Tag Archive: literature



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The archetype of the lonely midnight diner is a distinctly north American image, a romantic thought form tangled up in art and culture; from Hopper to hard boiled literature, making a distinct home for itself also in cinema. It’s a specific, if multi-faceted and fragmented, semiotic tied up in melancholy, insomnia and alienation – all hallmarks of the underbelly of the American dream. A place where people go to be alone with other people. It’s also a place of chance encounters.

In Paul Auster’s ‘new York trilogy’ it fills all these roles and in New York, “a city which never sleeps”, it’s presence and purpose is woven into the very fabric of its mythology – perhaps into that of America itself. The U.S. is such an expansive, wide open land that the idea of an atomised pseudo-social arena carries a dissonance and irony that speaks of submerged truths which go all the way to the bedrock of he nation’s psyche.


I am interested in the phenomenon of ‘seeing’ because it
encapsulates the mystery of meaning. The moment of recognition
happens as if by magic; and yet, when we reflect on it, we see- its
very name tells us this-that it is impossible without prior
experience. What becomes puzzling then is the phenomenon
of insight, the creation (apparently) of new meaning. Here, we
forget that to recognize can mean to re-think, as in think through
differently. It need not always signify mere repetition of a former
cognition. We say in such cases not only that we recognize x (as Y),
but that we realize x is Y.

In fact, we almost never use the word ‘recognize’ -even in the
most straightforward cases of identification or recall – unless there
is some problem: we don’t see her face clearly, or she has changed,
or we met only briefly years ago. That is, ‘recognition’, even in
apparently straightforward cases, involves re-organization of
experience- an act of contextualization, a sensing of connexions
between aspects of immediate experience and other experiences.

Thus, the experiences of seeing how an assemblage of parts must
go together, recognizing an old friend in an unfamiliar setting, and
understanding a metaphor are species of the same phenomenon.
They all involve insight, understood as re-cognition; a gestalt shift.
And this is the original of meaning.

— Jan Zwicky, Wisdom & Metaphor

::::Ballard Quote::::


“I used to start the working day once I returned from delivering the children to school, at 9:30 in the morning, with a large Scotch. It separated me from the domestic world, like a huge dose of novocaine injected into reality in the same way that a dentist calms a fractious patient so that he can get on with some fancy bridgework.”

To whoever was up on EITHER/OR/BORED today looking at my post on the underground film ‘Pull My Daisy’ – I notice that the link to the film was broken, so i fixed it. In fact, it is now embeded on the page.

For everyone else, the post in question can be found here.


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In 1997 Arundhati Roy released The God of Small Things. It won the Booker prize (now the Man-Booker, as The independent have been pointing out all week whilst writing about it and the recently launched Literature Prize). I haven’t read it although I probably should. I reckon I’d like it as the plot revolves somewhat around the fucked up class system in India (The Caste System) – which i find equal parts interesting and horrific. She hasn’t finished a novel since.

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Now, to not follow up the winning of such a prestigious literary prize (or formally prestigious – whatever) would seem like career suicide. Frankly, I don’t think Miss Roy gives a fuck. She’s been far too busy doing more important things. Namely, challenging the capitalist and human being fueled industrialization of India, getting down and dirty in the trenches of India’s hidden war and generally horrifying the countries burgeoning middle-class by writing essays like Walking With The Comrades:

After dinner, without much talk, everybody falls in line. Clearly, we are moving. Everything moves with us, the rice, vegetables, pots and pans. We leave the school compound and walk single file into the forest. In less than half an hour, we arrive in a glade where we are going to sleep. There’s absolutely no noise. Within minutes everyone has spread their blue plastic sheets, the ubiquitous ‘jhilli’ (without which there will be no Revolution). Chandu and Mangtu share one and spread one out for me. They find me the best place, by the best grey rock. Chandu says he has sent a message to Didi. If she gets it, she will be here first thing in the morning. If she gets it.

It’s the most beautiful room I have slept in, in a long time. My private suite in a thousand-star hotel. I’m surrounded by these strange, beautiful children with their curious arsenal. They’re all Maoists for sure. Are they all going to die? Is the jungle warfare training school for them? And the helicopter gunships, the thermal imaging and the laser range-finders?

