressure of broadleaf weeds whose pioneer-stock seeds are unthwarted by a half-inch cover of sealant and stone. So that all but the very best maintained courts in the most affluent Illinois districts are their own little rural landscapes, with tufts and cracks and underground-seepage puddles being part of the lay that one plays. A court’s cracks always seem to start off to the side of the service box and meander in and back toward the service line. Foliated in pockets, the black cracks, especially against the forest green that contrasts with the barn red of the space outside the lines to signify fair territory, give the courts the eerie look of well-rivered sections of Illinois, seen from back aloft.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt ten)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

“I know she wasn’t satisfied with our life,” he continued, “but is that sufficient reason for dying? I wasn’t satisfied with my life, either. I confess I was hoping for something more from my career as an architect than building stupid f*cking seaside resorts for dumb tourists, under the control of fundamentally dishonest and almost infinitely vulgar property developers. But, okay, it was work, a routine … Probably she just didn’t like life. What shocked me the most is what the neighbor, whom I’d only just met, told me. She was coming back from her shopping, she had probably just procured the poison—we’ve never known how, by the way. What this woman told me was that she seemed happy, incredibly enthusiastic and happy. She had exactly, she said, the expression of someone who is preparing to go on holiday. It was cyanide, and she must have died almost instantly; I’m absolutely certain she didn’t suffer.”

Then he stopped speaking, and the silence continued for a long time. Jed ended up slightly losing consciousness. He had the vision of immense meadows whose grass was waving in the wind, and the light was that of an eternal spring. When he woke suddenly, his father was still nodding his head and muttering, pursuing a painful internal debate. Jed hesitated; he’d planned a dessert—there were chocolate profiteroles in the fridge. Did he have to take them out? Or did he have to learn more about his mother’s suicide? He had basically almost no memory of her. It was more important for his father, probably. He decided to let the profiteroles wait a little.

Monday, February 9, 2015

State of Alabama, 02/09/2015, New Day Rising

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt nine)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

The following morning, nice weather had returned to Zurich, and a fine layer of snow covered the ground. He went to the airport, more or less expecting to be arrested at passport control, but nothing of the sort happened. And in the following days, he didn’t receive any news. It was funny they’d decided against making a complaint; probably they didn’t want to attract attention to their activities in any way. There was probably some truth, he thought, to the accusations spread on the Internet concerning the person enrichment of members of the association. A euthanasia was charged at an average rate of five thousand euros, when the lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital came to twenty euros and a bottom-of-the-range cremation doubtless not much more. In a booming market, where Switzerland had a virtual monopoly, they were indeed going to make a killing.

His excitement quickly subsided into a wave of deep sorrow, which he knew was definitive. Three days after his return, for the first time in his life, he would spend Christmas Eve alone. It would be the same on New Year’s Eve. And in the days that followed he was also alone.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Coach Dean Smith, 1931-2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt eight)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

Jasselin looked at the door to the house, which stood wide open. A cloud of flies had accumulated nearby; they hovered buzzing, as if awaiting their turn. From a fly’s point of view a human corpse is meat, pure and simple. More stinking air wafted over to them, and the stench was truly atrocious. If he was going to assess the crime scene without going to pieces, he should, he was clearly aware, adopt the fly’s point of view for a few minutes: the remarkable objectivity of the housefly, Musca domestica. Each female of Musca domestica can lay up to five hundred eggs, and occasionally a thousand. These eggs are white and measure around 1.2 mm long. After only a day, the larvae (maggots) leave them; they live and feed on organic matter (generally dead and in an advanced state of decomposition, such as a corpse, detritus, or excrement). The maggots are pale white, about 3 to 9 mm long. They are slender in the mouth region and do not have legs. At the end of their third metamorphosis, the maggots crawl toward a cool, dry place and transform into pupae of a reddish color.

The adult flies live from two weeks to a month in nature, longer in laboratory conditions. After emerging from the pupa, the fly stops growing. Small flies aren’t young flies, but flies that didn’t get enough food in the larval stage.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt seven)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

He left at Montargis Ouest, parked about fifty yards before the motorway tollbooths, dialed the writer’s number, and let it ring a dozen times before hanging up. The sun had disappeared, and the sky was now a milky white above the snowy landscape. The dirty-white tollbooths completed this symphony of light tones. He got out and was struck by the cold, which was much sharper than in urban areas, and walked for a few minutes on the tarmac of the hard shoulder. Noticing the titanium case to the roof of his car, he suddenly remembered the motive of his journey and imagined he would finally be able to read Houellebecq after it was all over. After what was over? At the same time as he asked the question, he answered it, and he understood that Franz had got it right: Michel Houellebecq, Writer would be his last painting. No doubt he would have other ideas for paintings, daydreams about paintings, but never again would he feel the energy or motivation necessary to give them form. You can always take notes, Houellebecq had told him when talking about his career as a novelist, and try to string together sentences; but to launch yourself into the writing of a novel you have to wait for all of that to become compact and irrefutable. You have to wait for the appearance of an authentic core of necessity. You never decide to write a novel, he had added; a book, according to him, was like a block of concrete that had decided to set, and the author’s freedom to act was limited to the fact of being there, and of waiting in frightening inaction for the process to start by itself. At that moment Jed understood that inaction, more than ever, would cause him anguish, and the image of Olga floated back into his memory like the ghost of a thwarted happiness; if he’d been able to, he would’ve prayed for her. He got back in his car, started off slowly toward the tollbooths, and took out his credit card to pay.

