Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jimmy's Soul Is an Enchanted Boat

Was it only yesterday that I was poking through that Hugh Kenner book, so pleasantly reminded of the ending of Samuel Beckett's novel MOLLOY, which was quoted therein? "Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining." WHAT! That is the way to end a book. Then I grabbed up at random, through an obvious and clumsy process of association with the Kenner book, focused as it was on three authors, some of them Irish, some scholarly whatsit called BARBAROUS KNOWLEDGE: MYTH IN THE POETRY OF YEATS, GRAVES, AND MUIR, and I don't even know who Muir is, well, now I do a little, anyway, what's this thing doing in my house? Saw two lines of Shelley quoted: "My soul is an enchanted boat/ Which like a sleeping swan doth float..." And once again, as was sadly recalled and recorded for posterity in 2006, I thought about how all the other college freshmen and I were encouraged to laugh and scoff at P.B. Shelley like we were a bunch of big shots. Shame, shame, shame. Somehow "My soul is an enchanted boat," etc., made me think of Jimmy, who is moving to New Orleans. Maybe because his soul is an enchanted boat! I mean, maybe that's why I thought of him, not that maybe that's why he's moving to New Orleans, though come to think of it, maybe that's why he's moving to New Orleans.

The Delicately Nurtured Paula

So I don't know what to read right now. So I plucked THE CULT OF THE SAINTS by Peter Brown off the shelf and I saw "exorcism" in the index and I thought, "Oh no! I'm not going to read about that, am I?"... "To visit a late-antique Christian shrine could be a noisy and frightening experience. Jerome wrote of the first impact of the tombs of the prophets in the Holy Land on the Roman pilgrim Paula: 'She shuddered at the sight of so many marvelous happenings... she saw men howling like wolves, barking like dogs, roaring like lions, hissing like snakes, bellowing like bulls... women hung upside-down in mid-air, yet their skirts did not fall down over their heads.'" Somewhere on the next page Brown says, "It is hardly surprising that, when faced with such noisy and disturbing a phenomenon, modern scholars have, like the delicately nurtured Paula, blanched at the scenes enacted round the shrines of late antiquity." Ha ha, take that, modern scholars.

Rivet Hull Blah What

As I am sure you will recall I stopped reading that Errol Flynn autobiography but Megan told me to look at the ending and it was all about Errol Flynn staring at the sea and thinking about how the only thing he understands is the sea, I think, it's right over there but I don't feel like walking over there, but anyway, the sea is in there. So I switched over to WANDERER, which is all about Sterling Hayden strutting manfully around the deck of his schooner and he's very upset when somebody talks about the rivets in his hull because THERE ARE NO RIVETS IN HIS HULL, STUPID. And it's a lot better than the Errol Flynn book, probably, but maybe I just don't want to hear about boats and sailing and the sea for a while after all. So I picked up the book that Ace Atkins called "the most exciting Travis McGee adventure ever written about stamp collecting" and I looked on the back and read the promotional copy: "She was a six-foot knockout who knew a helluva lot about rare stamps..." Ha ha! So Ace wasn't kidding. So I opened to page one and right there in the first sentence it came back to me: Travis McGee is on a boat all the time. And by the second page we have such ominous sentence fragments as "Moonrise and hard rains. Swift fish and wide beaches." Uh-oh! And if there is one thing Travis McGee is sure to be doing besides fighting bad guys it is carefully polishing, by some minutely described method, some tiny wooden piece of nautical ornamentation on his precious boat. Sorry, boats! Sorry, the sea!

Plundered By a Mob

I asked Lee about it and he said that when Dr. Dee went on a trip "his library and his laboratory in Mortlake were plundered by a mob that called him 'the friend of the hell hounds.'" He wasn't a friend of the hell hounds!

Monday, July 21, 2014

36 Eggs

"Thus Bartholomew de Glanville, an English Franciscan friar, wrote about 1360 a most popular work, DE PROPRIETATIBUS RERUM, in 19 books, beginning with God and the angels and ending with colors, scents, flavors and liquors, with a list of 36 eggs." - Hugh Kenner, FLAUBERT, JOYCE AND BECKETT: THE STOIC COMEDIANS

Cleave the Heart in Shivers

In this John Lyly play Alexander the Great is going on and on about how because he's a king he just FEELS things more than everybody else, you know? And it's so hard to be in love when you're a king because you just FEEL EVERYTHING SO MUCH, not like one of you normal jerks. I'm not buying it! But then he says that his "sighs cleave the heart in shivers" and I was like, "Aw!"