Why must they die? What for? To turn all of this into a mine? I remember my visit to the open cast iron-ore mines in Keonjhar, Orissa. There was forest there once. And children like these. Now the land is like a raw, red wound. Red dust fills your nostrils and lungs. The water is red, the air is red, the people are red, their lungs and hair are red. All day and all night trucks rumble through their villages, bumper to bumper, thousands and thousands of trucks, taking ore to Paradip port from where it will go to China. There it will turn into cars and smoke and sudden cities that spring up overnight. Into a ‘growth rate’ that leaves economists breathless. Into weapons to make war.

Everyone’s asleep except for the sentries who take one-and-a-half-hour shifts. Finally, I can look at the stars. When I was a child growing up on the banks of the Meenachal river, I used to think the sound of crickets—which always started up at twilight—was the sound of stars revving up, getting ready to shine. I’m surprised at how much I love being here. There is nowhere else in the world that I would rather be. Who should I be tonight? Kamraid Rahel, under the stars? Maybe Didi will come tomorrow.

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The reason Roy hasn’t finished the novel she’s working on is because she is living a different one.

I’d heard of God of Small Things, but i hadn’t really heard of its author, not until a few months ago. I’ve become a bit of a newshound since I got my kindle due to the fact that I could download a free copy of The Guardian every day if I wanted to, thanks to their liberal licencing and API. I should be reading novels but I’ve gotten a bit obsessive about it. Right now, for a change, I’m on a two week free trial of The Independent instead. I’ve always considered The Guardian and The Independent the only two decent papers in the UK – but i’d never put this to a taste test. Now I have I think I might prefer The Independent.

Anyway, getting back to my point. A few months ago I read an interview with Arundhati Roy in The Guardian. Today, there is one with her in The Independent.

And that is the reason I have written this post, so I could link to those two interviews. Do yourself a favour and go read them, because Arundhati Roy is quite obviously a remarkable woman, not to mention an amazing writer.


Having grown wary of destroying the world over and over again, he has now turned he attention to Shakespeare.

Everybody needs a hobby I guess.

from russia with loathe


The poetry of Sacha Karaulov.

The Essays of Montaigne Volume 01


Of all egotists, Montaigne, if not the greatest, was the most fascinating, because, perhaps, he was the least affected and most truthful. What he did, and what he had professed to do, was to dissect his mind, and show us, as best he could, how it was made, and what relation it bore to external objects. He investigated his mental structure as a schoolboy pulls his watch to pieces, to examine the mechanism of the works; and the result, accompanied by illustrations abounding with originality and force, he delivered to his fellow-men in a book.

The Essays of Montaigne Volume One


SEVERAL YEARS after the party, I learned from Jill that at mid-evening she had gone up to our mother’s bedroom to use the bathroom and that when she came out of it she had found Salinger lying on the guests’ coats piled on the bed. He had proposed to her that she leave the party with him right then, that very minute. He would drive them to Cornish that night. They would leave everything in their lives and start a new one together.

via Paris Review – An Evening with J. D. Salinger, Blair Fuller.


Murakami FTW!

Stories from the ancient world are infused with the fantastic, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Beowulf, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Myth, legend, folk and fairytales have fired our imaginations for thousands of years. We have used the fantastic to take mundane reality and transform it, sometimes for escapist pleasure, and sometimes to find meaning in a world that can often seem brutal and purposeless.

But the commodification of fantasy does not mean it must all appeal to the lowest common denominator, any more than the presence of Starbucks on every street corner means you can’t find a decent cup elsewhere. As the recent announcement of the David Gemmell Legend award, and the less-than-positive response it engendered shows, contemporary fantasy is seeking to do more than just entertain the masses. While the Gemmell award highlights fantasy novels at their most commercial and generic, and has been accused of doing little more than rewarding publishers for their marketing strategy, contemporary fantasy is becoming more experimental, diverse and exciting.

With the growing profile of distinctive writers such as Neil Gaiman and China Miéville, and the “smuggling” of fantasy into literary fiction by (among others) Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell, the fantastic is making a comeback in mainstream literature. Acclaimed cult writers such as Graham Joyce, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Martin Millar, Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer and many others are taking fantasy in more personalised and distinctive directions. And at the grassroots, short fiction magazines like Weird Tales, Electric Velocipede, Clarkesworld and Fantasy are giving a platform to an emerging generation of writers who are serious about fantasy.