Friday, February 6, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt six)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

“I always wanted to be an architect, I think,” his father continued. “When I was small I was interested in animals, like all children probably; when asked I would say I wanted to become a vet later in life, but deep down I think I was already attracted by architecture. At the age of ten, I remember, I tried to build a nest for the swallows who spent the summer in the shed. In an encyclopedia I’d found some indications on how swallows built their nests, with earth and saliva. I spent weeks on it …” His voice quavered slightly and he stopped again. Jed looked at him worriedly, but then he took a big sip of cognac before continuing.

“But they never wanted to use my nest. Never. They even stopped nesting in the shed …” The old man suddenly began to cry. Tears were pouring down his face and it was awful.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt five)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

“I’m inviting you,” said Franz with a mocking grimace. “Don’t reply, there’s no point, I know exactly what you’re going to say. You’ll ask to have time to think; and in a few days you’ll phone to tell me you’re saying no. And then you’re going to stop. I’m starting to know you, you’ve always been like that, even at the time of the Michelin maps: you work, you work away in your little corner for years; and then, once your work is exhibited, as soon as you get recognition, you drop it all.”

“There are small differences. I was at a dead end when I gave up Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market.”

“Yes, I know; that’s what made me organize the exhibition. Besides, I’m happy you didn’t finish that painting. However, I liked the idea, the project had a historical relevance, it was quite an accurate reflection of the art world at a given time. There was, indeed, a sort of dividing up; on the one hand, fun, sex, kitsch, and innocence; on the other, trash, death, and cynicism. But, in your situation, that would inevitably have been interpreted as the work of a minor artist, jealous of the success of his richer counterparts; anyway, we’re at a point where success in market terms justifies and validates anything, replacing all the theories. No one is capable of seeing further, absolutely no one. Now you could indulge in this painting, because you’ve become the best-paid French artist of the moment; but I know you won’t paint it, you’ll move on to something else. Maybe you’ll simply stop doing the portraits, or stop figurative in general, or stop painting completely, and perhaps return to photography, I don’t know.”

Jed kept his silence. At the neighboring table the old man roused himself from his slumber, got up, and went over to the door; his dog followed him with difficulty, its fat body bobbing on its short legs.

“In any case,” Franz said, “I want you to know that I remain your gallerist. Whatever happens.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt four)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

Jed woke up with a start at about eight on the morning of 25 December. Dawn was breaking on the place des Alpes. He found a towel in the kitchen, wiped up his vomit, then contemplated the sticky debris of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market. Franz was right: it was time to organize an exhibition. He had been going round in circles for a few months, and it was beginning to rub off on his mood. You can work alone for years, it’s actually the only way to work, truth be told; but there always comes a moment when you feel the need to show your work to the world, less to receive its judgment than to reassure yourself about the existence of this work, or even of your own existence, for in a social species individuality is little more than a short piece of fiction.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt three)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

“That went well … with Frédéric,” Olga told him as they walked home, along the boulevard Saint-Germain. “Yes …” Jed replied, perplexed. Among his reading as an adolescent, at his Jesuit school, there had been those realist novels of the French nineteenth century where it happens that ambitious young men succeed through women; but he was surprised to find himself in a similar situation, and in truth he had rather forgotten those realist novels of the French nineteenth century. For a few years he had been able to read only Agatha Christie, and even more specifically, only those involving Hercule Poirot, which could hardly help him in the present circumstances.

Monday, February 2, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt two)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

He awoke suddenly in the middle of the night; the clock said 4:43. The room was hot, suffocatingly so. It was the noise of the boiler that had woken him, but not the usual banging noises; the machine now gave out a prolonged, low-pitched, almost infrasonic roar. He threw open the kitchen window, which was covered in frost, and the freezing air filled the room. Six storeys below, some piglike grunts troubled the Christmas night. He shut the window immediately. Most probably some tramps had gotten into the courtyard; the following day they would take advantage of the Christmas leftovers in the block’s trash cans. None of the tenants would dare call the police to get rid of them—not on Christmas Day. It was generally the tenant on the first floor who ended up taking care of it—a woman aged about sixty, with hennaed hair, who wore garishly colored pullovers, and who Jed guessed was a retired psychoanalyst. But he hadn’t seen her in the last few days. She was probably on holiday—unless she’d died suddenly. The tramps were going to stay for several days; the smell of their defecations would fill the courtyard, preventing everyone from opening their windows. To the tenants they came across as polite, even obsequious, but the fights between them were ferocious, and generally ended with screams of agony rising to the night sky; someone would call an ambulance and a guy would be found bathed in blood, with an ear half ripped off.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

the last book I ever read (Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory, excerpt one)

from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq:

“I’m preparing a solo exhibition in the spring,” he finally announced. “Well, in fact it’s dragging on a bit. Franz, my gallerist, wants a writer for the catalogue. He thought of Houellebecq.”

“Michel Houellebecq?”

“Do you know him?” asked Jed, surprised. He would never have suspected that his father was still interested in anything cultural.

“There’s a small library in the nursing home; I’ve read two of his novels. He’s a good author, it seems to me. He’s pleasant to read, and he has quite an accurate view of society. Has he agreed to do it?”

“No, not yet …” Jed was now thinking as fast as he could. If someone as deeply paralyzed in such a hopeless and mortal routine, someone as far down the path of darkness, down the Valley of the Shadow of Death, as his father was had noticed Houellebecq’s existence, it was because there had to be something compelling about this author. He then remembered that he had failed to get in touch with Houellebecq by e-mail, as Franz had asked him to do several times already. And time was pressing. Given the date of Art Basel and the Frieze Art Fair, the exhibition had to be organized by April, or May at the latest, and you could hardly ask Houellebecq to write a catalogue text in a fortnight. He was a famous writer, world-famous even, at least according to Franz.