Friedmann Space/The Rich are Different from You and Me

Fellow humans:

As I gather my things to roll communal internal combustion Conestoga across the great plains of the middle western desert, I hand off to you a couple of pieces of reading material.

The first is a quick review of some research done on the impact of money or social status on generosity that appeared this past week in The Economist.

The second is an excellent story from Victor Pelevin, courtesy of Google Books, excerpted from 2010’s Best European Fiction about how money changes everything.


After sitting my sedentary hours at the office today, requisite for not much longer, I went for a 5.5 mile run to circulate the blood and shake the funk I was in.  Looking up as I made my laps, I noticed a hawk hovering in a giddy state of confusion over the patch of lawn on the Bayard Street side of the McCarren Park track.

I knew that careful hovering maneuver from having seen it so many times growing up, where field mice could be plucked from the fields like grapes from a vine.  The red-tailed hawks back home would circle that tightly and somehow float in midair only if there was something on the ground they intended to eat.  The birds will hold their position there in the sky, seeming to stay aloft by an act of the will alone before giving free reign to gravity, dropping on top of some soon dead rodent.

I don’t often see hawks in my neighborhood, so without knowing what he was after, I found myself willing him to drop, empathizing with him, hoping he could make the kill he had set his predator’s heart on.

And then I looked down.

A group of girls in their twenties were standing in a group with their chihuahua and chihuahua-derivative dogs frolicking about them, both dogs and owners blissful in their absolute self-involvement, oblivous to the death multiplied in its potential perched and stopped and hanging held back by nothing at all in the very air above their heads.

Oh— oh, yes!  Yes, I thought to myself.  Please, mighty spirit of the world grandfather, smite a small dog, star of any one of these girls’ lives of vapid indulgence.  In this neighborhood that is a fantasy of the artificial, amid the Halloween makeup, false pretenses of broken glass, the disguise of the condos’ high-rise, please intrude with the memory of order, leaner times, austerity, loss, consequence, and… livable rent?

The bird of prey trembled, hesitating, waiting for the girls to clear.  Several times he flapped his wings, beating the air again to gain loft and buy time, holding out the ravenous hope he could take one of those mammalian trinkets as a meal.

Finally, he gave up.  He flew to roost atop a nearby building.  In a twist so emblematic of this place, what came out the gates thinking he was the hunter went home hungry and disabused of the idea.  When I passed that way on my next lap, the bird was nowhere to be seen.

I am leaving this city.  I’m leaving sooner than even seems possible.  As I ran that night I pondered on one reason that this was a very good thing:  That, as I hoped for the hawk to grab one of those little dogs to shrill keening, I, like every next person keeping this undead city alive with its flagrant exploitation of youth, its ostentation and propaganda of selfish enterprise, would like to see harm done to another living thing.  I would like to see someone else suffer loss- as though that would do something to restore the loss of balance that I feel here.

Joe Hill wrote a short story that encapsulates this feeling, the backwards, nihilist, reactionary joy that is the refuge of those who would starve if they didn’t eat their neighbors first, the black comic sardonic mode of laughing at the very inconceivable ridiculousness of actually riding to hell in a handbasket.  It’s his You Will Hear the Locust Sing, collected in 20th Century Ghosts, the story of a boy in an atomic age America who wakes up to find he’s the new Gregor Samsa. He wakes up a giant bug, and he likes it.  In the story the boy kills his best friend first to give him the sci-fi buff wonder of being attacked by a giant bug “because he loved him.”

That’s it, New York.  No more long hours spent misusing communication and fomenting confusion, no more pushing products people don’t need.  I’m going falconing no more.

Get Haunted

Listen to this record.  You can read all the same reviews everywhere, so you don’t need me to rehash them.  As that is what it is, as the rich hues of meaning have already been drained from pale words careening from the walls of the surfeit of reviews out there that quote just-learned (and just as soon forgotten) facts as though they were common knowledge, I’m going to talk about something else.  Suffice it to say this is good, good, good.

I’ve been reading Alice Munro’s story collection Open Secrets this week.  The experience I have been met with is the very surprise I welcome— as much as one can welcome the unanticipated.  It’s that of picking up an author I’m not familiar with and being drawn in by her matter-of-fact, confident observations, her unapologetic allegations on human nature.  Her voice is loud, rooted in a particular reality and morality, and incontrovertible.  The book is a series of interwoven stories about love’s progress, transformation, or dissolution set in a rural town in Ontario, with heavy reliance on the devices of correspondence, travel, rural eccentrics, and unsolved disappearances.  So, in addition to recommending a record so widely touted already, I suggest picking up some Munro and seeing what she can do for you.
Colors In Time by Sonic Cathedral

Aphasic Workshop: John Berryman & Things so Ghastly You Cannot Respond to Them Directly

“The More Sin Has Increast, the More Grace Has Been Caused to Abound”
John Berryman, the mysterious death of whose father haunted his fitful eruptions through faith, its loss, and the development of his poetic audacity preceded his ’72 suicide leap from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis with his birth in Oklahoma in 1914, a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and a National Book Award. He graduated from Columbia in ’36, garnered his graduate credentials from Cambridge and Princeton, and taught at Wayne State, Harvard, Princeton, Iowa, the University of Washington, and Cincinnatti before he settled into his long, wracked tenure in belles lettres in the employ of the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis in 1954.

His 77 Dream Songs, published in ’64, was the volume that fetched the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and the follow-up volume of poems in his dream song cycle, His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (’68) won for him the National Book Award.