Fantasy fiction: the battle for meaning continues … | Damien G Walter | Books | guardian.co.uk.


Masturbation has always been literary. “Traffic with thyself”, as Shakespeare tuttingly referred to it, is the only sex that takes place purely in the imagination – fictional characters are its livelihood. Better still, there are no rules, all bets are off, and you can get away with whatever you like. But despite being truly democratic – if not downright anarchic – in its availability, masturbation is the one form of sex that writers have yet to truly get to grips with.

Perhaps this is because we’re still hungover from the time when self-love was seen as the cause of everything from insanity to infirmity to an early death. According to one prominent historian, we have yet to resolve our anxiety over this activity, which represents not a social engagement with another, but a retreat into the unbounded world of our imaginations. We still feel deep ambivalence about such unpoliced pleasure, even while most of us are paid-up subscribers. The horror of masturbation – which has no rules and can’t be brought to heel by society – has been handed down to us largely intact. Ninety years after Ulysses was banned for not-very-subtly describing Bloom’s “long Roman candle” joyously exploding in the air, the act of onanism retains a power to shock that no other kind of sex in literature can.

Masturbation: literature’s last taboo | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Epigraphs: opening possibilities


A Piece on the joys of the epigraph and how they can be used to great effect in your writing. Well, other peoples writing really, but you could apply the understanding gleamed here to your own.

When treated with the necessary respect, a well-placed epigraph can work wonders. Even Elmore Leonard won’t dismiss them. In his draconian set of rules for how to write (which is really a set of rules for how to write like Elmore Leonard), he strikes off the prologue, the foreword and the introduction (as well as most modifiers, adjectives and adverbs), but the epigraph he leaves alone. One of Leonard’s authorial dedications itself reads like a sort of epigraph. “To my wife, Joan”, he writes, at the start of Freaky Deaky, “for giving me … a certain look when I write too many words.”

Epigraphs can come in many forms. There is the epigrammatic (“A human being is never what he is but the self he seeks” – Octavio Paz; used by Nadeem Aslam in Maps for Lost Lovers); the prophetic (“And what is good, Phadrus, / And what is not good …. ?” – Plato; which opens Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance); the poetic (“Why so pale and wan, fond lover … ?” – Sir John Suckling; cited in Hangover Square). There are those that are an extension (and explanation) of the title. John Steinbeck’s Burning Bright is a reference to Blake; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise comes from Rupert Brooke.

Epigraphs: opening possibilities | Toby Lichtig | Books | guardian.co.uk.


So, this guy is arguing that there is a class pyramid in british literature, highlighting crime fiction as a case in point. I’m not aruging that there isn’t a class thing with fiction, although whether or not it is a pyramid is a matter of debate, but i think he’s wrong to say that it’s a purely british thing and also to say that poets are on the top.

Getting poetry published, at least in the uk, is alot about politics – is your poetry a reflection of what is deemed to be good poetry at the time? This is usually dictated by the editors of poetry journals and the such, usually on their paticular taste and whims. I would argue that poetry belongs somewhere near the bottom of the pyramid as very few people care about it or give it any respect and the ones that do? Well, you have to question how hung up they are on,  say, the romantics. Do they really care for contemporary poetry or are they merely trapped in an ideolised past tense?

In the past i have been to/read at a good few poetry readings and I would be to remiss to argue that there is a predominantly middle class crowd. You have to consider why they are there. Are they just doing that middle class thing of pursuing what they deem to be ‘culture’  because they feel that is an important part of who they think they are?

As I have said, that was in the past. I cannot provide a true reflection of such audiences,  merely an inkling. Anyone else wanna throw down on this?

As such an idea being purely a british thing – I think that is bullshit.  Genre fiction has always suffered at the hands of the literati and the people who hang on their every word, whether here or the states. As if to say that using the hooks of a paticular genre automatically excludes you from creating anything that can approach art. One ofthe problems with the idea of genre is that it gives people the opportunity to be lazy in their snobbish  judgements, to tarnish everything with the same brush.