A Sinister Role For Flavius Mithridates

Hey you know how in every single place you look on the "internet" it says that Pico della Mirandola wrote something called ORATION ON THE DIGNITY OF MAN that everybody is so jazzed up about? Well, according to this guy who translated this book of Pico's 900 theses that I have here, that title "first appeared ten years after Pico's death in a corrupt German reprint of his collected works." And this here guy is pretty upset about how everybody loves that fake title so much! But do you think the "internet" cares? Here's another funny part: "In the section of the text devoted to the Platonists, we find eight theses attributed to 'Adeland the Arab,' who Pico claimed was Plotinus's fellow student in Egypt under Ammonius Saccas... Both external and internal evidence, however, clearly show that Adeland the Arab was Adelard of Bath, the twelfth-century Englishman!" (You know I appreciate a learned scholar who is not afraid of exclamation points.) But the best part is right after that: "Here again there are reasons to suspect a sinister role for Flavius Mithridates, whose reputation in the Renaissance as something of a con man was apparently well deserved. Pico's involvement with this colorful figure - who liked to style himself as Pico's would-be but scorned lover - constitutes one of the strangest personal stories of the period, although it is one that is far from being completely understood." I know, I know! Now you are thinking of John Dee and Edward Kelley, right? And the time the angel told them to swap wives? Or maybe you are thinking of Paracelsus, and how he would "vanish under cover of night" when the heat was on, running around all drunk with his big sword and being a genius. Those were the days! There are not enough drunken, sword-brandishing geniuses anymore! We don't even have any young Rip Torns around to hit our Norman Mailers in the heads with hammers, or any Norman Mailers to bite other partygoers on the neck. John Dee had plenty of Pico and Paracelsus in his library, you better believe it, until that mob trashed his house that time, I can't remember why, I guess they were mad about something.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

So Dry As to Be Cryptic

I picked up THE SCARLET RUSE by John D. MacDonald at that used book stall. Asked Ace Atkins to rank it, as he's the expert on those books. "It's the most exciting Travis McGee adventure ever written about stamp collecting," Ace tweeted, deadpan.

Creakish From Age

Did I tell you about the time I was going to write a book called THE ALABAMIAD? Ha ha, what a dope. About 100 pages of it got saved and ended up as the title novella of my second short story collection YOUR BODY IS CHANGING. Tom Franklin was working on SMONK at the time, and SMONK was going to come out first, and Tom had the idea - which didn't last long - that SMONK was going to be titled or subtitled THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK ONE and then my book would be THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK TWO. A dumb old idea I still like. James Whorton came up with the title. I think I asked him what he'd call a book about everything ever in the state of Alabama and I believe he said without even a second of hesitation, "THE ALABAMIAD." But that's not why I called you here! One of my ideas was to start THE ALABAMIAD with 88 epigraphs about Alabama... what Melville did with whales in MOBY-DICK. And I found them! (Though now I have lost them.) Let me say I got out my copy of MOBY-DICK and counted the epigraphs by hand, so I'm not sure there are exactly 88 epigraphs in MOBY-DICK, nor do I even remember if that's the figure I came up with back then, but it sounds right. I think I was reading a book about FINNEGANS WAKE at the time, in which I learned (I think) that James Joyce had hidden a mention of every river in the world somewhere in the text of FINNEGANS WAKE. Knowing there is an Alabama River, I thought, yeah, why not get an epigraph for THE ALABAMIAD from FINNEGANS WAKE? (I got one from MOBY-DICK, too, of course. I'm sure you recall that poor ill-fated Pip the cabin boy is from Alabama.) Anyhow, that's how I dug around and came across, "With her halfbend as proud as a peahen, allabalmy, and her troutbeck quiverlipe, ninyananya." But that's not why I called you here! Yesterday when I was at Lee Durkee's house, he was telling me how he'd like to get on some Shakespeare search engine and find every mention of owls in Shakespeare for me. Now, I've stumbled on the owls in HAMLET and MACBETH kind of naturally, and I was afraid a search engine would be cheating, but then I recalled the FINNEGANS WAKE search engine where I found Alabama all those years ago. And I thought, you know, I should use it to hunt up some owls in FINNEGANS WAKE. There are plenty! "Owlets' eegs (O stoop to please!) are here, creakish from age and all now quite epsilene..." Just one of many examples. I don't think this is cheating because I'm never going to read FINNEGANS WAKE.