Berryman’s Dream Songs were worked in a multiply lonely idiom of changing faces and voices whose true identities were at times fluid and difficult to pinpoint. Confounding in the face of the assumption of time’s linear passage, John Berryman’s poetry describes an open circuit of life as one endless dream. It is a dream wherein time is perforated by warrens of back-tracing corridors. Protagonist Huffy Henry House’s sullen solitude is suffused with somnolent feel as, committed to transforms and assumed roles, he cycles through many of the poems and new accidents of trouble having already died. Throughout his game of shapeshifting and suffering, taking leisure and forcing it (or mocking it), he is engaged in a conversation with an unnamed interlocutor referring to him as Mr. Bones, a conversation partner who may very well just be another figment of his own personality.

There is a thread running through the Dream Songs of learnéd criticism bound to be ignored. The poems are infused with the voice of a Lost Generation poet defeated before he makes his own glory, defeated by the legacy of poetic giants the likes of Eliot and Pound, and by the accelerating disingenuousness and misdirecting insanity of his century- his century that moved from one atrocity to the next in a blind panic to dispose of all unifying narratives, as though in the hope it could rid itself once and for all of the one narrative that fuels the gaining, encroaching accusing blame and recompense the 20th century will demand in unrelenting perpetuity.

Above it all, the Dream Songs are infused with the voice of a poet steeped in scholarship and technical capability bolstering a spectacularly daring talent.

Continue reading Aphasic Workshop: John Berryman & Things so Ghastly You Cannot Respond to Them Directly


“2666: A Novel” (Roberto Bolano)

I followed them: I saw them go down Bucareli to Reforma with a spring in their step and then cross Reforma without waiting for the lights to change, their long hair blowing in the excess wind that funnels down Reforma at that hour of the night, turning it into a transparent tube or an elongated lung exhaling the city’s imaginary breath. Then we walked down the Avenida Guerrero; they weren’t stepping so lightly any more, and I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic either. Guerrero, at that time of night, is more like a cemetery than an avenue, not a cemetery in 1974 or in 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.

-Auxilio Lacouture, speaking in Bolaño’s Amulet

Bolaño’s really big last hurrah began to regale the retinas of English-reading humans the world over on the 7th, when 2666 was unveiled to the tune of free booze, party crashing, and the kind of literary elbow-rubbing that hasn’t been available to the salon set since Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg. My 898-page copy of the volume sits ensconced in portent on my bookshelf as I try to get a few other in-progress volumes out of the way. The definitive article on this rare auteur who spent is life dancing in intimate proximity (close fighting) with the many faces of his only fellow combatant, life, remains here at The New York Review of Books.

However, for those who are in a hurry, the short version is thus: Bolaño was a Chilean who had moved to Mexico in his youth, returning to Chile right before Pinochet’s coup, where he was jailed for left-wing activities. He was recognized by a guard who had been boyhood schoolmate and released. Without that fortuitous intervention of fate, the writer would more than likely have met his end long before any of his books had been written.

2666 is a sprawling 5-volume work spanning the demarcations of geography, the echelons of culture, and the many-fathomed spaces composing the convoluted machinations of human cruelty. Bolaño, a sufferer from Hepatitis C, the result of a heroin addiction, and a poet who began writing fiction in earnest as a means to provide for his family, envisioned 2666 as a serial, the release of each volume spaced so as to afford his family the maximum benefit of the proceeds from sales in his definitively foretold absence. Following his death, his estate decided that the first printing of the book should be released in a single volume to preserve the coherence of the massive text.

I don’t want to commit more than a few words here to call attention to this writer who made a simply powerful entrance into my life in the last year or so. I haven’t read this newest book yet, but few authors have moved me like this one. A writer who was willing to admit that “literature is basically a dangerous calling” (check out the entirety of his Caracas Speech), he spoke straight and unflinching to the heart of human matters, be they boring, vile, obscenely beautiful, or entirely forgettable.

T/L + N/A + D4

A tiny moment of confluence that I write down here just to remember as an articulated thought.

Nelson Algren’s Nonconformity: Writing on Writing I was yesterday morning reading. Ted Leo’s early solo single, work of supreme retro styling and contemporary reflection “The Great Communicator” I have now more than 8 years been repeating the act of committing to the grooves of my inconstant human memory.
The chorus of Ted Leo’s song runs something like this:

You get detached from what’s been going on/they feed you crap you can’t keep growing on/they give you stats that tell you nothing at all/about who you want to be

I have been deafening myself now and again with Dillinger Four’s catalog for near on the same amount of time.
Their very piquant pop song entitled “A Floater Left with Pleasure in the Executive Washroom” on 2002’s Situationist Comedy sports the chorus,

This isn’t what we want/this isn’t what we need/this is what we can afford

Algren writes:

Ours no longer being the lonesome prairie’s desolation, but the spiritual desolation of men and women made incapable of using themselves for anything more satisfying than the promotion of chewing gum, a goo with a special ingredient or some detergent ever-urgent. Working one trap or another for others, the aging salesman of bonds or used cars, having made his little pile, senses dimly that he’s backed up into a trap of his own devising.

The tiger-pit of loneliness out of which there is no climbing. Alone at last with his little pile, the weary years in and the weary years out haven’t brought him a thing he wanted in his heart. It was only that which he was taught he was supposed to desire that he now owns so uselessly.

From the coolest zoot-suit cat getting leaping-drunk on straight gin to the gentlest suburban matron getting discreetly tipsy on Alexanders, the feeling is that of having too much of something not really needed, and nothing at all of something needed desperately. They both want to live, and neither knows how. That’s the trap.

The funny bankruptcy we brick ourselves in with is observed and trumpeted with clarion calls throughout the century by our artists, our artists who believe in keeping ideas in writing, in speaking, in singing.

The desperate traps we ensare ourselves in seemingly for lack of anything better to do, when in this short life we should instead be remembering how to live without insipid diversions and games of aging uselessly.