CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

Literature as comfort food…

Our choices of favorite books, those we go to time and again for pleasure, for solace, for inspiration, for – comfort – may be inexplicable, even to us….

You can bet a certain Mr. Twain will be on the menu of my literary comfort foods…

As I continue my rather too leisurely reading of Walker Percy’s classic The Last Gentleman, I find myself scrambling for an essay topic. Luckily, last week I was helped out by  my friend Sam who insisted, rightly, that I wrote something about the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman. Then I ran into an article at The Nation which allowed me to discuss two of the current movements in literary fiction.  That made for another nice essay to allow me more time to finish the Walker Percy – which I didn’t do.

Hence this essay – more dithering until I get back on track writing about items from the 2015 reading list.

I’ve been thinking for a couple of weeks about this issue, literature as intellectual comfort food. In fact, I’ve already decided that for the 2016 reading list will be devoted to a list composed of at least some of my favorite books. As anyone who reads my drivel is aware,  my tastes run to literary fiction. In past years I have also read compendia of scholarly essays, naturalists’ journals, histories, science works, and even children’s books. So here is a list of five of my comfort food books. These will certainly appear in next year’s list where I’ll write about them in more detail, so for now I’ll offer simply brief explanations of why I return to them again and again. Continue reading

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Lead U.S. nuclear negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr Commons)

The 7 most incisive comments about the Iran nuclear deal

The Iran nuclear deal has generated an abundance of extraordinary insights. Here’s a sampling.

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Lead U.S. nuclear negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr Commons)

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Lead U.S. nuclear negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr Commons)

We shall start with a headline which, for me, sums up all the excruciating years of accusations, pre-negotiations, and negotiations, as well as the deal itself (which, as I observed yesterday, has no name, but which, I’ve since learned, goes by the singularly undistinctive name Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

Iran Won the Vienna Accords By Agreeing to Stop What It Never Was Doing

That the title of a piece at New American Media by William O. Beeman, who noted:

It was … easy for Iran to give up a nuclear weapons program that never existed, and that it never intended to implement. As a bargaining position this is unassailable as your counterpart at the table insists and insists on something that has no value, it is possible to use giving way on such an empty demand to extract other concessions. Continue reading

Journalism

Tension on display between public officials and the press

Hillary Clinton is not the only public figure trying to put journalists in their place.

Earlier this month, the former Secretary of State angered reporters when staffers from her presidential campaign kept the media at bay – with a rope – while she marched in a Fourth of July parade in Gorham, New Hampshire.

This week, two highly visible exchanges illustrated the less-than-affable nature of the relationship between today’s public figures and the men and women who cover them. Continue reading

Obama-Reagan

Mirror mirror: Obama is the Democratic Reagan

We love symbolic victories in the culture wars. But what is Obama doing while we’re distracted? Selling us out, just like Ronnie did.

I used to argue that Ronald Reagan was playing the religious right like a wore-out banjo. Sorta. The big social issue of the day, of course, was abortion, and Ronnie did a lot of talking about how it had to be stopped. The thing was, he always talked a lot more than he did. Yes, reproductive freedom was under siege more post-Reagan than pre-, but I wonder if it wouldn’t have been a lot worse had he genuinely cared as much as he pretended he did.

What Reagan really cared about was the crowd we now call “1%ers.” It was about further enriching the already rich through any means necessary. Problem was, 1%ers didn’t comprise a voting majority. So the conservative project that had been building since the mid-’60s had developed a brilliant coalition strategy – “movement conservatism” – that pulled together all kinds of people who shared the same “values.” They didn’t really, but this was about getting elected. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

A question of what matters: hyperrealism and the literature of detachment….

Complete detachment or complete engagement – as Billy Joel observed, it all depends upon your appetite….

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (image courtesy Goodreads)

I am still making my way, rather too leisurely probably, through Walker Percy’s marvelous novel The Last Gentleman (about which I will have much to say, since I corresponded with Mr. Percy while completing my first book, a novel, The New Southern Gentleman). I’m also awaiting delivery of my copy of about which I’ll write some more once I’ve read it and digested its what promises to be awesomely hyped mediocrity.

That left me casting about for something to write about for this essay, and I found it by stumbling upon an essay in The Nation about the latest trend (counter trend might be another way of viewing it) in literary fiction: novels composed of the musings of completely detached narrators rambling on in some sort of Onionesque version of the literary equivalent of a “nattering nabob of negativitsm” that the vice-crook of the Nixon administration once was on about.

I think this trend says something (interesting? troubling? useful? useless?) about American culture – particularly the culture of creative writing programs and the sorts of literature they produce. It is also important to note why the trend in European literature has been for an almost diametrically opposed trend in litfic from across the Atlantic. Finally, and this is mighty important to remember, as Bullwinkle would say, none of this may be anything but footnotes in the great narrative where The Dude abides and one should know the first rule of Fight Club. Continue reading

CATEGORY: AmericanCulture

The offended and the offenders

Some are circling the wagons, but for what cause?