What's John Lyly Got Against Owls

Noticing that this John Lyly play (CAMPASPE) has TWO entirely different prologues, one for us normal jerks (which I quoted yesterday) and one for the fancy royal people at their fancy royal court with all their fancy royal ways. But in both cases, he's really sticking it to the owls. This is from the prologue at court: "We are ashamed that our bird, which fluttered by twilight seeming a swan, should be proved a bat set against the sun. But as Jupiter placed Silenus' ass among the stars, and Alcibiades covered his pictures, being owls and apes, with a curtain embroidered with lions and eagles..." Ugh, first of all, why did that dude have all these pictures of owls and apes if he was just going to cover them up with a dumb curtain? Here's a idea, stop buying pictures of owls and apes if you hate them so much. If you ask me, owls and apes have got it all over lions and eagles when it comes to good party times. Lots of people who appreciate owls and apes would be happy to get their mitts on those pictures, and you're just like, "Come on in, oh, wait a second, I need to throw something over these awful pictures of owls and apes I have lying around everywhere, sorry." Also, yeah, yeah, we get it, John Lyly. You're fishing for a compliment! Okay, okay, your play is great, it's not a bat or whatever, it's a beautiful swan, shut up, gee whiz. But I really do like his turns of phrase "a bat set against the sun" and the "ass among the stars."

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once more to McNeil's Movie Korner, your only place on the "internet" to the get the latest and greatest news about Hollywood's star-studded hits of the silver screen in Tinsel Town Land! "Watched DONT MAKE WAVES yesterday. Jim and Henny Backus played themselves," McNeil writes. Then he expresses regret that he never got his copy of the Jim and Henny Backus autobiography for the Doomed Book Club. I told him he wasn't missing much except for the obsessive chapter[s?] where Jim and Henny Backus try to figure out who is constantly pelting their roof with rocks. It goes on for years! Did I tell you about this before? I don't know, who cares. One day Jim Backus's pal Keenan Wynn has had enough of this crud and he hops on his motorbike and races around the Hollywood Hills, searching for the perpetrator with the intention of wreaking a terrible vengeance. But nothing comes of it and somebody just keeps throwing rocks, enormous ones, at Jim and Henny Backus, or at their roof, anyway. This story takes up a large percentage of the book, as I recall. I feel like at one point the police locate a guy several miles away with a giant slingshot (or am I dreaming this?) but he's cleared of all charges and anyway the mysterious rocks of endless torment never stop coming. But anyway who cares about Jim and Henny Backus so here is Claudia Cardinale from DON'T MAKE WAVES with those sunglasses I like.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Nocturnal Bird

Well, I was over at Lee Durkee's and we were talking about this and that, and Lee recalled that we had been discussing John Lyly recently and he had a Lyly book he wanted to loan me. Up until now I have only known the works of John Lyly through the vivid descriptions of my friend McNeil. (Ha ha, I just looked at a McNeil email from some years ago about one of Lyly's plays: "It's about this guy who falls in love with the moon, and there's this message written at the bottom of a well, which may or may not be filled with water - on the surface of which this dude and his lady friend see the reflection of the moon. I'm not sure that's completely accurate...it's been about 10 years since I read it.") So I sat there on Lee's couch and opened up the book Lee had loaned me at random. To page 69, by chance. Now, Lee is quite aware of - and maybe even a little sick of, who knows? though he has been known to aid and abet me in this matter - my uncanny ability to find the owl in every book. And friends, he witnessed it happen. I OPENED THAT JOHN LYLY BOOK RIGHT TO A PAGE WITH AN OWL ON IT. The footnote informed me that the owl is "a nocturnal bird." I was like, ha ha, thanks for nothing, footnote! (See also.) But it went on to say that the owl was "thought unfit to see by day and hence associated with monstrosity." And Lee and I were like, "Hmm!" We had never heard that before, exactly. But it explained why Lyly, in his little prologue, is setting "before our owl Pallas' shield." I mean, the owl represents Lyly's play... maybe... and Lyly is being... modest...? Like, "Here's a nice little prologue to distract you from my ugly owl, by which I mean my play." I don't know. I don't know what the hell Lyly is talking about. I've decided not to think about it too much. Then Lee and I started trying to remember if we have ever seen owls hanging around in real life. Lee told stories of two owls he has seen and so did I.