What exactly is it that defines something as ‘literary’?  It’s a vague term to be sure and a genre on to itself. Is it realism, social or otherwise? Is it a concern with things that are considered ‘highbrow’?  Is it the highlighting of the plights of downtrodden people? For me, the badge of literature is something that is earnt through time not through marketing to certain niches.

Wow, that went on alot longer than i thought it would.

The class pyramid of British literature | Books | guardian.co.uk.


Review of David Shields’ book “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto”, a book declairing with nary a shade of grey that the novel is dead, which pretty much takes it to pieces for a variety of reasons. Still, The Lyric Essay looks like an interesting little form/sub-genre.

Lots of assertions get made in “Reality Hunger,” so many that it’s easy to get lost in the maze of explaining and evaluating them. It seems true to me, for example, that reality TV, memoirs and other documentary-based forms feed a popular craving for the authentic, the unscripted and the unpredictable, even though the demand for certain formulaic storylines pressures creators to tweak “reality” into a more conventionally satisfying narrative. On the other hand, I can’t endorse Shields’ opinion that too much emphasis on plot is what makes contemporary novels boring and is causing a lot of people to stop reading them. Then again, the people I know who have stopped reading fiction do seem to concur with Shields that “more invention, more fabrication” is not what they want from a book. Which is why none of them, in turn, would agree with his insistence that the distinction between fact and fiction is often immaterial.

But I’m going to set aside all of those eminently arguable points for the moment and consider the manifesto-ness of “Reality Hunger,” evident in such mottoes as, “The novel is dead. Long live the anti-novel, built from scraps,” and “Plot is for dead people.” Shields is far from alone in his taste for bold and sweeping aesthetic calls-to-arms. A manifesto makes people feel that their writing (and reading) is caught up in and contributing to some greater movement or cause — possibly one that will be looked back upon by future generations with as much admiration as we feel today toward, say, the surrealists, the beats, or the writers who clustered around the old Partisan Review.

RIP: The novel – Laura Miller – Salon.com.

via booklifenow


Over at the Nation, New Weird Wünderkind China Miéville weighs in on the new publication of J. G. Ballard’s complete short stories. The new book spans 1,200 pages of one of the most important authors of our time. What’s to resist?

The publication of any book by J.G. Ballard at this moment—let alone so colossal and career-spanning a volume as The Complete Stories, running to nearly 1,200 pages—is an occurrence that can only be about more than itself. All writers are writers of their time, of course, but Ballard, who after a fight with cancer died in April 2009, feels somehow uniquely, precisely so. This book marks the fact that we are all post-Ballard now: it’s not that we’ve gotten beyond him but rather that we remain ineluctably defined by him. Completists have pointed out that, its title notwithstanding, this volume is not a truly comprehensive collection of all Ballard’s published short fiction. Those few omissions are a disappointment. Nevertheless, they are few, and despite them the book is indispensable.

The volume’s ninety-eight stories (including two written for this edition) are printed in chronological order of publication, which illuminates Ballard’s trajectory. There is something fascinating and poignant about watching various obsessions appear, reappear or come gradually or suddenly into focus: birds, flying machines, ruins, beaches, obscure geometric designs, the often-noted empty swimming pools…

Dangerous Minds – China Mieville on J. G. Ballard: In Disobedient rooms.


nice little piece about giving your novel/short story/film/whatever a title and a few things to avoid.

In short, there seems to be very little correlation between producing something brilliant and the ability to come up with a half-decent name for it. Perhaps it’s a different skill set entirely. I sometimes think there should be professional titlers: Just as we wouldn’t ask a carpenter to tar the roof of our house, we shouldn’t expect writers to work outside their métier. But even if the perfect title is destined to elude us, I do think it’s possible to identify a bad one—even, I think, to lay out some basic ground rules for what to steer clear of.

items from the list provided include “The Faux Poetric but Authenically Meaningless” and “The Alliterative Tongue Twister”.  Each comes with examples and definately worth a click even if your not struggling to come up with a title.

as an aside, I’m still quite taken with the title my novel-in-progress has at the moment. It was the first, which broke at least one of these guidelines, and frankly trickles off the tongue.

(seriously, i will be posting extracts some time soon, i just need more time!)

The Blurb #14: The Land Of Underwater Birds – The Rumpus.net.

via mental floss

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