I haven’t had much to say about politics of late, or society in general for that matter, and I’m beginning to like it that way. But since the whole flag/distraction debacle, something hasn’t settled right for me. I’m personally of many minds on it, seeing it historically, as it was intended, as it has been co-opted, as it’s currently used for both benign (if misunderstood) and malignant reasons. Symbols are big enough signifiers to hold many meanings. C’est la vie.

But there’s a secondary trend, a reaction to the whole flag debacle, a chorus of derision aimed at notion of being offended. These critics rightly suggest that there’s no right to not be offended. To make their case, they often seem to exhibit a strange glee at then intentionally offending, because fuck you. Continue reading

Jade Helm 15: here’s what I don’t get

By now I’m sure you know that the US is preparing to invade Texas. All kinds of self-medicating gongbats concerned sovereign citizens have dissected Washington’s nefarious scheme and they stand ready to defend The Republic from …

Okay, here’s where I need some help. I’ve been studying a map of the US, and I even consulted Wikipedia. Best I can tell, Texas is part of the United States, right?

Texas

Continue reading

CATEGORY: Sports

Let’s liven up the All-Star game with a fantasy sports feature

After its 2002 All-Star Game ended in a disappointing 7-7 tie, Major League Baseball decided to add more drama to the midsummer classic by awarding the winning league home field advantage in the World Series.

In theory, the move should have resulted in more exciting games by giving players an added incentive to win. In practice, I’m not certain the change has made much of an impact.

For starters, other than a few notable exceptions, the concept of home field advantage is overstated. And those few exceptions generally do not occur on a baseball diamond. Continue reading

go-set-a-watchman

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman: mythbusting or manipulation?

The soon to be released Harper Lee novel Go Set a Watchman will be an interesting experiment: a sequel that seeks to explode the mythology surrounding her only other work, the ubiquitously revered celebration of high-minded Southernness, To Kill a Mockingbird. How that will go down with the myriad Atticus Finch acolytes is what will make or break both the novel and perhaps Lee’s reputation as a writer….

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (image courtesy HarperCollins, NY Times)

By now anyone within reach of media of one stripe or another knows that Harper Lee, the long reclusive and now aged and fragile author of one of, if not the the most beloved of American novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, is now, at long last, bringing out a second novel, a work which is both a sequel to Mockingbird and, at least in the minds of early reviewers, a sort of rebuttal of that myth of Southern race relations.

It seems a daring act – but as history shows, Go Set a Watchman is not a “new” work. That raises questions about Lee’s motivation for publishing her novel (which is, it seems clear, the antecedent of Mockingbird). Is this the act of a woman coming to terms with her mortality and wanting to “set the record straight,” to coin a phrase? Or is this what some have claimed, a manipulation of an aged, fragile woman by cynical forces?

However, such questions, and the arguments they have fostered, seem, at best, pointless now. Go Set a Watchman will be released 07/14/2015. And Chapter 1 of the novel is already available from numerous sources for those seeking a preview. What remains, then, is to consider the work – which probably must be done both on its own merits and in terms of its relationship with its iconic descendant. Continue reading

What bands do you miss? (It’s a fastidious and precise Saturday Video Roundup, bitches.)

Sometimes bands we love break up. Or someone dies. Or … maybe they just slide from relevance. If you’re like me, there are a lot of acts who fit this description. I miss Space Team Electra so bad it hurts, for instance. REM faded away more or less gracefully, but still I long for 1984.

Here are some bands and solo artists I miss. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments.

First, Lush.

Continue reading

norse battlefield

China, respectfully, stop poking the bear.

norse battlefield

image courtesy of alansondheim.org

So you discovered that 21 million people have security clearance in the United States. Is this surprising to you? Because it’s not to us. We are grateful that fewer than a million of them are charged with watching Americans. I am weighing the value of each word I type. I know our cyberwarriors are watching for keywords like “military industrial complex,” and “war on terror.”

The military industrial complex is a renewable contract which makes war (and thereby death) profitable. It is one of the founding principles we never talk about, but it has been with us since the beginning, when Spain, France, and Holland, controlled this land and we, being at war with Spain, France, and Holland, felt entitled to all the lands claimed by Spain, France, and Holland. The fact that other people lived here, and that Spain’s, France’s, and Holland’s claims were suspect and possibly baseless, provided no deterrent. It was profitable, therefore it must have been good.

The history of colonialism is the history of human beings struggling to contain this bear we call the military industrial complex. The bear finds honey and eats it, maybe in the form of a plantation, maybe in the form of a banana republic. It currently controls the Southern Hemisphere and most of the Northern Hemisphere. We have fought it off in the first world. When we talk about freedom, that’s really what we mean. The death machine must satisfy logical requirements before it eats us. We are in the process of expanding that freedom to include people of all colors and genders.

We have discovered, in the process of naming and taming this beast, that fighting it is impossible, because it only grows stronger. War is its food. It must be starved to death. In 2001, a few people who dressed like Arab Muslims attacked America. The bear ate five thousand Americans, and at least a hundred thousand civilians in three countries, most of them innocent, because one guy poked the bear by releasing a video of himself denouncing the United States. Don’t poke the bear. Continue reading