Thickafog

I was thinking about the time Garrison Keillor wrote that snotty, harrumphing review of Mark Twain's autobiography, volume one, for the New York Times Book Review. Is that something that happened? My memory reports to me that it might be. I think he thought it was too big and crazy or something, too much stuff. Was that it? Who cares? I was sitting in the coffee section at Square Books today, waiting to give a former student some worthless advice. As I am sure you recall, the coffee section is right next to the "literary non-fiction" section, where my eye was captured by the bright green spine of the SECOND volume of Mark Twain's autobiography, which appeared - on the basis of the spine alone! - to be as large and crazy and stuffed with ramblings as Garrison Keillor accused the first of being. Well, I was a little early for my appointment, and sitting there all alone, so I hoisted the volume off the shelf and immediately opened it to some worthwhile and interesting things. And then I started thinking, maybe there is a lot of use a fella can get out of a big, crazy book with too much stuff in it if he approaches it the right way and doesn't just come at it harrumphing. One passage I happened to find was about Mark Twain's appreciation for a fan letter that a cowboy had written to Helen Keller. Twain found that the grammatical errors, misspellings, and other supposed infelicities were exactly what made the letter great. Twain writes: "when the heart speaks it has no use for the conventions; it can rise above them, and the result is LITERATURE, and not to be called by any less dignified name... the productions of the unschooled mind get even an added grace and power out of fresh and free and lawless grammar and orthography." I've thought about this a lot over the years, and how it applies to literary fiction. In one article (in an issue of a magazine I can't find in the usual teetering piles around here, but here's a short excerpt I located in the depths of the "internet"), I wrote: "Certainly a lot of aesthetic energy and meticulous handiwork has been expended by various literary geniuses trying to write convincingly the way a dumb person would write. I blame Mark Twain. 'Dumb person' isn't fair. The truth can be said, but only inelegantly: Great writers love to try to write the way a person who can't write writes." Oh, it's most often done badly. You can "click" here (though, God, why would you?) to read a New York Times Book review by me, in which I lambast a guy (so who am I to huff and puff at Garrison Keillor?) for putting the word "disingenuous" in his character's mouth in a way I considered (and still do) "cheating." Anita Loos and Peter De Vries, when they are doing this sort of thing, never cheat, which is why they are so great. But what's even better is just the real thing, as I was reminded repeatedly when I used to frequent the surprisingly vast self-published UFO book section of the university library. You know, Larry King's tweets are another example of something that could not be improved by a sly and knowing artiste, editor, or publishing executive. They are impervious to parody! (Please see this urgent caveat.) Remember when Jasper Johns said you should look at his paintings the same way you look at a radiator? Now I am going to change the subject. It pains me to tell you I could not finish reading Errol Flynn's autobiography for the Doomed Book Club, even though Megan Abbott promised me that the last line is "worthy of Cain": "The second half-century looms up, but I don't feel the night coming on." Pretty good! And in a series of polished tweets, Megan put forth a compelling Freudian analysis of Mr. Flynn. But there are so many parts of the book that seem cruel to me and are hard to enjoy, and I was getting depressed reading it, and I love his movies so much. Flynn writes about his love of the sea a lot, so I thought I'd pick up WANDERER by Sterling Hayden (pictured) as a kind of substitute. I remember it as being briny. I'm sure you'll recall many years ago when I read the first sentence: "The black pit of oblivion opens like a giant clamshell." Okay! Now I've read a few more of the sentences: "I mount the ladder and ease myself on deck. Thickafog. Horns louder all around. Gray-green morning world with topmasts indistinct and the long proud sweep of the maindeck jutting east... My back aches; sign of tension. Gulls stand inert atop stumps of wooden piling." I was like, "Thickafog! What is this, JAMES JOYCE?" In a good way. I remember McNeil read this a couple of years ago maybe, and liked it. The last memoirist I compared to James Joyce was Adrienne Barbeau. And I'll do it again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kay Lenz Cured My Hiccups

I had some terrible hiccups last night. Then I "clicked" on a "link" Kent Osborne sent me. It was a video "hello" from Kay Lenz, "Breezy" from the movie BREEZY! (Here's the "link" you can "click.") Kent is the best! And my hiccups vanished instantly! Thanks, Breezy!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Urruhh!

Well, let's see. Errol Flynn has stolen some diamonds and now he is on a ship with a hookworm expert named Dr. Gerrit H. Koets who looks "like a blond, amiable orangutan in a mink coat." Dr. Koets "fancie[s] himself a Lothario without equal" and likes to stand on deck baring his "entire torso" which is "covered with dense blond hair... Perhaps obeying some atavistic impulse, he started pounding his enormous chest with his hairy fists. He hollered, 'Gorillas do this before they mate! Urruhh!'" Oh yeah, and "His huge flabby belly undulated uneasily with each breath." We really get to know a lot about the body of Dr. Gerrit H. Koets, hookworm expert. But that's not the important part! See, what I'm trying to tell you is that Dr. Koets wears "big owl-like glasses," which makes MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS by Errol Flynn a book with an owl in it, like every other book, because every book has an owl in it and I'm the guy who tells you every time he reads a book with an owl in it, which is every time I read a book, because it always has an owl in it. Owl in it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oh No Wolverines

In FRIDAYS AT ENRICO'S one character's actions are described in the following simile/sentence fragment, which I have bowdlerized for your protection: "Like a wolverine, [pooping] on everything it could not eat." Oh no! Is that what wolverines do? Why didn't I know that, if so? I am not going to "fact-check" this. Why would the kids in RED DAWN want to call themselves Wolverines, and cry out "Wolverines!" at moments of victory? Is it a commentary on the defiantly wasteful consumerist society they are trying to revive under the very noses of their communist overlords? I'm going back to bed now, good night.